Conversation between Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Blog editors, Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente, talk about their writing lives and its challenges, writers who inspire them, the importance of an artistic community, and, of course, blogging and their plans for the Inklette blog!


Maria Prudente: Hi, Joanna. I’m going to start us off here and begin with sharing a little about me. I grew up in the suburbs of a tiny university town in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I tacked up pictures of New York City behind my bed. I always knew I wanted to be an actress, so I moved a few weeks after I graduated high school to begin my conservatory program in musical theatre. It was super intense. I barely remember eating, sleeping or talking to people, really, but it helped me get started on my career at 19 and, I never looked back. When I was younger I made everything so romantic and that included how I viewed my life as a performer but being an actor is tough. Your dreams build and break within an instant. A couple of years ago, I found myself emotionally and creatively depleted. I wanted to create myself all over again. My brain was hungry and I longed to fulfill the academic in me. Now, I’m at Columbia in my second year studying Creative Writing. Before I go more into detail on that, I want to know about you and your life at the University of Waterloo where you are studying English and Theatre, correct?

Joanna Cleary: Correct! I grew up in Toronto, Ontario (that’s in Canada, eh) and, much like you always knew you wanted to act, I somehow always knew that I wanted to write. Even though I didn’t start to write creatively until I was a teenager, my childhood was consumed with books and visits to the library. I found there was a specific sense of peace within the worlds that the written word created, one which I couldn’t always find in real life. Because I spent multiple periods in my childhood struggling with anxiety, retreating to these worlds offered me a break from my own problems. I found that reading, and later, writing, helped me understand myself and the world around me more deeply. As I began to branch out into writing plays as well as poetry and the occasional rambling short story, I realized I want to create worlds that do for other people what the written word did for me growing up; I want to help people escape, reflect on who they are, and find the strength to return to reality more prepared to cope with it. This brings me to a question I have for you, Maria – how did you first get into writing?  

MP: I started writing as a kid. It offered me a sense of relief. You mentioned struggling with anxiety which I can completely identify with and it all began in my childhood. Growing up I could put on this face of being very normal and, you know, playing flashlight tag with the other kids in the neighborhood, but, I also felt like an outsider. I was the only kid with a single parent who also happened to be sick. I spent an unusual amount of time worrying. I was alone a lot. We didn’t have as much money as the other families. When you are a kid, your imagination is what keeps you company but, I found that writing was a more immediate way to express myself. I could create the worlds of other people and writing allowed me to consistently return to those worlds.

JC: I completely agree that your imagination keeps you company when you’re a child, but, especially as you grow up, writing can offer a more direct way to create the worlds you want to make real. Having always been an introvert, I also felt like a bit of an outsider many times during my childhood. I often felt as though there was something about other people that I didn’t quite understand, or that I was afraid of. Reading and writing helped me cope with this, as I didn’t need the people in books to understand me; I was happy just to co-exist in their worlds. Growing up, I often became extremely irritated when watching book-to-movie adaptations that didn’t create the exact world I had imagined for the book in question (which was most of the time, if not always). However, as I continued to grow older (and realized that I may have a slightly obsessive need for control), I realized that subjectivity is one of the most empowering aspects of art. Nobody can ever completely control how another person writes, as we all have unique writing styles, as well as writing ideas, that can’t ever be truly micromanaged by others. With this in mind, I began to delve into writing as a form of emotional expression that created the worlds I knew I imagined and nobody else did, at least not in the same way. Do you find writing to be an immediate form of expression for you as well?

MP: Absolutely. Today, it’s still a great relief to put a word to a feeling. The writing program at Columbia has challenged me in such a wonderful way. It’s humbling to sit in a workshop and listen to people read your work aloud without you, the writer, being able to explain it or justify your choices. I admit I am hypersensitive. I have all but cried when a piece gets gutted because one tiny moment in the story doesn’t click with them. I try not to sit and self-loathe. I’m getting better but some days can be harder than others. I do care a lot but I try to pick what’s necessary to think about for revision and what isn’t. I try to stay focused on improving content and less on perceptions of my work over all. Some things will resonate deeply with people and some things won’t. How do you deal with workshops and critiques of your work? How do you move forward?

JC: I can be extremely sensitive to feedback if I feel that my work is misinterpreted. For instance, if I write a piece that specifically intends to play with the conventions of typical narrative structure and people spend all their time talking about how they don’t understand the lack of a proper beginning/middle/end, I’ll struggle not to dismiss feedback as having missed the entire point of what I was trying to do. My childhood desire for control clearly has not diminished in the slightest. However, the creative writing and play development workshops I’ve participated in throughout my university education have taught me that everyone has something useful to say, even if I may not agree with it. For instance, comments made by people talking about the lack of a conventional narrative arc in a piece without a clearly defined beginning/middle/end may help me understand that I need to be clearer about my aesthetic intentions. As a creative writing professor once told me, we’re usually the most defensive about criticism we know is true. Hence, I always try to keep an open mind when listening to feedback, even if my gut reaction is to shut down. If I succeed, I often find that people offering feedback can help me as much as my initial sources of writing inspiration. Speaking of which, can you speak to which writers influence you?

MP:  When I was eleven, I stole “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides from my brother’s bookshelf and read it over and over. I became obsessed with that story the same way the boys in the book grow obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. I read the
“The Marriage Plot” on a trip to London and had to stop reading because I was irritated I hadn’t written it myself. I like the darkness to Eugenides’ work. I’m a massive fan of playwrights. After getting the chance to put their work into action, it’s hard not to feel creatively committed to them. From Shaw, Strindberg, and Chekhov to John Osborne, Ariel Dorfman, Mamet, Rabe, LaBute. I think Leslie Jamison should be required reading for nonfiction writers on how to master work that combines the personal with research. My list keeps growing as I keep learning. Who are you favorite writers?

JC: I love e.e. cummings, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Sarah Kay, Lauren Groff, and Hanya Yanagihara (in no particular order). One of my favourite hobbies, however, is picking up a writing collection or visiting an online magazine, going to a random page, and reading what’s on there. I love discovering new artists as much as I love revisiting familiar ones. Becoming suddenly acquainted with the unique style of a contemporary artist I have never heard of before often inspires me to continue writing when I feel stuck. It’s important to remember what makes you want to write and what you want to write for. I often find simply being exposed to the sheer desire to write and the energy that the written word can have compels me to write for those moments and emotions in my own life that can’t be expressed in any other way. What about you – what you you write for/against? What compels you to write?

MP: I do feel this urgency to write about what repulses me. I had a professor encourage this notion to our small group of maybe six writers last summer. It’s tougher in non-fiction. In that particular class, I started writing about being a hypochondriac and having contamination OCD. I’d had some distance from it so I understood that I could imbue some humor into it because on some level it is funny. It also feels deeply selfish. I was a nervous wreck to share that with my class but they encouraged me to go even further. That same summer I had this assignment that I didn’t like. We had to do an art review and I was having a tough time picking one piece so, I ended up writing this ultra-cynical meta-critique on several paintings and simulations. It ended up being this dark-humor commentary on corporatized art in Chelsea. I had clearly made a mistake choosing Chelsea Galleries and yet it worked! I would say that I am like most non-fiction writers: I write to understand. I have to ask because we are co-editors for Inklette, do you have any prior experience writing blogs?

JC: Almost none! Aside from a writing a few Inklette blog posts over the past few years, blogging is a new medium for me. This is why, after having been a poetry reader/dditor ever since I joined Inklette, I wanted to try and form of writing with which I have less experience. I’ve always been interested in creative nonfiction and I love reading blogs because they are often intimately related with the idea of knowing writers as people. I believe that is essential to the empathetic interpersonal bonds that writing creates. However, I know that you have a blog because I’ve shamelessly stalked you on it. Tell me more about your blogging experience!    

MP: Oh gosh! Sometimes I forget that it’s out there and I suddenly feel naked. I didn’t know you posted for Inklette before, that’s so cool! My blog, Pink Moon, is a year old. It is a mixture of the political and the poetic. It’s not meant to be polished, it’s messy and honest. I insert my voice in the kinds of work I post there but, for Inklette, I think the work should primarily be about telling the stories of others and exploring shared conversations. Supporting other writers, learning about them and reading what they have to say is so important for our growth as writers.

JC: I agree – community is essential to the life of writing, which is why I’m thrilled to be working on the Inklette blog with you. As for everyone reading, we hope that you’ll stick around for more messiness, opinions, art, and random tidbits coming your way.

MP: Agreed! Stay tuned!


149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Subterranean Blue Poetry, among others.

 

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MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

 

826 LA

Inklette’s blog shall be featuring organisations, groups and individuals from all across the world that work to promote creativity among children and underrepresented communities. 

We would like to thank 826LA for being a part of this initiative. Special thanks to Art and Photography Editor, William Higgins. 


 

From the Crazy World Down Here                      

Deisy Garcia

 

Dear grandma,

 

I miss you a lot and I wish we could be together right now. People from el rancho would tell my family, “Oh! She looks just like her grandma!” And I only saw you when I was eleven months old, basically a baby. I don’t have many memories of you.

I have a short, faint memory of you, grandpa, and your son—my dad—when I was running around in the summer where there were crops and dirt. You were all running around, you were giggling and laughing, and so was I. But I still love you a lot. Cancer dragged you out of this world and God knows why. And a couple of months later my dearly loved grandpa took flight and went to the wonderful paradise with you. I just miss you a lot, and I hope to see you one day and be with you forever and ever, and laugh and play with you and grandpa.

I wish that we were together, with grandpa too, and never ever be separated.

 

From the crazy world down here,                                   

Deisy ❤


Just One Day

Samuel Luis

 

All I know is that I used to be a nice kid that would do his work and was focused on his future. With time, that vision I had about myself faded away. Now it seems like I don’t care, but really, inside me I feel bad about myself. When I try to refocus and try to get back on track, it seems like it runs away from me and I go back to not caring. The teachers’ words come through one ear and come out from the other. My mom tries to talk to me but sometimes I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know what it is. I want to get back on that track of success. I argue with my mom a lot now and I feel bad for my mom because she has to deal with me. I feel sad and worried about my mom’s health, she works hard to support us since my dad left to Mexico, not caring about us. That’s why I just wish  I could go back in time and try to change stuff I did. Change something. Change what I did wrong. At least just change one little small thing that would change my future, my present, my past, change something in time. Then I think about it, maybe this is how my life is supposed to be. Maybe God decided to make my life take this path. On times when I’m sad I tend to believe maybe God doesn’t exist, maybe he is just fake. I have asked myself that question and can’t come to the conclusion of whether he exists or not. Why does my life have to be like this? Did I choose for my life to be like this? Maybe I’m looking at my life from the wrong perspective, maybe I need to think deeper. Just maybe I need to think better about my life. All I know is that I will one day change and will get back on that track of success that I seek, and will become that kid that I once was. Not the same but similar. Just one day I will seek what I’m seeking: peace between my thoughts and my feelings. Just one day all the arguing with my mom will stop and there will be peace. Just one day I will have peace. Just one day.


Blue Nail Polish

Nadia Villegas

 

Blue nail polish has a big meaning for me

To others it is just a color

To others it is just nail polish

Blue is my favorite color

After all, blue is the most popular color in the world

Yet that is not why I like blue nail polish

I believe that blue nail polish transcends gender and sexuality

I am surrounded by people wearing blue nail polish, whether they are a boy or girl

 

This is amazing because blue nail polish allows you to express yourself

No matter who you are

 

Yet there are ignorant people that think it’s not right for men to wear blue nail polish

How can such a small little jar of the color blue bring such discrimination?

There is no law or rule anywhere that says men can’t wear blue nail polish

Yet people find it a problem

Why do stupid people start opening their big mouths by calling them gay?

Blue nail polish is freedom

Blue nail polish is expression

Blue nail polish is defiance

Blue nail polish is ignoring what other people think and staying true to yourself


Who Is “Pretty”?

Michael Rodriguez

 

To be “Pretty” takes responsibility,

Cute is Ugly’s best friend,

But Is Ugly really a thing?

You can not call another “Ugly” if you

Can not look at yourself as “Pretty”

Pretty is Perfection,

The real you, it is the best version of you.

Pretty is Reflection,

Reflection on any major events that make you unique.

Pretty is Effort,

The more effort you put to think you are “pretty.”

 

Pretty is Thoughtful,

Thinking of others can affect you more than another.

Pretty is Time,

It takes time to call yourself reliable.

Pretty is Youthful,

Unite with any generation showing purity and youth.


It Has No Meaning

Daniela Martinez

 

Have you ever had someone tell you, “You’re ugly!’’ or, “You are NOT pretty!’’?

Lies, LIES!!!

 

I mean no one, NO ONE, was born good looking or perfect.

“Pretty,” that word can make you feel better or sometimes worse. To me, the word “Pretty” really doesn’t mean a lot.

All the time, ALL THE TIME, I used to get bullied, and all because of that word.

People tell me that I am ugly, that no one will ever go out with me. I mean, some girls say, “Who needs guys anyways?!’’ I totally agree. Dating can wait.

But times change and people change. Time changes when you don’t expect it and people change when they hurt you verbally or physically.

 

I was too scared to go to school because I knew that once I stepped into class, I was going to get bullied. I always heard that they called me names behind my back. When I was at school the only thing I could think about was getting home. By the time I got home, I cried like a baby. And ‘til this day I feel that I am dead on the inside. Thanks to those people, I am shy around people, I am not social, and I am quiet. People that know me don’t know that. Now they know. I am just dead on the inside.

 

I can love my family and friends, but the people that hurt me—NOT EVEN ONE BIT!!! Every time I see them I feel like I want to torture them for every moment they made me suffer. I don’t want anyone suffering like I did. I just heard that my friend got beaten up by a tenth grader. I heard how they called him names. People that go through that: SPEAK UP!!! Don’t stay quiet the same way that I did. It is NEVER too late to say, “STOP!!!”


Who has the rough face now?

Lily Rodriguez

 

I was bullied when I was little for a lot of reasons. I hit puberty at a young age, especially acne. I never had the ability to control how my body was working. I never wanted all the other kids at school to make fun of me because my face was not as smooth as theirs. All the other kids would tell me, “You need some Proactive.”  I did in fact use Proactive, but it only made my face breakout even more. I tried all the acne products, like Proactive, Neutrogena, and even used a lemon. My mother told me to stop touching my face continuously. My mother eventually ran out of money to buy all these products and gave up for a while. It seemed like everywhere I would go I was never safe from these judgments. I began to think that it was not natural for a second grader to be taller than other children in the class, and to have a face that was rougher than all of the other children’s smooth faces. I even began to take birth control pills in the fourth grade! I had to follow so many rules, like not eating certain things at certain times. For example, not eating two hours before taking the pill and waiting thirty minutes after I took the pill to eat. I hated my skin. It was not natural. As I got older, my acne started to fade away; however, the scars still make an appearance.


Barbie

Ciro Benitez

 

I remember a time when I truly missed someone. It’s usually not a good feeling when your pet dies. There are times when you have bad days and all that cheers you up is your pet. My family had a guinea pig, our second one. We adopted her from Petco, four months after our first guinea pig died.

 

She was really cute. I loved her so much that at times it was torture for her. It felt amazing every time I held her, fed her, and overall being with her. When she was dying I felt as if my heart was torn out of my body and thrown into a chest, never to be opened ever again. I felt sad but my eyes didn’t even water. She was struggling to walk in her cage, she couldn’t keep her balance and her whole body would tilt over when she tried. I attempted to feed her but she couldn’t chew. My mom was by my side and maybe that’s why I didn’t shed at least one tear. I don’t like crying in front of others, not even my family. At some point, Barbie––that was her name––just stayed in one spot. She was still breathing but I knew she wouldn’t be moving from that spot. My mom put a big towel over the cage and I went to sleep that night in the same room where my guinea pig was. I will forever remember Barbie and of course every other pet companion I have had or will ever have.


My Thoughts on Prison

Nasim Zarenejad

 

Prison is a place with a lot of personalities. At first you only see delinquents and rebels roaming around the hallways trying to act tough and brave. But if you took a second glance and understood each and every person carefully, you can see that most of them don’t have a simple life but a complicated one. Each and every person has their own story, which brought them to that bad place known as prison. They all had a reason to come to that nightmare and they need help. They committed a crime because of a mistake they wish they had never done, or because of an urge for a pleasure because they couldn’t control themselves.  Regardless of whether they regret what they did or not, they all need help emotionally and mentally. I believe that prison should not be a punishment for their crimes or mistakes but a somewhat “school” where they all could learn to understand and fix their problems.


 

Top places I want to go to

Milanka Patterson

 

The top places I want to go to are Paris, Hawaii, New York, Florida, London, and Guatemala. There are probably many other places, but I want to go to those for now.

 

Paris:

 

Paris is such an amazing place and I want to got here because of all their amazing food and of course, to see the Eiffel Tower. I also know there’s lots of things about modeling in Paris, so that’s another reason to go!

 

Florida:

 

I want to go to to Florida because it’s very beachy and summery like Hawaii. I mostly want to go there because of Disney World and to go to Miami and see an alligator in somebody’s pool.

 

Guatemala:

 

I want to to go Guatemala because there are lot of volcanoes there and I really want to see a volcano! Plus, I have family there and I heard they have beaches with black sand––I want to see that! It also seems very adventurous and I love adventures!

 

Hawaii:

 

I want to go there SOOO BADLY! I will one day. It’s super beautiful––all the animals, the beaches, and all of the different activities. I can’t even explain how many things I would do, all the pictures I would take.

 

New York:

 

I also want to go to New York because all the headquarters for acting and modeling are there. Plus, all the lights! The fashion shows! Everything!!!

 

London:

 

I don’t really know why I want to go to London, but I do and I guess it’s because of the queens and kings. I think that’s cool.

 

How would I get there?

 

Whenever I travel, I go with my family. But as I get older maybe my family won’t want to be traveling all the time. So instead, I would want to go with my best friends! Imagine going on plane rides, staying in hotels, going on adventures in a city you’ve never explored before with the people you love! That is my ideal life and how I would want to spend it!


Mexico

Luz R.

 

Mexico is important to me and my family because Mexico is the place where my mom, dad, uncles, aunts, and cousins were born. My mom and dad were born in San Sebastian Tutla. They left when they got married, and haven’t seen their moms and dads in a long time. Whenever I go there they take the trip seriously because instead of them going to Mexico, they send us to visit the family. Whenever we go to Mexico they get sad because they would like to see their families.


The Lake

By Xavyer Fletes

 

There is a myth that people tell of the forest in Pikoro Village. They say in the heart of the forest is a big lake that is full of life, animals, and plants. The lake is said to have a magical essence of a celestial spirit who was once a king. He was the king of the Fiore region. He was the greatest king ever, he made sure the citizens were never in poverty. He made sure everyone was healthy. The kingdom was at the highest point of its renaissance, but the prince was jealous that everyone loved the king and had never paid attention to the prince. The prince took the king’s life, poisoning him with a box of vipers. He put it in the king’s bed and in the morning the king was dead. When the king died the spirits had given him a second chance, but in another form; he would be a lake and control what happens around it. The king wanted the people who drink from it to have some kind of power, so they can carry on his legacy and capture the people who are ill-hearted. To get there is a treacherous journey. Only people who pass are pure of heart, but the people who are tainted are usually not able to come back in one piece, mentally or physically. The king is able to tell who is pure of heart by making a series of challenges they have to pass. He can sense the essence of good-hearted and tainted-hearted people. The king makes sure if they are good-hearted by the test he lays out. The ones who do get through in one piece (which are tainted) would run at the chance of power and destroy everything at sight. The lake has one more defense of action. The sirens would drag the tainted-hearted to the deepest part of the lake and never let them go. The good-hearted people who drink from the lake are granted any power their heart desires.


Venice Beach, California

Ashla Chavez Razzano

 

The salty sea air of Venice Beach, California drifts through the beach town’s streets and past my window. The sun is covered in gloomy marine-layer this morning, like every morning, until the warmth of the afternoon burns through the grey. I spend my time on my roof, balancing above the incline. Balancing above the longtime-locals that roam the streets, artists and surfer and skaters alike. On my roof, I gaze at the streets’ movement and distant buildings, trees, and mountains. At different times of day, the scene changes, reflecting the change in mood of the community. My favorite time to be here is dawn, when the fresh scent of day is soft and cold, and the dim blue sky is slightly illuminated by the oncoming sun (5:35 AM). Soon the morning becomes noon and the warmth of the day reaches its peak. Summer, and weekends, the crowds of locals and currents of tourists run through the neighborhood, holding skateboards and backpacks full of towels with sand stuck to their flip flops. This is when chatter fills the air, with my neighbor’s “oldies-radio” playing loud from their front yard. The day is anything but still (3:17 PM).

 

By the evening, my neighbor’s radio has been turned off, and behind my home I see other locals chain smoking on outside tables, holding conversation as the sky darkens and their windows’ lights create shadows under their tapping feet. With the dozen or so restaurants and bars and cafes on my street, there’s still a distant chatter. It’s calm and soft, but surrounded by movement (6:53 PM).


 

Did you know…

Estefania Flores

 

You grab

the ball, you dribble

and you shoot. You throw

the ball after you aim, and

eagerly watch the round sphere, hoping

it will go through the net. You can’t

travel or kick the ball. You

cannot even dribble with

two hands. Yes, I play basketball.    

I don’t look like the kind of

girl that plays a sport. But… I’m #14

on the court, don’t judge.


MISSION STATEMENT:  826LA is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. With this in mind, we provide after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each student’s power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice.

Here’s Why Art Is Never Easy

BY NILESH MONDAL

If you thought it was going to be easy, it’s not. It never was.

When musicians are complimented on their compositions, it’s not their talent alone you’re applauding. You’re cheering for their story, you’re cheering for all those moments they split their hand open on the strings of their instrument, bathing its wooden body in their blood. This ritual is what makes up their music.

How a pint of blood loses life, turns into a mess which must be doused in industrial solvent to be removed, becomes a stain which looks like spilling wine on ebony, while the instrument slowly takes a life of its own, screeches and screams and tugs at our hearts like a newborn come into this watching world, that’s how music is born.

Art always had its story.

Every photograph, Polaroid or digital, plastic or gigabytes of memories and moments, it all came from a story. The story of a woman standing in front of a bulldozing crowd, with beating heart that trembles but never runs.

The belief that what she stands for is worth standing for, even in the face of a stampede or reckless bullets striving to find target. The story of a toddler smiling, eyes wide, cheeks wrinkled, the first moment one realises our bodies aren’t bodies but a circus of human emotions, that they can flex their muscles and make someone laugh along, stretch their throat into producing cries which brings people running to attend to their needs.

Years later when the toddler would grow up, they’ll learn how easy it had been all along to stand on trembling legs in front of a lover walking through the ruins of their spirit, how it feels to become a roaming tongue stroking sparks into fire.

Every poem tells a story.

Every brush stroke on naked canvas talks to you. You’ve only got to listen.

If you thought it was going to be easy, it wasn’t.

Nothing is.

Our love is an apartment on fire and we run around in circles trying to find an exit hatch, or a room in the basement where we’ll be safe when the flames run out. Our lives are struggles, to bear witness, to speak out, to stand for something which we believe is worth standing for. If you thought it is easy, it isn’t. But easy, isn’t always beautiful.

The artists will tell you that.


150001269352842.gifNILESH MONDAL, 23, is an engineer by choice, and poet by chance. His works have been published in various magazines and e-journals like Bombay Literary Review, Café Dissensus, Muse India, Inklette, Kitaab, Coldnoon Travel Poetics, etc. He was one of the winners of Juggernaut’s Short Story Contest in 2016. He currently works as a writer for Terribly Tiny Tales and Thought Catalog, as prose editor for Moledro Magazine, and is an intern at Inklette Magazine. His first book of poetry, Degrees of Separation, (Writers Workshop), was released in June 2017 and debuted at #2 of the Amazon Bestseller list of Poetry.

 

Jump

Illustration by Priyanka Paul

Illustration by Priyanka Paul

A set of keys, a typewriter with a letter in it and a photo collage; a forced elongation of happiness. Symbols that commemorate a state of consciousness that could never be accurately reproduced. We didn’t buy gifts to each other that year, the shared experience of jumping off a bridge into the Corinth canal was enough. We would unburden ourselves of everything, including reason, and take the leap. What would take a few more weeks to acknowledge is that we plunged into nothingness alone. Before the ropes broke our fall we felt free, alone. When they signaled me I wasn’t ready to be pulled up for I’d lose that which made me dive, head first, into the unknown. The keys adorn the coffee table, the ring has been removed. The letter has been folded and stored inside a book whose words have swallowed it whole. But as I write these words on the old typewriter, my eyes drawn to the empty frame on the wall, I know we did ourselves proud; we let ourselves jump, despite the fall.


ELENI CHELIOTI was awarded her PhD in English Literature hours before she received her stethoscope, as a doctor should. She is currently living and working in Athens, Greece. She’s only ever written about the things she cannot utter. Her short stories ‘Stealing Time’ and ‘Only Lust’ were recently published in The Rusty Nail and Heart & Mind Zine respectively. She also has a blog:  http://darkcaffeinematter.blogspot.com

 

PRIYANKA PAUL is a humanities student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She’s a self taught artist and loves to experiment with different mediums. She also writes and most of her written work is accompanied by her illustrations. Her art is highly influenced by social issues, gender studies and a basic liberal outlook of the world.

Into The Night

The wooden slats of the timeworn, dilapidated porch groaned underneath my feet as I stepped to the edge and looked up into the vastness. The Georgia night sky was as dark as I’d ever seen it. With heavy eyes I contemplated the black, hypnotized by the millions of miniscule specks that danced and flickered against the velvet backdrop. “I don’t remember there ever being so many,” I whispered into the cool air, knowing there was no one there to hear me. Grief ripping through my heart, I closed my eyes against the pain and began to sway, allowing the breeze to swirl around and wrap me in its tranquil embrace. Instinctively, I reached up and rubbed my palms against my bare shoulders to fend off the chill causing the soft hairs on my arms to rise.  The gust continued its twirling path down and around my body, ruffling the bottom of my loose, black dress. Filling with a sense of contentment, I sighed and thanked the night for its attempt at consoling.

 I opened my eyes and breathed in, pulling the air through my nose and allowing it to expand into my lungs until they were tight with pressure. The sweet smell of magnolias embedded in the breeze triggered my senses to come alive, sending my mind reeling back to a time of pure innocence. Wrapping my arms around myself, I stared into the shadows and allowed the memories come flooding into my consciousness.

“Watch Momma!” I shouted from the middle of an overgrown field with my arms outstretched to the sky above me, my tiny hand clutching tight a glass Mason jar. My five-year-old self was running and jumping into the air causing my long dark curls to trail in my wake.  Dusk was setting in and the sky layered on its bedtime ensemble. Deep blue folds pressed down from above causing the brilliance of the sun to succumb to its power. As the yellow melted into the earth, it hissed its flames into the dark only to be extinguished by the inevitably swelling black.

“I see you baby! You be careful now.” Momma stood watching from our old but sturdy farmhouse. The once white, two-story structure sat in the middle of a forty-acre farm worked by my father from dawn to dark. The expansive wrap around porch provided the house a look of refinement though many of the railing spindles were loose or altogether missing. The wood slats of the floor were always swept and clean and a two person swing hung at the far end, just past the front door.

Hearing my mother’s voice, I turned to see her leaning on the support post, hip resting against the railing. In the fading light of day, I could just make out the expression on her face. A soft smile rested on her lips as she looked at me with adoration. Her dress, though simple and plain, fell flatteringly over her slim figure and accentuated the curves of her waist. Her Italian heritage had gifted her with smooth, olive-colored skin that radiated vibrancy and youth. We shared the same dark, flowing curls though hers were kept shorter with the coils lightly dusting her shoulders. I thought her to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

“Momma!” I cried out again. “I got four of ‘em. See!” I held up the jar with my hand now pressed over the opening. Inside, four insects flitted about, lighting up in unsynchronized choreography. I ran towards the porch as graceful as my little legs could carry me, grinning with absolute pride and satisfaction. I dashed up the steps and rounded the corner to show off my prize. “Look Momma,” I said in between gasps of breath. “Look how pretty they are.” I stood on tiptoes, pushing the thick glass up as close to her face as I could so she might gaze upon my treasure.

“Yes, they certainly are beautiful.”

“I want to keep ‘em inside by my bed so I can look at ‘em every night,” I whispered to her as we both watched the glowing lights with fascination.

“If you do that honey, they’re gonna die.  You don’t want that now do you?”  She smiled down at me and ran a loving hand over my head, smoothing my tousled curls.

“I don’t wanna let ‘em go.” Large drops filled my eyes and my voice caught as I started to cry. “But I don’t want ‘em to die neither.” I looked up at my mother, searching for an answer in her face. She knelt down bringing our eyes level and reached out a hand to wipe away the tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Sweetheart,” she began in her gentle Georgian lilt that always managed to calm even my most heart wrenching moments. “You should let ‘em go. I know you wanna keep ‘em but you should set ‘em free so they can fly off and light up the sky for everyone, not just us. You want other people to see how pretty they are, don’t you?”

“Ye…eh Mom…ma,” I choked out, my sobs hampering my ability to speak clearly.

“Shhhh baby. Don’t cry,” she soothed, pulling me into her warm embrace. Craving the comfort of her love, I pulled my hand from atop the jar and threw my arms around her neck to bury my face in her hair. The light smells of jasmine and lavender swirled around my nose, filling me with the solace I was seeking. She pulled back to place a gentle kiss on the tip of my nose, making me laugh.

“I think they’re gonna fly back to their families now, Momma,” I said focusing back on the jar in my hand. The bugs had climbed their way to the top but sat just inside the rim, not making any attempt to escape. “See Momma. They don’t wanna leave. They wanna stay with us.”

“No, baby.  They’re just waitin’ for you to say good-bye.”

Sniffling, I ran my forearm across my nose and took a deep breath. Taking hold of the jar with both hands, I pulled it in close to my body so I could peer down into it. The anxious insects paced along the ridges of the glass lip but still did not take flight. “Okay,” I whispered quietly to the bugs. “It’s time for you to go on home now.” The bugs halted their movement as if they were listening. “Go on now,” I said again, giving the jar a gentle shake. In unity, they flew out and circled my head. Their tiny bodies illuminated the darkness and danced in the air between my mother and me. I squealed with delight as I watched them rise higher into the sky until they were out of sight. That night I dreamed of fireflies and ballerinas.

That had been my first lesson in saying good-bye. The childhood memory didn’t diminish this new, still raw pain, but it did ease the ache. As I dragged my consciousness back to where I remained rooted, standing on that very same porch, I looked out onto the open field to see hundreds of fireflies dancing in the darkness. My heart yearned for things to be as easy as they had been back then, when it was all so simple and everyone was full of love and happiness.

Another sigh escaped my lips as the breeze took a sudden, bitter turn and snapped an icy switch across my bare legs. The sharp gusts whipped my long curls with violent thrashes and my body released an involuntary shiver causing me to wrap my arms tighter around my shoulders. I hadn’t felt this cold since…since the day I revealed the truth and watched as my mother’s heart froze over right before my very eyes. Though a reaction had been expected, one so severe had been like a slicing slap across an already tender cheek. Her adamant refusal to speak with me, to discuss further what had taken me so long to divulge, caused a piece of me to wither and die the instant I had seen the rejection in her eyes. As the flashes jabbed at my tender soul, once again my mind went plunging back.

“Momma, please,” I had begged. I remembered that fateful afternoon from so long ago as though it was only yesterday. “Please let me explain.”

“No,” she spat. “I won’t hear of this. You will not come into this house and say these things to me and expect me to understand.” Her dark eyes hardened and her lips drew pencil thin.  My heart screamed out to beg her forgiveness, but I knew she would grant no such relief. “Be glad your daddy isn’t here to watch you throw your life away!” She had always known how to drive the knife straight into the heart, though never before had I been on the receiving end. With my father’s passing just a few years prior, I still hadn’t quite adjusted to his absence. She had known this and used the barb to wound me as she knew of no other way to redirect the anguish she was feeling.

I walked away from her that day with the hope that time would soften her resolve, open her heart to me, and forgive what she believed to be my indiscretions. That time never came. For ten years I waited. For ten years I fought back the tears and the anger, yearning and hoping she could again see me as that five-year-old catching lightning bugs in the summer night air.

Now, a decade later, I had received the phone call deep in the night. It was one I had known would come sooner or later. My brother was on the line, pleading for me to come, assuring me I needed to be there. So I conceded, and drove the distance to a house I no longer called home.  Upon my arrival, I had climbed the wooden steps, sadness stinging me as I noticed how they were now covered with layers of dirt and dehydrated leaves. I passed through the doorway and into the kitchen, lit by only the dim yellow bulb over the stove. The air was tranquil and stale yet still held the faint smell of Momma’s secret recipe pasta sauce. Was I supposed to be sad? Relieved? Angry? Was it possible for me to feel them all at once? Finally, it was sorrow that won out as I passed through the hall and into my parents’ bedroom.

Not taking my eyes from the far corner of the room, I inched my way towards the quiet hum of medical equipment. I reached my destination of the old, sunken rocker sitting next to the queen size bed. I eased into it with a quiet whoosh, doing all I could not to pierce the awkward stillness. The figure that lay in the center, under the blankets, was barely recognizable to me.  Gone were the wisps of shiny dark curls and unblemished, tanned skin. They had been replaced with dry, grey stands of worn out yarn and thin, pallor skin that made my fingertips tingle at the thought of touching it. A haggard, raspy sound escaped from her lips, then rattled away. I shot a look across the bed to where my brother stood, his arm curled tightly around his wife. “I didn’t know she was this bad.  Why didn’t you tell me?” I said with an edge.

“She made me promise not to,” he said, his eyes shifting to the ground in shame. Tears ran across his face and dripped from the tip of his nose. “I thought we’d have more time,” came in a whisper from his hoarse throat.

I shook my head in disappointment and returned my gaze to the woman dying before me.  “Does she know we’re here?” I asked, not looking back at my brother.

“Doctor says no. The morphine is keeping her under, but he says she’d probably be unconscious anyway by now.”

“God, Momma,” I whispered. I took hold of her frail hand and wrapped my fingers carefully around hers.  It was the first time I had touched her in years. For an instant, I felt light from the connection. I leaned over and pressed my lips to the bony knuckles and held them there as the grief swelled inside my chest, threatening to burst through and shatter my ribs. The breaths that seeped from her dry, cracked lips were garbled and it became obvious she didn’t have many more left.

A vice began tightening against my lungs and my heart echoed in my ears with a thud so resounding I could no longer piece together a coherent thought. I knew I couldn’t stay, couldn’t remain until the end. I hadn’t the strength. I eased my way to standing, keeping the gnarled fingers still intertwined with mine. Using my free hand I smoothed the top of her unruly hair and bent to place a kiss on her temple. I rested my forehead against her clammy brow and searched for the last words I would ever say to her. A thickness formed in the back of my throat as I struggled to keep the tears at bay. A strangled sound emerged from my lips when I tried to speak. I paused, and then began again, driving down the building anger and regret. “I can forgive,” fell from my lips in a hush so low I barely heard it myself. Large drops now streamed freely down my cheeks. I made no attempt to wipe them away as I bent closer to whisper in her ear.  “Go dance with the fireflies, Momma.”  I gave her hand one final squeeze and let the gnarled fingers float back towards the sheet.  Stifling the cry forcing its way through my lips, I covered my trembling mouth and rushed from the room.

Three days had passed since that night and today we lowered the casket into the ground to remain there for eternity.  Still standing in the night air, I blinked away the tears and inhaled with a quiet gasp as I realized time had slipped away from me while I had tumbled through painful memories all the while remaining fixed to the old porch of my childhood home. The winds had all but ceased and my dress now hung limply, occasionally brushing back and forth across the tops of my knees. The sounds of the crickets had disappeared as the cool of the night swept in and silenced the remnants of evening. The quiet enveloped me as I continued to sway ever so slightly. Everything seemed surreal and I could feel the loneliness start to edge its way into me.  It nibbled at my fingertips and crawled its way up my arms, seeping into my chest in an attempt to smother my heart.

I was about to relent and let it consume me when the creak, smack of the wooden screen door sounded behind me.  Light footsteps sauntered up and a slight smile flickered across my lips.  Long, warm arms wrapped around me from behind, pulling me close to the body to which they belonged.

“How are you?” a quiet voice whispered into my right ear.

“I’m not sure.  Still trying to believe she’s really gone.” Though the loneliness had fled at the sound of the door, the dull ache still radiated through me.

“Is there anything I can do?” Warm, sweet breath danced across my cheek.

“No, love.  You being here is enough.” I smiled and ran my hands along the arms encircling my waist. My fingertips skimmed across tender flesh to the long slender fingers interlocked in front of me. I pulled the hands apart so I could turn. My heart flooded with emotion when I stared back into eyes of bright blue reflecting the love I had known for ten years.  I reached up to float my touch along the soft curves of a face filled with devotion, across full lips that smirked back at me, and up into long, silky hair that shimmered between my fingers. The smirk melted into a smile as she tilted her head down to kiss me.


CHRIS EVANS currently resides in Lebanon, Ohio with her wife and three children. She works full time as a supply chain planner for a large plastics company. Chris holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in English from Southern New Hampshire University and is currently pursing her graduate degree in English-Creative Writing with an emphasis in fiction.

Everyone Has Sad Stories

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Illustration by Allen Forrest


 
A doctor explains to you in very large words the effect of trauma, of traumatization. You want to tell him you don’t know what he means by that, what he means by “Those who have experienced trauma.” Doesn’t that mean everyone? You want to ask. Isn’t the world just one big scar? But you don’t ask him that, it might only be more evidence of your traumatized mind.

“We define trauma,” he says, “as an experience that impairs the person’s proper functioning of their stress-response system, making it more reactive or sensitive.” He also says, “An infant who is neglected or abused develops a different neural framework. They might begin to dissociate and withdraw from everyday life. Because they are outwardly quiet and compliant they are often seen as okay and ignored…” You wonder why he says “they” when what he really means is “you.”

This whole thing happened because of one “triggering event.” You’d been quietly managing through everyday life. Wake up. Bed check. Try to get the last of the Fruit Loops. Walk to school. Sit in school. Walk around. Back to the group house. Eat. Bed check. Sleep. Sure, sometimes you lost whole days, sometimes it turned out to be Friday when it was supposed to be Wednesday, but didn’t that happen to everyone? Teachers ignored you, students (mostly) ignored you, you never caused problems. While the other kids at the group home smashed things and got in fights and stole alcohol or pills, you just sat there. So why are you here?

They say they found you in the middle of the street, they say you were trying to kill yourself, but it didn’t happen that way. You just happened to stop walking, to stop, to stay still, like they were always telling you to do, be a good little girl, don’t make noise. You didn’t make noise, you were silent, still. So what’s the problem? You closed your eyes, and felt the wind of the cars fly by you. And then there was the screeching of tires, and horns and yelling. You covered your ears with your hands, because it was too much noise. You heard the sirens, but there were often sirens. Later you felt the air of someone speaking to you, close to your face, but you didn’t open your eyes. He started to shake you but you kept your hands up against your ears, kept your eyes closed. They must have pulled you away, must have put you in handcuffs (for your safety), must have covered your head as they pushed you, gently, into the back of the car.

In a room at the station it was quiet, so you opened your eyes. There was a woman sitting there. “Why’d you try to kill yourself?” she asked. You didn’t answer because she wasn’t talking to you. She got frustrated, you saw it in her face, and closed your eyes again.

Eventually, they brought you back to the group home but they didn’t make you go to school the next day. And then finally someone brought you here, to this man with the gray beard and glasses, and corduroy pants. He is sitting on the ground, which seems very strange for a grown-up to do, but you try not to think about it because you don’t like strange.

He’s still talking. “People who have experienced trauma, especially children, need to be able to control how and when they tell their stories. Only the child knows what the proper time and method of revisiting trauma is.” You think he’s talking about you again but he’s using all the wrong words. He calls you a child, but you figure you probably haven’t been a child for fifteen years. Although you also know they’ll call you that for the next three, when you turn from “child” to “no one.” He also tells you, “You can control when and how to tell your story,” but what he really means is “tell me now.” And he waits.

You know what he wants you to say. You know he’s read your chart, he knows your story, and he is almost whispering the words, willing you to say them because that will prove that he is right and you are “traumatized” but he can and will fix you. Triumph. He wants you to say it so bad and you don’t want to disappoint him so you begin to speak.

“Dawn Almarez died during childbirth. She was only 14 and didn’t go to the hospital. Her mother lived with a boyfriend, he bred pitbulls to fight. The grandmother was 30 years old. She was addicted to methamphetamines. The grandmother’s boyfriend was arrested for abusing his dogs in public. They found drugs on him. They raided the house and found a two year old infant in a dog kennel in an empty room. They took the infant to CPS and it was placed in a foster home.”

You stop speaking because the man is looking at you in a strange way.

He speaks. “You were the infant.” You feel guilty, like he’s caught you in some way, like you told the story all wrong, and he’s disappointed anyway.

Obediently you say, “Yes, I was the infant.” You feel your heart begin to race you don’t want to be in this room anymore.

“You weren’t even crying,” he says. “But that’s not unusual. You had evidence of abuse. Infants can not fight or flee from a perceived threat. Their impulse is to cry for an adult. However, most likely whenever you cried for an adult, you were abused. So you stopped crying.”

He is proud of this understanding, and you nod because you don’t want to take that from him.

That was the story he wants you to tell, so you tell it, you have it memorized, but none of it is from your memory. It is only words on a page, a history that may or may not have existed. Everyone has sad stories.

“What about growing up?” he asks you.

You don’t answer him, even though you want to, because you don’t know what he means. Growing up. You did grow, up- once you were small, now you are five feet two inches. You wonder if that’s what he means, if he wants you to tell your height but you doubt that he does. And the doctors tell you you’re too small anyway, only 95 pounds they say, always disappointed, so you don’t want to bring that up, he’s already disappointed in you.

“Foster care? The group homes?” He is trying to prompt you, like you’ve forgotten your lines and he wants you to remember.

You remember being five years old and climbing onto the kitchen counter in the middle of the night. You remember finding a can of tuna and stabbing it with scissors until it opened enough to eat it. They had forgotten to feed you again. When the teacher asked about the cuts on your hands, you just shrugged, you’d never noticed them before.

You wondered if that’s the kind of story he’d like to hear, but you don’t have the energy to tell it.

You stay silent and he continues to watch you, waiting. Your heart beats faster and you begin to sweat. It’s hard to breathe.

He looks away. He sighs. “A traumatized child can recover. But it takes time. And patience. The most important thing is to get the child connected to something- family, community, friends, school….” You want to ask him how you can connect to something you don’t have.

He smiles and puts a hand on your shoulder that feels like it’s a million pounds and burns like fire. You close your eyes and tell yourself not to flinch, you tell your lungs not to close.

As he says goodbye to you in the doorway, he gives a smile like he is full of hope for you. You want to cry, because you know he’s wrong, and there is no hope for you. But you don’t cry, because good little girls don’t cry.

So you turn from the door although turning feels like it takes all of the energy you have. You tell your feet to move.

You walk into the street.


KRISTEN POITRAS is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a BA in Creative Writing. She has had a lifelong love of writing and working with/helping others. She currently lives in the Napa Valley in Northern California enjoying the grapes and working as an education coordinator at an alternative middle and high school. She previously worked for two years as a high school English teacher at a traditional school combining her love of literature and working with youth. She plans to attend graduate school for a Masters in School Psychology Counseling and Education. In the future, she will continue writing while also devoting her time and effort to youth in need.

ALLEN FORREST has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books, is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements, creating emotion on canvas.

The Rainbow Faucet

“Daddy’s home!” my brothers and I screamed every night at the sound of his car door slamming shut. We never let him walk more than two steps into the house before we nearly tackled him to the ground. We hugged him, of course, but we had ulterior motives. My dad used to smuggle our favorite candies in his pockets and it was our top priority to find them as soon as he came home.

Every night he played the same trick: “Oh, sorry guys, I forgot your candy,” he said with a smack to his forehead, and then we shouted in unison, “No you didn’t!” We then searched all of his pockets to find our candy and squealed when we felt the plastic slip between our fingers.

We developed tactics for the most efficient pat-downs to find our treasures that put any cop to shame, and these were perhaps the only moments we worked best as a team. Each of us was responsible for one pocket: Ryan and I handled the pants since we were the shortest, and Billy and Markie ransacked the jacket because they were taller. My parents laughed as we attacked him and threw our candy into the air after the excitement of a successful hunt. My brothers got Kit-Kats, Snickers, and Reese’s, while I had a love affair with M&M’s. It didn’t matter if Dad tried to spice the game up by placing our candies where the other siblings would find it. We always swapped so everyone had their favorite. These battles dated all the way back to when I was three years old, and they are the earliest and fondest memories I can recall from my childhood.

My mom constantly complained, “You’ll spoil their dinner,” but he never did. My stomach was bottomless whenever I ate M&M’s. To me, my dad was just a really tall, strong kid who liked watching Spongebob and singing “Video Killed the Radio Star” in the car with me. On weekends when we didn’t have the anticipation of him returning with our goodies after work, he sometimes took me out to run errands then rewarded me with a little pack of M&M’s. One of my least favorite errands was going to the Sear’s Auto Center with its noxious rubbery fumes when my dad went to get his car serviced. That didn’t stop me, though, from memorizing where the vending machine was located. All he had to do when he noticed my patience diminishing was slip a dollar bill into my tiny claw when we held hands and I’d immediately take off. Whenever we went grocery shopping, my eyes became lasers that I trained to sort through the vast stacks of candies in the checkout line and target the M&M’s with inhuman speed and accuracy. I’d stealthily throw a pack onto our pile of food, thinking my dad never noticed, despite the big smile on his face.

Sometimes I ate my M&M’s by color, starting with the reds and moving until only the brown ones were left since they were the most boring. Other times I ate them slowly, one at a time, giddily savoring the cracking between my teeth as I tasted the sugary contents inside. At my most charming, I’d eat a huge handful and let my mouth crunch louder than my shoes when I walked on gravel. To this day, my favorite way to eat M&M’s is by putting them in my mouth one at a time and sucking until their shell melts, leaving me to relish the chocolatey goodness.

One fateful day when I was three, I came up with a brilliant idea for a new way to enjoy M&M’s. It was a Saturday, which meant I spent the whole day running errands with Dad in exchange for some M&M’s. After a long day of driving across town, he parked at a gas pump to fill up the car. I thought that if my mouth liked M&M’s so much, then why wouldn’t other parts of my body enjoy their company, too? Once I heard the gas sloshing into the car, I shoved several  mini M&M’s up my nose. I sat for a minute, waiting for them to melt and reveal their chocolatey contents so my body could enjoy it, but nothing happened. Life as I had come to know it ceased to exist after I realized the M&M’s were stuck in my nose. In those few minutes of perhaps the biggest betrayal of my life, I went from being carefree to realizing I was probably going to die. The feeling of having one of my airways cut off made me forget completely that I had a mouth to breathe from. I felt the foreign objects poison my body. Picking my nose in an attempt to dig them out only pushed them further up. With each inhalation, my lungs ballooned in preparation for the strain as I tried to launch them from my nostrils. With each exhalation, I realized how much trouble I was in when the M&M’s refused to budge. I listened to my dad talking to someone outside and I had no clue what I should tell him when he came back in the car. I could wait and see if he noticed, but that came with the risk of him getting mad at me, or I could avoid his glance and keep this secret stowed inside me forever. The dilemma was too tricky for a toddler to handle, so I sat with my companions lodged up my nose and banged my head against the seat in frustration as I waited for him to come back. I wanted to gauge his mood to determine if I should confess or not. The door opened, and I looked up at him, helplessly strapped in my car seat.

“Nicole?” He erupted with laughter. Suddenly I moved to the defensive.

“What, Dad!” I barked.

He angled the rear view mirror to where I could see my reflection and I gasped. Hues of brown, red, yellow, orange, green, and blue leaked out of my nostrils from a self-inflicted rainbow faucet. I joined him in his laughter for a moment and then remembered the gravity of the situation.

“I’m dying, Daddy.”

“Oh, Coley, no you’re not,” he said between laughs. He grabbed a tissue and started rubbing my face. He pinched one of my nostrils and told me to blow. I was half free. He pinched my other nostril and told me to blow again. At last my nose unplugged. I sat in awe of his ability to save my life on his first try. I viewed my dad as the most powerful superhero, and he probably thought of me as his damsel always in distress. “Well, now mom is definitely going to know I gave you candy when she told me not to,” he said as we admired the artistry of my newly stained skin.

Two years after this incident, I broke my leg in the middle of playing a hardcore game of stuck in the mud. I jumped off a ten-foot-tall jungle gym platform in order to escape being tagged “it.” I was the last person standing, and no way was I about to let some boy get in the way of that. After tragically learning that I could not fly, and, worse, that I was not indestructible, I had to change a lot of my priorities in life, like refraining from leaping off of tall things when boys approach me, something that has proven quite difficult as an adult. On the bright side, after I got my purple cast molded to my leg and was informed that I would be the most popular girl in school since everyone would want to sign my leg, instead of receiving the standard lollipop, the doctor gave me M&M’s that my dad most likely slipped into his white lab coat when I wasn’t looking.

Instead of feeling crippled during my weeks of hobbling, Dad let me feel like the superhero. Every day he scooped me up and walked around while I dangled from his shoulders so I could soar six feet in the air. My food upgrade made my flights much better than the time I flew to Disney World. Instead of receiving withered peanuts, my flight attendant knew better and handed me my favorite chocolate snack. As part of our game, Dad pretended he lost me, even though my aggressively purple cast hung right in his face and my stubby fingers yanked his wavy brown hair.

“Coley, where are you?” he hollered. I answered with shrieks of laughter as he spun wildly searching for the source of the cries, but still being careful not to drop me.

“Oh no, I think she’s gone!” he said to make me erupt into more laughter at his feigned cluelessness. After a few minutes of hysterics, I decided to show him mercy and reveal myself by shoving an M&M into his mouth.

“What! Did this fall from the sky?” he shouted, still oblivious to my presence. “Oh, Coley! I’m so glad I found you!” he said after he finally looked up.

“Daddy, I was on your shoulders the whole time!”

“You’re right,” he said. “Do you want to stay up there?”

“Yeah!”

“Just don’t let me forget that you’re up there again.”

“Okay,” I said, crossing my fingers behind my back.


NICOLE MELCHIONDA is a recent graduate of Stetson University where she majored in English with a minor in creative writing. There, she worked closely with award-winning poet, Terri Witek, and journalist,  Andy Dehnart. In February, she is moving to China to teach English.