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Home is Where the Mind is

“I really like it here.”

“I know you do,” he replied. “I like it, too.”

“The last time I came here, I was happy—you wouldn’t believe it. Going back was…” I looked away from his knowing gaze and snorted bitterly as I recalled leaving the only place I considered home. “I felt really—everything was just really different and…wrong,” I finished meekly.

I thought he stopped listening after my snort which was why, when I looked back, I was startled to see him still focused on me so intently. For three breathes, he said nothing—just watched me the way you’d watch someone after they describe to you every wax and wane of the calla lily they keep locked away in their heart, every curve of its single petal, every kind of bow to its bending stem.

“I see it in you,” he said and before I could ask him what it is he saw, he was already telling me. “The sadness, I see it in your eyes. The struggle to—“

“—happiness takes work,“ I interrupted defensively, trying to justify what he saw.

“—I know it does. But, you know, happiness isn’t about the place you’re in.” He tapped my temple gently with his index and middle fingers before saying, “It’s in here.”

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How long do you plan to remain unmarried?

“How long do you plan to remain unmarried?”


It’s a dashed difficult question to dodge when sprung on a lad with a morning head, don’t you know. It ruins a chappie’s day when some cockeyed blighter with an incongruous snigger corners him at the entrance of an establishment he haunts to earn his daily bread at, and demands a prompt explanation. This just happens to be a preface to a long day riddled with questions seeking a plausible explanation of my reluctance to enter into the state of holy matrimony at the earliest. Well, I don’t wish to be rude to anybody, if you know what I mean, but I often revert at these inquisitive types with “How long do you plan to remain married?” or dismiss their question as a mere rhetoric.


I think it’s judicious to broadcast my views or taboos about marriage in writing through my weblog in order to do a spot of good to the speculative types I just harped about in the preceding paragraph.


I’m not married because the very idea of remaining cooped up with the same person for the remainder of my life sends beetles down my spine. On second thoughts, this is only partly true, I reckon. If one is married to a person one devotedly loves or falls in love with eventually after marriage, can bliss be any farther from that individual’s life? But then, where two strong-willed people reside, there is bound to be some friction. It’s the presence of fireworks and flowers in the correct proportion that makes all the difference.


Well, if the pastures are greener on the other side, then why not take the plunge? What stymies me is the deplorable condition of my cronies who, right after their respective marriages are not able to call their soul their own. Take for instance, the case of poor old Igor Trotsky (name changed for obvious reasons) whose wife is said to dictate his wardrobe. Once he wore a crimson suit with faint red stripes – a gift from his wife on his birthday, complemented with a pink shirt to my dinner party and looked perfectly foul in it. On enquiring, he grimaced that every piece of cloth he tried on that evening met with the vehement disapproval of his wife except the one that he was wearing then. 

 

Then there is another fellow called Eustace Brinkley (name changed again), who is a perfect slave to his wife's whims. He is known to consume an eatable only after it qualifies the critical scrutiny of his wife. He’s neither allowed to swallow a cocktail because it’ll do no good to his liver or smoke a gasper because it’ll corrode his lungs or eat meat because it’ll choke his heart.

 

Cyril Bassington-Bassington (yes, you guessed it right, name’s changed), a bosom pal of mine, whom I have known since the time we wore Lord Fauntleroy suits and rolled in the mud together, was in tears the other day when he told me how his wife, a strong-willed professor of philosophy, shoved spadeful of Schopenhauer and Spinoza into his system. She wanted to make something out of the poor fellow so that he could make himself worthy of his wife.


This is preposterous. I mean there should be a proper criminal law in place in order to curtail the advances of such blighted women notorious for their reforming habits. Indubitably, the imposition of such a law will restrict their movement among free thinking men to a large extent.

 

Well, not all women are the subsets or supersets, for that matter, of the ones mentioned above. There are always those drooping, prattling, clinging, angelic types or my types, in short, lurking somewhere in the bosom of the society. But coming across such women lurking in the bosom of this vast society of ours is like finding a needle in a haystack. Well, one has to keep trying and to be honest, I’m not trying at all but fully reclining on Cupid’s arrow to miss its mark and puncture my heart or Lady Luck to change her perception and start smiling upon me.

 

Good women, so to speak, are in short supply these days. Most of them are already taken and the rest, don’t exist. The best I can do is wait; wait for that perfect woman to knock at my door, pop in, fling herself onto me and burnish my face with opulent kisses. Well, not much to ask for given that every pterodactyl with a secret sorrow in my vicinity has had been lucky enough to cherish the company of the woman he loves, adores and worships.

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cops

The picture frame leaving the tips of my fingers did nothing to ease my aggravation. I was upset. Of course I was upset. She placed me into my little brother's bedroom, a small room capable of only holding his twin size bed and a dresser. Meanwhile, he was placed into my much bigger bedroom.

It was beyond unfair. There was no logical reasoning to this, besides to degrade me. How could she possibly deny her hatred for me now? She treated us differently. I was the leper.

My belongings were placed into black trash bags, which lined the hallway, cluttered off to one side. My blood boiled with frustration and anger. Nothing I did was ever going to be good enough. She would continue to degrade me in every possible way. She enjoyed hurting me.

Suddenly the ringing of the phone pierced the silence and my rage. Picking up the phone, I heard the voice of my mother.

"I called the police. You stay right there and stop destroying things. They are on their way right now. Andy called me because he was afraid. He heard you throwing things around upstairs..."

I stopped comprehending her words as anger and frustration surged through me. She continued to lecture me for a brief minute or two more, while I forced out a formidable politeness through the mouthpiece.

Hanging up the phone afterwards, I cursed myself for flinging the picture from it's spot against the wall. I cursed my mother for her hatred towards me and my brother for so naively following her every footstep.

Everything I did was wrong. It didn't matter how hard I tried, or how much right I did, she would always find some way to be angry with me. I don't know how to handle her anger properly.

I went to sit down on the steps, awaiting the police's arrival. I was afraid. But I was too tired to run. Where would I go anyways? I've dealt with the police before. Once she kicked me out of the house, and then called the police describing me as a teenager with a lousy attitude who ran away from home. The next morning when I came back home, an officer was there. He cornered me into the wall and yelled at me.

"Do you know what's out on those streets at night?"

He looked at me in disgust, not realizing that I was kicked out of my home. She had told me to leave. I hated cops afterwards.

So many people listened to her. She told everyone that would listen of how horrible of a daughter I was.

"She is on drugs," she would tell them. I've never done any drug then.

"She is having sex with all these boys," she would claim. I had one steady boyfriend. One that she hated because he was black.

"She curses at me and says the most horrible things," she would say. Meanwhile, all she ever did was degrade me, even while I sat there quiet, in tears, not muttering a word.

Everyone believed her. A friend of hers once looked at me and asked me if I was still giving my mother a hard time. As if.

Nothing I did mattered.

Soon the police arrived. They knocked at the door and I answered, feeling beat down and suddenly tired. Now I had to deal with their arrogance and their ignorance of what really was going on.

There were two guys. One black and one white. This mattered to me, because surely you can't be racist against your own partner right? I've dealt with too much racism. Being the girlfriend of a black guy in an all white neighbor didn't go well. That's what caused this entire fight to begin with. She called my boyfriend a rather derogatory name, when I came home crying because someone from school done the same. I sat back down on the steps after letting them in.

The one guy got onto his one knee to look at me eye level. "What happened?" he asked softly.

His softness catches me off guard. I was prepared to be defiant, to answer swiftly and curtly.

"I was angry," I told him. "So I knocked a picture frame down the hall."

He asked me a few more questions about how I knocked it down. Was it hung up? Did I throw it?

I told him it was leaning against the wall, when I just hit it with the palm of my hand.

"Why were you angry?" he asked.

I told him it was because my mother switched our bedrooms. He frowns and looks at his partner. "That doesn't make sense," he said."Is there something wrong with the bedroom?"

I told him no. That it was the smaller one.

After a few more question he started speaking of a visit he had recently with another young girl. A young girl whose mother 'stepped' on her toes. He asked if my mother does this sometimes. I nodded. Then he continued to tell me how some mothers and daughters just bash heads. That mothers can step on the daughter's toes from time to time. That sometimes they don't give them enough space and such.

He spoke softly a bit more. It wasn't a lecture like I usually recieved. Just advice, telling me to try to get along with her, and to step back when toes are being stepped on. His voice was calming.

He didn't get it. Of course. This was more then just toes being treaded on. This was something more vindictive.

But he wasn't rude or arrogant, or pointing the blame at me straightaway. He listened. He asked questions. He was trying to understand.

He left soon after, with his partner. I was less angry. I was less bitter towards police officers too. Maybe they are not all jerks.

Maybe, one day, there will be one who understands.

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Cigarettes and Coffee

            Before I had even opened my eyes, I registered two things; the pistol under my pillow had shifted, meaning I had played with it at some point during the night, and that Chris was making coffee.

            I opened my eyes to the world, looking up at the concrete ceiling, painted white, or maybe that’s the color it naturally was. Maybe it wasn’t even concrete. The wall next to my cot had a long blotch of beige spray paint, and in it in black was written “McGrueber,” accompanied by a drawings of a bloody nose and the Native American featured on the side of my American Spirits; the only cigarettes I would smoke, until I ran out that is. The three other cots in the room featured similar terms of degradation and graffiti; all inside jokes.

            David was the Team Leader; Panda. His name came from the movie Kung Fu Panda. He was heavyset, a Mormon from Idaho and one of the few people I trust completely. Chris, the assistant TL, was Romeo. Chris is half white, half Filipino from the panhandle of Florida. He has a handsome face and what girls would call pretty eyes. My best friend and the youngest, both in years and rank, was Alex, or Pookie. This name originated from his family before us, but it stuck. I called him Al. I was the only one to do so, and still am to this day. Al was our radio operator, a farmer from Pennsylvania. I’d kill the world for that boy.

 

            None of that mattered out there though. We had to get along, no matter where we were from, our race or religion. I had taken a phrase from an old Staff Sergeant I worked beside and made it our team’s creed. “You can shovel shit happy, or you can shovel shit mad, but either way, you still have to shovel shit.” So we chose to shovel our shit happy. That can be difficult when you put four grown men together, in a room smaller than most suburban bedrooms. But we made do.

            I looked over to Al’s cot. He was still asleep. I looked towards my feet, at David’s cot that was along the same wall as mine. He had a mosquito net hung around his and we called him a princess for it. His was empty as well. I could hear the sounds of a computer mouse clicking behind me though and I knew he was playing on Chris’s laptop. We had a WWII strategy game that we liked to play in our down time. I used to beat him nine games out of ten, but damned if he didn’t try his hardest every time. Chris’s cot, also sporting a fairy princess mosquito net, was also empty in the far opposite corner. It was November and Chris was up, so I knew coffee was being made.

            The day was November the 26th to be exact. I will remember this forever, because the 25th was Black Friday; the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday was the day I was engaged in my first and only firefight of my deployment to Afghanistan. Yesterday, another man had attempted to take my life. I, in turn, had attempted to take his. Neither of us, to my knowledge, succeeded.

            Smelling of the cigars we had smoked last night in honor of our last mission, which, being that nobody was killed, we deemed a wild success, and stale sweat, I sat up in my sleeping bag and reached instantly for the puffy coat we had dubbed “marshmallow suits” and swung my legs over the edge. David looked back, wearing his ridiculous oversized prescription Oakley’s and massive headphones, and said loudly “I’m going to beat the computer on Hard, Carpenter!” I smiled and shook my head, pulling on a pair of dirty sweatpants.

            Despite popular belief, Afghanistan was not always hot. Had it not been for two space-heaters we “acquired,” the room would have been much colder, but I stood up and went outside immediately, ducking through the four foot, holey metal door that didn’t quite fit right. I found Chris outside on our balcony (we lived on the second floor of what I’m told was a hotel) making coffee, the salvaged pot running via an extension cord that ran back into the room.

            “Morning Man-Slayer,” Chris said energetically. Of the four of us, I was the most inclined to be homicidal in the morning, and Chris liked to test just how well I could control my urge to murder somebody in the first half hour of consciousness.

            “Fuck you,” I said, picking up my cigarettes off the bench. The door behind me, a staircase led down immediately to my right with a ledge going around to another staircase that went to the third floor. We had a wood bench and a computer chair, as well as some folding stools for seating and it did us just fine.

            I lit a cigarette, and ran my hand through my wild hair. Chris managed to remove himself from today’s hit list by handing me a cup of coffee; black, no fixings, the way everyone knew I liked it. Chris took his with heavy sugar, Al with anything he could throw in it to make it weird and David didn’t drink coffee; something to do with being a Mormon.

 

            We looked out through the camouflage netting that hung in front of our balcony, over the double-wall of Hesco Barriers, filled with many feet of solid earth, topped with razor wire, into the city of Musa Qa’la, blowing on our coffee. The air was damp and cold, the city covered in thick fog. Despite our constant insistence that we couldn’t wait to get home, we had all in our own way, fallen in love with our circumstances. I loved it out there. I sat on the stairs that led to the third story and Chris sat in the chair and we shared an easy silence as we smoked and drank coffee. The city was quiet. It usually was on days like today.

           

            There had only been a few explosions in the city itself when we were there, most of the action taking place on the northern and southern borders of the district. We hopped around the district, giving our support as needed. It had mostly consisted of cleaning up the mess the team before us left, recovering our specialized gear that they had left out and setting the gear up for the next team so they could get straight to work instead of having to hunt down missing inventory items. We also arrived near the end of the fighting season and because of the team before us, had to spend the first month and a half rearranging, recounting and generally unfucking our situation.

            That Saturday, only a month away from beginning the journey home, I didn’t care anymore. My mettle had been tested and I had responded well. I knew that if I were called upon again to fight, I would fight. I would take position and return fire on the enemy. I make no claims of heroism or even bravery. I stood my ground and I shot back. But that was half the battle. And I had done it without fear, without hesitation, without excitement or hate. What did scare me though was that I wanted more.

            Chris and I didn’t speak again about the firefight. It was the second he had been in. He had made it clear he was in no hurry to do it again. Neither was David. David I understood; he had a wife and two children. Al was on my side. I looked out at the fog and the mud-brick and the sheet-metal garages and the slab concrete roads and shoddy metal railings and the Afghans that were slowly coming awake and beginning their day, dark-skinned and heavily clothed against the winter cold, through cigarette smoke and camouflage netting, with a small armory of weapons, loaded and ready, feet away. I thought of the pistol under my pillow. Loaded. Safety off. My hands twitched. I wanted more.

           

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Rising Action

In my fantasies and little frissons, it's never that last kiss - it's the shared breath between former strangers.

When I imagine my idea of victory, it's never the end of the road - it's the wall's first bright crack.

When I don armor and draw chimeric steel, I never dream of the killing blow, but of suiting up.

When I imagine your arms around me, it's not a wedding day or the twirling in the air at airports.

I live on waiting for, "Hey."

I ache and fight and train for the day when I say, "Hey," back? You really get it.

I'm in love with that first capital letter. I mean, who knows how the sentence will

 

Prompt: Anonymous asked you:

Write about what you value the most

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins - Submit prompts, requests for advice, or items for review to prompts@aprompripost.com.

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The Universe Is Vast And Full Of So Many Things.

The universe is huge and full of stuff. More stuff than our tiny human brains can fathom. It is filled with things that are beyond our knowledge. The universe is comprised of everything that ever was, is, or will be. It also includes everything that never was, is not, or never will be. It occupies a projected timeline that we can't really comprehend. If this particular universe comes to an end, whatever takes its place will become "the universe" anew; a fresh instance, a loose extension. Because the universe is everything that exists, no matter what those things are. In this way, the universe is never-ending. Say the word "forever" and it's really hard to imagine beyond a couple of generations. But the universe has existed for about 15 billion years, the majority of which without people, and yet it's difficult -- as humans -- not to feel as if we've been the center of it all for as long as it has been. 

 

Sometimes, I'm afraid that no one will ever really know me. Not entirely. There that there are parts of me, I'm almost certain, that will remain uncharted and unexplored. There are aspects to my personality that will remain unseen and unloved. My whole life I've longed for someone. Not just for companionship, but for sincere understanding. I've believed that there was someone out there made undeniably and specifically me for me -- just the same as I had been designed for them. Of course, coming from an atheist this is utter nonsense. I don't believe supernatural forces created the universe, so thinking of the universe as some self aware architect, molding and producing people in sets of two is absolute bunk. Maybe the resulting cognitive dissonance is why I find myself feeling so frustrated and defeated -- romantically -- most of the time. 

 

I have been loved, I love, I am loved, I will be loved. Maybe not always the way I want to be, or by who, or how, or why, or when -- but I'm fortunate enough to have experienced it. I've also had moments of genuine acceptance. When I have felt that someone has loved me despite my numerous shortcomings, and without wanting anything back from me. Those instances have been rare, but they've happened. I understand that I'm probably luckier than most in that regard; I am grateful, despite how my sulky spells may suggest otherwise. 

 

Though, when I'm being honest I've never experienced a moment of clear empathy. There hasn't been that time when I really felt that another person was able to get in my head and understand exactly what I was feeling and why. Or at least they couldn't verbalize it back to me in terms that made me believe that they really got a solid sense of my inner workings. My lovers have typically been incredibly intelligent, yet sort of emotionally retarded. I'm sort of emotionally retarded myself, in terms of my own feelings, but I'm pretty good at reading people. I'm sensitive enough to other people to conceal or expose myself to the degree that's necessary to keep them happy. I can accentuate and minimize aspects of myself to save their feelings. I often do, because I don't like causing greif. 

 

But this puts me in the awkward position of always being the supporter, but rarely getting the support I need. Of trying to put on a brave face and be strong, when I really need the opportunity to be cowardly and weak. There are times I want someone who I can fall apart on, at least just once in a while; for them to have the patience and stamina to love and care for me while I pick up the pieces. Because I do it all the time for other people. I'm happy to do it. I just... I'd really like to find someone who could do it for me. So far, when I open myself up that way, it seems to be an inconvenience or a burden. I get sympathy -- or worse, pity -- but not empathy. I find affection or placation -- sometimes it even just gets glossed over -- but not verified understanding. 

 

And I don't know if it's comforting or depressing that the universe is so vast and full of so many things. Because I don't know if it's prudent or ludicrous to go on believing that I'll find this someone that I've been waiting for...

 

I'm not sure if it makes me a romantic or just sad. 

 

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"Let Us Remember That We Are In The Holy Presence of God."

I.
When I leave eighth grade, the world is magic. I think I am a big kid because I am going to high school in a couple of months. I hang out with my friends in parks, at Fourth of July parades, in swimming pools. My best guy friend Erik, who I’ve known since I was five and have now spent numerous summer days hanging out with, won’t talk to me the first day of school, and we never speak again. I consider writing him a thrashing letter and giving it to him in front of everyone in the lunch room and storming out dramatically, but it would just elicit criticism from his other friends, the cool kids that I guess had decided I wasn’t cool enough. I despise him, and even though I swear I will be less trusting, I never learn my lesson. Live Jesus in our hearts… forever.

II. 
All of my best friends are more experienced than me. They have kissed more boys, more girls. Lauren talks regularly about getting wasted. Lyle carries condoms in his backpack, like he’s going to need them at Catholic school. All of the boys smoke weed. Kate has a friend who is a drug dealer. Kate also has a friend who bites my neck in the middle of a movie one night and leaves a mark. I had never met him before. I have a guilty conscience that eats me alive the moment I even consider doing something that might be frowned upon, so I refrain from most of these things. I don’t kiss a boy until I’m sixteen. I won’t get drunk until I am eighteen and in college. I will be twenty before I ever have sex. I will turn out no worse for it. Being able to talk to to people in high school a few years ago about these things, people that wouldn’t recognize me on the street today, never seems like it would have been worth sacrificing myself. Let us remember… that we are in the Holy presence of God.

III.
In high school, I pride myself on not being a know-it-all teenager. When I read the things I wrote about the decisions I made, the things I did, all I think is: “What a crock of bullshit.” I was the master of self-deceit.  Pray for us.

IV.
My friend Callista, who I have known since kindergarten, brings a guy named Thomas to our winter formal freshman year. A bunch of us get a limo. It is silly and rowdy. We go to the dance, and I have a fairly miserable time, as I recall it. My date, another friend from grade school, ditches me the whole night. My other friends have found better dates, I guess, because I don’t really have anyone to hang out with. I make friends with Thomas, though. I remember being a bit intimidated by him; he was handsome in a strange way, I thought, but entirely over the top. Loud, occasionally a bit brash — but nice. Very nice, sweet, funny. I take to him immediately. We become friends, too. We text and talk on the phone sometimes. He invites me to go ice skating with his friends, and we drink a lot of strawberry lemonade at Island’s and I kind of freak out when he tries to hold my hand on the ice. I take a picture of us on his cell phone that I don’t remember taking, but that he says made his whole night. Even though I secretly like him, I am too sensible for being fifteen. I know there is something about him that is too much for me, even though I like having him as my friend. I have dreams that leave me confused, dreams about him and me. I never tell him, though. I never tell anyone. He stops pursuit easily enough, but the knowledge that it happened never leaves any of us. We are good friends, for a while. Eventually we lose touch. My friends tease me on occasion, even when I am 21 about how much he liked me. But I never tell anyone that at one time, I talked myself out of having a huge crush on him. It will be years before I understand why I felt I had to do that. And the glory forever.

V. 
 Sometime after my best guy friend (Aaron) and best girl friend (Kate) break up with each other, I am at a party with a ton of friends. Aaron is there, she is not. We have all been swimming for hours, being total idiots, making soapy slip-n-sides and devouring pizza. As I recall it, I have just weaseled my way into conversation with my crush when Aaron gets a phone call. Minutes later, he is motioning frantically for me to follow him outside. Kate took an ecstasy pill because it had Eeyore on it. It was obviously cut with something more ominous, because she is hyperventilating so bad that I can’t even understand what she is trying to say that she’s seeing. I go home that night and make tea with my mom and sit at the dining room table and worry about her. Even Monday when we get to school, she still looks like absolute Hell. Her eyes are bloodshot, there are dark bags there — she hasn’t slept in days. A couple of friends and I talk to her the next week, to make sure she is okay. Within a few months, it’s like we never knew each other. As we forgive those who trespass against us.

VI.
I spent almost a year pining after my first crush before anything comes of it. He is hilariously funny, incredibly smart, and beautiful; his body gives away that he spends hours in the pool every day. He’s the kind of boyfriend that it takes a month before he has the guts to kiss me. I remember few things about that night: I remember how bright the moon was, like there was a spotlight on that street up in the hills. I remember actually going to leave before he decided to suck it up. And then I remember how soft his lips were, incredibly, impossibly soft. It was a chaste kiss, and I gushed about it the whole way home to my best friend Daniele on the phone. A year later, he will have still worked up little nerve. I am disappointed when he finally decides to put his tongue in my mouth a couple of months in; the kiss is slobbery and sloppy. Sometimes he can’t find his voice on car rides when we’re alone. My horse scares the shit out of him. He still can barely look me in the eye when he talks to me sometimes, although he does eventually tell me that he loves me. I know as I stand in his arms on the side street by his house, even as it comes out of my mouth, I know that I do not love him back. Six months or so later, about two years since I’ve been pining after the kid, I break up with him, and he cries. I miss him for about two days before I get over it. Give us this day our daily bread.

VII. I attend a lot of funerals. My friend Will’s mom dies. Travis’s dad has a stroke and becomes a vegetable. There are a few others. Aaron’s dad commits suicide brutally by jumping onto the freeway from an overpass. I stand dutifully at mass for Will’s mom, I offer Travis any help he needs, but with Aaron, I have no idea where to begin. I don’t see him for a couple of weeks, nobody really does, and when we go back our senior year for freshman orientation, I run at him and he picks me up he hugs me so hard. He’s smiling, but I have never seen someone’s eyes say something so different than their mouth is. Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.

VIII. Around the time I break up with my first boyfriend, Aaron breaks up with the girl he’s been dating for the last year. She was beautiful and nice and skinny and he liked to boast about their sex life. Even though there’s never been anything romantic between Aaron and I, it starts to become the general opinion of our very small school that we are the next “it” couple. People are positive before he even asks me out that we will get married. We get elected to Homecoming court, which just leads us to spend more time together for a few weeks. He asks me out with a really cute photo board. We date for a few weeks and he asks me to be his girlfriend at winter formal that year. I don’t recall a single meal we had together that didn’t make me feel violently ill. We go to a student television conference for a few days at Disneyland and ditch a workshop to make out in the back of his truck. He drives me to the manmade lake by his house and tells me that he loves me. It’s not the first time a boy has said it to me, and it’s not the first time that I know I don’t love him back the way he wants. By February, a day or two before my birthday (and three or four before Valentine’s day), we break up. I sob on the phone for hours as it happens, because I can’t flip the switch from best friends to more. He begs me not to, but the damage is done. I can’t live up to his beautiful nice skinny sexy ex-girlfriend, or at least I don’t think I can, so I don’t even try. Maybe I’m not ready to be tied down, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s him; I just know it’s not right. We say we will stay friends, but we drift apart. By summer, I rarely see him. He goes to school in another state, and when he comes home to visit that first fall, he’s been strung out on so many drugs he can barely put sentences together. I mourn more my first two months of college over him than I ever let myself before. It’s the most heartbroken I’ve been since that first day of freshman year of high school. But deliver us from evil.

IX. I am not the most popular girl in school. I don’t associate much with the ‘popular’ kids, past sitting in class with them and occasionally doing classwork with them because there aren’t a lot of us and it’s required. Everyone knows everyone, even if not everyone knows shit about anyone. But I am homecoming queen. The whole school votes and I make the cut. I think of the artistic boys I befriended in my television class, I think of the juniors that I am in charge of as Yearbook editor who leave everything for me to do, I think of all the people whose names I don’t know but who apparently know me. This is the strangest proof that you don’t have to be anything special to be adored; if you are yourself, if you are unapologetically you, people will recognize it, even if it’s not concious. People will love you, and when you go to In-N-Out in your formal dress after the homecoming game with your best friends, you will feel loved. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

X. Aaron has been planning, unbeknownst to me, to ask me out. Apparently his best friend Nick knows this, because Nick tapes a mixed CD and a note to the door handle of my truck the afternoon before Aaron’s plan is supposed to unfold. I find it and I am immediately irate because, even if I don’t know Aaron is about to ask me out the next day, I do know something is about to happen. My best friend fills in some blank spaces for me and it becomes immediately apparent that this was a slimy trick to get me before his best friend could. I am furious at him, but I am even more furious on Aaron's behalf, that his best friend since kindergarten would be so kniving and try to steal a girl from him. Even though Nick had been another one of my really good friends, I totally cut him off. I don’t talk to him for a year. We reconcile sometime my freshman year of college, but I refuse to be anything past civil until years later. We reconnect at another friend’s party, and I convince myself for approximately three weeks that he has changed. When he gets really drunk at a concert with me and my friend, though, he disappears, apparently hooks up with another girl, calls my friend a bitch in front of me, and then still thinks he stands a chance. I find out that he’s been fucking another girl the whole time he’s been trying to convince me how serious he is. I never kiss him, and I end up glad that I didn’t, because that means that I am still the girl he never got, and he deserves to have that over his head. He leaves for the navy and I don’t say goodbye. Forgive us our tresspasses.

XI. I go to parties with my friends and love my life. I have wonderful people around me, and I know it. I have boys I’ve known since I was five who think of me as a sister and I feel lucky for it. Everyone drinks and smokes a lot. I quietly refrain and play mom night after night, especially as we get older. I am never put off by it; it’s just my job, it’s my role, and that’s okay with me. I drive friends home or make sure they have blankets when they pass out on a couch. This is probably why a few short years later, I will be immediately and thoroughly annoyed by anyone who is a shit show when I am completely sober. And lead us not into temptation.

XII. After prom my senior year, we after-party at my friend Travis’s house. There’s alcohol and weed and a huge tent for us all to sleep in. Most people get shitfaced, high, or both. I barely sleep all night because Aaron is somewhere beside me in the tent, still in his tux, and he is shaking so hard from all the booze he drank that I just worry incessantly. In the morning, we go to get bagels together; some of the boys are still dressed in tuxes, the girls’ hair is still flawless, like we did it that morning, eyes makeup smudged, college sweatshirts over pajama pants. I am still using my pearled clutch. We are on top of the world, and I will never forget that freedom. Amen.

XIII. At Catholic school, we pray at least three times a day, more if there is a special event or mass sometime during the day. “Let us remember.. that we are in the Holy presence of God.” The teacher leads us through prayer, and girls in rolled up plaid skirts and boys with their shirts untucked offer intentions for family, friends, classmates. “Saint John Baptist de La Salle .. pray for us. Live Jesus in our hearts.. Forever.” I never see God in mass, though. I don’t witness his workings in the hallways all that often, I don’t have moments of divine epiphany in the plastic desk seats. The time I see God at school happens when I go to Tiajuana, Mexico for a week long immersion and service trip. I speak terrible Spanish. We all sleep on the tile floor of a house with one toilet and no hot water. We see poverty, devastation, and I am sore for days and days after we pave a small piece of ground for a school playground. I take pictures with my camera of the kids we read to. I take pictures of the border wall between the USA and Mexico, the way the posts dissolve into the sea until there is nothing separating anything, the crosses that mark all the lives lost of people trying to find themselves a better life somewhere on the other side of the fence. I see a picture of myself, larger than life on the wall of the cafeteria during an assembly, a little girl from the village smiling happily on my back, “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves playing in the background. In that moment, in that little girl’s eyes; that’s where I see God. For thine is the kingdom, and the power.

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Elderly love

Sitting at my desk, I can see the perfectly maintained garden of my neighbours. The tightly cut hedges rise around their freshly mowed lawn, accompanied by the sound of babbling water from the small fountain in the middle. 

A man enters the framework of my window. His slightly tanned skin contrasts with his silver hair, his checkered shirt is covered by a navy cardigan. He opens the shed and takes out a sunbed. It is amusing to watch him clumsily trying to set up the sunbed. His wife needs to lend him a hand.  

It is a sunny but breezy day, so she brought him a blanket and his sunglasses. He puts on his sunglasses and sits down. Carefully she lifts his legs onto the sunbed one by one, covering them with the blanket. She gets a pillow from the shed and puts it behind his head. Then she lovingly runs her fingers through his hair. 

For a while she stays with him, peacefully standing in their garden, their self-made tranquillity, and when she leaves he follows her with his eyes and smiles. 

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Top Ten Things From Movies I'll Never Get to Do

They say every man is living in his own movie.  I've never done anything remotely worthy of a Hollywood action flick.  The closest experience was to shout to American Air Force pilots over the din of a airport tarmac, "Welcome to Turkmenistan!"  It felt like it was a scripted line that was delivered by someone else. 

 

What are those things I've imagined doing if my life was really to be in movies:

1.  Crash a car through a sidewalk fruit stand while pedestrians scatter.

2.  Throw a cowboy through a plate glass window.

3.  Sword fight along the castle parapets.

4.  Arrest the bad buy and tell my back-up to "book this bozo."

5.  Tell the Warden that, "there hasn't been a prison made that can hold me."

6.  Defuse the time bomb with seven seconds left.

7.  Push the plunger that detonates the demolition charges.

8.  Start a pie fight.

9.  Play an impossibly difficult Rachmaninoff piano concerto leaving the audience in stunned silence.

10. Be told by a presiding official that, "you've made a mockery of these proceedings."  (preferably with my pet Macaque monkey, "Mr. Peepers" on my shoulder).