Category Archives: Fall 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

Lonely Knowing

I believe in the warmth within you.
I watched it light the cold corners of your eyes.
I thought: I could believe anything you’d say if you’d let me.

You mumbled of the swirling suction, which pulled you into that dark place.
Your feelings were a black hole, and you swore you were falling in.
You refused to explain, but I knew what you were feeling.
I felt it, too.
We both feared the same thing.

You loved me for a night, and I knew you wouldn’t remember.
You don’t remember.
We fell asleep sharing a sweet, subtle secret.
When I woke up, I was the only one who knew.

 

Meaghan Hayman

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Filed under Fall 2016, Poetry 2016

Healing

The monotonous sound of my shoes pounding against the cement reminded me how tired I was. I clicked my volume up two notches to drown the noise out. I had been tired for a long time. I was used to it. The upbeat music pounding into my ears didn’t help like I had hoped. I focused on breathing instead. I reached the end of the paved road and continued on slipping through the gravel filled path. I picked up a warm smoky breeze coming from the campgrounds up ahead. Dane and I used to camp there. It was only two miles down the road but made a nice retreat from home. I would work on setting up our dwarf sized tent while he attempted to start a fire. I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. The tent was always crooked and our fire would sizzle out after an hour or so. On more than one occasion we just laughed at the mess and drove home. I missed the sound of our individual laughter combined to make one booming sound. We hadn’t been camping much in the past year. A lot had changed. When I realized my lack of sleep had caught up with me, I decided to head home.

 

I could see the driveway was empty from studying the house from a distance. It made sense when I checked the time on my phone. One advantage to my insomnia was starting my runs before he was awake. Sometimes I would catch him on his way out the door. We would exchange an awkward “Have a good day.” I don’t know if either of us meant it. We pretended a lot. It spanned from our fake greetings to playing nice around his family. Pretending was so exhausting. I was relieved to be avoiding our fake greetings today.

I dropped my sandbag of a body on the couch. I could feel myself being sucked into the throw pillows. I sat there for a while as if I was completely paralyzed. I studied the room. Pictures from our wedding day covered the walls. Two strangers stared back at me. It was hard to believe we were ever that in love. The one next to it show the strangers sharing a passionate kiss at the altar. The last one I stared at for a little longer. I recognized the people in it. It hadn’t been as long since I had seen them. Dane’s family was the only family I knew now.  With both of my parents gone and no siblings it was hard to even say I had a family. I think that’s why the pretending was worth it. I loved them like my own and I didn’t want to leave them either. I sat there for a while longer until I realized I had sweat drying on my body. I looked down at my sorry-looking shoes and untied them carefully. I was happy they had made it through another run. I thought about getting new ones a while ago. They really were on their last life. I didn’t like the thought of having to settle on new pair. I really liked these. And with new shoes came new blisters. It would be painful to adjust to new shoes. When I realized I wasn’t deciding on shoes I picked them up and threw them in the closet.

I battled the stairway to get the shower started. I turned the knob to the hottest temperature possible then adjusted it so I wouldn’t scald myself. I pulled my shirt over my head along with my sports bra. I started a pile on the floor. I added my running shorts and socks to it and stared at myself in the mirror. I noticed the black and blue marks fading to an ugly brownish color. I was happy to see them healing with the cuts above my right eye. I stared at my skeleton figure in the mirror for a while. I pushed my stomach out as far as possible while I held my breath. I tried to remember what my stomach looked like rounded again. After the last miscarriage, we decided to take a break. The break had lasted a while now and I wasn’t sure it was a break anymore. I used to pray to God for a miracle but stopped after the last one. I hadn’t talked with God for a while. I didn’t trust him anymore.

Pregnancy had ruined my marriage. The second pregnancy was just filled with anxiety. I began running around that time. When we lost her, my doctor had suggested I do something healthy to take my mind off of the “situation.” I hated how she danced around the word miscarriage. I knew what the fuck it meant. She was right about running, though. It saved my life. I slept an hour or two more every night. I could feel the anxiety fade a little after each run. And I noticed muscle starting to bubble from under my tired skin. I wish the doctor would have had a talk with Dane that day. His resolve to the second loss was more whiskey. I wish I could blame our issues on the whiskey. I often did but always realized it was the man behind the bottle. He would stumble home most nights from the bar. I really couldn’t remember the last time I had a normal sober conversation. When his drinking first started getting worse I tried to help. I would ask him things like, “Why do you need alcohol when you have me to talk to?” He would usually hang his head and say, “Just give me a minute to think.” His minute would turn into what felt like hours. I couldn’t handle the silence so I would keep talking until talking turned into yelling. We would scream at eat other until our voices were gone. Thank goodness our neighbors were half a mile away.

When we realized talking didn’t do us any good we stopped. The house was quiet without all the arguments, but it wasn’t a serene quiet. I think we both knew we were still thinking about what we wanted to say. I don’t know about him, but the thoughts in my head were much louder than any screaming match we had ever been in. I thought of something to say to him every day. I would muster up the courage all day but lose it at first sight of him. How did it get so bad? Why are we still doing this to ourselves? I knew the answers to these questions but didn’t like them. I think I just kept asking myself them to look for a different answer.

When my parents both passed away suddenly they left me everything. I had no siblings and my parents had no one else to care for. Dane knew his homely job as a carpenter wouldn’t pay the bills. I wasn’t happy with our marriage but it was better than coming home to an empty house. With no relatives on speaking terms, children, or even a dog that liked me, what would I do with my life? At least with Dane around I had another warm body in the house with me. I thought about leaving a lot. I would make plans and write them out in a notebook. At one point I had decided to move to Clearwater, Florida. It was about a twenty two hour drive from my freezing Michigan home. I would pack up everything I could and leave. Reality set in quickly. This wasn’t a Hallmark movie. I couldn’t just pack up my Jeep and drive thousands of miles with no place to live. I ended up using the notebook to kill a man-eating spider one night and threw it in the garbage with the corpse. I realized I was still standing in the bathroom bearing all that I had to show. I carefully stepped into the shower.

 

I grabbed the pile of pizza menus that delivered to our lonely home. Cooking wasn’t on my list of things to do tonight. I knew Dane would eat whatever leftovers in the fridge. I guess that was the one good thing about his habits. My eyes grazed over the options. I was starving as usual but nothing sounded like it would cure my hunger. I was crazy for pizza with my last pregnancy. I would have Dane order three medium pizzas for the two of us and finish them all by the next day. I had a little hope for the last pregnancy. I was feeling much healthier, and something was different this time. It was like my body finally agreed to help me out for once. I still wonder what we would have named it. We never even got to find out if it was a boy or a girl. I had names picked out for both.

My deep thoughts with the pizza menu were interrupted by the front door. I heard the key attempting to make it into the lock. Then I listened to a few angry grunts. I decided to help the shithead. I took my time walking to the door though. When I finally opened it I saw a tired- looking man. His blond hair was twisted every which way but you could still see the line from his hat. His broad shoulders were hunched over as if he had just been punched in the stomach. He had obviously stopped by the bar after work. His dusty work boots matched his filthy outfit. He looked at me with his baby blue eyes. They had changed a lot since we had met. They no longer made me smile when I looked at them. These days they were bloodshot and darting around the room as if they had never seen the house before. After the giant stumbled past me I looked out the door to see if his car had made it hone too. It did. You would think he would learn from his mistakes.

I dialed the number for Marco’s Pizza and put in my usual order. “That will be about an hour, ma’am. Is that alright?” Is that alright? No, but it was a done deal now. “Sure,” I responded and hung up. Heavy footsteps were pounding through the house. What the hell was he doing? I decided to check the situation out.

I found him butt naked trying to pick up his t-shirt at the wrong moment. I turned away until I was sure he was upright. When I looked back at him I met his stare with rosy cheeks. “Sorry,” he slurred. “I was just looking for some clean clothes.” I let him know I had left a pile of them on top of the washer. He stumbled into the laundry room. I decided to turn on the TV and wait for dinner to arrive. I had hoped he wouldn’t join me. I couldn’t handle his inebriated presence tonight. I thought about the car again when I passed by the window. Chills ran through my body. His brand new F150 wasn’t a purchase we planned on making. His last truck didn’t make it through the accident. I suddenly felt hot as I thought about what else we lost that day.

 

My body was keeping up with the last pregnancy. I had complications but not like before. I was on bedrest so I sat home most nights reading various books about how to raise a healthy baby. Dane and I were also doing well. He decided that he wanted to take me out to dinner with the doctor’s permission. We called the doctor and she gave us a time limit of an hour. I attempted to make myself presentable while Dane called in reservations to our favorite restaurant. I could tell he had been drinking but he still seemed to be functioning normally. I let him drive since he insisted I was in no condition.  I should have told him the same thing.

The next thing I remember is the truck spinning and rolling into one of the deepest ditches on our road. They blamed the icy road in the police report, but we know there were other factors involved. When they pulled my body out of the ditch, my skin had a pale blue tint to it. I lost consciousness a lot so I don’t remember much until I woke up in the hospital bed. Dane was sleeping in a chair next to me. His wrist was wrapped and his bruised skin matched mine now that I was looking at it. I looked around the room and back at my limp body. I could tell something was terribly wrong just from looking at my torso. Dane jumped up as soon as he realized I was awake, too. His tearstained cheeks confirmed my suspicions. I didn’t cry when the doctor repeated the news everyone had already heard. I just sat there and stared at the ceiling. I didn’t think. I just stared at the creamy orange-colored paint. I remember not feeling the pain even when they took me off the morphine. I just felt numb. There was nothing I could do. We had lost our last baby.

The doorbell threw me off the couch as if there were springs in my ass. I grabbed my wallet out of the kitchen and gave the zit-faced kid a twenty and told him to keep the change. Dane suddenly appeared in the room. The smell of pizza must have made its way to wherever he had been. I didn’t want to look at him tonight. How could he drive drunk again after what happened? I called him every name I could think of without actually saying them out loud. He looked at me with a twisted face and dropped the pizza. “Who the hell puts pineapple on a pizza?” I would normally ignore his inebriated talk but I had too much on my mind today to hold another thing in. “It’s called a Hawaiian. Most people don’t complain about pizza they didn’t buy.”

“Really? You’re going to lay that shit on me again?”

“You asked…”

“If you‘re so unhappy, why don’t you take your trust fund and leave me the hell alone?”

I thought about it for a minute. Agreeing is what he wanted right now. I decided to change the subject and talk about what I really wanted to know.

“Why are you driving drunk, Dane? Didn’t you learn when you killed…”

I stopped because if I finished that sentence, it would hurt him more than me. I didn’t really like him right now, but no one deserved that. I didn’t have to finish my sentence though. The damage was done. He punched the wall on the way out of the room. Shit. I was going to have to fix this. I didn’t want to apologize but he was out of whiskey. Nothing good happened when the bottle was empty. I followed him into the next room. His head was between his knees.

I sat there staring at him. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. Why could I defend pineapple on pizza but I couldn’t talk about our failing marriage? I seriously needed to visit that therapist. When he noticed me standing there he scoffed and slurred out, “I don’t know what you want me to do. If you hate me, why don’t you just leave? Why do you stick around this dump? Why do you sit with garbage like me?” I thought about answers to all the questions he repetitively kept asking. I didn’t really know the answer besides being lonely scared the hell out of me. I interrupted his quizzing with, “Where would I go? You’re the only family I have.” I could tell he was stumped now. We both sat in silence. The escalated anxiety was sitting around the room with us. I was done talking until he decided to answer me. Maybe he knew the answer to the question I had been asking myself for a long time now. I would like to hear his opinion. His answer was laughter. Laughter! What the fuck was so funny? I repeated my question out loud.

“You would have no one to live with and I would have nowhere to live. I can’t afford this shitty house on my own.”

I still didn’t find it funny but answered with, “Well I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

He replied, “Why don’t you get a dog? That might be better company than a drunk.” He went into a fit of laughter. I’m pretty sure the alcohol was slowly melting his brain into nothing. I started thinking about that notebook again and my dream home on the Florida coast.

“Where would you go if I left with my ‘trust fund?’”

“I don’t know. I’d probably stay with Ma and Roger until I got myself a place.”

He got up and slowly made his way up the steps. Before he walked upstairs, he turned around and said, “Meg, you got to do something with yourself. We ain’t no good for each other. Hangin’ round here is only making the past hurt more.” He made his way to the second floor and I listened as his footsteps pounded into the bedroom before I started crying.

The emotion felt good. It was as if a balloon had popped inside of me. I felt all the sadness from the loss of our children but the happiness of knowing there could be a future. How could my husband, the drunk, figure that out but not me? When I was through with my concoction of emotions I decided the couch was more of a bed tonight than sharing one with Dane. I snuck into the dark room filled with snoring and grabbed my pajamas and my favorite pillow. I shoved the full pizza boxes into the empty fridge. I watched reruns of Friends until I felt the warmth of sleep take over my tired body.

That night I dreamt about running through the sand. The feeling of the grains filling in between my toes each time I took a step felt so real. The sun shined on the back of my neck. I stopped to take a break from the heat under a small wooden bridge. The salty air filled my nostrils and I sat there listening to the waves move in and out. When I felt cooled enough, I ran back the same direction. I knew where I was going. A small blue beach house waited at the end of a narrow road. The backyard was replaced with sandy shores leading into the bright blue water I had ran next to earlier that day. I made my way up the steps to the screen door. A medium sized black Labrador greeted me with licking the salty perspiration off my body. I laughed as the grainy tongue tickled my skin. I decided to thank him by sitting on the tile cold tile floor. I scratched behind his ears and all the way back to the dock of his tail. His little body squirmed all around as I made my way back to his ears. I heard a door shut from behind me and looked around the house. Panic overturned my happiness. There was no other door shut besides the one behind me. I thought maybe my panicked state pulled me out of my dream, but I realized it was our front door being closed behind Dane.

 

I listened as the truck door shut behind him and started the engine start up. He took his time backing out of the long driveway. Little rocks popped under the large tires. The dream felt so real and I tried to close my eyes and get back to my new friend. I gave up after a few minutes of tossing and turning. I sat up and thought about how refreshed I was. I had gotten my first full night’s sleep in over a year. I couldn’t give the couch credit though. Last night had changed something.

I hobbled up the steps. I was only half awake but already in a better mood thanks to my dream. I pulled out a fresh pair of shorts. I put on the clean sport bra and an old t-shirt I had gotten from Mackinaw Island on our honeymoon. I made my way to the dark closet at the bottom of the steps.

I pulled my sad looking shoes back on my feet. I tied them very carefully and thought about this being their last run.  The fading colors from what used to be a bright pink with green stripes were now some sort of odd gray. I stared at them a little longer and thought about how I really didn’t even recognize them. It was almost like they were completely different shoes. They were filled with little rips in the mesh. The bottom of the left one was peeling off the main part of the shoe. I prayed they’d hold up for their last run. I decided I was ready for a new pair.

My feet tapped against the pavement in a different way today.  Each one was filled with springy energy. I decided to take a new path today. I wanted to get to know the neighborhood a little better.

Lauren Hamel

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Filed under Fall 2016, Fiction 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

dreaming.

i am thinking of you r.g.

a piano teeth smile

that played the loveliest harmonies.

on days the sun clings to branches

like a needy lover.

clutching the other’s shirt

that rips at the stitching.

 

i am dreaming of you r.g.

each time i hear a song

whistling through the trees.

i wonder if you found an answer

to the question your grandson asked you

a product of a broken home

held together by loose screws,

rusty nails,

and self-doubt.

 

are you still courting the muse?

writing poems for her each night?

do you speak of her caked cheeks

colored rose pink

and white hair?

is she still beautiful?

 

i am praying for you r.g.,

that one day, on an afternoon like this,

the wind will bring me back to you.

 

Thomas Dunn

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Filed under Fall 2016, Poetry 2016