Adventures – “Supersonic Home”

My head feels like a baked potato fresh out of the oven; my brains are the fluffy white spuds inside. For hours, I’ve done my best Tony Robbins impression, psyching myself up to stand and reach for the Low-Carb Monster resting on my desk.

When I finally find the courage to move, I nearly collapse into the pile of used tissues and Sprite bottles littering the ground.

I sip the Monster. Feel my strength returning. Turn on iTunes in an attempt to raise my phlegm-soaked spirits.

Cruel as it can be, the Universe doles out small doses of justice from time to time, and as terrible as it feels to be sick, it’s almost worth it for the rush of endorphins that flood my body at the crest of a flu.

Emotions bubble to the surface, pushing hairs stiff, waving a cool chill over my feverish flesh. I find comfort in repetition. Especially on bad days. I wrap myself in a warm blanket of familiarity, watching old movies, listening to old albums, anything new feeling alien and draining, but sickness has made me brave, so I click on a band I’ve never heard of and travel back through time.

School was where I learned that emotions are dangerous. Smiling, laughing, crying, any outward expression of feelings was an invitation to be bullied. On the bus, I did everything in my power to look straight ahead and make my face into a stone. I didn’t want people asking me, what are you smiling about? What’s so funny? My safety was directly related to the horizontal orientation of my lips and eyes. Everything was a fight. My clothes, my hair, my music, my race, it was all open for interpretation, and it could be interpreted as wrong. It was rough in middle school, and it got even worse in high school. My classmates didn’t want to get to know me. They wanted to find out my weaknesses and exploit them.

At least, that’s what I thought before I joined Mr. Collin’s class.

Adventures is a new band. “Supersonic Home” is the last song on their album of the same name. This was what music sounded like when I was 15. Hearing it now takes me back to my creative writing class with my favorite teacher. Imagine Kevin James if he was 5’5’’ and liked to rap, freestyling about Temescal Canyon High School’s wrestling team at pep rallies. Officially, it was a class about creative writing, but in reality it was a class about creativity. The assignment every week was to turn something in. Anything we wanted, a painting, a poem, a video, sculptures, people did all kinds of things, made skits, collaborated. Some played acoustic guitar and sang. Mind-blowing. It didn’t seem like school. No textbook, no tests, the class wasn’t about learning what the teacher wanted to teach; it was about teaching the rest of the class about yourself. The structure of the class was weird enough, but the people were the thing that shocked me the most. I was the only sophomore in the class. Everyone else was a senior, and they were the strangest people I had ever met.

They didn’t seem interested in dissecting me, criticizing my every layer of existence like it held a hidden treasure. They smiled and cried. They loved things and weren’t afraid to brag about it. Their goal in life wasn’t to be invulnerable. They just wanted to be happy, and if that made them easy targets, so be it. They were flaming-hot Cheeto-eating fat-asses, goths, nerds, queers, anime-watching wimps, girls who didn’t wear make-up, people who didn’t give a shit.

I never knew people like them even existed.

They were what I needed.

Jenny was the first friend I made in the class. She was part of the local music scene. If there was a club for the local hardcore bands, she would have been the one taking the minutes. I was obsessed with music, and she had a story for every band I could think of. She saw DieRadioDie before they broke up, the only good emo band in Lake Elsinore. She’d been to all the classic shows at the Showcase Theatre and Chain Reaction. Zao, Poison the Well, Bleeding Through, you name it, she was there and had the hoodie to prove it. I had just started really caring about music, and I was fucking impressed. She was short and fat. Her boyfriend was a tall shredded stud. I looked up to her. I had a crush on her boyfriend’s little sister, Ashley. She was an identical twin with Amy, but I liked Ashley because she was meaner. I thought being able to tell them apart would impress her. She hated me. Her hair was strawberry blonde and her eyeballs were all I thought about for a year. All my favorite songs were about failed love, so our situation made perfect sense.

Adventures makes me think back to that time. Back then, it would take me 8 hours to download a new song from Saves the Day or The Beautiful Mistake. Many nights I’d stay up just listening to the same 3 songs on repeat. There was something different about this music than all the other rock I’d heard growing up. Something amateurish and desperate about it that made it seem current and relevant.

I knew the voices in these songs.

I heard them in the record stores or waiting in line for shows.

It was punk, but it wasn’t vulgar.

It was sweet, but it wasn’t commercialized.

It was honest and vulnerable in a way that bands on MTV never could be. It was easy to make fun of. That’s what I loved about it.

It reminded me of the people in my creative writing class.

The Piss King

It starts in the night, the feeling of tearing flesh. You quickly open your eyes and spring up. The pain in your knee has returned. The whole knee is on fire. Sharp cutting pain is rushing through your left leg; it feels like a surgeon got really drunk and instead of postponing the operation until he was of sound mind, just said “fuck it” and started operating anyways. You scream under your breath to stop yourself from crying.

 

You realize that if you don’t move your leg, the pain is manageable, so you slowly lay back. You wonder if football was worth the torn ACL, MCL, and every other fucking muscle in your left knee? Was it worth your future?

 

You’re damn right it was! Pain builds character, and over time, yours will define the person you will become.

 

As you lay back, your mind starts to shift to time not so long ago. A time you weren’t alone. She had once slept on the right side of the bed, she had given you the choice. “Which side do you want?” she had asked. You preferred the right side of the bed. It allowed you to hold her in your right arm, your strongest. And it was the furthest away from your left knee, your weakness. Proof that you weren’t Superman, proof that you were human. This was before it happened.

 

You have to pee, but the bathroom is 12 steps away, and suddenly that seems an unreasonable distance. You wonder what asshole designed these apartments, and why he felt the need to make such inhuman lengths between the rooms.

 

Awake, your mind does everything in its power to help you forget you’re alone. You stare at where she once laid. You can picture her face now. It pulls you back to another time. You had just finished the worst fight of your relationship. Standing in a snow storm holding her with only a street light above to light your way. She cries into your shoulder that she loves you. You whisper it back and then you kiss her. You catch yourself smiling.

 

Stop! What’s done is done and can never be undone. If you can’t learn to accept what’s happened, you’ll go insane. Once you’ve made your bed, there’s nothing you can do except learn to sleep in it.

 

You feel it now. It’s time to decide. Will you get up off your ass, limp to the bathroom, or will you accept defeat and piss the bed? For most men, this is not a hard question, but you are not most men. “I need a bottle,” you tell yourself. Then it hits you.

 

A piss bottle, a bottle people put beside their beds so that when they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t make it to the bathroom, they can just reach over, grab their piss bottle, and take care of business. You’d make millions, be as rich as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. And your simple invention would put any of theirs to shame. Sorry, Apple. Move aside, the future is here. They would call you the Piss Prince. What the fuck are you thinking? Are you stupid? The Piss Prince? No, you’d be the Piss King.

 

“Piss the bed, what am I, six?” Or crippled. You slowly push yourself up. It’s hard to say for sure what you feel in your knee. Pain, that doesn’t cut it. Torture, not even close. The doctors asked for one word, one word to describe the pain that has stolen your future and left the past a bitter memory. The doctor even showed you “The Wong Baker faces Pain rating scale.” And you look over all the face, you can’t seem to find the face that screams “Fuck your pain scale, you hack! Fix my leg before I skull-fuck you!” After the pain scale fails to perfectly describe the pain you’re in, the doctor goes back to his original question, “One word?” You wonder if it would be easier to describe the Mona Lisa. Art, you guess. Yes, the pain in my leg is art. It’s a burning, twisting, tearing art, but it’s yours.

 

As you slowly limp across the room, cursing every step of the way, you have to stop and take a second. Your dick is giving you trouble now. They always said he’s got a mind of his own, never has that statement been truer for you. You shoot him a glance and say, “Don’t be a dick, Dick, we’re almost there.” He’s not happy. He’s like a water balloon that’s been filled way past its limit and is ready to pop and send piss everywhere. You almost start to cry as you quote Tim McGraw: “I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry.”

 

After you finally reach the bathroom, you slowly lower your ass into the seat. This is it, the moment of truth. You wonder if all your hard work could ever be worth it, then he starts. The feeling of relief is hard to put into words, it’s biblical. Moses can keep his magic staff and burning bushes, you have a bowl that holds your waste.

 

You start the bath. The cold is what caused the pain to flare up, so maybe you can burn it out. Once the tub is full of scorching water, you lower yourself in. You can feel the water burn your right foot; your left leg feels nothing. There’s a sense of terror as your balls approach the water. Once you lower them in, the impulse to scream fades away. It’s not so bad until you realize that you just boiled any chance of having kids away. You leap to your feet. Balls, knee, and ass all in a different state of horror and agony. After most of the pain has all gone, you look up to the ceiling to talk to God. “Fuck you, man.” You slip and fall.

 

After one of the worst bathing experiences of your life, the pain has shifted from “oh God, please kill me” to “this sucks.” You stand in front of the mirror. Smile, you notice your chipped, fake teeth, your fading hairline, and kickass beard. Most people might not like what they see looking back, but you don’t mind. You were taught at a young age to make the best of any situation. What you lack in looks, you more than make up with personality. After staring for far too long, you ask yourself: what do you want? What do you want?

 

You can look back at so many times in your short life you wish you could relive. One more hour lying in bed with your girlfriend, hearing her tell you she loves you just one more time. Running to the peaks of snowy mountains with the wind and the rest of the world at your back. Holding your grandmother’s hand as she tells you stories of a father you’d never meet, but whose stories and words would shape the man you are today. Standing beside your little brother peeing off your deck, joking that if you crossed streams it would cause all life as you knew it to stop. Or even further back, chasing sail boats on the shore as a little boy, praying for him to come home, even after your mother takes you into her arms and tells you, “He’s not coming back, baby.”

 

But all you really want is to be able to pee standing up again.

Rejected Proposal: A 100-Word Story

I enter my new hotel room. The first feature that catches my attention is the lamp on the nightstand, its crimson base sculpted like a teardrop, a drop of blood. The lamp is the final insult: the ancient gods themselves must be mocking the miserable turn my vacation has taken.

“Fuck you, Zeus,” I whisper, defiant.

At least these housekeepers will have less to fuss over, no blankets thrown on the floor, no tangled bedsheets redolent with sweat and sex.

Mykonos is too wondrous for depression.

With a heavy sigh, I drop my suitcase and leave for Katerina’s gelato shop.

Oddball Rambling

Adulthood is a funny thing. Despite all the speeches, nothing really prepares you for it. There are certain rites of passage that nobody warns you about. The first time you go grocery shopping for yourself. The first time you travel without your parents. The first time you go to the bank when you no longer need a cosigner. Your first day working at your first real job. The first time you realize you have a remarkably adult routine, full of remarkably adult activities, no more story time, no more games on the playground, no more wonder at everything you see.

The first time you unlock the door that is truly, fully yours, not your parents’ property. The first time you buy a piece of furniture with your own money. The first time you stay out late and realize no one is going to punish you for breaking curfew. The first time you do something stupid, and you recognize you won’t be punished, unless it’s by the police. The moment when you realize that your behavior, admirable or dismal, is entirely up to you, and your only authority is your own conscience. Your time, your activities, your companions are 100% your prerogative, and no one is going to attempt to direct or control you. You may find this freedom liberating or slightly intimidating.

Then there is the first time you see a young child. Maybe you don’t realize it. But eventually you may find yourself thinking how cute they are, how nice it will be to have your own children. Maybe you will note, with probably mixed feelings, how strange it is that these young humans are going through their childhood now, learning the things that children learn, doing the things that children do, while you, quite suddenly, are an adult doing adult things and thinking adult thoughts. Maybe you will realize for the first time that your childhood is gone forever. If you are really perceptive, you might even realize for the first time that you are aging, that one day your youth will end, that you will get old and die. Then maybe if you are brave you will start to think about the future, how your time on this earth will end. Maybe you will start to contemplate death for the first time. What will you miss the most? What will come after? How do you live knowing, with brutal, honest certainty that you won’t get out of it alive?

There’s probably hundreds of first times that nobody ever realizes until they do them. To all those standing on the platform alone, waiting for the train, plane, or bus, teetering on the precipice of the rest of their lives, with all their world packed up in a bag at their feet… well, here’s looking at you, kid. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Maybe now you might put more energy into every day, knowing that they pile up into weeks, months, years, and decades. Maybe you’ll put more thought into your actions and words. Maybe you won’t. You are, after all, an adult now, and all this is up to you.

Holocaust Museum

Do not visit the Holocaust museum on vacation.  I hope none of you hearing this are misunderstanding me.  I think every man, woman, and child on this planet should see it, but don’t do it on vacation.

When you walk into the Holocaust museum as a 17 year old kid, you are expecting the same story you have heard your entire academic career—the Holocaust was bad.  Millions died.  I remember thinking this was going to be a great day.  I was in DC with my buddies, there was only one chaperone, and I had money in my pocket.  Wrong.  We walked in as a group of ten, splitting into our own factions.  Luke, Jerrad (my best friends), Austin (my girlfriend), and I started through the museum.  Before we reached the first exhibit, I looked over my shoulder and was overcome with excitement.

“Holy shit, that’s Ben Stein!” I whispered to Luke.  “We gotta get a pic.”  Our group nervously inched towards him and asked for a picture.  He said Ok with a solemn look on his face.  As we lined up for the picture, everyone but Mr. Stein was giggling, with the occasional “Beuhler…Beuhler…” being playfully spoken.  Regrettable.  The smiles would soon be gone, replaced with tears, frowns, and silence.

It has been so long now, that I cannot remember the order of the exhibits or exactly how many we saw, but the overall picture of the day has not left my mind, nor will it.  I do remember, though, the first thing we saw was a short Nazi propaganda film, setting the tone for what was about to happen.  I came out of the small theater with no change.  Yeah, Hitler was a dickhead.  I know that.  As we moved through the museum, my demeanor worsened with every exhibit.  I remember standing in a replica railcar used to transport Jews to camps.  For effect, the museum operator put as many people on as possible.  It was nauseating.  I was crammed in with a bunch of strangers, everyone touching and breathing.  I had to get out.

“This is how Jewish people were shipped,” the guide said.  “Like cattle.  Most of the time, the prisoners hadn’t bathed in weeks and were given scraps of clothing.”  I felt like puking.  How could a person ride like this for any amount of time?  After that, we walked by a recreation of the gas chambers, disguised as showers.  The guide explained that, to a prisoner, a shower was the last shred of humanity they held onto, so must jumped at the opportunity.  Once inside, the doors were locked and all were executed.  I started to feel angry.  I could not fathom how this could ever happen.  Anger turned to heartbreak as we went through the children’s section.  It was dedicated to the children of the Holocaust.  It showed pictures of children being ripped from their parents’ arms and shared the stories of children in the Holocaust.  That was the first time I cried in public during adolescence.  I did not feel it coming; it just started.  I wasn’t sobbing, mind you, but a steady flow of tears ran down my face.

While touring through this museum of hell, a common theme arose—this could never happen today.  No one will ever go through this again.  Wrong.  The final exhibit was titled “Genocide in the World Today,” or something like that.  It had two or three rooms dedicated solely to genocide happening now.  There were five or six instances, but the only one I recall is in the Sudan, due to media coverage.

“Jesus Christ,” I said to Luke as we were walking out, “that was heavy.”  He only nodded.  Our group gathered back together and everyone was in the same state—exhausted, disgusted, and, above all, sad.  We headed for the door and a big, framed picture caught my eye.  I walked over to it to look closer.  It was a memorial to a security guard who worked there.  He was shot while on duty at the Holocaust museum.  It mentioned his wife and young children.  Who the hell brings a gun here?!  One last gut punch on my way out the door.

Fused

By B (Anonymous)


I found myself staring out of the dirty window of my dad’s place that summer. My eyes were always scanning, looking beyond the yellow fields scattered with black cattle. I’d look onward to the sunlight beaming off the shallow waters of Lake Helena. I’d watch the slim sliver of lake for hours though it was as far as my eyes could see and miles away. One day my trance was interrupted, but not by a regular customer buying a six pack or a gallon of milk. This time it was someone extraordinary, someone who little did I know, would shape and affect my life forever. The first time I saw him, all I saw was a huge pair of eyes. They were dark eyes that bore mystery yet a deepening warmth at the same time. He was the son of my father’s best friend Ryan, his name was Bellamy.

“Hey Scot. How’s business today man?” Ryan smiled brightly shaking my father’s hand.

“Good! Better than yesterday, Ryle actually showed up today,” my dad affirmed with sarcasm heavy in his voice.

“What’s going on today?” My dad questioned further

“Bastard. How late this time? Oh you know me just workin on junk,” Ryan knew everything about us, the business, and the gossip in our small community.

“Oh an hour or so of course. Can’t afford to fire him though man, no one that applies here is worth a damn, and Brittany’s already putting in the afternoon hours,”

“Hey well that’s what I came to talk to you about! Bellamy is looking for some work, kid’s about to go into high school, needs to save for a truck. You got anything for him to do man? Hell, he’ll pick up butts outside, he’ll do shit work, just needs something to do,”

Bellamy stood quietly next to his father, eyes awake, compliant with all his dad had said.

“Hell yeah man! Anything for this family, we’ll put Bell to work!” dad said slapping Bellamy’s shoulder playfully.

Bellamy smiled genuinely squinting his eyes that still looked big when he did so. His eyes were deep tunnels and though they were dark, seemed to fill with the light that came with his laughter. His eyes turned to me for a moment and I felt my face grow hot. Though I’d just met him, he looked at me in a way that said he knew all about me. I looked at him the same way.

He began work at my dad’s store soon after. For the first month or so, few words were spoken between us. He’d bag the ice and I’d run the register, our eyes would lock powerfully for long periods every time he made his way to my section of the small building. Somehow it wasn’t strange when it happened, it was just us. Occasionally dad would assign us some stupid task and we’d have to verbally communicate which made my anxiety spike viciously. I would’ve rather been robbed then be told to face Bellamy and his soul swallowing eyes.

One sweltering afternoon in early July, I was told I’d have to spray weeds in acre long field behind work. I walked out back in cutoffs and summer sandals feeling unprepared for this messy and flavorful work. There I saw Bellamy who had already filled up a large tank with weed killer and strapped it to the back of the four-wheeler.

“Alright Britt you drive the quad and Bellamy you spray both sides. Now Brittney don’t go too fast it’ll fuck up our operation here,” my dad said jokingly.

This was no joke to me. I reluctantly started the quad, my hands shaking. I was not prepared to talk to Bellamy. He grabbed the sprayer. I looked back in a light way to see if he was ready to go. He’s the kind of boy who’s too shy to make the subtlest directory statement so he just stood readily, glancing up at me, and seeming almost as nervous as I was. The throttle was a bit touchy or perhaps it was my shaky hand that made me lunge forward on accident propelling myself almost over the handlebars before slamming on the brake. I looked back at him red-faced, embarrassed and nervous all at once. That was the first time he smiled at me, lifting his head and squinting his eyes like he did. We both laughed nervously but genuinely still looking at each other. The moment passed and I finally got the hang of the machine as he steadily sprayed behind me, teasing me to slow down on occasion. I curse my shaky right hand for again, lunging us forward this time powerfully enough to rip the nozzle from the hose, kicking Bellamy to the ground and spraying weed-killer all down my leg. It burned, but my stomach burned more from laughing. I suddenly felt comfortable with myself and in his presence. This feeling was foreign to me. He advanced to his feet laughing, as he hurried over to my side. He kept apologizing and his laugh became nervous. He ran his hand up my shin catching the drips of chemical running down my leg, and then wiped it onto his shirt. He looked up to me with a look that told me his touch made us both giddy. The shameless hysteria I’d felt for a moment subsided. It turned to a familiar bashfulness as his bashfulness turned into bravery. We grew very close after that and I couldn’t help but think it must’ve started with his smile.

The two months left of summer came and passed. Our long looks turned into many long meaningful conversations and long nights of talking on the phone. In the fall we went into high school together and became caught up in our own guff, but when we returned to work the next summer we picked up right where we had left off. I fell harder for him than before. My shifts were long, hot and miserable those three months and I’d find myself gazing across at the water as I often did. Now when I gazed I could only picture swimming with Bellamy in there, laughing at his weird brave heart impersonations, and looking at those eyes like I loved to do. He’d always interrupt my gaze with his noisy cart full of bagged ice, followed with a smart comment and the grin I loved.

“Who’re you creeping on B?”

“Oh, just Mark from the trailer park. Smoke is pouring out of his blazer right now but what’s new I guess haha,”

“Fuckin’ Mark. That guy’s got enough ganj to get a dinosaur high,”

Bellamy always said weird things like that. He always made me laugh at the clever absurdity of everything he said. Then, he’d tilt his head back and laugh genuinely and handsomely, making my tan face turn red.

“You two quit flirtin’ that ice is gonna melt and you’ll both be cleanin’ it up!” Dad popped in the back door.

“Alright boss we’re on it!” Bellamy said saluting to me and dad making both of us smile.

It was so easy for him to make people smile, to make an impact on people. Come to think of it, it was probably just me.

Bellamy’s dad, Ryan, was a mechanic and my dad had lots of cars. We’d always be dropping them off and picking them up at their house especially that second summer, my station wagon was constantly overheating in the hot weather. I always went over there with my dad. We’d sometimes be there for hours. Bellamy and I would listen to our fathers talk about cars, bills, and their blue-collar lives. We’d feed the horses apples through the window of the garage and laugh about everything even if it wasn’t that funny.

It wasn’t long until school rolled around again and I started drowning in distraction. School was hard, home was hard, everything was hard and as soon as the leaves began to fall I stopped seeing Bellamy all the time. He faded out of my life as if my heart hadn’t skipped a beat every time I saw him. As if I hadn’t felt that summer after summer. The thought of him was something so foreign now. However, my already turbulent life set fire the night I overheard Dad say Bellamy had ran away. It bothered me every day after that wondering where he was and if he was okay. It was sixth months later when I saw him again. I was driving. At first I couldn’t tell who he was, he’d lost around 30 pounds and had deep dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. I was too busy staring at him to slow down. When we locked eyes I slammed on my breaks and threw my car in park in the middle of the street. Luckily there was no traffic, not that I would’ve cared. I opened my door aggressively and slammed it shut walking over to him. Uneasily waiting for me, he didn’t move, he’d never seen me upset.

“Where the hell have you been?” I asked him enraged. “You need to come back. Your family misses you and I miss you Bellamy,” I yelled pushily.

“Come on just let me take you home,” I pointed to my car anxiously.

“Fuck them,” he sneered.

Those words cut me apart inside as I struggled to understand how he could say that about the people he loved, people I loved equally.

“Get in the car please!” I begged him trying to hide my rage.

He turned around sharply and walked away from me. Tears welled in my eyes as I walked hard back to my car. I whipped my door open and slammed it as hard as I could. The tears finally fell. I sped off in the opposite direction as fast as my wagon would go. I peered Bellamy in my rearview hoping he’d turn around. He did for a second and I kept driving telling myself he didn’t. I cried because I knew it was ignorant of me to attack him. I cried wishing he knew how I felt. I cried because he was a monster now and I cried because I still loved him. I knew I did because the look in his eyes flooded my body with numbing despair, anger and heartache in its rawest form.

He came and went about three more times after that, each time lifting me with joy at his arrival and then letting me down with his departure. Every time he came back it was like he’d never left. It was like he was never on drugs or living in the unknown elsewhere. Then he’d leave again and I’d blame myself thinking that somehow confessing to the way I felt could have kept him around. I’d tell myself that it was worth a shot and that I’d tell him when he came back, and I waited.

After another episode of being gone, he came home again just before school started. I had spent that summer without him. Ryan, his three other kids and Bellamy came into the store while I was working. It was so busy and customers were lined all the way down the aisle but I threw down the scanner at the sight of him anyway and ran to him. I held tight to his tall stature and he ran his hand down the length of my hair before crossing his arms around me like he needed it. He looked so much better. We started school together once more. We walked to class for a couple weeks together and I was finally able to answer my own question. How could I love him?

I loved him for the way he looked at me when I talked, for the time he spent with his little brother, for holding his little sister’s hand, for the fact that he always opened the door for his mother. I loved him because words were never wasted with us and listening to him always made me feel understood. I didn’t see him around for a few weeks and knowing him, I assumed the worst. My friends waited for me outside one of his teachers classrooms.

“What are you up to kiddo?” Mr. Vee asked me eagerly. He was excited to see me.

“Hey Mr. Vee, not a lot, I was just wondering, has Bellamy Raymond been in school?” I asked nervously, hoping I didn’t already know the answer.

“No, no he hasn’t hon. If you see him, let him know Mr. Vee misses him!” he said cutely. He obviously didn’t realize what was happening.

“Okay . . . Um . . . Uh . . . Thanks,” I blurted out not knowing what to say. I rushed out of the classroom.

“He’s gone again,” I told my friends while staring at dirt stained white tiles that lined the floor beneath our feet.

Of all the times he’d left I always knew he’d come back but this time, I wasn’t so sure. He’d been gone for a month and a half and since, I’d been seeing things every day. Sometimes from a distance, or from the back, or out of the corner of my eye, I swore I saw him. Every boy on the street with a heavy walk made me look twice. However, the time I really did see him, I knew for sure. I got this weird shiver in the left side of my neck, and my stomach contracted so harshly that my whole body stiffened as if it was squeezed flat. I was walking out of the sandwich shop with my friends, my friend Destri pushed open the first glass door to exit and I suddenly became stiff as I tried to make out a tall dark boy pulling the second glass door to enter.

“Hurry Britt we gotta get back to school,” another friend of mine said without looking back at me.

I ignored her and walked hesitantly though I was the last one out the door. He was high again and I couldn’t get a good look at his face between his restlessness and the shadow of his brim. It wasn’t until I met him at the door and saw those eyes that could only be his. I knew it was him.

“Hey Bellamy!” I blurted out awkwardly stepping in front of him which barely hindered his rush.

“Whaa…what are you doing?” I asked masking the real answer I was looking for that didn’t concern him getting a sandwich.

“Oh just gettin’ a BLT,” he passed me by, hurried and anxiously.

“Buu. . .” I choked out.

He was already inside and the door had closed in my face. I turned around bumping into all five of my best friends who had been standing right behind me. I walked through them and they dashed to catch up to me. Tears have never fallen faster. Within seconds one ambled down my left cheek, taking its time before drying to my neck. It left a noticeable red runway or irritation. I collapsed into the passenger seat of the car we had driven, with them still trailing close behind me. I stared into my own green eyes in the narrow mirror on the visor. They always illuminated when I cried.

“Let’s go,” I told Destri when she got into the driver’s seat.

“No you have to go talk to him or you’ll regret it later,” she urged

“Yeah come on you don’t know when you’ll see him again,” another friend reminded me. They all knew our story.

So I waited brave and willing for him to come out. My friends withdrew and carried on conversation as usual, leaving me to briefly buck up. The glare of the glass veiled him from sight, but I still nervously jostled to open the car door and hurried gracelessly out of the car as soon as I saw the door swing open.

“Hey come here,” I muttered awkwardly.

He stopped and turned around impatiently waiting for me to come to him. The vessels in the whites and water lines of his eyes were bulging and bloodshot.

“Where have you been?” I finally gathered my words, staring at this seemingly stranger.

“Staying with a friend,” he answered as if he was having a sleepover.

“Oh, I just haven’t seen you around . . . school,” I spilled sheepishly.

Things were weird now.

“Um . . . I do . . . miss you,” I choked out.

He blushed, looking down but when he looked back up at me I saw a knowing look of guilt. The boy I knew with a light heart and a flawless face was now cold and broken out with sores all over.

“Um . . . so . . . let me know when you get back to school I guess,” I nodded terminating my awkward confession.

Why the fuck did I keep talking about school.

“Alright,” he said, in a tone that somehow told me he would be back. We looked at each other for another few seconds and conclusively parted ways even though there was still so much more I wanted to say.

The next time he slipped back into my life I wanted to leave him in my past but couldn’t just as I couldn’t shun him before for all the wrong he’d done. The only reason he was back this time is because he was on house arrest. Everyone saw him as a burden to me but I wanted nothing more than to help him, I wanted to fix him. I spent yet another summer with him at his house. I spent most of my time there and saw him almost every day. I’d go spend hours with him and his family after work. I’d play with his little sisters, talk to his mom, and Bellamy and I would listen to Nirvana all night and watch Adam Sandler movies. Being locked in his house with him helped me get to know him better than I did before. I knew everything. He was allowed to leave his house to work and began working for my dad again. He worked hard, long hours trying to prove himself. He refused to take anything from anyone and insisted on walking to and from work even when it was late. I saw him begin to change back into boy I fell hopelessly in love with four years ago. We were best friends and nothing more to my dismay. Not that I ever planned on revealing how I felt, I couldn’t risk losing him. Then one day, an all familiar feeling caught up to me as I glared at my phone that hadn’t heard from him all day.

“He fucking left again, up in the middle of the night while we were sleeping just like last time. I’m so sorry man, I shouldn’t have let you take another chance on him. Piece of fucking shit kid,” I overheard Ryan on the phone to my dad. My heart sunk to my feet as it had so many times before.

I was done being betrayed and used by Bellamy by my senior year of high school. I had the most amazing, memorable, nostalgic year of my life, even though Bellamy wasn’t in it. I was constantly reminded of him at work where his parents bought gas. Or driving down York road and passing his mom’s truck with the two unmistakable red stripes. I thought of him constantly but forced myself to leave him behind.

I tried to avoid his house but right before I left for college I had to go over and have Ryan take one last look at my car. It felt hard being at this all too familiar house without Bellamy. I hadn’t heard from him in almost a year. August reminded me of him and how he always wore pants even if it was 100 degrees. I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It was Ashley, Bellamy’s mom.

“Brittany, honey how are you? We miss you girl! You excited for college?”

“I’m pretty nervous! Never left Helena, I’ll miss this place and everyone. I’ll miss you guys. I already do,”

I was trying my best to avoid talk of Bellamy, I was trying to spare myself some pain.

“How’s Bellamy?” I asked anyway, knowing she might not know the answer.

“He’s in Wyoming at treatment. He stopped showing up to meetings with the probation officer, he really fucked up this time. Ryan’s done, I just can’t give up on him as much as I should. He’s my son you know? I love him even when he doesn’t deserve it,”

I knew exactly what she meant.

“He’s been trying to write you Britt. Have you not gotten his letters yet?”

“No I haven’t. I didn’t even know he was trying to write. I didn’t know he was in treatment,” I replied my heart feeling empty and heavy at the same time.

“You and I are the only ones he wants to talk to. I gave him your address, I hope that’s okay? Maybe you could write him if you’d like. Do you want his address?”

“Yes I’ll take it,” I replied shortly, masking all the emotions that were flooding back to me.

It took me a week to complete the letter for I didn’t know what to say. I finished it on a Sunday at 4 a.m. after awaking from a dream about Bellamy.

Bellamy, I don’t know where you are right now or why you’re there. What did you do? I hope you’re okay as I always do. I hope you’re getting what you need now. I think of you every time I hear a Nirvana song. I miss our summers together. I’ve loved you for nearly five years and I think its misfortune, but I know I’ll love you forever.

Love always, B

My letter was strange, short and honest but it was the best I could do. All we’d been through was too much for words.

I woke up in my dorm room on a crisp fall morning to a call from Bellamy’s mom. I answered it reluctantly. I hadn’t heard from her since I left for school.

“Hello,”

“Britt. Hey how are. . .” it was Bellamy.

“Bell?” I cut him off, responding in utter shock.

“Hey I just got back, are you going to be home this weekend?”

“Yes, uh yeah. Yes I’ll be home on Saturday.”

“Would you like to come by I’d love to see you,”

We talked for a while longer and it felt like it always felt. The following Saturday, I drove down the familiar dirt road to his house that I’d taken a hundred times but not recently. Moments belonging to Bell and I flooded my memory and a pit in my stomach began to form. I pulled into the driveway parking in front of the garage door as I used to. I walked inside, forcing my every step forward. Bellamy met me at the door looking better than ever, as sober as he did when I first met him. He pulled me into his arms and I felt so safe despite the fact that I was in the arms of the most unstable, untrustworthy person I knew. We walked into the living room to a room full of strangers who knew who I was. I spent the rest of the night catching up with Bellamy and his family. I left when the time felt right and that was when I began to feel in love again. I couldn’t fall into this again.

The next few months Bellamy texted and called me constantly. We made plans to see each other over Thanksgiving as friends. He was eighteen now and had moved out of his parents’ house for good to live with some friends. For the first time it seemed Bellamy had his life on track, he was going to school now, working and paying rent. It was all very new to me. I was very immune to the damaged individual I’d known before. For the first time in forever, the way we talked felt like it had before everything fell apart. After much skepticism, I began to believe he was changed. I arrived at his new place the night I came into town. It was so clean in the room. Art, posters, signs of home hung on the walls. It wasn’t what I’d expected. After talking and laughing for what seemed like hours the conversation turned serious. We talked about Wyoming and I asked why he never wrote me back.

“B listen okay, what I said in that letter needs to wait. It’s not time yet,”

“No fuck that. I deserve to know?”

“It’s not right. The time is not right yet that’s why I didn’t send it,”

“Tell me or I’m leaving. I’ve wondered for long enough Bellamy,”

“I love you Brittney. I love you so much you don’t even understand. I have forever, I have. But you have to understand I couldn’t have you then. I couldn’t. I was fucked in the head we all know that and I still have a long ways to go to be what you need. You’re my soulmate. I knew it the first time I saw you smile. I knew it the first day. If it’s not you B, it’s no one. I promise you I’ll never give up on you. You’re what kept me going, you’re the only one who’s never given up on me, even when you should have. I want to be everything for you because you’re everything for me. I love you,”

Tears streamed down my face and into my open mouth as I tried to comprehend what had just happened. I felt his rough fingertips wipe away the tears under my eyes.

“You can’t do this to me Bellamy. I don’t trust you! I don’t believe you! You left me so many times. I tried so hard to love you and you up and left every single time. How am I supposed to do this? What did I do to deserve this?” I yelled as tears streamed down more rapidly now.

“I love you Britt and you’ll never know how sorry I am but I couldn’t bring you down with me. Look at all you’ve done, look at all you have ahead. I wasn’t about to fuck your life up and I didn’t know how to change okay? I didn’t know until you came into my life. You’re everything I love you. Please tell me somewhere, in some fucked up way, you love me too,”

“Of course I do! I never stopped because I couldn’t. I can’t”

Tears were still streaming when he took my face in big, bony hands and kissed me for the first time. When his lips met mine, the tensions in my back loosened, the stress of my life vanished, and I felt so uncannily at peace. It was everything.

It was two months later when I got the call. I was laughing over take out with my roommates.

“You’re receiving a call from an incarcerated prisoner. Press 1 to connect. Press 2 to disconnect,” a feminine automated voice stated.

Clueless and curious, I pressed 1. It was probably just a misdial.

“Connecting to Lewis and Clark County Detention Center,”

What the fuck? Who’s calling me from jail in Helena?

Anxiety overcame me and I started to shake with bad feelings. I hadn’t heard from Bellamy all day and that was not like him.

It couldn’t be, he’s good now, he has his life straight now. Right?

The phone rang its tone for what seemed like forever and finally the muffled sound of many masculine voices at once came over the line.

“Brittney, are you there?” the sound of Bellamy’s voice from jail stung my ears.

“What the fuck? What happened? Why are you in jail?” I whimpered. Tears came quicker than my words to him.

“I’m in trouble,”

“What happened?” I interrogated him.

“Okay, just please listen okay? A month ago I sold this guy some weed, quite a bit of it. Well turns out the guy was an undercover cop. The cops have been watching me since I got back, they picked me up on my way to work today. I just needed some money, really, really bad. I was in trouble,”

“What the fuck Bellamy? Are you fucking kidding me? What the fuck is wrong with you! You’re a fucking liar! You had me so convinced you’d changed! You had a chance at a fresh start, a clean record. Why do you keep hurting me and yourself? Why don’t you care? Why the fuck did you call? I don’t have the money to bail you out of jail” I shouted through salty tears filling up the back of my throat.

“Britt I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. This is the last straw. This is what I need I think. And no, no, that’s not why I called. I can’t get bail. Britt, I’m looking at some time.”

Call ending in 1 minute.

“What kind of time?” I asked hyper focused.

“6 months to 10 years,”

Tears washed my face like a fast falling waterfall. I couldn’t breathe.

“Brittney listen, just listen okay I haven’t cared about my life in a long time. I don’t care what happens to me. You’re all that gets me through. You’re the reason I want different for myself. If it wasn’t for you I’d have put a bullet in my head a long time ago. I love you and nothing else,”

A long beep and the piercing “Goodbye” of the automated feminine voice ended our call before I could respond. The last thing he said lingered with me. I made myself sick wondering if he would really hurt himself if I stepped out of his life. I was too sick to eat, to sleep. I was trapped in my own empathetic way, in my own love. I received another call from the jail. I was tired of feeling fused. I searched for the number two on my dial screen through tears and pressed it, disconnecting once and for all.

 

 

Death and Dragons

” This is a nonfiction piece about making a connection between my grandmother’s death and the movie Dragonheart. “

By Amanda Spangle


Dragon.

It is a word that can evoke thoughts of fear, whimsy, religion, or wonder. Usually an image of a giant long-necked lizard with horns, bat-like wings, four legs, and a spiked tail come to mind. They have appeared in legends throughout human history, from South America to the frozen Arctic.

The dragon from the 1996 film Dragonheart was designed to have the classic look of European dragons. Scales, wings, talons, and the resonating voice of Sean Connery. The creators of Draco wanted to remind us of medieval tales of knights and magic. None of them could have imagined that their Academy-Award-nominated CGI masterpiece could have helped a little girl understand death, and thus change her life.

 

On August 23, 1953, Walt and Doris Spangle gave birth to Corine Rhey Spangle, affectionately known as Connie. She was the classic beautiful baby, with round cheeks, tufts of toe-head blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a red button mouth. In photos she is either grinning happily or gazing intently into the distance, as if trying to understand the meaning of the universe at three months old. Like most new mothers in the 1950s, Doris followed the doctor’s orders and put Connie into her crib on her belly.

In January 1954, Doris found her lifeless baby in her crib. A “crib death,” was the diagnosis then, now known as SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. According to Child Heath USA, 26 of every 1,000 infants died of unexplainable causes in 1955. By 1980, this statistic dropped to 12, likely due to the change in policy that infants should sleep on their backs. Though there has been extensive research, nobody is sure what causes SIDS.

Walt and Doris went on to have four more children, all boys. Their youngest, Walt, Jr. showed me where the Draco constellation was when I was three years old. I can still find it on clear nights, just off the Big Dipper. In Dragonheart, it is the dragon heaven.

 

In Dragonheart, the protagonist, Bowen, has to kill Draco in order to kill the evil King Einon. A piece of the dragon’s heart is inside the king, rendering him immortal. When Draco dies, he becomes a glowing ball of magic and beauty, presumably a star. He moves up through the night sky, completing the constellation and making the sky explode with stars.

I always cry when Bowen looks up at the star before it shoots away and asks, “And now, Draco, without you, what do we do? Where do we turn?” Draco’s voice replies, “To the stars, Bowen. To the stars.”

 

In 1990, Walt Jr. brought his new girlfriend home to meet his parents. Brandi was quickly a favorite, with her sharp humor and good nature. During their “getting-to-know-you” conversations, Brandi revealed her birthday as August 23rd. Doris became very quiet for the rest of the evening. The next day, photos of Connie were all over the house, photos Walt Jr. had never seen before in his life.

 

On August 4, 1993, Walt and Brandi Spangle gave birth to Amanda Corine Spangle. She was the classic beautiful baby, with round cheeks, no hair, big blue eyes, and a button mouth. In her first Christmas photo, she is grinning like she knows a secret. Like most new mothers in the 1990s, Brandi followed the doctor’s orders and put Amanda into her crib on her back.

By now, Walt and Brandi lived an hour and a half away, but they visited frequently. Doris loved Amanda, but Walt always had a feeling she was confused about whether the baby was theirs or hers. She looked too much like Connie, and Doris’s mind was fading. As Amanda grew, her parents were not allowed to punish her in front of Grandma. When she fell off the tire swing, Doris demanded it be taken down.

Photos of Connie were still up.

 

Dragonheart was debuted in theaters in May 1996, earning a little over $51 million dollars. This was just short of the $57 million dollar budget used to generate a detailed CGI dragon voiced by Sean Connery, and provide the salaries for big-name actors such as Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, and Jason Isaacs. In the New York Times’ review on May 31, 1996, Janet Maslin writes, “In “Dragonheart,” the story’s central fire-breathing creature is so well realized … that the human cast faces an uphill battle. In a film geared to extra-patient 8-year-old viewers, it’s hard to compete with a giant flying toy.”

I wasn’t an 8-year-old when Dragonheart was released on VHS, but my review of the movie was that it was spectacular. I was three, watching it for the hundredth time. The underlying themes of religion, extinction, and disillusionment were slightly above the comprehension of the three-year-old before the screen, but I understood that Bowen the knight was good, King Einon was bad, Brother Gilbert was hilarious, and (most importantly) Draco the dragon became the final star in the constellation from which his name was born.

My parents assumed I liked the movie because I had been obsessed with dinosaurs up to this point, and dragons were sort of like dinosaurs. It inspired my father’s decision to buy me my own TV and VCR, so I just watched that and Dragonheart back to back all day in my bedroom.

Thinking back to those movie binges, I can only recall Draco’s profound final words.

“To the stars.”

 

At 8 AM on April 13th , 1997 my mother got a phone call. My father was working night shifts at the power plant and was asleep.

My parents packed us up and drove the hour and a half to my grandparents’ house. I was very quiet, thinking about the news. When we got there, Stan and Glorianne Weigan, old family friends, had already arrived to comfort my grandfather. Before too long, Uncle Floyd and Uncle Don showed up with their families. Hank was living in Germany.

I followed my usual routine while we were there: I took the box of toys from the guest bedroom and began to play by myself. One toy in particular was my favorite, and I have watched my baby cousins play with it dozens of times: an old Fisher-Price phone on wheels with a bell that dings every once in a while and a red string in the front to pull it around. I would sometimes talk to people on the other end, as all children will, and so the adults ignored me.

This day, however, I hung up the red phone, walked into the living room still dragging it by the red string, and said, “Grandma said everything is okay and she’s with Draco now.”

My parents have talked about this instance often, about how strange it was. Their three-year-old daughter making a connection to death in such a clinical, profound way. About her having a conversation with her just-passed grandmother. I was very serious, and made sure to tell everyone I was not joking. I was serious for a long time afterward.

 

I have two tattoos: a dragon crawling up one shoulder, my father’s initials in the space beside its curved tail and a dragon shaped from the letters of mine and Belle’s initials. They were inspired by my love for my family and my long-lived obsession with mythological fire-breathing lizards. In boxes labelled “CAREFUL” back in my father’s house, wrapped carefully in newspaper, are dozens of dragon figurines. Sculpted glass Chinese dragons, plaster creatures from sketchy gift shops, and two soft plastic figurines of Draco the dragon from the Dragonheart themed birthday cake my mother ordered when I turned 4. All through school, I was the “dragon girl” who drew fire-breathing lizards on scratch paper and read the fantasy books, especially if they featured the D-word in the title.

I think after the events on that day, I was drawn to dragons through a desire to have my grandmother back. Through the years, things change, and I just evolved to keep my childhood love with me. When I try to remember Doris, I can only recall warmth and joy.

My next tattoo will be written in Celtic font, with a constellation behind the words:

“To the stars.”

Smith Rock State Park

” This piece is about when I made a road trip back where I lived most of my life. I account what it meant for me to move away, grow up, and live a different life. “

By Jared Probert


“Kirk and I went up this way once,” Lucas told me as we veered off the main trail, glancing around to make sure none of the park rangers were watching. Curiosity overcame caution in the summer of 2013 as I followed him off the beaten path onto something that could probably pass as a goat trail. Backpacks swayed with our steps, our breathing coming out in short bursts. “Up here is where he broke his glasses.”

“I wish I could’ve been there for that,” I say. “What is ol’ Kirk up to these days?”

“I haven’t talked to him in a while,” he says, “He’s not around.”

“Seen Ben?” I ask

He shakes his head. “No.”

 

As we went the side of the slope, I began to remember the day two years prior when I convinced my friends to take a Saturday all-day hike up through Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. There was Lucas and I, of course, as well as Kirk, our half-Ecuadorian and our very German Ben. We were all the small, nerdy type, similar builds, similar height. Ben was white with dark features, Kirk darker skinned with dark features, and Lucas blonde-haired and blue-eyed. We walked up and down nearly every inch of trail in that park. Once, we found a crevice in the rocks at the end of a trail. “We should come here for our birthday parties,” Ben had said optimistically, and the rest of us agreed. It would be a timeless tradition we dedicated to ourselves.

Unfortunately, within the next year, Ben and I both moved away: I moved to Montana, and the next year Ben moved to Washington. Lucas and Kirk eventually joined different high-school groups, Lucas to the popular kids and Kirk to the Christians. Back then, it didn’t really matter about sharing the same views. Our goals were different as well: Ben hoped to be a video game designer; Kirk wanted to be a missionary; Lucas wanted to live day by day: all I knew was that I loved reading. Our goals never really affected us, not in the first few years of high school, but after sophomore year, when we all moved away, our group changed. The clan fell apart, looking for something else to fill the gap.

 

My flashback ends on the trail with Lucas, and we both looked up to the rocky gap. “We climbed up through there,” Lucas told me.

There was enough space for us to climb up the middle, I supposed. I had been leading the way up the trail and started climbing. Using our backs and legs and the grip of our fingers, we slowly clambered up, step by step, taking time to find places in the rock where we could pull ourselves higher. We talked little on the way, refusing to huff and puff in front of each other, until I stopped. I couldn’t see any convenient way to approach it. “Here, let me go,” Lucas advised, “Kirk and I found the way last time.” As he showed me how they found a way through, he added, “This is where Kirk broke his glasses. A boulder came flying down and tore his spectacles to shreds. He made his way up here half blind.”

 

There was once a class field trip to Smith rocks, years ago. We knew we were the fastest travelers, gamer Ben, Christian Kirk, Lucas and I, but for whatever reason we were assigned to the slow group. With the unrelenting ambition of our youth, we passed people by on every turn that had extra space, keeping in our fast pack, a footrace up the trail against all of our peers. Eventually, we reached the people who thought they were the leaders, only to be challenged, and, of course, beaten. Our destination came closer and closer, and eventually we got to the top of the rock, waiting for the tiny slowpokes down below to make their way up to us. Rising up, it seemed easy to forget just how small we were, just as insignificant as those followers down there. We couldn’t see just how little we were from our own eyes, not unless we looked down at the rest of the group making way. We couldn’t see where we were going, where our lives would end up at; all we knew was that we had the instinct to climb to the top, if there even is a top.

 

In the crevice Lucas and I ventured through, the rock started to cut into our beaten hands, nearly drawing blood on the black stone. I could feel my legs start to cramp, sweat beading on my forehead. We both took a very brief break on a slab we could both sit on. A small gap of light came through. It was barely there, but there it was all the same. It was dark in that jagged space, dust particles settling as we talked about memories. It was like talking about the ocean or the moon or the top of the mountain inside a schoolhouse. None of it seemed real anymore, just out there somewhere, like our destination. With one last huff, we lifted ourselves up and headed straight for the top, only a glimmer of light to guide our way.

 

Before I left Oregon for good, I remember the four of us having a sort-of pizza party, complete with the four of us, skittle-pizza, and a few other friends that knew I would be leaving for Montana after that year. It was a nice place we were in, a place designed to make people feel as if they were in Old New York, complete with an antique-style setting and Black and White pictures of famous people I’m not old enough to remember. I remember Drake being there, Kyle, Sabrina, some other person I didn’t even know. It was the last day of school, the most agreeable day of the year.

The main four of us though, Ben, Kirk, Lucas and I, had known each other since middle school. Lucas and I become close friends, while Ben and Kirk did the same. High school is where we were mixed together, and one of us was seldom seen outside the library with the other three in tow. We all knew a day would come when we’d split up, and so this gathering was the last big hurrah before moving on. I didn’t know I would look back on this day, not while traveling to a new place, a new world, and think of myself being in darkness without being fully able to grasp it.

Looking back on it, eating skittle-pizza in a place I couldn’t name, it seems too unreal. Something dissolved, absent. Something too gone.

 

That day, Lucas and I took a final break at the top of the rock, breathing the free, sunlit air with the top of the crevice just below us. We passed time tossing rocks down the trail that swept past us, the ones used by what we considered to be the ‘regular folks’ with no sense of adventure. The sound of the falling rocks echoed throughout the park, and our break turned to the boredom of the conquerors with nothing left to conquer. Before we headed out, though, we looked down the side of the cliff we had climbed up, and looked down at all the tiny people, the multi-colored cars, the mighty river roaring far below us, all bathed in the light of the same sun.

It’s a great feeling, knowing we started way down there and ended way up here. It’s a moment I wish could last forever, like when the dog finally catches the car it has been chasing for hours and hours on end. I wish to hold it like a trophy, put it up above the fireplace, keep it from being so far away. But there’s another car to chase, one with my name on the license plate, and a different one for Lucas.

 

For most of the time I had visited, I stayed with Lucas and his family in their new home. It was a big yellow house at the end of a cul-de-sac, with just enough space for him, his parents, and his five other siblings of the time. I was never able to see Ben or Kirk, as they were both out of state, Ben with his family, Kirk on a Missionary trip. I remember saying goodbye and heading out the door to my car, just about to drive all the way back to Boulder, Montana from Redmond, Oregon. Like climbing to the top of the rock, it seemed we had both conquered the world, and now, it was time for me to succeed in some other new place. Before I got into my car, I remembered I had forgotten my pen, which wasn’t a big deal except that I tend to run low on writing supplies. So I turned around and opened the door again, and Lucas was there at the window. He handed me my pen. “Thanks,” I said, and again, “goodbye.” I left his house, got into my car, and prepared for my long drive from Oregon to Montana, not knowing that I would fall prey to a powerful nostalgia, falling deeper and deeper until it was too small to see.

Lucas watched me as I drove away. That was the last time I ever saw him.

I’m Not Your Small-Town Girl

” How I Failed to Woo a South Korean and Had to Dance With Pasty White Boy at Prom “

By Tala Fehsel


She could have showed off more leg in a pair of basketball shorts than she did through the slits in her dress and she had better rhythm moving out on the tennis court than the dance floor, but that didn’t matter to him. He couldn’t dance with her in the middle of a game, tap her doubles partner on the shoulder and ask “Can I cut in?” The world screamed to him now from the speakers that this was his chance; this would be the tender moment they would share where afterwards he chased her out into the street and the rain and caught her there the way boys catch girls on the playground. So he hung back, watched her, waited for the river of music blaring from the balcony above to slow so he could slip in to the current leading straight to her.

This is a good story from his perspective.

This would be his narrative of courage, of daring, of the scene from the end of every high school movie where he works up the nerve to ask her and that’s all it takes—she looks up and sees his hair combed back and his collared shirt with the red carnation perched in the breast pocket of his blazer like a little cardinal and she wonders how she never wanted him before and in a moment everything changes and the guy gets the girl—just like that, just like a story.

I am “the girl” in this story, and his story. But it’s not “the” story. It’s not “that” story.

I am not third-person. I am sixteen and it’s not my story and it’s not about courage. It’s about cowardice, and being too afraid to run away, and too afraid to hurt that boy and change from “the girl” to “the bitch” in his coming-of-age narrative. It’s about being too afraid to admit I hate the way dresses make me feel and dancing fills me with trepidation but the thought of being left behind scares me even more. It’s about being too afraid to stay curled up at home and miss what all the movies have told me will be the defining time of my life even though it’s the one-year-anniversary of my mom’s death and all I want to do is breathe and squeeze myself into an empty girl-shaped-space and think about the hush.

Nothing is quiet here.

Of course there’s music and people at the dance. They’ve clipped speakers to the stripped cedar railing of the balcony and the bass notes hum in the wood like black flies in summer. The beat is still fast; hands and wrists and arms are still waving in the air as girls flash their legs and flash their teeth, but he’s not watching them. Beneath the railing, posters of a city skyline dangle from the balcony like a flimsy fourth wall or a two-way mirror. I can see couples who’ve slipped their way behind them every time they flutter. This night is easy for them. I wonder what the chances would have been of hitting someone like Polonius if I stabbed at random through the vinyl. We skipped Hamlet in English class

He turns back when the music changes. Those tell-tale keyboard chords come on. He knows it. It’s perfect. Everyone knows Journey. I don’t. The communal groan of “Slow song!” that rises around me as couples grab for one another does is my only warning bell and then the other singles are slipping away from me and the dance floor like water through my fingers. I am exposed and I am afraid, but I am still slower than the opening chords and he is pushing his way through the newly-opened path through the not-so-crowded crowd. It’s already too late.

“Just a small-town girl…”

He stops in front of me. He asks me to dance. I am not aware of his face at all in the moment—only his shoulders, vast and rectangular and his body filling the space of my escape like the locked door at the end of a hallway. I am holding a wooden fan and I don’t know what to do with it, or my hands, and I’m trying to point to it and say I can’t put it down but the lyrics are coming like a timer winding down and I have to make my choice by the second line and I feel my mouth say fine.

“Livin’ in a lonely world…”

“What’s this song?” I babble. I am not fine. My fan digs into his shoulder, black and distant as a tsunami. “I don’t know it.”

“Oh, you don’t? ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ It’s Journey,” he says and tries to sing along to prove he knows. “He took the midnight train going anywhere…” I’m cringing because he’s one of those people who take choir once in junior high and think they’re ready for American Idol.

I don’t see the carnation. I don’t see the tux. I don’t see anything because all I can see is his face like a blur because I don’t want to look. His existence sums up to the horrible oppressive feeling of his fingertips on either side of my waist and the respectful distance between our bodies that’s a space which screams like it’s dying for oxygen and the only way I can fill it is by talking about anything, everything.

“Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit…”

O-kay,” I cut him off and he looks at me like he’s that city boy and I’m his small-town girl and I would run if his big soft nervous hands weren’t a ball and chain nestled on either side of my belly just above my hips while Journey cries “— a smell of wine and cheap perfume” from the speakers in four-chord indifference. He doesn’t smell bad. I wish he did. Somehow it would be better if he reeked of body spray or body odor but the subtle musk of sweat and dusty fabric and dampness from the rain, in its honesty, is sickening as sentiment.

“For a smile they can share the night…”

“How long is this song?” I ask, trying to distract myself. “Strangers—waiting—” In a minute I ask again. I ask again and again. I don’t know how this makes him feel. “How long is this—how long—”

“Streetlights, people—living just to find emotion…”

Every lyric I can make out gives me literal nausea. I wish I knew “Don’t Stop Believing,” so I’d know what sick significance this meant to the boy alone at Prom like all those movies starting to go wrong (Óh the movie never ends) and I don’t believe it will ever end as that guitar solo goes on and on (On and on and on and on…) and we rock and circle in place like teetering cardboard boxes.

“Hold onto the feelin’…”

The song is four minutes long. I hold on.

When the beat changes, a cheer signals that our slow dance is at an end. As Journey fades away and the crowd floods back in, I break from him like I’m breaching for air after having been held underwater by the shoulders, by the waist. I don’t know if I still believe in the movies.

It’s raining outside. The asphalt is shiny. I don’t run out in it. My friends and I wait for them to play Ke$ha for a while, and when they don’t, we leave.

Victory Through Persistence

” A family narrative. “

By Tala Fehsel


My dad grew up dividing his time between the suburbs of Los Angeles and his grandparents’ ranch. He moved into a dormitory in college, and then a mobile home, and then a downtown hotel in Portland, Oregon. Later, he taught himself to sail and lived on his sailboat, renting dock-space by the month in San Pedro and sailing out to the island on weekends. He lived in condos in Maui and Kaui, renting out motel rooms while working everywhere from New Orleans to the Virgin Islands. He lived in a tipi with a cat and a rabbit while traveling from McCall all over Southern Idaho. Later, he turned north towards Sandpoint, repairing an abandoned home near the train tracks for rent.

After he bought his own property, closer to the Montana border, my dad built our house. He did it himself. The braces underneath the window ledges in our house are shaped like my mom’s legs. My dad traced them when he was building the addition, expanding his little workshop to suit his expanding family. He made her lay down and traced all around her legs from thigh to heel (toes pointed, knees bent) and sanded them so they were smooth to the touch. They’re part of the house—it took me years to realize they were there, holding everything up. Until I finally left for college three years ago, the house he built was my only home. He has had many.

When I go “home” now, I go to him.

Without a breath, it all falls back into the old routine. We take ourselves out of rhythm but we fall right back in like a hitch in a circadian cycle, like the flow of seasons. He would always wake up early. Every morning. I would hear the front door open and close and by the time I was up—around 10AM— he’d have come back from the forest. He was always busy with something.

One spring, when the tulips were first butting their heads through thawing topsoil and the air was growing dense with moisture from the last of the melting snow, it was slugs.

“I killed twenty slugs today,” he’d tell me. If I asked why, or what good he thought it would do, he’d cross his arms and shrug his shoulders and frown at me. “Look,” he’d say, “The way I figure it, every slug I kill out there is one slug that won’t be able to reproduce. If they can’t lay eggs, they won’t make more slugs. If I kill twenty slugs a day, that’s a hundred and forty slugs a week. If I do that for a month, that’s…” he’d trail off, thinking, “… four times that. Way I figure, at this rate, there won’t be any slugs left to reproduce at all.”

And it worked. For years, I never saw a slug around our house. Gone were the times of leaves like lace, like swiss; the plants unfurled their petals without fear.

Victory through persistence. It should be my dad’s mantra.

In the summer, when the wailing of grasshoppers in the field filled the air and the sun burned brown holes in our patchwork-quilt lawn, he would turn to the knapweed instead.

Spotted knapweed, the variety “native” to North Idaho, is practically impossible to control, much less eradicate. I studied noxious weeds of Idaho in seventh grade, which was enough background for me to know it was a landowner’s curse. The plant is carcinogenic, inedible to practically every species, and can regenerate from any portion of the root left underground. The seeds are viable for up to seven years. Seven years ago, my dad began digging them up by hand.

“I dug up seventy knapweed today,” He’d tell me when he came back inside (at 10AM) after I’d already gotten up, slicing up a pear for breakfast at the kitchen counter. He’d be sweaty but triumphant, covered in dirt. “I’ve been out there all morning. Digging knapweed.”

My dad tells me the weed, which resembles a small, neon-purple tuft on a long stem with spindly gray leaves, was introduced intentionally to America by a European immigrant who loved the bright blossoms covering up his hillsides. “One guy,” he emphasizes. I can almost see him shaking his head. I can see his thought process—if one guy can introduce an entire invasive species, who’s to say that one guy can’t get rid of it as well?

“Look,” I remember him explaining to me when he first began his project, much in the way he had with the slugs. “The way I figure it, even if I don’t get all of the root, even if I just cut every one off from the top, it doesn’t matter if I can’t kill it. If I dig it up before the bloomers go to seed, it can’t reproduce. If I dig up seventy knapweed every day, that’s four hundred and ninety knapweed this week. That’s all knapweed that isn’t spreading its seed.”

When I ask him again, he explains to me how he first began the process; piling five or six pickup loads onto black plastic so that the deadly seeds—each individual plant can produce thousands—wouldn’t hit the ground. He began digging them out around the house to keep them from spreading and observed within two years that most of them had disappeared, at least until they “got ambitious” on the far side of the gulch. He claims he observed annual success, estimating a drop from over 2,000 flourishing noxious weeds on the property to about 200 “puny small ones.”

And so it worked. Those bright violet starbursts I used to see dotting the dry grasses winked out one by one. “I have won,” my dad officially states. The meadow is full of harmless daisies now. He doesn’t seem to believe it. Knapweed haunts him even now. “I never pass one without coming back to eradicate,” he tells me. “I win. Till I miss one.” He still gets up early in the morning and ventures deeper into the woods, searching for neon purple blossoms.

In the fall every year, when the musky smell of damp leaves filled the air and the mornings leave frost on our windowpanes, his focus would shift to the orchard.

“Now, I don’t want the bear to come by and knock down the tree this year,” he’d warn me as we stacked up piles of brown paper grocery sacks at the base of each tree and wrestled the pear-picker out from behind rows of rakes and gardening shears. The pear-picker, which lacks a more formal title, is a hooked set of claws over a wire basket on the end of a long handle. “So we have to make sure to pick every pear. If we leave even one on the tree, the bear will smell it, and he’ll climb up the tree to get it and bust it. Because he’s stupid.”

The bear was stupid. Unlike the slugs and knapweed, persistence (in this case) never worked. We’d take turns hugging the trunk around the middle and rapidly jerking back and forth until the branches shook and the ripe pears tumbled down like speckled grenades. After that, we’d circle the trees, eying the branches covered with green pear-colored foliage in search of real pears to hook down. We could spend hours balancing on the top step of a rickety wooden step-ladder, swinging at a hard-to-reach fruit at the top of the tree.

Every year, we’d pick the pear trees clean. Every year, the bear came around, smelled pears—the whole tree smelled like pears, because it was a pear tree—and tried to climb it. Every year, he broke off a branch, or pushed down the trunk, and walked away with nothing to show for it. My dad would get up early in the morning and walk out to the orchard with all the broken twigs and leaves on the ground and survey the annual damage. Some battles just can’t be won.

We waited for the pears to turn yellow before we cut them up to make chips.

I have pear chips from 2012, the year I graduated high school and the first year my dad shook the pear trees and cut up the pears alone. The pear chips from 2011, the year my dad committed slug genocide, are gone because he began packing them in my lunch every day during my senior year. The pear chips from 2010, the year my mom died from cancer, are also gone. The pear chips from 2006, however; approximately when my dad formally began his knapweed extermination project, are still there. Nobody wants to eat them. They are black.

We keep things like that. Our family always has. When I was very young, my mom found a perfectly heart-shaped potato chip in the bag of Lays she was eating. She was thrilled. We put it in a crystal case. It’s still there. It hasn’t turned black—it seems strangely preserved by salt and, frozen in time with its signature combination of flavors and seasonings. Beneath its crystal lid it remains unchanged; as impeccably heart-shaped as the day my mom found it.

In the winter, everything is dead. There are no plants to kill and no plants to harvest, but my dad still gets up early in the morning and makes a fire. Before the snow gets deep and the icicles stretch all the way from our shingles to the flowerbed where the tulips used to grow, he stacks wood.

When I was younger (back when the black pear chips were still yellow) he used to chop the wood himself. I would stand outside with him in hat and coat and gloves and stack the split logs in the bed of his pickup. He would tell me about red fir and tamarack and birch and how they burned at the highest grade and I would tell him about the book I was writing. He has always burned what falls on the property regardless, breaking his back over each cord of wood to heat our home.

Now he is older. He can spear a slug and dig up a root and shake a pear tree, but he can no longer swing an axe. He buys “Pres-to-Logs” instead. The log mill in the next town makes them out of sawdust. They’re sold by the ton and priced by weight, running at about $225 per pallet. My dad buys boxes of the broken pieces for a quarter of the price, filling the back of his pickup with a bizarre mixture of lengths and widths too chaotic for commercial market. We have to sort them as we stack, log after log, so they fit snugly end-to-end in their container. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes I still talk about writing with him. He always listens.

I am older too. I am only home in the summer, and so is he. I study and he travels. His house is mobile now, a travel trailer circling Lake Havasu, Arizona. He’s lived on the waterfront in four states. He tells me it’s his favorite. He currently writes to me from the Sea of Cortez, where he can see the ocean. I live off the college campus and commute each day to class. I still can’t really swim.

We are home when we are together. The tulips are done blooming by the time we return. So are the pear blossoms—the bear never knocks the trees down for long. Other trees are always falling down in wind-storms and my dad will find some way to cut them up. He throws our compost down the jagged holes where their roots used to be and I see thick slime-trails glistening around them when I go outside after 10AM, when I wake up. The slugs are back. The knapweed is gone. On rainy days, which are cold, we burn Pres-to-Logs.

The house seems unchanged. The potato chip is still there. So are the pear chips from 2006. My mom’s legs are still there, holding everything up. We’ll always come back. We’re persistent.