Fireworks

It’s the summer after your sophomore year of high school and you’ve never been kissed. The fact that, sitting on the hill behind your old school looking up at the Fourth of July firework, this is your main concern bothers you, but you can’t change the fact.

Every year the Fourth of July has acted as a bridge between you and the rest of the town encouraging you to reach out and interact with current and past friends when you would normally be curled up in your pajamas between your computer and your mattress. You put on a baggy grey t-shirt and some black shorts, then drag yourself out of the house and down the road to the parade. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you see your friends sitting in a line on the low stone wall. Bikes lines up next to them, they laugh and shove each other and sometimes you’ll push yourself across the street and sit on the end. If you’re even luckier you get to feel like you never left them for boarding school. If you’re less lucky you never see them and you stand with your brother six years your younger, frizzy fair flying in the wind, his little hand sticky in yours with sweat.

At night you push yourself off the couch again and follow your family to the fields by the school. You wrap yourself in a hoodie and weave through the crowd that’s gathered on the hill to watch the fireworks. You like to joke that your whole town must be here. Considering how small your town is it is completely possible.

If you’re lucky you meet your friends at the top of the hill. This year is a lucky one, but not as lucky as you’d hoped. You meet Irene and Mira at stand by them picking at your shirt. You laugh about Irene’s bangs, then attempt to pick up on who the new friends they’re talking about are. Then the boys arrive. You recognize Sam. You see Ben and Tyler and two people you don’t know. And they joke. And you laugh. And you forget their names. Then you migrate to the top of the hill and sit to watch the fireworks.

It’s exactly how you remember it being in the past. It’s bright and disorganized and the explosions make your body shake. Unlike last year you’re not nervous and naive sitting next to your first boyfriend ever. This year you watch the lights over the backs of heads you haven’t seen in in years. The bursts of sound make your heart bead faster, beat harder. Your chest gets a little tight, but it comes and goes. You miss the feeling of last year. You miss the lightness and the carefree.

The fireworks are pretty mediocre every year. You don’t get why they they excite people so much.

Long Plaid Coat – Part 4

There’s not a lot of things in life you know for sure. You’re not sure about your identity or your aspirations. You don’t completely trust your memories. People even like to tell you that even science isn’t known for sure, and you’d have to agree because in middle school your favorite thing to do was say ‘Truth isn’t universal.’ There is one thing you’re sure of, though: it’s the little things that count.

The little things count when Ashley pokes her little pink tongue out of her little mouth at the class photo and says, “I look so bad!” They matter when the girls crowd around the picture and point slim fingers at ‘ugly hair’ and moan about being too tall or tilting their head too much or not liking the clothes they wore. Later when you squint at your round face in the front row, short hair held back by a headband, legs crossed, hands on your knees, your focus is drawn to your face. It’s the same face that your mom loved for it’s round nose and cute cheeks but your mouth is so square. You frown and tuck the photo back into its folder because little things matter. A smile matters.

The little things count when you’re in fourth grade and you’re standing in line to sign in in the morning but get stuck behind two girls. They count when you witness the secret handoff of a Justin Bieber book between two smiling friends. When one of them is the new girl your classmates smile too wide at and immediately abandon when recess starts and the other is the kindest girl you know who’s hated for crying too much little things matter. While you’re staring at Justin Bieber’s long hair on the glossy hardcover surrounded by lights and you member that just yesterday you’d overheard your other friends complaining about his high voice and terrible music and terrible hair little things matter. A book matters. Two girls matter. You’re silence and your ignorant agreement with the Other Friends matter.

 

Merman

You’re drowning. Your lungs burn. As you struggle against the ropes binding your wrists behind your back you wonder why you’re even still struggling to stay alive. You’ve never been able to swim without your hands and with your shoes still on it’ll be even harder. The water is pleasantly warm, though. Even though you’re sinking it makes you feel weightless and wraps you in a familiar clean feeling you’ve associated with peace a freedom your entire life. The water, you think, wouldn’t be a bad place to die and surviving hurts. You kick your feet out in one last desperate attempt to push yourself to the surface, but with your eyes closed you don’t even know if you’re kicking in the right direction. Suddenly you hit something hard. Your foot slips and your leg scrapes on a rock, gashing it open. You cry out from the pain. The sound turns into bubbles and you hit the ground. You quickly clamp your mouth shut. You’re starting to feel a little light headed. You guess this is it. It’s not like they would just throw you back in if you’d made it to the surface anyway. Your hands touch the ground. At some point you open your mouth.

You wake up to the smiling face of a boy with olive skin and long tawny hairy that floats around his head like a halo. He also has a tail. When you yelp instead of covering your mouth he covers his ears. It’s odd. You’re surprised at how loud your voice sounds. That’s when the lukewarm feeling wrapped around your body and the lightness really sink in. You’re still underwater. You’re not dead. And you also have a tail. You start panicking again, bubbles flying out of your mouth, though you voice is still loud and clear, and frothing up as your wildly wave your arms around.

This time he smacks you in the head with his tail.

 

 

4am

Imagine it’s 4:13 am. You’re lying in bed with your head where your feet go and your feet on your pillow. Your right arm lies limp, phone in hand, casting a dim light on the ceiling. You should be sleeping. You have no more to stories read, no more pictures to look at, the more things to look up. Your eyes hurt and beg to be closed but you don’t sleep. Instead you roll over and open instagram for the sixth time and scroll through the pictures you’ve already seen.

You have no problem with sleeping or falling asleep. When you fall asleep all the muscles you didn’t know you were using start to tingle, then relax. The world fades to white noise and your body gets that cozy kind of warm. Sometimes after lying still with your eyes closed for a while you start to feel weightless and the bed feels more like the porch bench swing you once sat on when you were a kid. You love it. While you’re sleeping you get to see the most wonderful stories. During the day you have to scroll through webcomics and flip through books and stare at screens to get stories and to create your own you have to put in so much work for something you can’t even see, but in sleep it’s there and it’s easy and no matter how random and convoluted it still makes sense. Even though you can never seem to remember a sense of touch you feel fear and love and it’s perfect and you love it. You’re issue it’s with sleeping, it’s with waking up.

When you open your eyes in the morning your stomach feels as if it has shrunk. Your chest feels like it wants to expand but there’s a weight pressing down on it and your throat drops down into your chest cavity. You try to take deep breaths in through your nose, in through your mouth, but there’s a sharp pain right under your collar bone followed by a dull burn. Then you realize what this feeling is. It’s the feeling when you’re taking shallow breaths and you breath in too fast. It’s the feeling you got when you pretended to hyperventilate that one time, just to see what it felt like. It feels something like how you remember fear. And somewhere in you brain the idea that if you move it will only get worse appears, so you just lie there. You lie on you side and stare at the door and try to distract yourself with your phone and it’s hard to breath and you’re afraid, but you don’t know what of. The joint between your legs and hips starts to ache because there’s some muscle somewhere that’s been tense since you woke up but you don’t know which one. No matter how much you stretch and bend you legs the tension won’t go away and you’re afraid.

Eventually the burning feeling sinks lower and lower, then fades to a light squeeze on your chest and a heavy stomach. This is when you roll out of bed and drag yourself, phone in hand, out the door and into the bathroom to brush your teeth. You hate it.

So who can blame you when it’s 4:13 am and you really, really don’t want to go to sleep.

 

 

Day

They say that Day is a beautiful woman with olive skin and long brown hair. They say she wears robes made of sunset and a crown of sunrise. During the day, after revealing the sun, she touches each individual bud to make them bloom and brushes the hair out of children’s eyes to wake them up. During the night she lies in a field of wildflowers and lilies and looks up at the sky and counts the stars.

You’re currently at 315 because you keep losing track and have to start over.

Your field is a picture of orange and green and purple and white and, while you’re here, it’s always cold. When you walk in at sunset your dress brushes over the tops of flowers that bow and ¬†close as you pass, then open up again when the fabric is gone. Once you reach the center you reach up and catch the sun as it falls into your hand, shrinking to the size of a marble. Sometimes, when you tuck the sun into your sleeve for the night you see Night’s dark blue cloak off in the distance as they throw up the moon. Then Night disappears and you lay down for the night to count the stars. Here there is never any dew, never any light or rain. There’s just colors and the night sky. It’s peaceful. Quiet.

In reality you don’t do much. In the mornings the herald of day glides over the field with his gauzy cloth of morning light calling out that morning is coming, morning is coming. You tear your eyes away from the sky and push yourself up. Then you reach into your sleeve, take out the sun, and throw it into the sky. As it rises it grows and you watch it for as long as you can until you know you have to leave the field. Sometimes on your way out you brush past Night. They never look at you but they sparkle with starlight.

You’re not a beautiful woman, not really. This body with olive skin and round eyes is your favorite but you always change your shape. During the day you travel to obscure towns and large cities and mountains and lavender fields. People have long since stopped recognizing you, but that lets you smile easily and laugh with boys in college you meet in drugstores and return dropped stuffed bunnies to little girls in pink skirts. You find humans fascinating. They’re always changing, but somehow they’re still the same.

Eventually the day ends and you hear the voice of the herald of night ringing out like tinkling bells. You return to the field where the flowers bow down and catch the sun as it falls. You watch Night’s back as they leave the field. Then you lie down and relax, cold nipping at your face and wide eyes. You can see your breath tonight.

463

Red String – Part 2

Part 1

A week later you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes. You’re feeling your way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom when you see a bright red string tied around the door knob of your sister’s bedroom. You pause and rub your eyes again, but it’s still there, so you feel your way past the bathroom and down to the red string instead. When you reach the door you slide it off, slowly push the door open, and poke your head in. Your sister is lying in her bed facing he wall, her phone illuminating the room with a dim white light. You push the door open all the way and tip toe over. When you get to the bed you peek over her. She’s already asleep. You get into the bed with her anyways and lie on top of her. She smiles in her sleep and rolls over so you’re lying on her stomach instead of her side. After a while the phone screen dims, then the light goes out. You’re already asleep.

The next morning you wake up squished between your sister and the wall. Your left arm is freezing but the rest of you is warm tucked underneath your sister’s huge blanket and wrapped in her arms. You try to twist around so you can see her. “Amy?” She hugs you tighter and buries her face deeper in your messy hair. She makes a noncommittal noise to let you know she’s awake, but doesn’t open her eyes. After a little squirming you turn so your facing her. Her eyebrows furrow and she shakes her head a little to get your hair out of her nose. Then she relaxes. You still think she looks a little what your mom likes to call distressed, though. But right now you’re a little more ‘distressed’. “Amy?”

She makes an irritated groan.

“Amy can I go to the bathroom now?”

 

A red string for hugs. As you get older the hugs also come with questions and suggestions for distractions. When two months after you turn six she give you a red string, too, and says that she’ll always take care of you, okay? You grin and run to your room where you put the string right next to the blue train your mom bought you for your birthday, and when you put the string on your door your sister comes with too long hugs and a comforting lack for words.

One day when you’re eight and she’s thirteen you leave for the school bus together and she has the string tied around her wrist. So right before the bus stops you hesitantly wrap your arms around her waist and hug. She doesn’t hug back, though. Instead she rubs your head then pushes you away. “Gross,” she laughs. “You’re so sticky.”

The string stays on her wrist for a longs time. It stays there for almost a year. You make sure to talk to her every day, but the hugs lessen. Then, one day when you’re nine you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes and feel your way down the hall to the bathroom. When you go to wash your hands you see the string cut near the knot she’d tied to turn it into a bracelet. It’s just sitting there next to the sink, getting splashed with water and soap. When you brush your teeth in the morning it’s still there. It’s still there that night and the next day and the day after that. You try to go into your sister’s room to ask her about it one night but she just tells you to get out because she’s busy. A month later on another nighttime trip to the toilet it’s still there, so you pick it up. Something doesn’t feel right. On the way back to your room you can’t think quite right. You bump into a table and the corner digs into your hip and you almost knock over your mom’s favorite vase. Your stomach feels like it’s folding in on itself. There must be more shadows tonight, you think. Too many shadows and so many shapes. You stub you finger on your door frame. Your eyes get hot and it feel like you want to cry, so you drape your sister’s string over your door knob and run into your room and curl up in the corner when you’ve long since abandoned your blue train and you wait. The bright blue train looks like it’s glowing in the dark and glaring at you and your stomach folds more. When you wake up the next morning you fix the red string so it’s tied onto the door knob. As soon as you get home you head straight to your room. You leave for meals and to get ready for bed and the next morning to go to school. Your sister never comes.

You forget to remove the string the next day. The day after that you figure you may as well leave it on. The next year you almost forget why it’s there. The year after that you really do.

Scrubs

Imagine you’re six years old. You’re slightly shorter than average, you have fussy hair, and your favorite color is blue, but you think you wear the most red. In reality what you enjoy most is black, but you never write that on the sheets they give you in class. Instead you say black is not really a color. You write your favorite color is blue. Your favorite animal is cats. You live with your mom, dad, and older brother. Your teacher has curly brown hair and likes to wear long floral skirts. She also like to ask people about what they want to be when they grow up and if they want to be like their parents. Lots of grownups like to ask about your parents, but you think your teacher does it the most. You tell her your dad works for Google. He gave a name to his job but it’s long and you don’t remember (you don’t tell her this, though). Your mom is a doctor. Or a surgeon. On the worksheets you usually write doctor because you can’t spell surgeon. Your teacher always nods with a smile and says that’s nice. She doesn’t understand, though, you think. You think, my mommy saves lives.

What do you want to do when you grow up? You don’t know. For now you write down artist.

When you get older your grandmother starts to spend all her time sitting in the room with the piano watching Chinese dramas or cutting coupons. She also likes to ask you about your future. She’ll carefully remove her reading glasses and set down the coupons and call you over. You never sit down next to her, you just stand over her somehow still feeling lower. She nags you about not practicing piano more. She tells you your mom was already in a professional orchestra at your age. She tells you she practiced many hours every day. Then she asks you what you want to be when you grow up. Do you want to be a surgeon like your mom? You laugh and shake you head no. She chuckles too. She pokes at it being because of the blood. You smile. It’s not true, but you don’t want to argue with her, so instead you shrug and head to your room.

Imagine you’re thirteen. It really sinks in now how much time your mom spends at work. Your aupair makes you dinner and you eat with your younger brother. When your dad comes home you hide behind a laptop. You’re happy to see him. He’s large and strong and all smiles and badly timed jokes, but you’re not good at talking. Some nights your mom comes home with him. Some nights she doesn’t. In you free time you poke around her closet. You poke through dark wooden drawers of bras and socks and scarfs. You dig through plastic laundry baskets of blue scrubs and your father’s giant socks (he seems to wear at least three pairs a day). On some days while you lounge on the couch with your math homework your little brother tip toes over, his shoulders hunched over and his ‘shirt’, your mom’s old sweatshirt, clutched in his hands. He curls up under your arm and mumbles that he misses his mommy. She didn’t come home last night, he whimpers. And I didn’t get to see her this morning. You hug him a little tighter. As insulting as it is that he doesn’t seem to realize that she’s your mom too, you need to help him, but you can’t. So you just hug him until he finally unfolds himself and meanders away, not looking any better. Moments like these come and go, though, and they’re easy to forget.

Another thing you notice at this age is how people react when you tell them your mom is a transplant surgeon. What do your parents to? It’s always one of the first five questions you’re asked by a stranger, followed by asking if you want to be one, too. You always give a lighthearted no. They always note how time consuming that job must be and how much money she must make. Then you nod, because everything they say is true, but no one ever asks you if you’re proud of her. No one ever tells you it’s an admirable job or asks how many people she’s saved or how it feels to not know if she’s coming home that night or when in the morning she’ll leave. You find it strange, but not strange enough to really care.

Imagine now that you’re fifteen. In the shower you have to shout for your voice to be heard over the sound of the water and through the bathroom door. On the other side your older brother shouts back, asking if you should get takeout or go out to eat. You pause for a moment, then yell back that he should ask dad. You hear your brother’s heavy footsteps leave down the hallway. You close your eyes and let the water pour over your hair and flow in sheets over your face. Then you wipe your eyes and stare out at the bathroom. The glass of the shower door is just starting to get foggy, but you can still see the distinct color of a set of you mom’s blue scrubs lying in a crumpled heap on the countertop next to the sink. You think of yelling to you brother asking if your mom is coming home. If she’s coming home you should probably get takeout so she doesn’t come home to an empty apartment. You freeze. Then you take a deep breath, relax, and lean over for the shampoo. What a sad way of phrasing it, you think. Is mom coming home.

You don’t ask.

She doesn’t.

Maybe this is why you don’t want to be a doctor.

You feel selfish.