Category Archives: Nonfiction 2016

I Just Want My Mom Back

I was born in 1974 to a nineteen-year-old, free-spirited, peaceful, loving, pot-smoking hippie chick. We lived in a small cabin off the coast of Astoria, Oregon. We had to use kerosene lanterns and milk jugs with candles inside for light because we had no electricity. Until my dad built a bathroom inside, we used an outhouse out back. I hated having to go out there in the early morning or late at night. As a kid, my imagination would often lead me to believe that every scary thing in those woods was, in fact, waiting on the other side of that rickety wooden door just for me. I was often impatient when my mom had to boil water on the wood stove and pour it into a huge metal basin for us to take baths.

My mom baked bread from scratch, canned our fruits and vegetables, and would freeze the meat my dad brought in from hunting. We had a little farm with chickens and pigs, and one time the meat came from our pet pigs, “Bacos” and “Yum-Yum.” I remember seeing them skinned and gutted, hanging upside down above barrels. I went on a “meat strike” as long as I could after that. I had two younger brothers, and we would always say prayers before bed. She homeschooled me while we lived there and would always tell me little sayings to live my life by, like “beauty is only skin deep,” “money can’t buy you happiness,” and “a woman can do anything a man can do.” These moments influenced me in a positive way.

For reasons unknown to me, we ended up moving to the city. It was there that my mom went from Betty Crocker to Betty Ford. We moved from house to house, and my parents partied with their friends day and night. They eventually ended up separating, and my brothers and I went with my mom. From there, it was like we were little bouncy balls, only landing for a split second, bouncing from my grandparents and back to my mom, then with family friends and so on. At some point, my mom just stopped being a mom. She would never cook for us, never say prayers with us, and never wake us up for school. She ended up going to jail, for breaking into someone’s house, I think, and again we went with my grandparents.

While she was in jail, I grew to resent her. I also grew up. At eleven years old, I started drinking and smoking pot. I lost my virginity. When my mom got out of jail, she headed out east to Rhode Island. I was mad at her for that. I was rebelling and needed attention. My grandparents didn’t know how to deal with my new attitude, so they insisted my mom take me. I think they were hoping it would do me some good. It only amplified the wild child inside of me. When I arrived in Rhode Island, my mom and her boyfriend were living at a campground and sleeping in a tent. There was no way in hell I was going for that, and she knew it. The next day she took me into town and introduced me to a couple of girls who were hanging outside a local pizza joint called George’s. Nobody actually claimed to know who George was. The fact that he had the coolest place in town for 80’s degenerates and rocker rebels to play pinball at was good enough for us. My mom then took me to a house and introduced me to her friend, Tracy. She told me that this is where I would be living until she found a house of her own. From there, I ran around in the streets all summer and made friends with every other street kid in town. I ended up with an eighteen-year-old boyfriend, and when I did see my mom, it was at some party where we would get drunk and high together.

My mom finally came looking for me sometime after school had begun, and when she found me, I thought she was going to beat me up right there in the middle of George’s front steps. I had dyed my hair pink and purple, and she grabbed a fistful of it and threw me in the backseat of the car. She had never taken me to a dentist while I was there, so I managed to pull off my braces with old needle nose pliers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so mad. She took me back to the house where she was staying and told me to get the dye out of my hair. While I was rinsing my hair under the bathtub faucet, I muttered something that sort of rhymed with “itch.” She came out of nowhere. I didn’t even say it loud, but it was like she had been around the corner just anticipating my smart mouth so she could let me have it. She got me good. I have never called her anything but “Mom” since then. After that, she made a futile attempt at forcing me to go to school. I wouldn’t cooperate with anything she tried to make me do, just out of spite. By then, I had made friends with every dropout in town, so she couldn’t find me even when she tried. It wasn’t much longer after that when she sent me back to my grandparents. I can’t tell you how or why, but when I got back to my grandparents, I became a whole different kid. I enjoyed school and even made it on the honor roll. I met a boy named Danny, who I remained loyal to throughout high school. When my grandfather asked me if I was going to marry him, I decided that second, from fear of having a boring life, that it was time to break up.

A month before graduation, my mom went back to Oregon, and I moved in with her. It was then that I watched her struggle the most. She had always had horrible taste in men but this one I truly despised the minute I met him. And for good reason. He knew he had HIV and Hepatitis C and passed it to her anyway, beat on her, tried to distance her from her kids, and, in an attempt to move her across the entire country, eventually landed her and my brother in a Michigan prison for three years. Her “boyfriend” is doing three life sentences for shooting and nearly killing three state police officers. It is hard for me to understand why she still speaks to him, but she does. That was 1994; I was twenty years old, and that is the last time my mom had a boyfriend.

After that, I watched my mom spin out of control. Instead of taking care of herself better, she destroyed herself. She began selling and doing crystal meth, stealing cars and trucks with my brother, Adam, stealing guns and breaking into houses. She acted like life didn’t matter. It was also the first time I saw my mother in a different light. I felt sorry for her instead of angry, and it hurt my heart to see her going through that. I cannot imagine how she must have felt.

I stopped being so resentful, and it allowed us to form a friendship again. She would constantly tell me that I should depend on no one. She also told me not to have children until at least the age of thirty, and all of the sudden, money was VERY important in regards to happiness. She was always bringing up “karma” and how I should always do the right thing and never ever do bad things to good people. She told me to never judge a person or I will surely walk in their shoes. She would call me relentlessly, and still does, as if she worries about me. There would be times when she would have too much to drink and she would ramble on about how sorry she was for not being a good mom. I always tell her that it’s okay. Now that I am older, I understand. We all have struggles in life, and you never know when yours may come.

I have three children of my own now, and a time did come when, as a mother, I had to struggle with drugs, jail, and unhealthy relationships. I judged my mother harshly, and I ended up walking in her shoes. I used to say I would never be the kind of mother that I had, yet I became like her in many ways. The truth is, when I thought she was influencing me in the worst way possible, she was unknowingly teaching me to be a better mother. It’s possible that had I not gone through what I did as a child, I might not have chosen differently with my own kids. I knew I did not want to put my kids through the same things I had gone through. I remember when my daughter was 7; she looked at me so seriously and said, “I just want my mom back.” I knew exactly how she felt.

I see myself in my mother, and I believe I have learned a lot through watching her make mistakes, as my daughter will hopefully learn from watching me make mine. I have been lucky that my children were not like me. They don’t shoot me with arrows full of guilt and shame. They don’t speak about that period in our lives in a negative way, or constantly remind me of my mistakes, and blame me for our struggles at that time. We can actually sit back and laugh about some of the more comical moments when I was not myself. They love me unconditionally and remind me often that they are proud of me.

The unfortunate reality is that no matter how much you think you know, sometimes you just have to learn for yourself. Some of my best lessons have been learned through making my worst mistakes. Whether she was my enemy or my best friend, she was my mother. She tried to make up for where she went wrong, and she never stopped trying to teach me what she thought was right. When I look back on those days now, I see how they shaped me into the person and mother that I have become. I may have been influenced in some pretty bad ways, but I gained so much in a good way as well. My mother has absolutely impacted who I am, and I am okay with that today. I wouldn’t change a thing.

In loving memory of Linda K. Bertrand

Nov 11, 1954 – Oct 8, 2015

Angalee Bertrand

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

The Story of “Le Petit Blanc”

I lived in Gabon, Africa for fifteen years, but I was born in Bucharest, Romania from a Christian-Orthodox Romanian mother and a Shia-Muslim Lebanese father. When I was three years old, my Mom and I moved to Gabon. I stayed there until I graduated from a French high school, and most of my culture there was French. Because France colonized Gabon, most of what I was eating, watching on TV, and learning was French or about France. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about the difference between other people and me. I am what is often referred to as the “third race.” I am a multiracial and multicultural person. Because of my vast diversity, I never felt like I belonged to any community.

Early in my childhood, I realized that I was different. When I lived in Gabon, people would not call me by my name. They would usually refer to me as “Le petit blanc,” or “Le petit chinois,” which means the little white boy or the little Chinese boy. It didn’t take long for my physical difference to be the only source of ridicule for my peers. Soon, the way I ate, what I ate, or hobbies I had adopted were also sources of ridicule. Often people would say, “You can’t do that or eat that, you are white!” As I grew older, the names people called me or comments people made toward me became more aggressive. “You better go back to your country, the colonial time is done!” Even younger kids than me used some profane language toward me. Once, when I was playing arcades, a young child shut the game off because I refused to let him have my credit. I couldn’t say or do anything in my defense because they had friends, brothers, and family, but I was alone. When I tried, it didn’t go in my favor.

During my childhood, I thought it is just because most black people didn’t like white people. As I grew and matured, I realized even if I could change the color of my skin, nothing would change. Being different would cause problems anywhere I went. Later I realized this was not unique to black people, but rather humanity as a whole. When I traveled back for the first time to my birth country, I realized that people changed their attitude when they heard my Arabic name. “You are not Romanian?” “Where are you from?” When I would say I am Romanian they would laugh and make jokes about me. I remember when I was in high school French students were making jokes at me through miserable pictures of poor peasants to show how poor and undeveloped Romania was. My experiences confirmed my suspicion that, wherever I go, people have a problem with me.

I have always loved to travel, and I have been lucky enough to visit and live in more than 12 countries. But my travel experiences were always mixed with a bitter taste of racism. In France, I was ridiculed for my Romanian origins. In Romania, I was stereotyped due to my Arabic heritage. In Africa, I was discriminated against because I was thought to be white. It seemed incredibly ironic because all of my years in Africa, people didn’t like me because I was white. When I came to the US, people made me realize that I was not what can be qualified as “white.” Maybe my interests for travel and learning about other cultures was for me the way to find an answer to the question, who am I? But as in most pursuit for knowledge, the more I knew, the more I felt even more lost and lonely.

I am today a product of my experiences. While many of my experiences have been tough, I think they have also made me better, if not at least more understanding of others’ miseries. I now see myself as a Westerner without a concrete attachment to any country of my origins or culture, but am very comfortable and attached to the United States and its Constitution. Despite the existing racism in the US, it is the single place in the world where I feel at home. Approximately 98% of the population will never be able to tell me that this land can’t be mine too, because like me they are all from somewhere else. The diversity of this nation has offered me a place that I can call home and where, as time passes, I feel more and more American. I have come to understand I couldn’t relate to anyone until I discovered a home, my home, and realized I was not alone.

Ali Kahil

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

Finite Strings of Energy

On Saturday, August 22, 2015, I was driving to Ways To Wellness, the local holistic store where I worked, when a revelation came forth in my mind like the billowing of a wave. “I’m going to shave my head bald today, and I’m not going to tell anyone.” The fear of someone thinking I had cancer, or my head being oddly shaped, had discouraged me from shaving my head. I had been at odds with myself for months. In the beginning hours of the morning, as the trees, cars, and all of life ebbed and flowed around me, I came to the awareness that those reasons were irrelevant.

***

The earliest memory I have of my hair was around the age of four. I was sitting out in the front yard of my childhood home, playing with colorful paper, glue, and scissors. The sunlight tanned my skin, and the grass was warm, soft. A breeze swayed through the yard, and as I did my arts and crafts a questioned formulated in my mind: “Do scissors also cut hair?” The next thing I remember, my mother was walking out the front door to check on me. Before she said a word an excuse came bubbling up out of my little mouth, “The wind blew my hair into the scissors Mommy!” Tendrils of my hair danced across the yard in the wind.

As I grew in height, my hair grew in length. By the age of six my hair reached past my waist, years after my self-made haircut. Every morning and every night, I would stand in the bathroom as my mother would brush and braid my hair. Sometimes I would ask her to do multiple braids, one time as many as eight, all sticking out in random directions on my head. My mother said I looked like an octopus. Most days it would be one long braid, down the back of my head. In elementary school, there was one other girl who had hair as long as mine. One day, the teacher took a tally of who thought who had the longer hair. We both took down our braids, and the teacher measured the length of our hair. I won by two inches.

***

When I arrived at work that Saturday my day moved with routine, but a newfound light had illuminated inside of my heart. As I worked on the window display for summer, I couldn’t help but reflect on what brought me to this moment of confirmation. I had developed a nasty habit of twirling my hair, and it was causing it to thin. I had no intention of continuing this. There aren’t too many times when you can completely remove a habit. Shaving my hair seemed like a viable option. As extreme as it sounds to shave my head because of a bad habit, it wasn’t the only reason that brought me to this decision.

I am aware of the general consensus of what makes a woman “attractive.” Most people would agree that women with long, flowing, thick hair are gorgeous. Many would also be quick to say that women with short hair are “butch.” Some people who are even harsher would say, “a dike.” I chose to cut my hair to say I do not agree with this ideal. This is not to say that women who choose to grow their hair long, and spend time grooming it, are somehow wrong or vain. It is merely preference. I only hope they do it for themselves, because it’s what makes them feel confident. I shaved my head to show that the length of a woman’s hair does not determine her beauty, or her worth.

***

The first time I ever cut a significant amount of my hair was the week before third grade. My mom’s friend, who was a hairdresser, came over to our house. As I sat on the back porch in the summer’s fading heat, she braided my long hair for the last time. Moving up to third grade was a significant moment for me. I was changing teachers, moving to the other side of the school building, and I would be in a whole new class of students. I wanted to embody that change, my growth, the new person I hoped to be. Nineteen inches cut off and donated. I remember shaking out my new haircut, and exclaiming, “Wow! It feels like a log was taken off my head!” There was definitely a weight difference, but I think I was just being dramatic. Full of excitement and joy, I called my new third grade teacher to tell her the news.

As I aged and moved into middle school, it seemed that girl’s hair got a lot of attention. Most of the girls I went to school with had long, straight, blonde, or black hair. I had thick, frizzy, curly, brown hair. To say the least, it wasn’t the only thing the other kids would pick on me for, but it was one of the only things I could change. In seventh grade, I convinced my mom to buy me a hair straightener. Every morning, I began to pull out my curls with scorching heat.

Later that year, I convinced my parents to let me dye my hair black. This grew into me dyeing my hair on my own and changing colors, almost two to three times a month. My parents took a lot of coaxing to allow me to do anything with my hair. My father has always wanted me to have long, natural hair; in the beginning he was the one to hold strong. My mother loved me too much. She understood too well the importance of self-expression to keep me from doing what made me happy. My father ultimately felt the same.

In later years, I found a local hairdresser who could permanently straighten hair, and my mother brought me to get my hair chemically void of all my curls. In hindsight, I now see how troubled my parents were in watching their little girl struggle with such a dislike for her natural hair. The hair they gave her.

***

By the end of the work day, I was almost bursting at the seams wanting to tell anyone, someone, about my big shave. I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to know that I was doing it only for myself, without the need for any outside confirmation. I did almost spill to my friend and co-worker Kylie, but I caught myself, and only told her that I had a surprise for everyone tomorrow. She guessed I was going to be bringing in some cookies. After work, I went to the grocery store and bought a three-pack of new razors. I had never shaved my hair before. Judging by the thickness and inexperience, I had a feeling I was going to need them all.

I’ve known many women in my life who have struggled with cancer, or a disease that has taken their hair from them. I am well aware of the many women in the world, who I do not know, who have also lost their hair. I shaved my head in honor of them, to support them. My hope was that even if one woman who was insecure because she had lost her hair, saw me walking with a proud shaved head, would feel more comfortable with her baldness.

***

By the time I had reached sophomore year, my hair had become the consistency of hay. It was around three inches, had been cut, styled, bleached, straightened, and dyed more times than I could remember, and it was the cliché, “I don’t even know my natural hair color.” I finally reached a point in my second year of high school where I was comfortable enough with my hair to let it be curly again. It was liberating to let my hair be. It was frustrating as well. Years of straightening had made me very unknowledgeable in how to care and style curly hair, but after a few real haircuts, and tips from hairdressers and my mother, I began to truly love my curls. For the next three years, I only straightened my hair three times and only to be reminded that I preferred my curls.

After I graduated high school, and my hair was finally reaching past my shoulders again, I made the decision to dread it. At this point, I’m sure my scalp was screaming “Enough is enough!” but I know how stubborn I am. I had dreamed about dreads for quite some time. I would admire people with dreadlocks; they seemed to hold an ethereal glow. I was captivated by the beauty of their hair. I spent over three days knotting in my dreads. When I was done, I had thirty-nine dreadlocks.

In the first six months of having dreads, they required more maintenance than my hair ever had: rolling them, washing them, making sure they were dry, keeping them from fusing together, and making positive the products I was using were dread-safe. All the while, hearing horror stories of poor dread maintenance, and getting asked stupid questions like, “Can’t you get bugs in your hair?” “Don’t you have to shave your head if you don’t want them anymore?” “Don’t you miss brushing your hair?” “You can wash dreads?” “Dreads are GROSS and SMELL!”  I also got a lot of compliments and shared great stories with others who also had dreads. When I saw someone else with dreads, it was like we were in a secret club; we understood each other’s journey with dreadlocks.

I kept them for over a year, but I reached a point where I realized it was time for me to let them go. It took over a week, but I was able to brush them out. I cut them all back to around three inches, went through an entire bottle of conditioner, and when I was done, found myself in desperate need of a haircut.

After all of these escapades, I decided to once again let my hair be and just grow. I had gotten my curly hair maintenance down to a science, for the most part. You can’t really brush curly hair, you can only do so when it’s wet, and I only used my fingers. Sometimes, I would go up to three days without brushing my hair, and I would find dreadlocks beginning to form again. I went for two years with no hair alterations beyond a regular haircut. Only once did I get some color put in my hair, a beautiful dark teal called Enchanted Forest.

In the early spring of 2015, the desire to change my hair began to build within me again. I knew this time that it would be something much more extreme. I wanted to shave my head. For around three months, I contemplated the idea. Considered my reasoning, asked people for their opinions, looked at many pictures of short haircuts for girls, and tried to psych myself up to make such a drastic haircut. In May, I finally made a hair appointment. I had decided that even though I wanted to be completely bald, I would start off with going short. If I liked it, I could always go shorter. Thirteen inches cut off and donated. My head was shaved down to number three. I was ecstatic with my very short hair. I got a lot of support from friends and family as well. The truth was I had really wanted to go completely bald, but I was too afraid to. As my hair began to grow out again, I still fought with the idea of wanting to be bald.

***

In many cultures, hair is a representation of power. The Native Americans believe that your strength is held in your hair. Traditionally, they would grow their hair long, out of respect for their mother, their grandmother, and the divine feminine energy that gave birth to all. In the Bible, there is a story about a man named Samson, who had inhuman strength and had made enemies with the Philistines because of it. In his dedication to God, and since the birth from his mother’s womb, a razor had never been used on his head, thus granting him his gift of great strength. Through deceit, he revealed to his lover Delilah the origin of his strength. She had his hair shaved, as he slept, and he was seized by the Philistines. During the Vietnam War, men were deployed into Native American reserves to find the best trackers to be enlisted in the service. With protocol, the Native men’s hair was shaved. Only after, did the military discover that the Native men had lost all their abilities to track. Was it in the belief of their hair granting them power? Or does our hair truly hold, finite energy receptors, allowing us to perceive beyond our physical senses?

My belief is in the latter. I chose to shave my head, to release this power back to the Universe. I shaved my head, to give back to Creator the energy, which I was trying too hard to control. I have found myself at a great turning point in my life recently when I stopped trying to control the current of my energy and my life. I had become too absorbed in what I wasn’t doing, what I wasn’t experiencing, and worse, what I was too afraid to do. Instead, I focus on my intention, my direction, and my motivation. I allow what may come and welcome it. In releasing my power back to Creator I say, “I give you my being, unfastened, yours for the making. I am reborn in your likeness. I manifest through you. I am you. I am.”

On the night of Saturday, August 22, 2015, I went out into my back yard with a pair of hair clippers and cut my hair. The act only shared between me and my higher power. It took me two hours to fully shave my head down to the scalp. What I found at the bottom of my hair bed was empowerment, liberation, and unity with the Divine.

Juna Grier

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

An Attempted Explanation

Today is the day we have been anticipating all semester. Every notebook page filled with unintelligible scribbles led us here. All of our ideas and thoughts begging to be shouted to the world. Some thoughts more important, more desperate to be shared, others would rather stay hidden, but need to be said.

Students gather in the small, dimly lit theater. The brightest light already focused on the lone microphone at center stage. It waits there for its first victim. Somehow it wears a smile that seems inviting, but promises something akin to torture. That microphone will feel the pain that radiates through the words of students who will voluntarily share their souls with the world.

“Poetry is meant to be shared.” That’s what Mrs. Hechlik always tells us. I think she means to be encouraging, but it just leaves me with a strangely protective feeling in my gut. I need to protect the words that mean so much. I can’t share my poetry; it would mean I would have to admit to the world that I have real emotions. Those don’t need to be shared; well, some of them don’t. Some people might think I’m overly humble, but no one would understand even if I tried explaining everything. So, why should I expect anyone in this room to understand that when I step on that stage and open my mouth, I am releasing secrets I’ve been keeping from everyone, including myself?

It’s not until I look at the list of brave souls that I remember that I asked to be one of the first. The reason I asked, well, she’s not here. If I don’t constantly remind her of things, she will forget. As much as I want my mom to hear the words I will later spill, I’m glad she’s not here. Having her here would make this that much harder. I would get on stage and see her and watch as she hears the feelings I’ve been bottling up. She would see the tears that will most likely stream down my face, but she wouldn’t believe me, anyway.

My nerves drown out the speakers before me. I flex and relax my hands over and over trying to stop them from shaking. My knees bounce up and down rapidly in anticipation. I really need to have faith that the crowd here understands what I’m about to say. I’ve never said this to anyone for fear that they won’t understand, that I won’t make sense. It’s always been difficult for me to say things, especially the things I should say, but I’ve never had enough faith in myself to be able to explain it correctly.

“Up next we have Courtney Gage and her poem ‘An Attempted Explanation.’”

“Crap,” I mutter to myself before taking a deep, shaky, breath and heading to the stage. My friends in the audience shout words of encouragement as I slowly take my place, not ready for this, but I guess I have to be now.

“Um, Hi. My name is Courtney, and this poem is called ‘An Attempted Explanation.’” Awesome, I already sound like an idiot. There is no way these people are going to believe me now, especially with the way my hands are shaking. I should have just memorized this thing, but I probably would have forgotten it when I got up here. I just have to hope I can get through this without dropping to the floor. I have to hope that my message makes sense, hope that I make sense. I take a deep breath, and force myself to continue.

“Alexithymia, noun; the inability to express one’s feelings.” More like inability to communicate with true dialogue, heck, even not at all. Goodbye primordial right.  My mind goes blank. I have to focus on the page; I’m not really sure if words are coming out of my mouth. I guess it makes sense that I forgot to remind my mom about today. Most of the time, I can’t even answer the simplest of questions.

“Don’t force these questions on me.

The reaction in my brain

Creates a tidal wave of panic causing

The lump in my throat

To block the sound

Of my voice”

I don’t know where to look. The paper in my hand is shaking as if my arm were a tree branch and the paper a leaf. Am I still breathing? I think I might be. It’s like every difficult conversation I can’t have, only instead of talking to one person, I’m talking to fifty. Nothing will change if I can’t stop this fear of saying the wrong thing. Maybe I don’t want change. Maybe I’ve been thinking too critically, to the point of stopping change from occurring. I’ve been stopping myself from ever being able to effectively communicate.

“My brain believes that every word

Must be chosen carefully and specifically

For a better purpose

But the only adjectives I have

Are profanities,

“I” the only noun,

A skip-skipping record in my head.”

I can feel it: I’m crying. That is exactly what I didn’t want to do. I can’t breathe again. I’m shaking so much my voice must sound like I’m talking into a fan. I can’t stop. I have to finish this. I just really have to hope that they can still understand me. I hope that everyone here realizes that the reason that tears are streaming down my face is because I am finally releasing the things that have been weighing on my mind for so long.

“‘Just tell me!’

‘I’m trying!’

But the answers are now gone,

Replaced by the pathetic whimpering

Tears streaming down my face,

The disturbing sniffles

That attempt to draw back in

The slimy evidence of my frustrations.”

Almost done. Just a few more lines and I can go hide in a hole for the rest of the day, or the rest of my life. As I say the final words I feel lighter somehow, almost like I’m floating.

“Thank you.” I quickly step off the stage and to the row my friends are sitting in. I guess, that even though I wasn’t able to say what I needed to the right person, at least I said it. A weight has been lifted off my chest, my breathing now in control. Hopefully, someone out there understands what I’ve said. I feel like someone who was oppressed and unable to speak and who finally got the right to speak up. Everything, and yet nothing, has changed.

The next day the prizes are awarded to participants of the Poetry Slam. I won the top prize: “Most Emotional Poem.” So maybe someone really did understand.


An Attempted Explanation

 

Alexithymia, noun;

The inability to express one’s feelings.

 

“How are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“How can you be failing?”

“I don’t know!”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I DON’T KNOW! IDON’T KNOW!”

 

I don’t know how to tell you I’m not okay.

I don’t know how to tell you I’m angry with you.

I don’t know how to tell you I’m not as smart as you think I am.

I don’t know how to say what I’m feeling

What I’m thinking.

 

Don’t force these questions on me.

The reaction in my brain

Creates a tidal wave of panic causing

The lump in my throat

To block the sound

Of my voice

 

This laryngitis is brought upon

By serious and debilitating

Bouts of frustration that force

My brain into an unending

Loop of distress

The only thoughts left are those

That continue to choke

Me and spread my paralysis.

 

My brain believes that every word

Must be chosen carefully and specifically

For a better purpose

But the only adjectives I have

Are profanities,

“I” the only noun,

A skip-skipping record in my head.

 

“Just tell me!”

“I’m trying!”

But the answers are now gone,

Replaced by the pathetic whimpering

Tears streaming down my face,

The disturbing sniffles

That attempt to draw back in

The slimy evidence of my frustrations.

 

“Stop Crying.”

I can’t.

I can’t do this.

I can’t tell you.

I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.

I’m afraid you will make this my fault.

I’m afraid you won’t understand.

You never do.

You laugh in my face

And tell me to

“Stop being so Over Dramatic.”

All you ever do is tell me to get over it.

 

I’m tired of trying to

Find the right words,

It’s time to find the wrong ones.

 

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

 

Courtney Gage

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016, Poetry 2016

His Life Through My Eyes

The brutally strong wind slapped the sides of his bare face as he took slow strides along the side of the road. I drove past him with water leaking from my eyes while contemplating if I should turn around and give him a ride to whatever destination he was searching for. I didn’t turn around. That was the last day I saw him, the last day I looked into his eyes and the last day I felt sorry for him.

He is a wanderer, a lost soul searching for the future but unable to deal with the past. I always felt like he was given the short stick in life. Now I realize that sure maybe his stick was smaller than others, but he broke and cut it down into nothing. He diminished any hope of a future because of his actions and then proceeded to blame others because of the consequences. This stranger is my brother. The memory of the day I last saw him is as vivid in my mind as if it had happened only moments ago. That moment changed my life in one of the most devastating yet inspirational ways. My brother’s name is Jake and with no intention he has created a spark within me that radiates motivation, success, honesty, and forgiveness. While this might sound selfish, Jake’s failures have motivated my success.

Divorce can really shape the way a person views the world, whether that be in a positive or a negative way. Jake was only five when my mom and his dad divorced. He was seven when my mom remarried my dad, and eight when I came into the picture. Everything in his world was changing, and he didn’t even have the chance to sit back and understand. Much like everything in his life, he sat back and watched as situations unfolded. A brutal match of tug of war was about to begin. It seemed as if Jake’s dad tried to ruin every image of my parents in Jake’s eyes. The bond that had grown between my dad and him was collapsing, as was his image of my mom. Our house began to feel like a prison to Jake. He was so use to doing anything he wanted at his dad’s house that when he was with my mom he forgot that rules existed. As each side of the rope began to pull harder, Jake began to fall apart. He skipped school to drink and smoke, had no respect for adults and constantly moved schools. Eventually he stopped going to school all together. Jake dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen. After that, every ambition was shattered along with every dream he had. Years passed, and Jake stayed the same. Every job he started, he quit. Jake’s drug addictions landed him in both the hospital and jail. The tug of war ceased, his dad let go, and Jake was broken.

Throughout all of Jake’s failures, my mom was there to support him. Anything he needed she would take care of it; anything that he did she would make excuses for him. I didn’t blame her though—he needed both the attention and the support. However, her help soon became crippling. He would never learn from his mistakes if my mom fixed every problem that crossed his path. Around Christmas time, 2013, Jake moved back home at the age of 24. He claimed that he was going to classes to get his GED because he dropped out of high school. My mom told him that he was welcome to stay at our house while trying to make something of himself. As per usual, Jake’s motives were headed in a completely different direction.

He is very manipulative. Jake knows how to make people do what he wants them to do, and that skill doesn’t come without a surplus of lies. Turns out that the real reason he wanted to stay at our house was because he needed a place of residency while he was out on parole. Jake’s history includes drunk driving, selling, buying, and using drugs, and not paying his court fees. One day, his parole officer decided to stop by while I was home alone. The officer was asking all kinds of questions about him and wanting to know where he was. I told the officer the truth: I didn’t know where he was, and he hadn’t been home in weeks. The officer left shortly after. That was where the calm ended; then began the storm. Suddenly Jake came bursting through the back door. My mom asked if I could take my little brother, Alex, upstairs. As I walked up the stairs with Alex, the yelling started. Jake was furious, saying that now his parole officer said he violated his parole because of what I had said. My mom stated that he was lying to everyone and that he used our whole family for his own selfish reasons. They were both screaming at each other when, finally, my mom told him leave. She said he wasn’t welcome back into our house. Just like that, all of the screaming came to a halt. I stood, feet firmly planted on the top steps of the stairs, watching Jake calmly walk towards the door. Before he reached out to pull the door open, he turned around and stared directly at my mom. The last words he spoke to her were, “The next time you see me will be the day I am six feet under.” He then opened the door and walked away. As the door closed, the cold winter breeze surged into the house, making me shiver. My mom then collapsed to the floor with a heart- shattering thud and began weeping. After I helped my mom re-collect herself, I realized that I had basketball practice that day, and I decided that I needed to get my mind off of the scene I just witnessed. While I drove to practice, I passed Jake as he walked alongside the road. I almost turned around to pick him up, but I didn’t. I kept driving because I realized that he needed to help himself. The last image I have of Jake is through my rearview mirror.

I watched Jake turn everything good in his life upside down. His blatant disregard for education only surged me forward. He motivated me to do better in the tasks that I set forth to accomplish. My goal wasn’t to overshadow my success with his failure, but to give my parents something to be proud of. I knew if I at least tried in school that would be a step in the right direction. I didn’t just try, though. I succeeded. Every class I took I aimed for perfection. I did not always see that although I did come close. Throughout high school I kept a steady grade point average of 3.7 while keeping up with sports and volunteering around the community. Jake was always around people who had no more ambition than he did, which only promoted failure. I made sure to surround myself with friends who would help me along the road to success. My friends each had their own reasons behind getting good grades. We all worked together and respected the fact that education was important even if it was for different reasons. Jake didn’t learn from his mistakes; however, I did. I made sure to stay away from the classic high school temptation of partying. He was only interested in the social aspects of high school, but I was the exact opposite. I spend my weeknights studying, and that gave me the opportunity to have fun on Fridays with my friends. However, my idea of fun wasn’t drinking and partying. The taste of alcohol reminded me of Jake. I spent years trying to forget about him, and drinking only replayed old unwanted memories in my mind. Jake is and should be credited for being one of the reasons for my success. I have created my own success, but he was the first reason I had to be a better student, person, and daughter.

Jake indirectly taught me the value of truth. He was, by all means, a compulsive liar. I learned that people, especially myself, respect when others are truthful. I watched as my mom slowly lost hope in every word that he spoke simply because she could not decipher the truth from the lies. I hold honesty very highly when regarding a person’s character. Along with truth, I also value the ability to forgive in a person. He has made many mistakes in his life, just as I have in mine. Mistakes and failure are important in life, but just as important as both of those is the power of forgiveness. I have learned to forgive Jake for all of his actions and choices. I know that to carry the baggage of a grudge or of hatred can become very heavy.

That cold winter day still replays in my head more than two years later. I can hear the screams, see the tears, and feel the pain in my chest every time that memory plays back in my mind. Jake changed everything in my life. He changed the way I feel about success, the value I place on truth and the art of forgiveness. I am not ashamed of him, nor do I look down upon him for the decisions he has made in his past. I do, however, hold him accountable for his actions. I think that he should take responsibility for his actions simply because it is the right thing to do. I love Jake, but I just think that he needs a bit of tough love to truly understand that he is the answer to his own problems. I am a stronger, more motivated, successful, truthful, and forgiving person because of the experiences he has forced upon me. I want Jake to know that he has shaped the person I have become, and because of that, I am grateful. I have always felt as if I could not congratulate myself on my success because the person who inspired me to do better was anything but successful. I realize now that although my actions were, in part, motivated by his mistakes, my success was made from my hard work, my effort and my ambition.

I have buried my feelings about Jake. I locked away thoughts and memories to keep my heart from breaking. I hate him for everything he has put my family through. I hate him for everything he had put himself through. He wasn’t there for me like big brothers are supposed to be for their little sisters. He didn’t protect me from boys like brothers are supposed to. Truth is, Jacob broke my heart before any other boy had the chance to. I hate him because I love him. He left me to fight this battle alone. Jake does care about me, at least not like I care about him. He doesn’t even know who I am, and he doesn’t want to, either. My mind dances through his life. Images of screaming chapped lips, glossy brown eyes and strong fists hitting the wall invade my mind. I have seen his life. I hold on to the images that now are long gone. My eyes betray me as pictures of hot summer days flood in to my mind. Two young siblings playing in the steaming hot sandbox as my dad cuts the grass. The smell of the grass consumes my senses. Jacob gazes up at the sky, smiling. I remember his life even though I am not a part of it anymore. Memories of Jake only haunt me now. I don’t want to remember; I only wish to forget. I want to forget about Jake, just as he has forgotten about me.

Phoebe Fries

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Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016