Riddle Me This

There is a train going so and so miles an hour. On the train are people. Many people. People in love, people in last, people lonely, hurt, confused. People happy, people painful, people paining others. People in awe, people overwhelmed, people dirty and mean, people with wants and needs and desires and fears and haunts and favorite flavors and skeletons in the closet. People with scars on their arms and peace in their hearts. People unblemished with souls heavy with use and abuse. People striving and giving up. Fortunate and alive and ill and surviving and for better or worse they are all there, in one place, divided by seat backs and armrests. Divides by belief systems and opinions and shrapnel and allergies and hemmerhoids and diagnoses and money and parents and circumstances in and out of their control. 

The train crashes. 

Who lives? 

Let’s say it’s you and I. I live. You live. We are the only two to survive. This isn’t a romantic vision. Death and destruction aren’t beautiful this close up. And here we are, two lone survivors, separated by history and power and culture and beauty and futures and loves and lives given and received, sacrifices and allowances, privileges and knowledge. Nothing to bridge the gap but survival. 

There is one bottle of water, one useless sugary treat wrapped in a plastic bag. Will you take them and run? Will you give them to me and die? Will we share? I know my answer. Do you know yours? 

Progress Report

Are you scared? Are you scared because of the pigment of your skin? Because of what’s between your legs? Because of how or if your legs work? Are you scared of how you love? Who you love? Are you scared to be seen? Are you afraid of being hidden? Are your elbows too sharp for the world’s soft temperament and your body too wide for the chair it’s giving you? Are you afraid of breaking? Are you afraid of being broken? Are you afraid of your tongue and teeth and voice? Are you afraid of losing them, if you had them in the first place? Are you afraid of what you see when no one else is watching you see it? Are you terrified of the emptiness behind your eyelids and the eyelets of your shoes if you have them and the glass on the floor if you don’t? Are you afraid of conflict? Are you afraid of being conflicted? Are you scared of where you’ll be in forty years or four, of being alive for just four minutes more? Are you afraid we’re not moving fast enough? Are you scared of moving? Of going places? Of change? Are you terrified that you’re changing? Are you scared of being changed? Of being short changed? Of being shortly denied your right to live? Are you scared of being right? Are you scared to exercise your rights? Are you afraid of exercise? Of your body? Of the bulk of space you take up in the world? Are you afraid of space? Of the world? Of never discovering it fully? Of coming up in it? Of going out in it? Are you afraid to come out? Are you afraid of being out? Outside? Are you afraid of toxicity? Of being toxic? A danger to others and yourself? Are you afraid of others? Of yourself and self worth? Are you afraid of being worthy? Are you afraid? Are you? Who are you?

A Guide to Apathy in the Face of Tragedy

  1. Remember that apathy is a coping mechanism.
  2. Eat all the chocolate.
  3. In the house. All the chocolate that exists in the house.
  4. Don’t go out to buy more chocolate if it is raining.
  5. If it is not raining, cuddle your cat, your dog, your fish (the fishbowl, don’t take the fish out), or your stuffed animal. Then go out and get more chocolate.
  6. Once you’ve eaten enough chocolate to make you throw up, let loose. Try to aim at the toilet bowl but if that doesn’t work, any surface is fine. Maybe even better. More memorable.
  7. Vomited chocolate looks remarkably like old blood. Brown and sticky and vaguely metallic in your mouth.
  8. Remember that chocolate is a coping mechanism.
  9. Look at the chocolate you threw up. Think of it as blood.
  10. Feel the pain in your stomach. In your throat. The pounding in your head. Imagine that after hours of dancing. Keel over. Pretend you’ve been shot.
  11. Realize that unless you go out and try it, you will never approximate what getting shot is like.
  12. Stop blaming other people.
  13. It’s all your fault.
  14. The apathy.
  15. The tiredness.
  16. The knowledge that you should be sad.
  17. The intellectual response that is being appalled yet functional.
  18. Remember that it is all.
  19. Your.
  20. Fault.
  21. Not the shooting.
  22. Only the aftermath.
  23. Try to imagine a loved one.
  24. Anyone.
  25. Your mom.
  26. Your dog.
  27. The fish.
  28. Picture them getting brutally murdered.
  29. If you feel something, let yourself cry. You’ve accessed it. The place you’ve been hiding all this time.
  30. If you feel nothing, find a box of pins. Or paperclips that you can bend and make pointy.
  31. Insert the pins, the pointy paperclips, anything sharp, into your eyeballs.
  32. See the truth.
  33. See why you’re unable to feel.
  34. Think of your history with violence.
  35. Think of how you’ve learned to be blase.
  36. Because you’ve had to.
  37. Or you’d always be scared.
  38. Afraid.
  39. Terrified.
  40. Remember you used to live this way.
  41. Remember you’re not useful this way.
  42. Remember you are giving into the oppressor when you are not useful.
  43. Remember.
  44. Remember.
  45. Never forget.
  46. Remember.
  47. That is the only way for you, apathetic slug that you are, to feel something.
  48. Cerebrally.
  49. Intellectually.
  50. Until you die a little inside. It’ll happen eventually.
  51. When it does, forgive yourself.
  52. Not too much.
  53. Just enough to keep going.

Nude Awakenings: Grayscale by Ilana Masad

My #StoryADayMay for today!❤ Thank you, Dirty Chai Mag.

Dirty Chai

Dirty Chai’s latest publication in the Nude Awakenings column comes to us from Ilana Masad, who was inspired to write “Grayscale” during her senior year of college after her “really kickass writing teacher” assigned the piece “We Were Our Age” by Dawn Raffel—a piece Ilana describes as being “all about language and emotion and allusion, a piece that you can’t classify as a story but can’t classify as anything else either.”

Says Ilana: “‘Grayscale’ is what happens when that teacher then tells you to try to write something where you pay attention to the way words sound and connect and allude. ‘Grayscale’ is what happens when you’re a clinically depressed and anxious writer and find yourself with a vehicle to tell a story that is about someone sad and angry and dreary and gray and tired.

“‘Grayscale’ is also something you look back and cringe at a little bit, but…

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No Touching (Story A Day May)

Touching people wasn’t in the job description.

“Baltimore, Maryland! Baltimore, Maryland, next stop, next stop, Baltimore, Maryland, ten minutes, ten minutes to Baltimore, Maryland!” A stooped figure walks through the car, calling out the words that come so naturally that they slur together. “Baw-mor-mar-lan-nexzop-nexzop.”

Clarence’s belly protrudes over his uniform pants, but his shirt buttons don’t strain. They make the uniforms in his size, for which he is grateful. He doesn’t know how he obtained the gut; in the way of men of a certain age who have always been meaty and wide, it is only the stomach that really changed over the years, even as his arms remained strong and his legs carried him the distance of the train and back so many times a day. His wife likes to joke that he’s become pregnant with the weight of the world, and that he won’t give birth until he quits his job and gets off his feet.

He doesn’t think she’s wrong, but he also doesn’t think she’s right about this. He does know that touching people was never supposed to be his lot in life. And here he is, counting down the minutes to the next stop with dread, his palms beginning to dampen no matter how dry the train is kept. It is dry, he often hears complaints of it, and the daily commuters are savvy enough to bring moisturizer with them, even the men, he notices, always surprised at how his own quirks have become acceptable, such as keeping his nails trim and neat, his hands moisturized, his skin clear, using makeup when it isn’t, plucking his eyebrows out of growing into fuzzy caterpillars, these are all normal to other men now, and he remembers hiding his habits in shame when he was younger. But his own hands, so well-moisturized, now begin to sweat as he hollers the nearness of the station, and yet plenty of people are still sleeping, the ones whose tickets indicate that this is their stop.

And so he starts. The first is a lady, not a usual one, with the detachable hood of a coat resting on her head, maybe in place of a hat or because it helped shut out the noise of other passengers. Clarence doesn’t know and he doesn’t ask. He puts his hand on her shoulder and shoves roughly. He used to try to be gentle, but it meant he missed people, that people missed their stops, and the rage or despondence that result when people wake up to find themselves a state over from where they need to be is even more insufferable to him than the touching. So he’s perfected a harsh yet impersonal push that tends to wake people up for the most part. The woman is a starter – one of those who wakes up with a half-snort and an inhale of breath as if rising to the surface after too long submerged in water. “Baltimore, next stop,” Clarence tells her. She nods, and begins to get her things together slowly, sleep still weighing heavily on her.

The next is a man, an old man that Clarence sees often. He needs barely a nudge, he’s used to Clarence. He’s a smooth waker, one who opens his eyes as if he’s never been asleep, as if he was only pretending. He smiles at Clarence with his dentures and asks him how he is. Clarence says fine, fine, and “Baltimore, next stop, five minutes.” The man doesn’t need to gather anything. He always keeps his outerwear on, whether it’s a coat in the winter or a just his suit jacket in the summer, and even if it’s very hot in the train. His briefcase is always tucked between his arm and his body, and his legs are always crossed, one way or the other.

There’s a teenager at the end of the car. A pretty young woman. Clarence notices this precisely because he knows he shouldn’t notice, because she is his twin daughters’ age, and because he worries that men may look at his daughters and notice how they are pretty young women too. No one said he’d be touching anyone when he took the job all those years ago. No one. But here he is. He wishes he had a stick, something he could poke people with so his hand wouldn’t need to come into contact with this girl’s leg – which is the closest part to him and the only one visible. She’s is curled up on her seat with her upper body and head are covered in her coat, and he doesn’t want to reach up into the murky purpleness that is her coat and end up touching the wrong thing. Her knee seems the safest but most awkward place to put his hand, but he does, and he shakes roughly.

The leg jerks away from him and the girl rises and backs away, scooting herself back in the double seat towards the window, her curled hair matted with sleep on one side, her eyes bloodshot, a look of utter terror on her face. “Don’t touch me,” she says. “Baltimore, next stop,” he says, and touches his cap to her in a gesture of respect and detachment, he hopes, and goes on to the next car. Four minutes to go. Another carfull of people he is responsible for and whom he may need to wake up.

Touching was never in the job description.

Shoulda Woulda Coulda (Story A Day May)

I should be writing something else.

I should be doing something else.

I should be somewhere else.

I should be in the mouth of a volcano, falling in, in slow motion, waving to a camera far above me, a camera documenting that I am brave. I should be inventing the first hoverboard to act like the one in that movie we all watched when we were kids because I used to have a propensity for mathematics and could have gotten a math or physics degree and gone on to be a scientist. I should be evaluating soldiers in the military for their readiness for combat because I almost did that.

I should be getting married. I should be getting divorced. I should be admiring the people in the world who are loving and being loved. I should be in love. I should be in lust. I should hate. I should be hateful. I should be in denial. In grief. In ecstasy. In pain. I should be in a million places all at once because I should be dead and buried with my ashes or my soul far flung.

I should be a boy. I should be a girl. I should be a person who is neither here nor there. I should be religious. I should be agnostic. I should be selling candy on the subways to make up for my sins – that’s not why people sell candy on the subway – isn’t it? – it isn’t – isn’t it? – no, seriously, truly, it isn’t. I should be homeless then – that isn’t a punishment either, not the way I think it is. I should be burning in hell – yes, that’s more like it. But I don’t believe in hell. I should believe in hell. I should believe in heaven. I should believe in purgatory which is by far the strangest and most terrifying thing a body can imagine.

I should watch more TV. I should know more about pop culture. I should do yoga. I should meditate. I should read Les Mis. I should watch Les Mis. I should buy tickets to Hamilton. I shouldn’t date myself in my writing. I shouldn’t identify myself in my writing. I shouldn’t write from personal experience. I should write what I know.

I should take more time to myself. I should know where I’m going in life. I shouldn’t plan to commit suicide at thirty. I should value every day I have. I should remember that I am not myself but only the collection of thoughts of those who have come before and influenced me. I should read more. I should delegate more. I should be more careful with my money. I should be less stringent with my money. I should be more social. I should have more alone time. I should drink more. I should do more drugs. I should have more sex. I should go out more. I should stay in more. I should watch less TV. I should do yoga. I should do pilates. I should stop seeing my chiropractor. I should stop taking my medication. I should check myself in. I should check myself into a hotel. I should run away. I should stay.

I should hurry more. I should do more. I should pitch more. I should write more. I should always, always, always write more. I should never write again. I should remember that I am talentless. I should admit that I am part of the masses. I should give back my feminist card because I’m not good enough. I should be more of an activist. I should be an activist in the first place. I should put my money where my mouth is. I should make more money. I should change professions. I should change careers. I should be a mother. I should never breed.

I should shout at the top of my lungs from the rooftops and fling myself over and fly. I should paint words mile high in the sky. I should start dancing again. I should invent a time machine. I shouldn’t break up with her. I shouldn’t kiss him. I shouldn’t look at them and want to know what it was like to be with them.

I should breathe.

I should scream.

I should breathe.

I should stop. I should start. I should rev up. I should slow down. I should write a manifesto and burn it in one go. I should stop. I should start.

I should breathe.

God Complex

Complex

Out of the rubble emerged two figures, Hashem and Adonai. Both wore long beards, white for the most part, though there emerged the brown of twigs tangled in the hair and patches were covered with gray and brown from the dust of the fallen rock around them.

“That didn’t go as planned,” Hashem said, arms akimbo, staring up at the rock face.

“Not one bit,” said Adonai, brushing dirt off his long white robe. It was a lost cause and he abandoned it soon to the fruitless attempt that was dusting his hands off. After a few minutes of silently flapping his palms in the air like a sham shaman in a B-movie, he gave up on this latest attempt as well.

Hashem walked around the pile of rocks that had fallen onto both of them and his face brightened with a realization, which he repeated aloud for the benefit of Adonai. “We did witness a miracle, though.”

“We did?”

“Yes. A pile of rocks fell on us and we should have died, but we didn’t.”

Adonai pondered this for a moment, pulling his beard gently in a soft tugging motion that was more a fondle than a caress and was, to be quite honest, very uncomfortable to watch as it looked like the action of a man being intimate with himself. “I suppose that means we mustn’t lose faith then,” he finally said. Hashem beamed at him.

“Of course not! We’re alive!” He ran around the bit of cliff-face that had decided to become crumbs-brushed-off-cliff-face and jumped up and down a time or two. “We’re alive, don’t you see? We’re just what we always thought!”

Soon both men were running around, Adonai occasionally pausing at the cliff face to kiss it and then waving his arms up at the sky before resuming his laps. Finally, when both were winded, they sat under a nearby tree and discussed what to do next.

“We could try finding a dying boy.”

“A dead one. Wasn’t he dead already?”

“He was dying. Then he was dead. Then he was brought back. Right?”

“Maybe. I can’t recall. Or we can find some water.”

“Water would be wonderful. My throat’s parched.”

“No, stupid, to walk on.”

“Or to turn into wine.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“To give as a wedding present!”

“Why do you always like the newer ones, anyway? What about some fire and brimstone stuff?”

“I’ve had enough of stone for one day, thank you very much.” Hashem cast a wary look at the pebbles lying innocently close to his feet, the smallest bits of the broken off rocks.

“Well, if you were parched, you should’ve made sure this one worked. This was an old one, a good old classic, really. Water from a rock.”

“But it didn’t work, did it?”

“Ye of little faith.”

“I don’t need to have faith, that’s the whole point.”

“Yes, yes it is!”

The two began to laugh uproariously, until they stopped, exhausted and hungry and thirsty. They curled up to take a nap under the big tree, saying good night to one another cordially and spreading themselves out on different patches of softish grass. It took Hashem longer to fall asleep – he could hear Adonai’s snores start easily – but he finally drifted off just as the sun began to beam more orange than yellow.

**

“They’re at it again,” Dr. Roskov said, stopping at the nurses’ station for her usual afternoon chat.

Nurse Adrian smiled at the two old men napping on the grassy knoll near the wall that surrounded the grounds. “They are, the dears.”

“I find it insulting, if you ask me,” Nurse George said. He was perpetually disgruntled and bird-boned, both a cross and a Star of David hanging around his neck.

“We didn’t ask you,” Adrian snapped. Dr. Roskov hid her smile behind her paper coffee cup. She didn’t like George but she wasn’t allowed to show it. She could see his point of view, though, especially as he observed both Christian and Jewish holidays – he’d argued his case in court, claiming to belong to both religions and thus received more paid vacation or time and a half than anyone else. But then again she also saw his entire existence as far more offensive than anything the two elderly patients who’d been at the facility for years could do.

It was rare that friendships of such a lasting kind developed, Dr. Roskov knew, and she let them take root and cultivate naturally when they did occur. “Well, you tell me if they start causing any trouble, Adrian.”

“Will do, Doc, but those two – the most harmless gods I can think of, really.”

“Hmpf,” George hmpfed. “They’re not gods.” But a small voice inside of him, the one that knew he ate pork and didn’t fast for Lent, couldn’t help but think, What do you know, really?