When I was a kid, I thought it was weird to wash clothes right-side-out.
Why would you wash the side of the cloth that doesn’t touch your body?
I thought it made much more sense to wash clothes inside-out,
So that the clean side of the socks would be the side touching your toes.
As I grew older, I realized, that washing your clothes was not all about
We smile proudly, parading in front of society in our
Our sweaters look pristine externally as we fight the scratchy wool and
Pokey tags internally.
We spend precious time shopping, cleaning, matching, accessorizing, and
Ironing out the wrinkles.
We squeeze into clothes that are too small, something we
Refuse to admit to ourselves.
We disguise our bodies, faces, hair in pretty cloth and mystery chemicals
Before we dare leave the house.
We abandon all rationality and
Paint ourselves purple purely for others’ benefit.
Our standards are inside-out.
Overthinking is a delicate, dying artform. Mastery of the arts has become less common in this age of technology. Industrialization and progress be damned; we must revert back to the old days, the better days. The days when no one knew their opinions or desires. Stuck in the darkness, before Edison came along and brought light. No overwhelming department stores, option-filled restaurants, and unlimited Netflix shows for binge-watching existed. Those were the glory days. Today, people want options; choosing makes them feel in control. Oh, how the once mighty have fallen. Control and decision are for the weak. Fear not, my reader. I am here to enlighten you, so you don’t end up like those other 21st-century chumps. I shall take you back to the days of gallant war orders from ranking officers and knightly honor; the glory days where only fate could make the decisions.
Transport yourself to a nice little Italian bistro on the river, or maybe a beach, or wherever. Trees draped with Spanish moss –American tree moss if you prefer– seclude the bistro from the busy street, and the sun peeks through the greenery (of whatever name), dancing across the customers outside. You sit at an eloquent, glass-topped table for two under a tree; indoors was full, thankfully. Look across the table and towards the river/beach/ocean thing. Do you see the young man? He struggles… internally. The battle has begun. He just ordered his dinner when the waiter came, the first time. Everyone knows you reserve the first time slot for greetings. You sneak a glance at the menu and mentally prepare yourself for the impending doom of the battlefield ahead. Don’t let their question “Can I get you started off with some drinks tonight?” throw you off your game. This is your moment. Simply look them in their eyes –establish your dominance in a friendly, soft, not too dominant way– and tell them you need a minute, or maybe an hour. They will laugh at your ‘joke.’ Joke haha, if only they knew the massacre ahead.
When they return –oh and they will return– barely acknowledge their presence. This gives you extra precious seconds for consulting the troops for a strategy, a response. Feel your heart rate rising, the sweat beads forming along your brow, and the shakiness setting into your hands. The adrenaline rush is exhilarating. Wait until they ask, “Do you know what you want to drink?”
Do I know? Silly question. No, I do not know. At this point, you must meet their gaze, but DO NOT allow the eye contact to sway your non-decision position into a decision. You should not appear too eager; hide your flustered look and compose yourself. For the love of God, compose yourself. You are unflappable. Instead of replying, spend time pondering: water, Coke, tea, Dr. Pepper, Fanta, Sprite, Root Beer, or lemonade. Chocolate milk, perhaps. Let the thoughts swirl in your brain, enveloping you in their barbed-wired embrace. Water sounds good, but tea would be refreshing. No, then I must choose between sweet tea and regular, or they might even mistake it for hot tea. Oooo, do I want a hot drink? Water, yes, water. Or maybe not. This will test the waiter’s patience; see if they display moxie worthy of a handsome tip. When you feel yourself leaning towards a decision, spit it out like old, chunky milk–sour and squishy– before you have time to regret your decision.
Relief floods over you, but it is short-lived. The waiter replies with a most unpleasant smirk, reveling in the pain and torture they caused. “Alright, I will grab you those drinks and be back for your order shortly.”
The audacity. The waiter wants your failure, your decision. Do not, I repeat, do not give it to them. Do not listen to the O’Jays and “Give the People What They Want.” Go into your head and find a happy place. Well, only if thoughts and doubts do not already plague the warm sunny beach, creating a dark, D-Day like abyss. Your mind becomes turbulent, unruly waves swallowing your comrades, and you —the last hope— feel the current gently pull you away. It would be easier to let go. Nevermind, scratch that. Do not go into your head. The surrounding voices of your fellow comrades, restaurant go-ers, pound in your ears and bring you out of your daze, back onto the battlefield. The words on the menu blur into hieroglyphics. Is that a sweet hibiscus salad or pesto glazed salmon? The delirium should set in right about now, a sign that the war’s progress is on course for victory: a blood-bath of a victory.
The waiter returns, keeping their diabolical promise. Breathe; let the spinning inside your head become your guide. The spins say you must ask the waiter for their opinion. “What do you recommend?”
The waiter smiles, a look of pure evil, Satanic even, “What are you deciding between?”
They want the question to confuse you: impossible. You randomly glance at the top option of the pasta section and the middle item in the entree section. “The squid ink pasta with shrimp and the chicken parmesan.”
They pause, taken aback by your poise and skill. Checkmate. They feel the enemy forces closing in on their ranks. They are down by seven points with three seconds on the clock. They do not know which letter comes after the first “e” in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious during the spelling bee. Your cavalry sees the weakness and prepares for their storm of the castle. You wield power in your hands; ready the flag for planting in enemy soil.
“Personally, I believe the squid ink pasta is delectable.”
They used delectable as an adjective for pasta, a sign of panic, a sign of surrender. “Sounds perfect; thank you for your help,” you reply. You maintain perfect composure, a picture of grace and beauty. Now, this next part is very important: keep eye contact. Stare them down. Burn holes in their soul. Looking away is a fatal mistake, one you cannot afford in the final moments before victory. The Trojans believed they won and let their guard down. Look at what happened to them.
“Alright, I will place your order, and it should be out shortly.”
“We Are the Champions” slowly begins playing in the background. Balloons of vibrant colors gracefully glide to the ground, and confetti bursts out of the unnamed moss hanging in the trees. Everyone around you rises from their wicker chairs and applauds wildly. The paparazzi arrive out of nowhere, cameras flashing. Are you shocked? No, victory was inevitable with your trusty mentor —me— and hours of training. Accept the praise and remain humble; the purple heart never goes to an arrogant officer. Wave and acknowledge the fans, then return to your seat and wait patiently for your victory meal.
Squid ink pasta never tasted so good.
During the meal, you relax. Let go of the tension in your shoulders and neck. Enjoy the food. As you near the end of the dinner, you look up, and your heart drops. Here they come, running at you like a calvary of 10,000 men with bayonets prepared for slaughter. “Would you like some dessert this evening?”
You dropped your guard, entirely unprepared for the enemy’s counterattack. What do you do when surrounded? Run. Get up, throw cash at the waiter –including their tip of 30% because you’re not the monster, they are–, and sprint out of the lovely, quaint bistro. Surrender is not an option. Don’t stop until your knees buckle from exhaustion and cannot carry you one step farther, or you feel the bile rising in your throat. You achieved another successful evening out.
August sends another notice to firstname.lastname@example.org about an overdue book. This was the third time this month she had to send one to this person about an unreturned copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Most people feel guilty and return the books right away after her gentle, yet firm request, but not email@example.com. She sighs and walks away to go shelve some books when the phone rings. She internally groans and picks up the phone, “Hello, Swallow Creek Public Library, this is August speaking. How may I help you?”.
After a small pause, the person on the other line replies, “Your name is August?”. “Yes… Now is there anything I can help you with?” August resists the urge to roll her eyes and taps her finger on the desk. “Um, yes actually. I keep getting sent emails about an overdue book, but I can’t return it. So if that could stop that would be greatly appreciated,” says the gruff low voice. August has no words. He can’t return it? What is that supposed to mean? She sits in silence until she hears the man clearing his throat through the phone. She stutters out, “You can’t return it?”
“Yes, I can’t.”
“I apologize for asking but why?”
“Um I just… it’s very hard to explain. I’m sorry and thanks for all your help,” and the phone line goes dead. She holds the phone in her hand, eyebrows scrunched in confusion. Finally setting it down, she decides that it’s time for her break. August heads to the break room where her sister, Amelia, sits chewing on an apple and scrolling through her phone. She plops down in the seat next to her. “Whoa, what’s up with you,” Amelia comments.
Eyes closed and head leaned back against the chair, August replies, “Sometimes I am completely baffled by the human race.”
“So am I, but what did they do to you today?” Amelia takes another bite of her apple and turns to August.
August sighs, “I’ll explain later, right now I need some coffee.” She reaches over and steals a sip out of Amelia’s cup.
“Hey! That’s mine! … Ugh, my break’s over. There’s your own coffee over on the counter so you can stop stealing mine.” Amelia says, taking her coffee back and heading out the break room door.
“Love you!” August yells to her sister and goes to grab her cup. Beginning to unpack her lunch, she thinks to herself, “This is going to be a long day.”
The door to the small diner swings open and in rushes August, frantically tying up her hair. Out of breath, she pants, “I’m sorry I’m late!”. Her boss and owner of Mel’s Place, Mel herself, shouts “It’s okay hon. Just clock in and take table 4.” August rushes around the counter and picks up an order pad. Taking a deep breath to recenter herself after the rush to get to her second job, she briskly walks over to table 4 and begins to recite her spiel, “Hi! Welcome to Mel’s Place! I’m August. What can I get started for you today?”. She glances up from her order pad and locks eyes with the very handsome man sitting at the table before her.
“Did you say your name is August?” a slightly familiar low voice asks her.
That snapped her out of her trance. What is it with people and her name? Annoyed, she responds, “Yes, I said August. And yes, I know it’s a month, but it happens to also be my name. Now can I get you something?”
“I’ll just have a black coffee and a piece of the peach pie, both to go please,” the handsome, yet irksome stranger, who also happens to like the same pie she does, answers her.
“Coming right up!” August replies in the cheeriest voice she can muster. Walking back and placing the order in the order window, she thinks deeply. What was giving her serious deja vu vibes about this guy?
Leaning her back up against the counter, August asks Mel if she knows the guy at table 4. “Oh Jude? Of course I know him! He’s not here at his usual time though, must be running late today. He used to come in every Sunday since he was little with his grandmother until she started having memory problems last year and moved into Swallow Creek Ridge. Now he stops by at lunch to get her a piece of her favorite peach pie,” Mel finishes with a sad smile. “He’s grown into quite the peach himself!” Mel cheekily comments and goes back to serving customers.
Eyes filled with curiosity, August delivers the pie and coffee and is about to ask if she can get him anything else when she notices a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird sticking out of the top of his open messenger back on the booth next to him. The realization hits her hard, “It’s you, isn’t it? Mister ‘I can’t return the book’,” August prompts.
“I assumed there wasn’t more than one August living in Swallow Creek. Aren’t you supposed to be sending obnoxious emails at the library?” Jude challenges.
August narrows her eyes at the man and crosses her arms, “some of us have to work two jobs instead of sitting around eating peach pie and purposely breaking common decency rules like refusing to return library books, if you must know.”
A small smile plays at Jude’s lips as he stands, gathers his things and tosses cash onto the table. “There’s a little extra in there, consider it a donation to the library. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go break some more common decency rules before the day is over.”
Watching him exit the diner, August is torn between appreciation for his nice blue eyes and anger at his arrogant treatment of her and the library. “August honey, can you grab Table 7?” Mel bellows from the bar, leaving August to push aside thoughts of this second odd encounter of the day until later.
That night when she finally returns home to the tiny apartment she shares with Amelia, August plugs the name ‘Jude Foxx’ into the Google search bar. She finds an article from almost twenty years ago in the Swallow Creek Gazette about a terrible car accident off Highway 49 just outside of Swallow Creek claiming the life of Mary and Graham Foxx and leaving their 6 year old son Jude the sole survivor of the crash. The article mentions how devastated his maternal grandmother, Cora Winters, is over losing her daughter and son-in-law. Bells ring in August’s head. Where does she know that name from? Google doesn’t give her much information that helps. Just basic information about Cora Winters, apparently a long time resident of Swallow Creek. However, she does learn that after the accident, Jude went on to become a star baseball player in high school, went to Stanford on a scholarship, earned his PhD, and now owns a psychology practice dedicated to helping children cope with trauma. Heart melting a little at his story, August decides to attempt to reconcile with the gruff, selfish guy who refuses to return a library book.
The following day during the slow mid-morning hours at the library, August asks Amelia if she knows the name “Cora Winters”. Popping her head up from the stacks of books she is organizing, the elderly library manager, Martha, says, “Oh that’s a name I haven’t heard in a very long time. You should know Cora Winters, dear. She used to volunteer here when you girls were little. She ran storytime every week and very kindly donated a large collection of books to us when she moved into Swallow Creek Ridge last year. Poor thing…dementia is such a sad thing to have to live with. Why are you asking about Cora?”
“Oh, well I was doing a little research and her name came up. I think her annoying grandson has one of our books and he refuses to return it,” August replies.
“Oh Jude was always such a sweet boy. He’s had a hard time of it. Cora raised him all by herself. Seeing her go through this must be eating him up inside. What book is it?” Martha asks.
“To Kill a Mockingbird.” August replies.
“Well, that was Cora’s favorite book. She said it taught you a lot about character. Let me see the record,” Martha requests.
Pulling it up on the computer, August shows it to her. “Well, that’s his grandmother’s copy of the book. No wonder he doesn’t want to return it. Just don’t worry about it dear. Let him know he can keep that book,” Martha finishes.
Feeling a little sheepish after learning more about the story, August agrees to drop the overdue book chase and get back to work on other tasks that need to be done. After several hours of organizing, shelving, and preschool program planning, August decides to take a walk during her lunch break to get some fresh air. She must subconsciously be thinking about the story Martha told her earlier because she finds herself strolling by Swallow Creek Ridge. Sitting on a bench under a tree off to the side of the large wrap-around porch, she spies Jude sitting with a tiny gray-haired lady who must be his grandmother, Cora. He is reading from To Kill a Mockingbird to her and she listens intently. Slowly, he closes the book and stands, beginning to help her to her feet. Not wanting to be seen, August glances around to find something to duck behind, but in her rush trips over her own two feet and drops her phone, making enough noise for Jude to look up and spot her. Face flushing, August quickly grabs her phone and hurries back toward the library.
Strolling toward the diner later that afternoon, August is startled to see Jude standing outside the door. She fights the tiny butterflies beating their wings in her stomach. She isn’t sure what it is about his presence that makes her feel all jittery and tongue tied, but she is determined to not let him see that, so she holds her head up and starts walking past him when he calls, “Hey August, the girl, not the month, do you have a second?”
“Um, sure,” she says, anything but sure about why he’d be talking to her.
“So since now you’re apparently stalking me to get back the library book, I thought I’d make it clear in person that I’m not returning it. It was my grandmother’s and she kindly donated it along with a bunch of other books to the library when she had to move into Swallow Creek Ridge, but I really wish she hadn’t done that,” Jude glances down at his feet, shuffling them around, and continues, “She always loved books so much and now when I read to her, it’s one of the few times she remembers things…remembers me. So I’m not going to stop reading her favorite book to her,” he finishes firmly.
Speechless at first, August sighs, “Listen, I understand. You should keep the book. I didn’t know. I was just trying to do my job. And for the record, I’m not stalking you. I just happened to be out on a walk at lunch today and passed by Swallow Creek Ridge,” August states, trying to convince both herself and Jude. “Now if that’s all, I need to get to work before Mel fires me.”
Jude nods and steps aside. August heads inside, but can’t seem to focus on her customers that night. Her thoughts are all too consumed by her surprise interaction with Jude. When she gets home that night, she’s formulates an idea.
August arrives early to the library the next morning. She’s knee deep in research when Amelia shows up. “Hey early bird! I didn’t even hear you leave this morning. What’s with the employee of the month act?” Amelia teases.
“Oh I’m just trying to find some old books that were donated. Remember that guy I was telling you about that wouldn’t return his book? Turns out there is more to the story than him just being a jerk,” August explains.
“Interesting! Tell me more!” Amelia exclaims with a clap.
“I will, just let me finish what I’m working on and talk to Martha first. Catch up to you later?” she asks.
“Of course. I’ve got to get ready for story time anyway,” says Amelia.
August works at the computer for another hour then hits the bookshelves, pulling book after book and putting them in a box. Determined she walks into Martha’s office and says, “Got a second?”.
After explaining her idea to Martha, who hugs her and tells her to take the rest of the afternoon off to carry out her plan, August leaves the library with her box in tow. She heads straight to Swallow Creek Ridge and asks at the information desk if she can leave something for Cora Winters. “We usually only allow family members to see patients in our memory care ward,” explains the lady working the information desk. Hurriedly, August explains the purpose of her visit and shows her what’s inside her box. Smiling broadly the lady says, “Well in that case, let me show you to her room.”
The attendant tells August the room number and she makes her way up the stairs to the room. Once reaching the door, she sets the box down on the welcome mat and places a little note on the top. She lifts her hand to knock on the door when a deep voice from behind her interrupts, “What are you doing here?”
Startled August turns around to see Jude’s deep blue eyes gazing at her intently. She stares back at him, trying to figure out what to say when he interjects again, “What’s in the box?”
“Just some books from the library that your grandmother donated all those years ago.” August says, eyes glued to her feet. Jude is silent in response. After another pause, August finds her voice again, “Well, I should be going. I hope she enjoys the books.” She hurries down the hallway and makes her way to the front walkway when she hears Jude calling her name. She pauses and turns around to wait for him.
“Why?” he asks.
“Well, I lost my grandfather a few years ago. He had Alzheimer’s. It was so hard watching him struggle to remember us. We would do anything to help bring his memories back. So I just thought if the books help your grandmother remember you, then she should have them,” August finishes with a small tear in her eye.
The pain and kindness behind his deep blue eyes is so evident to August in that moment that she knows she did the right thing.
“Thank you August. Would you like to meet me at the diner later for a slice of peach pie?” Jude tentatively asks.
August has never been more sure of an answer before. “Yes!”
what precedes the fall
of a mending heart
when will guides to whole
an ungrateful truth
less darkness in lieu
what begins the fall
of a healed heart
of which touches deep
in feverish keep
to hold on
what’s after the fall
of a love ridden heart
when grappling claws
slip through silk
yet feigning strength
a hardened heart is due
Growing up in Wilmington Delaware I had one neighborhood friend. We should have gotten along well because we were just alike. But like everyone else, I didn’t understand her. She was tall and scary, but she embodied the elegance of no other. For a while I took her for granted, then I feared her, sometimes I felt embarrassed by her. She’d always been the most beautiful on the block, almost incomparable. Her biggest problem became the fact that she hung around two completely different crowds and never quite fit into either. I felt ashamed of her. No matter which crowd I hung around, she’d always be there and in the way. It took a 400 miles move for me to realize she and I were just the same, touching two worlds but somehow not fitting into either.
Delaware is the second smallest state in America. Wilmington, though, is the key point of the state. The small city has both the nicknames of “North America’s Versailles” and “Murder Town.” She sat between the two. She was my first house, and my one neighborhood friend.
In one of her worlds, you’ll find beautiful flower gardens.
In this world, even the president of the country is proud of her.
In her other world if you’re a young person your risk of getting killed is higher than any other person dying from virtually anything else.
902 stands tall between the two of these areas.
At the age of 9-years-old, I finally realized her uniqueness. I joined my mom in the family room to watch television. On the news, a reporter stood in front of long neon caution tape and police cars. She stated in her intimidating broadcast tone that a boy had gotten killed there last night. It shocked me that someone would ever kill a young boy. I shook my head and returned to my Barbie Youtube videos, remembering why I never watched the news. The next day on my way home from school, with my dad, I sang songs with him on the radio. My obnoxious singing halted when I looked out the window at the familiar scene in front of me. Long neon tape and police cars. Here stood the place where someone killed the boy. And we were only a couple blocks from being home. I pondered this incident often. I looked up at the ceilings of my friend as I drifted off that night; thinking of how terribly close she and I were to scenes of murder. At times like these, I’d ask her questions like ”does death scare you too?” She never answered me. Instead, the walls would close in comfortably, the lights would dim, and we’d fall asleep together; scared but at home.
Once I finally turned ten, I got a later bedtime. I was beyond excited to earn the power of staying up later so that I could watch an episode of Fresh Prince of Belair in the kitchen. Of course, I pushed the limits a bit too often. “Please let me finish one more episode! Uncle Phil was about to kick Will’s friend out!” I’d plead. The later I stayed up, the more things I heard outside. I heard the groans of drunk men stumbling out of corner stores. I heard obnoxiously loud parties down the block. I heard emergency vehicles wailing down the street so often, I just stopped acknowledging them. These things brought entertainment when the TV couldn’t. My mom and I would turn all the lights out and peek through the windows at the crazy man falling over the sidewalk. I had fun until I started hearing gunshots. I had no idea how far or close they were but I heard them. I desperately wished I could move and live in neighborhoods like my friends when I heard these things. I hated the house. How could she be so beautiful in a place like this?! I wish you had feet so we could walk to another town!
All these rattling things were behind her. Literally. On the backside of the house, the ghetto part of Wilmington roared proudly. But the front looked different. Ahead of her were beautiful churches, a children’s theater, a playground, and our award-winning garden with the pretty cherry blossom tree that my grandpa planted for me. My mom told me I should take pride in the front. And soon I did. I took pride in my award-winning garden. I took pride in the Adopt-A-Block sign on our street that said “Graham Family Block.” I took pride in the front when President Obama and Vice President Biden rode past my house in sleek black limos followed by U.S. Military tanks and secret service cars. I took even more pride when they held a memorial at my PreK.
In the second grade, excitement overwhelmed me when I finally introduced my school friends to her. We dressed in pretty, poofy dresses and drank tea in the big shiny dining room. Excitement overwhelmed me for the moment when my friends could meet my one neighborhood friend. They’d love her! How could they not? She was so pretty. Everything felt great until Samantha had just needed to run her big mouth. Her dad was a police officer, which meant he was all too familiar with my neighborhood. He said that they’d have to park blocks and blocks up the street so they’d avoid their car getting broken into. It didn’t matter that my house was touching the nice side of town anymore. All that mattered was that Samatha told everyone that if they parked on my street their car would get robbed! I wanted to say “No that’s not true! It only happens sometimes. And only at night. This is a day party. Besides, they’ll only steal your car radio. My dad can tell you. They stole his.” But instead, I stayed quiet and resented my beautiful friend for hanging around the wrong crowd. Why do you hang around thieves and embarrass me at my party!?
I spent a lot of time sitting in the window. Even though my mom told me I should take pride in my neighborhood, I wasn’t allowed to go outside. It was too dangerous. I watched the cars pass on the busy street. I watched people go in and out of the corner store at the end of the road. I watched sluggish old, drunk men stumble back and forth not knowing where they went. The front and elegant side were boring. But the back window was where the real fun happened. I’d discreetly prop the blinds open and watch the neighborhood kids play outside in our parking lot. They’d play kickball, sit on cars, laugh hard at jokes I couldn’t hear, chase stray cats, steal rocks from our garden, and best of all: they looked like me. I couldn’t relate to Samatha the way I did to these kids. We looked alike. These kids wouldn’t ask strange questions about my skin (theirs were the same shades of dark brown). These kids would park on my street and I wouldn’t feel embarrassed, I’d feel proud. I begged my mom to let me play with them. She’d rub my shoulders and say “baby it’s not safe for you.” So I’d watch intensely through my window and envy those kids.
I watched them so hard it was like I knew them. I never really met any of them but I knew them. I knew that Yasir was a ball hog. I knew that China liked whipping the beads in her hair. I knew that Mitchell had the worst shoes. I even knew that they’d all gotten in trouble one time for staying out past the time the street lights came on. I knew that Aniya hit one of my neighbors’ cars and broke the window. I knew she did it but I didn’t tell when they tried figuring it out. I didn’t tell them because I knew them; even though they had no idea that I existed. At least I had my one neighborhood friend. She couldn’t talk to them either. She didn’t talk at all, she couldn’t. Together we watched the kids and laughed at jokes we could never reply to.
The one year of middle school I spent in Delaware was a train wreck. My beautiful house and I experienced a literal identity crisis. I made tons of friends at school, a Greek charter school with an insane amount of diversity. There were kids who lived in my neighborhood, on both sides of it. There were kids who lived in fancy parts of town in huge brick mansions. There were kids who lived in parts of town I’d never go through because they were far too dangerous. Everyone was there. And it felt great. Best of all, now I was old enough to have real sleepovers!
My friends who lived like the backside of my house called me “rich girl.” They’d come over and look around at my house in awe. “Damn girl! I didn’t know there were houses like this up the street from my house” they’d say in amazement. I had grown in popularity with them because they all wanted to see my “rich girl house.” This should have been cool. But it seemed odd when Yasmine started calling me things like “white girl.” They’d say things like “Christina is an oreo. Black on the outside white on the inside.” Everyone loved that joke. I wanted to say “But you only live a couple of blocks away from me! I heard those gunshots last night too! I’m just like you guys.” I felt misunderstood. And my beautiful one neighborhood friend must have felt the same way. “Who are we?”
I made other friends though. These friends didn’t live in the city like me. They lived in real neighborhoods; the ones with pull-open mailboxes, one’s where I’d be able to play outside. I invited them over too. On two occasions my friend Makayla came over and we had a great time during the day. It wasn’t until night that I heard her crying on the phone in the bathroom. “Mom please pick me up. I can’t stay here. It’s too scary in this place at nightime.” I felt my heart sink, I was embarrassed. But I couldn’t blame her. Even I felt scared at home during the nighttime. Another time I invited my friend Cheyanne over. There is no story for how that went because her parents told her she wasn’t allowed to ever go to houses in my zip code. But should I take pride in this place? This place that made all my other friends judge me.
That next year I moved 400 miles away to North Carolina. In the four years that I’ve been here, I haven’t once seen my one neighborhood friend. I miss her like crazy some days, especially on days when I feel misunderstood. Despite being away from each other I know she’ll never have a friend like me. And I know I’ll never know anything like her again. She and I were just the same. We have this bright colorful splash of the backside of town. Ghetto, rectless, party going, and super loud. But we also have a polished and shiny splash of the front side of town. Professional, presidential, award-winning, and super loud. Having this mix of two very different worlds is exactly what makes us beautiful. For this, I’ll always remember my first house as my beautiful one neighborhood friend.
Peppers! – Bea Holdstock
The boy sat on the rocks facing the sea, watching as the waves tumbled and crashed against the shoreline. His bare feet dangled over the pebbles and sea glass, the fantastical glittering colors clouded as the sea washed over the bank until they were revealed again, somehow brighter than before. His wide eyes peered down over the rock on which he sat, not far above the ground but to him, it felt like a mountain. His gaze roamed the beach, delighted by the sounds the glass and rocks made as they clinked together from the gentle force of the waves. Behind him stood a small cottage with peeling green paint that ran along each railing; the years of salty wind had eroded it away, revealing the warm tones of wood that lay underneath. The house was stout and inviting, its once harsh edges now softened by the sea. A small curl of smoke lifted from the chimney, the delicate scent of baking bread mixed with the ocean air, a warm melody of sharp salt and sweet yeast. The smoke drifted along the wind, bouncing and dancing through the air to meet the boy’s eager nose. He inhaled deeply, letting the aroma swell up inside him until he tore his attention away from the beauty of the beach and leapt to his feet, bare soles meeting the cold damp of the rock. He made his way gracelessly through the tide pools, jumping and skipping clumsily to avoid sinking his foot into an urchin-filled cavern. When he reached the grass he began to run, the last warmth of summer shining down on his back. He could smell the crisp of fall in the air as the blades of grass tickled his ankles, the warm dirt sinking slightly with his weight. Reaching the gate already flung open from his exit earlier that morning, he crossed the garden that seemed to stretch infinitely toward the house. He stepped over cabbages and carrot sprouts, beet roots and celery stalks, only once coming up short and plunging his heel into a head of lettuce. The boy knelt quickly, haphazardly trying to correct his mistake, fluffing the green stalks back to their natural state in the hopes his grandmother wouldn’t notice. The warmth of the house called to him, beckoning him away from his blunder; the leaves remained wilted and bruised, falling flat when the boy’s supporting fingers slipped away.
He took the steps two at a time, his little legs barely extending far enough to reach the next wide board. He stumbled only once, gripping the railing for support. Brushing off the small flakes of paint that had stuck to the sweat of his hand, he leaped over the threshold, running square into his grandmother, spade in hand ready to tend to her most prized possession. Her dress was long and floral, barely brushing her ankles where her gardening boots started; they were too big for her feet, large and clunky as clown’s shoes. Her graying hair was piled wildly on the top of her head, pinned in place by a pencil to create the perfect nest for a roosting sparrow. She stumbled backward with a slight sound of surprise. When she had regained her balance, she surveyed the boy, looking from his ruffled hair down to the wet mud that caked his feet. She frowned slightly, lifting the boy by his arms and sitting him on a stool where she handed him a towel. She then turned and made her way out the door with a huff, tottering down the steps like a doll without joints in her legs.
The boy watched from the window as his grandmother approached the edge of the garden, his elbows resting on the sill. The smell of bread was stronger in the house, and the boy inhaled deeply, relishing the memory of how the first bite of fresh bread melted on his tongue. His grandmother was stooped near the carrots, inspecting each perfect stalk. Her vegetables were never overripe and her fruits were always bursting with the sweetness of summer. She surveyed each one with care every afternoon, inspecting any disturbances she may find, each leaf handled with the care of a nurturing mother. The boy’s eyes grew hazy with sleep from the warmth of the house. His lids began to droop and his elbows slid slowly on the windowsill, his cheek now resting flat against his folded arms.
The boy thought lazily of the garden with its herbs and peppers and lettuce and strawberries, the promise of an afternoon dream inching closer to reality. He jolted upright, his little hands gripping the edge of the window sill, his knuckles slowly turning white from the pressure. His eyes grew wide with terror as he remembered: the lettuce. He rushed to the door and stood in its frame, unsure of what to do. His grandmother was hunched over a patch of soil, inspecting each plant as usual. She turned her head toward the boy standing in the doorway, her hand supporting the crumpled leaf that he had stepped on not twenty minutes ago. Her wrinkles seemed to deepen as she looked at him, her hair growing whiter despite the now fading light. The boy looked desperately past her toward the sea, where he knew the moon would rise soon. His grandmother returned to her inspection and the boy backed slowly into the house and sat on the floor near the oven, letting the smell of rising bread fill his brain, forcing out every other thought.
The boy stayed by the oven that held a loaf of bread that would never burn. His grandmother stayed outside far longer than she normally did, but the boy was too afraid to peer out the window. Finally, he grew so hungry that his stomach ached with emptiness, grumbling in complaint. He stood tentatively on the porch and watched his grandmother huddled over the lettuces, muttering and mumbling words he couldn’t quite hear. He watched as she began to dig a sort of trench around his ruined lettuce, muttering all the while. He watched as she reached into her pocket and sprinkled some sort of dust onto the soil. He watched as she knelt, her floral dress fluttering in the evening breeze, and took someone’s hand. He watched as the girl’s head emerged from the dirt, the wilted sprout falling gently from her hair to the ground. He watched as the girl stood, her satin dress sparkling like a pearl. Where dirt should have caked her face her skin shone, scrubbed clean by some unseen sponge. He watched as they both turned to him, their eyes sad as his grandmother beckoned him closer. When he reached them, the girl took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently.
“I really thought you would be the one I kept,” His grandmother cupped his cheek, but her sad eyes showed no sign of tears. She led the girl into the house and the boy stood alone as he heard the oven door open and the soft crunch of a knife cutting into fresh bread. He knew that soon the girl would feel the first bite of bread melting on her tongue, that she would sit on the rocks by the ocean, watching the pebbles as they shifted gently in the tide. She would soon be maneuvering through the garden like so many children before her, taking extra care not to step on the lettuce.
The boy turned to the rocks and began racing toward the beach, his feet dragging behind him. He ran as if in stuck in tar, sinking slowly into the soil until he was waist deep. He could see the ocean, the waves crashing softly against the seaglass. He struggled against the earth, pushing it away from him as it gripped him tighter until he was plunged into the damp dirt, the sliver of light above him closing into dark.
Snake O’Clock – Laurel Caplan
From hidden rivers flowing ‘neath the earth,
To gilded forests scraping ‘gainst the sky,
Moss-covered clocks remind us of our worth;
Remind us of the truth we must deny;
Put hammer to the watch and hourglass;
Be rid of seconds, minutes, hours, days!
Create a world where lifetimes freely pass,
Unburdened by those obsolescent ways;
While some believe their deeds live evermore,
Death’s icy hand makes no such guarantee;
Instead return to how it was before
There was a need for fragile legacy;
So take to heart the lessons of this rhyme;
And join me in this war waged against time.
Through a lot of hard work, both on our end and yours, we are excited to present a new rendition of The Living Hand. First published in the fall of 1992, The Living Hand was actually the fourth literary magazine in Ravenscroft history. Prior publications include Of Time and Tides (1973), Wax Paradox (from 1974 to 1981), and Mindstage (beginning in 1981) . As we transition to a digital realm with this fifth iteration, we hope to expand our capacities as a platform for highlighting student-produced work. With a wide range of writing styles, from poetry to short stories to nonfiction, as well as art and photography, there’s bound to be something here for everyone to enjoy. Since we have gone digital, we have been able to accept a larger variety of art, including our first song. In future years we aspire to feature digital productions in film and audio as well. We’d like to give a big round of applause for our entire Living Hand team: the editors, media team, teacher/student liaisons, website creators, and of course you, the student body. Because at the end of the day without you, we wouldn’t be able to get where we are today. And so without further ado: The Living Hand.
Ava Kate Wall
Once upon a time, there lived a princess with a heart so big it hardly fit within her chest. She was an only child, surrounded by no family other than a father she conversed with twice a day: once at breakfast, once at dinner. Lunch was a meal she ate alone, and as a result the early afternoon became the worst part of her day. For Princess Mina had all the love in the world to give, and no one willing to accept it.
On the eve of her nineteenth birthday, Mina sat excitedly across from her father. Her legs bounced rapidly under her dress, neatly trimmed fingernails tapping on the aged wood. Suddenly the food in front of her no longer appeared appetizing.
“Father.” she said softly in an attempt to draw him away from the window. This proved ineffective so she spoke louder. “Father, do you know what tomorrow is?”
He turned then and looked at her with a vacant stare. “Tomorrow is…two days from yesterday, I believe.” His voice was gravelly, as if it exhausted itself traveling from his fragile mind to chapped lips. At the end of the slowly drawn out response, he offered Mina a small smile and returned to the window’s view.
She sighed as her appetite returned, excitement temporarily quenched. The only positive of today would certainly be her visitor. She always came into the bedroom after breakfast, tidying things up and wiping things down. She’d come to visit every day for as long as Mina could remember, and through years of trial and error she discovered the ideal time to return to her quarters to appear peacefully reading a book when Celine arrived. Often, they had words. Meaningful if short exchanges about the happenings of the kingdom and the past daylight hours. Although Mina was by no means trapped in her castle—she had seen the world and wanted it no longer, her loneliness prospered in the presence of others—she didn’t leave often. So, her time with Celine was cherished.
After soon realizing that would likely be the extent of her father’s words for the day, Mina ate, rose, and walked up flights of stairs and rounded corners until she arrived back in her room. Picking up a novel she’d pretended to read for a month now and placing herself daintily on the rocking chair by her window, Mina waited. She counted down silently until the door opened as she arrived at one. She looked down quickly and skimmed over meaningless words.
“Good morning, Princess,” Celine said from the doorway, a whisper of a smirk on her lips.
“Ah, Celine! I hardly heard you enter.” Mina can’t help but smile widely and they both chuckle lightly. Both girls knew full well Mina held no interest for the type of romance novel she held.
“And how was breakfast?” She asked as she began picking up clothes from the floor and placing them in a burlap bag.
“Oh Father and I spoke of all the world’s joys and fears, quite exhilarating.” She closed the book and faced her.
“That quiet?” Celine questioned with a raise of a dark eyebrow.
“Mm. And what of his plans for tomorrow?”
“What of them? I know of none.” The sorrow creeped into her tone even as she fought it.
“My apologies, Princess.”
Mina scowled and earned another soft laugh.
“I simply cannot bear to call you Mina,” Celine continued, awkwardly stretching the name, “It goes against all that is.”
“Many things err in what is,” Mina returned the sentiment, “They certainly mustn’t stay that way.”
At that, Celine looked up from the last of the clothes on the wooden floor. The heavy meaning behind the words sent the taste of thick blood down her throat, immediately upsetting her stomach. As she drank in the sultriness of Mina’s voice and hopefulness in her maple eyes, she suddenly misplaced all the words she’s ever known. This unspoken bond between them must remain exactly that, they both knew this, but the princess had always been one to push boundaries. It was embedded so deeply in her nature. Celine secretly believes it’s a byproduct of her upbringing, or lack thereof. There hadn’t been anyone to rein Mina in for nearly a decade now, and she gladly chose to embrace roaming free as opposed to aching for what she could no longer held her down. Thankfully, this reminded Celine of a way to shift the conversation.
“Do you miss the Queen?” She questioned and began to dust the countertops.
Mina scoffed. “What reason do I have to miss the Queen?”
“I would miss my mother dearly-” she paused to reach the high top of the vanity, “-if she disappeared so suddenly.”
The following pause suffocated both of them.
“Well, I am not you. And you certainly are not me.” Mina responded from a place of hurt.
“Meaning?” Celine turned around to face her.
“Meaning, I think it’s best if you go.” And as hard as she tried to sound cold, that heart of hers betrayed her once more as a tear slipped from a trembling eye. Her mother was an untouchable topic, always had been.
That fateful morning, when a ten year old Mina ran excitedly to her parent’s bedroom—as she did every instance in which the sun appeared on the horizon—and found her father sobbing and her mother’s side of the bed vacant. He held a note far too small in his shaking hands. “Goodbye. With Love, Maria,” it read. Far too few words to fill the gaping hole in their home. Something broke within the king that morning, and she sincerely believed he would never allow himself another feeling of amity as long as he lived. Young Mina cried for seventeen days, praying and willing and screaming for her mother to return. She never had. She never would.
“Good day, Celine.”
Thet day passed ever so slowly. Mina ran over her harsh response an infinite amount of times. It had been too mean, far too mean for the last person she had left to give her love to. Tomorrow, on her birthday, she would tell Celine of her feelings. She must lay everything on the table and allow the cards to fall where they may. The Queen often used to refer to love as a hummingbird, small and fleeting, as it must be caught before it is lost. Mina wasn’t sure about the small part, as the love she felt for Celine flowed through her being and floated outside of it. But fleeting felt correct. Only one week remained before Celine turned eighteen as well, and was free to no longer serve them. Mina had no doubt her dear friend would run off at her first free dawn. She must do this tomorrow, a special day for a special person.
After her lonely lunch, Mina ventured to one of the gardens surrounding the castle and picked a bouquet of flowers all on her own. A vivid mix of peonies, daisies, hydrangea, and baby’s breath sit at attention in her hand as she returns. She’d kept away from the roses, scared Celine would scar her hand on the thorns. After tying it all together with some loose twine and placing it in the center of the bed to easily be seen, Mina retired to the dining room for an undeniable silent breakfast.
“Mina, my dear!” her father shouted as she entered through the immense doorway. Her eyes grew at the volume and sprightliness of the words.
“You’ve a visitor!” he said with a tone so lively Mina felt a chill run down her spine. He stepped aside to reveal a young man, maybe early twenties but it’s hard to tell, with a smile so flashy it hurt. His hair stretched all the way to his shoulders; the ashy brown stood brightly against the deep red fabric of his fitted shirt. The most alarming feature of his, though, was the blue so light it almost appeared white swimming across his eyes as he scans the room. Mina had never felt comfortable around people with light eyes. Something about them had always felt….fearful. And a fearful person is never to be trusted.
“Hello,” she greeted hesitantly.
“Princess Mina.” He bowed. “Prince Chester. How do you fair on this beautiful day?”
Mina scrunched up her nose at the nasally sound of his voice.
“Fairly shocked so far, and you, sir?”
“Astounded.” He stared deeply at her, and her skin seemed to crawl.
“Well, I’ll leave you two to it!” the King said before briskly walking out of the room. Mina couldn’t even collect herself from being on the receiving end of his unfounded energy before the Prince’s interrogation began.
“May I?” he gestured to the chair beside him.
Unsure of a way out, she nodded curtly.
Prince Chester went on to explain how he had come to court and marry her as soon as possible. Despite them never having met he showered her with compliments on her facial structure and gait. Odd things to notice, she thought to herself. Then with a sign of realization, childbearing features no doubt. He’d like an attractive child and a mother for it apparently, as her wider hips would increase her chance of surviving the birth. Mina was repulsed enough at this being his introductory commentary that she rose abruptly, apologized halfheartedly and nearly ran to her quarters.
There, she found a confused Celine holding a bouquet of flowers and looking across at her with wide and deep brown eyes.
“What is all this to mean, Mina?” Her tone toed the line between grave concern and unbridled excitement.
“It is to mean I am in love with you, Celine. I believe I always have been. Every waking hour of mine is spent yearning for you next to me, and my sleeping ones imagining it. Your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your chin…” she feels herself losing focus, “You. Have become a quintessential fraction of my being, and no longer can I pretend I do not wish to hold you until we arrive in our graves.”
Tears brimmed Celine’s eyes as her lips opened and closed in an attempt to force words past her tongue. Mina was close now, so close she could hear her heart pounding with such force that she fought the urge to put her hand over soft skin to calm it.
“I am not a princess, Mina. I am no royalty, and as a result we cannot be. You know this. Why-Why must you put me in this position to deny myself the thing I love most? How selfish of you!” Doubt and hurt and pity began to harden into frustration toward the hopeful girl in front of her.
“Because,” She takes her hand in her own. “My love, we no longer have a choice. I had planned on spending my birthday with you babbling about our future together, thinking and talking this through, but I’m afraid this future, if it is to be ours, must begin at this very moment.”
Celine shook her head lightly, not understanding.
“I have a suitor, Celine, and I have never seen my father act with such fervor. I fear he will not let me out of this. I fear that I will be forced into a loveless life when one full of love lies right before me.”
“Who is to say I love you?”
“You do.” Mina sighs softly, feeling no doubt that her feelings are requited.
Silence stretched thousands of miles in the centimeters between them. Teary eyes blinking. Open mouths hesitating. Heartbeats roaring. Both of their minds ran wild with possibilities.
And in one fluid motion both women swallowed the space and satisfied desires long awaiting acknowledgement. This, they thought simultaneously, was most certainly the peak of what life has to offer. Butterflies set free and hummingbirds caught in nets. This, undoubtedly, was love.
“We must go,” Celine whispered into Mina.
A smile broke loose on the latter’s face.
“Yes.” She blinks, taking in the moment before it dissolves. “Yes, we must.”
And as the women linked their fingers and quietly escaped through the halls of the castle and into the forest with nothing but the clothes on their back and elation in their bones, the Queen smiled.
Celine and Mina were never heard from again, maybe settling somewhere in the safety of the woods, or perhaps creating a kingdom of their own. Certainly though, they lived happily ever after.
Let me preface this by saying that I know how you feel at this very moment. If you are the dumpee, right now, you are in a free-fall from the edge of a cliff. No matter how long you teeter, the point comes when you finally slip. You cling furiously to the side, your fingers digging into the hard rock, and shut your eyes. You instinctively reach out an arm and wait for your person to pull you up to safety, but that familiar touch never comes. Finally, you open your eyes again, staring helplessly into the face of the person you love. Begging with your eyes, you pray this contact is enough to bring them back to you. So many beautiful memories reside in those eyes. But now, they are blank—lifeless. At this moment, you know what’s ahead. Some people will quickly pry your stiff fingers from their grip and let you fall. However, the weak ones walk away, leaving you to let go. From this point on, your person is just a person, existing only in distant memories. Once your free fall is over, you will hurt–badly. However, the day you pick yourself up off the ground, your road to recovery begins. It won’t be easy, but I assure you, one day you’ll wake up and be grateful for who you are—someone who prevailed after devastation. After all, our most traumatic moments are often our most transformative.
The thing about falling and staying in love with someone is that you learn how to make excuses for their behavior. If they lash out at you suddenly, you have enough knowledge of them as a person to construct a reason why–validating their actions undeservedly. Oh, they were only rude today because their parents got divorced when they were six, or they have trouble communicating because once they got lost in Walmart, or they’re always with their ex-girlfriend because their cousin’s dog ran away last year and they need their support system right now. This is what happens when you love someone; you validate their behavior, preserving their spotless image in your mind. Post-breakup, you cannot, under any circumstances, make excuses for their actions. Use your untempered fury as fuel in your journey of getting over them.
Right now, I want you to gather every piece of them from your memory and heart and shove it all into a box in your mind. Got it? Now, take your favorite Sharpie and label this box “HATE” in big, thick letters. The purpose of this sophisticated and well-researched exercise is the simplification of your emotions. You must go from love to hate, and eventually, from hate to indifference. There’s merely a fine line between love and hate, and crossing it becomes easy after a breakup; the person becomes some giant, vengeful, yet thoughtless monster, but we all have our moments of weakness. Maybe the beast had a bad day at work or stubbed his toe. No. Do not validate them. The monster is a monster, and we shall treat them as such.
Another advantage of the mental box is the prevention of rumination and self-blame. After a breakup with someone you loved, reliving your relationship and blaming yourself for its end comes easy. The monster is not there; it cannot accept blame nor elucidate its actions. So, in searching for explanations, your thoughts spiral into things like maybe I wasn’t pretty enough or perhaps I was too clingy. Although tempting, this rationale is devastating to your journey. The breakup process is like training a dog; always rehearse good behavior. When one of these thoughts arises, shut it down immediately. Don’t let your mind wander into any self-deprecating territory. And while the box may not seem like the most empathetic thing, it is no longer about them. Thanks to your box, the only emotion you feel towards the monster is a hopefully dwindling hatred.
Once all the memories safely reside in the box, swiftly move on to their only other source of existence: social media. It is imperative to your mental health that you remember your ex knows you see what they post. My recommendation is that you block them immediately on every conceivable platform: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, naturally, but also Spotify and Venmo. You’ll be surprised by the amount of pain and anxiety stalking your ex’s Venmo transaction history can cause. If this blocking feels too sudden and harsh at first–that’s okay. You can always remove them gradually. However, if you do stumble across a particularly happy Instagram post from them, remind yourself that social media isn’t real life. They are acting as if everything is okay, to prove to themselves and you that things are actually okay. Don’t fall for it. The monster is hurting as well.
My last concrete piece of breakup advice is the creation of distance. When you date someone, they become a part of your routine. When they are no longer there, this absence can be a source of wallowing and sadness. I recommend forcing distance between your time with them and now, by transforming your daily routine–so their absence is no longer the sole distinction between past and present. Make some change that will define your time now. A classic example of this is breakup hair. Traditionally, right after a breakup, a person might make a drastic change to their hair, giving them a sense of control over their lives. And although this is valid, I believe its more effective result is creating distance. So, dye your hair red or give yourself bangs (bonus points if your new look is something they hated), but whatever it is, make sure you’re truly pleased with it. If you’re apprehensive about your impulsive decision-making skills, you have other options. Maybe buy a new perfume and use its scent as a marker of this glorious and dynamic time in your life. Or, paint a room in your house or get a new shower curtain. I believe the most beneficial change you can make in your life is exercise. Not only does working out improve you physically, but it releases happy chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Whatever it is, your change should create a healthy distance between your time with them, and your time now.
Although following my steps above will help you triumph against heartbreak, the most crucial step is giving yourself time. Healing is not linear. You might have two months of tangible progress, and then one day, you wake up and it hurts just as much as the second you hit the ground. But I promise, there will come a time where you pass by their favorite restaurant, hear their favorite song, watch a show they loved, see their favorite sports team win, or even smell their perfume on another body, and you will not think of them. They will be merely a person of your past. Once your initial hatred has dissipated into a sweet indifference, I implore you: think fondly upon your memories with them. Learn from your mistakes. Relationships put us in positions we would never be otherwise; they teach us invaluable lessons about ourselves: how we love, how we receive love, what makes us cry, what makes us angry, what brings us joy, and everything that we value in a person.
Lastly, I will leave you with my theory for life: I call it The Theory of Balance. In each relationship of our lives, we will have good moments and bad. Take your sibling, for example; growing up they might have been your enemy. You constantly bickered and felt a dull annoyance around them. After you both mature, your sibling becomes a sort of friend as you go your separate ways. The concentration of dreadful fighting while growing up and the longer-term friendliness found in adulthood always evens out–The Theory of Balance. The same goes for a romantic relationship. When you get incredibly close to someone in a short amount of time, it breeds a beautiful but fleeting connection. The intensity of the love-fueled stupor of the relationship must balance out with an agonizing breakup. However, remember what your journey through the pain taught you, as well as the love. I hope after you slowly crawl towards a peaceful indifference that you will agree with the old cliché, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Eventually, a new person will waltz into your life; when you reach the beginning of the hike with them, hand in hand, do not fear the familiar cliff. Because now you know, it’s all worth it—the pain, the love, and everything in between.