All posts by lilymordaunt

About lilymordaunt

Reading, writing, food, music and trivia.... that about sums me up

The Clearest Path

I wrote this piece for round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. In the contest, you are randomly assigned a genre, location and object. The story must primarily be set in the location, the object must physically appear (not just be mentioned) and, though you may use elements from other genres, the piece must predominantly fit into what was assigned. In round 1, they rank the top fifteen stories in each genre (though everyone is eligible to move on to round 2). I placed sixth–which is a little disappointing since I initially thought I was fifth–though still exciting because, while I don’t know how many people were in my group, thousand of writers enter the.

My assignment was: romance, for genre; a maze for location, and a marshmallow as the object. I initially had no clue what I would write about. But the next morning—the assignments are sent out at 11:59 pm—I woke up inspired. I brushed up on the story of the minotaur, discovered that labyrinths and mazes were different (which caused some panic). But I took a breath, came up with two names that managed to be modern (i.e. still in use), Greek, and somewhat similar—the same first letters—to two characters in the original story—Theseus and Phadra. And finally settled in to write. After all, I only had 48 hours.

(Final note, this is mostly the original story, though I did try to incorporate bits of the judges’ feedback.)

***

Summary (it’s a requirement for the contest):

On their final in-person date before heading back to school in fol, can Phoebe and Theo find their way to love amidst the winding paths of a maze?

“Welcome to The Labyrinth,” Theo said, deep voice dramatic. If I weren’t holding his elbow, I bet there would have been a lavish gesture accompanying the words.

“I thought it was a maze,” I said, sweeping my cane before me with my other hand.

“They’re synonyms.” he said.

We stopped as my cane tapped something in front of us. With what I could see from my right eye, I assumed that the white, waist high structure was a counter.

“Purchasing here or e-tickets?” The woman behind the counter asked.

“E-tickets,” he said, using the arm I held to reach into his pocket for his phone. I let my hand fall away and waited. “So is it really magical?”

“That’s for you to decide,” she said, a smile in her voice. There was a beep, then she wished us well. “And remember, the clearest path is not always the straightest.”

Ookay. I thought. Suitably cryptic for a labyrinthian treasure hunt with a marshmallow minotaur as the prize. As far as dates went, this was already one of the most memorable.

I took Theo’s arm again and we headed in. Well, not in, exactly. The entrance was indoors, but the maze was outside. Which reminded me-

“They’re not synonyms.” My words were punctuated by the crunch of gravel beneath our feet.

“What?”

“Labyrinth and maze,” I said. “They’re not synonymous.” As we turned a corner, gravel softened to grass, the hum of traffic disappeared, and a ray of sunlight seared my retinas.

“Oh come on,” I muttered. “I only have one of those.”

Laughing, Theo asked, “So what’s the difference?”

“A labyrinth is winding, but one solid path.” I said. “A maze has branches, dead-ends, multiple exits. It’s a common misnomer.”

“Pheebs,” he said as we started walking downhill. “Why do you know that?”

I shrugged. “Just picked it up somewhere.”

He brushed my fingers with the hand opposite the one I was holding. Butterflies took flight in my stomach. “You have so much random knowledge.”

I flushed at the warmth in his voice. I didn’t know what to say, so I wracked my brain for another subject.

Maybe tell him that the minotaur in the myth was in a labyrinth, not a maze. So having this place advertise itself as a “mystical maze” but welcome us to “the labyrinth” was confusing. No. Then I’d seem weirdly obsessive about something that didn’t even matter. Today’s about us. Figuring out if we should try to pursue something once we were back on opposite coasts for the fall semester. I wanted to try. But did we have a strong enough foundation?

So I asked about the scenery.

“Well,” he said. “It’s definitely a maze. There’s forks and spoonsa whole cutlery drawer of directions.” We stopped. “Okay so, we’re at a crossroad. On the right there’s a path lined by white flowers. It’s got a nice balance of sunlight and shade so it shouldn’t bother your eyes. Then there’s the left path, but there’s so many trees I can’t really see what’s down it. Neither one looks more or less traveled, so this one’s on you.”

“Did you just paraphrase Robert Frost?”

“Yeah.”

“English majors.”

“Hey, you recognized it!”

“Yeah, so?” I suppressed the urge to stick my tongue out. ‘Cause that’d be super attractive. “Okay, so, the object is the marshmallow minotaur. If we think about this strategically

“No.”

“What?”

“No strategy, just choose.”

“But-“

“Take a chance.” He slipped his arm from my grasp and took my hands, holding one and resting the other over the hand that held my cane. “When I told you about the paths, what was your first instinct?”

“To strategize. They obviously want to make it as hard as possible to get to the-“

“Stop.” He dropped my hands and took my shoulders. He was close enough for me to see his skin, like the color of almonds, it was a few shades lighter than my ownbut not enough to see his dark brown eyes. “Stop thinking.” That’s an easy one with him standing so close. “Which one calls to you?”

“I mean, I guess I’m a little curious about the left one.”

“Let’s go!”

The scent of growing things tickled my nose. Birds gossiped in the trees. And we just continued on: twisting, turning, dead-ending. And though I was having fun listening to the harmony of our laughter echo around us, I couldn’t help worrying. There had been more people in line. So where were they? Then, as the sun began to get lower, I started wondering: where were we?

“Relax.” Theo said, every time I asked. “Just enjoy yourself.”

Eventually, we stopped for a late lunch. Not knowing how long it would take, we’d brought sandwiches and extra water. When we were done, we shoved everything back in his bag and continued on.

“How big is this place?” I asked, as goosebumps rose on my arms from the spray of a nearby waterfall. “And how is there room for all this?”

“No clue.”

“How are you so calm?”

“With the magic of good company, what’s there to worry about?”

My cheeks warmed. He made it sound so simple.

“So,” he said. “I’ve asked this before but, why aren’t you studying history? You know so much random stuff about etymology and mythology and stuff.”

“It’s not practical.”

Then we launched into what was quickly becoming our usual debate about passion versus practicality.

“Do you like marshmallows?”

“What?”

“We’re at the minotaur.”

It took a second for me to figure out what he was talking about.

“Would it be cheesy if I fed you a bite?” He asked.

“Extra sharp analysis.”

Laughing, he handed me my prize. I bit the oversized head off victoriously. Then was swept up in a kiss sweeter than any marshmallow.

“Trust your instincts.” He murmured, running his hand over my closely cropped coils. “Even if it takes you on the scenic route.”

***

My assignment for the next round was: suspense, a fitting room, and a chocolate brownie. I really struggled with that one. I barely managed to upload it on time, and was not happy with the finished product. If I place well, I’ll upload it. If not, well, it may be a story I never let the light of day touch.

Well, till next time.

On Death and Aging

This post is a little depressing, so be forewarned.

I’m twenty-three, just under two months from turning twenty-four. (I haven’t even hit the quarter century mark.) So why am I writing a post on death and aging? I feel like this is usually the arena of someone older or at least, that’s what’s expected. But I’ve always been terrified of death. I know, for many people, its about how they’ll go. But for me, its about what happens after.

Death is universal; it doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, black, white. It’s also, ironically, the only certainty in life. Nothing about what comes after is certain. Different religions offer different answers: reincarnation or heaven/hell/purgatory. Even the people who have had near-death experiences, or who come back from being clinically dead have differing stories. I wonder about how much of it is tainted by what we’ve been told and how much is the person taking in the world around them. For example, seeing a light. Was it just a paramedic peering into your eyes?

As a kid, I feared that I would not wake up once I went to sleep. And I realized that this is a fear that still lives with me (pun definitely intended). Since around high school, I’ve had trouble either falling or staying asleep. Part of it was my bed and part because I could never shut my brain off. And these troubles did not dissipate in college, it probably got even worse.

A few months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and began Googling, trying to determine why I couldn’t sleep. I had so many questions and theories and, even whhen I began to grow tired again, I didn’t want to put the iPad down. I wanted to answer each and every question. That’s when I realized: I hated leaving tasks unfinished. I worried that, I might never find those answers. Whether it was research or a good book, I realized that, depending on how late it got, my thoughts would turn to the morbid and it became deeper than, for a novel, reading through the next plot twist.

Periodically, my fears of mortality would enter my conscious mind and I would obsess over it. But eventually, I would have to let it go. Obsessing was doing no good. I didn’t have any answers. So I had to let it go. But the thoughts always return.

In the age of pandemics and natural disasters, I’m sure its no surprise to anyone that these thoughts would resurface. Interestingly though, that wasn’t the start of my fears but, I think, a series of unrelated events about a month or so ago.

I had been feeling down before I saw the news of Naya Rivera’s disappearance. When I saw the hashtag trending on Twitter, it was after midnight. And every subsequent time I checked on the search, it was somewhere between the hours of midnight and dawn (the time when my morbid thoughts are most active). It also didn’t help that people kept referencing her Glee cover of The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young”. During the day, random lyrics from the song would pop into my head, and then I would get chills, followed by the familiar ache of anxiety in my chest.During the day, random lyrics from the song would pop into my head, and then I would get chills, followed by the familiar ache of anxiety in my chest.

I then had a conversation with two friends, one was settled into the fact that she would be a lifelong student. But the other had finally settled into her path. Without getting into all of the details, I’ll just say that it requires her being in school for the next ten years (give or take a year).

That led me to thinking about the fact that I’m (finally) almost finished with Hunter. I should be graduating in December. I have tentative plans for graduate school—once I decide between my three potential degree options—but not before I took a nice, long break. After five and a half years of accessibility issues I’m ready bebe finished with Hunter… but not learning. Or rather, not the school setting.

Graduating in four months. It’s exciting. But also scary. Shifting from school, which I’ve been attending for as long as I can remember, to work while many of my friends continue on in education. And then as a sub-concern, many of the ones continuing on with school are all doing noble things: becoming doctors and lawyers and teachers… oh my. I’m graduating with a degree in English and a minor in religion—remember this, it’s relevant later—and while I think stories are important: to use as an escape, to inform, to offer comfort/relatability, it just doesn’t feel as… so many words are going through my head, but none are quite right. Important? Again, I think stories are important. Noble. Feels a little superficial like, do I just want to do the profession because its noble? Maybe its about the tangible knowledge that you’re helping people? You can watch your impact as a lawyer, teacher or doctor.

As an author, I don’t know how my books will sell, its also fantasy. (But then, see above: I think books as an escape are important.) As an editor, I’ll be helping people achieve their dreams but bringing out the best in their novel. So maybe what it comes down to is the hierarchy of helpfulness. (Quick note, if any of my friends told me they were comparing their career choices to another’s, I would tell them not to do that. But it’s a lot easier said than done)

Anyway, so we’ve got me overthinking my career, thinking about school being almost over, hearing about each new natural disaster as the Corona infections and deaths rise, so many celebrities passing in quick succession (even if it was from old age), a young mother drowning in an accident, not being happy with the weight I’ve gained, and an already-existing fear of death… and a recipe for a good state of mind did none of those thoughts make. Oh, I forgot to add my nervousness every time I headed outside, worrying about contracting covid (post on that coming later this week.)

I also started noticing how many times people casually mentioned death in phrases like “I’m dead” (when something’s funny), or “I’m going to kill you” (in playful agitation). Add to that a series of creepy Youtube videos I managed click on, seeming one after the other one night. Are you overwhelmed yet? Because I was.

With so much confusion and uncertainty, I think I began thinking about death because its the only surety. (I didn’t come to that realization on my own, a friend pointed that out.) I also began thinking of how my death might affect the people around me, how my friends would find out. When someone made plans for the future, I couldn’t help thinking, morbidly, if we’re alive to see it. At night, my mom would say things like “see you tomorrow, if life lasts.” And, more recently, my aunt in responding to a message made note of the fact that life is uncertain, and, as it was midnight in the UK, she’d talk to me if God willed it.

In this time, I started thinking about my religious beliefs. Since junior high, I researched religion. I would “pick and choose” the things I liked, loving Wicca for its attention to nature and Christianity and Buddhism for its principles on how to live life. I liked dream catchers because, believing in the supernatural—from my own experiences and that of my friends and family, they brought me comfort while I slept. And all the while I wore my crucifix given to me by a family friend.

The only thing for which I felt certain was that there was a God or some kind of higher being. I agreed with my sister, who was the first person I heard theorize that the universe was too big for coincidence. But beyond that… I didn’t know. And that uncertainty wasn’t helping me right now.

The religion classes and personal research had not led me any closer to an answer. My current course on the Afro-Caribbean religions was actually contributing to my anxiety. That the height of my panic, I had to walk away from a discussion that we were having about sacrifice in Ifa and Santeria. And later, less panicked, but still poignant, the discussion of ancestor worship in Voodoo. Ensuring that you observed your ancestors, and that your children did the same so that they and later you, would continue to be alive through ritual.

I decided that I wanted to talk to the religious people around me. I think my hope was, and still is, that if I could understand where their depth of faith cames from, it could help me find my own. Except, my network consists mostly of Christians (of varying sects), one or two—not too devout—Jewish people and a counselor from my high school who converted to Islam. I also have an atheist or two and a Wiccan. I’ve spoken with the latter folks about their beliefs, and I’m hoping to find more people from more faiths. I reached out to my aunt first. Christianity” the most familiar.

I loved that she wasn’t like: obviously, Jesus is the answer. She actually listened, related. Agreed with my idea to read the Bible and offered to talk through verses with me. (I’m a little wary of Christians, which I was so pleasantly surprised by her response).

I have a tentative plan to read through the other holy books, starting with the Bible and then maybe moving on to the Torah and Koran. Since Judaism came first, it would probably make sense if I went in order, but I’m starting with the familiar. And hopefully, because of the interconnectedness of the books, it won’t be as daunting when I move on to the others. I also think that I might not make it as far as each of the books are pretty freaking long. But this is the tentative plan.

As I began reading (starting with Luke rather than Genesis which is why I never made it through before), I found the stories of Jesus to be kind of interesting. Also, because of a discussion in class (apparently, in Matthew, he starts flipping tables because of the moneychangers), I discovered that he was actually quite radical and not so docile as a lamb comparison might have you believe.

I also found myself sleeping more soundly (if not more continuously, I usually still wake up half way through the night). I think resigning myself to the fact that there’s nothing I can do just before bed has helped. I also realized that, though I found the Bible interesting I’ve begun using it as a security blanket. I have to read a few chapters, even if its right before I go to sleep. I’ve also begun sleeping in my mom’s room. It’s kind of crazy that, even though she drives me bananas, she’s been comforting. Whenever I had sleeping problems as a kid, because of a strange feeling or sleep paralysis (which people sometimes attribute to supernatural causes) she wouldn’t judge me for either coming to sleep with her or swapping places (I used to sleep in the living room of our one bedroom while she and my sister slept in the room).

In the past week, I don’t feel as anxious, but I’m sure its never actually going to go away. People still use words about death too casually for my comfort. And the people in my life all seem to be doing well (for a while, I wondered if my intense feelings were foreshadowing something negative). I also slept in my room one night, and and was fine, but still prefer my mom’s for now.

Well, thanks for reading my thoughts.

Till next time with my post on venturing onto the MTA for the first time in almost five months. (Hint: it was nerve wracking.)

How Might A Post-Corona World Effect The Blind?

When Covid news first started circulating, it was disconcerting to hear about—a disease with no cure?—but it wasn’t impacting my life, it wasn’t even in the US yet. Then cases started spreading to Europe and Washington and Chicago… but not New York. Still, it was embedding itself more firmly in my consciousness as people debated masks and how many people died from the flu vs. this new disease.

In March, I was still having my usual experiences—you know, people forcibly assisting me across the street and what not—but I also felt, in retrospect, like it wasn’t as intense as usual. People were asking before touching or just talking to me. Then New York State got its first cases, shortly followed by the city. From there, everything moved quickly, school going online, crowd sizes being restricted, things closing down, etc. And for me, though it was disconcerting, I was taking it lightly. Since we’re supposed to be social distancing, people definitely wouldn’t be grabbing me on the street. But now, over two months later, with articles being published daily on what life might look like post-Corona, I’ve begun thinking about the potential impact on blind people with more seriousness.

Blind people are already a marginalized group. Regardless of your race or economic standing, people often, and ironically, only see your blindness. Physical prowess, romantic appeal, mental agility, etc, are all often judged at a glance. Sometimes, it’s determined that you have a higher than average ability in some area (music, for instance, because of those superhuman ears) and no ability in others (baking? No way, it would be too scary dealing with heat when you can’t see). These impressions are often determined without communicating with or spending anytime with a blind person. Sometimes, a Sighted will know, or have met a Blind. But you do have to take that with a grain of salt. Just as hanging out with one Sighted doesn’t tell me all of your capabilities, neither does knowing only one Blind. But, like racial minorities, one blind is often viewed as representative of the entire community. And, even when people want to bridge barriers and mend any misconceptions, they often don’t know how to interact. There must be a secret or trick. It’s often not even thought to just… say hi. With all of this inability to act around blindness, and now, with the added fear of a blind having Corona, I worry that the societal divide might grow wider.

During the thick of the shutdowns, blind people were being turned away from drive-through windows because they walked, rather than approached in a car. Being unable to drive, coupled with a desire to minimize contact (so, perhaps not taking that Uber), that would be the only way for us to have access to some restaurants. The argument was safety but, as written in this NFB article that further elaborates on the situation, we interact with cars constantly when crossing streets, both busy and otherwise. Restaurants are also required by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to offer reasonable accommodations. So refusing service probably doesn’t comply.

For me, personally, I’ve been extremely hesitant about taking unfamiliar routes. I had a doctor’s appointment last week that I asked my mom to accompany me to. I knew how to walk there from my dorm and so, if no one could go with me, I knew a roundabout way of getting there. But now, being home, I was unfamiliar with the train transfer I would need. And, where I would normally be perfectly fine asking for directions, I really didn’t want to interact with strangers. They also may not have wanted to interact with me. (Though, the need to help the blind might have won out.) But with stories of people rebelling against masks and asymptomatic carriers, it did not sound all that appealing to me.

I also began wondering about grocery shopping. Would workers feel comfortable being so close as I held their arm while we navigated the store? Would I? Even if I held the cart, and they guided it, we would still be far closer than six feet. How many people might try to turn me, or any blind, away (in spite of the law) because of this? Or be abrupt with their assistance?

For the past two months or so, I was staying with a friend (I needed her wi-fi since we had to leave the dorm; I figured I could stay with her and take my time figuring out set up at home). I barely went outside in that time. I don’t know my friend’s Queens neighborhood, and while she knows a few places around her, neither does she, having spent more time traveling in Manhattan. So we either relied on her aunt for groceries, my father, or delivery services. The problem with delivery services came, however, first, when they (rightfully) went on strike. And then in finding a time slot. It was a game of choosing your groceries with enough time that they probably wouldn’t be taken out of your cart, then the frantic search at exactly midnight to find a slot within the next three days. I recently found this article, talking about the trials faced by blind people in the UK, detailing a similar problem. With the time it takes to listen to a screen reader tell you about the grocery item, and then select it, many people were having trouble adding things to their cart before a sighted person who could just visually skim. And the same problem arose when it came time to find a time slot.

For many people, the solution is simple: just have family do it. But for many blind people, independence was, and still is a struggle. There’s also this misperception that there’s always a sighted waiting in the wings. For example, when I was having trouble uploading an assignment this semester, I asked if I could email it to my professor instead. His response: he suggested I find someone to upload it for me (this came after he said he would upload the other assignment himself, because it had to be on that platform). Just finding someone to do it is not a solution. In this instance, I did have people who would gladly help, but that wasn’t the point. For many disabled people, the answer is often to just have someone else do it. But, while we’re often not opposed to asking for help if we need it, we also value our independence (which people seem to not mind casually disregarding).

So this all now leaves me wondering what post-COVID life is going to look like. I’ve read articles that talk about automated check-ins at hotels to minimize human contact, but will those machines be accessible? If there’s a continued movement toward social distancing/minimizing crowds, how hard or easy might it be to get assistance (blind or not)? Not only in a casual, “Can you help me find this restaurant that I’m probably standing right outside of” way, but in a “help me navigate this airport or grocery store” way. And these changes may be temporary… but maybe not.

When Googling to see if anyone’s talked about potential post-Corona experiences for the blind, I came across this article about a deaf-blind person’s experience. This is a disability of which I have very little knowledge, so it was interesting to read his perspective. You guys might find it interesting as well. I also wanted to leave you all with a video by a blind Youtuber I loosely follow talking about social isolation and blindness. One of the things she mentions is how hard it is when Sighted people can communicate via images: Facetime, family photos, etc and touch, one of the blind person’s mainstays is gone. If we’re isolating, we’re not hugging), so we’re even further isolated. So many things are inaccessible, we’re not taking comfort from giffs or playing the popular games, like Animal Crossing. I agree with her to some extent, but I think it’s especially hard on her since she lost her vision later in life. So I wonder how much of the frustration comes from remembered vision. Though I do think that, in some ways, Sighted people do have it easier when it comes to staying connected. But it’s hard for all of us, especially if you live alone.

I also now wonder how many young people’s push for independence will be derailed because of worried parents. And how many people will still find themselves stuck inside as the new Corona-fied world struggles to find a place for us; a world built on a foundation where our place was already pretty tenuous.

I’m Struggling to Write

… And do everything else: homework, practice my music, get in some exercise. The only thing that I haven’t been struggling with is reading. But, with the exception of a few weeks over winter break, when I barely touched a book—think I was a little burnt out, which is not something I ever thought would happen—I very rarely get tired of reading. (Well, unless it’s for homework.)

Before the shutdowns began, I set an arbitrary deadline for myself (April 12), a date by which I would have my first draft finished. Then, about midway through March, classes began to move online and my motivation (already a fickle thing) began flagging. Over the next few weeks, I would write a chapter and a half, only to have it accidentally deleted, then write it again. I would spend those few days in—what I hesitate to term— a bit of a manic state.I have been struggling with sleep (not an unusual experience for me) but it had been particularly bad; I was not getting more than three hours a night. And when I wasn’t sleeping, I wanted to write. Who knows, perhaps I would have finished, or at least gotten a good chunk of my story written in those few days, but I eventually forced myself to stop after the second consecutive day of going to bed hours after sunrise (I didn’t want to stop, in case I lost my inspiration the next time I took up my BrailleNote).

I would also had two nonconsecutive weeks off of school. The first week was for professors to figure out how they would go about modifying in person classes for an online platform. The second, was a “recalibration” period for CUNY schools, as they figured out how to ensure that as many of their students as they could manage were able to continue their education by instituting laptop lending programs, and figuring out how to get those without, access to the Internet.

In that time, I barely touched my homework. I could not find the motivation. Especially after having to move out of my dorm with only three days notice. I understood why, of course, New York was quickly becoming a Corona Epicenter, and the city was looking to large spaces for medical beds. I had been at a friend’s when I received the notification. It’s one thing to choose to be alone in your room, quite another when it was beginning to look as though that would be where you stayed for the next two weeks… at least. But that email caused a mad scramble: get back to my dorm, pack what I could into the bags I had, and wait for my sister and former teacher to bring me more (suitcases, garbage bags, and whatever else they could think to haphazardly toss my life into).

I don’t have the best relationship with my parents, and so I was not excited to go home. I felt like the freedom I found in five years of dorming would be lost under’ my mom’s… I haven’t yet figured out the best/most descriptive word to put there. So let me try to explain instead:

The cooking I was happy to do for myself on my own would now be scrutinized. The baking I had begun to enjoy over the last semester would become curtailed as comments about safety (“don’t burn yourself”) were repeated over and over, along with remarks on my weight; whether I was baking sweets, or eating multiple meals a day. My mother prides herself on eating little…and unhealthily (bread and butter, crackers, popcorn, maybe an actual meal here or there). Also…I’m blind. So for her, it’s fine hearing about my exploits when I’m not home. And bragging about them to her friends. But at home…

To add to that, my sister bought our house my freshman year, and having spent more time in a dorm than home, it didn’t really feel like my space. Add to that the tenants, one of whom occupies my room for now, and it did not make for the most excited home going prospect.

Then there’s my dad. Ooh, the can of worms I would be opening to try to explain that relationship. He came through and showed up to help me move my things out though, which was great. But that poor relationship was just another thing weighing on my mind.

But let’s return to the dorm thing. It was an abrupt end to my dorm career. If I can get my shit together, I hope to be graduating in December, so it would make no sense to move back in (if that’s even an option in the fall). I was also planning on finding a job (no more unpaid internships for this girl!) so that I could have funds to apartment hunt. And this, Corona, threw off my entire timeline. On the topic of internships, I have an ongoing one–editing two literary magazines–that I really enjoy, but I’ve also been doing the bare minimum of work for.

Currently, I’m staying with a friend (in part for her wifi, in part to prolong going home). But I know, even if I settled into a routine with my mom, not having my room is just one of a few factors that would have me moving out as soon as possible. “What’s the other”? you wonder. Freedom! (I of course could find a job and help my sister with mortgage… but, once again, freedom, that elusive American ideal).

During all of this, I was thinking of the temporary nature of each of my situations: I would only be at my friend’s place for two months or so (her mom is under quarantine in Columbia, so I would be leaving once she returned no matter what else happened). Then going home, it would be an indefinite temporary situation. I’ve been living on temporary situations since I started college, but it was all happening one after the other in the last few weeks.Add to that what was already long-term school burn out (this post is long enough, so read

this

 to understand why). But that situation, which is still ongoing did not help either.

The logical conclusion would be to push through, right? Get shmit done because I’m so close to the finish line? Nah, I just kind of shut down instead. Squirreling myself away in books and  interacting with friends sporadically. (Which is already a thing that sometimes happens, so no one found it too strange). I was also continuing weekly music lessons at this time. Since progress was required more immediately than distant paper due dates, I practiced the bare minimum to show that, at the very least, I wasn’t regressing, if not improving.

Now, I have to weeks left of the semester, a crapton of essays to catch up on, and I’m finally excited to get back to writing and

my YouTube channel

 (I’m about to venture into Booktube). Accept, now that my energy’s been, for no reason I can determine, renewed, I have to put the other things on hold so that I, hopefully make it through the semester. In April, I seriously considered just failing. And, yesterday, when contemplating just how much work I had to do, I considered it once more… but I really don’t want to spend longer on my undergrad degree than I have already.

I now have to finally get myself back into exercising… I’ve been telling myself to move everyday since mid March and only managed a handful of times. And figure out my wifi situation for when I return home. And maybe come up with blog ideas to revitalize this site. Perhaps figure out possible solutions for the summer so that I don’t find myself in this situation again as I’m stuck inside for my summer classes.

My sleep is back to something resembling normal, so hopefully that helps. Also, as I write this, I think it’s its something about the thrill of possible failure that’s got me ready to do school work. I should talk to someone about that (amongst other things).

Wish me luck

And I wish the same for you, on whatever endeavors Corona has derailed, or inspired you to pick up

 

Till next time

A Story About A Difficult Professor

As I was settling in to write a post about blind representation in the media, I found this fully-written, but never before posted piece. It’s on a difficult professor I had my junior year. She refused to be accommodating, in addition to being a bit of an a-hole to the rest of the class… kay, hope you enjoy.

***

My first semester of junior year (that was September 2017) had a frantic start:

I was never told that there was a creative writing prerequisite for the concentration of the same name by my advisor, so it was a scramble to find an open class so that I would be on track.  I was also attempting to stay on top of the math department because of an incomplete I had taken the previous semester.  And, to add a bitter icing to an already unsavory cake, I had a professor who seemed to not want to deal with me (the blind student), or even the rest of her class.

I often tried to speak to her after class, to find out about the quality of readings (if the PDF images were clear, for example, which meant a greater chance of my screen reader being able to understand it).  Knowing that would determine whether or not I should go immediately to the Accessibility office.  But she gave me the equivalent of a verbal shrug, and basically told me to figure it out on my own. In class, she refused to answer the questions of my classmates.  Her reasoning was that she wasn’t here to do the homework for us.  We should be reading the text.  But sometimes it was a question of clarification.  Or a simple yes/no, but she instead took the time to make that schpiel.

There was one instance where I emailed her about an issue I was having with an assignment.  I explained about the inaccessibility of some of the online materials she wished us to use.  I asked to schedule a meeting so that we could discuss alternatives when they weren’t accessible.

In response, she forwarded my email to a person who, I would later discover, was the head of her department.  She told him of the student who wanted to discuss alternate readings for when things “simply weren’t accessible”.  But how, she wondered, would that be possible if there were required readings? Should the Accessibility office not have examined this course to see if I could take it? Aren’t they supposed to tell students what they c/cannot take?

My response was to clarify the job of the Accessibility office: they don’t choose which classes I can take, but make accessible whichever ones I choose for myself.  I  also explained that I didn’t want different readings, but different formats/versions.  And I asked if we could simply have a meeting.  I also asked in person, to which she responded that I attend her office hours.

“But I have class,” I explained.

“Well, you can call.” She said, meaning during her office hours but…  see above.

The next time we had class (it was web-enhanced, so there were days where we worked on line), I called the assistant administrator of the department before we were to meet.  I explained my issue and she also stated that I should try for the office hours.  Even after, again, informing her that I had class she basically told me that she didn’t know what to tell me.  My professor was notoriously strict.  It’s one thing to be strict, quite another to be unyielding.

So that day, I approached my professor and asked again for a meeting.

“Come to office hours.” She told me.  And I repeated my refrain.

“Everyone has class,” she told me.  “But you can also call.”

“Yes,” I like to think of myself as a very mild-mannered individual (well, outwardly, I have a temper in my head), but in this instance I barely controlled myself as I continued: “But its during your office hours.  So I can’t make it.  Or call.”

“Oh, well, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Can we have a meeting before the next class? Maybe five, ten minutes before?”

“Well, I can’t promise anything.  I don’t know what time I’ll leave the office, so I don’t know when I’ll get down here.”

“Can we talk now?” (There were five minutes left of class.)

“I have a meeting I have to get to.”

So I paused, turned, and walked away.  In the moment I could not make sense of it.  If these office hours were so important, how did you have a meeting at that time.  Later, I realized that it was likely a meeting with a student during the hours.  I also thought in the above conversation, the way I had initiated was by asking if she’d received my last email.  She told me probably not because she didn’t check her Hunter mail often.  But she’d replied promptly to the first email.

After trudging to my next class, I went home and immediately withdrew.  I’d had strict professors, but this woman was…  something completely other.

I didn’t think of the consequences of my actions: that dropping to nine credits would put my housing in jeopardy as I would now be part-time, or that my credit count could affect my financial aid.  I was still dealing with an unresponsive math department, and the workload of my other classes.

Luckily, my financial aid was okay, and as this my first (and only) issue at the dorm, and I had a good explanation for my actions (though rash), I was not penalized.

I later spoke to my accessibility counselor who admonished me for not coming to them with my problem.  But they had been unresponsive with regard to my math issue, and I had brought it up in casual conversation to someone who responded with: “Wow, that’s crazy.  Keep trying.) (Or something to the effect.) Perhaps I still should have tried, but I did not (and still don’ment) have much faith in the office at the time.

However, my counselor did inform me that while I had written proof of my professor’s behavior, I could have had a bigger case (should it have come to that) had I exhausted all avenues of contact.  Or maybe she would have been more receptive to these changes coming from their office.  Maybe it would have been easier to understand.  But in the moment, my only thought was: I don’t even need this course.  It was just an elective.  Perhaps I would have fought m/pushed harder if it was a requirement.  Or just tried again with a different professor later.

I realized that it was the department chair my professor had emailed when I searched for his contact information.  The only number I’d found was for the assistant.  But I noticed that the chair’s available contact matched with the one my professor had emailed.  To this day, he has never responded.  Though I still do plan on sending him, and perhaps the Dean of Students an email.  Yes, the ordeal is over with, but maybe it will help some disgruntled student after me.

1/7/2019:

I never did write that letter. This was the beginning of my academic decline. My motivation started waning, with continued lack of success with regard to math… but that’s a chat for another post. In the meantime, you can read me putting a positive spin on the math stuff here.

Till next time

Wishing On Memory

This poem came about from an assignment in my Poetry Workshop. We had to write a sestina, which is a complicated French poetic form. It took a while to write, and I didn’t love it initially. But the more I worked on, and then reread it, the more it began to grow on me.

For the assignment, my professor gave us a few groups of six words to choose from to be the base for this piece, the word group I chose was: place, remember, drive, blue, wish, and song.

Note: While I relate to a lot of the sentiments expressed in this poem, it isn’t about me )as one of my friends thought.) The use of “I” doesn’t mean that the poet is talking about themselves.

Also, I feel like the wording in some parts could be better, but I wanted to upload something since I haven’t in a while

***

Sometimes I sit with myself and see how much I can remember

Of one situation or another. How clearly can I hear the siren song

Of the sea. Or the drive,

With the top down, beneath open sky, how blue

It was, and I felt, thinking about my mortality. I wish

I could find myself, my place.

 

My place.

What does that mean? I remember

A home: red bricks, many rooms, my brothers laughing. Sometimes, I wish

I could go back there. Sunday mornings, mama singing,

Her smokey voice embodying the blues.

The same voice that drove

 

Me away. Drove

Me to this place of confusion. This place

Where I am blue,

The navy of a night sky. I remember

Staring up at a sky like that, with my father, listening to the song

Of crickets. I wish

 

I could go back to that night. I wish

I could breathe in that summer air. Drive

Back thirty years, listen to the song

Of my father’s bass wishing

For a past that neither of us had known. A remembrance

Told through stories, of epic battles fought up there, in that vast, mysterious blue.

 

Cerulean,

The color of my dreams. I wish

I knew what my dreams were. I remember

The past, but don’t know my future. I don’t have the drive

For greatness that she wanted for me. I don’t even have a place

To call my home. Where my heart can soar with song.

 

A place where I belong. Whose every creak would be a song,

I could sing in my sleep. Whose azure

Walls would reflect the vast potential of the ocean. Of that open sky. Of me. This would be my place.

But I don’t seek it out. I just wish,

On stars, airplanes, long stretches of road as I drive,

Everywhere, nowhere. Thinking of death, and what happens after, and does it matter what happens now? Will it be worth it? These memories.

 

I’m still composing my song. Figuring out my wish,

Communing with the blue. Driving

From place to place. Remembering.

***

If you just can’t get enough of me, check out my latest vlog upload.

I’ll be back soon with more poetry, and posts and things.

Till next time

Ephemeral Thoughts

I’m sitting at work (well, my internship), listening to a drill outside. And I just started thinking about how ephemeral things in this city are.

Things are ever under construction, either being taken down or built up. Stores and restaurants are bought and sold because they cannot afford rent. People have to fight, sometimes, to keep historical landmarks in tact.

And it’s just normal for us. Avenue upon avenue of scaffolding, no one blinks an eye at. It’s always a surprise to find a sidewalk clear, after years of walking through constructed tunnels, or sections of street made into pedestrian walkways because the side walk is blocked off… only to find it there again in a few months.

Someone once said that in this modern age we built things so that they won’t last long. I can’t remember now if it was on TV or from a nostalgic old person. But, whenever I think about it, I think of this documentary I saw once on the history channel about the construction of the Brooklyn bridge.

It’s been a few years, so I don’t remember the information word for word but, basically, they said that the foundation of the bridge was built with faulty steel. Maybe the company was too cheap, or the supplier was untrustworthy, I don’t remember. But a second company was hired and reinforced the faulty foundation with a much sturdier one. They talked about 9/11 and how that could have been a double tragedy with the amount of traffic the bridge saw.

Maybe it was in that documentary that I saw the thing about newer buildings not being as sturdy because I’m now remembering someone talking about the newer bridges, and how often they need to be fixed.

Do they say that if you make it here, you can make it anywhere because of how jaded this city is? If you’re good enough to last in New York’s public eye for a good amount of time, then you’re golden. Unlike those other cities where they’re all appreciative of new talent because they don’t see as much constant change? (With that said, they say L.A.’s also a pretty tough celebrity nut to crack.)

Or do they mean anyone, ekeing out a living here? But San Francisco’s even more expensive.

I have no profound point to make. I think the gray day (storms are forecasted), plus the drill just put me into this mood. But, to be quite honest, it wasn’t hard to get into. I’ve been thinking more deeply into things than they probably warrant for a few days now.

Perhaps I’m just having a bout of artistic melancholy. (Maybe I’ll get some writing projects done)

Welcome, Curious Souls

“Just wait one moment,” the southern accented flight attendant, Karen, says, guiding me to the side of the plane. “Someone’ll be here with your wheelchair soon.”

“Oh no.” I tell her. “I don’t need a chair, just someone to guide me.”

“No chair?” she asks. “Are you sure?”

Quite, I think, but don’t say. It’s amazing to me how often people conflate disabilities. I’m blind, therefore I cannot walk. I also need you to speak loudly because my superhuman hearing is malfunctioning today.

“Honey,” another voice calls loudly as she approaches from somewhere deeper in the plane. “Are you okay? Can I call someone to help you? Or I can help.” She takes my hand, the one holding my cane. “Is this your suitcase? My husband and I can get you to where you need to go. We’re new to the city but-”

“Um, no, I’m fine.” I try, unsuccessfully, to pull my arm away. I appreciate the offer but I don’t know her, yet she’s already pulling me toward the jetway, my cane swinging awkwardly between us. “I’m fine.” I say again. I’m also home so, once I’m out of the airport, I’ve got it.

“Um, ma’am, someone’s assisting her.” Karen says, touching my shoulder. “She’s fine.”

“Oh, bless you.” Mrs. Overly Solicitous says before turning to her husband and telling him they’ll pray for me once they’ve settled in at Ginny’s.

“That was nice of her.” Karen says. “Your chair is here, by the way.”

I sigh, happy the other woman’s gone, but not ready for the next battle. Do I just give in and enjoy the ride, its no big deal, really. Or do I stand for the principle?

And so begins our adventure of mending misconceptions.

Ember Burning

This sixth and final assignment was to write a piece of flash fiction.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my professor didn’t want genre fiction, but a few of my classmates had written things about aliens so I went back to my preferred fantasy realms for this one. I figured, it was the last piece, and seemed to be there as a fun final challenge so it shouldn’t affect my grade too badly.

***

“You don’t think I’ll do it,” she says, her eyes, on the greener side of hazel, glare into my own, pale blue ones.

“I didn’t say that.” I tell her, resting my hand over hers where it lies on the white lace tablecloth.

“But you did not disagree.” She pulls her hand away. “You are doing the same thing of which you accused me. Was it all a lie then?”

“No, of course not.”

“‘You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for,’ you said. ‘He tried to have you heel, and you never did.’ Then you showed me photos of one I’d saved long ago. You said that you did not realize the strength to be found in passive resistance, but that now it was time to bring out the, ‘Big. Guns.'” It’s a struggle not to laugh as she trips over the colloquialism. “Was that a lie? Was I simply a means to an end? Rile up the Firebringer, free your family and then dump me into a life for which I am woefully unprepared?”

“You’re jumping to so many conclusions,” I tell her. “You’re in the atmosphere right now.” Her lips twitch but she doesn’t smile. “All I said was you didn’t have to do anything you weren’t comfortable with. I pushed you so far, and you rose to each occasion. I was only here a month, you were born into it. Of course I was ready to do damage. I thought you were stupid, letting him use you like that. I didn’t understand-” I shudder, remembering. “And then I saw. And when you shut down, cringing from my touch-” I take a breath, more affected than she is. “I asked Anila this morning, while you were asleep. She explained. That each scar… each one for someone you helped escape. Fifteen people, Emmy! Fifteen. And I felt like such a little shit for talking to you like I did those first few weeks. But you let me. And then you helped me.”

“You weren’t wrong,” she ducks her head. “I should’ve, could’ve-”

“Gotten yourself killed?” I shake my head, my long, blond hair swinging with the movement. “I just meant that we have other ways of finishing things here. Slower, but still affective. If you were tired. Or felt some sense of, of kinship?”

A tear trembles on her burgundy eyelashes. Their color reminds me of the imported reds my mother would drink. Before.

“He’s the only parent I knew.” she says.

“I know. And no one’d think less of you if-”

“He raised an ember,” she says, not hearing me. “I only simmered. For twenty-five years, I simmered.”

“Em-”

“And then you came,” she’s smiling. And I realize that I’d never seen a real smile from her. It brings her face—the lighter brown of a whisky that, my father’d taught me, had not been aged long—to life. “It wasn’t by choice, but I thank the gods for it. I always wanted to burn, but I was afraid. And I had no breeze to fan my flame.” She tugs a lock of my pale hair, it stands out beautifully against her rich skin. “I snapped at you because I did not think I could do it. But I know I can.” My heart skips in anticipation. I’d never seen her true power. “Everything of value is gone, yes?”

“Except you.” She shrugs slim shoulders. I’ll fix that attitude in time.

“Then, it is time for his Ember to burn. At last.” She grabs my hand and pulls us from our ornate wooden seats. One of the few pieces left in this luxurious hellhole.

I expect it to start slow. But she ignites. The flame dancing in her hair, the red blending with golds, oranges, blue. I breathe out a cool breath, letting my chilly power kiss her flames. Letting them mingle in the thick curls of her afro.

Careful to keep my skin touching hers, so I don’t also catch fire, I wrap my arms around her, slipping my hands beneath her shirt. And hold my Ember while she burns.

My Gabriella Moment

Now we’re onto assignment5. For this one, we had to choose one of our previously written scenes and expand them into a story. You can see the development of my grasp on my character from this first scene, to

the second

 which I rearranged and expanded on to get to her full length short story below. I do also want to add that I wrote this in the span of about six hours (from midnight to sunrise) and while I have edited it some, I still think there’s some development I could make to make it stronger. Any thoughts and commentary are appreciated (so long as they’re not too harsh).

***

“You what?” It was a shout in my head. What actually comes out of my mouth is barely above a whisper though. Shifting my shoulders a little to adjust my bookbag, I clear my throat and try again, with more success this time around. “You what?”

“I submitted a few of your assignments to The Cock’s Crow,” she says it without giggling. Probably because she’s approaching forty, unlike the high schoolers she teaches. Our “award-winning” literary magazine’s a point of pride for the school, so they’d never change the name. It’s something to do with a recurring literary quote, and we being in the dawn of our literary careers. “And everyone on the committee loved it. Here’s a list of the pieces I chose.”

“They did?” I stare at the sheet she holds out to me. In her messy handwritingironic for an English teacherit has five titles on it: three poems, two short stories. Then she’d called me up after class, I’d thought she wanted to discuss the latest assignment. The prompt had been about rebirth. I’d had no clue what to write at first. And then this story had sprung to life about a phoenix who finds true rebirth in giving up her ability to rise from the ashes. She passes on the power to another, so that she can rise into something new. The constant cycling into the same creature, usually a symbol of hope for we mortals made my phoenix feel trapped. (I got some influence from this assembly we had on toxic relationships.) I didn’t know if it’d been too out there. But she’d loved it. It barely factored into our talk. What she really wanted to tell me was that she’d submitted some of our assignments to TCC. And that they’d loved mine. Phoenix was even on the list of pieces she’d chosen. I start folding the sheet into squares, making sure each corner is perfectly aligned. “But y-you didn’t ask my permission first.” Its not a squeak but still not quite as forceful as my sister, Ximena, might manage. She was born to challenge authority. Me on the other hand… Not so much.

“You want me to pull them from the publication then?” She doesn’t look sorry, but her cement gray eyes are serious as they hold mine hostage. She’d do it if I said yes. Yet she didn’t ask my permission in the first place. She was taking Nena’s approach to life: ask forgiveness, not permission.

Do I want her to? I mean, I’m upset she didn’t ask first. But they liked it. Really liked it. I could add myself to my list of authors published under twentydid it count if it was just a high school paper? Whatever. It was my list. And I had to start somewhere, right?

“I don’t think so.” I keep folding. “No. Don’t. Um, don’t pull them.”

“Great.” She says, rolling back her chair and standing up. She turns around, her blond cornrows with random strands of dark blue braided through swing behind her as she begins erasing the keywords from today’s class off the board. (Why’s it called a blackboard if it’s green?) As I watch her, I think about the beauty of being published. When you’re gone, you can’t be wiped away so easy. “And I expect you’ll attend the open mic to celebrate the release in a month?”

“Um, sure.” That’d be cool, hearing everyone else’s pieces. Hearing from new voices instead of the fan favorites who always get chosen for shows.

“And that you’ll read something.”

The door bangs open. I jump, and turn.

“Hey Ms. H.” A girl with bouncy black curls says as she rushes in. Her voice breaks the spell, and all of a sudden the hallway sounds start rushing in, along with the students from the next class.

“You want me to read? M-my work?”

“Of course.” She waves to the student with the hand not holding the eraser. “We can all interpret your words as we like, but I’d love to hear how you intended it. You rarely read in class, and you have a lovely voice. Now, you don’t want to be late to your next class, do you?”

I intended them for you, I want to say. For you to read in your head. But I don’t.

I look at the giant clock over the door (I feel like I’m the only one in my generation who can still read analog). We don’t have bells to “prepare” us for college. Her class is two minutes early. And we have a five minute grace period. As long as I’m in my seat within the first five minutes, I was good. Definitely enough time to freak the freak out.

She calls my name. I jump.

“You’re parent’s’ll be proud. As you should be. Look a little happier. I’m sorry I didn’t ask first, but from talking to you, I knew you’d never take the initiative. Your skill with the quill is undeniable. I want you to realize that too.” My lips drag up into a smile as I look down at my Hamilton T-shirt. “Now, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I walk out of the room. Dazed. Clutching the square of paper that refused to fold anymore.

My work in the paper. Reading at the open mic. It was a one-two punch. Or something like that. I tried getting into boxing with papi when I was little. It never really worked out, but I still found myself using the terms every now and then. Whether it was accurate or not, well, I wasn’t too sure.

“So what happened?”

“Ow.” I mumble into the wall I slam into, instead of turning down the next hall as my best friend, Jalissa Jackson, pops up behind me. “What the fudge, Liss?”

“There are times when a good ‘fuck’ is the only thing that works.” She says, her dark brown eyes laughing at me.

“Liss!” I can feel myself blushing for the both of us as I adjust my glasses, and rub my aching nose.

“Oh relax.” She says, flashing scarily straight teeth at me. “You’ll understand someday, young Padwan.” Her love of Star Wars was something she made me swear to take to my grave. She could make references when we weren’t around anyone she knew. But if her brother found out she’d never hear the end of it after calling him a nerd so many times. “Anyways, what’d Hopkins want? You took forever in there. I thought she was just gonna slap an A on your story and call it a day.”

“No, she

“Didn’t give Phoenix an A?” Lissa’s clear, toffee colored face begins to contort into The Look.

“No, she loved it.” I say quickly, as I grab her arm and start steering her through the crowd to our next class. “She actually wanted to tell me that she submitted it, Phoenix, along with some of my other assignments to, the, to TCC.” I can barely get the words out as it hits me again.

“Oh girl that’s great! I’ve been telling you to submit something for years.”

“But she didn’t ask me first.”

“Would you’ve done it.”

“Well, no. But-“

A locker slams particularly hard somewhere behind us.

“But nothing. I know you’re freaking out. But I can also see how excited you are.”

“I mean, I am but-“

“Nope. No buts.”

“She wants me to read at the open mic!” I say it quietly, but emphatically as we slip into class.

“Which you definitely will, right?” She whispers back.

And before I can protest, we’re being launched into a lecture about the difference between ponds, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. Despite how it sounds, and Lissa’s faces as she scribbles notes next to me, it’s actually pretty interesting. And a lot less work than chem or physics would’ve been for our take-it-easy, mainly elective filled senior year.

With the final period being a free one, I rush home after  Environmental Science. Or, try to.

“Wait,” Lissa calls as I hurriedly put my jacket and book bag on. “You don’t wanna talk about TCC anymore?”

“No.” I tell her. “You’ll take Ms. H’s side

“There’s no sides,” she says, putting her hand out to stop me just outside the classroom. “We all just want you to put your amazing work out there.”

“Maybe not, but I need to practice.”

“Practice what?” A delicious voice asks from behind us. If the richness of chocolate syrup could be vocalized, that’d be his voice.

I instantly break out in goosebumps. God, I’m happy I have a jacket on. Though, I guess I could blame it on the AC too. I know I start blushing. And I’m also great full that I’m not as light as Lissa, or her twin, Jason, the source of that divine tenor voice. Blushes are a lot less obvious on me. He touches my shoulder, and my heart goes haywire.

“Yes?” I whisper. I’m the quietest of the trio, so when my crush (soul deep love) started for Jay a few months ago, he never noticed anything different. But Lissa, with her hawk-like skills of observations knew immediately. And began shipping us hard. But I didn’t want to say anything and make it awkward between the three of us when he told me he just saw me as another sister. The triplet bound to them in spirit (we were born on the same day, each ten minutes apart. It was kinda cool in a weird universally creepy kinda way.)

“What are you practicing for?”

“Oh, um. My, our teacher, Ms. Hopkins, for um, The Art of Creative Writing. She, put, submitted some of my work to The Crow.”

“That’s great!” He exclaims, and wraps me in a hug. Right there in the middle of the hall. I want to keep my ear pressed to his chest. And continue inhaling whatever expensive cologne his mom buys him, but he’s pulling away before I can fully appreciate any of it. “But what do you have to practice? Everything’s already written, right?” We start walking again, dodging students in their rush to get to the last class.

“She wants me to read at the open mic.”

I step over the book bag of someone sitting on the floor. She pulls it in with a halfhearted “sorry”.

“What day is that?”

I can’t believe I didn’t ask. Actually, yes I can. My brain wasn’t really working right at the time.

“May 15.” Lissa says, face pressed to her phone. “It’s connected to the poetry club. Apparently they hold these things monthly, but this is the big one.”

It takes everything I have not to start shaking. Seriously. Everybody thinks this is so amazing. And it is. That my work’s being published. Ms. H had talked me into entering a few senior specific writing contests. But the Crow. The award winning Crow seemed bigger than those. But actually reading it. In front of hundreds of students. Messing up in front of hundreds of students. Finding out that I actually suck, in. Front. Of. Hundreds. Of. Students. Plus my parents, Lissa and Jay

My eyes twitch. Which always happens just before

“Are you crying?” The twins ask, somehow glancing at me at the exact same time. Both with concern, but Lissa’s more frustrated. She’s definitely going to be the tough love kind of parent if she goes back on her no kids vow.

“No.” My voice is actually pretty strong. But not my vision as my glasses start to fog, and I have each Jackson grabbing an arm as I start to trip over, who know’s what. The Universe sticking its foot out just to add to my already wonderful day.

“Don’t cry.” Liss says, pulling me to the side. I pull my, useless for the time being glasses off. “You’re mom would tell you that Diazes don’t cry.”

“Yeah, well.” I sniff. I hate myself for it, but I can’t stop the tears.

“Why don’t you just tell her no?” Jay asks. And it sounds so reasonable. But I can’t. Which I tell him. “Why not?”

“Because she’d have to put her Nena panties on and not only initiate an awkward conversation, but put her foot down. Remember when she refused to remind mommy that she didn’t like olives? So she choked them down until you noticed, and we split the rest between us? Then had to tell mommy later.”

“Oh yeah. You didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” Jay says, rubbing my shoulders. “Same with the teacher. But what about your feelings?”

“Well, this is where it gets complicated.” Liss says, pulling back. “She’s so torn up over it all ’cause she wants to do it.”

“I don’t.” I rub my eyes.

“You’d be more angry, and trying to come up with legit excuses for not doing it if that was true.” Liss takes my glasses from me, gently wipes them on her shirt (my mom would kill us both if she saw I wasn’t using the cleaning cloth) then hands them back. “Don’t get me wrong, you’d be upset. Maybe tear up a bit. But not like this.”

Is she right? Of course not. I’d know if I wanted to read. I say that, and Liss just laughs.

“Girl, you have so many hang ups about public perception. Probably a manifestation of your relationship with your mother, she-

“Liss.” Jay says, it’s not quite a snap, but it’s not calm either. “What’d we say about psychoanalyzing us?”

“You guys are prime targets.” She whines. She’ll do great as a therapist some day. She looks around, and we all notice how empty the hall is. I almost start crying again as I think about how stupid I must’ve looked. Or pathetic. Who starts crying in a school hallway? I’m surprised no one hung around to stare.

“Do you want to perform?” Jay asks.

“I don’t think so.” I wipe my nose with my sleeve.

“We’ll wait outside the bathroom while you wash your face.” Jay says as we pass by the nearest girls room.

I head in and let the water run for a bit before splashing some on my face. I stare at myself in the mirror: dark eyes, short lashes, clear skin, shoulder length flat twists. Its not the face of someone confident. How does Nena do it? We look exactly alike, same delicate bone structure. But… something about me just screams timid. I shake my head and head back out.

“So we’ll head over to our house so you can practice in front of our parents?” Liss says when I come out.

“Liss, I don’t-“

 

“Even if you really don’t want to perform, she says, walking through the staircase door that Jason’s holding open for us. He’s so chivalrous. “You’re not going to tell her no. So you’ll need the practice, right?”

“I guess.” My stomach flip-flops just thinking about it.

“Don’t push her if she doesn’t-“

“We all need a good push sometimes. And as her best friend-“

One of her best friends-“

“You’re right,” She says sweetly. As the star of our track team, she’s not even a little out of breath at the bottom. Like I am. Just a little though. “As the head best friend in charge of all of the lesser besties-” Jay just sighs. “It’s a part of my duty to know when to push and when to coddle.”

That one causes me to laugh. “You wouldn’t know how to coddle if it bit you in the butt.”

Jay laughs too as we leave the staircase. She rolls her eyes and pulls her phone from her pocket, muttering about how she can’t with us.

By the time we get to their house, I’m not as panicked. But I know there’s a major difference between reading for my friends’ parents, who are honestly like my adoptive parents, and hundreds of strangers. But I do it. And when I get home, I’m forced to do it again, for the fifth time that day for mami.

“These poems are nice.” She says in Spanish. “But sad. You depressed?”

“No?”

“Like she’d tell you.” Nena mutters, looking up from her phone.

“What’s that mean?”

“Don’t start.” Papi says from the kitchen. “You are like three hens with no room in your pen.”

“I want to know what she means.” Mami demands. “You’re not too old to get slapped.”

Nena laughs. And mami’s face, a color very similar to the Jacksons’ beige walls, starts to flush a little with anger.

“I think it’s time for bed.” Papi says, coming in with his hands still dripping from the dishes. Since he’d been laid off a few weeks ago, he’d really gotten into being a house dad. Very un-macho, as mami reminded him. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t looking and applying, he always responded.

“It’s nine thirty.” Nena says. “I’m heading out.”

“To where.”

“A friend’s.”

“Your boyfriend.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend, mami.’ she sighs switching back to English. She spent more time talking to them in Spanish than I did. Mami was always complaining about how American I’d gotten over the years, with my pronunciations, and taste in rock and country, so I stopped arguing and just embraced it. I spoke Spanish whenever we went back to Cali to visit family, but otherwise, I usually just responded in English.

They started arguing about her, um, loose behavior and I took papi’s advice and headed to our shared room. As I walked down the hall, I heard a little cry and peeked into my parents bedroom to check on Santiago, my baby brother. He had just turned two and still slept in a crib.

He’s still fast asleep. I hope he isn’t having any bad dreams.

I lean over and pet his soft curls. He was the spitting image of our mother with his tiny nose, loose curl, and light complexion. Nena and I took after Papi a lot more. We all had the same face shape and cafe sin leech eyes, but our hair was a thousand times coarser. And we couldn’t really find foundation shades for our skin until Fenti came out. Unlike our mother.

As I watch him sleep, I wonder what kind of personality he’l have when he grows up. He fussed whenever he wanted anything. But he barely knew five words, so how else would he express himself?

Nena’s outspoken, confident with her beauty, and brilliant, if only she’d put more energy into school instead of reminding us at the end of each semester, when mami demanded to know her grades, that “C’s get degrees.”

I guess I’m pretty. I look a lot like Nena, who’s gorgeous. But I don’t know anything about fashion (no matter how hard she and Lissa try to change that). And my glassesI look a thousand times better without them. But my eyes don’t like contacts. I think I take all of Nena’s drive for school, and she has everything else.

So where would Santi fall? He’s definitely going to be a mama’s boy. Will that affect things?

“How are you?” Papi asks quietly. I don’t jump. I thought I’d heard footsteps.

“Fine?”

“I mean, you writing.” He tests out his English. “Mami is right, it did seem little sad.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you fine with reading?” He’s back to Spanish.

“I don’t know.”

I sit on the floor next to the crib and tell him about the conversation with Lissa today. “And, I kinda think she’s right.” It’s a whisper. “I liked it when her parents complimented the word flow. And mamishe actually liked it. Itfeels nice. And if everyone at school thinks it’s nice too.”

“But?” He says, sitting on the bed. There’s no more roofer him in the little space beside the crib.

“If they hate it-“

“They won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes I do.”

“How?”

“We sent you to Sunrise because it is a certified school of excellence,” he says. “Which means, the kids there are smart. And only someone stupid wouldn’t like your words.”

I laugh, get up, and hug him. “You’re my dad, you have to say that.”

“No I don’t.” He hugs me back. Something else unMacho, but her heart is never in that one when she says it. WE both know he’d support us no matter what. So he adds, “Fine, if you don’t believe me. Believe mami. And Nena kept her head out of her phone for a whole five minutes.”

I laugh again.

“What is funny?” Mami asks from the door.

“Nena actually listened to her poetry,” Papi answers. “She even put the phone on the table. I was so surprised when I saw from the sink, I almost dropped a plate.”

“Not the good-“

“Never the antique, Nati.” He smiles at her with so much loveI sometimes don’t understand that dynamic.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. My mom is lovable in a prickly porcupine sort of way. She’s always made more money, so has probably felt more stressed. And I appreciate her completely. Butshe’s still an a-hole about 80% of the time. Picking at Papi, arguing with Nana, pointing out my flaws.

“You still nervous for this show?” She asks me, her eyes are actually soft where they lock onto mine. I nod. “You write well. Why?”

“It’s one thing to have people say that. It’s another one to read it and see if they still mean it.”

“Speak up.” She sits on the bed next to us. “You come from a loud family, yet you are this shy little mouse. Nena wouldn’t be nervous.”

“I’m not Nena.” It’s the first time I ever say something when she tells me how much unlike someone I am.

:Hmm.” She says. “Put that attitude on stage, not with me. You are definitely not too old for a slap.”

“Okay,” Papi says. “It’s still bedtime.”

I think about what she said all the way to my room )one door over) and over the next month. Okay, maybe not the entire month. But the more I practice in the mirror (Mine and Lissa’s) the better I feel. At some point, I realize I’ve got it memorized. I recite it for some of Jay’s friends (trust me, I wasn’t as breezy as I make it sound), but I do it. And then the day is here.

And I start to freak out.

I’ll forget.

My glasses’ll fog right when I start reading.

I’ll lose my voice right before my time.

Someone’ll laugh and I’ll start sobbing like Santiago when no one’ll pick him up.

Jason hugs me. And that just makes it worse.

Mami refuses to stay home, and I can’t breathe properly.

Nena brings her new boyfriend and I can’t believe she’ll have his first introduction to me be me passing out in front of half my high school. Or all of them? It looks like everyone is here. Who even cares about a stupid high school magazine?

I’m ten people in. I thought that was a good number. But what if every performance is one minute long. That only gives me ten minutes to prepare. I wonder if Lissa would flirt the paper out of the MC’s hand and erase my name. But what if it’s not in pencil. Does anyone have whiteout anymore?

“Hey!” I bite my tongue hard as Jalissa claps her hands in front of my face. “Calm. Down.”

“Panicking. I’m not panicking.” My throat is so dry I can barely get the words out.

“I said nothing about panic, only calm.”

“I got her some water.” Jason appears next to me. When did he get up? He was sitting three seats in.

“Drink it.” Liss demands. I was already planning on it, and get down half the bottle in one long gulp.

“I think she meant sip.” His hand on my shoulder causes the butterflies to divide their attention. “But can you at least breathe?”

I try. He forces me to look at him, into his deep, beautiful eyes. We breath.

“Okay.” A voice booms through the auditorium, quieting everyone. He starts talking about the prestigiousness of Sunrise Academy’s Cock’s Crow. literary magazine. I hear a few giggles. “We’ll be starting off with one of many seniors on this list. Delilah Morre. She’ll be singing, not an original song, but you can find her original poetry scattered throughout the Crow’s illustrious pages. Come on up Delilah.”

“You gonna be okay now?” Jay asks, his face deliciously, nerve-wrackingly close to mine. I nod.

He moves past Jalissa, grinning very unsubtly right as the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard begins soaring through the auditorium. By the time’s she’s finished with rendition of Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ almost more soulful than the original, you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium. There’s a moment of silence. Then. They. Go. Wild.

And I think I’ve gone way past panic. How do I even compare to that?

The next person’s going up. Reading a short story about a kid on the street getting their life together. And then the poem about loss. Who are these people? Writing about deep crap when I just channel emo punk bands from the early 2000s and write fantasy. Even the fifth girl’s “fairytale” feels like some deep social commentary. She can’t be a freshman.

“Margaret Hall will be next, performing a skit, the script for the play can be found on Page 12-“

A skit?

“They’ve got nothing on Phoenix.” Liss whispers. And I realize that I’d said it out loud.

But she’s so wrong. This modern mini Odyssey is so much better.

“Annabeth Percy?” The MC dude says for the third time. “Alright, guess she’s not here anymore. Well next up we have-“

My heart stops. For a whole second. Just stops. Then the applause rushes into my ears, and my heart starts beating like a salsa beat on steroids. Or LSD or something.

“Go up there!” Lissa hisses. I could be like Annabeth and not do anything.

But then Jason and Lissa are pulling me up. And I hear my mothercheering my name. WTH?

I’m on the stage.

I’m staring out at the crowd. Before I left, Nena had told me to imagine the audience in their underwear. But as I stare out at the ocean of faces (crap, I mean sea. I can’t even get my metaphors right. Or was that a simile? Analogy maybe?) Oh God, I’m going to through up.

“You got this!” Someone shouts.

Why are they cheering me on? They don’t know me. Clearly, I don’t.

I stare at the dude in front of me. Probably someone’s parent. Definitely don’t want to imagine him in his underwear. And the girl with red pigtails next to him. I’m seventeen. That’s probably illegal to be even thinking things like that. 

Jalissa screams my name, and I snap out of it. So does my notebook, right out of my hand. I bend down to grab it, and my glasses start sliding off.

Somehow, I coordinate myself enough to hold one and pick up the other.

The audience, my audience is silent.

I look down at my notebook. Open my mouth:

“I-i-in shadow-” Someone snickers. Maybe it’s a sniffle. I don’t care. I hear whatever the sound is, and I can feel that I’m-about-to-cry lump forming in my throat. My eyes tickle. Or prickle. And I sniffle. And the sound’s amplified through the mic. That I’m still stupidly standing in front of. I turn to my left, ready to bolt. Ready to give Lissaa a run for her money. When I hear their combined voices, my beautiful amazing best friend, and her equally wonderfully gorgeous brother, chanting my name. It only takes two times for the entire auditorium to pick it up. And then my eyes are prickling for another reason. I turn back to the mic. While I don’t have my Troy Bolton here to make me stare directly at him, I still felt like I was about to have my Gabriella moment.

“In shadow beauty hides,” my voice shakes. Did I always sound this manly? I clear my throat. They quiet immediately.

“In shadow beauty hides/To the night he tells his truth/Beneath the unassuming moon, she feels only then can she cut loose