The guy in the red shirt and I are talking about Little Miss Sunshine, and I forget his name for a second and take a quick glance at his nametag. “Nate,” I say, “I love that movie.” So far we have just about everything in common, including a minimum-wage job for the long summer ahead. The only difference in our jobs is that he’s a cashier and I fold t-shirts and pretend to be useful. I’ve only recently started my descent into purgatory.
“It’s a great movie.”
“It is.” I hesitate, wondering if the conversation is going to stop here, in a blaze of David Ives-esq Sure Thing proportions. But as Nate’s about to say something, a woman holding a sweater walks up to his register.
“Good morning, how are you?” He asks her, and I move away, back to my folding, only half paying attention. The customers begin to trickle into a line, and I move to the back of the department, wanting to keep my job. I am acutely aware, however, of every movement I make, of everything I do, and most certainly, everything I say. I take up residence organizing sale sweaters by one of the large glass windows that look out to the ocean, across the street. Watching it keeps me calm, and it reminds me how lucky I am that I at least get to work in a beautiful place. Of course, I am inside, staring at the beautiful great outdoors.
I am working at the Post. It is my first week. So far, I don’t mind it. It’s air-conditioned, there are Poptarts in the breakroom, and I get to do mindless menial tasks instead of actually having to think. It’s not a bad gig, all things considered.
My eyes stray from the sweaters to the rest of the department. I look to the registers at the top of it, and notice that a rack is blocking my view. Part of me is relieved. Good. He can’t see you. The other part of me thinks, So, uh, that whole thing for nothing? These two parts of me are very contradictory, and don’t really get along. It’s the simple things. Warren, the only man who works in my department, comes over.
“Hey Dante, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Warren. You?”
Warren is an over-enthusiastic 27-year-old who has been working at the Post since he graduated college with a degree in Biochemistry. He’s quite happy, I think, to have someone under the age of 45 working with him.
“See you in a few,” I say, bowing away from the sweaters. I walk out of the department, in such a hurry that I don’t even notice Nate, either way.
Our breakroom is actually quite comfortable, and due to its position in the building, quite cool. There is a vending machine with both Poptarts and Chocolate Milk, and this has become my new favorite combination. It satisfies some need in me to feel like I’m a kid again, and gives me enough sugar to make it to lunch. I sit at a table in the corner, and idly watch the TV, listening to pages that come over the intercom instead of the usual 80s soundtrack. I am halfway through the first Poptart when Nate walks in.
If there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s eating in front of other people, especially people of the opposite sex, i.e. men. I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s the truth.
Nate, I know, has seen me. I pretend to be casual and eat my Poptart. The cynic in me is laughing its head off.
“Hey,” he says. I look up. He’s smiling at me. “Can I sit here?”
“Sure,” I say, trying to act casual.
He sits down, and watches the TV as I pick at the strawberry sprinkles on the top of my Poptart. After a minute, he asks, “How are you?”
“I’m doing quite well, actually.” He smiles at me.
We start to talk about banalities, and, somewhere in there, our conversation picks up a pace. I then notice I’ve finished my Poptart, and I have to go back upstairs. I make apologies that he waves off (“It’s your job,”) he says, and I leave. I catch a glance of him through the door, eyes focused intently on the TV. I can’t quite figure him out yet.
I love it when it rains. There’s something about it, how it feels, how it smells, and it’s a great conversation starter (“Hey, look, it’s raining!”). On this particular raining day, I was leaning against Nate’s register, very blatantly not doing work. When it rains, we’re usually busy, but today there was a slight lull, and I was trying to get out of doing the most work possible. No one could ever say that Dante Stephens didn’t try to get away with anything. I notice Colin sulking into the department, and I slip away past the registers and pretend to be getting a drink of water.
It’s a little after nine, and I’ve just gotten off the floor. It’s closing, and I make my way down to my locker, where my bag and lunchbox wait for me. As I walk out from the air-conditioned store, I pause. Part of me wants to wait for Nate, as I know he’s still inside. But that would be weird. I move away from the door and check my cell phone, wondering how long I can stand outside for without looking odd. Just as I’m about to give up, Nate walks out. I pretend not to notice him, and finish checking the phone, putting it back in my bag. He walks up to me.
“Hey,” he says. I turn around.
“Are you walking that way?” He points to the direction of the employee parking lot. I nod, and we begin to walk. We talk about our day, and then the conversation turns to books. He tells me of the books he likes, and mentions the author Douglas Coupland, who I love. He looks surprised, and as we walked through the parking lot, I realize that we’re parked next to each other.
“What are the odds?” I ask, laughing slightly.
He laughs and nods. “Hey. I have some books. Want to borrow them?”
He opens the door of his car, which I can see, is a mess. He bends down and shuffles through the backseat, and pulls out several books, handing them to me. Standing under the bright lights of the parking lot, I smile slightly. Nate is an interesting character, and as time goes on, I guess I’m developing some sort of attachment to him. But I don’t like him as that, I mean, as something more than a friend. It’s just nice to have a friend to talk to, someone to make the hours more bearable.
“Well,” I say. “Thanks. I guess I should be going.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
“Are you—er—working tomorrow?” I ask.
“Yep. Twelve to five. What about you?”
“Nine to one.”
“I see.” He fumbles with his keys. “Well. Have a good night.” He goes to get into his car, and I turn to mine. I want to ask him if he wants to get some coffee, do something—it’s warm and early—but I don’t. I know better. I say good night and we both leave. As I drive home, all I can think about are him and the books that are sitting on my seat.
by Allison Novak ‘10
The guy in the red shirt and I are talking about Little Miss Sunshine, and I forget his name for a second and take a quick glance at his nametag. “Nate,” I say, “I love that movie.” So far we have just about everything in common, including a minimum-wage job for the long summer ahead. The only difference in our jobs is that he’s a cashier and I fold t-shirts and pretend to be useful. I’ve only recently started my descent into purgatory.
Milk going bad and yogurt somehow getting too bacteria-y are irritating parts of our daily lives. Lots of things expire: cell phone plans, leases, credit cards. Shelf life applies to more than just veggies. Relationships expire. Friendships. Patience. Lives.
Some things go bad and some things just end. Some things are questionable. Like, does tuna go bad? Seems like it should. Are cans somehow magically mold deterrent? Then why not just can up everything? Romaine lettuce can go kill itself. Someone needs to talk to someone, do something, about how quickly those nutrient-filled edges turn brown. Those bags of lettuce and salad? Those are crap, by the way. You might as well buy the stuff already scummy and gross. And if you’ve ever accidentally poured clumpy milk in your untainted coffee, I feel for you. Despite this aggravation, we grow accustomed to these limits. We accept it because they are factual. We know that at some point that onion is going to be rotten. Eggs have a pretty good shelf life, but they will be un-scramble-able eventually. We learn not to mess with meat because that shit is scary. In the same way, contracts expire and we get it. It’s in ink. That shit is also scary, but it makes sense. We are taught this at a young age. Credit cards have the date written right on the front. Drivers’ licenses? It was time for a new picture anyway. Insurance is confusing, and I do not mind knowing I’m set with my parents’ coverage for a few years, but it understandably has to end if payment stops or the company explodes or … something.
I am not finding fault in these clearly outlined, unarguable expiration dates. I do find fault with the romaine lettuce, but that is not the point. I want there to be clearly outlined, unarguable expiration dates on the things we don’t write down, things that don’t get moldy or lumpy or smell. Things that have no rules. I don’t want to know what day I’m going to keel over and die or anything like that. That would take the fun out of things. And, I’ve already instated an expiration date on confrontation with friends, etc. If I do something to piss you off, you best inform me within a month of it occurring. And seriously? That is stretching it. My closest friends know that coming to me with some kind of holed-up anger months after the actual reason for anger is pointless. Sure, special circumstances warrant some attention, but I’ve gone off on many a rant about how stupid it is to keep things bottled-up. I understand a day or two to think about things, hence the month-long time allotment, but seriously, expiration date. Makes life easier.
Lately, my beef is with the expiration dates that are simply unexplainable. I’d like to know if my relationship has an expiration date. How long are my hips going to hold out before my father’s genes kick in and I start to look like one of my aunts? Is this friendship on its way out or should I try to fix it when I’m not even sure what’s wrong? Will this job last? Should I stay here or go back to Jersey? What’s the expiration date on Chestertown for me? When should I stop paying minimal rent and loving the people I’m with to truck it back home to a “cheaper” life with my parents? Why are these things not stamped on his forehead or my paycheck or some document outlining the parameters of my genetic make-up? Seriously. My self-esteem will not withstand a fat attack on the hips. There is a logical side to me that says these things are chiefly governed by emotions or happenstance or just things that can’t be put into words. But why did no one tell me this? Sure, I may have been expected to be logical; however, I’m a girl. I’m a girl with long hair that sometimes looks great and sometimes doesn’t and I want to know at which point in the day is my princess hair going to expire? How long until my stuffed nose expires to make way for clear breathing? I’m not asking for much really, just an expiration date. Is there a point when you’ll realize I’m too tall for you? Realize I’m pretty irrational on a daily basis? I don’t need it stamped, I guess, maybe just insinuated? We can talk about this. I’m flexible. My flexibility’s expiration date is probably sometime in my forties. Just sayin’.
It was dark and the street reflected our headlights in the puddles of the day’s rain. A man walked down the sidewalk in front of us and Jen squeezed my hand. It was late at night and only Le Monde Café was open. Jason was to meet us, but I couldn’t be sure he was going to be there. “But anyway,” Jen said as she opened the café door in front of me, “this dickweed in class today kept starting these stupid arguments with Jackson.”“The professor?”
“Yeah, he has us call him by his first name.”
“Well, Jackson was talking about the artist as genius theory, you know?”
“That’s a theory?” We sat at the bar.
“Well, whatever. Anyway, this shithead in the first row was talking about how, like, 90% of everything out there is bad and that everything is contrived to a certain extent, at least, now it is, because nothing is original anymore.” She ordered a whiskey sour and I got a Jameson double on the rocks. They didn’t check her I.D. I took a sip before saying anything. I was surprised for a second because the whiskey seemed to taste bad somehow.
“So your professor disagreed?”
“Yeah, and I disagreed too, because that’s total shit.” She stirred her drink. “I mean, how can you say that about art today? I mean, maybe in literature or something, but music is always being refined, movies are always trying something different.”
“Are you sure about that? All the sequels and remakes they’re putting out now…”
“Well you know what I mean,” She was still stirring her drink when Jason appeared in the doorway. He wore a long trench coat and he his face was bearded now. I almost didn’t recognize him. “To suggest that the only thing in art today is a conglomeration of hackneyed scripts and clichéd ideas is just ridiculous. There’s plenty out there that’s original, and good too.” She became visibly distressed. Jason hadn’t even spoken yet.
“Hello, fellows, how are you doing tonight?” He bent his head and nodded with his words like a pastor speaking quietly during a sermon. “I apologize for being late, but these are the things that keep life interesting, I suppose.”
“It’s been a while, Jason, how is everything, your life is – it’s alright?” Jen turned back to the bar and took a sip of her drink, looking absently at a muted television in the corner of the bar.
“Yes, things are going well, you know, as well as can be expected.” He swung his arm slightly and I noticed just then a newspaper he held somewhat loosely. It was sloppily assembled and its pages didn’t seem to fit together. “I overheard, somewhat, your conversation. You’re talking about Vasari’s notion of the artist as genius, I think?”
“You’ve got it, Jason,” I said. Jen turned around and smiled slightly.
“What do you think, then?” she said, “Is art completely unoriginal now?”
“Well, I mean, the theory was original defined in the context of visual arts, of painters and draftsmen. To that extent, I’m not sure what to argue, since the ‘Art is dead’ movement has some health to it, still. Referring to other mediums, however, I think a lot of people consider the theory to be an excuse, at least nowadays.” Jason stuck his free hand in his beard as he paused and, for a second, I thought he was searching for something. “As far as art goes, the whole basis for the theory is responsive to the question: ‘what is art?’ and, of course, the artist as genius, possesses no responsibility for defining what that is, only for calling it such.”
Jason went back into his beard and glanced at the television: a wide-angle shot of a soccer field. The television was old and I couldn’t even discern the names of the teams. Jen turned around and looked at it again and, for almost a minute, all of us stared at the screen together, silently. There was a flash of color on the screen and a couple players appeared to jump in the air at one another. The bartender swore aloud and walked into the kitchen, screaming something in French behind the wooden partition.
We were silent for a few moments but seemed to want to say something. Jason kept looking down at his newspaper, trying to fold it in a way that made it smaller but did not turn the page.
“Jason, have you seen Tarantino’s new movie yet?” Jennifer asked.
“No, no. You know, I don’t like him very much as a filmmaker. He’s all about the violence, you know? I don’t really see much – uh, much substance there.” He took a few steps and looked around uncomfortably.
“Well, you should check it out,” I said. “It’s a good one, I think my favorite I’ve seen all year.”
“Really?” He said. Jen had turned around to look at the bartender, who had returned smelling like cigarettes. “You know, I don’t know if you guys mind, but do you want to get out of here? Go for a drive? I’ll drive, I mean. I don’t mind. I just don’t want to hang out here all night, that’s all.” Jason seemed nervous and I wanted to see why he was holding the newspaper, what he had read or written on it or what.
Jen paid the tab and we left with Jason. I buttoned up my coat, the one I’d just gotten for Christmas, and Jen took a fur hat her mother had given her out of her bag and on her head. She was nervous about wearing it in some parts of the city but since we were getting in the car, I guess she didn’t mind.
“How much was the bill, hon?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she said. “I got you.” She smiled at me. Jason drove an old Honda Accord. It was very old. In fact, it was probably smaller than Honda Civics today, which aren’t big cars to begin with. On top of that, it must have had over 150,000 miles or close to it. I was surprised he was still driving it.
“Oh, don’t open the door yet, sorry. I need to unlock it from the inside, first.” He opened the door and we got in, me in the front and Jen in the back, settling into the hard cloth seats.
“How have you been, Jason? How’s life in New Haven?”
“Oh, well you probably could have guessed. A bunch of secular humanists who think they can tell me how to live my life.” He paused while he waited to turn into the street. “Seriously though, people are less friendly the further north you go. Then you get to Canada.” He shook his head. “I’m telling you, it’s the distance to the church.” He smiled at the rearview mirror and nodded his head over and over again.
“So, have you been able to find a place to go, up there?”
“Well, I’ll go to the service at the school, but – but of course there’s nothing like down here – the old line state. You can’t even imagine how the ultra-liberal, revisionist-types are treating the Bible up there. Just—just last week, in fact, they were debating the merits of making the references to God gender-neutral. Gender neutral! Are you kidding me? Why don’t we throw out the whole book of Matthew while we’re at it.”
“Have you seen any good movies, recently, Jason?” I could hear Jen as she leaned up against my seat.
“I don’t see movies, really. I just saw an old movie, it was for a class though, called Soy, Cuba. Very enjoyable.”
“Really? I’ve never seen it. What’s it about?”
“Oh, just, it’s an interesting movie, kind of a spoken history of Cuba, takes a very anti-American stance, also.”
“What’s that movie we saw a few weeks ago, honey?” I removed my head from the headrest and looked at Jen in the rearview mirror. “What movie? The one about the uh – the guy who stole the money? Tried to run away with it?”
“I think so. Do you remember what it was called?”
“Oh, it was Cash Grab, right?”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Oh, wait, it was Information.” I put my head back down. “That’s the one.”
“No, that can’t be it, I didn’t see that one with you, plus that was like a couple months ago.”
“Well, maybe it was – ah, I can’t remember the name. Maybe that foreign movie…”
“Mon Petit Chou, I think?”
“We didn’t see that, did we?”
“Alright guys, don’t worry about it. I think I’ll wind up seeing a movie sooner or later.” Jason was still in a good mood.
“I like foreign movies. Soy Cuba is foreign, right?” Jen asked. “They seem so much more authentic than Hollywood films.”
“Yup, Soy Cuba is foreign. Soviet, actually. It has an interesting production history.” Jen seemed satisfied and laid back down in the back seat. The car began warming up and she began to take her coat off.
“You know, I was reading in the newspaper earlier today – ”
“Jason, I was going to ask you what was with that newspaper, it looked like you’d slept under it on a bench somewhere.” I laughed just a bit, testing him.
“No, no. I had nothing to do today, but I did find, in this fine city newspaper of ours, an interesting story.” He started nodding his head up and down again, looking between me and the road before continuing. “In my absence it appears the streets have overcome society, here. Our very own Lovely Lane United Methodist has been invaded. At least, the streets around it.”
“By what, Jason?” I was starting to get a little bored.
“By transvestite prostitutes, can you believe that!? I was reading the newspaper and that whole area is like, covered with them. Like somewhere, in some basement somewhere, they all decided to congregate outside Lovely Lane.”
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“That’s ridiculous. Transvestite prostitutes?”
“Oh my God, Jason, where, what streets?” Jen was suddenly very interested in Jason.
“Right between East 20 and 25th streets, and don’t worry, we’re already headed there.” Jason was filled with sudden energy and smiled into the rearview mirror again.
“What, are we going to pick up a prostitute?” I was joking, but I realized after I spoke I sounded concerned.
“A tranny prostie!” Jen laughed in the back.
“Well, you don’t know, it might lead there, it might not. We’ll go there and play it by ear, how does that sound?”
“Great, I’m looking forward to it.” I looked out the window and gazed down the intersection where a red light had stopped us. I counted 5 blue-light cameras flashing at the corner. Five streets as far as I could see. No one was walking or even standing outside. The buildings were silent and some were boarded up. I couldn’t be sure which were already condemned and which should be. Not a single light was on in any of the windows I could see.
“You doing alright, babe?” Jen squeezed my shoulder behind the seatbelt. I nodded and she leaned toward Jason’s seat. He had begun driving a little haphazardly, taking sweeping turns through yellow lights. Jen laughed in the back seat.
The scenery became suddenly dreary. The discarded newspaper in the street seemed to be the only reminder that there was any atmosphere outside the car windows. The flashing blue lights were our principle guide to Charles Village, doing more to illuminate the road than the fading and blinking street lamps that hung sleepily over every other block. Jason talked about an experience at grad school and I couldn’t pay attention. I began to dread our destination and the possibility that Jason was serious, that he might even want to talk to the prostitutes. I didn’t even want to think about it, much less consider he would give one a ride somewhere.
“Lovely Lane, there it is!” Jason pointed out the window, leaning heavily over the steering wheel and taking care to leave his beard undisturbed. It was an unimpressive building, barely a church except for the sign outside. There was no crucifix on the outside and the siding, cheap and peeling like any other house on the block, concealed the considerable wear to the church’s actual brick façade.
“So Jason, they hang out on the side streets or the alleys or what?” Jen was very interested in Jason’s answer.
“The article said they congregate on the stoops a few blocks around here.” He looked carefully out the window and slowed down, “I’ll drive around a bit. It’s past midnight, you’d think we’d find one or two.”
“Maybe the article caused them to go into hiding,” I said.
“I doubt it, it just means more Johns know about their territory.”
“Johns, are you kidding me, Jason? Listen to you throwing this lingo around. Who are you?” I feigned a laugh, but Jason gave me a strange look before returning his attention to the road.
We continued riding down the streets until Jen finally told Jason to just go home. The streetlights glowed in the dark, the blue light cameras visible only several blocks away. Their light gave a kind of lunar radiance to the streets, bleaching with their fluorescents the grime and dirt that covered the sidewalk and robbed the park benches of their slogans.
Turning around at 21st street, heading back home, we were stopped at a light. Up until now, Jason had treated red lights as stop signs but suddenly he was frozen behind the wheel.
“What’s up, Jason, let’s go.” I said, but he stared out the windshield. Then I saw it too. A man, surely, with that gait, was walking down the middle of the street. In a tight leather miniskirt and platform heels, he walked steadily towards us. He wore a mesh shirt and a big curly red wig. The curls bounced in his step and he carried over his shoulder a single small slender purse, which I’m sure barely fit more than the makeup he’d ruggedly applied before walking into the street.
“Jason, she’s walking towards us, what are we doing?” Jen’s eyes lit up, her mouth moving excitedly, but her hands clutched my shoulder and jacket. “It’s like 40, out. She’s probably freezing.”
“It is pretty cold out. He or she might like a ride,” Jason said, laughing as he peered beyond the fogging windshield. The man walked diagonally across the street. No cars were coming. It wouldn’t have mattered if there were. He stared fixedly somewhere in the distance, past us, and I wondered what the man could have been thinking, right that moment.
“Jesus Christ, man,” I mumbled, half-expecting Jason to hear me.
“What’s wrong? You didn’t expect something like this? This isn’t unusual – that’s the whole point.”
“Sure, sure,” I said and I started button my coat up. The man outside was on the sidewalk now and he stood awkwardly just outside the halo of a street lamp. He seemed to lean in the air, as though ready to take off at a second’s notice.
“You know,” Jen began, “I remember reading this thing about prostitutes in New York, from like forever ago. They said they could run in pumps just as well as you or me could in tennis shoes.” I squinted through the windshield, which grew more opaque as time wore on. The man wore some of the biggest high heels I’d ever seen.
Jason nodded to Jen: “Yeah, they have a race for that too, like a hundred yard dash or something.” Jen gaped at the idea but now I was staring at the man on the street corner. I just wanted to know what he was thinking. Why would he sell himself on the street like that? What kind of clients would he get, anyway?
“Alright, are you ready to go, guys?” Jason motioned to turn the key in the ignition.
“Man, this is like a fuckin’ safari, man, this is fucked up.” The entire experience irked me. “We don’t even know what this guy’s deal is.”
“Guy or gal, man,” Jason laughed, “Besides, aren’t you afraid of prostitutes?”
“He’s a good boy,” Jen smiled at me from the back seat but I just glared at her. I wasn’t sure why.
“Well, what do you want to do about it, we’re not going to fucking – I don’t know – buy him.” It was weird to hear Jason swear. He usually only did it when he was drinking.
“Well, you guys just said, man, it’s cold, we can give him a ride, ask him about his shit, you know? You don’t have to ask him to whip it out.”
“Yeah, but there’s an expectation out there. You want me to cruise over, roll down the window and ask him if he wants a ride? What do you think he hears? I don’t think he’s expecting a lecture.”
“Lecture, who said anything about a lecture? I’m just saying: he’s a guy – he’s a human being. I’m sure he has a story. You can’t just sit here and talk shit about him like you knew him.”
“Come on, guys, let’s just go home, it doesn’t matter. He’s a tranny prostie in the city waiting for someone we don’t want to meet to come pick him up. Who cares if he’s down on his luck? He’s having sex for money! Which, and we haven’t even talked about this, is illegal in this state.” Jen was getting tired but I was glad she jumped in when she did, as Jason looked ready to just about rip my head off.
I sat there for a moment, waiting for Jason to start the car. I counted in my head. If Jason hadn’t started the car in ten seconds, I was getting out.
“Alright, we’re leaving–” but I’d already opened the door. I heard him swear again as I closed the door. I jogged across the street, half expecting the guy to start walking away. I thought, for a second, how threatening I probably seemed jumping out of a car that had been sitting for a while and then jogging at him.
I waved toward him and he moved backward slightly, toward a building with dark rotting wood boarded up in the windows. The air was cold and there was dew in the air that seemed to cling to my skin. It was a surprising effort to walk across the street, as though I were wading through ice-cold water. The man was extremely tall and, walking toward him now, I started to see him a bit more distinctly. He was shaven on every inch of his body I could see (which was about 95%) and he wore a cherry-blonde wig, fixed perfectly to his head. He was looking at me carefully and his face seemed to sparkle, eyelashes nearly an inch long and I suspected, glitter on his cheeks. His lips were big, unusually large, and with a deep red lipstick that shined even in the darkness. I couldn’t believe how thorough his get-up was. From the get-go, there was very little suspension of disbelief for me. This was a man if I’d ever seen one before.
“Hey man,” I said, breathing a little heavily, unsure what a proper greeting might be.
“What’choo want?” he said, lilting his speech, slightly.
“I’m not here, for–I mean, I’m not here for business…”
“Oh, you here for pleasure or you outta here, baby,” he said, looking up and down the street and staring at Jason’s car. Down the other block a ways you could see the blue light cameras flashing away. The city was installing them in waves in an effort, I read in the Sun, to force the illegal activities into more manageable zones. Manageable was the exact word they used in the article and I hadn’t forgotten it.
“No, I mean, I’m not here for pleasure either,” I tried to sound as incredulous as possible while saying pleasure, but I realized after the fact that he probably thought I was insulting him. “I’m here with a couple people, friends, and I thought–”
“Mm-mm. Not happening, buddy,” he said quickly and started walking down the street. He threw his hair over his shoulder with a casual glance back at me. “Not me, not tonight, buddy.”
“No, no, I mean, we all thought you were cold or, you know, maybe you’d like to just sit down, take a ride for a minute, just chill out.” He stopped and turned slowly, the finer features of his face obscured by the darkness.
“Just chill out? Are you nuts? Get the fuck out of here. I don’t need this.” He walked back to the street lamp, standing once again just outside the ring of light, like he’d done it so many times before.
“Hey, come on. Listen, I’ll pay you for it, all right? A hundred bucks to ride around with me and my friends for a bit, that’s all.”
He looked at me with blank eyes, a cold bizarre stare that made me regret standing out in the cold. There was some consideration in his face, but I could not tell how much. His face was decorated sparingly with make-up in a way that genuinely complemented his already androgynous features.
“A’ight,” he said, confidently, ceding his sex in his coarse vernacular. “But I want it now.”
I reached into my pocket and wondered exactly what Jen and Jason must be thinking this very moment. I wasn’t even sure what I was doing. In fact, part of me worried that my behavior was somehow incorrect, that I was betraying my lack of experience in how clumsily I pulled my wallet out and how my hands shook as I counted up to 100 with fives and ones.
The second he had the money he turned and walked toward the car, leading me. He slid the money in some orifice, some location on his body invisible to me.
“Come on, sweetie, its cold out here!” and he feigned a “brr!” as he hugged himself. His femininity was somewhere between genuinely amusing and disturbingly erotic.
About 20 yards from the car, I heard Jason cranking the engine, the windows almost totally fogged now. I could see Jen had moved up to the front seat and her head was in her hands now. Normally, this would make me feel sad or guilty, but right now I felt no sympathy.
I opened the passenger’s side door for him and he didn’t say anything as he stepped inside. I ran around the car quickly, not wanting to leave the three of them alone for any period of time at all. I settled in and Jason started adjusting the mirror intently, probably to send me some wordless threat but I ignored him.
“Hey guys,” I said, “I’d like to introduce you guys but I actually don’t know your name, ‘miss.’” I was just joking around, feigning manners, but it appeared there was no time left for joking with Jason.
“Oh, that’s so rude of me,” the man said. “My name is Christine. You can call me Chrissy or Chris if you want. It don’t matter.”
“Or Chris,” Jason repeated, choking on a laugh.
“Whatever you want, baby,” he replied, reaching over and rubbing Jason’s shoulder. I noticed then that he has massive hands, but thin, delicate fingers. His nails were finely manicured but there was no doubt in my mind that he could grip a basketball in one hand – and he probably had before.
When he released his grip, Jason moved around in his seat and flexed his shoulders, rolling his arms in their sockets.
“So guys, what are we doing here?” Jason said, his hands not even on the wheel.
“We’re just going on a ride, Jason,” I said, realizing how presumptuous I had been. “Nothing more than that.” I heard Jen let out a deep sigh that may have been a sob. She was silent, but it wasn’t that angry silence of hers that was so familiar to me.
Jason explored the texture of his beard with his fingers, almost as though he were looking for something. “How long?” He said.
“Does it matter how long?”
“I have to get home tonight, man.”
“I have class tomorrow!” Jen interrupted, angry now.
“Come on guys. You can’t pull this shit. We’re here, we showed up, now this is happening. Think of it as an experience.”
“What is happening?” Jen said, exasperated.
“Oh baby, I’m not going to hurt you,” Chris(tine) said.
“My problem is: I don’t know what you are going to do.” Jen slumped back into her seat, peering at me in the rear view mirror.
I was satisfied. I was happy with myself in a strange way. I felt uncomfortable, though there was something creeping into my head that made me feel that this wasn’t a good idea. But still – I was satisfied and I didn’t need any more than that. Jason drove carefully down the street, liberally gliding through yellow lights and turning at every red light we arrived at. He kept us moving through the dark streets. Though some were darker than others, he pushed forward.
“Chris,” I said.
“Yes?” he replied.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-two.” He kept his head reclined against the dark cloth interior. “Though I’m not inexperienced,” he smiled slyly and closed his eyes as if to rest.
“You’re not twenty-two,” from Jason.
“Oh? You want to see my license? You think I’d lie to you about my age?”
“No, I’m saying you’re older than that, not younger.”
“You want to see my license?” Chris remained still in his seat and didn’t reach for anything.
“I don’t care what your license says. I don’t believe you’re twenty-two.”
“C’mon Jason, what does it matter how old he is? Half his job is telling the client what they want to hear,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not like that,” said Chris. “I don’t tell people what they wanna hear. Sometimes they don’t wanna hear anything. Sometimes they want you to tell’em stuff normal people don’t wanna hear. That don’t mean I’m lying, though. I’m just saying people want all sorts of stuff, but I’m 22 with everyone.”
“Oh yeah? What difference does it make, I guess.”
What does that mean?” Chris leaned in between the front seats. “You upset I like to suck cock?”
I could see Jason’s body stiffen in his seat and he refused to move his eyes from the road.
“If you’re just going to be fucking vulgar about that stuff then, no I guess I don’t like it.”
“So you’d be upset if I sucked your cock?”
I almost wanted to laugh. It was 2 am now and the streets were more or less free of activity. There was, every now and then, a black person walking down the sidewalk, hoodie drawn up, walking slowly and casually, going nowhere in particular. But at that very moment, Jason swerved the car over to the side of the road, right by the sidewalk, nearly on the sidewalk. Jen screamed. Chris nearly flew into the front seat as the car stopped suddenly.
“I want you out of my car. Right now. Get the fuck out!” He looked at Chris in the rear view mirror, his face shaking and his eyes sunk deep into his head.
“What the hell, man?” I said, my voice quivering. “He’s just fucking with you. Leave it alone.”
“This is unbelievable,” he said, sighing but continuing to breathe heavily. “You have to be kidding me. Are you defending a transvestite?” Chris lowered himself back into his seat and he looked out the window dully. He held his arms in a way that made him look cold.
“I’m not defending him, I’m just–I don’t know, I’m just saying this isn’t that ridiculous.”
“Of course this is ridiculous! Are you blind?”
“Why are you doing this?” Jen pleaded with me through the rearview mirror. “This is so stupid.”
There was rebellion forming in me. I felt a tired, mournful hatred of Jen and Jason at that moment; though perhaps not for them as people but for their attitudes. It was as though they couldn’t understand – like they couldn’t see.
Chris was looking over at me, like he was my ward, awaiting my word to decide his fate. He looked at me, eyes sparkling with affection and a kind of surrender. His sex, whatever it was, seemed so opaque, so impenetrable. I was trying to decide if Jason hated him because he was gay or because he was black.
“Jason, come on, this isn’t something you need to be so… resistant to. This is real life, man.”
“No, this is not my life. I can decide what my life is – and this is bullshit.”
“Come on!” Jen continued to plead with me and the image of her eyes in the mirror, rolled and wet in their sockets, began suddenly to disgust me. There was no sympathy in them, only empty tears–confused and angry but at nothing in particular, only in fear. Jason gripped the steering wheel, rubbing it with his thumbs, implying he might drive off at any moment. His hulking form, his chair pushed back into my knees, his beard like an unnatural growth on his face–it all struck me as entirely to impress. There was nothing authentic about it at all.
“Alright guys, this is so bad, huh? This is so fucking bad, huh?” I grabbed Chris’ wrist and pulled his hand onto my pants, pushing his hand over my growing erection. His fingers were slender and familiar and he took to it quickly, working me up through my pant leg.
“This is so ridiculous, huh?” I repeated. “What we do, what we hope to do, what we fantasize about every day, every hour. The things we do to each other every day and this is ridiculous?”
I heard Jen mutter oh my God to herself, over and over, but Jason was silent. At that very second I wanted Chris to suck me off and I knew–I could feel it in my every muscle that the desire was so purely physiological that I almost didn’t want it. I felt a need–a total desire, and that feeling made me question it. Am I gay? I knew I wasn’t, but Chris was there, black, but highly feminine. His body was even like that of a white woman, not even ethnic. He was skinny, tall and with narrow extremities except for his lips, which he puckered constantly. He unzipped my pants and reached in, rubbing more delicately now and he raised his face to mine. He tried to kiss along my neck but I moved away from him. He smelled like something I could smell out the window earlier.
Then he began to whisper: “Baby…” and he moaned. “This gonna be extra, sweetie” and he tried again to kiss my neck, but now I just pushed him off. He seemed surprised but not disinterested. I felt like I could hit him and he would forgive me.
“I don’t have any more money,” I said.
“Well then, we have to hook up some other time, baby,” and he scrambled–a little too quickly, to unlock the door. He jumped out but didn’t close the door. He started at a run down the street but he slowed to a walk once he realized I wasn’t after him. I leaned over the seat and pulled the door shut and Jason took off in the car, pushing me against the seat. The tires chirped and we were off down the street. Jason ran the first couple red lights we came to but he settled down eventually. Neither he nor Jen made any noise for a long time.
Jason was nodding his head behind the wheel, but he said nothing. The highway curved constantly and it felt like half the lights were out. There were times when the entire highway was illuminated and other times when it felt like we were on a back country road. It felt like Jason was just wandering the streets, searching for a familiar street sign. Jen had stopped sobbing a while ago and she mumbled to me, looking around the seat now, “Why did you do that?” I looked at her for a moment and sighed.
“If I hadn’t would you be asking me why I didn’t?” This seemed to confuse her but she was happier for my response. She turned back around and she and Jason began whispering to one another. Eventually their whispers became talk and their talk became, again, conversation. Jason was lost until we found North Avenue and then it was easy to get home.
As we pulled in front of Jen’s apartment building, she leaned toward Jason.
“You know, you ought to see this movie I read about. It’s called The Girlfriend Experiment I think, it’s got a porn star in it and it’s about a prostitute.”
“I’ll have to check that out.” Jason mumbled and she moved her face towards him, pressing her lips into his cheek and he closed his eyes as he turned his face toward me.
“It was nice to see you again, Jason,” and “Goodbye” before a long pause. I didn’t expect it, but she kissed me softly on the lips and left the car, walking steadily up to her apartment door. Jason and I sat in the car silently and waited to see her enter the building before pulling away, beyond the street lamps and into the city where the blue lights guided our way.
I was pushed through the entrance.
The clown’s plastered smile
three inches from my face.
He pointed up. I shook my head.
The rungs of the ladder
were cool in the palms of my hands.
I saw you slip over the top.
I followed down, rushing
into the gulping puddle of
blues, yellows, greens, and reds.
No one was waiting to pull me out.
I called for you. Silence.
Mist spurt from the floor,
filling the room until I choked.
The maze wound,
hugged every corner.
In each new piece of glass
my reflection never changed –
wasn’t it supposed to? –
but you, yours shrank.
Reaching out to grab your hand,
my fingers screeched against smooth mirror.
Panels shifted beneath my feet,
pushed me into the spinning
kaleidoscope. Stumbling, stomach swirling
threatening to show baby blue cotton candy.
The exit. Find it.
When I found my way out
I could not look at myself again
and you were completely
by Jenna Moore ‘12
Sometimes I feel like my life is all airports.
When break comes, I book flights, I pack for flights, I get rides from my nice friends for flights. I always pack too much and struggle to get my top-heavy suitcase down the stairs in my dorm. I have perfected the art of packing too much for a week-long break; I have yet to perfect the art of packing for a month-long break. Because of this, every December I make the ten-hour drive home. I arrive at my house in New Hampshire, my car overfilled with my clothes and books and my floor littered with containers that formerly held caffeinated beverages. Exhausted, but happy.
When I fly, I fly into Logan Airport in Boston. It’s a maze of terminals and gates, and I always get lost. Eventually, I find my way out to my waiting family, where we share hugs and the hour-and-a-half trip home.
When you leave the Logan parking garage, you’re greeted with a giant billboard that proclaims “Welcome to Boston.” The New-Englander in me gets excited at this, because it’s not only the fact that I’m at home—-I’m in the place that I love.
It is March, and there is less than two months to graduation. I have a very vague clue what I am going to do. I’m going to graduate, go home, and eat whoopie pies. Also, about a year from graduation, I’m getting married. So that’s my plan. Whoopie pies and a wedding. I’m thinking purple for the color scheme. My fiancé is not too fond of this idea.
I am fond of Chestertown in the spring, and this year I am also aware that the warmer it gets, the closer it is to graduation. When I leave, I will miss here, and I will not. I have lived in five states—-if you include my college-related residency, six—- and I’m used to it by now. Perhaps that’s why I feel on equal turns that my life is all airports and traveling, and, at the same time, that I am too sedentary. My friends all go on trips, study abroad, and I am here. Just here.
I know this is different, this leaving. But when you’re bogged down by work and still not getting enough sleep, it’s hard to be wistful about the times that you’re still experiencing. Someday, I’ll trademark my memories, and they’ll be called ‘Fun Timez™’. The ‘z’ makes it fun. There will be trips to Stam’s and Sam’s and my constant over-pronunciation of one to make it distinct from the other. There will be walks to Roses to buy useless items that later come in very handy, and my fascination with the Dollar Tree because you can get anything there. ANYTHING. There’s also that quaint small-town stuff like farmers markets and garage sales and the Dunkin Donuts that closes at five. (Although, to be honest, I don’t really find them closing at five ‘quaint’; I find it an obstacle in my quest for coffee.)
It’s hard to go through all these experiences and pick a favorite, or even two or three, and that’s why I try not to. But when I do, I always return to my love, writing.
I’ve been privileged to meet, spend time with, and even read with some of the visiting writers to this campus. I’ve helped organized literary festivals and driven people to the airport. And someday, I hope a college student comes to pick me up from the airport in a car that they’ve tried to clean but is a little worse for wear to read on their campus. And when that day comes, I really hope someone shows up. Reading to yourself is helpful, but not very fun.
Along with these experiences, I’ve learned a lot. I don’t just mean what I’ve learned in the classroom—such as the fact that Lord Byron had a dancing bear (See! Dreams do come true). I’ve learned a lot of other things, and I don’t want to sound cliché, but it’s true. I’ve learned what is important to me, and what’s not.
One thing I’ve learned is this: everyone I love is on the other side of an airport. My parents, my fiancé, those amazing peanut butter whoopie pies that I cheat on with mediocre cakes and cookies in the dining hall—-they all are on the other side of the baggage claim of Logan. And that’s why, when my plain touches down on the runway, and the captain comes on the intercom and thanks me for flying and I can see the terminal and the skyline, I smile.
Welcome to Boston. Welcome home.
by Allison Novak ‘10
Assateague Island is a barrier island located off the Eastern Coast of Maryland and Virginia. It is surrounded by the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean and the shallow expanses of Chincoteague Bay. Assateague is a priceless seashore ecosystem and a sustainable resource that all visitors can appreciate. It is considered one of the best beaches on the entire East Coast. Searching for seashells as is a favorite pastime for many as they walk along the pristine white sand. Enjoy swimming in the picturesque waves along the Atlantic coastline. Relax on Assateague’s unspoiled beaches. Visit the famous Assateague Lighthouse. Assateague is vital for resting and feeding abundant bird species. Assateague’s wild horses are well known, even to many people who have never been to the island. Virginia’s segment of Assateague Island offers people an endless array of bird watching, biking, hiking, kayaking opportunities and even a herd of wild horses!
There’s just something about the image of horses running along beaches, crashing gallantly through the surf, muscles rippling beneath their windswept coats. The allure of wild horses is what draws most annual visitors to this remote barrier island. In fact, the wild horses were the one thing I really anticipated seeing while I was there. I first learned about the Assateague horses form Marguerite Henry’s famous book Misty of Chincoteague. I have heard the dramatic tale of struggle and survival of the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast. This local folklore is not likely, no records exist to confirm it, but it makes a great story. The wild horses are tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant mosquitoes, stormy weather, and poor quality food found on this windswept island to form a unique wild horse society. I imagined seeing the horses display their unique behavior due to their complex social structure. People have plenty of chances to see these fabled creatures, so I hoped to have an up close and personal experience with them.
I had a dream of about seeing them. The horses ran along the beach on an early fall morning as if the world wasn’t even there. They were running side by side, two by two, in a long row, and galloping their long, graceful strides. They were gray; they were spotted; they were brown; they were white. Their manes were long and flowing, as were their tails. Their muscles rippled and danced as they ran. Their eyes sparkled bright and vibrant with life. Even though I only dreamed it, I still become breathless in complete awe. What a sight to see!
One day, I set out to find my wild ponies. I rented a decent bike from the Best Western Inn . The brakes were primed, the chain was clean, and the wheels were aligned correctly. Excitement grew inside of me as I knew I was one step closer to seeing my wild ponies. I drew my right foot up to the pedal and started pedaling. I pedaled harder and harder to reach Assateague Island. The anticipation inside me was fueling my body to pedal faster. As I rode my bike, I took out my camera to snap pictures of landscape. My bike swerved from side to side as I took one hand off the handlebar and a car honked at me. I gave the driver an angry look because wild horses are shy creatures and must be approached with caution. A wild horse’s natural instinct for defense is flight; the driver could have scared off my wild ponies.
While searching for bands of wild horses, I looked for signs of signs of horse activity, with the main sign being large piles of manure left as territorial markings. I could not find any droppings. I kept my ears open for the sound of horse communication such as nickering, squealing or whinnying. However, the wind on Assateague Island overwhelmed my ears and I could not hear. I rode the bike through the woods, through the wildlife loop, through the beach, through short trails, through long trails, up to the Assateague Lighthouse until I covered every square inch of the island. I looked at maps to focus my attention on the places marked “Pony View,” but I found nothing. My excitement was slowly turning into disappointment as the morning turned into the afternoon and I was forced to return the rental bike. I only came back with tons of mosquito bites.
Later that evening, I scheduled a sunset kayak tour. According to the guide, I was guaranteed to see wild ponies. He said they ran through the marsh minutes before I arrived at the dock. Hearing that made my hope rise. I was definitely going to see them. Kayaking through Assateague, I could feel my muscles beginning to burn as I placed the right side of my paddle blade in the water and rotated my torso. I heard the water slide off my paddle as I continued my motions without a break. As we neared the waterside of Lighthouse, I paddled faster and almost ran over Kelsey and Benjy. I smelled the manure that the horses left behind. I glaced around but saw no signs of my wild horses. Again, I was filled with disappointment.
Finally, I found my wild ponies in a corral. They munched on hay and looked as upset as I was feeling. My heart went out to them. I learned that they were rounded up over the weekend to be given shots. Even though I found my wild ponies I still felt disappointed. I had a vision for what my day was going to be like. I got excited and planned and prepped for that day. I got so worked up about it. I planned and invested my time, energy, and emotions. I got my hopes up that things were going to work out and then when they did not, I felt disappointed. Life can be full of disappointments sometimes.
by Liz Shandor ‘11
The Hurt Locker opens with words by Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” The quote slowly fades, but “war is a drug” remains in its spot. The film then cuts to the opening shot, but the disappeared words stay with the viewer. They linger until the very end of the film and for days after that.
The Hurt Locker was recently named the winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture, and its director, Kathryn Bigelow, became the first woman to win the Best Director award. Well deserved, I say. Incredible performances, well-earned suspense, perfect camera work, and exhilarating action all contribute to one of the greatest war pictures to date.
When US Army Sergeant First Class Will James takes over a highly trained bomb disposal team amidst violent conflict, he surprises his two subordinates, Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge, by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of urban combat. The thrill of the dismantlement seems to be James’ ultimate goal regardless of the safety of his fellow team members, others on the scene, or himself. For him, war is a drug. But Sanborn and Eldridge are just trying to survive their last few days of duty and get home. As the men struggle to control their wild new leader, the city explodes into chaos, and James’ true character reveals itself in a way that will change each man forever.
An intense portrayal of elite soldiers who have the dangerous jobs of disarming bombs in the heat of combat, the film’s narrative drive hangs on the amount of time left in their rotation in Iraq, but the script hangs on a series of set pieces that illustrate the emotional give and take between the men as they go out every day and hope to live until nightfall. The most refreshing aspect of the film is in Bigelow’s ability to capture and make her audience feel exactly what an American soldier experiences in the center of danger.
The Hurt Locker dares to go where not many other suspense-driven films have gone. There are no cheap suspense shots—nothing jumps out at the audience, no increasingly high-pitched music plays during a bomb defusing. Instead the best and thickest suspense occurs simply through showing what is going on. Some of the most edge-of-your-seat moments are not of the actual bomb defusing, but of the shots of the townspeople looking on. Instead of focusing on James and the bomb that could detonate at any moment, the camera will shift back and forth between the gazes of these locals, Sanborn and Eldridge, who know that one of these people could, in fact, be the bomb detonator. Are they enemies? Are they friendly? It is difficult to tell. That, my friends, is suspense at its finest. The audience doesn’t need dozens of buildings blowing up to identify with the dangers involved. James disarming a bomb while the viewer watches in silent desperation is enough action to propel the film to a level of gasping-for-air tension.
Although The Hurt Locker features well-known names and Oscar nominated talent such as Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, and David Morse, their roles are limited, each receiving only a few minutes of screen time. The film relies on three relatively unknown actors, and not one falls short of an incredible performance.
James is played by Jeremy Renner, who has had minor roles in films such as North Country, 28 Weeks Later, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Renner becomes his character, revealing both inside and out. He doesn’t say much, but through his actions and mannerisms, the drive behind his need to defuse bombs is clear: it is a thrill ride that consumes him. Sanford could be screaming at him through a walkie-talkie, or Eldridge could be cowering in a corner, consumed by fear, but James will ignore all of it. He is in an oblivious state when he is with a bomb, one of intense focus and exhilaration. Renner brilliantly portrays James as a tortured man anguished by what he has become, but unable and unwilling to change.
The “hurt locker” of the title can refer to a number of different aspects of the plot and of war itself. In Iraq, it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending one to “the hurt locker.” The title could also refer to James’ collection of detonators from bombs he’s taken apart, fragments of wire, and paraphernalia. “This box is full of stuff that almost killed me,” James says to his team in one of the more memorable scenes. James keeps the collection under his bed like a good luck charm, but also because he knows he can’t live without the memories it contains.
Sanborn, a wonderfully moving character, is played flawlessly by Anthony Mackie of Notorious. His contrast to James is one of a classic battle between one who does it by the books and one who says, “to hell with the rules, I’m doing it my way because my way is better.” Sanborn radiates intelligence as he argues and pleads against James’s bravado. Mackie’s ice-cold delivery elevates his character above the clichéd “I hate you but respect you” sentiment. Sanborn acts as the hero in the film, the character whom the audience can identify with, and Mackie wonderfully portrays him as a man who has simply had enough.
Eldridge, who represents the young minds who simply shouldn’t be fighting in a war, is played by Brian Geraghty, who manages another inspiring performance. Eldridge is reliable, but does not handle himself very well under the intense fear involved in his deadly job. The journey of his character is perhaps the most intriguing. His character is perfectly unstable. When Eldridge tells James, “fuck you,” he clearly means it, and Geraghty delivers the line with such brutally honest conviction that the viewer senses an unrivaled emotional pain behind his words.
The Hurt Locker is extraordinary filmmaking from pensive beginning to tragic end, and it is worthy of the awards it received. It is compelling, a visually and emotionally stunning film, one fated to echo in audiences’ minds for years to come. Rent, buy, borrow- do whatever you have to do to see this film.
by Amanda Whitaker ‘12
Writing is how I see the world. I look at a picture and I see it in words. I begin to create a story and describe the place through my writing, words flowing through my head like a river. Sometimes this river is a lazy stream, and other times it is a reckless flood of information. These words, the stories I create about the places I’ve been, my experiences, and the places I want to go help me to carve a path through the rocks and to form a canyon that leads me to my future.
For the longest time I had wanted to be a lawyer, and not just any lawyer. I wanted to be the best prosecutor of my time. I was so convinced that being a lawyer was my goal in life that I began to study all that I could about law. I was fascinated by the idea of standing in front of a grand jury in a sharp business suit and condemning a mass murderer to lifetime imprisonment. I wanted to put the bad guys behind bars and, consequently, clean up the world. I was convinced that by putting criminals away, I would be making the world a more honest place.
The interesting thing is that the more I learned about law, the more I realized that law wasn’t what intrigued me. What attracted me were the people that were involved with law- whether it was the lawyer, the defendant, or the victim. I wanted to know what was going on inside their heads. I also found that I was more interested in the historical aspects of the trial rather than current events. These realizations, however, were only the beginning; a much larger realization was to come about during my tour of Europe.
I was in England, exploring a cathedral when I first dreamed of delving into the human psyche. I remember the sound of footsteps echoing off the marble floor and walls, the silence and the quiet whispers that vibrated down the corridor. These vibrations draw me back to this place, this ancestral beauty.
Hushed voices and quiet murmurs echoed softly down the stone walls. A wooden bench scraped along the gray stone floor, and a boy muttered a quick apology. Patches of sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, breathing life into the long-standing work of art.
I walked down the hall of this ancient cathedral with its stone arches and pillars, this piece of glorious history, the one to which thousands of people make pilgrimages every year . The main room was crowded with tourists snapping pictures and gawking at the huge marble coffins on display behind the altar. One girl’s eyes bulged when she realized that the marble coffins bore golden names. She yelled to her parents, breaking the hallowed quiet.
The cathedral became louder as more tourists crammed themselves through the ancient oak doors and my sanctuary was invaded. I made a sharp right turn and walked down a stone corridor, the racket dying out behind me. Along the floor of the corridor were rectangular slabs of gray stone. On each of these slabs were designs, family crests. These slabs were not just parts of the floor, but tombs. Careful not to step on them, I examined each . Suddenly, the text I was examining was no longer there. There were no faces, no names that I could incorporate into the subtitles of the images I saw. Who were these people? How did they die? When did they die and what kind of life did they live? I couldn’t help but think of these questions and, as I did, my heart skipped several beats. These decayed bodies and cold bones were once warm and alive. These bodies were once people who had names and who worked and ate and loved. I longed to touch these ghosts and learn about their lives. I wanted to write their stories. These were the tombs of the forgotten, whose many names cried out to me. I must know who these people are; I must know their names and then I must never forget them. These people are humanity’s ancestors, heritage, and blood ties. They are history and they are the key to the future. History is alive, the pulsing blood within the human body, and like the human, history does not wish to be forgotten.
Slowly, I drew out of my memory. Words formed streams of sentences in my mind’s eye. I was in a daze. The tombs formed the basis of a story in my mind and this story was new for me . It carried a deeper meaning than I could have imaged. This story carved a new path in my canyon. It was a new route that changed the direction my life will take, just as water changes course to follow openings between the rocks.
This realization about living history came as a shock for me. Never before had I felt such a longing to understand the human mind and the history behind ancient structures and people. I found that I wanted to learn all I could about history and the psychology behind it and then share it with the rest of the world. I wanted to teach the world how to respect and remember how earth once was, and what it could become using the lessons from its history.
I didn’t discard all my lessons about law; instead I placed them into storage, just as one would save half-written stories or ideas. In a way, it’s like how the canyon’s original waterway was not destroyed, but how it will remain barren with no new water entering it. However, if the water’s new path was ever diverted, the original course would also be there to once again take up the roar of the water coasting down the rocky walls.
This reverie helped me to understand myself and the person I wanted to become. I love history and am fascinated by the human mind. Yet, in order to continue my never-ending story, I must know how today’s world works, and I realize that the legal information I acquired when I was younger is still pertinent to the person I want to be. Therefore, maybe it’s not that the canyon’s original course is barren, but that it is in a symbiotic relationship with the new waterway. Both are needed to create the identity that defines the person I am.
by Brittany Krueger ‘13
It is Christmastime 1998 and Alicia and I are the luckiest ten-year-olds in the world. We are front-row at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in front of the famous Christmas tree, listening to and watching *NSync perform. Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez suddenly pull us up to dance onstage, and we dance our little hearts out. Naturally, after the concert Justin and JC ask Alicia and I, respectively, to be their girlfriends.
It’s a shame that by “Rockefeller Center” I mean my small childhood room, and by “*NSync concert” I mean the band’s holiday CD playing on my crappy small stereo.
I would say that seventy percent of my friendship with Alicia is nostalgia. Our sentences often begin with “Remember when…” and end with something that leaves us doubled over in laughter. Sometimes we’re only remembering a person from our shared childhood whom we haven’t heard from since elementary school—not even anything they did, just their very existence in one part of our lives. We say that these people, “fell off the face of the earth,” but every so often we bring them back in conversation. I wonder if anyone ever does this about us.
I’m often shocked when, after I tell people I have known Alicia since third grade, they are genuinely surprised that our friendship has lasted that long. This is without even knowing the various turbulences we’ve experienced in our twelve-year run. I always thought that everyone has that one best friend with whom they’ve grown up, from grade school all the way up through high school and beyond. If that’s not true, then our friendship is even more unique than I originally thought.
I’m eight years old, on the field for soccer practice. I am lousy at soccer and usually feel pretty lonely, but this is a new year and a new team and on this team there’s a girl with blond hair and brown eyes who is really good at soccer and who told me she liked my bobbed hair cut. The ball comes to me during the scrimmage, and I kick it as hard as I can towards the goal. It flies high into the air. A few minutes later this new friend of mine, Alicia, is jumping up and down for me, saying, “You made an assist! You made an assist!”
I look at her and ask, “What’s an assist?”
Alicia and I never had any classes together, but in fifth and sixth grade we worked out a system to hang out during the day (other than recess). We would agree, either before school started or during recess, to meet in the bathroom at a certain time. We would hang out and talk about the normal eleven-year-old bullshit: the boy in my class she liked, the boy in another class that I liked, the unfair things our teachers did, and how awesome it would be when we finally got to middle school.
After school we would walk home together, and in sixth grade we began stopping at the Rite Aid en route from school to home. We would sit unapologetically on the floor and count out our change to buy candy. Once we pooled our money to buy an eyeliner pencil. It was the first act of defiance I remember being led to by Alicia; my mother was strict about me not wearing makeup until I was “old enough,” a designation I feared would never come. We sat outside on the curb just beyond the Rite Aid’s automatic sliding doors, me trying not to breathe or flinch as Alicia carefully drew black lines on the pale creases just above my lower lashes. When it was finally over, she told me I looked eighteen. As an eleven-year-old, this was all I could really ask for.
It is early September 2000. For the first time I am walking to a bus stop, and I am far too happy about this. Waiting for me is Alicia, and we hug excitedly. We’re about to start middle school.
Our bus is late.
When we finally arrive at Grand Avenue Middle School, we’re giddy. We put our things away in our lockers (lockers!) and then we look for our homeroom, one of two periods we have in common. We get lost trying to find it, but we’re too excited to care. We finally run into the right room, and our homeroom teacher looks annoyed. We’re barely there for five minutes before the bell rings and we have to find yet another classroom, but this time without each other.
Our middle school had separated us by academic abilities: I was in the Honors program while Alicia went to summer school before seventh grade and then took regular classes. I often wished that I could be in “Regulars” with Alicia, if only so we could have the same lunch period. I was and still am shy, while Alicia dove into social situations with enough confidence to not care if people disliked her. I feared that with all the new people she was meeting, she would lose interest and stop being friends with me. I still worry about this with many of my friends because it’s happened to me before.
In February 2001, it’s decided that Alicia will move in with her mother. There are many problems between Alicia and her father and stepmother, and it’s time for a change. As much as I know that she can’t stay, I don’t want her to go.
Her last day at Grand Ave. Middle School is spent gathering phone numbers and AIM screen names. I sit next to her on the bus ride home, quiet while she talks to the other kids around her, making promises to keep in touch. In my hands is my mother’s camera.
When we get off at our stop, I tell Alicia I want a picture of the two of us.
I’m confused. “Why not?”
“I don’t want to.”
Now I’m hurt. “Fine!” I yell, pivoting and sprinting off to my house. The camera swings from a strap around my wrist, hitting me in the side as I run, tears stinging at my eyes.
Alicia reaches her house before I reach mine, and the phone in my kitchen is ringing when I burst through the front door. I take the phone off the cradle and slam it back down forcefully. The second time it rings, I hold the phone up to my ear.
Her first concern is that I could have had a heart attack, because I have asthma and I ran. I roll my eyes, even though I am breathing heavily from my emotional sprint. There are more pressing issues. “Why do you want to forget me?”
Alicia is frustrated. “I don’t want to forget you. You’re my best friend.”
“Then why won’t you take the picture?”
“Because if we do, then it’s like our friendship is really over. I don’t want to need that picture.”
It’s the wisest thing I’ve ever heard from a fellow twelve-year-old.
Alicia’s mother lived in Holbrook when Alicia moved in with her. It’s an hour from our hometown of North Bellmore, and a huge adjustment from the two blocks that lay between my house and her father’s. The first summer we were apart, I spent a week with Alicia at her mother’s house. She was remarried and had a toddler named Mikey and a yappy Pomeranian whose name I couldn’t spell to save my life.
Alicia’s new house had an in-ground pool in the backyard. She dragged her stereo out to the back porch, hooking it up with an extension cord, and we spent our days listening to Blink-182 and lounging in her pool. We spent our nights regretting the fact that we never put on sun block.
I met her new friend Danielle during that visit. I felt jealous of this new friendship, and even though Danielle complimented me on my freakishly long eyelashes, I didn’t think I liked her. Three years later Alicia would hate her too, after Danielle started dating her ex-boyfriend Dane not even a month after they broke up.
Alicia’s mother moved to Farmingdale after eighth grade, and they lived in Farmingdale up to the end of her freshman year of high school. Then Alicia got into a fight with her mom and was sent back to her dad. This wouldn’t be the last time Alicia got bounced between families. I was happy at the prospect of her coming back to North Bellmore, but then I found out her dad was moving to Selden, an hour and fifteen minutes away.
It is the end of tenth grade. Alicia had called me, plastered at eleven in the afternoon, and I had been freaked out enough to get my dad to drive me all the way to Selden. When I get there, she seems fine, until I pull her out of her house to ask her what the hell is going on. She crumbles onto me sobbing outside. She never tells me why. When she goes back inside, her boyfriend Eric and her friend Bridget are also there. Alicia’s swaying all over the place. She grabs at Bridget, who shakes her off, sending Alicia crashing to the kitchen floor. Bridget asks me if her makeup is smeared.
I can only stare.
The rest of the day is an odd blur for me, my first experience with drunkeness. After Alicia passes out for thirty minutes, she wakes up and is surprised to find me there. We walk over to the space behind the Selden Thrift Store. Teenagers are hanging out there, and for a while I relax. People have drawn on the brick of the building with colored chalk. Alicia wipes her hand against the chalk drawings and smears it on my black shirt. I laugh and do it back. Aside from the fact that her memory is severely compromised, Alicia seems like her normal self.
We decide to walk over to the tanning salon. My mother has told me I’m not allowed to go tanning because it’s unhealthy, but there’s an appeal to getting a jump-start on my tan. The booth has music blasting, the speaker right next to the tanning bed. Midway through my session, Alicia runs into my booth. “Your mom called me. She wants to talk to you. I told her you were in the bathroom but she wants to talk to you now.” She holds out the cell phone I’m so jealous of. We’re both panicked.
I scramble out of the tanning bed, but I can’t go out of the booth because I only have my underwear on and I don’t want to get the tanning lotion on my clothes. I stand at the farthest corner of the booth, one hand pressed over my left ear and the other holding the cell phone to my right. My mother is concerned about Alicia being drunk and asks me where I am and why the music is so loud. I manage to tell her that Alicia is fine, we’re at her friend’s house, and I was having stomach issues. I hang up before she can protest. When I turn back to the tanning bed, I see Alicia wedged onto the corner of it, her back against the speaker to muffle the sound. After a few seconds, we burst out laughing. The scene is so absurd, and so uniquely us.
We walk back to her house, wondering out loud why health classes don’t tell you what to do to take care of someone who is drunk.
There was a time when Alicia and I planned to move into the second floor of my house, formerly my grandparents’ apartment, and go to community college together. But my high school had a bulletin board in the guidance office tracking college acceptances. A flag with your name on it went up when you got your first college acceptance letter. Nassau Community College suddenly became too easy. So I filled out applications and visited colleges, telling myself that I would always end up coming back to Long Island. It killed me to tell Alicia that the one I had decided on was the farthest one from home: Washington College, in a tiny little town on the eastern shore of Maryland, two hundred miles from her and our plans to be less than an hour away from each other. The first time she visited, it was Earth Day and we went to the festival the school held at Wilmer Park. There was tie-dying and a bluegrass band. Alicia kept giving me horrified glances.
A month after I’d arrived at college, Alicia kept bugging me about sending her pictures of us. I was busy trying to get adjusted to my new life on my own, and I never emailed her any of the photos I had on my laptop, so she had to make due. She sent me a video file over AOL Instant Message (it took forever to download). It was a slide show of random pictures she found on the internet that represented our memories: inside jokes, old schools, bands we both liked. It was set to the song “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. The over-the-top cheesiness only made me miss her more.
We are twenty-one years old. I have been rejected for the millionth time by a crush, and at the last minute I decide to drive out to the Queens apartment Alicia shares with her boyfriend Mike. We drink and play cards and try not to talk about my heartache. The Black Eyed Peas song “I Got A Feeling” comes on the radio though, and we both know it reminds me of my crush.
“No. Leave it,” I tell her abruptly when she goes to change the radio station. “This IS a good night. I’m drinking and playing cards with my best friend.”
Alicia grins and raises her glass. “Hazle-toff!”
“HAZLE-TOFF?!” She’s drunkenly looking for the phrase “Mazel Tov.” We’re laughing too hard to care. We spend the next ten minutes saying wonderful things about each other.
Among other things, she says I’m the one friend who’s never screwed her over.
The Evolving Social Image of the African American Woman: from Mammy to Michelle Obama by Joyell Johnson
The 2008 election was a pivotal time in history for the United States. Not only because the country witnessed its first African American president but also because an African American woman was granted the seat of First Lady. Prior to, and arguably after, her appointment as First Lady, Michelle Obama has been much like the majority of black women in America. As the current First Lady, Obama has done more to rectify the reputation of black women than past and present prominent African American women. Her resume contains a higher education, being a dedicated mother and supportive wife, all while maintaining a steady career. If nothing else, Obama has built the podium on which the bona fide African American woman can step forward and make her presence known. A presence absent of the half-nakedness and manipulation of Jezebel, the headscarf and submissiveness of Mammy, and of the “roll-your-neck” and emasculating attitude of Sapphire. This presence that will ultimately help remove black women from their current social category.
African American women have been in a separate social category since the colonization of America. Historically, black women have only been described with two characteristics, manifest from different perspectives. As African American women, they are black but female; therefore, society isolates them from black men to confine their capabilities and resourcefulness. Reversing the order of the two characteristics describes them as female but still black, demonstrating that society does not see it fit to characterize black women with the same level of chastity or womanhood as the preponderance of white women.
“Wench…nigress…mammy…bitch!” These are just some of the pejoratives coined by men and women of all colors, creeds and citizenships to brand the black woman, not once giving her the liberty nor the respect to self-identify. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote his critical essay, “The Damnation of Women,” on behalf of black women almost a century ago and since then black women have managed to secure one high heel on land while still struggling to remove the other from the blaze of what Du Bois called the devilish fire (Lewis 303). Du Bois’s account is not the first nor the last media attempt to acknowledge the situation, or perceived situation, of the African American woman. In fact, the amount of attention that has been given to the African American woman since colonial America is astounding. In contest with Du Bois, sources of media such as literature and film have created and perpetuated false representations of the ideal African American woman.
The mass literature and film medias have been the driving force behind several misconceptions about black women. The current perceptions about black women, and how those perceptions came to be, are linked to the ways in which the media has validated black women’s existence. The black and white communities in America are both victims and perpetrators of the literary and film media’s slander. They are victims of being persuaded to notice and then accept erroneous beliefs about black women. They become perpetrators of these myths and transform them into realities at the expense of black women. These myths, acting as realities, have served as stereotypes that mask the femininity deeply embedded but ignored in black women.
Of the many stereotypes surrounding the African American family as a whole, three stereotypes have defined the existence of the African American woman for decades. The oversexed Jezebel, the faithful Mammy, and the angry Sapphire are the most recognizable African American female caricatures. Their racist and sexist connotations have hindered the social progress of black women since their varied inceptions. Jezebel, whose birth predates the Civil War, has had her uncontrollable sexual behaviors and manipulation broadcasted through numerous films, novels, and social institutions (White 30). Her polar opposite, the strategically named Mammy, has also received the same amount of publicity, if not more, since her birth during the antebellum period of America. Most often seen as obese with a headscarf and a jolly smile, Mammy has paraded through almost every home in the southern region of United States because of her faithful domesticity and acceptance of inferiority to her white family (Wallace-Sanders 2). Sapphire, born during the first half of the twentieth century, has dominated the mainstream film and literary medias as the angry black woman everyone fears.
The implications of Jezebel, Mammy, and Sapphire have worked simultaneously to strip African American women of their individuality and vulnerability, not just as women but as women of color. African American women have worked hard to rid themselves of stereotypes and save from the past the shreds and vestiges of self-respect, but that has been a terrible task (Lewis 303). In order to understand the significance of Michelle Obama as the first African American First Lady, it is important to revisit these past conventional images about black women that continue to penetrate the present.
Pursuing the perceived images of black women requires examining the contexts in which Jezebel, Mammy, and Sapphire were respectively created. These three stereotypes have separate and intriguing biographies infiltrated with racism and sexism. Each is a tale of myth becoming distorted truth. A careful analysis of how and why each tale was fabricated by the media is essential in comprehending their popularity. By chronologically analyzing the presence of each caricature in American film and literature, a conclusion can be made of how powerful a role stereotypes have played in the evaluation of African American women. The analysis will also reveal the invisible cross that black women have been born- a cross, comprised of racism intersecting with sexism, that makes black women the “mule of the world” (Johnson 4). The slanderous words used against Michelle Obama by the media revealed that she too bears the invisible cross.
The 2008 election, while historic and representative of the racial progression in the United States, also showcased how far America needs to come in terms of its treatment and respect of African American women. President Barack Obama received much criticism from both the black and white communities for his choice of a spouse and they did not hesitate to launch their attacks onto Michelle Obama. Throughout the presidential campaign Michelle was regarded as a handicap or liability to Barack because of her crass and assertive demeanor. After her comment of, “being really proud of her country for the first time” she was put into what Robin Abcarian from the LA Times calls the “Spotlight’s glare.” Her comment was misconstrued and caused her to be unrightfully labeled by other news outlets as a bitter and uncontrollable tyrant that would do more harm than good if she were to become First Lady. More pointedly, she became a victim of Angry Black Woman Syndrome.
Immediately after describing herself as a “mom-in-chief” to USA today, the New Nation Newsroom ran the headline, “First Ho’ Michelle Obama wants to be First Mammy as well.” Even after the election, derkeiler.com started a blog about Obama entitled, “Baboon Armed First Mammy Skank Dresses Up In Human Costumes.” Some would argue that “first ho” and “skank” were tacked onto her name because of her choice in “inappropriate” sleeveless apparel but that is an excuse and not an answer to the question of why she was called such a degrading name. Obama has been compared to the late Jacqueline Kennedy, and The Huffington Post points out that even Kennedy wore sleeveless attire, however, Kennedys appearance was not viewed as inappropriate for a First Lady. There is a background story of the word “ho” and how easily it has been attached to the identity of black women. The same is true with the other pejoratives that have been used to describe African American women and subsequently Michelle Obama.
Unfortunately for African American women, they are honorary members of two underrepresented groups in American society. They are born female and of color which places them at an even bigger disadvantage than their black male and white female counterparts. First Lady Michelle Obama was, not surprisingly, associated with the three most prevalent stereotypes of African American women. The media tried to brand Obama as a Jezebel (“first ho”), a Mammy, and a Sapphire (“Angry Black Woman Syndrome”) even though she did not embody any of the characteristics typically associated with these caricatures. These three particular stereotypes have followed and defined black women since the institution of slavery. The presence of racism and sexism ideology surrounding the maltreatment of First Lady Michelle Obama, explains the situation of African American women and how little that situation has changed. Even though Obama is not exempt from the stigmas connected to her gender and race, her designation as First Lady does more to combat the two social inequalities than other affluent black women (e.g. Oprah or Condoleezza Rice). As First Lady, Obama is in one of the highest place of prestige in America, which gives her the opportunity to unabashedly unveil the authentic and multifaceted African American woman.
The opinions about African American women have closely followed three stereotypes established in film and literary medias. The African American woman has always been spoken for, misunderstood, and/or dismissed. But the time has come for the African American woman to use her own voice: a voice that won’t be ignored or stereotyped, a voice that won’t just be heard, but will also penetrate the dismal wall of past beliefs and prototypes that have depreciated her femininity, womanhood, motherhood, and pure existence.
Du Bois, W.E.B. A Reader. Ed. David Levering Lewis. New York: Owl Books, 1995.
Johnson, Maria V. “The World in a Jug and the Stopper in [Her] Hand: Their Eyes as Blues Performance”. African American Review. 32.3 (1998): pp. 404-414 JSTOR. 23 Jan 2010.
Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.
White, Deborah Gray. Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1999.
by Joyell Johnson ‘10
The infinitesimal core of hard matter
that is the heart of me
will occasionally meet another.
Sparks will fly,
minute electrical attractions
flicker into life and flash out.
Arcs of energy cutting a jagged bridge
from one lonely island to another.
We condense now, gas to liquid.
Now liquid to solid, we freeze
against the nature of freewheeling,
Our polar axes stick in place.
We form partial charges,
dipoles, Van der Waals.
Our charges spent,
we lose intimacy to unsteady
but growing bonds-
lop-sided and polarized.
But the longer we wait,
the more force necessary
to twist away,
to retrieve my energy,
to break this bond.
by Joe Yates ‘11
My dad’s family had moved to Ft. Pierce during the mid 40s and had, as the Bible advised, increased and multiplied. So, working for Dr. Raab was interesting for a number of reasons, not least of all because the town in which his office was located was so small. Such as it was, it then followed that between my actual family and the people my family had introduced me to, it was not uncommon to encounter any number of prior acquaintances in the day-to-day life of a veterinarian’s office at any given time.
Unsurprisingly, the history of my family in Ft. Pierce was as marked by bad spots as any: divorces, bastard children, legal run-ins, and the general competitive ill-will that comes from doing well as citrus growers and morticians. Indeed, being in the undertaking business itself brought about the standard array of queries and odd relationships that will come from preparing and burying friends, relations, and Jews in a small southern town. The lattermost being because, well, traditions hold strong and, being the only funeral parlor in a town of five thousand that was available to both Gentile and Jew, it was a source of some unpleasantness.
by Joe Yates ‘11
I was born late in the family history of both our trades. My grandmother sold our last grove, which happened to consist of white grapefruit, several years before her death because it was proving unprofitable. And as such things go, the price spiked two months after the sale went through to a record high. As for undertaking, well, what had once been a small franchise of parlors down the east coast of Florida in the 60’s and 70’s, had shrunk back to two. My older cousin, who had briefly attended a school for mortuary science, had decided it wasn’t for him. And no others were trusted or willing following my grandmother’s death.
Despite this, I seemed unable to escape this whole family habit of tending for the dead at a vet’s office where sometimes as many as six animals might be euthanized in a day. Then I, lineage that I have, would bag them and put them in the kind of big, white horizontal freezers out of which one often scoops bait or ice. There they would wait, black-bagged and stiff, until the pet cremators came around on Tuesday to fish them out. Then the beloved pets, or sometimes just a stray that had turned up worse for wear, would be incinerated and returned in a suitable receptacle for those who might wish to keep an artifact.
On one day at Dr. Raab’s, when I was not yet speckled, flecked or otherwise befouled with animal fluids, I was encouraged to work up front. This meant interacting with owners, and flirting with the girl at the counter awkwardly in my scrubs. She was older, more confident, and completely out of my league, but one must pass the time.
So, in this way, I ran into Wally Poynter to help him as he had brought in his dog, Pokers, to be put down. Pokers, who had been older than dirt even in my infancy, was a German Shepherd and Black Lab mix. He was as scrawny as he was old, and clearly worn out by whatever it is that wears out the dog of a Presbyterian minister in a South Florida town. Always shaking and slinking. I don’t recall having ever seen him run. He looked like a horse with a swayback, all shoulders and haunches, no spine.
Wally had essentially been a grandfather to me growing up, always at the little dinner parties and family gatherings, saying the prayers before meals, playing songs on my grandmother’s piano, and winding my grandmother and aunts’ grandfather clocks. He had nearly been my grandfather in true legality, in fact. He courted my grandmother for the entirety of the span in which our lives overlapped. For while he would bike back down Indian River Drive to his own home at a decent hour. He would then, after everyone else left, or he thought they had, bike back up. A small man, with short cropped white hair and beard, usually in a white polo shirt and pastel shorts, a pallid figure sometimes seen biking beneath the live oak and cabbage palm.
But he didn’t recognize me at the vet’s office, or chose not to at least. She refused his proposal on the grounds that she had married three times, not because she was fickle, but because they had all died while married to her. She felt herself to be a black widow of sorts, and so sought to spare him despite how much she cared for him. Or ,that’s what the family said to me anyhow.
Then, when I was about 12 years old, she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Things as they were, Wally proposed again and she accepted. But, as she had also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she promptly forgot that she had accepted. Not terribly unexpected as she would confuse me with my forty-year old uncle or forget she no longer had a car. Indeed, even as the sole surviving proprietor of the funeral home, it soon became apparent that accounting was no longer the best thing with which to entrust her.
But regardless of all her failings and forgettings, Wally was crushed. Since her death he faded out of the family’s life and gatherings. The piano lay quiet and out of tune, the clocks remained unwound. His diminishing led me to think of her funeral a couple years before: the family business taking care of its own, me being a pallbearer with my cousins and uncles, the withered rose that still sat on my bookcase in Tampa.
These thoughts ran through my head as I carried my near-grandfather’s dog back to the freezer—limp, and very light for a dog of his size. I wondered if it was congenital, this death-apathy. Certainly I missed my grandmother, and in the years since I have better realized what an amazing woman she was, but I had no need to mourn at the time. Of course, I was young, it put me in shock, I didn’t understand, and so on. It all amounted to make me feel uncaring and low. But I like to believe, as I recall laying Pokers among the others in the freezer, that it is bred into my family. That working as undertakers, morticians, funeral directors, coroners, or mortuary science majors, whatever, perhaps one better understands innately the natural passage from life to death. Maybe just by being born into this family, I already understand better than most that I will die out of it as well.
Here I am.
Trapped, stuck at this intersection, alone
not sure which way to turn,
left seems dismal, sounds of rain drumming into metal skin,
dead end, caught, no way to turn back again,
open-endedness mixed with closed-off heart,
right seems too bright, wandering city lights,
endless turns, that twist moving like asphalt snakes
through the sunrise, breaking dawn,
straight ahead, one single line leading into ever more,
no sun or moon, dark or light, nothing,
endless and eternal, stretching on past the outskirts of town,
Here I am.
Caught off guard, stuck,
foot triggering brake, engine humming into the night,
the only way I want to go is back.
It’s cold. The pressure around your body increases. The water swallows you up. You’re sinking into the dark. You kick and thrash, attempting to keep your body afloat, but you keep dipping under the surface. ‘I should’ve just stayed away from the edge.’ There’s a random flashback to college, and how your friends couldn’t believe that you never learned how to swim. You thought; ‘what’s the point? I’ll never need to know how. I’ll just keep my ass out of the water.’ You chuckle inwardly; ‘I could use the knowledge now.’ You keep thrashing, but the water drags you down. Your body becomes lethargic. You can’t breathe. There’s no air, just water. You have one more burst of energy, of willpower. You try to fight the pain that’s building up in your lungs. The burning is overwhelming. You kick and reach, but alas, your clothes are too heavy and the water is too cold. You don’t know the movements that could bring you to what you yearn for: air. Such a simple task that you could have learned to save your life. Your body betrays you and you take a gulp of what you want to be air, but it is cold liquid that burns through your lungs like fire. You are drowning. Your vision starts to fade and you welcome the darkness, the oblivion, with a smile.
The slap that resounds off her skin is sickening. It is not the first time nor will it be the last. He continues to beat her. Smack after smack, thud after thud. He isn’t satisfied. His bloodlust cannot be satiated with the black and blue bruises forming on her swollen cheek and arms. He grabs the first thing he can think of to aid him in his quest - his belt. A smile dawns across his face as he slips the belt from its place around his hips. He draws back and cracks it against her forehead. The smell of copper is instant. The warm heaviness of blood trickles down her face. She hears the laughing, if that’s what you can even call it. The cackles reverberate off the bathroom walls. He enjoys himself. He always does. She’s in the fetal position, trying to cover her head, hoping, praying that he’ll stop before it’s too late. He keeps laughing, drawing his arm back farther. He puts all his weight into it this time. The blow deafens. She only hears a subtle ringing, but at least it’s replaced his asinine cackle. He repeats the stroke. The darkness opens its arms to her like a lover, a safe haven. But just before she sinks into oblivion, her last conscious thought to make the bastard pay is interrupted by his breath on her cheek and his voice in her good ear whispering, “It’s only because I love you.”
by Victoria Heydt ‘10
One of the many spots we liked to go fishing was Gunpowder Falls at Jones Road. After winding down the thin narrow country lane that I’ve always been fond of because its name is my own, you come to a crossroads with a railroad track where you have to tap your brakes before looking both directions down the long, straight rail line, and then rattle over it to park in the gravel clearing a few seconds down the road across from an abandoned junkyard. You know you’ve gone too far when you see rusted Oldsmobiles swallowed halfway into dilapidated sheds and tires stacked up like towering Oreo cookies.
We would usually grab our rods and head down the narrow trail leading out of the parking area into the dense forest. The sky would turn bright green as the sun shone through the ceiling of leaves, shading the path below, interrupted only by the occasional strand of sun that warmed your skin and made your eyes blink away the light spots momentarily transferred to every glance. We’d stroll side by side through the meandering trail, sometimes splitting up different places where the trail branched off to see who could find the best shortcut. Even if the trail was shorter, however, it was usually so narrow and overgrown with thorns that it took twice as long to navigate through it without tripping or being pricked. We always met up where the trail met the riverbank and where the giant graffiti-ed concrete arches of the railroad bridge loomed into the sky high above the highest treetops in the forest. We’d pass under the cool, shady bridge and continue on along the sandy river bank, climb over some big rock formations and finally throw our lines into a deep pool where the rushing river gathered and poured over rocks into a waterfall I used to let my feet swirl in the water until we caught a long, writhing eel and decided I’d keep my toes dry.
But this time was different than the others. After Christian’s truck bounced into the gravel lot and hummed to silence as he turned the ignition and clipped his key ring onto the front loophole of his faded blue jeans, he handed me my rod out of the truck bed, littered with half-full boiling sweet tea bottles and random articles of muddied-up clothing, and suggested we walk along the railroad tracks this time. It might take a little longer, but it was a straight shot and a clear pathway. Fascinated by the heavy locomotives of bygone eras, I obliged, hoping I might even see some antique-hued box cars chugging down the track.
We left the truck behind, walking back out onto Jones road, my eyes wandering to see what could be salvageable at the junkyard across the street as discarded materials slowly sunk into their shallow graves. The skeletal frame of a seventies Bronco had potential. We continued down the road and turned left onto where the train tracks intersected with the road. The view ahead showed a narrow strip of glistening white and grey gravel stretching as far as I could see, surrounded without interruption by dense green foliage hanging, rustling, and sprouting from endless trunks, branches, vines, and bushes. Dividing the stone route were evenly lined wooden planks spaced about six inches apart, pinched by the weight of two thick parallel steel lines that reached across every plank, with endless railroad spikes holding the wood and steel together.
With each step I felt the pointed edges of the stones jut bluntly into my heels through the worn-thin rubber soles of my leather flip-flops I refused to throw away. I watched Christian trudge ahead in his sturdy, spackle-splattered leather work boots. I hopped up onto one of the steel lines and took cautious steps, placing one foot directly in front of the other with arms reaching out in the sunshine like a gliding tern. I pretended to walk the thin iron as Christian does daily at work, though I was only a footstep off the ground and not a multi-story fall. My ballerina tip-toeing on the shiny, worn, metal slowed my pace and I watched Christian hiking happily down the line from a distance , a thin cloud of dust and stone flecks vanishing behind his boots as they raised from their heavy steps and kept on moving. With his work boots, tattered jeans, and driver’s cap, he looked like a young man walking out of the depression era, making some money walking the lines, looking for hazards and hammering in loose railroad spikes. But now the spikes were a gravely rust-eaten brown, some bent and cast off to the edges of the stone pathway, soon to be lost under the jungle of tall grass lining the forest.
Over a century ago, in this same midsummer month, Major Gilmor of the Confederate cavalry detachment moved north unnoticed through Baltimore County into Harford County. The soldiers stopped at the General Store in Jerusalem Mill, a site less than a mile from where we jump off the Vinegar Hill bridge. There they looted supplies and captured horses, pushing on to arrive the morning of July 11 at the Gunpowder River Bridge, which belonged to the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. For this day they planned what would come to be regarded as one of the most daring raids ever attempted by detached cavalry on either side of the war.
I waited for Christian to turn around and notice my balancing skills before I leapt off the steel back onto the stone gravel and pranced forward, catching up to him. Since I turned on the tracks, the horizon had morphed from a blurry line of gray-green into a clear view of the tracks continuing onto the long bridge ahead, the one we usually pass under to get to our fishing spot. The tracks continued straight on, but the treetops lining its edges were replaced by blue sky. As we approached the bridge, I crossed over the tracks onto the right side, the direction of the path to the fishing hole. A few stones overflowed the edge of the gravel path onto the steep hill that sloped downward from the track. While surveying for poison ivy and patches of thorns, I looked for thick, surfaced roots to hold and rocks where we could step on the way down I looked up to see where Christian thought we should climb down to the shoreline, but he wasn’t beside me.
I spun around and caught half of him out of the corner of my eye, then focused on the bridge in time to watch his mischievous grin sink beneath the rusting frame. Rolling my eyes for only the sun to see, I laughed and ran to his rabbit hole to find his fingertips still wrapped around the edges of the beam’s surface. Looking between the gaps of metal beams I saw his blue eyes staring up at me from below my cautious feet.
“I gotta’ find a better place to climb down,” he reasoned, as if that had been the purpose of our trip all along, looking around at the surrounding beams, all intersecting in gigantic X’s. I couldn’t help but giggle at his large body, contorted awkwardly against rusty joints, one boot reaching for a sturdy surface, one holding his weight, as he eyed the bridge for climbable structures; the results of his persistent inner-child teaming up with his recent affinity for ironworking. If you don’t know what ironwork is, imagine those famous black and white photographs of men sitting on a long steel beam, with the New York skyline in the background as they took a break to eat their sandwiches and smoke their cigarettes—those are the original ironworkers, the cowboys of the sky, a title Christian is more than proud of. I watched him heave himself out between the beams and dust himself off.
“C’mon, let’s walk over to the other side,” he said excitedly.
“Wait, what if a train comes while we’re walking across? I am not going to be caught standing on the side of that bridge with a freight train rolling by!”
“Eh, we’d have room. If you just stood still you’d be far enough away,” he reasoned in his ‘everything will be fine, don’t worry about things so much’ tone.
I leaned down and rested my ear on the sun-baked steel track, its shiny steel surface polished with each caboose that rolled past. At first I just heard a ringing, like the sound of nothingness reverberating in my ear, then a louder ringing and high pitched hiss whirred through the metal into my ear. I looked up to say “I think we should wait,” but was interrupted by a distant hoot of a not-yet-visible train. I gave Christian a look that said I told him so before dashing nervously to the edge of the gravel, as far from the tracks as possible without falling down the steep hill on the right. He walked calmly to my side and we both watched anxiously for a charcoal black engine to round the bend before the bridge.
I heard another high-pitched whistle, only this time loud and close enough to reverberate down into the river gully and back against the steel bridge, and watched the long train chugging briskly down the tracks in our direction. It rattled over the old bridge and the static noise of engine and wind flooded my ears as I watched with dizzying awe the tall, rusted boxcars whoosh by me, merely feet away. Dusty maroon, chalk white, cornfield yellow, denim blue, with thin glimpses of rustling trees and sunlight in between. My breath was taken away by the gusts of air pushed against my squinting face, like I was sticking my head out of the passenger window of Christian’s truck. The tracks rattled as the heavy locomotive kept rolling down the line, spanning far towards where we had come from, and still snaking around the bend where the engine car first emerged. I began to wonder just how long a train could be when the south end of the track was quickly revealed, the last car carried quickly over the bridge, opening the curtain to a once more empty, tranquil track over the river and beyond as the train whistled on its journey north.
But the train never made it north on July 11th, 1864. When the confederate cavalry approached the bridge, it was not empty, as I had witnessed it. Defending the bridge at both ends were seventy troops from the 159th Ohio Infantry. Gilmor’s troops captured two trains, evacuated the passengers, seized the supplies on the train, and set fire to one of the trains before backing it over and partially destroying the trestle bridge. The telegraph communications lines were also cut along the bridge. Among the passengers captured on the northbound train was Union Major General William B. Franklin, who was taken as a prisoner of war back to Virginia.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Christian turned to me and asked, his voice muffled by the static of the train still chugging between my ears. I felt the warmth of the sun lying lazily on my shoulders and thighs, chilled by the shade of the boxcars and the brisk breeze.
“Yeah,” I answered with utmost honesty and eyebrows raised high above my cheek-reaching smile. Standing next to thousands of tons of hauling metal was the kind of experience that would get the blood pulsing a little in anyone, and I liked the idea that this particular feeling may soon become antiquated as the years race on and leave slowly chugging boxcars to rust beside other remnants from a slower-paced past.
“Well, now that a train just passed, this is the safest time to cross. There’s usually only about one each hour,” Christian reasoned convincingly.
“Alright,” I agreed, my heart beating faster as I followed him, walking over thin metal grating, watching my steps carefully, looking at the green-blue river between my footsteps. I imagined the train that had been speeding over the bridge moments ago, and the rusted metal brackets on the cars that would have been inches from my face or closer if I had been standing there a minute earlier.
The late afternoon sun reflected brightly off the river, sparkling golden dimples reaching off the warbling surface to my brown eyes, encouraging me to walk a little faster to reach some shade where the rays could no longer reach the track at the other end of the bridge and I didn’t have to look down at the river with each step. Christian stood at the end of the bridge performing a cursory investigation of the spot he had pointed to earlier from across the bridge. “You gonna’ come down with me?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I want to see you do it first” I replied, quiet and cautious, hoping he wouldn’t have much luck and I wouldn’t have to decide whether or not to crawl down from relative safety into a tall, rusty railroad bridge spanning over shallow water.
He kneeled down and, grasping the beam that attached the bridge to the grounded tracks, he lowered himself down under the ledge into the tight, dark crevice where the old stone wall adjoined the bridge to the side of the cliff. I peered through the crack to watch him climb down to the base of the wall where a two-foot strip of gravel stones extended to a long fall into the river below.
He looked around and then I heard echo up from below, “Your turn!”
I was scared. If a train came when I was halfway lowered I’d surely both panic and lose my little head. “I don’t know if I can climb down there,” I hesitated.
“Sure you can. I’ll help you.” Knowing I may never have the chance again, I bent my knees and lowered one foot down, reaching blindly with pointed toes to find a spot to place my foot. Knowing Christian was about seven inches taller than I am, I realized the edge to rest my foot on was probably further down than I could reach. I had to drop down beyond where I’d have the strength to hold on and hope that my foot would catch me. I lowered quickly and Christian guided my foot to the edge of the stone. Now halfway down the wall, I grasped a rusty beam with one hand and an edge on the stone wall with the other, noticing the dampness of the stones and the bright green moss sprouting out of cracks and smelling the algae slime slicked across much of its cool surface. My heart pounded as I climbed awkwardly down the tight, shadowy crevice, my weak muscles burning and my mind trying to ignore the few spiders I saw resting menacingly around me. Christian helped me down to the gravel at the bottom and his light eyes lit up when I stood next to him and together we looked at the scene before us.
The dark beams arched high over us and we stood small, vulnerable in the cool, shadowy cathedral. I lowered my knees and kept close to the wall, my warm hands, tingly from climbing with a tight grip, grazing the cool white and gray stones. I watched Christian’s backside as he ventured over to the thick beam attached to the concrete ledge where I sat. His scuffed boots positioned themselves straight on the long rectangle and followed one after the other as he walked across the open air, a silhouette against the blue sky and peering sunshine. With work boots, cautious footing, and a serious expression he looked more like a man than his usual Huckleberry Finn self. He made it to the first vertical beam where he could hold on while he sat down, straddling the horizontal beam with boots swinging back and forth, pedaling the air lazily, looking like an overgrown child once more. He leaned back against the tall vertical beam and folded his hands in his lap as he rested his eyes from the sun pouring over his face, just right of the invisible line where the bridge’s shadow began, and the warm, rust colored steel appeared dark brown.
I placed one of the stones into my palm and tossed it gently below to watch it splash with a plink. The almost-still, blue-green surface rippled and I watched, with squinted eyes, the sun rays reflect off the water and dance in waves on the cool steel, between the dark semi-circles that were my thick eyelashes in the foreground of my vision. After a few peaceful minutes, Christian rose and began maneuvering himself to walk one of the many thin crossbeams that spanned the distance between the two long horizontal beams. The steel was only about four inches wide; he could look down without seeing it under his boot. I nervously watched him mount the thin rail and steady himself with bird-wing arms until he slowly reached the wide horizontal beam on the other side.
I decided to leave my nest on the gravel, and walk carefully to the first beam Christian had walked across. The rectangle did not have a flat top; instead it was a continuous X pattern of small welded metal strips, with a hollow center. I climbed low, gripping the Xs with my hand and scaling them with my feet pressed against them. I quickly made it to the first vertical bracket and placed my thin legs in two spaces between the Xs and sat down on top. It seemed secure enough. I looked to my side at the view from above the river with nothing but the breeze in front of me. Christian smiled at me from across the bridge, proud that I had actually made it out onto the bridge without his coaching. We sat there, just the two of us, in the shadows, watching the river meander below as a lone heron stood like a statue on the bank downriver in a sunny cloud of gnats.
“Lisa,” Christian yelled in a serious tone, “You might wanna’ get back to the ledge.”
“Why?” I asked, confused, just as I noticed it. I could feel it coming from miles away, stirring eerily in the rusty steel that cooled the grip of my hand. I panicked but didn’t think I’d have time to make it back to the ledge, and knew for certain that I didn’t want to be crawling over the beam in transit when the metal started to quiver under the weight of the heaving locomotive. I stayed where I was and tightened my grip on the steel as Christian yelled across to me, over the nearing engine rumble, “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay.” I had no choice but to believe him.
When it finally passed over, the bridge shook violently and small stones sifted into the water far below, their splashes falling silent against the roar of the freight train. I had one hand firmly on the bridge and one shielding myself, in fear a stone from the gravel above might deflect off the train and puncture my soft blonde head.
The initial adrenaline eased and I looked over to Christian. We mirrored one another’s wild smiles and I knew that this memory, the dirt under my nails from climbing, the cool bumpy steel rattling beneath me, the bridge resting strong once more as the train whistled distantly down the line, would be tangible longer after the steel crumbles and the forest swallows up the old railroad track into an artifact of yesteryear.
The scariest part was getting back out, wedging myself between the moist rock wall and bridge beams, hoisting my body up by grabbing onto peeling layers of rusted steel, taking the risk that a train would not be coming when I was crawling halfway out from between the tracks. My thighs burned as I emerged into daylight, Christian lending a hand, pulling me up from our newfound sanctuary below.
Gilmor later claimed that if his men had not been so tired, he would have gone into Baltimore and captured the city. Only one man was lost in Gilmor’s detachment during the raid, Sergeant Field, who was murdered at point blank range by a local union-supporter named Ishmael Day. When the advance guard for Harry Gilmor’s raiders was in the Fork area, Ishmael Day placed a large Union flag over his gate. Gilmor’s Ordinance Sergeant Eugene Fields told Day to take the flag down. After Day refused, an argument ensued and Ishmael Day shot Sergeant Field with a shotgun. Gilmor’s men burned Day’s home and Day immediately fled. The mortally wounded Sergeant Field was taken to Wright’s Hotel operated on Harford Road accompanied by Gilmor where Field later died. This is the present day location of our beloved convenient store and curb-side hangout, High’s Dairy Store.
After the incident, the tale has it that Day fled into the nearby fields and hid under a cider press for several days until he could escape to the bustling city of Baltimore. He later returned to his birthplace in Fork and rebuilt his home. When Ishmael Day died he was buried in the cemetery of Fork United Methodist Church where I walked every Sunday morning with my mother to attend church. As a child, I unknowingly frolicked over Mr. Day in my patent white shoes and yellow-bowed bonnet as I hunted for neon Easter eggs each April in the church graveyard.