Tag Archives: Nonfiction

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Fall 2016, Nonfiction 2016

The Power of a Plastic Card

“Abstract” is defined as existing in thought or as an idea that does not have a physical or concrete existence. One of the most impressive and unique things about humans is the power to conceive abstract things or concepts. Laws, beliefs, and authority are all abstract and depend on the single understanding of a person. This understanding, though, depends on concepts such as culture, nationality, and social ranking, which are themselves abstract. We are born with abstract qualities such as our nationality, which is given to us, but when we grow up, others like religion, education and culture are taught to us. For me living in Africa, laws and rules were concepts more abstract than in other places, because they were not effectively materialized. The poor judicial system did not give laws or official documents as much concrete power as they have in western countries. Laws existed in Africa, but simply on paper. I remember a time when I could buy a collection of movies copied from the Internet for one dollar because, despite the copyright, nobody cared about it. I also remember times when I was a young kid and could buy cigarettes and alcohol without an ID despite the fact that laws restricted the purchase for minors under 18 years. I remember that I was living in a country supposed to be a republic founded on democracy where the president was in power for more than 40 years and where your rights are worth your wealth.

I still remember the day when my father came to my house to give me this piece of plastic. The card was in a cover made of paper and aluminum. On the cover was written in Spanish and English, “We recommend use of this envelope to protect your new card and to prevent wireless communication with it.” A stamp on the cover said “US Department of Homeland Security.” This small card had more numbers and information about me that I didn’t know myself at the time. The shiny green color coming from it was intriguing. So many details on it. I could see my name, nationality, date of birth and many numbers that did not make sense to me. In the back on the left was the head of the Statue of Liberty. This statue often came back to my mind later. Each time I remember the face of the Statue of Liberty on the card, I have these words coming in my ears: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This extract of the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus sounds so true for my life.  On the back of the card, I could barely see with my young eyes of the time that all the 50 states’ flags were there and all American presidents since Washington to Obama.

The first impression that I had was that this greenish card was a resume of me, as if someone could look at it and know most of what I am. Soon after remembering this impression, I recall the work that it took to have this card: all the travels and information that I needed to provide, but also the five long years that it took to have everything done. US government officials asked me for records from all the countries that I lived in. I needed to be crime and disease free. I spent hours being interrogated at the American embassy on my life and what I would do once I got there. After so many years seeking the card, I had even forgotten about it, and I did not realize the importance that this card would later have. This card would soon be my best friend and the most important thing that I ever had.

But it was much later that I really understood the incredible and almost magic power contained in it. A year later, after I received this card and came to the US, I was struggling to get to college. Fortunately my uncle was here and revealed to me the hidden powers contained in this card. The card allowed me to work, but moreover it allowed me to pay for my college. One of the most incredible powers my uncle revealed to me was the power of citizenship. This card will allow me after five years, if I don’t commit any crime or felony, to become an American citizen and change my name which means that this card allows me to have a second chance in life. For someone who lived in Africa like me and never had any social security, I soon realized the power surrounding this object. This insignificant, small, green plastic card did have a power on my life far beyond its physical limits. I now realize what difference it can make, because I encounter people who came to the US without it. Those people have struggled because they couldn’t work legally or have social security and financial aid. They live with a perpetual fear of being deported. I suddenly feel very lucky, but I also realize the power of abstract qualities. The single difference between those who live with the fear of deportation and struggle to make a living was this green card.

Mark Twain said in his book The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” He was right! I had the chance to travel on four continents and by the age of 19 years, I have been in more than 12 countries. My travels have given me a certitude that we often forget. Most of what we have is due to chance: the chance that we have to be born in a place where opportunities exist, and the chance that we have people who worked and sometimes sacrificed their lives for us to have liberties often believed to be granted and not earned. I realized that I could have been one of the smartest people, but in Africa I would have been nothing. I lived 15 years there and nobody realized that I was able to do something. I did not believe I could do something with my life because the environment was as arid in opportunity for me as the desert is in water. Once I came to the US, in less than a year, I could see myself going to one of the greatest universities in America: the University of Michigan. I still remember how this country took me from a poor young man who didn’t know if he could go to college, and even if he could, he would just have done it as a requirement to the young man who saw himself being able to reach the elite. I am today certain that my success will not have been possible anywhere else.

I am telling you this story for you to understand the extreme chance that you have to be born American citizens, because you will never need to pass by all these steps and tests. You will never have the need to prove that you deserved it as I did. You will always be able to see your future and do as you wish. You were granted something insuring your life in terms of opportunity, security and prestige. It is good to remember every time when you feel angry about what life offers you that you were born with something that others see as a life accomplishment.

~Ali Kahil

Leave a comment

Filed under Fall 2015, Nonfiction Fall 2015

Tree Houses and Vomit-Covered Walls

We sat on the second story of the tree house. Our feet dangled over the edge as our cigarettes lit off the only light for miles. The time slipped away from us as we took as much in as possible.  A thrill, one of which didn’t come often, for me nearly ever, was staring us right in the face. If we were to get caught, our parents would never look at us the same again, but that wasn’t a worry, we would cover our tracks. I looked at my new friends, took a long hit of my cigarette, and smiled. Tonight was the night. I was nervous, and you could see it throughout my entire body. My hands shook, my lips pursed, and my laughs were uncontrollable. Someone passed me the bottle, and I drank for what would be the first and the last time.

I was different back then, almost like two opposite people shoved into one body, both fighting to be seen. I was the shy girl who went along with my conservative friends, laughed at what I knew they thought was funny, and talked about the topics that they would want to talk about. I got nearly straight A’s, listened well to my parents, and never got in trouble or even dared copy a homework assignment. Though, at the same time, I longed for adventure. I found myself looking more at the kids with lives and bad reputations than my own friends. I wanted more and more to talk to the people in my class that I knew rebelled rather than the kids that got good grades. I was the girl who needed a change, needed to break the rules to feel something, needed to drink. So, naturally, when the opportunity arose, I took it.

I sat next to a girl in English my eighth grade year. Zohreh. She was the type of girl who knew what she wanted to look like, knew who she was, and knew how to get what she wanted. I envied her. I wanted her outlook on life; to not care about what other people thought of me, to be confident. One day, as our teacher droned on and on about dependent and independent clauses, she leaned over and asked me to meet up with her and her friends later. It was never made clear to me if she could sense my second personality, or if she just thought it would be fun to bring me along for the night. Either way, I didn’t care. That night I went without even a second of hesitation.

There were five of us who met up, all of which I knew on a first name basis, none of which are really important, except Zohreh. They led me to a tree house, or more appropriately a house made around a tree. A tree house, to my knowledge, was elevated on some sort of stable, thick branches and had ladders you climbed to gain access, maybe a little door, and no legroom. This specific tree house was the complete opposite. It had two floors and was made mainly sitting on the ground. There was a big heavy door with a padlock and a bench all around the base of the first room. Mounted on the wall, a TV and an Xbox gaming system blared out some kind of confusing sounds, and posters covered the rest of the wood. I did not understand how someone had the time to build this, or why someone’s parents had supplied the money. The answers to these questions didn’t matter, because it was already built, and here is where we would drink.

Two boys came barging through the door in triumph. They had successfully, for the hundredth time it seemed, stolen alcohol from the local convenient store. Hearing this news, the fort became overwhelmed with cheers and high fives, and all the sudden I could barely breathe. At first, it was like a shock bolted through me and I was momentarily paralyzed. It was almost like I had touched an outlet, but the buzzing didn’t disappear, it stayed in a way that was unfamiliar to me. This tingling inside of me was adrenaline. I was excited and afraid, the two best feelings you can ever combine.

I’m not sure how much I drank that night, being that we all shared everything, but I’m sure it was a lot. Zohreh was experienced in this field, you could tell in the way she drank. As I poured my Coconut Parrot Bay into my two liter of Sprite to make it tolerable, she drank it straight and let it burn. We started with four fifths, I quit after two, but Zohreh, she wanted to challenge the guys. At the time it was all hoots and hollers, laughs and nods, but it became a death wish. With tears in her eyes, she finished the fourth bottle. There was no clear winner, we were all too drunk to really care and we were out of alcohol. Hours passed as we sat and laughed the night away. I’m not sure who mentioned the time first, but it became evident that we needed to pack up before the cops got called.

I’m sure we intended on gracefully entering the house and saving Zohreh’s parents the trouble of seeing us drunk, but needless to say, that didn’t happen. Someone tripped over a rug and let out a yelp while another opened the door making a loud, prolonged, squeaking sound. When we finally made it down to the basement it seemed like we were safe, like all was well. After talking for a while, Zohreh made it apparent that it was her bedtime by rolling over and passing out. The rest of us went to finish our pack of cigarettes on the back patio. About an hour later, our packs fully smoked, we decided sleep was a good idea. We headed back down the steps and stumbled upon something we will never be able to un-see.

Zohreh lied across the tile floor, shaking uncontrollably. It was as if all the heat in her body had suddenly vanished. Puke ran down her cheek as her eyes focused in and out on the ceiling. Her hair, normally a light shade of auburn, was now shades of green, white, and yellow with vomit, crusting to the floor. The room reeked so much of puke it brought tears to our eyes. Looking around, it was a crime scene, with puke in place of blood. The rest of us stared at each other, startled and ashamed. We had left her, and if she died, it was on us. Looking back on it, sober, we should have done something, anything. We should have rushed her to the hospital or at least cleaned her up. Instead, we did nothing. In that moment, we were helpless, we were awful, and we were drunk.

~Aubrie Smith

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction Winter 2015, Winter 2015

The Spangled Pearl White Shoes

Every day, we have to make dozens of choices. Some choices, such as what to wear and what movie to watch, are simple to make. Have you ever faced the situation that you have no right to choose? If so, would you be willing to accept or deny choices other people made for you? Some of you may never regret, but some will.

Whenever I go to a shoe store and see many varieties of shoes, I always want to look for the pair that I never had the chance to own when I was a child in Taiwan. It was a pair of spangled pearl white shoes with a pink bow, which I miss deeply. Until this day, even though I often spend much time in children’s shoe stores finding the shoes for my girls, I still cannot find the exact same pair. Decades have gone by, and I am no longer a little girl. I studied hard and graduated from a prominent university with a decent degree in my country. Although I live a happy life now, married to a nice man who is an executive in a machinery company and can buy as many pairs of shoes as I want, I know that pair of spangled pearl white shoes with the pink bow that I miss deeply will never come back to my life. That pair of shoes remains an unforgettable memory from my childhood because it symbolized my resentment of growing up poor.

In my country, Taiwan, every public school student wears almost the same uniform: girls wear white shirts on top with knee-length blue pleated skirts, and boys also wear the white shirts but with short blue pants. We all need to wear the black shoes as part of the uniform; this is the policy everyone has to follow. During the beginning of each new semester, parents are busy preparing the children’s school supplies. For example, my parents would take my brother Huendun and me to shop for some new clothing for the new school year. However, we did not buy things each time because it depended on the condition of my old clothing. If the clothes were torn or ripped with a big hole and were not wearable, my parents would take us to buy new ones. If my parents said we needed new clothes, my brother and I would cheer for many days because we usually did not have new clothes to wear.

My parents were both working in an eyeglass frame factory. Their jobs were to assemble each part of frames to make eyeglasses, and their jobs did not earn them a lot of money to raise a family. I remember at the end of each month, our money was always tight. We often ate rice with only soy sauce and nothing else. We knew we may not have enough money for that month. When the new semester came, I often felt my parents would worry if they would have the extra money to buy our school supplies.

When I was in the fourth grade, I had a pair of black shoes that were really worn out and were becoming small for me, even if I tried to bend my toes. I had been wearing this old pair of shoes since I was in the second grade. My parents would always buy shoes that were a couple sizes too big for my brother and me, so we could wear them longer. Therefore, most of the shoes I wore back then were much bigger than my feet at that time. Because of the loosely fit oversized shoes, embarrassment happened to me so many times from having to go back and pick up my shoes when I ran too fast; it drew a lot of laughter from other students. Finally, I told my parents I really needed a new pair of shoes although I thought they would refuse. One night after dinner, my mom was washing dishes. The sound of water flowing down from the faucet almost made my voice inaudible. I raised my voice and said to my mom, “Ni ker yi mai yi shuang xin xie gei wo ma? Jio der na shuang chuan bu xia ler.” (Could you buy me a new pair of shoes? The old ones cannot fit me anymore.) I showed my old pair of shoes to her, but she continued to wash the dishes. I asked myself, “What if she didn’t hear me?” I was nervous that I did not speak loud enough.

My mom did not answer; the water continued to flow. She may not buy me a pair this year, I thought. Just when I was ready to turn around and go back to my room, I heard her say, ”Hau, wo men zhao shi jian qu xie dian.” (Fine, we will find time to go to the shoe store.) I could not believe what I heard—she finally agreed. But she told me to wait for next month when they had enough money, and she would take me to buy a new pair of shoes.

I counted day after day, and finally the big day arrived! My parents told me they would take me to the shoe store in the afternoon. I could not wait for a second; I was full of joy and cheer because I had been to the only shoe store in our small town so many times to search for my new shoes on my own. The pair in the display behind the window looked so beautiful. Whenever I went home from school, I would always detour to the shoe store to see that pair. They were beautiful pearl white shoes without too much design, and they looked neat and trim. They drew my attention immediately when I saw them the very first time, because this pair of shoes was similar to the one that my neighborhood girl had. She lived in a big house on the top of a hill with a tall fence. Nobody knew her name or what the house looked like inside. All we knew that she was a wealthy businessman’s daughter, probably the same age as me. However, I had never talked or played with her, and neither had my playmates living on the same street.
One time I saw the neighbor girl shopping at the shoe store with her mother. She was wearing a pink, puffy princess dress with this pair of white shoes. The way she dressed looked like a girl from a movie that was so elegant and unreachable. I liked what she wore. I always wished I could be born in her family and wear new clothes every day; then, I would look like her.

This pair of white shoes were the shoes she wore. This was the pair I had dreamed of for a long time, and I was really determined to get them.

When my parents brought me to the store, I went in first and told the clerk that I wanted him to bring me that pair of white shoes. He brought them to me, and when I wore the shoes, I felt I looked as elegant as the rich neighborhood girl. I thought my parents would like them, too. But my parents brought me a black pair of shoes instead and said, “Ba na shuang bai xie tuo diao, chuan zher shuang hei xie. Wo men bu huei mai na shuang bai xie.” (Take off the white ones and wear these black ones. We are not going to buy that pair of white shoes.)

“Wo wei sher mer bu ker yi mai na shuang bai xie?” (Why can I not get this white pair of shoes?) I said it out loud with all my courage. I knew my parents would ignore what I said. “Ni bu ren wei zher shuang bai xie bi jiao shi her wo ma?” (Don’t you think this pair fits me better?) But my parents said I needed to wear black shoes to school, not white shoes, and they could not afford to buy both pairs. I hated that I was born in this blue-collar family and could not have anything I wanted.

“Wo zhi xi huan zher shuang bai xie, ni men jin tian ruo bu mai gei wo, wo jio dai zai zher li zhi dao ni mai gei wo.” (I only like that white pair. If you do not buy that pair today, I will stay here until you buy it for me.) I could not believe how those daring words came out from my mouth. My parents did not say a word. They turned around and went home. I felt so embarrassed standing there. I reluctantly took off the shoes and my eyes filled with tears, and I thought, “Why can I not get that white pair of shoes? Why are my parents so cruel to me? Why was I born in this family? Why can I not be like the girl who lived in that big house? She probably has many pairs of shoes to choose from each day.” I cried on the way home. I did not care how other people looked at me. All I wanted was that pair of white shoes.

When I went home, I threw myself into the bed and cried sadly until I fell into a deep sleep. When I woke up, it was dark outside and my pillow was wet with my tears. I knew I must have cried for a long time. I went downstairs to see if my parents were generous enough to buy me that pair of white shoes. However, the reality was not what I had hoped for. They did not buy me the white pair of shoes that I wanted. Instead, I saw the dull black pair of shoes lying on the table.

I still remember that silent, emotionless despair. That was what I got for fourth grade. From that day on, I knew there was no fairy tale. Not everything will happen according to our wishes. Since then, I had learned not to expect things that are beyond my control or capabilities. I do not blame my parents for not buying me that pair of shoes; I do not resent that there was no fairy tale, either. I know with all the efforts that I make, right now I am the person who can make my own choices and make a better life.

~Meiling I

This essay earned third place in the annual student contest for the Liberal Arts Network for Development (LAND). LAND provides a network for the development of the liberal arts in Michigan’s community colleges.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction Winter 2015, Winter 2015

A Lesson on Privilege

We squeezed down the tight aisle with our oversized carry-ons and handbags. We walked further and further, weaving in and out of the other passengers until we finally reached seats 27B and 27C.  I was eleven years old, and it was my first time on an airplane. I felt like I was lost on the first day of school.

I sat only one seat away from the window, and my mom sat just across the aisle. We got comfortable in our seats, and I stared at the clock, counting down the minutes. Fifteen minutes until departure, next stop Disney World. As I waited impatiently, I hoped the seat next to me would remain empty so I could get a perfect view out the window. Seconds later, I saw a tall man walking down the aisle towards us, looking for his seat. He was an older, olive-skinned man, with a long, curly beard and glasses. He was skinny and dressed in a dark blue button-up shirt, light brown pants, and a hat of rich silk and bright colors.

I was bummed when I saw him smile and heard him say, “I believe this is seat 27A.”

“Sure is,” I said as I got up to let him in. I glanced over at my mother and saw her muscles tense. The grin on her face turned from happy to uncomfortable. As the man settled in his seat, she stared at him bitterly, and stood up straight.

“I need you to trade seats with me right now,” she said.

Confused, I told her no. “I want to be by the window,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t argue. You can have the window seat on the way back home. Just get in my seat,” she said as she pointed to her aisle seat next to a young white woman listening to her iPod.

“I don’t understand why I can’t just sit here,” I pestered. “Come on Mom, calm down.”

Then, she became visibly angry. “You’re going to sit there,” she said pointing. “If you don’t want to sit there, we can get off the plane.”

I sat in disbelief, and still didn’t understand why she was being so disrespectful.

Minutes later, she took me to the back of the airplane near the bathroom. “That man looked dangerous,” she explained. “I took your seat to keep you safe.”

She wasn’t making sense. What made him dangerous? His beard? His glasses? The hat? He looked friendly, but I accepted her answer and her seat next to the apparently “safe” white woman.

At eleven years old, I was oblivious to the racism displayed in front of me. For a majority of my life, I had been unaware that this happens too often, even in our post-Civil Rights world that is filled with citizens of various races and cultures.

While living in the culturally diverse city of Saginaw, I was taught at a young age to lock the car doors when driving by any “colored” person and to hold my money a little tighter when standing near them in a store line. My mother and I kept our distance from the black groups at the shopping mall because they were “dangerous.” It was as if anything that wasn’t white wasn’t clean. They were tainted, like a rusty penny on the ground that isn’t worth spending. The darkness of their skin was an irreversible flaw that sentenced them to a life of ridicule.

As doors are held open and locked behind me for my protection, I understand what it means to be privileged in America because of my race. It means that this land is my ensured opportunity, and with a little hard work, I am guaranteed success. There are jobs that I reject because they might make my skin dirty, jobs that I save in my back pocket, and jobs that I work because I can afford the degree. As I stand neck deep in opportunity, I understand what White Privilege means. The benefit of the doubt is my birthright, and I am treated with respect. I have all of these privileges that I did not earn, but rather was born with.

I have never had to fight for rights or for equality. I have never had to watch for cops out of the corner of my eye, and I am able to hide behind my skin if I am a suspect. I have never been guilty until proven innocent. I am able to walk through airport security without harassment, as others need to have their privacy invaded just to set foot on a plane. I can’t say I’ve been in their shoes, but I do realize that this injustice exists. I realize that it is immoral, and I realize that it needs to end.

It is those who have the privilege that deny its existence. As a child, I was taught in school that we asked the Native Americans to leave nicely, that slavery ended along with racism and that we are all equal now. We are often blindfolded with the excuses. It’s not our fault; it’s theirs. If we were there, it would have been different. It wasn’t us; it was them. We are polite; they need to keep their distance. We’re not racist; we promise. We’re not racist; we’re patriotic. We’re not racist; you just look like a terrorist. We’re not racist; we’re protecting our children. We’re not racist; we believe in freedom.

We need to believe in freedom for those who don’t look like us, too, by doing more than accepting our privilege and ignoring those without it. It doesn’t have to be this way; we can all be privileged Americans, no need for color categorization. We can all be born with a right to freedom and equality. We can erase the terms “White Privileged American,” “African American,” “Asian American,” “Arabic American,” and simply be Americans.

~Tiffany Sember

This essay earned an honorable mention in Delta’s local competition for the Liberal Arts Network for Development (LAND). LAND provides a network for the development of the liberal arts in Michigan’s community colleges.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction Winter 2015, Winter 2015

Tougher Than Titanium

“Katelyn, can you open your eyes for me? I need you to wiggle your toes.”

Opening my eyes had never been so hard in my entire life. I slightly wiggled my toes. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to know I could still move my legs. In that moment the feeling of relief that flushed through my entire body was enough to mask the excruciating pain that was running frantically up and down my spine. However, it wasn’t long before the pain returned.

It had been eight and a half hours since I was wheeled back into the operating room when I awoke. My clouded memory had me wondering what exactly happened after the anesthesiologist slid the needle of the IV into the top of my hand. It all seemed to happen so fast after saying my goodbyes to my mother, and I can remember that it was in that goodbye-moment when I had realized my life was about to change forever, and I wondered if I was strong enough for this. With a nurse on each side of my bed I was wheeled away. In my mind I was reminding myself, I can do this, after all this is god’s plan for me.

The room smelled sterile and the color blue seemed to be so prominent. It was the gloves, the gowns, and the paper that wrapped the tools used to operate. All of it was blue, and I realized that this had to be the operating room. As I lied there the IV continued to drip. Drifting off I vaguely remember the doctors instructing me, “Just relax, lay back and start counting back from 100.” The very last thing I remember was the reassurance of a happy ending in the warm smiles of everyone surrounding me.

I woke up in recovery with tired heavy eyes. In a weak and raspy voice I quietly asked the nurse checking my blood pressure, “Where’s my mom?”

The pain that overwhelmed my entire body made it difficult to speak. She answered, “She’s in the waiting room. We aren’t ready for her to come back yet.”

Being in such a helpless state, I really needed my mom. The nurses had lost all control of the pain and weren’t letting her come back until it was under control. With pain so extreme my body was being sent into shock. I was shaking in a way similar to someone with low blood sugar. Finding myself struggling to breath I was on the edge of giving up. I repeatedly asked for my mom. What felt like hours of lying in recovery drowning in the pain seemed to pass so slowly before my mom appeared through the strangely patterned baby blue and mint green privacy curtain that separated me from the patient staying in the room next to me. Following close behind was my surgeon, Dr. Farley. She immediately began asking questions. “What is going on?”

With nothing but blank stares coming from the nurses standing around my room, Dr. Farley began giving orders. Quickly the nurses did exactly what they were told. With one hand on my hip and the other on my shoulder, slowly and carefully, I was rolled onto my left side. I closed my eyes, my face cringed, and I let out a quiet painful groan. Lying limp in the white-sheeted twin-sized hospital bed, I couldn’t find the strength to assist in being rolled over.

The pain was excruciating, and I couldn’t breathe, but the helpless feeling that lifted from my heart when my surgeon had finally discovered the problem gave me hope. The epidural that was inserted directly into my back during surgery had formed a blood clot preventing the pain- lifting morphine from entering my body. I was given fair warning by Dr. Farley before the tubing was pulled out: “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”

As I exhaled the shallow breath, which I considered to be deep, I could feel the tubing slip out of my back. It felt very similar to the warm, smooth, yet slimy feeling of licking your lips. As I returned to lying flat on my back I helplessly pleaded, “Mommy please help me…”

I watched a tear roll down her face as she held tightly onto my hand and IV medication was finally being started. I was given what the nurses called a “drug cocktail,” slang for a few different medications that were mixed to knock the pain completely out. My mom still holding onto my hand gently ran her free hand across my sweaty forehead. With the drug cocktail and the morphine pump that I could give myself every 30 minutes by simply pressing a button, I once again, much like before surgery, drifted off.

I was at peace in a sleep so deep that I had my nurses worried. Finally, in my room, I could hear my nurse and mother standing over my bed talking to me. However, their voices seemed to blend together.

“Katelyn, can you hear me? I need you to open your eyes.”

“Honey, just look at me.”

“Katelyn…”

I was trying so hard to open my eyes. They felt as if they were glued shut, and opening them seemed to be impossible. I fought and failed to get the words “I can’t” out. When I finally got them opened a crack I was told I needed to keep them open, but I couldn’t, and again they closed. I quit trying, it was too hard, I was too weak, and I really couldn’t do it anymore. For a split second I caught a blurred glimpse of the wall behind my mom. There were colorful cut-out butterflies – an image forever engraved in my memory. With my eyes closed in the midst of the darkness I could still see them. In my mind I questioned, why me? I felt so weak, yet relaxed and with the simple orders from my nurse to keep my eyes open repeated I finally mumbled, “I can’t.

I really can’t do this anymore.”

My body was no longer in shock. In fact, it was in such a state of peace that it didn’t feel the need to function. With my eyes still closed an oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth. Involuntarily, I didn’t want to breathe and my heart didn’t feel like beating. Down to six breaths and twenty-one beats a minute, my nurses were on a fine line of waiting it out or treating me for an overdose. They decided for me to wait it out. With all medication shut off and the oxygen mask on my face I went back to sleep.

The next morning I woke up a new person. I don’t know what happened, but my entire mindset changed. Maybe it was the fact that just lying there I felt my back flat against the bed for the first time in six years. There was no lump, no twist, and as I ran my hands down my body I felt no right rib or left hip prominence. The pain returned with a vengeance, and medications were turned back on, but one thing I knew for sure was that I had defeated scoliosis. With two rods, two hooks, and nineteen screws I considered what I had to be a brand new spine. A nice, stiff, straight, titanium spine, and I decided that I needed to take this on with a stronger mindset. It had still been less than twenty-four hours after surgery when I was asked by my nurses if I’d like to try sitting on the edge of my bed. After having an evening like I did the day prior, who was I to doubt myself? I listened closely as I was instructed on what to do: “Bring your left hand over here, grab the side rail and try to pull yourself up onto your side.”

The nurse had one hand on my shoulder and the other on my hip assisting me in rolling to my side. From there she explained, “While still hanging onto the side rail with your right hand, use your left to push yourself up.” Just like that I was sitting up. I hung my head and closed my eyes, but I was quickly instructed not to do so. The blackness had become my comfort zone. I lifted my head back up and opened my eyes. There on the wall in front of me were the butterflies. The view from my room was beautiful, the window seemed to take up half my room, and the sun felt so warm on my face. I sat there for a minute and remember thinking to myself, wow, I’m sitting up.

My nurse asked me, “How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” I answered.

After sitting there for a few more minutes I asked, “Can I walk?”

The look on her face said it all. “Would you like to try to?” I nodded my head, yes.

It took a moment of preparation to be able to stand. With my nurse’s hands around my waist I stood up. I watched as my mom’s hands covered her mouth in shock. She didn’t speak a word, but I could see the relief she felt through the excitement she showed. The heaviness that took over my body felt like I had a backpack on with every hard cover book I owned inside. I was wobbly, but my nurse loosened her grip she had on me. Once again she asked, “How are you feeling?”

I nodded my head reassuring her that I was okay.

“Would you still like to try and take a couple of steps?” she asked me.

I didn’t answer verbally. Instead I slightly and slowly lifted my right foot and put it in front of my left. Just like that I took my first step. I did the same with my left. I lifted it and placed it in front of my right foot. I heard my mom’s voice clearly for what felt like the first time since we had said our goodbyes going into surgery the morning prior. “K-Kate-Katelyn you’re walking… Are you okay? Oh my goodness, honey, you look amazing!”

I looked at her and smiled. She was already smiling. I couldn’t believe it; just the day before I was giving up on simply opening my eyes. I settled for I can’t and now today I was walking. It took that much, but just like that I learned to not doubt my strengths. I’m nowhere near the average person with a titanium spine, but when given a challenge I take it with a “bring it on” type of attitude. After all, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

 

Katelyn Treichel

Leave a comment

Filed under Fall 2014, Nonfiction Fall 2014, Uncategorized