Misaligned

Signs drew themselves in the air and Adam watched them, impatient. The spirits were being sluggish today, and he didn’t know whether it was the guilt that weighed on his mind or their own fathomless reasons, but something seemed to be going wrong. The symbols and shapes they sketched in the air seemed muddy, and though he could understand them, they took longer to decipher.
“What are you doing?” he asked loudly. He got no response, of course. He knew that they spoke on the rarest of occasions. But he needed their guidance today, of all days, and as he knelt down and began to pray to them, he felt the previous hours crashing down on him in all their horrible reality.

Commencement Speech

This is a challenge and an invite from Jane, and although I haven’t yet graduated from college, I have graduated from high school. So I have a little bit of experience. I also attended my brother’s graduation and watched the video of Rahm Emanuel give the speech for the graduates of 2009 at Sarah Lawrence College. But what would I want someone to tell me, to tell my peers? I think I’ll give it a try, see what happens.

__________________________________________

It’s graduation day. How are you all feeling? Hot, I bet, in those gowns. You had to pay for them, too, right? I bet you wish they’d made them a bit more comfortable. Plus, those hats can’t be fitting very well.

But hey, it’s graduation day! This means any number of things – your exams are finished, your last papers are in, your theses are written and sitting in the professor’s files. You’re all probably feeling a little nostalgic too – thinking about how soon you’ll be walking down the halls for the last time, and looking into classrooms for the last time, and eating at the dining hall for the last time, and accidentally opening the door when someone’s in there in that bathroom on the third floor that never locks. And no one ever fixes it. Maybe when you come back for your reunion in ten years, you’ll go check if that bathroom lock’s been fixed. Maybe you’ll feel happy if it is, maybe disappointed. Maybe even shocked.

Things will change. These halls will change, new flowers will be planted in the quad, a new building will be built. But more importantly, you will change. I can bet you anything that if you come down here in five years, maybe even three, maybe even in two months – you’ll be looking at it all with different eyes. Because no matter what you think right at the moment – no matter how many promises you’ve made – no matter how many resolutions – things will change.

I’m probably scaring you. You think I’m saying that you’ll lose who you are. You think I’m telling you that your dreams will go to pieces. But I’m not, not really. I just want to reassure you that it’s okay if your dreams change. It’s okay if the person you are today isn’t who you are in ten years, because even if that’s so, you’ll always remember yourselves as you are today.

It’s a big, scary world out there. But don’t think that you need to change to fit into it. If you change – like you changed majors last year, or girlfriends, or favorite writers – then it’ll be for you, for your own reasons, and you probably won’t notice it happening. But don’t let that world, the one seems larger than life and scarier than Freddy Krueger right now, don’t let it tear you down. Use it. Use your fear of it to get where you want to go. Use the things you’ve learned and the skills you’ve mastered guide you, and let your instinct tell you when you need some help, too.

Now, I bet you all want to go hug your friends and your families. Maybe you’ve got a party later on, or night in, packing up. Just remember that today is about you, and what you’ve achieved. Go take off those gowns that mark you so clearly as “COLLEGE GRADUATE” and let the rest of you come out into the open and breathe a sigh of relief that this speech is over.

Soot

Prologue

A cry split the cold morning air. The child, who only moments before had been chasing the pigeons, had fallen down and scraped her hand. She lay where she fell, propping herself up on the uninjured hand and looked aghast at the scraped palm on the other. The scrape looked at first just like skin that had peeled off, but soon little droplets of blood oozed out and began to trickle down to the child’s wrist.

Her wailing hadn’t ceased, and within a few minutes the stone courtyard where she’d been playing was full of people balking at the tremendous noise she was making. A woman scooped her up, ignoring the blood smearing across the white cloth of her apron and took her inside. The stone courtyard emptied as people grumbled and then went back inside the large stone building and got back to work.

“Hush, now,” murmured the woman soothingly in the child’s ear. “There, there. ‘S alright. ‘S just a little scrape.” The child had stopped her wailing by now and had subsided into hiccuping whimpers, tears still streaming silently down her face at the subtle, pulsing pain in her palm. The woman’s face was averted from hers as she put the child down on a wooden stool beside the fireplace, and the child took this opportunity to look at the blood on her hand again. Tentatively, looking quizzically at the redness, she stuck out her tongue and licked it. The taste was strange and metallic, mixed with the dirt that had stuck to the blood. She shuddered a little.

The woman bustled around her, moving around the fireplace, fetching a basin and water and setting it over the fire to heat. Absentmindedly, she patted the child’s matted hair between motions. She got a clean cloth from somewhere and, when the water was hot but not too hot, she took it off the fire and placed the basin beside the child. She dipped the cloth into it, wrung it out, and then tenderly washed the child’s scraped hand. The warmth stung, but the child was calm now, her big eyes fixed on the woman’s face.

“There, now, y’see?” the woman said, taking the child’s other hand and washing it as well. “No more tears now, there’s a good girl. Don’t hurt so bad now, do it?” Her eyes finally met those of the child. The woman gulped.

The child’s eyes were black. The woman couldn’t tell where the pupil ended and the iris began. It seemed like the child had only extremely large black holes set within the whites of her eyes. For all that, she was still only a child. Maybe two years old, three at best. She was skin and bones, almost, although her cheeks retained the roundness of a baby and had a healthy pink flush to them. The child’s hair color she couldn’t make out for it was too filthy and matted, bits of twig sticking out of it here and there making it look as though a bird had idly built its nest there one morning while the child still slept. The child’s limbs all looked to be working and normal, if too thin. The woman thought to herself, instinctively, that the child was probably full of lice and that she needed to be scoured immediately.

But then she met those eyes again. The woman bit her lip, thoughtfully.

“You got a name, child?” She asked abruptly.

“Thea.”

“Ah,” the woman said. She bit her lip again, hard. She looked around her, making sure they were alone and that no one had heard the child utter her name. No one in the large, bustling kitchen had been paying them any attention. It was near supper-time, and they were all busy. She would be told off for not helping tonight. The woman brought her mind back to the child before her and came to a decision. In years to come, she wondered whether she’d been taken on by a fit of madness or whether it was just that the child was much too thin for comfort.

“Your name isn’t Thea. Y’hear me, child? Your name isn’t Thea. You’re gonna be my daughter, and you’re name’s gonna be-” she hesitated, thinking. “Your name’s gonna be Soot, cause o’ your eyes, little one.”

“Soot,” the child repeated. “Soot,” she said again, touching her small nose.

“Soot,” the woman agreed.

New Year

New Year’s Eve. All around the world, there will be people counting down to their own time zone’s midnight, raising glasses of champagne to their lips and toasting each other and the entrance of the new year. People will kiss, dance, rejoice in something that feels monumental to them. Some will be saddened, feeling the holiday season’s last gasp come to a close and thinking bleakly about the coming week which will be completely back to normal.

New Year’s Eve. A holiday of sorts that should mean something – the beginning of something new and the farewell to something old. It should be a time for resolutions and dreams, hopes and ambitions, fears overcome and disappointments shrugged off.

New Year’s Eve. It’s never meant much to me, honestly. It should mean a lot of things, but it never seems to live up to what I would expect it to be. It’s just a night like any other night, to me. I feel like we should always be ushering in the new and making resolutions and hoping for the future – not just one evening a year.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [3]

“Yes, hi, it’s me.”

Caroline clutched the receiver in her hand. She looked at Mr. Adams, and words failed her as tears sprung into her eyes. She hadn’t heard Marty’s voice in almost three years. Now, out of the blue, there he was, sounding just as he did before. Mr. Adams walked into his study and picked up the phone on his desk there. He spoke into it in a quiet, sad voice.

“Where have you been, Marty?”

“Oh,” the voice over the phone sounded taken aback. “Hi, Dan.”

“Well?”

“I- I’m sorry,” the voice began to choke as the words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry, to both of you. It’s just that after Susan… and then the funeral was just horrible and Claire wasn’t speaking to anyone and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the both of you blamed me somehow – blamed me for listening to Susan, for not telling you sooner, for hiding it from you for a year. And then the operation – and the doctors didn’t know that they’d find what they found and just – we didn’t know, and it was supposed to be easy and quick and gone within a few months and Susan felt that it was bad enough that we lived so far away and I just…”

“Oh, Marty,” breathed Mrs. Adams.

She and Mr. Adams had the same memories flooding their senses. Both were remembering their blissful lives, teaching at the university and living peacefully in this house that they finally managed to pay off the mortgage on. Both remembered how three years ago they got a phone call from their only daughter, their Susan. They remembered her calm and collected voice as she lied to them outright, telling them that she needed to have some really minor surgery and not to worry and not to come down to Manhattan for it – it was just this tiny lump the doctors needed to take out, it would be over in a few days. The surgery had, in actuality, been for removing her breast-cancer, which she hadn’t told her parents about since it was considered curable. The doctors hadn’t expected what resulted in the surgery – a complication, a blood clot. They’d removed it, but apparently some of it had traveled through her bloodstream already and had obstructed some smaller veins. She’d died from the blood not managing to travel to her brain rather than from her cancer.

She hadn’t told her parents about any of her chemotherapy, hadn’t told them about what she was going through – she didn’t want to worry them, as she told Marty over and over again. It was bad enough, in her eyes, that Claire, their daughter, had to know and see what was happening. That was Susan’s biggest flaw and always had been – she wanted to take everything on herself, without help from the outside, without causing worry to anyone. Mr. and Mrs. Adams knew this. It was themselves they blamed for not guessing more about her surgery. They blamed Susan, too, although it had taken them two years in counseling after her death to be able to admit it to themselves. But the only thing they blamed Marty for was his cutting his ties with them after Susan’s funeral. They loved Marty like a son, and they wanted to be a part of Clair’s life.

This is what they both, through many moments of choked silences, managed to convey to Marty during their conversation that August evening. Marty, who had broken down completely and sobbed into the phone a few times, sat alone in his apartment in Manhattan – Claire was at her drawing class – and felt that for the first time in three years he had some hope in his horizons. He’d lost his own parents when he was much younger, and the simple warmth of Susan’s folks and the way they forgave him immediately for his mule-headed guilt-trip went straight to his heart.

It sealed his decision. After hanging up with his in-laws, and promising them that he’d bring Claire for a visit very soon, he made a big post-it note and hung it on the fridge. It said “CALL REAL ESTATE AGENT AND SAY YES.” He underlined the word “YES” three times, picked up his keys, and set out to pick Claire up, thinking that the future might finally be looking up.

Here.

It hasn’t sunk in. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a vacation, not like the beginning of a new life. It feels like a temporary jaunt, not like the prologue to the newest chapter of my life.

The city is enormous and Manhattan is only one small, accessible bit of it, but it’s the only bit I’ll get to know in my few days before moving into my new living space – THE DORM.

Manhattan is an endless stream of humanity, constantly coming and going. It makes me think like The Little Prince – I see the people going one way and then see the people coming back and I wonder: weren’t they happy where they were? Then the inevitable answer: no one is happy where they were. I hope it will be different for me, though.

I wish I were an ant, part of the endless anthill, knowing my place and my responsibility and the way I fit into the grand scheme of things. Instead, I’m simply another conscious human, acting half by instinct and half by intellect, trying to find my way and my place.

It’s a beginning. I’m here.

Teenager Sarah – Chapter 1

“This old man… he played 8… he played knickknack on my gate… with a knick… knack… patty-whack, give the dog a bone, this old man came rolling home…” I drone on wearily, getting up to ten and then I’m forced to start all over by the fascinated three year-old I’m baby-sitting for.

I can’t believe I took this job. I have to baby-sit for Max 4 hours a day for the next two weeks until the toddler-daycare starts. I’ve already been at this for a week.

I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but Max is so tiresome! Little kids are supposed to like to sleep a lot, right? Well, not Maxi here. No, no, no, Max likes to PLAY: “I play on pony! I wanna play with puzzle! Make up a game, Sarah!” I’ve made up so many silly games, I’ve rocked him on his wooden-pony thing, I’ve helped him with his puzzles, and he STILL WANTS MORE.

At least I’m getting paid pretty well. I’m saving up for a new amp. I’ve got a really small, pathetic one- only 10V. My parents are ok with me getting a bigger, newer and better one, but they refuse to pay for it. They say that they paid for the guitar and the amp I have and that I should be satisfied. So I’m working my butt off in a baby-sitting job because I started looking for decent summer jobs too late and there was nothing left in my area.

“Sarah! Sing that song about the bucket! I wanna hear the funny-bucket song!” Max calls out after the fifth round of patty-whack. I try to understand what the hell the funny-bucket song is, and then I realize and start singing to him.

“There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole!” I continue on, singing the Henry parts in a deep voice and the Liza parts in a high-pitched voice, and Max loves every minute of it. He claps along and giggles and repeats “dear Liza” and “dear Henry” in the appropriate parts. When I’m done I open a puzzle for him and tell him that I’m going to make a phone call and that he can start the puzzle without me. He pouts, but starts fiddling with the puzzle-pieces anyway.

I walk to the kitchen and slump myself down at the table. I take the phone and dial Hannah’s number.

“Hello?” Hannah’s mom answers.

“Hi, it’s Sarah. Can I speak to Hannah?” I ask. Hannah’s mom sniffs disapprovingly at the sound of my voice, but calls Hannah to the phone nonetheless.

“Sarah? I knew it must be you; my mom had such a look on her face. She’s never going to get over what you – quote unquote- did to me.”

“Geez, all I did was take you to a punk-rock show. Everyone gets bruised and beaten at punk shows! I mean, we were in the pit for gods-sake!”

“I know – it’s her who doesn’t understand. Honestly, you’d think that at 17 she’d be a bit less protective and give me some independence. I had a blast at that show, but she only cares about the bruise on my collarbone and the split lip. Anyways, what’re you calling about? Aren’t you at work now?”

“Yeah, I am, but I needed some respite from the three-year-old’s excitement. Listen, you up for going out tonight? I mean, I don’t have work tomorrow, since it’s Saturday and Max’s mom will be home to take care of him.”

“Sure! Out where? And with who?”

“I dunno… I didn’t really think it through, I just want to get out tonight for a bit. Are there any good shows around tonight?”

“Wait a sec, let me check the paper. Ok, um, there’s a jazz show at the Pallet club, there’s some lecture at the Secret Theater and there’s some band I don’t know at The Slob. I say the first two are a no-no. But the name of this band at The Slob sounds promising- Dragon Blood. It’s only 5 bucks, and it starts at 8, so I can even be home by my stupid 11:30 curfew. You want to check that out?”

“Sure, I’ll meet you outside The Slob at like ten to 8? Ok, great. Oh, and invite Mathew and Steve, they might be up for a good show.”

I hang up the phone feeling a little more cheerful, and waltz back into the living room, ready to take on the incredibly energetic infant.

Back home, I get ready to go out. There’s not much to do: I don’t wear make-up beyond eyeliner, and I dress pretty much the same for every outing: my black jeans, a black t-shirt [generally sporting the name and/or image of a band on it] and my black Converse. That’s pretty much how I dress daily, only with the bonus of the eyeliner.

I head out at seven-thirty and walk towards my meeting place with Hannah. The Slob is this very cool music club. Apart from their folk-night evening, they normally have pretty good bands that play there. I hope my band will be able to perform there sometime in the not-too-distant future as well. It’s the smallest venue around, but it’s a great place to get noticed.

I arrive at the doors of The Slob and Hannah’s not there yet. I lean against a lamp post and look around hoping to catch a glimpse of her or the boys. It’s pretty crowded, which means that this band we’re seeing has some sort of following. There’re actually a couple of girls in obviously home-made t-shirts bearing the words “Dragon Blood” on them in bright red glitter.

“Sarah!” a masculine voice calls from somewhere behind me. I turn around and see Steve. I hug him, and we begin chatting about the last band practice we had. Steve is the drummer, I’m the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Hannah is the lead guitarist and Mathew is the bassist. They always say, form a band with your friends. That’s exactly what I did 4 months ago when I decided that I wanted music to be my career.

Insert-Thriller-Novel-Name-Here: Preface

Most stories begin with a person. Some stories begin with an object – an enchanted ring, a lone chair in a meadow, strange stuff like that.

This here story begins with nothing. Not an object, and not a person. It begins with absolutely nothing, that is to say, just a vast, empty space, all contained inside a small test tube. The test tube is full of nothing. Vacuum. The absence of matter – all matter, liquid or solid or gas.

I sat there watching that emptiness and I tried to understand it. Tried to comprehend the meaning of total, utter emptiness. I couldn’t really understand it, no matter how hard I stared at it. This was when I was a young boy, seeing  vacuum in the science lab for the first time.

Now, I feel as if I am facing an uncomprehensible loss, and now, as it was then, I’m staring at what is in front of my eyes and I cannot understand this emptiness, this lack that I’m facing.

How could I have gotten myself into this situation? How have I screwed myself over like this? Not for the first time, I wish I could turn back the clock…

I spend all my time between calls at work scribbling in my notebook. I was going to try to write some dialogue because I must practice that, and instead I wrote a weird preface to a cheap thriller novel about someone who’s lost everything due to something or other. Ah well, the creative mind takes us odd places, I suppose.