Here you will meet local writers spreading their stories of success, struggle, and everything in between. Many stories may have to do with the gaming community,but some are just tales of life. We hope these will be entertaining, thought provoking, and relatable.
“Last Words” prompt
Testament of a People
Day 1 – We are first! We are here! The red planet! With our whole world watching, we landed; laying our first steps into the rust colored dust. I almost wish I was home for the parties, the celebrations; people all over our world clapping each other on the back for a job so well done. Ah, the champagne!
It was evening, our time, when we landed. We had of course rehearsed it, again and again, at home, in space, until we could do it in our sleep. There could be, would be, no slip ups. And when the time came, we nailed it. I would almost say it was routine, as if we had already carried it out and we’re merely watching ourselves perform, like actors on a stage.
And now we begin our work. Here!
Day 15 – All goes according to plan. We carry out each day’s tests, collect each day’s samples. There’s an interesting rock! Bag it! There’s some unusually colored strata! Pour some chemicals on it, see what comes up! Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. Otherwise? Work!
Day 23 – It goes on.
I’m sad to say there’s not much to recommend this place on it’s own. Once the wonder of being on a new world wears off, so does it’s beauty. It’s cold, dark. Even with the sun at apogee, it’s no brighter than twilight in comparison to home. All our tests for life come back negative. There are no plants, no animals, not even the simplest insect; just wind and dust for a whole world. At the far off distant poles, great sheets of ice cap the surface, frozen countless millennia ago. But our examinations showed those to be no more verdant than this place.
Back to work.
Day 45 – This world is changing us. Its time becomes our time. Its sky becomes our sky. This world slowly becomes our world.
There is a loneliness that comes with the distance between planets; a loneliness so much worse than simple isolation. Home, no matter how alone you are, you breathe the same air, feel the same sun, see the same sky, as a billion others just like you. Here, there is only us. We could walk this world forever and find not one other that looks up at its sky, not one that feels its dust under their feet.
I miss home.
Day 52 – Discovery! I couldn’t believe it until I saw it myself. At first, it was just an oddly shaped rock in the sand. And then corners, sharp straight edges! Nature does not work in straight lines! Soon we had uncovered a doorway. A door! Aliens!
Someone, not us, built this. Who were they? Where did they go? We all have a million questions. And all the answers are waiting for us on the other side of that door!
Day-54 – We opened The Door yesterday. It took some doing. We had to improvise a battering ram. Spare parts, the axle of our rover, some old fashioned muscle power and we were through. The dust had sealed it closed, airtight. The gases that came out when we broke that seal where so toxic, even the most excited among us knew we would have to wait.
You will never understand the agony of those hours. Knowing every dream, every nightmare of what might be was just fifty feet away and not being able to enter. The anticipation was almost fatal.
And then, this morning, we entered.
It was ancient. A million years? We have no way of knowing. How long did it sit there underneath that sand? Waiting for us?
It appears to have been some sort of bunker. Rock walls, iron fixtures. There are a half dozen rooms. In a few, we saw remains. They must have looked like us, these ancient aliens. They had our height, our build. Some still had desiccated flesh holding onto the bones.
Who were they? They left behind pictures: smiling faces; a green garden world; buildings of glass that stretched into the sky; wondrous machines. At first, we questioned what planet they could have come from. Then we saw a picture of their world and knew. The mountains were worn down, the oceans were long gone, a few features had changed, but there could be no mistake, it was this world.
What happened here? What could have changed that paradise into this barren hell? There were some writings, a few of what we believe were recording devices. None of those were functional. After some discussion over preservation, we decided to record as much as we could and then bag the rest.
Day 70 – We go home today.
We did a search but found no other structures of this world’s inhabitants. Perhaps the mountains hide great spires, the canyons ancient canals. Or perhaps this was it; perhaps all else that these ancient people constructed has been consumed by the sand and dust.
A million years gone, they rose out of this soil and were its people. They breathed its air, they were warmed by its sun, they had families and children to carry their future on. They had their name for this place. We found it on their map. And then they were gone, leaving only the wind behind.
Stay here long enough and we will be this world’s people too. We already live by their time. Breath their air. Feel their sun. Stay here long enough and would we become them?
This is a dead world. There is no life here. No future. A tomb for an ancient civilization, long lost. We would do best to leave and never return. We may never know what befell these people, we may never know their secrets; the secrets of this world they called Earth.
Written by Alexander E Mickiewicz
Last Words Prompt
“‘Good people have nothing to fear.’”
There are some stories I have that I do not enjoy telling. This is one of them. I do not share it out of a desire for pity or as a back-handed acknowledgement of tragedy or really even as a form of catharsis. I share it because the people involved merit the telling.
First, an awful backstory: my cousin, Ryan Zawada, died of a rare form of cancer when he was ten. Obviously, this event devastated my family and, ultimately, sundered it. Of course, none of that was Ryan’s fault. Trust me, you would have loved this kid. He was naturally happy-go-lucky, and a bit of a goof. He would have made you laugh. No one should have to go through what he did, especially as a child. Yet, he was brave and fought. I have learned that it doesn’t just matter how you live, it also matters how you go, if given that knowledge. Ryan is one of my heroes for facing something unfathomable with dignity and grace.
Understandably, illness is a trigger for my family now. So, when my grandfather, Dominick Pape, got sick several years later, it felt like we were being visited by a bona fide curse. Personally, this was very worst case scenario. I did not know my “father” growing up. In fact, the only reason I even met him, in my mid-twenties, was because he developed ALS and thought he should meet me before he died. Honestly, I do not even remember our conversation. So much for closure. Enough about him – I only bring that part up for this: Pops, as we called my grandfather, was one of my major mitigators of that anger. In essence, he was the closest I ever had to a dad. And he was a damn good one, too. He was a kind man. Of all the things he taught me, the most important was how to be ethical. I am ashamed to admit that it took me way too long to walk that path but, when I started, it was him I emulated. He is also the reason I have words in my blood. My favorite saying of his: “You have to plan your work and work your plan.” When the schism within my family occurred, I was left briefly homeless. Take a wild guess who threw his door open without a moment’s hesitation.
Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. Look that up – there’s literally a one in a million chance of developing that when you are elderly. The medical community does not even agree on how to classify it yet, though it is treated like a cancer. Because it is so rare, it took forever to diagnose and Pops’ condition deteriorated significantly. However, while his body was frail, his spirit was not. He would fight, just like Ryan. His first day of chemo was the last time I saw Dominick Pape proper. His improvement was phenomenal. We watched baseball, and he asked me to bring him the newspaper the next day. One last hopes up moment that would crumble by sunrise.
When someone is dying, they become their true self. Pops grew up during a time when “man” was synonymous with “hard” and “silent.” Yet, he was gentle and a caretaker. That is what made him an actual man. The only good thing that came out of this for me was that I got to meet that person, tell him how much he mattered to me, and hear him say: “When I look at you, I’m just so proud.” Trust me on this as well – tell people you care about what they mean to you, and do it often. Not everyone gets the chance to say it or hear it.
“Death rattle” is not a colloquialism. I pray you never hear this sound coming from someone you love. It will stain you, forever. Knowing this was it, I said my last words to my grandfather, unsure if he could hear me but believing somehow he would. I told him I loved him. I thanked him for helping me make it this far. I told him I was proud of him, too. Then, I said: “It’s okay, Pops. You can let go. Good people have nothing to fear.” Within an hour of my grandmother and me leaving the hospital, he was gone.
After Ryan Zawada and Dominick Pape died, no one said anything but kind words about them. One would expect this, of course, but in their cases I could tell these words were sincere and not mere platitudes. These two people touched the lives of others and those they met were better for it. If I’m being honest with myself, not everyone who encountered me would be able to say the same. I was no saint for much of this. It’s easier to be selfish, easier to blot out pain and justify it later. However, I am not that person anymore. And that is the other reason I share their stories. If you are like them, know that it matters, know that you are creating a legacy, and do not ever stop, even if it gets hard. If you are like me, know that it is possible to turn it around. Live in such a way that when your end inevitably comes, you can face it unafraid.
By Dan Pape
(“What I Would Tell My 21 Year Old Self” prompt)
Across from Nectar’s in Burlington was a parking lot with a small wooded area that we jokingly called the Executive Bathroom. Many was the night that our gang of miscreants – Fatty, Spencer, Matt, Dave, and the Captain – would stumble downtown after hitting a few house parties, load up on Nectar’s World-Famous Gravy Fries, then make a pit stop at the Executive Bathroom. You had to be careful because the Burlington P.D. knew about the throngs of drunk collegiates who used the copse as an open air pissoire and were keen on citing us with a $75 fine and a ride up to the Campus Police station. Then we’d get write-ups and sanctions from Student Life, and most of us were already one or two screw-ups away from losing our housing. So we’d scout the area for any wandering cops or police cars and slip over one or two at a time, relieve our bladders, and head back to our giant styrofoam containers filled with fries and chicken gravy.
One of those nights I had overdone it at the Track and Field House, wiping them out of bourbon after we kicked their keg of Magic Hat. The Track House was always a fun time as they splurged on the beverages and rarely drank to the point of getting absolutely shitfaced. We didn’t mind that they doubled the cover charge for our crew – we more than got our money’s worth. This particular night we were asked to leave after Spencer “accidentally” cracked a window with his head, showing off the steel plate in his skull that he’d acquired over the summer. Hungry and in need of a lavatory, we stumbled down the hill to Nectar’s and got our fries, then took turns watering the maples in the Executive Bathroom.
I had just shaken off the bourbon I’d rented when I heard the leaves crunch behind me. Thinking fast, I dropped a glove and knelt on the ground, pretending to look for it in the leaves. I was expecting a stern rebuke from a local cop or a security guard. Instead I heard a very familiar voice.
“You just dropped your glove in your own piss, idiot. Zip up, pick up your brother’s MP glove, and have a smoke with me. We need to talk.” I blinked and shook my head. How did this guy not only know my go-to ruse to get out of public urination citations, but also the origin of the sweet leather gloves I’d worn every winter since high school? I grabbed my glove and whacked it against a sapling, then pocketed it and stood to face the interloper.
To be honest, I wasn’t impressed initially. His shoes were generic velcro-closed black sneakers, mostly hidden by a pair of fleece pants. His gut was impressive – obviously a man who had missed few meals – and was protected by a grey fleece vest. Though it was barely twenty degrees outside, he had on a short sleeved shirt, revealing a few tattoos that may have been done in a prison. When I saw his face, I nearly stumbled. The stranger was clean-shaven, except for a porn-stache that you might find on a cop. A bulbous nose perched in the center of his face, under a pair of the meanest eyes I’d ever seen. I barely noticed his buzzed short hair after locking gazes with this intruder.
“Give me one of those Camel Wides from your trenchcoat and let’s step over where your drunk pals can’t see you. And don’t even think about pulling that switchblade on me or you’ll be eating that fucker.” Maybe it was a trick of the street lights, but I could have sworn I saw a scar on his upper lip. “Relax, genius, you’ll get that in a few weeks while sledding drunk with Fatty and Matt. Wine is not your friend, Karl.” He started to walk deeper into the Executive Bathroom, grumbling something about paradox.
I fished out my zippo and steel cigarette case, pulling out two cigarettes as I followed him. He paused and turned, narrowing his eyes as he looked me over. “‘Crazy Shorts’ they call you now. I’d forgotten what an idiot I was at your age.” He plucked a cigarette from my hand, then lit it with an older zippo. “Three guesses who I am.”
“You’re the P.I. my mother hired to keep tabs on me at school after my grades went to shit,” I gulped as I lit my own zippo. Strange, we flipped our lighters open the same way.
“Wrong. Next guess, genius.” He took a long drag off of the cigarette, his eyes squinting in the darkness.
“You’re an alternate universe version of myself who has been hunting out younger iterations of me to claim rulership over the multiverse.” Hey, it sounded feasible considering all the bourbon I’d drank.
“Nope. Last chance, Junge.” He smirked as he took another puff from the Camel.
“That was a dead giveaway, arschloch. You’re me, just older and fatter and…” My voice trailed off as the possibility of what I said clicked in my liquor-addled brain.
“Winner winner, schnitzel dinner.” He ashed the cigarette and cracked his neck. “I’m twice your age, Karl-chen. Scary, huh?”
“No way. If you’re really me, tell me something that I’ve never told a soul.”
He grinned and took another drag from the smoke. “Your first sexual experience involved Nina Hartley.”
How the fuck did he know that? I mean I’ve never even met the esteemed adult film actress, but she was in the first porno I
“Believe me now?” He field-stripped the cigarette and pocketed the butt. “So, I’ve got about three minutes left before I’ve got to go back. What would you like to know?”
The words escaped my mouth before I could stop them – thanks, Maker’s Mark! “Does Clinton get impeached?” I kicked myself, hoping I hadn’t pissed away the opportunity to know the future. That and we’re talking about the President – short of an assassin’s bullet, they’re untouchable.
“Yeah, but he finishes his term. Not going to tell you why, but you’ll die laughing.” He plucked another cigarette from his pocket and lit up. “Anything more personal you’d like to know?”
“Do I become a lawyer? Or a politician?” I had to know if abandoning a career in medicine was worth it. Not like I had a choice or anything after flunking Organic Chemistry at two different colleges, but-
“I could tell you, but you’d either lose hope or become even more of an egotistical prick. I’ll tell you this though.” He took a long pull off of his cigarette. “You’ll fall into a career you never expected. You’ll have highs and lows, but you’ll survive.”
I nodded, appreciating the advice and secretly loathing his dig at my ego. “Alright, duly noted. Wife and kids?”
He grimaced, looking pained as he nodded. “Yes and no. The road to meeting your wife is filled with some pretty big potholes, but you will meet the love of your life and be married within four years. No kids that I know of though, sorry.”
“Wow. That’s kind of surprising. I figured I’d be married after law school or sometime before running for an office.” I lit another Camel and sighed. “I know it’s kind of cliche to ask, but do you have any winning lottery numbers?” I chuckled a bit as I said it, expecting at the very least a gut punch from my older, angrier self.
“Not exactly, but around 2009 or so you’ll hear of something called BitCoin. Buy at least $100 worth and do not touch it until the Fall of 2017 when it breaks $20,000 a coin. If you remember anything about this meeting, keep this to heart. If you don’t, we’ve just pissed away thirty million dollars.” For a moment, those cold eyes revealed desperation as he spoke. “One more question and then I’ve got to go back.”
Maybe it was the booze, or maybe it was the whole experience, so I closed my eyes and asked. “Am I insane?”
The bitter old man chuckled. “Kid, we’re fucking certifiable.” He grumbled and continued to speak. “I think what you meant to ask is whether or not you’ll still be angry in twenty one years. And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the answer to that incredibly pertinent question is a definit-”
I stood there in the cold and the dark for a short eternity, waiting for my older self to finish the sentence. My eyes opened slowly, fixed on the spot where the old man had stood. The son of a bitch had vanished before he could answer my question! Scanning the area, I saw that once again I was alone in the woods, though I did hear some crunching in the leaves off in the direction of Nectar’s. I turned to head back, but a glint of metal on the ground flashed in my periphery. Leaning over, I scooped up the old Zippo in my hand and pocketed it, then ran towards Nectar’s to the safety of my drinking buddies and gravy fries.
“Holy shit, K-Man, we thought you got lost! Your fries are all congealed and cold.” Spencer handed me a half-eaten container and casually wiped his mouth. “I may have eaten a few. Fucking delicious.” I nodded and took the fries, wolfing them down.
“Sorry, I had a smoke or three whilst pinching a loaf. Watch your step back there.” The gang groaned and laughed at my lie, which would likely lead to some ribbing for the rest of the week. I mean, I couldn’t tell them what really happened – they’d never believe me.
by “The Meme Addict”
Vodka is usually a bad idea.
If you want pizza, eat it.
Music will resolve many a problem.
Try a little bit of everything. (Note: This applies to most situations.)
Religion is optional. Faith is not.
Peggy Carter is the best “superhero.”
Cheese isn’t that bad after all.
Road trips become intolerable when older.
Write things down: lists, quotes, poems.
Living alone is a valuable experience. Being alone is important as well.
Be better about using your moisturizer.
Shamrock shakes don’t taste as good.
You don’t find your dream job. Do the ones you have well.
Protect your heart from others more.
Don’t get attached to things. Do get attached to people. Make sure they’re the right people.
I mean it about the music.
And about the pizza bit, too.
–by The Linguist
When spring comes, bringing with it the new life needed to fight the cold and darkness, it begins on the valley floor. It’s subtle at first, a gentle melody rather than a thunder; a trickle on a tree here, a berry on a bush there. As the warmth rises, so too comes its strength, rising to a crashing crescendo; a tide that sweeps across the mountain sides, and into my backyard.
All around, life surrounds me. The chipmunk darting through the green grass, taking refuge in the wood pile, digging its holes for home in the ground. The beauty of the fragrant flowers, their marvelous odors, their explosions of color to crack the green and grey. The birds in the trees, dancing from branch to branch, past the first sprouts of the great leaves that will torment us so come autumn. The warm spring breeze through a world that’s so vastly alive.
Standing there, as the wonder of life washes over me, flowing across the hills, over the field of my neighbor, and through the trees above my head, I feel god. Not some magic man with a beard, but the miracle around me: the exquisite energy of life manifesting creation’s complexity. Energy now echoed in my being, joy and elation spring up within me, a new hope for a new tomorrow.
by Alexander M.
March is a tough month sometimes. I often associate it with failed
elementary school art projects of cotton-ball lambs and paper plate-maned
lions that never really seemed to look like the animals they were meant to
be. It’s hard of another reason though, too.
When I was little, in the windy, not-quite-spring month of March, my
grandma would find one of her kites in the attic and bring it downstairs
for us to have a go with it. There were only two or three kites—I
think—and the ones I remember were all the diamond ones, with the cross of
thin bamboo or balsam wood stretching out the corners tautly. Each kite
had a tail, too, to be sure, made of scraps of fabric she had pulled out of
her storage in the sewing room, for nothing could go to waste. The bits
never matched, but the tail was always long.
With the kite, tail, and spool of string—and a jacket on, of course, and
depending on the temperature, a hat, too, if you please—and off we’d go
past her perennials’ bed, looking somber after winter. We’d bypass the
lilac bushes taller than both of us, past the apple trees towards the
oldest tree I thought I’d ever seen in person which grew past the end of
the truck patch. Not as far as the tree though—that’d be silly with a
kite. No, just to the swatch of grass before it that ran down towards the
start of the creek behind their house. Open space, a bit of a hill to use
to catch a wind—that was enough to make her happy. And if she was happy,
she made sure you were, too.
Spring Rituals: Trout Fever
Certainly there were other traditions and rituals, like Easter when my parents and I would travel to “Amish country,” as my dad would call it, eat a meal, and see some sights after I’d gone through my basket that morning. It was my mother’s favorite holiday since she didn’t have to cook for anyone, but I never cared much for it. It was always cold; I didn’t like the restaurants my parents would choose; and Easter baskets were over-rated – hyped up like Christmas only to disappoint with more milk chocolate than I cared to eat and never enough jelly beans. I did enjoy shopping for a new dress and shoes, though. It felt good to put on something lighter and brighter to welcome the new season.
As I got older, I still got to shop for a new outfit, but I didn’t join my parents on Easter. There were other Spring rituals still in place, like the dreaded “Spring cleaning.” This was a time to tear apart our entire home for a deep clean. It was always something my mother and I did while listening to her old records. Admittedly, cleaning while singing along to The Beach Boys or Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons did make the work more tolerable. My mother might complain a bit about my dad not helping, but the first chance I got, I’d leave her to her records and lemon Pledge and make my escape to our back yard to find my father.
There he’d be, stout and balding, calloused hands tinkering with his boat, sorting through tackle, spooling reels with new line, all to prepare for opening day of trout season in Pennsylvania. It was one of three major holidays for my dad; the other two were the first day of Buck season, and two weeks in October – which two depended on the phases of the moon – when he would go to Montauk for ocean fishing. While I assisted in preparing for all of his holidays, and often accompanied him, the first day of trout season and all that led up to it was somehow enchanted.
There was an air of excitement that overtook my father. Thinking back, he was obsessive about it, but his excitement and enthusiasm infected me, and much to my mother’s chagrin, I’d catch trout fever right along with him. I’d fetch specific rods that we’d need (he had so many!), paint the boat trailer every few years, prepare the camper, and pack items from his meticulous lists. And as soon as I was old enough, I’d make my own lists of what I’d need to bring for a five-day fishing trip. Though my lists changed as I grew (from Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag to a Discman), his never did, and neither did his routine. I thought he’d have trout fever forever, even after I became immune to it.
I stopped going on those fishing trips around age 17. I stopped feeling the excitement of the opening day of trout season, even though my dad still obsessed over those trips into his early 70s. I had been moved out and married when my dad stopped going. I don’t remember how old either of us were, but I remember asking mom why dad wasn’t preparing, and her reply settled in my stomach like a heavy rock at the bottom of a lake, “He’s not going.” Granted, his trips had grown shorter and closer to home over the years, from five days to three, to overnight, but not to go at all? I asked my father why he wasn’t going, and pleaded with him to get his trout stamp, but he refused. He had excuse after excuse, but the truth is, he lost the fever, not just for trout, but for nearly everything. My dad, the great outdoorsman, was done. He settled into a life on the recliner in front of the television. Even offering to go with him, or coaxing him on a day trip had no effect. He died in the autumn several years later at 82, never having fished again.
But every Spring as opening day approaches, I feel a twinge of regret that I didn’t continue to take those trips with him. They may not have extended his life, but they would have given me more time with him, and more memories to keep. This Spring, on April 14, I won’t be trout fishing, but I will take some time, as I have every year since he passed, to look at photos of some of those trips, photos of one or both of us holding our catch. I’ll remember the feel of the cool Spring air on my face and in my hair as we slowly trolled a lake or river hoping for a bite. I’ll remember my dad’s grin and laughter when I’d proudly reel in a catch larger than his. For living in those memories for a while, reuniting with my father in that way has become one of my Spring rituals.
LMH, March 2018
I used to have this vivid blue and black windbreaker. However, it was nowhere near as vivid as an April afternoon sky, twenty plus years ago. I remember being profiled by it, and swallowed within its deep oceanic awe. You know the kind of sky I’m talking about; they absolutely steal the breath away, don’t they? Copyright law prevents me from quoting the actual lyrics but listen to the song “Palo Alto” by Radiohead. You will know the line when you hear it. It always reminds me of that jacket contrasting with the open universe. That these things somehow became inextricably linked in my mind only furthers the sense of connection I feel when I ponder that vast view nestled within my memory.
Speaking of Radiohead (seriously, listen to this band if you have not yet), my first car was an ‘88 gold Bonneville. This thing was a fucking beast. So, too, is the album OK Computer. My first listen of it was in that seemingly mafia-themed car. This sky was not blue but fire. The memory is equally beautiful. Because of this soul-defining moment, I still try to listen to albums for the first time with wheels spinning beneath me.
But let’s return to blue skies. For this one, I am in a verdant field post-Wine Fest. Yet, that is not why I am drunk. Instead, I am intoxicated by the company I had on that nondescript blanket and, above all else, the space above. Try really looking into skies that have some personality – closest I’ve ever come to God.
One might ask, justifiably, why any of this matters? Well, during this past and incessant winter, a woman I loved asked me, “Are you real?” That is the best question I have ever been asked and the warmth of it still radiates up to now, the cusp of spring, as I realize I very well may need to cut this person out of my life. That jacket is long gone. I crashed that car. I doubt I could find that field again even if I tried. Life, like the weather, has seasons. Things flourish. Things die. But in these memories, it is always spring, it is always hopeful, and there always exists a sanctuary from the cold for me when I need it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to some music. I think you know who. I think you know what I shall see.
“For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
After it happened, she said that she was an angel, and she said that she could fly. She would cry then, violent but silent, in a series of little shatters. I would pull her into my chest and dig my hands deep into her hair, and we would both shake from her crying. She cried because she wasn’t. She had been taken from inside herself and couldn’t be put back in, so her tears gave her no release, no comfort. That’s why her tears were angry, even though she wasn’t anything at all.
I cried because I couldn’t help her, not in any meaningful way. I’d hold her like she used to hold me, often when the blood was just beginning to crust around my nostrils, the metallic taste of it staining the inside of my mouth, and spit and snot and blood and tears would mix and I would feel disgusting. But she helped me because she loved me and I could feel it, because the me inside wasn’t gone but damaged. Hold me, heal me. I wish I could have done the same for her so very badly. But her pain was a different kind – consuming but muted, alien but constant. How do you heal that, let alone approach it?
Sometimes she would pull away suddenly and look right into my eyes (she always did that, looked right at you when she talked; it made what she said feel special and intimate). She would say that I came to her at night. I would come through her window, she’d say. I came through her window and I shined like I was made out of starlight. She would say that I was so beautiful that I had to be an angel, and when she touched me I was her and she would lay there with her brain all dizzy because she was so happy I was there, filling her up, and so happy she was happy. She would say that I promised to show her how, when she was ready, when I came to her made out of starlight.
She would say all this really fast, and it both scared me and made me smile because she would almost seem like herself. But then, the static would take over, and I would be holding her as she began to shatter anew, and I would want to weep myself because I wasn’t there, coming through her window, and she was an angel but couldn’t fly, and I couldn’t remember when we last laughed and kissed and touched and loved, I could only remember us crying.
When I found her, she looked like a martyr; she looked like the murdered Christ.
We couldn’t go to my house because my mother was in a prolonged state of shock and my father was a pervert. It wasn’t me that I was worried about; I’d be safe if she was there. No, it was her. My father hated me but he would love her. He liked to hurt me, but he’d want to fuck and hurt her. We couldn’t go to her house because she lived with her grandmother and her grandmother didn’t know and wouldn’t understand. So, we had our place. I’m not sure if it was beautiful because it was or beautiful because it was ours, but it was. It was this clearing by this old tree that looked burnt and withered (which is probably why we liked it, because no one else did). The tree was at the edge of an old rock quarry and when the light was just right the quarry looked like a gray-blue sea and the tree the hand of God.
I remember once after it happened she asked me what animal I would be and I said cat and when I asked her she said a wolf when I thought she would say a bird. I still don’t know what this means, if anything.
It was a love/hate thing, the way everyone at school felt about her. She was very beautiful, but her beauty wasn’t just physical or sexual. She had that indefinable quality that certain people just have. It makes them unique, and it makes them magnetic. They were jealous of me because I was with her or jealous of her because they weren’t her. The ones that did it, they did it out of fear. She made them feel powerless. So much of what we do is caused by fear; even love sometimes is a kind of fear. They even had a name for us: they called us “Cock Tease and Super Dyke.” It just made us laugh. We joked that we were superheroes.
Her smile was kind of crooked and she couldn’t say the word “specific.” It would sound like “spapific.”
The day it happened, I was late to meet her. I wasn’t worried though because I knew she’d wait and because it was the kind of day that starts thousands of paintings. Now, it seems like a deliberate lull, like fate’s sick drum roll. I reached our place and saw her sprawled out beneath our tree and thought she was dead. Her shirt had been ripped off and her breasts left exposed to the sun. Her panties were wrapped around her left ankle. Black-red blood stained her inner thighs. I don’t really know what to say about it, finding someone you love laying like a mangled animal. I’m not sure how long I stood there, but when I got to her I saw that they had written “slut” on her forehead with a magic marker. Her eyes were dead ones, glazed eyes that see but don’t. Her eyes were never the same. I wanted to scream so badly but I didn’t have the voice to do it. I just looked at her, holding her hand to my face, and didn’t believe in God.
I was afraid to go to the trial, as if hearing it would be the thing that made it real forever, and I was so afraid for her, afraid of what she would feel, afraid that she would be afraid, afraid that she wouldn’t be, and ashamed of my selfish fears. But I have never been more proud of a person than I was of her on that day. She did what no one should be asked to do – she gave a voice to the thing that destroyed her, and she did it with defiance. She was calm, and she told it, word for word, and answered all questions, and she shied away from nothing. But it was that day that took what was left of her. That day was both a purge and an elegy.
I felt like I needed to do for her what she had always done for me but there was just too much distance between us and I couldn’t quite seem to cross it. I’m not even sure she wanted me to. She seemed unsure of herself after it all and I hated the world for it. In the end, her grandmother decided to leave, and what could I say to stop it? I knew what a place could do to a person – a place can suffocate.
When she told me she was leaving, it was the first time she didn’t look into my eyes.
We agreed to meet for the last time the day before she left. I went to our place early in the morning trying as hard as I could to just be numb, knowing to feel would be to hurt, but I was so used to hurting by this point that it didn’t even really matter.
She wasn’t there. Instead, I found her clothes (she had worn my favorite jeans) in a pile at the edge of the quarry beneath our tree. They searched for her body but couldn’t find it, asked me if I knew where she was with lessening interest, and ultimately they presumed her dead but listed her missing.
I didn’t correct them, even though I knew exactly what had happened. I am the only one who knows. I knew that she had flown away. And now I don’t have to be angry or sad anymore because she comes to me every night. She comes through the window and shines like she is made out of starlight. She is so beautiful, my angel. And when I touch her she is me, filling me up, and I am so happy with my brain all dizzy because she’s here, and she’s her, and I can remember a time when we weren’t crying.
This writing might upset my family. I’ll apologize up front. I’m sure it will dishearten them to
hear what I have to say.
In 1997, I decided I couldn’t be a Methodist anymore.
I had been a pretty straight-laced one, too. I mean, I had many good examples to follow. My
grandparents, my parents, our youth group leaders, and Pastor Charlie who got me through my year of
Confirmation classes were all good Methodists to learn from. I was convinced that they were right—and
I’m still convinced that they all taught me how to strive to be the best person I should be.
I still think the Methodists have good ideas on how to be a decent person—have faith, do good
works, don’t be an alcoholic or drug addict. Thos all seem legitimate—good ways to get along with
others. Really, I wouldn’t mind if more people held to these things.
But let’s jump ahead. College came along, and like most college students I began to question the
beliefs I’d had and the values I’d been raised with up to that point.
Sophomore year I signed up for a literary journalism-based class with my boss from the
university’s writing center—Dr. Vecchio. I wasn’t certain what I was getting into, but Don was cool and
had encouraged me to give it a shot.
The major assignment of the term was a lengthy assignment that involved a double-digit page
requirement of written analysis on a topic of our choice. Something inside me said: investigate your
faith. The Sunday after we got the assignment I was at Central United Methodist for worship service,
and I stayed after to befriend the local pastor, hoping he would be a source of information for the
questions I had never really investigated about United Methodism prior.
He was quick to set up an appointment with me to come back later in the week, assuring me
that he’d have books I could have to get started. I headed back to my dorm to brainstorm and plan.
It’d been awhile since I’d been to a service, not wanting to go on my own every Sunday in a city
where I didn’t know anyone beyond the college campus boundaries. I’d been uneasy, even tearing up
some. I wrote it off to missing my family who should have been there in the pew, too. I didn’t know then
that it was likely one of those uncommon examples of foreshadowing in real life. By the end of the
semester I’d see things weren’t bound to be a happy ending.
After finishing some assignments when I got back to my room, I started on my list of questions. I
knew how the Church told us we could be saved and make it to heaven. I knew about the rather
ridiculous instructions for hymn-singing in the front of every Methodist hymnal (and only the
instructions are bizarre—like any Methodist-at- heart, I love singing hymns). I’d even read about the
Methodists being supporters of the labor movement throughout American history. But how did the
Church think I should feel about suicide? Or euthanasia? Abortion? My LGBT friends? Were my personal
thoughts on those going to line-up with how the Methodists thought I should think?
Days later, I was sitting across from the pastor asking about the topics I’d considered. Briefly he
shared one- or two-sentence responses, for a funeral had come up that had had to cut into our
appointment together. He made up for it though, as promised, with books of the Church—and on that
piqued my interest most—The Book of Discipline. This book is the doctrine of the Church (and strangely,
one I hadn’t recalled hearing about in my catechism, but may be with a terrifying title like that, my pre-
teen mind had blacked it out). With a promise to meet again, the pastor saw me out and I lugged my
new sources down the street to the university library.
My answers I encountered on my own were not what I had cautiously hoped for—hypocrisy was
what I found, and it disturbed me. The bit we’d learned about in Confirmation—that “The United
Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth” seems like it’s a bit of bunk when
you keep reading. All people can attend church, but my gay friends couldn’t be ordained as ministers or
be married in the Church (an idea which persists, aggravatingly, even to today). Suicide, understandably
frowned upon, was joined by euthanasia and abortion as negatives, too, though admittedly nowadays,
the Church seems to say in the 2016 version of The Book of Discipline that there might be exceptions for
abortion, as “we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother.”
The bottom line was soon apparent: I couldn’t go along with what I was supposed to agree to
after researching and writing that essay. The storm churned around in me for years. I’d go to church
with my family to try to do what I figured was the right thing, but would have those tears come back
nearly every time I attended, guilty for being there and going against my own beliefs, and then
alternating with shame that the Church I’d respected, and been a happy member of for so long could
have such heinous opinions that didn’t’ seem to show that value of the sacredness of life that I held in
highest regard. My husband and I married in the United Methodist Church (to follow tradition and to
avoid the complication of paying for a sacrament in the Catholic Church) but I’d not been to a service in
ages before our marriage education classes with my parents’ minister. But I didn’t feel all that guilty
about that at least—and I’d even gotten through the ceremony without too many tears. I guess I’d been
able to kid myself for one afternoon at least.
No, the guilt comes back around in the feeling on Sunday mornings that I’m betraying my
relatives and the tenets that they held to for at least a few generations back.
But was I rejecting them? I’ve decided finally that I am not. I still try to live as I was raised—to
treat others justly by the Golden Rule—to try to be temperate (most of the time) in all aspects of
activities—and to have faith in the goodness of others and to show my own goodness through good
works to help others. No construct is needed to be a good person, at least not for me. I don’t need a
church of law and structure to make sure I’m living a worthwhile life. And I refuse to discount others
because they don’t fit the dogma of that constructed faith—or any other one for that matter.