Category Archives: Blog

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

Perception is Everything (When Helping The Blind)

This next story was assignment4 in my Fiction I workshop. We had to choose an event, and then write about it from three perspectives. It took me a little while to decide on my event, but once I remembered it, my fingers flew across the keyboard.

Let me know what you guys think. Who’s perspective you liked best.

***

Shayna Canaan 

“Danny, listen to me.” I have the urge to shake my phone in agitation like my mother used to do when I was a child. But there are two problems with that urge. The first, I was using Bluetooth headphones, so I would have to take my phone out of my pocket. Upon doing so, I would not receive the same level of satisfaction that my mother seemed to. An iPhone was not the same as a corded landline. And there was no base for me to slam it onto when I simply couldn’t take it any more. The second, I was in public and refused to be the crazy person everyone whispered about as they skirted around me. “I’m not trying to control you.”

“I never said that, Shay.” He says. “But you’re not being reasonable.”

“I just want what’s best for you.” I tell him, shading my eyes to better see the street sign in front of me. It’s a warm, sunny day in mid-March, but I’m still wearing my winter coat, open to enjoy the slight breeze. Lana had tried to talk me into something lighter, but I’m a seasoned New Yorker. I know when the sun goes down, the wind picks up and the temperature drops back to winter normal. I did let her talk me out of a hat, but I refused to leave my dark hair down. She said it made me look younger, but the high ponytail made me look my age. “I’m sure Janette’s a nice girl but her family… Your mother–”

“Is dead, Shayna,” he says, gently, as though soothing a child. It sounds as though he’s moving, and the suspicion is confirmed as I hear the clinking and tinkling of dishes and the roar of his dining hall quiet as he continues. “Lan and I are so grateful for everything you’ve done for us the past ten years. But–“ 

“Hang on!” I shout over multiple sirens as an ambulance and fire truck zoom past. I see a Nuts-4-Nuts stand at the next corner and think about buying a bag as I pass. The scent brings back memories of family trips from Long Island. Mother would never allow us to buy from dirty street vendors, but my sister and I still dreamed. “Go on, Danny.”

“Lan and I are so grateful for you taking us in after mom died. But you’re not actually our parent. And, I don’t think she’d care about Jan’s background, just the person she is now.”

His words hurt. I can almost feel a physical pain in my chest. I nearly stop in my tracks, in the middle of midtown foot traffic. But I refuse to be that person.

“Danny, I don’t know what to say.” I can feel the tears prickling behind my dark blue eyes. It was more than his mother, my sister’s passing that I was trying to compensate for. I say a quick prayer, hoping that everything goes well at my appointment today. Thirty-two was far too young to be worrying over wills and family legacies. “I’m just trying to honor her memory, and make sure her kids are okay. And that includes who you date. I want to make sure you both have good futures.”

“No.” He says. “It doesn’t. Advice, yes. And I hear you. But you’re not actually giving her a chance. Or me. You don’t trust my character judgement?”

“I do, Danny, of course I do it’s just–Wait, hold on!” I hurry the last few feet to the corner and wait impatiently for the light to change.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I say. “But there’s a blind woman across the street. I think she needs help.” I watch her just barely avoid the City Bikes. I sigh in relief as she passes them. Then catch my breath when she narrowly misses a lamp post.

“What’s happening, is she okay?”

“I don’t think so.” I say as I rush across the street. “The sidewalk is cracked, and there are so many obstacles. Oh my God, someone almost walked into her! People are so careless. God, it must be terrible being blind. At least she’s well taken care of, her outfit–”

“It’s not always about money and looks, Shay.” he sighs.

“Wait!” I call out as the woman navigates around another crack. They should really fix up the sidewalks around here. I take her arm and walk her to smoother ground. “Are you okay? Do you know where you’re going?”

“Yeah.” She says, blinking cloudy blue eyes at me. “I’m fine.”

“Can I help you cross the street?” How can a stick be any protection? I’ve seen blind people run into poles. I wonder why this woman doesn’t have an aid. She seems pretty young, early twenties maybe. I wonder if there is an age requirement. But I remember the handicapped children at school having someone.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you.” Oy, she’s turning me into my mother in ways parenting mischievous twins from adolescents to adulthood never had.

“Shay, she said she’s fine.” I’d forgotten Danny was still on the line.

“I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.” She’s likely being modest. I wouldn’t want to be a burden on anyone. Yet I can’t imagine smiling through it all as she is.

I take her arm more firmly and begin to usher her across the street.

“How are you liking this weather?” I ask, noticing that her sleek green coat–is it from L L Bean, I’m certain I’ve seen it in the catalogue–is unzipped. 

“It’s nice,” she says, her face glowing a brown similar to one of Lana’s caramel Frappuccinoes in the sunlight. If she weren’t blind, she would be a better fit for Danny. I wonder if the Columbia boots she wears means she’s willing to spend for comfort. In her situation money must be important.

“Stay safe.” I tell her, once we make it to the other side. “And don’t be afraid to accept help. People want to help you.” I raise my voice near the end to ensure that she hears me as she walks away. She certainly walks fast. Someone should-

“Shayna, what was that?”

“I helped someone cross the street.” I say, making it back across just before the light changes. “You know I love helping people, animals, you name it. Like when that bird fell from the tree when you were kids?”

There’s a pause, then Danny says, “I have to head to class now. But please give Jan an actual chance at dinner.”

“I’ll try.” I tell him, my heart light enough to humor him. “Don’t study too hard.”

As we hang up, I murmur a prayer before walking into the hospital. Hopefully, I had earned extra goodwill points for my humanitarianism.

Madeleine Banks

“Hey J,” I said, grabbing my phone just before it stopped ringing. I’d just changed my ringtone and so still got more excited to sing it than answer. “What’s u—”

“What you doing this winter?”

“Um,” I said. “Working as an editorial assistant if Randomhouse has any sense?”

“No. Well, not just that.” She said, her voice moving with the motion of her footsteps that I could just barely hear. “You’re coming with me to St. Vincent for a week.”

“I am?” I asked, closing my laptop.

“Yes. I am so tired of this fucking city. And L.A. isn’t happening for at least another year, so I need a premove break.”

“Go to Jersey.” I said, changing into my current PJ’s—Bob’s Burger tee and sweats—before rolling into bed. So much for keeping the momentum going. I’d actually been excited to do my homework for once. But, clearly, the universe had other plans. I knew my friend, and that tone, this would probably take awhile. And, as I stretched out under my navy blue covers, I wasn’t complaining. At all.

“You’re not funny.”

“Bitch, I’m hilarious. But what happened? Which one of us monstrous New Yorker set you off now?”

“All of them!” She said, and I could imagine her throwing her slim, dark hands up in exasperation. “First, the supposedly homeless lady asking me to give her money, when I said I didn’t have any, she was like ‘how about food?’ When I reminded her that I didn’t have money, she was like ‘So how’d you buy that drink?’ I was like bitch–”

“Did you actually call her a bitch?”

“No. But I thought it really hard.”

I laughed. “Why are you skeptical about her being homeless?”

“Her coat had fur… And it looked real!”

“Maybe it was donated or something.”

“Maybe. Anyway, so she followed me down the block muttering about disrespectful kids (she was an old blond woman). Ugh, I get it you have a motorcycle.” She growled the last at the revving engine I could hear in her background. “Then, I’m walking past the dorm and I see that blind girl-”

“The one you asked about her eyelashes freshman year?”

“Yeah, she’s the only blind person in the dorm. Well, besides that short white guy.” At 5’10, short was a relative concept for Jessica Stephens. “Anyway, so she’s walking and, first of all, I tripped on a bike–you know, that City Bike shit–and almost dropped my cup. But she walked around it. What kind of sick joke? I’m sure God had a good laugh at that one.”

“Not just God.” I said, snickering into my pillow. It smelled strongly of my vanilla bean shampoo.

“So anyway, she was walking and this woman came up to her, she looked older so I didn’t think she was a friend, like a peer, but the way she grabbed her, I don’t know,” I can imagine her shrugging slender shoulders. “I thought she was at least an acquaintance. She just did it so smoothly I didn’t think about it.”

“She grabbed her?”

“I mean, she took her arm, grab might be exaggerating but she did yell ‘stop!’ or ‘wait!’ Or something like that.”

“And you thought she was her friend?” I shook my head deeper into my SpongeBob pillowcase. “Oh my God, did she try to rob her or something?”

“No, she looked too polished for that. She asked if she needed help and blind girl said she was fine. At first, I was like oh, that’s nice. You went about it in a weird way but how else would she’ve gotten her attention?”

“Maybe touch her arm like you did that day instead of grabbing her?”

“Yeah, I guess. But I don’t know if the grab was rough or gentle. Whatever she shouted was type aggressive though. But anyway, she kept asking if she needed help and the girl, well, I guess she’s not actually a girl but you know what I mean, she never actually agreed but all of a sudden the woman’s dragging her across the street. And when I say dragging, I mean it dragging. The blind girl looked so uncomfortable she put her phone away and I couldn’t really hear if the woman was talking to her, but I thought I saw her make a fist at some point. But the lady didn’t notice a thing. And at the end, she was shouting down the block about accepting help and she, blind girl, couldn’t get away fast enough.”

I wiggled an arm, that could be skinnier, out from under my blankets and grabbed my notebook from my bedside container. “Okay, start from the beginning but I need more details. First, what were you drinking?”

“A shake. But I’m not done. I thought it was such a nice gesture but then she went way too far. New Yorkers are just a bunch of pushy, belligerent sons of snitches. So, I just kept walking so I could walk my agitation off and called mommy. I wanted my aunt’s number to see if she was down for some company this winter.”

“Vanilla?”

“What?”

“Your shake, it was vanilla right? The purest flavor. Unlike ‘unnatural strawberry’ or ‘overbearing chocolate’?”

“Yeah, but—you going to make me another story?”

“Yes, so I need as many details as I can get. What was blind girl wearing?”

“I’m not here for your entertainment.” She sang, completely comfortable bursting into song in the middle of Manhattan.

“Every relationship has perks: you rant I get A’s. Okay, blind girl: I remember the long, supposedly natural eyelashes, and eyes like that dude from A Tell Tale Heart, but what was she wearing? Her hair? And the pushy broad, tell me about her? Accent, anything noteworthy? And which band shirt were you wearing today?”

“Jesus girl, slow down. She was wearing this long-ass green coat, jeans and dark boots. Her hair was in twists, I remember thinking how neat they were. And that I’ll have to stop her again sometime to ask what that coppery color in her hair is called. Oh! And her roots were showing. The woman was polished. I think she was wearing flats and dress pants, I don’t remember exactly, I just remember thinking money. And that I envy people with straight hair, her ponytail was so slick. You know how much gel I need to keep these edges under control? Don’t sigh at me, blind girl was more interesting. But auntie Cindy’s calling back, so I’ll call you tonight and we can brainstorm outfits for her.”

“Wait, shirt!”

“Five Finger Death Punch. I’ll send you a picture.”

I continued scribbling furiously as we said our goodbyes. Then I tucked my notebook under my pillow and rolled over to face my cerulean blue wall. I’ll sleep on it (I’d need an actual plot, some interesting dialogue) and get back to work in a bit. I should probably set an alarm, otherwise I might…

Lily Mordaunt

“We’re going to get on the 4 train right mommy?” A small voice asked from somewhere behind me. As with most young kids, the voice was ambiguous, but I was fairly sure it was a boy. A hint of bass perhaps, or just practice telling them apart? “Is there a 5 train too?”

“You know that, Johnny.” Ha! I was right. “We got on it this morning, remember?”

Their voices faded fast as I hurried to the bus stop, my cane sweeping in a steady arc before me. I remembered my own excitement and fascination with trains as a kid. The L was always my favorite as it’s the first letter of both my first and nicknames, but then I grew up and discovered what a pain that train could be. Ah, perception.

I turned my head to the right, to compensate for what I could not see on that side with my left eye, and moved over a few steps when the shape of the City Bike Rack came into focus. I hoped I’d put enough distance between myself and the tires as I both maneuvered a particularly deep crack and tried to anticipate which way the brightly dressed figure walking toward me would go. I wondered, not for the first time, if they would ever fix this section of sidewalk. But after four years of dorming here, it didn’t seem like it.

The hem of my calf length winter coat–open to appreciate the day’s warmth as New York City transitioned from winter to spring–brushed a tire. My poor coat–not quite warm enough for intense winter anymore but still too toasty for real spring, the feathers had shifted and the tear around the butt… I sighed. It lasted four years though. And I had to remember to shop in fall this time, for the discounts (and not midway through winter when the bathing suits were coming out). As it brushed another tire, I wondered if I should move a little further left, but the pole that had acquainted itself with my face freshman year was coming up. I might see it, or my cane might register it; knowing it was coming up helped. But I hadn’t stumbled on a tire yet, so I should be fine. Stuck between a pole and a… bike place. I chuckled quietly, hoping anyone watching didn’t think I was crazy.

Cars honked. Birds tittered. The wind blew. It smelled green. I sneezed. Allergy season. A woman passed me, heels clicking unevenly. From personal experience, I knew that those cracks were a bitch in heels. I hoped they weren’t stilettos. That wasn’t my type of heel, but I imagined it’d be even worse.

“New Tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Voiceover–a program designed for blind people to read all text on the screen–said from the earpiece that was almost always in my left ear.

I often felt that voiceover gave me an advantage over the average sighted. Yes, one ear was occupied, but I still had another. I also didn’t completely block out potential stimuli from the earpiece side, add to that what information I gleaned from my left eye and cane and I had it pretty good. Your Average Sighted Susie, however, would look down at her phone and then seemed to forget that her eyes were still necessary for navigation. And ears? What ears? Four other senses you say? We lived in such a visual world that someone might dismiss the smell of smoke if they didn’t visually see a fire before them. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s walked into me (you’d probably assume it’s the other way around but generally, it was pretty evenly split, because they were busy staring at a screen.)

“Wait!” Someone shouted, my cane breaking rhythm as she grabbed the arm that held it. My heart skipped a beat, and I clutched my phone tighter as it nearly flew from my hand. Is there construction? Was I about to face-plant into something? (That damn pole maybe, but I was pretty sure I’d passed it.) Was the universe having an ironic laugh at my expense?

“Are you okay?” The woman asked, clutching my elbow in a reverse of the proper sighted-guide technique. “Do you know where you’re going?”

It took a second for my brain to catch up with her words. And when it did, I was… annoyed. To put it mildly.

“Yah.” I replied, trying, unsuccessfully, to pull my arm from her grasp. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Can I help you cross the street?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” I hated how deeply engrained politeness seemed to be in my DNA. Especially since people only seemed to focus on the words, and not the clipped tone. And then, not even the words if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

“No, bubelah, it’s no problem, let me help you across,” she said as the traffic in front of us came to a standstill. I heard the bus to my right go from idling to motion. I turned my attention back to the woman as she pulled me across. She sounded too young to use words like bubelah. (I associated it with old Jewish women with Long Island accents.) “I’ll cross you over then come back, it’s no problem.”

Maybe not for you, I thought, putting my phone into my pocket, and switching cane hands. Her “good deed” wouldn’t keep me from tripping onto the sidewalk when I couldn’t use my cane fully and she didn’t warn me of the step. Then there’d be five minutes of apologies, perhaps an offer to take me to my destination, and I wasn’t down for any of it.

We walked at a snail’s pace. She said something about the weather. I mumbled a reply. We reached the opposite corner. She told me to stay safe in that special condescending tone reserved primarily for small children and pets, then patted my shoulder, her gesture a study in contrast: her pale hand making the dark of both our outer wear–mine, a dark teal and hers, what I thought was black–more noticeable.

I, successfully this time, disentangled myself and tried to decide if this would be a blog or vlog post. This was different from the usual: people just dragging me across the street, or demanding to know what stop I was getting off at on the train or bus so that they could “help” me. She stopped me. In motion. Not walking into anything, or looking around confusedly. I pulled out my phone–Nedy or Zu, sister or friends–whoever I chose to call, a rant was definitely in order as I prayed I wouldn’t be late to chorus.

A Fish out of Water

This third assignment was entitled A Fish Out of Water. The task was to write a scene depicting a character out of their comfort zone. With three pages being our max, it was a particular challenge deciding on something that would allow me to establish a normal before shattering it for my character.

I chose to continue with my character from assignment1.

***

“Yougonnadogreat,”mydad says from the stove, his Spanish accent extra thick as he works on his English. “Just act like you’re reading for us.”

”I know,” I say, checking one more time to make sure I have everything: notebook, lip gloss, wallet, water. “I’ll be fine.”

I think I will, anyway. It’s easy to say with him looking so proud and confident in me. But I know when I get there, step up to the mic, open my mouth… I’ll freeze. Like I do with every assignment I’ve ever had to present.

“As long as those lenses stay in, she’ll be fine,” my mother calls from the living room where she’s watching some novela. My sister and I had loved them as kids, but now only Ximena still watched with her. I was “too American” now, they said.

She just wouldn’t let it go, that time I cleaned my glasses on the train a week ago. But things were really blurry.

“Nati, why would you say that,” my dad asks switching back to Spanish, and stretching his arm out awkwardly as he turns away from the stove but continues stirring. “She has enough to worry about.”

I’d been holding it together… sort of. But when he says that, my brain goes crazy. I went from trying not to think about anything, to overthinking everything. Of course I have a lot to worry about. That’s why I don’t want them to come tonight. If I stutter over my words. Or forget a line and have to go flipping through my notebook to find it. Or if my lenses really do fall out and, because I’m clumsy af, I step on them instead of picking it up, I don’t want any of them to be there for that. Especially my mother who would never let me live it down.

“Oh my God,” my sister says, bouncing down the stairs and into the kitchen. Her dark brown hair is twisted into a crown, like mine, except neater. She’s definitely going out. And I should definitely head back upstairs and fix my hair. It’s a high school open mic, maybe a messy bun would be better. “You write like a, I don’t know, someone who writes well. They won’t care about how you sound just what you wrote. Picture them in their underwear. That’s supposed to help, right? Bye mami, papi, I’ll see you later.”

“Where are you going,” my mother asks, as Ximena squeezes past where I’m standing by the table and the wall.

“Out.” She says. “Good luck.”

“Ximena, where–” But she’s gone before my mother can finish her name.

“You have to go.” My dad says to me, glancing at the black and white clock with the penguin face that matches the rest of the penguin themed stuff in the kitchen. My mom has a thing for penguins. None of us know why. “Stop stalling.”

“You’re right.” I say with a sigh and head toward the living room and the front door on the other side of it. “Bye papi.”

He leaves the stove to kiss my cheek and wish me good luck.

“I still don’t know why you don’t want us to come.” My mother mutters as I pass her and my baby brother, Santiago where they relax on the couch.

“It’s your first day off in a while.” I say. “You should enjoy the time at home.”

“Ah-huh.” My mother says. “I won’t judge you.”

“I know.” I lie, putting on my shoes. “You guys can come to the next one.”

“Okay.” She says, and for a sec, I think she looks upset. Or disappointed? But then her show comes back from the commercial break, and she turns the volume up. “Good luck. I don’t know how you manage to be so quiet with the family you come from, but you got it inside you.”

“Thanks.” I tell her, the surprise written on my face in neon sharpie. Then I’m heading out the door, locking up, and walking the fifteen minutes to school. Taking the bus would put me there too soon. And my heart’s not ready for that with how hard it’s pounding.

When I get there, I get pulled along in a group of at least fifteen kids all headed to the auditorium. Which is almost full. Five hundred chairs. And people still coming in.

Aren’t things like this uncool? An open mic for the literary magazine? How did so many of them hear about it? I hadn’t known it was a thing until my English teacher told me she’d submitted my piece a month ago, and that I should go to the celebratory open mic. It wasn’t till today that I found out she’d also signed me up to read.

“Hey girl.” I jump when I realize that my best friend, Jalissa’s talking to me. “You okay?”

“Yeah, fine. I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“Because your hands are shaking.”

I look down at my hands, shaking slightly as I hold my bag to my chest.

“Oh,” I say. “I guess they are.”

“You should sit,” she says. “And calm down.”

“Yeah, okay.” I say. “Right.”

Is it possible for your brain to short circuit? Because mine is. Right now.

So many voices, and faces. And this is coming from among them. When I’m on stage, staring out at it all”’

“Breath.” Lissa says, shaking me a little. “You need water?”

“I have some.”

“Then drink it. And relax, it’s starting.”

I sit through five poems–beautifully read, one song, I wish I could sing, and a spoken word piece. Really? Right before mine? A piece with all that flare and fire and now they’re calling my name. And Lissa’s wishing me good luck. And everyone is staring as  I walk up there.

“Um.” I say, then jump a little at my voice being amplified. Is that reY how I sound? “Okay, so, um, I’m going to be reading a poem.” I close my eyes. Then open them, what am I doing? I have to read. I mean, I think I know it by heart but”’

“You’re gonna be fine!” Someone shouts. A stranger. Why are they being encouraging.

My heart’s pounding in my chest, throat… my whole body. But I can’t just stand here. So I clear my throat and open my mouth.

Ginelle, A Character Portrait

This is the second part of the character portrait. assignment. For the real person, I chose one of my favorite people in the world, my sister (but, shhh, don’t tell her I said that, it might go to her head).

***

Ginelle Wynter

The stillness of anticipation is punctuated by shouts of encouragement:

“You got this!” “Yaas, Ginelle!” “Breathe!”

Back straight, feet at hip width. Knees bent as the bar is lifted. Then the explosion: bar against hips, push from the heels, jump the feet out, arms straight, knees bent in a squat. 64 kilos above a carefully styled halo of dark coils. She breaths out in a sigh of relief as she drops the bar back to the platform. She thanks no god for success earned through five years of hard work.

It was her final lift of the day. So now she could settle in and continue shouting her own encouragements to teammates and strangers alike. It was something she loved about the crossfit community: there was competition, yes and sometimes drama (personality clashes were inevitable in large groups), but over all everyone supported one another.

“You killed it today!” A voice called from behind her. Both women were leaving the changing room after a day of mostly successful lifts.

“You too,” she said, her smile genuine as she looked back at Kayleigh. “And thanks again for that acupuncture appointment, there was a lot less tightness in my hips during the lifts. Think I got more relief in that half hour than the hour long massage sessions.”

“No problem. And how’s the back?” Kayleigh asked, her long dark hair–shaved up front but in a ponytail behind–moved with her as they walked over to the cubbies. Ginelle stood four inches taller than Kayleigh’s five feet, an average height that was often dwarfed by the people in her life.

“It’s like a whole new body part,” Ginelle said, stretching to demonstrate. “You’d never think I pulled anything.”

Putting on her hip-length red puffer, she prepared to head out into New York City’s frigid winter as they confirmed next weekend’s plans to watch Wicked.

“1 2 3 4 5,” she murmured, flipping through the cards in her wallet in a practiced gesture before returning it to her pocket.

As she and Kayleigh wove their way through the platforms, they paused so as not to cross the sight line of a teammate practicing for tomorrow’s competition. “You got this, Brit!” She shouted.

“See you tomorrow, Sarah!” Kayleigh directed the last at another member, getting in the last of her lifts as well. “You and Sarah are the only coaches in tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah.” Ginelle said, reaching the door at last. “See you next week.”

“See you girl,” Kayleigh’s tone was distracted as she turned her attention to another lifter.

As Ginelle stepped into a blast of cold air, her clear, caramel colored face tinged red with cold. She tucked a fold of her black infinity scarf closer to her ear. Then, lifting her phone from her pocket, she began to scroll through notifications as she walked.A message from Kiki: Auntie, can you help me with my math when you get home? Another from Mischief–with a profile photo of a dark-skinned man–let’s go after the gym tomorrow, I’ll pick you up. And finally, an email with the subject line: “I Miss You, Can We Talk”. As she waited at a light, she opened Safari and began to type: how to block an email address. Her phone rang, obscuring the search results. Fumbling with gloves and scarf, she plugged her earpiece in and answered the phone.

“Hey, Beans!” She said, voice raised in both cheer and the need to talk over the passing Franklin Avenue shuttle train.

“Nedy!” Her sister said, the childhood nickname familiar to her ear. “You finished with the gym?”

“Yeah.”

“How’d it go?”

“I PR’ed my snatch!” She said, before launching into a detailed description of the day. “Now I’m starving. I thought about getting some festivals from that Jamaican place we went to last time, remember? But I think mommy cooked.”

“What’d she make?”

“Stew chicken, again, I think,” she said, adjusting the strap of her book bag.

“Why don’t you get a shake,” her sister suggested. “You’ve been craving it forever and you deserve it.”

“Nah,” she said, raising eyebrows that she had attempted to shape that morning but had ultimately given up on, at a diminutive Asian woman shouting at a group of children. “I’m saving that for when we head to Black Tap. You know my motto: if you gonna cheat, do it right. For that shake with a side of burger”’ I can hold out a few more days.”

Her sister laughed, then proceeded to reminisce about the last time they had gone to Black Tap. Ginelle interjected occasionally, but from all appearances she seemed content to let her ramble on. Well, that is, until she remembered the email. When there was a lull in chatter she said:

“Guess who contacted me today.”

Her sister sighed. “I thought you blocked him.”

“Yeah, on everything but email.”

“Whatcha gonna do about him?”

“I don’t know,” she said, looking surprised when she found herself at the turnstiles. “I don’t know what to do, how else to get through to him, he clearly knows I blocked him everywhere else.”

“There is a New Lots bound 3 train approaching the station.”

“Listen, Beans.” she said, skirting around two women shouting at each other over the screams of a child in a stroller between them. “I’m gonna call you back, the train’s here, then I gotta go deal with mommy”’ we’ll talk later.”

“Kay, talk to you later, Bob.” her sister said, using the latest in a series of strange nicknames that ginelle accepted without question.

She slipped onto the train, just as the doors closed. Her grin of triumph is soon replaced by a smile of affection as she returned to Mischief’s messages.

“Ginelle.” her mother’s Caribbean accented voice broke through her reveries the moment she stepped into the house. “We need to talk. You thirty, you’s a big woman, and I can’ tell you what to do with your house but”'”

The words seemed to roll over her as she went through the motions of unlayering. She murmured responses to her mother as she moved toward the stairs, her bare feet a whisper over the dark carpet, to the comfort of her two toned green room. Upon dropping her book bag in the corner, and changing into house clothes–sweatpants and the Game of Thrones T-shirt with the direwolf on one side and dragon on the other, she settled onto the yoga mat beside her partially opened closet and pulled up the Head Space app. As the British accented man guided her through meditative visualizations, her shoulders, which had tensed the moment she entered her home, began to relax.