Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Odds at Hand

What breaks your bones,
is not the load you’re carrying
What breaks you down,
is all in how you carry…
– The Fighter by The Fray

March 1990 — Part 1/ Infant was born. She was premature by eight weeks and only one pound, but complications forced doctors to deliver her early. She wasn’t getting the nourishment she needed in the womb. Doctors were hopeful though. Premature labor gave her better chances at growing, even if her lungs were barely developed and she couldn’t breathe on her own. Her parents had decided to call her Shannon.

March 1990 – Part 2 / Shannon had abnormal swelling in her head, making it larger when compared to her small frame. Doctors presumed she had a condition called Hydrocephalus, which is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the brain. They were checking for other conditions such as Spinal Bifida because she had an abnormality of the spine, as well, which is often found patients with Hydrocephalus, but not always. Surgery was inevitable. Shannon’s father persisted, rather rudely, that she didn’t have the condition. He refused to let doctors place a shunt in her head to control it. They proceeded with a Ventriculostomy to release the access fluid from her brain.

June 1990 / Shannon was released from the hospital. She had good vitals and was four pounds in size. Her parents were ecstatic to finally have her home, but they were concerned about the hole in the little girl’s heart, which was also discovered soon after her birth. Doctor’s reassured them it should disappear over time on its own.

November 1990 / Doctors thought Shannon might have had a mild form of retardation and suggested her parents take her to group therapy for families of birth-defected children. They reluctantly agreed since she had yet to hit the milestones most babies her age should achieve such as sitting up on her own and crawling.

April 1992 / Shannon’s sister, Megan, was born only a month ago and already she’d began to develop and grow in ways that Shannon didn’t. Shannon, now able to talk, was surprised by this new revelation called ‘the little sister’. She was no longer the center of attention, as is normal for most children to feel uncertain about, and was something she’d have to get used. But there was more. She was beginning to notice, if not necessarily understand, the differences between the new baby and herself. Megan was a big baby, with light, light blue eyes and white-blonde hair growing in tufts on her head. Shannon saw that she was small, almost smaller than the new baby, had darker curly hair, and was less pudgy than this baby. Regardless, Shannon smiled in delight at having a sibling.

August 1994 / Shannon circled what felt like miles around the house in search for her mother, so excited her face was sore from all the smiling but she couldn’t stop. A Kermit the Frog book was wedged in the crook of her little arms. She had taught herself to read and she wanted the world to know it, but especially her mother. She finally found her in the front garden, rushed her inside, and sat her on the steps leading to the second-story of the house. She read the book to her again and again, almost as if she had memorized it. Long after her mother had returned to the garden, she still had the book in her grasp. She could read. She felt normal.

September 1994 / Shannon had to get glasses. They had to be specially made to fit the frame of her tiny face, but her parents reminded her that that was normal for most children as was everything else in her life. There was nothing wrong with Shannon, no sir, and the little girl smiled, believed them, and put on a brave face for them even if she realized something that couldn’t possibly be normal. She couldn’t see through both eyes when the doctor asked her to look at Mickey Mouse while he tested her. Shannon left the eye doctor as she did every year after that: confused.

August 1995 / Shannon’s mother had signed her and Megan up to take dances lessons. It quickly became apparent to everyone, Shannon included, that unlike her sister, Shannon was more prone to forgetting steps and losing her footing than the rest of the students. Shannon noticed, but took it in stride because she still got to wear the frilly costumes and take lots of pictures. “You’re just a little clumsy,” her mother reminded her. “You’ll grow out of it, someday.”

May 1998 / Shannon’s teachers had started to nickname her “The Girl Who Called Home.” For days at a time, Shannon would trudge into the office, complaining of flu-like symptoms, headaches, and pains that shoot up and down her arms and legs. All of them disappeared upon having gone home and taken an over-the-counter supplement. Every time Shannon complained, her mother insisted the pains were a part of growing older, taller, and wiser. Shannon shrugged off the excuse, because she didn’t feel as if she was growing at all. She just felt the pain, and she didn’t know why it was there.

June 1998 / Shannon tried her hand at playing the piano by convincing her father to pay for lessons. Megan went too, because if Shannon wanted to play, she did too. It was obvious to Shannon, like with dancing, Megan was faster at learning how to play and that made her jealous. She’s also frustrated because she just wasn’t getting it, each key should be somewhere, but she’s pressing the wrong ones. This made the teacher mad too. Shannon saw it in her red face, in her stiff posture, heard it in her voice. Shannon gave up lessons after that. Playing piano just wasn’t her thing.

October 1998 / It had been the week from hell for Shannon. Home sick with a persistent cough that didn’t seem to end, her mother finally took her to see a doctor. But the notion of a simple visit took a dramatic turn. A nurse came in with a gigantic breathing machine to cover Shannon’s little face. Suddenly, Shannon was overwhelmed with fear. Her mother had disappeared and she wanted to cry. Large men took her away on a stretcher. She briefly saw her aunt in the waiting room. “Where’s my mom?” she screamed, “MOM! MOM!” Her hand was grasped and her mother was suddenly at her side. She promptly explained to Shannon that she’s sick and was going to be taken to the hospital. This does nothing to calm Shannon. She hadn’t been there since she was born. From what she’d heard of it, that place symbolized that something was wrong with her. They loaded her into the ambulance and her father was waiting at the door. Both parents promise her they’d be following the ambulance. The door shuts. She was left to fight her stewing fears on her own.

November 1998 / Weeks passed in the hospital an despite her insisting that she was okay, Shannon had yet to leave it. “Your immune system isn’t fighting off the infection like it should and it doesn’t help either that when you were born your lungs were just barely developed. It makes it harder on you and you have to be patient,” they had said. Oh that again, Shannon would think. Why does it always go back to how I was born? I thought I was just born small. Eventually she was released and able to go back to school. She was diagnosed with asthma and her parents were told to monitor every cold she had from there on to prevent the re-occurrence of pneumonia and avoid another lengthy hospital visit.

December 1999 / Through her cousin, Shannon discovered the craft of making websites. She quickly became immersed, almost addicted to the thrill of learning how to add color, meaningless text, graphics, an HTML to a simple page; it was magical. It was something she could call her own where her sister couldn’t outshine her. It was something she was good at and she needed to be good at something after so many years of grasping at straws and nothing coming to surface. Despite the seclusion it brought after spending days at a time with the computer rather than people, Shannon finally felt normal again.

February 2005 / Shannon discovered that high school could be very hard. Everyone seemed to have something to say about her size, her poor grades, and her mental health. Shannon couldn’t walk through the halls without someone commenting on her height as if they’d never seen someone so short before (“Oh my God, did you see that munchkin walking down the halls? I thought Oompa Loompas weren’t real?”). They took things from her, would hold them out of reach, and occasionally pick her up and toss her around like a doll. School specialists were persistent to test her for learning disabilities and depression. Shannon refused the offer on the promise that her family once gave her, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m as normal as anyone. I was just born small and you can’t tell me any differently because you weren’t there!” Anger and frustration fueled this teenage denial like gasoline on a fire, but despite this, her worst nightmare was slowly creeping up on her reality and Shannon was terrified that she just may have been wrong all along.

October 2006 / Shannon slowly swallowed her pride and began to disguise her grief with sarcasm. The emotion still seeped through her face, but she would ignore it and say something witty to break the tension. Episodes like this were especially evident in times of crisis such as when Shannon started, almost randomly, having seizures: “I totally meant to take a nap in the shower…” Each one would terrify her mom and sister to the point of tears, and Shannon, to be brave despite how much the seizures scared her too, would be on the floor making jokes even if she was unbearably sore and tired. “I don’t know why you have to wheel me away on this thing. It’s not like I lost a leg…”

May 2008 / A school project about her life allowed Shannon the opportunity to open the door to her past. She found a video recording of the days she had spent in the hospital as an infant, igniting an itch to know everything about her story before she knew she even had one. Neither parent had satisfactory answers when recalling her beginning. Neither parent told her why she was dealt the cards she had in life. She searched for answers through God, but all that came back was silence and a disgruntled need to blame someone for her problems. Finally, she sought answers for herself by looking up every condition and symptom she had on the Internet. Some clarity rose from the ordeal. Problems associated with Hydrocephalus can include learning disabilities, vision problems, migraine headaches, and epilepsy, among other things. But that still didn’t explain everything…

February 2013 / Another long visit to the neurologist brought to light why, since she a little girl, why Shannon would have shooting pains up and down her arms and legs. Once again looking to her abnormality of the spine, it was discovered she had had Cerebral Palsy her whole life and the developmental delays as well as the pains are a significant indicator of that. As the doctor left the room, Shannon breathed deeply to take it all in. You are normal, Shannon. This is just normal for you and that’s okay.

Shannon Stevens

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction

Odd Future in a Bar-Sized Room

Kyle and I got to the Odd Future concert early so as to get a good spot in line and be close to the stage. When the doors opened, we rushed into the room and put our hand right on the stage. It was poorly lit; dust danced in the red and purple concert lights above the wooden stage. The room began to fill, and the bar-sized room quickly started to feel more like a closet-sized room. Before I knew it I was in a very tightly packed mob of odd future fans; Kyle was nowhere to be seen.

The concert started and the mob began to move. We were many acting as one, willing or not. The beat moved us as one entity, ebbing and flowing with the ups and downs of the music. Some tried to fight it, thrashing against the mob, and try as they might, it was a battle that could not be won. We were all at the mercy of the sound.

People began crowd surfing to the stage. The crowd would pick them up in the back, throw them to the front, and a security guard would pull them on to the stage and escort them off. This continued throughout the night, it became as consistent as the pounding beat.

I struggled to stay alive in the unforgiving mob, pushing and shoving, throwing elbows when I could, knowing it was either them or me. However dangerous and painful, it was all worth it when Tyler, the star of this collective, came out. The crowd went wild.

An hour or so passed and I was ready for a break, away from the pit. I started to push and shove my way back through the chaos. On the way I ran into a very tall, lanky man with a thick beard; he wasn’t letting me through.

“Oh, sorry,” I shouted over the music as I tried to get by.

“You want up?” he asked, mishearing me.

“Yeah man,” I replied, mishearing him.

As I moved away he grabbed me under my arms and lifted me up on to the crowd. The room opened up, I could see the ocean of people bouncing and dancing to the music, the closet sized room became an auditorium-sized room.

The crowd moved me; I rolled and turned on the uneven surface. I had no sense of right, left, up or down. I felt not gravity, but only the hands of those below me, moving me toward the front. I tried to focus my vision on the fast approaching stage, looking for my security guard to pull me from the chaos. The crowd gave me one last heave toward the stage, and I reached my hand out for assistance, but no security guard was in sight. Disoriented and confused, I landed flat on the stage.

I stood up slow and looked out at the crowd, hundreds of people churning in the pit, all staring up at me. I was drenched in the brightly colored stage lights from head to toe. To my left was Tyler The Creator, and to my right was Hodgy Beats, not five feet away. I was star struck.

The thought of the security guards hits me, so I decide to make my way off the stage before they saw. I find the stage exit, and pass a security guard who stumbles over a,

“Hey! You can’t be here,” as I walk by; but I was already gone, back into the bar-sized room.

Quin Hoffman

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction

Kind of Blue

February 6th, 2012— It took my mother nearly a month of convincing that her headaches, restlessness, and throwing up were not healthy. The week prior to her going to the hospital, she would lie in bed with the lights off. No television, no computer, and just lay there. My mom has always been the type to internalize her suffering and never speak outwardly about it; I suppose that’s where I got it from. After a week of constant prodding and pushing my dad finally convinced my mother to go to the ER. To which she said, “If I don’t feel better by Monday, I’ll go.” When Monday came around we found out she had a three-inch mass on frontal lobe. My heart sank as my dad told me they were admitting her into the hospital.

3 pm. February 8th, 2012— My family always entered the hospital with hands deep inside our pockets. I guess mostly we were trying to shield our fingers from the cold Wintery air. I took them out only once I had wiped my feet clean of the snow pile I had to step through to get to the front door from the parking lot. But I treated it like hiding your thumbs whenever you walk or drive by a graveyard. It was a superstition that felt so real like if I didn’t do it the worst would happen.

3pm. February 10th, 2012— I had to walk quickly to her room. I didn’t lollygag. And I didn’t look around at the hospital, even if it was under construction. I know there would be time for that later but right now, my mom needed me, if only for the fact that I was there to support her. My brothers and father would be leagues ahead of me for the first few walks in, but after I realized this. I walked neck and neck with them. Jogging if I had to. I couldn’t bear to have my dad give me the impatient look while holding the elevator for me again, but more importantly I just wanted to be there for my mother.

February 11th, 2012— I went to see her every chance you got. My two older brothers would see her two to three times a day. While Mikael and I would see her after he got out of school, until eight or nine o’clock. Tuesdays I had class from six to nine o’ clock. I felt terrible that I was even there. It was her suggestion that I go, so I went reluctantly. But every time I was there I was either doing homework, or plugged into my computer listening to music. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was on constant repeat. “Blue in Green” spoke to me like never before. I thought by listening to slow, sad music it would cheer me up… Of course it never did, but it kept me from breaking down.

11 pm. February 11th ,2012— Pray. I’m not a religious person at all. In fact I used to loathe God and for the five years prior to my mother’s tumor, I was sure that I would never speak to him ever again. I was so bitter about my mental health situation, that I didn’t know what else to say to him other than “go to Hell,” or “die.” But I remember lying in my bed looking at the white ceiling my mother and I had forgotten, or didn’t bother, to paint. I remember tears welling in my eyes as I started my conversation with God, “Don’t you dare let my mother die.”

12 pm February 12th, 2012— We didn’t sit in the waiting room for the entirety of the surgery. We went out to eat to get our minds off the worst that could happen. Went to Pi’s Chinese Restaurant, ordered the buffet. I could only consume one plate. So instead of eating, I sat there enjoying my brothers’ company. And didn’t talk about the surgery. We talked about each other. Talked about everything going on with each other’s lives. Almost like our mother’s surgery wasn’t taking place. I knew it was in the forefront of everyone’s mind that we all wanted to say something about it, but didn’t have the tenacity to bring it up.

2 pm. February 12th, 2012— We went back to the waiting room. We smiled. I was trying so hard to be the strong for my father, niece and nephew. I hoped they can’t see the pain behind my transparent teeth. Hoped they can’t read my thoughts. I prayed again, only this time nicer than before. Saying I’ll do anything to keep her here. Did homework. Prayed again. Didn’t say much to the people around me, especially not my family. They’re going through the same thing. I felt butterflies with the weight of elephants in my throat anyway. So whatever I wanted to say it probably wouldn’t come out right anyway. Prayed once more.

3 pm February 12th, 2012— Watched a family get bad news about a surgery. Watched as the doctor tells the woman calmly, though I couldn’t hear any of the words I knew what had happened. Her hands went around her mouth. I watched her body language change from on edge, to being defeated. I felt the gravity of the situation, as I watched the family as they cry packing their things to leave, I was feeling completely on edge.

5 pm February 12th, 2012— Hold your breath when the Doctor comes out to give you the news about the surgery. Don’t say a word. I watched and waited as the doctor calmly told my dad how it had gone. My dad gives us the thumbs up then explains that we have to go to another waiting room. I packed my things; I guess I was moving too slowly, because my dad yelled at me to hurry up. But I smiled. She had made it. We had made it.

7 pm February 12th, 2012— Wait for your mother to wake up. See the incision. Have your gut flip multiple times. Look on as the nurse ‘quizzes’ your mom. Watch as mom barely remembers her name or the month we’re in. But I felt reassured when she smiles at me that she at least knows who I am.

11 pm February 12th, 2012— Went home to look up at the same white ceiling and didn’t think of anything remotely close to God. I was still smiling about the fact that my mom was still with us.

8 pm February 15th, 2012— When my mother came home from the hospital with the walker she needs to keep her balance for a while, I had the younger kids go up to my room almost immediately. My four-year-old niece was scared by the fact that my mom’s face has swollen up. My ten year old nephew was too, but he’ll at least give mom a hug. My niece was upset and would not. My niece cried because her Grandma isn’t who she remembered, or at least doesn’t look like she remembered. While we were upstairs we played musical instruments. I had the kids sing songs. All in hopes of getting their minds off of their grandma’s appearance. When the children left the house I watched my mother put the hood of her coat over her face. I wanted to cry but I didn’t. I just told her it’s okay, and that I love her.

Thomas Dunn II

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction

Into the Blue

I was the last one out of the helicopter. My boots hit the ice with a satisfying crunch as the steel spikes sunk into the glacier. It was cold, and the air we inhaled had a crisp edge to it, a foreign texture that chilled the lungs with every breath. It had been 50 degrees where we took off from, not five miles from where we were now. The mountain air cut through our windbreakers and rustled the T-shirts we had on underneath. I thought of everything I had left behind. The thermal shirts and leggings, the extra pair of socks, and the sweatshirts we all had worn in expectance of the cold. The guides that prepped us for this excursion back on the mainland had told us we were over-dressed.

“It’s a lot warmer today than it was last week,” said the girl that helped us pick out our snowsuits. “You’ll get warm up on the glacier in all that gear. We’ll keep it safe for you until your flight back.”

While we picked though the spare clothes they had in the main tent on the glacier, we could hear the tour guide radioing base and telling them that they needed to dress people warmer. As the wind whistled through the tent windows and entrance, I thought of the double insulated, wind resistant jacket I had bought for this trip that was now hanging warm and unused in the Glacier Trek office closet. I put on a hoodie and zipped up my snowsuit. It would have to do.

There were five of us in total, standing quietly in a half circle around our tour guide. My sister, Jessica, and her husband, Brian, were to my left and a couple that appeared to be in their mid-twenties stood to my right. They were interested in only each other, so I didn’t catch their names. Mike, our guide, briefly explained the use of the ice picks, carabiners, and cord bundles that we all carried. After the basics were covered, we began the hike.

Distance meant nothing as we walked on in single file. There were no landmarks or distinguishing structures to judge how far we had walked; only miles of white, glistening hills in every direction that gave way to towering walls of mountainside.

We had been walking for about 15 minutes when we cleared the top of a slope and saw a large hole in the ice ahead. As we neared the edge, the sound of rushing water and the vibrations from its long fall reverberated through our bodies. Our guide drove a spiral spike into the ice 15 feet from the rim and secured a cord to it. We all would have a chance to look into the pit.

When it was my turn, I slowly inched toward the edge of the chasm. I felt the rope grow taut as I leaned over the side to look into the eye of the glacier. A powerful river of water was coursing through the ice and into the darkness beneath me. I could feel the breath of moisture rising up from the cavernous abyss. It was like an endless waterfall.

I tested the rope and leaned out a bit further, so that my head was over the edge.

“If you fell in there, they would never find your body,” Mike said with a shadow of a smile, breaking the silence. The thought of being crushed by thousands of gallons of water beneath a mile of ice was a little much for me. I took one more look and returned to the safety of stable ground.

As we walked on, the hike became increasingly more difficult. Large cracks in the ice hundreds of feet deep, jagged outcroppings of glacier, and gaps only crossable by a running leap stood in our way countless times. One wrong step, one moment of imbalance and you’d be gone, lost into one of the hundreds of crevasses of the Mendenhall Glacier.

We had almost reached the cliffs that we had initially signed up to climb when Mike stopped us. “You have a choice. We can either get in some ice climbing, or we can explore the cave that is over this next slope. It was flooded last time I tried to take a group through, but it should be fine now.”

The ice cave was chosen and we resumed the hike. Up and down near 90 degree slopes and over three foot gaps, we continued to trek until we reached the biggest crevasse we’d seen yet. Nearly 50 feet long and 9 feet wide, it gaped at us as we stopped in front of it. Mike drove a spiral spike into the ice about 20 feet from the opening and turned to face the group.

“So, who are we lowering down first?”

I ended up going fourth. I was nervous and my hands were shaking a little. It wasn’t because I was afraid of descending into it; it was the method that we had to do it. To be able to fit through the gap we had to slide backwards on our stomachs into the cave and we couldn’t grab the rope we were secured to. It was like the game where you close your eyes and fall backwards into someone’s arms, except there was no one to catch me.

I got down on my stomach and dangled my legs over the opening. I looked up to see Mike and Brian giving me the thumbs up to go. They were the only things stopping me from plummeting down into the unexplored depths of the glacier. I let myself slide over the edge and come into contact with the inside wall of the cave as my full weight was supported by the rope. The wall was wet and quickly soaked through my gloves as I braced myself against it, all the while moving slowly downwards. 10 feet, 20, 30.

My feet touched something solid and I looked down. I was standing on a slab of transparent ice no more than a few inches thick. Its edges were cracked and white, as if the smallest amount of pressure would cause it to crumble. Below me was an endless stretch of darkness immeasurable in depth. I placed a hand on the wall behind me and looked to my sides.

It was all bright blue. So vibrant and so deep that it couldn’t be drawn or photographed, it had to be seen and experienced. It was like being in the center of a gemstone as the first beams of morning light filtered through. I could almost see my reflection in the beveled surface of the wall as I traced my bare hand along its curvature. The absence of the howling wind rang loudly in my ears. My breath hung suspended in front of me, a motionless cloud slowly disappearing from view. The quiet was overwhelming, broken only by the whispers of the cave as the wind passed it by.

All too soon, my turn was over and I was raised, soaking wet, to the surface of the Mendenhall. Back to the cold, harsh wind and bleak white landscape, to the sun that stung my eyes. Standing at the top, the color could barely be seen down below; hidden completely to someone not already looking for it. It was an hour’s walk back to the base, but it didn’t feel like it. I had a lot on my mind. I wondered how many people had looked in the Mendenhall’s Eye, how many had caressed its walls.

And how many people had gone their entire lives without gazing into the blue.

Bryan Powell

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction

Three For Lunch

I can remember this day as if it were branded into my mind by a hot iron. Though perhaps being branded isn’t your idea of fun, I must say that this was an experience that I would never forget. The kind of experience that changes your life and gives you something valuable to take with you. I was fourteen years old.  It was the middle of May and the warm sun came up over the trees to greet my father and me as we made our way to the family vehicle, a blue Caravan with a big dent in the side of the door caused by my brother smashing a riding lawn mower into it. We got into the front seat and buckled up; Dad found a radio station just like every other time we prepared for a trip. He looked at me then, his eyes glistening with a mixture of sadness and serenity, knowing that the journey would soon be complete for him. “You got Mart?” he asked me softly. I held up the cardboard box as if it were the Holy Grail though all it would appear to hold was a plastic baggie and some black soot. “Yup.”

Dad pulled out of our driveway and we started on our drive towards the Gladwin City Cemetery. I got to skip school on this particular day so the only kids out and about were the ones too young to attend pre-k, and I watched them frolicking around their yards like little pixies, enjoying the first rays of summer that came from the tender sun. Everything looked so lush and green, and the air had a fresh pine needle and soil scent to it. As we got out onto State Street, I took a minute to glance at the restaurant Mack’s Menu, where my mom, my dad and I worked. Mom was in their kitchen, working too hard for too little. That’s why she had asked me to stay home and do the Deed with dad. I didn’t mind in the least. I’d have done anything for Marty.

The ride to the cemetery seemed to drag along, as if we were tiny caterpillars on our way up to the top of a tree, but the Beatles singing “Can’t Buy Me Love” made it a bit more bearable. Dad was humming along to the tune, bumping his thumbs on the steering wheel as he kept up with the beat. I didn’t understand it. How could he do it? Go on so easily? I sat in the passenger’s seat biting my nails down to the raw cuticle and watching the blood pool up as I tried to keep my mind busy. I didn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend how he could be so nonchalant. Like what we were setting out to do was an everyday thing.

When we arrived at the cemetery, we took a little cruise down the narrow dirt roads and tall rolling hills that made up the west point of the cemetery.  I remember thinking how much I enjoyed spending time in cemeteries. They were lovely in their own Gothic way, serving as a resting place for those long gone. Some days, when I could get away, I would sit in this very same cemetery and write in my journal, simply enjoying the tranquility that came so easily from the solitude. We knew that this wasn’t where Marco was buried, but it was peaceful to be among the dead, and so we wound our way through the whole place, taking in the hundreds of grave makers that stood erect above the dewy grass. “They don’t have too much to say,” Dad commented, “And when they do, they tend to just leave you with your thoughts.”  We admired all of the monuments and the tombs as we made our way to what they called the U-bend. That’s where Marco was buried. Say what you will about my father and I being morbid; this was our last opportunity to be together with Marty’s company.

It wasn’t long enough before we realized that we had to do this rather quickly. We both had to be at work by four and there was no making the boss man wait. Dad took us one more time around the west point before we headed for the U-bend. I held the box tightly in my hands.

We passed the little red bricked chapel that loomed in the middle of the U-bend and we came to the right corner of the horseshoe. That’s what the U-bend looked like, one massive horseshoe. Marco’s grave was easy to find because his marker was probably the most eccentric that you’d ever see. It was a grey and black marble with two faces carved artfully into it. Petite little music notes danced over the surface singing a silent melody. The faces of the masks reminded me of those that you would see at a Broadway theatre. One with a bright smiling face and the other with a sad and lonely face, one single tear drop dripping down. Having once been a talented musician and a big theatre buff, it seemed like it suited him rather well. Marco had died long before I was born and dad didn’t like to be reminded of the story. “I like to remember how he lived,” dad would say, and he’d share countless comedies and happily- ever-after stories that never failed to put a smile on my face. He had only been a few years older than me when he had drowned out in the middle of the Gladwin River. Dad never mentioned any more details. Marco had been 18 years old. Too young to die.

Dad and I got out of the car, him drying the corners his eyes with one of his little blue hankies that he always carries with him and me cradling Marty safely in my arms. The box felt heavy. This was when it all came down around me and I really put some serious thought into what was going on.

Marty Aldrich had been my friend. Ever since my dad had brought him to our home for the first time, he had been the only one who would listen to me without question, who could make me smile on the most depressive of days, and who could make me outright laugh my butt off at the stupidest things. Things like blowing bubbles with your lips when you’re trying to eat mashed potatoes or making elephant sounds after bed time, pissing mom right off.  I didn’t care that he was 37 with the mind of a two year old. I didn’t care that he couldn’t eat much real food but had to be tube fed more often. It didn’t bother me at all that he couldn’t talk or walk or stand or sit or jump up and down. Marty had a pair of eyes that could show you his thoughts, that could show you his affection. This was all I ever needed from him.

But Marty had died. He had a stroke and didn’t make it through the brain surgery. He had passed after living all his life with a disease that stops you from growing and maturing at the rate that most humans do. Honestly, I can’t remember the name of it. That was three weeks ago and now here we were beside his brother’s resting place getting ready to carry out what dad said is what he would have wanted. “To be with his family.” I didn’t ever think that I’d be able to understand why things happen. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get rid of the hurt. I didn’t want to spread these ashes. I wanted to carry him with me forever.

For a little while we just stood there and looked down at Marco’s grave. I suppose you could say we weren’t real sure how to go about this. Then dad spoke up, a soft rasp in his voice. “I have buried one member of the Aldrich family. But here and now these are to be the second ashes I am to spread over this very same spot.” “Who else daddy,” I asked quietly, even though I already knew the answer, “Who else is here?”  “First there was Marco,” he replied, “Then I put his mother’s ashes down with her eldest son. Now I must do the same for his brother. That way they can all be here….together.”

And then without another moment’s hesitation, Dad took the box from me. His hands were trembling. He opened the box and lifted out the plastic bag that held Marty’s black ashes safely inside. I gasped as my father took his knife, cut open the bag and began to spread Marty all over the soft bed of Marco’s grass. I kept a sharp eye out for a suspicious onlooker because I suppose what we were doing was technically illegal. The wind began to blow softly as we finished the job, as if Marty, Marco, and Debbie were all giving a sigh of relief. Then again, perhaps it was the gentle whispers of Marco and his mother welcoming Marty to his new home.

Once we had finished we took our leave. Yes, this must sound strange to you. Weren’t there some meaningful words that needed to be said? No. We didn’t have to say a word. Why? Because everything that was of any importance was already forever branded in our hearts.

Later that day, my dad and I had decided to go to work and grab a bite to eat from our own place of business. I ordered my usual chicken strips and waffle fries with marinara sauce on the side. Dad got the usual two pieces of French toast with a black coffee.  But before I could even take a bite, my dad began to laugh out loud. “What’s so funny?” I asked. He pointed to my white sweater and said as he chuckled, “Looks like Marty wanted to come for lunch, too!”

I peered down at the front of my American Eagle sweater and saw the little black specks that dotted the white cloth. I had carried a part of Marty with me, and there he will always remain.

Brandy Moore

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction

The Promised Land

It all started on a field trip to Deer Acres in the second grade. There were rides everywhere I looked and I could not wait to try them all. My friend, Adam and I ran to the first ride, the carousel. After getting off and trying to find another ride, a group of girls from our class came up to us. They informed me that someone in our class ‘likes’ me. I found this news to be not so big of a deal. I did not really want someone to like me. None of my friends hung out with girls, so why would I want to? As the day went on Adam and I tried to figure out who this girl was who liked me. The news was in the water everyone was drinking that steamy hot day. Towards the end of the day, a girl and her friend walked up to Adam and me to inform us who this mystery girl was. Her name was Elizabeth. I had never talked to Elizabeth, or at least never more than a few words. The girl also told me Elizabeth wanted to go on the old car rail ride with me. I turned to Adam, we both shrugged our shoulders, and he said, “Go for it.” I did not know what to think about this whole situation. It just seemed odd to me that someone would actually like me. Felt very weird. 

I went to the old car rail ride to find Elizabeth. I eventually spotted her, standing with a couple of her girlfriends. I walked up to their group and the rest of the girls ran away. There we were, Elizabeth and I in an awkward stand-off. Her crisp gold hair draped down to her knees, and her thin legs were crossed as she twirled her fingers together. She asked me if I wanted to ride with her and I said sure. We got in the old Model-T car, and it was just the two of us. We talked about the day and how it had been going. Silence fell in the cracks of our voices as she failed to see my heart nervously shaking. She grabbed my hand and placed it in between her hands on her lap. My heart became a formula one dragster flying down the runway. We silently looked into each other’s eyes and she said, “We should have a wedding.” Shocked, I responded with, “What?” She further explained that she really liked me and she wanted to be with me forever. I thought I was going crazy. For some reason, I liked her, too. It was an odd natural thing. She then shared her plans for the wedding. I said, “Sure, sounds fun.” She lifted my hand and kissed it as if she had kissed me like that done it a thousand times.

School the next day buzzed with the news of the wedding of Elizabeth and Jordan. I even had a wedding planner, her best friend Sarah. We planned the wedding for three weeks from that day after the field trip. My bachelor party consisted of all my best friends getting together at my house for a sleepover pizza party. She had her bachelorette party at her house the same night. The ring I gave to her came from a fifty cent toy dispenser. We had everything planned from the groomsman to the reception. The wedding was to take place during recess on a gorgeous spring day. Everyone on the playground came together and formed an aisle for the wedding party to walk down. My good friend, Zach, was the priest and played the part well by wearing a brown robe. It was finally our turn to walk down the aisle together. People threw paper shreds in the air as we walked by. Our smiles rivaled those of any we have ever had. We got about three-quarters of the way down the aisle when we saw what looked like a jail break. There was not a single person running in the same direction. This was a commonly used tactic when the playground was in threat of getting in trouble. It was our principal. She saw what was happening and quickly came to put a stop to it. Being a nun, she had very strong opinions about marriage and love. We had a serious talk with her about marriage and what it means to love and to be loved.

Elizabeth and I decided it would be best to postpone the wedding until we were adults. We continued our lives as normal and spoke often, but throughout the next couple school years we talked less and less. Elizabeth and I grew apart and eventually stopped talking altogether. I loved sports. She loved art. To me, as a kid, there was not too much else on my plate. Why would I want a friend that doesn’t like what I like? Especially a friend who is a girl; none of my other friends had friends who were girls. To this day I wonder, “Would I still be married to Elizabeth if it all worked out as planned?”

Chocolates, flowers, and love cards filled the aisle of the store. Valentine’s Day was soon on the horizon. The most appropriate day of the year to open your heart. Commercials on television about Valentine’s Day made my bones attempt to slip out of my skin. There was only one person I could think about for weeks before the day of celebration. Her name was Kaitlyn, and I had the biggest crush on her a fifth grader could have. She was smart, funny, and most of all, cute. She was short with long blonde hair and eyes of crystal. Kaitlyn and I had been flirting a little bit at school the weeks before Valentine’s Day. We would write notes and pass them to each other in class, trying not to get caught. The scratching of her pencil overruled the mumbled speech of the teacher. She would write how terrible and boring the class had become and I would agree while asking her questions about herself. “How many siblings do you have? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite subject?” She would always give a detailed answer and ask me the same question. One day, I passed a note to her saying, “You look great today.” She responded with a red face and a note saying, “Thank you, you don’t look too bad yourself.”

I chose a red rose, a box of heart shaped chocolates, and a card I made myself. My father always gave my mother flowers and chocolates, so I figured it would be a good choice. Valentine’s Day was just one day away. I wrote in a computer paper-made card,”Kaitlyn, I cannot stop thinking about you. Would you like to go out with me?” Looking back at this I probably could have done much better. Valentine’s Day was here and I passed her a note during the last class of the day saying, “Meet me by my locker after school.” I watched her as she read it to get an idea of how she would take the meaning of the note. She smiled and acted a little shy. Right then I melted through the holes in the back of my chair. I went to my locker at the ring of the bell and began to sweat a little. I had never asked anyone out or have even kissed a girl before. I saw her coming down the hall, weaving in and out of traffic like a semi-truck barreling down the highway ready to hit me. This was it, this was the moment I had been waiting for quite some time. She was all of a sudden standing there right in front of me. The stage was mine. She said hi as I stumbled on over my words and spit out a quivery “Hey.” I handed her the rose, chocolates, and the card. Her eyes opened wide and her smile blinded me. She read the card and immediately said, “Yes!” She then leaned towards me in slow motion and closed her beautiful blue eyes. I thought to myself, “Alright, Jordan, It’s just a kiss, come on, just do it.” And just like that, my brain exploded. Thoughts spewing from my head were crashing on the floor shattering any predetermined notions of what two lips colliding could feel like. I could have never imagined this was the feeling of a kiss. We were isolated from the rest of the hall traffic and in our own world. Nothing on the planet could have been better than that moment. I will never forget the explosion of my first kiss.

After a couple of months, our feelings for each other shrank. There was no passion left in my heart for her. She felt the same way towards me. We continued to talk as friends, but that only lasted a month or so. I was heading back down the pyramid I fought hard to climb. I asked myself, “Did I do something wrong?” I had no answer.

Sparkling green flowed around her slender body as she floated down the stairway. My friend Jackie and I decided to go to prom together. She was as tall as I was with strawberry blonde hair bunched up like a fruit basket on her head. I thought she was stunning. I was dressed in an all-white suit with light green mixed in. My shoes even had a green stripe through them. My confidence was at a peak as I took her hand. Though Jackie and I were just friends, the high school notion that Prom night is an adventurous evening with drinking and sex was stuck in my head. The pressure to engage in sex was immense. Most of my friends had girlfriends, and that was all they talked about. I did not want a girlfriend at the time due to my busy schedule and college was around the corner, but I did want to have some fun that night.

We exchanged a friendly hello as we walk to my uncle’s majestic 1988 Mustang that he let me use. Laughter filled the car as we gossiped about people and their relationships, like normal high school kids would. The trip seemed too short for our conversations to end. With the prom night sex theme still in my head, I thought I was off to a good start. As we rolled into the parking lot, I said to her, “Did I mention that you look beautiful tonight?” She replied with a smile and a wink. When I saw that wink, I knew I was definitely doing something right tonight.

After dinner with friends, I again took her hand to help her into the Mustang. I learned this from my older brother: always open the door for a lady. Confidence ran through my body like the blood in my veins. We discussed plans for after the dance and agreed on going to my friend’s house together. Knowing I had already made plans with her for after the dance before even getting to the dance was amazing. As we arrived at the dance, the bass of the music sends shivers through my dancing shoes. We were eager to get the party started. We danced like we could not control our limbs. Because we were prohibited from “dirty dancing,” the only time we could be intimate with someone was during the slow dances. The first one came and went. I was way too nervous to ask her to dance. The fact that I did not see her during that song helped. After the song was over I stood up and looked for her to continue dancing like fools. The millisecond I found her, another slow song came on. I felt obligated to ask her to dance. This was my moment. I asked her to dance and she jumped up and down and said, “Yes, I thought you wouldn’t ask!” The song was “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith. I thought this was an appropriate song for the evening with Jackie. I placed my hand on her lower back, and she rested her hand gently on my shoulder. I was numb. Sweat started to accumulate on my forehead. I thought, “Do I wipe it? Do I ignore it? Does she think it is gross? Will she not think anything of it?” My thoughts rammed into each other faster and faster as one drop of sweat reached my eyebrow. I wiped it. She said nothing and continued to dance with a smile. My confidence grew again, and I knew the night would go well.

After the dance, we headed over to my friend Kyle’s house. His parents were not there as we brought in bottles of booze. Being responsible and having respect for his parents, who are like my second parents, we collected everyone’s keys into a basket and told them they were staying the night if they drank. Jackie and I were planning to stay. Beers went down smooth and shots stung the throat. Beer pong seemed to be our game. Jackie and I won four straight before losing. We bonded well during that time and I had the feeling that she might like me; I knew I was developing feelings for her. She seemed to have a spark about her that night that I had not noticed during our friendship. I always liked Jackie but never thought of her being my girlfriend. That thought sprinted back and forth throughout the night as it came to a close. People began to choose their spots on the couches and bedrooms. I asked Jackie where she was sleeping and she said she did not know. I followed up by asking if she wanted to see if there was a bedroom open upstairs. She said, “Yes, but no funny business.” The thing that caught me off guard was that she smiled before she ran upstairs. I thought maybe she did want funny business.

I was running behind her and competing with her to find a room. We found one and dove onto the bed. As we laughed we calmed down and got settled. We were not touching at all. A few minutes of silence passed, and I reached out my hand to put it around her waist. She said, “Jordan, wait. I wanted to have sex with you tonight but I just can’t. It wouldn’t be right.” In shock, I replied, “It’s okay, I understand.” She then continued by saying, “I wouldn’t mind being your girlfriend, though.” My body temperature reached that of magma as my sweat soaked the bed. I could not believe what I had just heard. She turned and kissed me before I even got a chance to say a word. There I was, on Mount Everest.

This feeling would only last a short period. One week later, we decided it would be best to return to friendship. Although we had many common interests and always had fun together, something was not working. I was not devastated, and neither was she. We both felt it coming.

Jordan Weigl

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Filed under Fall 2013, Nonfiction, Uncategorized