It wasn’t about us, really

The swirling of all our stomachs at the same time was only the effect of the roller coaster. It wasn’t about our feelings, it really wasn’t. We just needed to get away from the ground, so we took a trip to the nearest Six Flags, screaming the lyrics to songs we barely knew all the way there, and paid the entry fee and found the roller coaster with the shortest line and hopped on.
The separation of our bodies from the earth was what made us queasy. Really. It wasn’t the divorce papers we’d signed that morning. It wasn’t our parents dying. It wasn’t the loss of faith in a childish heaven with pearly golden gates. That never made sense to us, anyway. How could anything be both pearly and gold? White gold wasn’t something we’d heard of yet back then, we were too young and poor. The realization that heaven could still exist for us only came later, dropped like a bomb in our backyards, tearing everything to shreds while we were scrambling to get out of the bathtubs we tried to drown ourselves in day after day.
There is turmoil and there is peace, and sometimes they coexist. At the top of the roller coaster that day we could feel both forces pulling and pushing at us, creating the perfect equilibrium. We knew in that moment that everything that had been holding us down would dissipate in smoky clouds and that we would never need to breathe lungfuls of rotten eggs again.

Sticks on Stretched Leather

The drums thud in time to her heart. She feels loud some days, her mouth as wide as the sticks she plays with. She runs and runs and runs and is always behind the other girls running to school. She can’t catch up. Her legs don’t let her. The girls don’t know what she does in secret. They don’t know she runs at night too. She runs and runs and runs at night to the valley. Her head thrums with rhythms and she falls asleep in lessons and there are no two ways about it, she won’t be going to school next year. She knows she is wasting her time and her father’s money. Her mother’s care. Her sister’s sacrifice. But the books in tatters at the school and the walls dripping with sweat and Teacher shouting when they forget their lessons – there is no reality to it. There is no tradition.

The rhythms. There is tradition in the rhythms. In the footsteps on the ground and the dances and the songs. She sees the way the women look at the elders. Even the elders who have forgotten how to eat by themselves and who don’t go far enough away from the river to do their business, even they get looked at with respect. Even the smallest elders with the biggest ears that the little children laugh at, even they remember the drumbeats when everything else is gone. It is soul, the rhythm. It is heart. It is mind and body and memory.

Everyone’s history is in that beat. She thrums to the story of them all and practices far from anyone who can hear, and waits until one day she will be able to show them, show them all, that she has learned their family names in the language of sticks on stretched leather.

Fifty Words

Watching your father shave reminds you of the lion in the MGM logo. The movements are predictable, identical every time, but no less impressive for that. There is a grandiosity you wish you had, a majesty of spirit and body you have not yet attained. Manhood, you think, is incredible.

Soundtrack

The day was brisk and revenge was in the air. Trevor was looking forward to the end of it all. He wanted to reach the point at which he would feel vindicated and satisfied. But he didn’t know when that would be, and even though the wind blowing the strands of damp hair away from his face was cool, he still felt too warm and continued sweating profusely. He contemplated taking off his coat, but that wouldn’t be quite right. Revenge required a certain style, there were standards to be met, and those included the long, black leather overcoat he was wearing.
He knew he looked the part, but he wasn’t feeling it anymore. When he’d woken up in the morning, everything had felt right – the stars were aligned in his favor and his muscles were loose and pliant as he conducted his daily exercises. Everything matched his expectations, right up to the fine spread of grayness that filled the sky in a perfectly foreboding way.
The clothes were already prepared from the night before and they lay draped over the chair beside his bed, inviting him to put them on. He put music on first so that he could pretend he was in a movie. When he dressed, he made sure to pull his sleeves taut in time with the bass line and to knot the tie when the drums started up again after the bridge.
Trevor lived with a soundtrack. Although he worked in a job that he enjoyed – he was a studio musician – he wanted to work at something different. He wanted to be the person who chooses the music to go with each bit of a movie. When his friends described their lives to him, he constantly thought of which song should go with each instance. In his own life he kept meticulous playlists on his iPod and was ready for any situation he might fall into.
Today he was listening to his revenge playlist, but he only kept one earphone in because he also needed to hear the door opening. When it opened, he would be ready for her.
He tried to make his hand stop shaking. It looked distinctly unprofessional. The only thing he could hope for was that when she came in everything would suddenly work on instinct, just like in the movies. That’s what should happen.
But the door slammed open and she rushed out, clearly in a hurry. She was putting her earrings on as she jogged to her car. His hand kept shaking, and the metal didn’t glint, and it was all wrong now. Somehow she was already in the car, and the car was starting and then she was gone, and Trevor was left there, hunched behind the rose bush, the sweat finally growing cold on his face and his hand finally beginning to steady.
Too late. He was too late. He wanted to scream. His music stopped and he looked at his iPod and saw that it had died. He must not have charged it for long enough. This was awful.
“This is awful,” he said aloud. “This isn’t how it should go.” He wanted to ask someone what his next line was, or maybe ask to do the whole scene from the beginning, but life didn’t work like that and there was no director waiting to say “cut!”
It started raining as Trevor walked home and he wondered whether this was a turning point. Was this when the hero of the story was supposed to learn something? Was he supposed to take this as a sign or should he just try again tomorrow? Maybe he needed a sunny day, something less obvious than a gloomy day. Or perhaps he needed to just break into her house at night and do it then.
When he got home he put another playlist on. This one was called “Disappointment.” After a moment he changed it to the one he’d named “Failure.” It sat better with him. Stretched out on the bed, on his back, he struggled out of his clothing, trying not to lift his body very much because he was suddenly exhausted. He wondered whether he was coming down with something. He was drenched from the rain, after all.
The phone rang. He didn’t pick it up for a while, but finally, when it didn’t stop ringing, he decided to answer. It was her. She was asking him if he was ready to be friends yet. He said “Yeah, okay,” and made plans to meet her for dinner that evening.
Maybe there had been a reason for his failure after all.

Lost

Sometimes, I get lost.

Lost in a sea of emotions. But they’re confusing. They come from everywhere and nowhere. They come from the sky’s particular tinge of blue that reminds me of a childhood, a true childhood, that’s been gone for longer than it should be. They come from some mysterious place within the tightness in my chest, grounding themselves with no explanation as to why they’re there.

Sometimes, I get lost.

Lost in an ocean of thoughts. My mind is like some sort of quantum machine, managing to be in all different lines of thought at the same time. Only when I choose to look at a particular theme does it become stark black ink against the backdrop of grey matter swirling in my mind. But when that happens, the thoughts become slow, strange, so sharply focused that it hurts to look at them. So I let them go back into the maelstrom, and I stop concentrating.

Sometimes, I get lost.

Lost in a wave of delirious physicality. Walking, dancing, making contact – they all take on such an incredible appeal, pump such strong streams of endorphin into my brain that I become more acutely aware of my heart pumping, my muscles working, my sweat dripping. When I’m inside the movement, I feel close to some sort of essence of the body. After a while, I get the feeling that I’m no longer in control. I have to keep walking, I must keep dancing, I really can’t bear to end the hug.

Sometimes, I get lost.

Lost in words.

Travel Fever

There are two kinds of travel fever, as far as I am concerned.

The first is the one that can be a curse, but is ultimately a good feeling. It’s that itch, that undefinable wiggle in your heart that tells you to go, to get out, to move, to travel, to be somewhere else. It’s that feeling that begins to mount inside your chest two or three months before the blessed event of the vacation or trip – that stomach-leaping, heart-racing, whoop-of-excitement sort of fever that grips you joyfully in moments when you don’t expect it. It’s that feeling of anticipation that’s almost unbearable because it’s so wonderful and intense.

Then there’s the second kind of travel fever. This is the kind that is only a curse, and comes with some similar symptoms. This time, though, the stomach leaps with fear and nerves, the heart races with anxiety and worry and the sound caught in the throat is more of a moan, a stifled sigh, a cry of dismay and exhaustion and an instinct that says that home is the best and travel is unneeded, a hassle and a trial. It’s the kind of travel fever that puts the entire household into a bad mood, that makes the various packers snap at each other and rush around trying to recover lost objects while inevitably finding them in the entirely wrong place and blaming everyone else for it. It’s the feeling that grips your very guts as you push yourself through the various tasks and chores of lugging, checking in, being polite to security and trudging around dismal shops in the airport.

I am in the grips of this second travel fever. My mother and I fly to New York tonight in order to complete that dreaded chore – vacating my dorm room and putting all my things in storage to await my return, hopefully, in the fall. We will be flying back on Friday, and this is most assuredly not a pleasure jaunt but more of a necessary and emotionally painful inconvenience. Hopefully, all will go well and we’ll suffer no travel delays due to various weather conditions!

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

2. Amanda

On this same late August evening, Amanda left the office of admissions at Valley University and made her way to Oakwood, the only dormitory left open during the summer break. She cursed herself for the umpteenth time for taking the summer job of shuffling paper and answering phones in the office. She had to admit, though, that it had been better at the beginning of the summer when the office was busy with the applications of transfer students. The phones had been ringing off the hook, there’d been lots of envelopes to open and sort through and her days, although tedious, had been full. The flurry of activity had ended by midsummer, though, and there weren’t any deadlines during August, so the only phone calls Amanda was getting in the office were the occasional prospective student or parent and some pranksters trying to make their own lazy summer days more interesting.

The campus was absolutely deserted, and as always the quiet and solitude depressed Amanda. It wasn’t that she was an overly social person – she wasn’t. In fact, she enjoyed being alone more often than not. But she liked being alone in the midst of life, and the quiet and emptiness around her made her feel like she was the only person living and breathing within a mile radius. There were the squirrels, of course, but at this evening hour they all seemed to be chasing each other around the trees, making the leaves rustle. Amanda couldn’t see them at it, so she always felt a sort of creepy feeling, as if there were ghosts whispering among the leaves.

She wasn’t, of course, the only person left on campus. There were others who worked at the various offices, as well as the ever-present cleaning staff and some eternal graduate students that haunted the library and the computer labs. It didn’t matter, though, that Amanda knew of the others’ presence. The walk across campus was still always unnerving after having spent freshmen year making the same walk while being surrounded by chattering multitudes.

Luckily, Oakwood wasn’t too far from the office of admissions, and Amanda pushed the door open into the front hall gratefully. The only dining hall still open during the summer was the one here, and at five o’clock, when Amanda got off from work every day, people were arriving from their various jobs and activities to make use of it for dinner. Entering Oakwood’s spacious front hall always made Amanda feel better, and she walked towards the not-so-alluring smell of cafeteria food, ears happily drinking up the chatter echoing around her.

My Desk

My desk is wooden, old and creaking. The drawers stumble and rattle when they’re opened and shut, like old wheezing men, protesting the exercise forced on them. The keyboard tray slumps down precariously when any weight is put on it, threatening to someday tumble to the floor.

The desktop itself is large and smooth, real wood or else a very good imitation. On the right there’s a small, square box of tissue, blue and reassuring. It’s a homely little thing, but comforting somehow in its ordinariness. Behind it is a pile of books – Sophocles, volume I and The Norton Anthology of Drama, volume I. Underneath them lie two large notebooks, one black and bearing the name of the college and the other a yellow Mead. Beside them lie a pair of black ballet shoes still in their box and a ball of dark purple yarn and a scarf-in-progress. Behind these, nestled against the wall, are DVDs and CDs, just a few, dearly beloved and not willing to be left behind.

In the middle of the desktop is yet another pile – a blue folder weighted down by a green Mead notebook lying underneath a recycled grey notebook. On top of all these lies a copy of Martin Luther’s Three Treatises, a train-ticket stub tucked at page 105 as a bookmark. A scrunchie lies abandoned between this pile and the large computer screen, along with an overflowing plastic box of paperclips, a pink set of Post-Its, a flashlight and a Scotch-tape dispenser.

Next to these, on the far left of the desk, is a small and cheerful pail with pins leaning against it [STITCH & BITCH and I LOVE HH] and in the pail are an assortment of black pens and brightly colored highlighters, as well as a pair of children’s scissors and an unsharpened pencil with a cheerful star-shaped eraser stuck to its end. Finally, in the left hand back corner of the desk is a black lamp, goose-neck poised in an odd position so as to cast the most advantageous light.

At 1:35AM, the objects on the desk are reassuring and homey, reminders that life can be comfortable, even if it’s only on a small four-by-two foot desk.

Spam [Part II]

Part I

Ladonna had walked down several blocks at a very brisk pace before she stopped, shook herself both mentally and physically, and tried to pull herself together. It was weird, true. It was even extremely strange and unlikely. However, there was no reason to panic. In fact, quite the opposite: perhaps her lottery ticket would really be worth something.

Still, she was spooked. As she slowly made her way home, she shook another cigarette out of her pack and lit it. The smell and taste of smoke calmed her nerves, but only out of habit. She considered smoking as a sort of meditation. That argument had never worked on her friends who told her to quit smoking, but it sounded good anyway.

It was still early in the day, and Ladonna had the day off for her birthday. In the evening, she’d have a few friends over. They were all taking the train down to throw her a little bash. She was appreciative – she knew train tickets weren’t all that cheap and that the two hour train ride was a hassle for them. She comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d be taking the train over to them soon enough as well, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty. It was her birthday, after all. She was allowed to be indulged, at least a little.

Thinking of the evening, Ladonna’s mood improved as she walked along the streets back towards her apartment. She meant to cook up a good meal for her friends, and even bake a cake, and she wanted to get an early start on things. There would be alcohol, of course, and plenty of it. Her friends were planning on staying the whole night and get raucously drunk (though not really, because there were neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate that). Ladonna smiled to herself rather grimly as she envisioned the hangover that would follow and the too-familiar feeling of that odd and illogical peace that would settle in the house as she and her friends would drink cup after cup of coffee at her table and try to sober up. They had spent many nights and mornings together in this fashion.

Well, they’d all be nursing headaches and queasy stomachs together, at least. Oh, oops, Ladonna realized. All of us but one. Kate was pregnant, and wouldn’t be drinking. Damn, Ladonna thought, that means none of us will get as much drinking as we’d like done either because we’ll all feel she shouldn’t have to suffer us extremely drunk. She felt guilty immediately afterwards, and slammed the heel of her shoe down on her dwindling cigarette. She had reached her apartment.

As she was climbing the stairs, a man exited a door on the next landing. He had a dog with him, an obedient golden Labrador who sat quietly as he fumbled with his keys one handed. He seemed to be having difficulty getting the key into the lock. Ladonna then realized the type of leash he was holding – not a leash at all, but a harness. The dog was a seeing-eye dog, and the man must be blind. She stepped sideways on the staircase to allow him and the golden Lab to pass her, but the stairway was just too narrow and the man bumped into her just as his Lab sensed the danger of it and sat down to warn him to stop.

“Sorry, sorry!” the man hurriedly apologized. “My mind was elsewhere, didn’t hear there was anyone else here, I’m so sorry.” He gazed at her unseeing and smiled slightly, trying, she felt, to gauge her mood somehow.

“No, it’s no problem at all!” she mumbled shyly back, trying to edge around him. She hadn’t meant to distress him, and he seemed so worried.

“Say,” he began again. “Your voice is a new one. Are you new here or something?” Ladonna felt ashamed of herself again. Here was a new neighbor, a person that would be tromping up and down the stairs here just like her, and she was acting like a complete ninny, just trying to get away from him because she was nervous!

“Yeah, I am, actually.” She decided to do the thing properly, put a smile in her voice and kept on bravely. “My name’s Ladonna Trent, I just moved into the apartment right above you, sir, and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of a neighbor.” She then took his hand and firmly shook it.

He smiled widely. Ladonna noticed how sweet, open and friendly that smile was. This big man, wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes looked simply boyish, despite being very much over fifty years of age.

“Well then! Welcome to the building, Ladonna! My name’s Steve, Steve Solomon. This good girl here,” he gestured to the Lab, who was sitting quietly beside her master with her tongue hanging out, “she’s Anibal. Anibal Solomon, really, since you could say she’s like a daughter, helping her dad around and all.” He grinned widely again. “We’re going out to the corner store. Need any milk or anything?”

“N-no, thank you, sir.”

“Steve’s fine, Steve’s fine – we’re neighbors, after all! If you ever need a cup of sugar or something, just knock on my door. Anibal here will get me if I’ve got my headphones on. She’s good about noticing the door. Come on, girl!” With his command, the Lab started to walk slowly and carefully, her harness gripped firmly by Steve, and led him down the stairs and out into the street.

Ladonna stared after them until they had left the dimly lit interior of the building. When they were out of sight, she ran the rest of the way up until she reached her apartment. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, and she felt a pang of sympathy for Steve, needing to fumble like this all the time. Finally she managed it, and wrenched the door open. Without bothering to take the keys out of the lock or close the door, she rushed to her computer.

The screen was writhing with strange snake-like pipes that were moving and growing and then collapsing on themselves. Impatiently, Ladonna jerked the mouse aside, stopping the screensaver from it’s endless patterns of pointless animation. She stared at the spam folder in her email. There were still five emails there, from five different supposed senders.

Ladonna Trent was her name, of course.

Ronda B. Clements had been her waitress.

Ricky Charles had been the sole survivor of a freak tractor accident that she had happened to catch in a convenience store on the shortest, silliest news report of the day.

And now, Anibal Solomon had just happened to be her downstairs neighbor’s seeing-eye golden Labrador.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday Ladonna Trent had ever had, and that included the one where her older brothers had tried, and succeeded for a few hours, to convince her that aliens were attacking the earth because she had turned eight.