Creative Essays

Creative nonfiction and personal essays


I was so excited. I could hardly breathe through the hour-long drive there. I was squished between my two ten-year-old best friends (whose names have been changed here to protect the innocent) in the back seat of a white Saturn, but I didn’t care. I was practicing over and over in my head what I was going to say to all the smart-aleck adults who would tell me I was too young to ride the water slides. I was simply going to reply, “Actually I’m ten, going on eleven.”

On the right of me sat the girl I met in preschool, the swimmer who was named after a state, like me: Tennessee. She was the observant artist. She sat there holding a deck of cards, trying to find all the queens. I could tell she was nervous. Her hands were sweating. The cards were damp and at one point they slipped from her fingers. She giggled unhappily. I looked down and realized mine were sweating, too.

On my left was the girl who spoke for the three of us. She was the big cheese. Anna was without a doubt the most daring of the three of us. She was the one who started the famous food fight of ’95 in the Travis cafeteria. She told the entire school that her sister ran away to join the circus in ’96, and in ’97 she broke a boy’s arm, wrestling. It was obvious that she was going to ride the infamous “death slide.” In fact as soon as we jumped out of the car she screamed, “I’m going to ride the biggest ride at Schlitterbahn, ‘The Death Slide.’”

I was still debating whether or not to go on the newest and scariest ride of Schlitterbahn. Anna was humming “Jon Jacob” and acting like it was no big deal. Tennessee was practically shaking and saying, “Everything will be fine. I’ll ride the kiddy slide.” She was joking, but I knew that thought was probably going through her head for real.

And there was me. I’m the one who would rather write an essay than talk. I’m like the invisible one.

We are all exact triposites, if there’s any such thing.

I was so nervous and excited at the same time that I practically leaped out of the car with my Gap backpack and my Wal-Mart towel flying behind me. I could hear the screaming and crying of children.

After we went through the long line to pay and put on a whole tube of sunscreen, we were ready to have some real fun. We wandered around trying to find the perfect ride.

Tennessee and I had decided on the water gym when Anna suddenly stopped short. She pointed way up in the air. Our eyes slowly followed her finger. Through our ten-year-old eyes we saw what looked like the scariest ride in the entire world. It was a fifty-foot tall sky blue slide that went straight down into a giant pool of deep dark water.

Anna looked around and smiled. Her short brown hair jumped and fell each time she took a long stride. Her brown eyes twinkled as she walked to the slide. She seemed so proud about being brave and daring to walk up to “The Death Slide.” Tennessee and I felt embarrassed that a girl six months younger than we were was going to ride it while we were going to play on the water gym. But Tennessee and I had a plan to cover up our embarrassment. We were going to act like we were going to ride The Death Slide, and then, at the last minute, say we forgot something and wait at the bottom for Anna.

As we stood in line, slowly approaching the fifty-foot ladder I tried to gather my strength and suddenly knew I wanted to go down that slide. I stared at Tennessee and suddenly whispered, “I’m going to do it.” She was in awe.

I looked at the ladder and I looked at my friends. Tennessee was smiling but Anna was looking very serious. She had wrinkles in her forehead and her eyebrows were down over her eyes. She was looking up to the top of the ladder, which was hardly visible at that moment. All of a sudden she started crying. It was like a low siren. Then it got louder. “What’s wrong?” I yelled over the voices of the screaming children. Anna didn’t answer. Her face was like a wrinkled prune. She had tears coming down her red cheeks. She didn’t answer me, she just ran to the water gym without a word, to her four-year-old sister. I looked at Tennessee uneasily. I knew it was too late to go over and comfort her. There were already thirty people behind us. If we got out of line, I knew we’d never get back in. If you give up your place in line at Schlitterbaun, you might as well go home.

Tennessee and I sucked in our fear and decided to ride the scariest ride in Schlitterbahn.

The climb up the ladder was long and miserable. Everyone pushed and shoved, not caring about the people above or below. I was surrounded by those adults who were thinking I was too short for the ride. We were stuck near the bottom for five minutes and didn’t make any progress. So many people were cutting in front of us that we were actually moving back down the ladder. Tennessee and I, the innocent daisy pickers, decided to let out our fierce side. We stuck out our elbows and pushed our way to the top. It only took about ten minutes.

When we reached the top we looked down. I suddenly got dizzy but thought about how much fun I’d have during those few seconds that I was riding the ride of my life. The lifeguard yelled, “Keep your hands and your feet together.” I sat down on the edge at the very top of the slide; he gave me a hard, fast push and I was off.

It was like sliding down a vertical stick. I had to squeeze my arms to my chest and keep my clenched feet together. I was screaming so hard, I had a sore throat the next day. But I wasn’t screaming from pain or fright but from excitement.

When we got to the bottom Tennessee and I were laughing and throwing up our arms in victory. Anna wasn’t too happy with us at first but she got over it, though she never did go down The Death Slide that day.

I know it was just a ride in a park, but I always think about day when I’m feeling too scared to try something new. I remember what it felt like to fly down that big blue slide. I realize that I might be quiet, even invisible, but hidden inside me is a brave

White Picket Fences, Green Trumpets, and Bisexuality

Dreams are dangerous and wild things but, once captured and tamed, powerful insights to who you really are. I had the classic American dream: growing up, finding Prince Charming, getting married and living in a nice house with a white picket fence, two kids, and a dog. As I got older that dream of mine faded away until, one day, it no longer nexisted. The funny thing is, I can pinpoint that day exactly and how it changed my life.

I was a sophomore in high school and, after overcoming the stresses of my freshman year and having made a name for myself, I was quite content with who I was. I wasn’t the popular cheerleader Barbie that everyone adores, but that was OK. I was me, and I was finally beginning to accept that. Years before, elementary through junior high, I was the kind of kid that was constantly insulted and teased. High school had been a new start for me, and I was proud of it. I seemed to ooze confidence myself, and however it happened, it drew others to me that shared my same interests. In other words, I had real friends. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, to have friends, to belong! I was me, really me, and I completely belonged.

Then it happened. I was at band practice, as usual, watching the marching drill from the sidelines. I can’t remember what exactly caught my eye, but the next thing I knew I was totally entranced by the brass section. Maybe it was one of fate’s silvery threads; whatever it was, I was under its spell. Did I just see what I think I saw? Yes, yes I did! It was the weirdest thing: there was a green trumpet. Not gold, not silver, but green!

“Wow!” I thought. “That’s just awesome. I wonder what kind of person actually plays a green trumpet.” And there you have it. The day that changed my life all started with naïve curiosity. What can I say? It was so hot outside that my skin was melting into puddles on the pavement, I was absolutely bored out of my mind, and a green trumpet (and the owner of such) offered a pleasant change of pace in the monotonous tone of my day. I know, it sounds crazy, but from the first moment I saw the midday sun glint off that emerald instrument, fate’s plan had already been set in motion.

From that day forward I made it my goal to talk to this unusual trumpet’s owner; a shy girl with short red hair who, as far as I could tell, went from school to band and then home every day without talking to much of anyone. Surely there was something more, wasn’t there? After all, green trumpets aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Little by little I made my approach to her.

“Hi, I’m Kaci,” I smiled at her one day. “That’s a cool trumpet. How’d you do it?” Not much of a conversation starter, but then again, I’m not much of a “conversator.” Plus, after weeks of planning, that lame line was the only thing I had actually come up with.

“It was dipped in this colored metal. It’s pretty interesting actually. I don’t see anything like it down here. Oh, by the way, my name’s Amanda.” Amanda! Deities be praised! My trumpet player had a name! Amanda! Great! And… now that I think about it… an accent… hmm…

“Down here?” I asked. “Where are you from?”

“Massachusetts,” she replied, “up near Boston.” (Tweet! The drum majors blew the whistle to call us back to attention.) “Hey, I gotta go, drill is fixin’ to start. Talk to ya later?”

“Sure,” I answered, grinning ear to ear. “I’ll write you a letter. See ya!” So, I met a new person. What’s so big about that? Why was I so happy? I meet new people all the time. And what was with that “I’ll write you” thing, did that sound as stupid as I think it sounded? It’s just a new friend, gosh Kaci, get over it. But this person was different, I could feel it right down to my bones.

Just from that first short conversation I knew that Amanda and I were going to be great friends. I don’t know why, just something about her “clicked” with me. She made me feel alive like nobody else did. And, keeping with my promise, I did write her. That’s where our friendship really took off. We started writing each other back and forth, two to three notes a day, and with every word that was written I could feel us getting closer and closer. We had the funniest debates at lunch that carried over into our letters. “Yankees” versus “good ol’ country boys,” Mass. versus Texas, “y’all” versus “you all,” and even taking opposite sides in the Presidential election. And, in all of the stupid things we discussed, we told each other secrets that we had never uttered before to a single soul.

It got to where writing just wasn’t enough. I mean, we’d take pages and pages up and still have more to say. So, we started to call each other and talk on the phone for hours. Either the phone would ring the minute I got inside from the bus, or I’d rush to the phone as soon as I got in the door. And if anybody thought our notes were random, our phone conversations were even worse. I remember the most unusual, and the longest, conversation that we ever had started off talking about Interview with the Vampire and ended up with us debating Catholicism. It was kind of creepy because it seemed as if all I could do was think about her. I even went to sleep at night and dreamt about her. I had never had anyone that I could talk to like this before.

Anyway, after months of getting to know each other, Amanda started to tease me, always inquiring about whether or not I was gay. It came out of nowhere, and didn’t bother me at first because she was always joking, but when she kept pestering me with the topic I started to wonder. I’d say certain things and she would just jump in and ask me about my dating preference; it was the oddest thing. One of my friends would do a stupid thing and I would say something like “but we still love you” and she would pipe up with “are you sure you aren’t gay?” I’d ask myself why she was so adamant about this subject, but I couldn’t find any reason for it, so I just blew it off. A little while later I found the answer I was looking for.

A week before Christmas break I could tell that something was weighing on her mind. She had become really snappy and more reserved than usual. It got me worried so I tried to talk to her, but every time I tried she shied away from me. I had no clue what was going on with my friend, and it was really bothering me. All of a sudden she started to get really “chummy” with everyone but me. From my point of view it seemed like she was avoiding me in particular and it really upset me. Another one of my friends, Layla, found me crying one day after lunch and asked me what was going on. I told her that I was worried about Amanda and confused because she wasn’t telling me a thing and I knew something was wrong.

“Babe,” she said to me—and I’ll never forget this—“she didn’t tell you? I thought you were like her best friend.”

“Tell me what?” I asked.

“It’s not a big deal or anything, but she’s told a few people that she’s, well, you know, bi. Maybe she was just afraid to tell you because she thought you would see her differently or something.” Bi? As in bisexual? Wait, back that up a minute, explain. I didn’t get it. What was the big problem? True, I was kind of shocked inside, but it really wasn’t a huge issue. This was the big secret she was hiding from me? This was the reason she wouldn’t look me in the eye? Didn’t she know that I was going to be her friend no matter what?

After Layla’s “confession” to me, I started to look at things differently, life differently. I had always thought that, well, bisexuality/homosexuality was an understood “taboo,” so to speak. But… Amanda? That was different; she was different. I had to think about this and piece some things together now. That’s when I started to take a good look at my life and myself.

Almost immediately I began thinking about me, and who “me” really was. I spent hours in my room after school picking my thoughts and feelings apart until I felt like I finally understood myself. And, when I thought about love, I thought that love should have no boundaries, not even gender. So, I looked deeper and deeper into my heart and found that I loved. I loved Amanda, deeply and passionately; I truly loved her. That’s all there was to it. So many different doorways she had opened up for me, so many lessons she had taught me, it was totally logical that I loved her. With many conversations and “discussions” between her and me, I came to some important conclusions about my life.

First of all, I learned that “wrong” is not always wrong for all people. Some people’s “wrong” is sometimes someone else’s “right.” True, you just can’t run out and kill somebody and say it’s right, but some people’s outlooks on dating preferences are bound to differ. And some people might think that the other people’s dating lives are wrong. It’s what that individual believes in their heart that makes his or her own moral code on the matter.

Second, maybe this whole bisexual thing wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Come to think of it, how can you ever be expected to find your true soul mate if barriers of gender stand in the way? There is an old Native American legend that when the world was created two souls lived in every body so that nobody would be lonely. And then one day a huge earthquake shook the land and the two souls were separated into different bodies. Now every lifetime the souls search the corners of the earth looking for each other so that they may be whole again. Now, what if those two souls got separated into bodies of the same gender? Should they still be kept apart and doomed to search for their other half for thousands of centuries more? I don’t think so.

In fact, that brings me to the third big conclusion I came to about my life: I was, and in fact am, bi. Once again it seemed to be the only rational explanation for everything that I felt. So, to end the awkwardness in the whole situation I came clean to Amanda, and we eventually started dating. It seemed that it was uncomfortable for a lot of my friends, our friends, at first, especially when they had never thought that a sweet innocent girl of my nature “swung that way.” But, I can honestly say that it really wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable for me. It was as natural as breathing and writing and talking and walking. For the first time in a very long while, I actually felt whole.

I guess that you can safely say that my whole outlook on my life in general changed. I saw things in a whole new light. I began to question the world around me. For so long my life had been filled with childlike hopes, dreams, and fairy tales. Now it consisted of emotions, ideas, and, yes, even heartbreak. Before, I would have longed to go back to those days of childhood, days of sweet ignorant innocence. But I now realized that children were not always innocent, and that reality was not always cruel. I used to sit back and watch the world go by, crying from my safe perch far away from reality. I used to wonder what happened to all the fairies and knights and unicorns that made everything all better. I used to wonder what happened to me and why life had to be so complicated. But now I knew. Life changes, people grow up, and sometimes you have to make your own fairies and knights and unicorns to make the world better. I learned that things aren’t always what they appear to be, and sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find the real truth. But I think the most important lesson that I learned was that your dreams don’t always have to stay the same.

No longer was I content with sitting on the side, waiting for my prince to come and whisk me off to that classic suburban palace; maybe that prince of mine would be a princess, and maybe I didn’t have to wait. Maybe I could just take that extra step out into the world and look for what I want. And then maybe, after finding that, I could just go out and take it.

That dream of mine, this new twist, is powerful, and it does say something about me. I’d like to believe it says that I’m not afraid of being different; after all, just how boring would the world be if we were all alike? I believe that I have finally found who I am. True, my dreams have changed, but that’s OK, change is good. It’s still my dream; it’s still me. The best thing is that now I know who “me” is: an intelligent, bisexual girl with a little bit of a wild side, who stands up for what she believes and goes after what she wants. I’ve learned that white picket fences are always a good start, but sometimes you have to see the sun shine off that green trumpet to be able to look at your dreams from another perspective and truly understand yourself.


An Essay Written as a Letter

Hey, Marijke,

I don’t feel like writing this down in an actual letter, and I probably won’t be able to talk to you till at least much later, but I do need to say something to somebody right now.

I witnessed the death of a man, today. His name was Daniel. He was painting the house next to us. He was on the top couple rungs of the ladder when it folded under him. It was a cheap ladder. Corroded aluminum.

I am right in the line of sight on the back porch of our house; I hear the ladder starting to collapse, and see him hit the ground. At first I call out to him. He doesn’t respond. I guess I should have called 911 then. I don’t. I run over to him.

He’s barely conscious. I ask him if he is OK, and he can’t form any words. He’s moving around his left arm, as if searching for something on the ground. I remember that he has glasses, and then see them lying five feet away on the grass. I put them on him. One of the legs of the glasses had snapped off, so they don’t go on straight.

I get my mom. When she gets there, she asks him what is his name. “Daniel,” he wheezes out. She asks him what day it is, but his eyes glaze over, and he loses consciousness. She goes in and calls 911. When she comes back out, she tells us that they’re on their way. Then she just stands there waiting next to him, and I sit next to him with my hand on his shoulder. He’s convulsing, and he gasps. I can feel his body tensing up under my fingers. I let go. He is foaming at the mouth. We talk to him, saying stuff like, “It’ll be OK, the ambulance is on its way.” and, “Just hold on, Mr. Daniel, hold on, till the ambulance gets here.” He’s still for twenty or thirty seconds at a time, not even breathing, it seems. Then he convulses gently. Each time he convulses, I feel myself sighing in relief, that he hasn’t gone yet. It is more serious than I had thought at first.

He was still alive when the paramedics finally got there. But (the fireman said later) he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating as they stood over him, checking his pulse. They did CPR on him, right there on Ms. Selma’s lawn, and a few minutes later, they loaded him onto the ambulance.

I say to the fireman, “How is he? Is he alive?”

“Well, his heart and breathing stopped as we where checking him, and they’re trying to bring him back now, on the ambulance.”

“So that’s it, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I mean, they might get him back, but not yet.”

Umm. Yeah. So, I’m a little shook. I went back to painting for a few hours, just because… what else am I going to do? Sit in the house and think about it? No, I just felt like immersing myself in work for a little while. But now I’m taking a lunch break, and it’s all coming back to me.

I was painting our house on the ladder yesterday, about ten feet higher than the one he was on today. That could’ve been me. And can be me, later today. Well, sorta. I have a good ladder. But anything’s possible. This is real life, Marijke. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a dream, and Daniel was my alarm clock. Yeah, I’m shook.


I Didn’t Know

We would sit on the Spanish steps until our lips were swollen and chapped, until our tongues were coated with the taste of cigarettes, until our skin had melted and darkened from the heat of the sun. We would sit there wanting to be older, or at least look older, assuming everyone was staring at us, assuming everyone wanted us. We wanted our lives to advance, but we didn’t know in what direction. We would wait, patiently watching the “baggy-pants boys,” as we called them. They were such a rarity in Italy that when you found one you had to hang on. “The baggy-pants boys” also consisted of leather-, chain-, and spike-wearing punks, tie-dyed hippies, and fifty-year-old drug addicts. They had a designated corner where they would all meet and disturb the peace while policemen hid around corners watching from afar. Every day we went there we would move closer and closer to their corner. We were spiders, and they were insects trapped in our web.

I had never seen Gian Luka there before. I figured he was new, so I let my cigarette dangle from my fingers as if offering something, as if telling him that everything I had was there for the taking. I didn’t think I was enough for him. I didn’t think I was enough for anyone. I liked his deep dimples, messy hair, and “I-don’t-care” attitude. I wanted him. I wanted him to want me. We all had a designated baggy-pants boy that we would watch like a dog begging for food at the dinner table. Our heads cocked, our eyes open, longing. We wanted them, not knowing what we wanted. He asked me if I would help him with something, would I come with him. I said yes, putting one weak foot in front of the other hoping “help” didn’t mean far away, hoping “help” didn’t take place in a bedroom. He led me down the Spanish steps and around the corner. I followed his shadow, not him. I was afraid of him. We stopped at a soiled public bathroom, and he told me to wait there as he kneeled on the stairs below me. He told me to tell him if someone was coming, as he took out a coffee can and began putting the contents of it into plastic bags. “Drugs,” he said. “But not really. I mean this is just herbs and wood an’ shit. But we sell it to the tourists ’cause they think it’s drugs.” He started up the steps and along the way back kept singing a line from a song that went, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But when he sang it with his Italian accent, it sounded more like, “Done wary, be ’appy."

“Let’s go for a walk,” he said, taking me to a back alley where we sat on a doorstep, speaking in two different languages, not understanding one another. Silence prevailed. And then he grabbed me, sticking his tongue down my throat, jamming it between my teeth, folding my tongue like laundry. I could taste the beer as his saliva collided with mine. I didn’t know if I liked it. It was my first kiss. I didn’t know.

He took me farther down the alley and leaned me up against a cold, stone wall; my left leg rapidly shook as he fingered my stomach, as he undid each button on my grey pants quietly, as if what he was doing was a secret, or wrong. My shirt climbed my stomach, and I could feel the stones become part of the small of my back. My left leg shook faster, each time springing my knee forward, and I thought about how I could flee. I planned out each step in my mind as he touched me. I saw my knee spring forward, hitting him in his crotch and running. I saw myself under water, clean and cold, wrapped in a blanket of seaweed. He touched me like I was a popsicle on a hot summer day, and he had to touch every inch of my body before I melted. When he reached the last button, he asked me if I had ever had sex before. “Yes,” I said. I thought if I said yes, it would make it easier to say no. I don’t know what my reasoning was, but I didn’t want him to realize that I wasn’t enough. “Do you want to have sex?” he asked. “No,” I murmured apologetically, then added, “’Cause, I mean, my friends are waiting for me.” As if I had to have an excuse, as if I had to explain why I wasn’t ready. I remember the padded bra I wore. I remember worrying if I had put on enough deodorant. Then I began to worry if I had put on any deodorant at all. He slid his finger along the top of my underwear, the underwear my mom had bought two sizes too big. The underwear lined with black lace and black bows. The underwear I had gotten when I had my first period. He exhaled into my ear, and I could feel my eardrums beat against his breath, wanting to burst free, to escape. He placed his hands on my waist and drew them toward the fly of my pants. I can still see him sliding each button through its hole. In black and white, in slow motion, in disappointment. I wasn’t enough. And I knew it. During my walk home I kept pushing piece after piece of gum into every region of my mouth. I chewed rapidly, trying to get rid of the taste of his juicy tongue and leftover saliva.

My friends screamed and bubbled in excitement, having made our first contact with the baggy-pants boys. I thought I was happy. I hoped I was happy.

“Did you like it?”

“Don’t you think it was a little quick to let him touch you the night you met him?”

“Was it fun?”

“Does he know you’re a virgin?” My friends filled my room with curiosity as we lay on the floor. They didn’t really care what the answer was. They already had their own visions of what had happened.

I lay there, crossing my legs and squeezing my thighs together as if someone was trying to burrow between them. I didn’t want to go back the next day, even though I knew I should, even though I knew I would. I hated the fact that he touched me, I hated myself for letting him touch me. And I hated the fact that I disappointed him, and that I wasn’t enough. I perceived his touching me as a compliment. I never thought someone would want to touch me. I never reckoned someone would, at least not for a long time. I didn’t like the smell of his breath. I didn’t like the temperature of his body, or the texture of his skin. I didn’t like him touching me. I didn’t like him wanting me because I didn’t want myself. I clasped my thighs together and wished they would become stuck like that forever. I still didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want him. I didn’t like my mouth being invaded, my eyes searched or body groped. I didn’t like my breath smelled, my voice heard or my ears whispered to. I didn’t know I wouldn’t like any of it. It was my first kiss, my first touch. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know.

We went back the next day. And the next day. And during the two weeks after my first kiss, we went there every day. We met his friends. Orso meaning bear, Giallo meaning yellow, Pizello meaning small penis, Diego, Matteo, and Carmello. Orso was roughly 275 pounds. Beady eyes that stalked you behind glasses that pinched the fat on either side of his face, squeezing sweat from his face like pulp from an orange. He would pull me onto his lap and bounce me, the fat jiggling in his legs, like I was sitting amidst a bowl of Jell-O. He would press his goatee upon the back of my neck and rub it up and down, up and down, up and down. His bristly hairs stinging my flesh, the smell of ham on his breath. I didn’t like his hairs on my neck, I didn’t like sitting on his lap or the scent of ham. They called me their doll, but I didn’t mind. It made me feel good that they wanted me. One night as I was lying on the steps, Jean Lucas appeared above me.

“Come on,” he said. “Why are you doing this to me? Let’s go for a walk.”

“No,” I giggled, pretending to be ignorant of the fact that he was serious. His dry hands moved up and down my arms casting flakes off my sunburned skin upon the stone steps.

“Please,” he pleaded, while some of his friends stood behind him watching, telling me to do it, to go with him. I imagined the stones again. I imagined him moving up and down on top of me like the ebb of the ocean. I imagined him being inside me, and I hated myself. I hated myself because I didn’t want to have sex, because I wasn’t ready. How could I let someone else in while I was trying to get out? I knew I was going to have to disappoint him. I stood up delicately, trying to seem as if I were enjoying myself, as if I were having a good time. As if I were still six, and I giggled at the word sex, thinking it was a secret game.

An acquaintance of ours, Lily, came along the next day. She was from Milan and wanted to see Rome. So we brought her to the Spanish steps. He didn’t say hello. He made it clear he didn’t care that I was there. He was shirtless and drunk at three in the afternoon. Beer glistened on his bottom lip like dewdrops on flower petals. He looked Lily up and down and leaned against a wall complimenting her loudly. “Anna—you see this? You should get your belly button pierced like this. And you should get your nose pierced.” I said OK, propping my hand upon my forehead; the sun was beating down on my back. It was beating a migraine into my head. Gian Luca turned his back against me. Lily told us to get together for a picture as Jean Lucas leaned into her. I knew she was preparing me, apologizing for what would follow later in the evening.

He came and sat next to me, smiling, with his eyes rolled up in his head.

“Kiss!” she said. “Anna smile!” So we did. We pressed our lips together, it’s just skin I thought. I didn’t want to kiss him, but I thought that if I could convince him I still wanted him, then maybe he would stay with me. If I could convince him there might be a chance of me letting him in, of my giving myself up to him, maybe I wouldn’t be such a disappointment. I felt like a pimple exploding on a teenager’s face. Being pushed together until my insides ran out and I deflated into a red wound of humility. I kept asking myself, Why won’t I let him fuck me? It’s all nothing but skin made up of organisms and tissue and stuff. It’s nothing but a body. My body. He asked Lily to go on a tour of Rome with him. She said yes, looking at me with an apologetic look on her face, handing me the picture. I knew what that tour would consist of—a bedroom maybe, most likely an alley. He winked at me like we were best buds and he was about to score bigtime. My friends tried to stand in front of me. They tried to prevent me from seeing. But I knew. I ran my tongue along the inside of my mouth and tried to forget the feeling of his teeth on my lower lip and hands clinging to my waist. I heard the English language as it surrounded me, tourists commenting on the Spanish steps, closing in on me, suffocating me. I waited for him to return. I didn’t know why.

He fucked her three times that afternoon. He fucked her earrings from her ears, he told me, as if pointing out what I had missed. The opportunity of a lifetime. He was telling this to me while I smiled, pretending to be listening to another conversation. But no one else was talking. “I gotta go,” he said to his friend. “My girl is waiting for dessert.” He placed his hands on my knees. “Ciao,” he whispered pityingly, extending his neck toward mine with expectations for a kiss; I turned my head and kissed his cheek. I almost said thank you. But he was already gone.

He never got to see my belly button pierced, or a stud in my nose. He never got to see my red, purple, blue, orange, brown, black, or green hair. He never got to see how hard I tried to be enough. I never learned how to say no. I didn’t know I would ever have to. I was thirteen years old. It was my first kiss. I didn’t know I wouldn’t like it. It didn’t know what he would want. I didn’t know, and I still don’t. I continue to lie at night squeezing my thighs together, gazing at the picture of our lips pressed together, taped above my bed, dreaming of days where I may be enough.

This work received a Gold Award in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2002.


My friends often describe me as a cynic and a pessimist. For the most part, they ’re right. Sentiment loses value when it permeates one’s attitudes and behavior just as the value of a commodity decreases as it becomes ubiquitous, so as a rule I reserve expressing sentiment for rare occasions that I deem worthy. Fortunately, even the harshest cynics are surprised sometimes.

To begin, most people in my hometown know who Mike is. But I would bet that ninety-nine percent of those people don’t know Mike’s name. Mike is a homeless man who lives at the public library. He didn’t really attract my attention until several months ago; since then, I have found him impossible to ignore.

At about eleven o’clock one Friday night, I left my house with the intention of buying a CD at Discount Den. I grabbed my coat to shield myself from the chill air, the result of a cold front and incessant rain, lowering temperatures into the 40s and threatening to drop them even more. Before I reached the Den, I passed the public library and noticed Mike sitting on a concrete bench. Stopping at a red light just beyond the library, I attempted to force myself not to look back at his cold, shivering form. With guilt welling up inside my chest for driving past Mike so many previous times and overlooking him, I couldn’t make myself look away.

As the light turned green, I sat for a moment, not moving, and asked myself what I was going to do. Then I accelerated slowly, waiting for the car on my left to pass as I changed over to the left lane. I made four left turns at four consecutive stoplights until I approached the library again. Pulling into the library’s parking lot, I turned off my lights, radio, and heat. As I opened the car door, the cold air stung me like a quick slap to my face. Slowly and uncertainly, I walked toward Mike.

The street was eerily quiet as I crossed. So was Mike. Staring at me unwaveringly, he said nothing as I approached. The crow’s feet framing his eyes, the ridges in his forehead, and the crinkles in his cheeks still stand out in my mind. How many nights had he lain on that bench, covering his face as the wind whipped against it? Now he hugged his body tightly. He was wearing an old pair of tan khakis, a shirt that I couldn’t see clearly, and a light multi-colored jacket, its sleeves ending above his pale wrists, that was just slightly too small and clung to his body. As I gave him the money in my wallet, he took it—slowly—and stared at it for a second in disbelief. Although the street in front of the library is usually an amalgam of car horns, headlights, whining engines throughout the night, nothing—not one honk or screech of tire—disturbed the silence. Mike’s head rose slowly, and he looked me in the eye with nothing but sincerity and kindness as he uttered three simple words: “God loves you.”

In nearly any situation, I can think of something to say in response, but this time I was dumbfounded. It was as though a thick cotton sock had been jammed into my throat to suffocate any reply. I felt inadequate. After several seconds, I muttered something unintelligible and shuffled across the street to drive home.

During that particularly snowy winter, I often drove by the library looking for Mike. I was encouraged when I didn’t see him lying on the hard concrete bench. I haven’t seen him outside at night for quite a while. However, I did see him a few times inside the library during the day. After that first encounter, I stopped and gave Mike some money a few more times. We exchanged names and talked some more. These subsequent meetings made me question why I had been stupefied when he had first thanked me. When I hear a televangelist with a Rolex watch, an expensive suit, and a fancy hairstyle tell me that God loves me, it doesn’t move me in the least. Mike’s words are powerful not because he is a man who lives a life of luxury. His words are always powerful because he has no home, often no shelter, yet he is neither bitter nor resentful; it would be easy to succumb to anger and spite, but he doesn’t. Because my offering is so paltry, he could easily refuse it and ignore me, but he doesn’t. Instead, he tells me that God loves me, sincerely and without pretense. For this reason, Mike deserves my sentiment.


This work received a Gold Award in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2002.

Lessons in Taxidermy

The silly humans who inhabited the Earth before us had a bad habit of using their mouths and throats for speaking, instead of for eating. All the time they would talk. Blah blah blah. Some of the more obsessed would even do it in their sleep, sharing their secret aspirations and dreams with their pillows.

—Kurt Vonnegut

Sometimes it can be like trying to type while wearing mittens.

Somewhere around second grade my mother decided that even in the summer I would have therapy for my stuttering. Lured by the location of the therapist (a cabin on a beautiful lake about a half-hour drive away), I couldn’t refuse. Once or twice a week I would be driven out to this cabin and would sit and talk with the therapist. She would talk about things I did, the things I should be doing.

We would go for walks, or take the canoe out and scare off the ducks, or just talk. There is one example of her teaching I still remember well which eloquently summarizes every theory, method, and protocol for speech therapy. I no longer participate in any therapy but I believe that it is no longer necessary for me.

It was a blistering seventy-five degrees in Willow, Alaska. Joan, the therapist, and I were lounging on her porch and she was playing a tape recording she had secretly made of us playing monopoly during our last session. I had been speaking fluently as I usually do when doing complex things with no specific purpose—in this case, playing a board game.

As we sat on the porch, she asked me why I found it easier to speak in more crucial situations rather than less important ones. I answered something about how doing difficult tasks were slower than easy ones. She then went inside for a moment without telling me why. Soon I heard her footsteps returning and turned to see her carrying two oranges in one hand. I wandered back over to the chair and she handed me an orange.

“I want you to try and peel this orange all in one piece, Ben,” she said. She began showing me how to accomplish such a feat. “You start in the middle and work the two hemispheres off in a spiral.” After she finished the peeling she held it out for me to admire and use as an example. ‘See? All in one piece, like a pelt, almost.”

I felt over the smooth and porous skin of my orange skeptically. Eventually I dug my fingernails in and haplessly tried to make a little pelt as well. I couldn’t do it, of course. I made one piece after another until it was just a decomposing pile of peels. She didn’t seem too disappointed, though—I still got to eat the orange. A few minutes later my mom showed up to take me home and the incident was forgotten for the time.

So, my life went on. Yet something from that day must have stayed with me. One day some years later, as I held an orange in my hand, the dim memory of fruit pelts came back to mind. I decided to make an effort to peel it in one piece. I began on the middle equator as I had watched Joan do so long ago and started to work the top half off slowly and carefully. Even with all my carefull dissection it ripped. I wasn’t discouraged and I liked the way this particular orange tasted, so I found another one and successfully skinned it, holding my new citrus pelt on my lap proudly.

Sometimes when I eat an orange now I try to peel it in one piece. The simple action of being calm and focused enough to skin an orange in one piece does more than any therapy has ever accomplished for me. Any physically able person who cannot, or does not have time to peel an orange pelt is too tense, nervous, or busy, even if not on the surface. Occasionally people will tell me I stutter simply because I’m nervous. I am no more nervous than they are; I wish it was that simple. They say this, of course, because it is they who are nervous being around me if I am disfluent. As to why it does happen sometimes more than others, I wish I knew. But even with people who make such accusations I will share an orange.

Politic Football

I’ve never decided if I actually miss playing football. I played tight end and outside linebacker for one season, during my freshman year of high school. The previous winter I’d lifted weights often enough for a junior high kid, then I did the long jump in track during the spring and kept in good condition all summer. I was no all-out beast, but for me it was decent dedication.

Our coach, Mr. Noble, was horrible. I respected the hell out of him at the time, and so did everyone else—he was six five with huge arms. He’d contrive a good practice with the assistant coaches for ten minutes every day while we ran the perimeter of the practice field, a workout monotonous as recopying history notes. We were in better shape than any other team in the county, but we couldn’t play football worth a lick.

I started in one or two games toward the end of the season after the first string tight end, Mitch, fractured his wrist, and before the second-string fullback, Eric, learned the position. Like all of the only-half-decent guys, I played special teams every game. Problem was, I sucked at blocking because I had no girth, and I couldn’t catch very well because all we ever practiced was blocking. In games, we almost always ran the ball. Our tailback, Conor, kicked butt. He’d have been even better if our coach didn’t make him run stupid plays all the time. We’d be fourth and eight at our own 35, and Coach Noble—he made us address him as “sir” all the time (“Yes, sir,” “I don’t understand, sir,” “Sir, I have to leave practice early tomorrow, sir”)—would tell Hildebrand, the QB, to call a blast, an off-guard run right up the middle.

Conor would’ve been better, too, if the linemen, such as myself, had skill as well as endurance. There’s a picture in the yearbook from that season that makes me feel like a loser every time I see it—Conor’s charging through the line, and I’m on my feet with my knees bent and no one to block, my guy diving for the tackle. Man, I really handled him.

Maybe things will change after I graduate, but sometimes I feel like I never deserved to keep playing, that I never would have been good enough to have any real confidence in my ability. But then I go to a Friday night varsity game and the stands are on their feet as the team charges onto the field under lights blazing against a solid black sky and I think, that could be me out there jumping around, pulse racing, hollering.

There are many reasons I signed up to play football, some are stupid and some are good, and one of the good ones was to experience the whole team thing—we’re gonna take on our opponents and smash ’em into the ground. There are also many reasons I decided not to play the next year, and one of them was that I never got the feeling of being a team. For me, two and a half hours of practice every day meant struggling to tell my body I could do it, trying to stop being so mechanical about blocking, and busting my butt to catch up with people who’d been playing since fifth grade. It also meant never being as good as the real starters, most of whom had no work ethic but ground us second- and third-stringers into the practice field dust when they got the chance. These players were already getting drunk and laid on the weekends.

I tried really hard to make that sense of team happen, mostly by getting more charged up than just about everyone (except maybe Ardon, the team’s token black guy, who would go bananas) and helping the whole team to get psyched for a game. “Who we gonna beat this week?” became our mantra. One of us would yell it, and the rest of the team would bellow back the name of our upcoming opponent, if we could remember it. Then whoever hollered the question would repeat it, and we’d get louder. Noble would get really pissed when someone popped the question at a Monday practice and (with our games on Thursdays) we answered too tentatively, or with the names of a couple teams. I took an inane pride in adding “”I said…” and “I can’t hear you” to the mix, which caught on fast. Of course, the toughness was drained whenever the voice of whomever was leading the yell cracked in mid-sentence, which happened frequently with all of us age 14 or 15.

The feeling that both me and Coach Noble stunk could be a great reason to quit, or it could be a weak one. In his autobiography, In the Trenches, Reggie White, my favorite football player of all time, writes fondly of his high school football coach, who for over a year bullied and beat up on him, on occasion bringing him to tears. Only after his senior season did he realize “what Coach Pulliam was doing in my life: He was building toughness and confidence inside me. He knew my goal in life was to play pro football, and he knew that if I was to achieve that goal I would need to have the physical, emotional, and spiritual hide of a rhinoceros. He was pounding on me to toughen my hide—and it worked… The toughness and confidence Coach Pulliam built into me went far beyond the realm of sports.” Maybe Coach Noble had something like that in mind when he angrily shattered a wooden cane on a desk while reviewing the past week’s game film. Maybe I just couldn’t handle it. That’s a hard thing to say, though, that I couldn’t handle playing football. I mean, maybe it just wasn’t for me. Golf just isn’t for me; maybe football’s the same way.

My friend Walt loves to golf. I’m not sure how much of it he does anymore, with going to school and working plenty on the side. He claims he had an injury last fall that kept him from some tournaments that he could have cleaned up, but I still don’t know what the injury was. He’s one of my closest friends. That’s the way things seem to go. Clearly I’m the one who should’ve been concerned enough to find out what was wrong, and clearly I dropped the ball. That’s why I still don’t know if the football thing was just me or something else.

I tell people all the time that I miss playing. It kind of makes up for the fact that I stopped. You’re supposed to like being an athlete in high school. Adults appreciate sports, especially in central Pennsylvania. Student council, current issues club, and a student newspaper are unsure ground. So I would say, “No, I used to play, but not this year.” I avoid saying I only played one season three years ago whenever possible.

I try to make up for this apparent fault as well as I can. I get serious about working out at least once a year, hitting the weight room three days a week, running distance, erasing any sign of a gut or a filling out face. I keep the routine long enough to regain what I’ve lost—until I plateau on increments of what I can lift, can run five miles or so without stopping, and build enough of a camaraderie with the rest of the guys in the weight room that I don’t feel awkward asking someone for a spot. Then I just sort of stop. Not all of a sudden, but slowly, like losing interest in a girl.

It makes me feel better to know simply that I can do it, that I can control my body if I wish to. When I’m not pursuing any particular girl, it makes me feel better to get a good glimpse of a girl and know that I’m still in shape as far as being attracted to women and liking the idea of female in general. I don’t have to continually prove to myself that I can date a girl and enjoy it and build a meaningful relationship—it’s enough just to know that I could if I wanted to. The same is true as far as being an athlete.

Excusing my decision not to play was easy the year after I quit. I stayed in the weight room all fall, and ran track that spring. All I had to say was, “I’m thinking about playing again next year,” and nod to a remark about yeah, you should. Piece of cake. Now I have to work harder—promise long articles and big pictures in the school newspaper to my friends on the team (I have a terrible record of delivering on those promises), agree to try to allot student activities funds for team equipment, or make a comment proving how closely I’ve followed their season.

In general, I’m pretty content with that relationship. Sure, it’s awkward. It’s certainly not genuine, and I usually toss relationships that aren’t genuine out the window. But it’s true high school politics, and it charges me up. There’s a grave misconception that the politics of high school involve going out with the right person and making it to the good parties and dressing well. It’s actually being able to take a question like “Why aren’t you playing football?” (or, for that matter, “How come you weren’t at the party Friday?” or “Who do you have your eye on?”) and give a horribly inadequate two-sentence answer that still satisfies the other person. That’s where it’s at, in my book.

Sometimes I get an unfair advantage. Most of my former teammates are convinced they remember me starting most of the second half of the season. I might have started one or two games, as I’ve said, when it was a pretty sure win and the first string guy was injured. It would be a lot tougher to smooth it over in thirty words or less if they remembered me as a guy who couldn’t throw blocks, make tackles, or catch passes, which is mostly how I remember myself as a football player. How accurate those memories are I don’t know.

I screw up on my own often enough, however, to even things out. High school politics are a delicate balance between being visible, outgoing, unique—even obnoxious—enough to stay well-known and widely liked, and being mature, relaxed, and conventional enough to keep people from being annoyed. I set myself back in the same arena my teammates help me out—that fundamental skill of believably offering inapt answers. The natural tendency is to gravitate toward one side of the balance—either being too off-the-wall or too stiff—and avoid the precarious fulcrum. My responses become unexciting and placid for a while and I lose sway; people can roll their eyes at my excuses with an air of “whatever” and think nothing of it. The idea is to inject adequate authority into just enough nonsense to keep myself from becoming either undesirable or difficult to approach. From either position, my peers will probably stop asking why I don’t play anymore altogether.

Which bothers me in a weird way, perhaps hinting at one of the reasons I played for that one year: to gain political sway I sought. It is, after all, useful for far more than excusing myself for not playing football. It’s good for getting people to latch onto my dreams and visions, to feel honored by my praise, to seek my advice and feedback. In short, in high school it’s good for validating me as a genuine leader. Certainly that motive is partly selfish, but inherent in a genuine leader is an authentic desire and commitment to serve others. A real leader is one who works for the good of people beside himself. That’s the paradox of it.

That’s the paradox of football, too. When Conor made great runs, the respect and recognition he received grew. But at the same time, the whole team advanced five, ten, twenty yards towards the end zone and a win. On the field, I was no star. I tried to push back defenders and contain the outside run, but my success was limited. In the hallways of the high school, though, I was able to make those important political plays with power and agility, which I realized to a new extent as my seemingly inadequate excuses effortlessly shrugged aside skepticism. And I’ve been charged by the wins ever since. Yet that confidence and fulfillment didn’t come until after I’d decided to stop playing football, and effects can’t be their own causes. Unless, of course, that paradox is true, too.

Curiosity in Conversation

I wonder how many people wonder about holes in the ceiling and cracks on the floor. When they happened, or what caused them to happen. Or what about when you see a cigarette in the toilet and wonder who had the guts to smoke in the girl’s bathroom that day and why they chose that brand of cigarette, or why they even smoke at all. And even if people do think about these things, why? For what purpose? I guess I do it out of boredom. But is boredom really an excuse? I mean, really, how bored can a person get? I don’t guess it is boredom after all, probably curiosity, which can build to all sorts of lengths, and I believe it most certainly starts there. How else can you explain why I want to know what happened to a certain somebody when a certain somebody else punches her in the eye? I am almost positive it stems from curiosity and that is where and how I try to make sense of this story.

It begins on a nice hot July morning, with birds singing and flowers in full bloom; OK, not really. But how awesome would it be if it worked out that way. It really would put something beautiful into this mesh of words. Actually it really didn’t have a starting place, but rather starting people. A band. All the people in this band and all the people that surrounded this band were a part of my life for almost eight months. I don’t really understand why, but at first I did enjoy hanging out with these people. I guess maybe because they were ‘cool,’ but I mean we never really did anything cool. So basically we sat around pretending to be cool, because we were considered cool. Or maybe it was just the others that were considered cool. I really don’t know, but pretending to be cool was just not all that cool to me. I don’t understand how people can hang out with the same people day in and day out, just to belong. I did for so long, but I really can’t tell you why, It reminds me of a song. One of those songs you know all the words to but don’t know the name of it or who sings it, you know? Yeah, yeah, yeah, anyway, back to why curiosity is the cause of all things, and why it kills all. So, my uncool cool friends and I would hang out all the time. They were all great when we were alone or everyone could get along, until slowly, one by one, all of us, including myself, were becoming big meanie-heads. It was sad how easily our moods would change from blaming one person and loving another for the same reasons. One would talk trash about someone to the other, the other would tell the whole group and be loved because they told other people.

I started noticing this pattern early on but never said anything about it because, basically, I was conforming. Becoming something that I completely hate. To belong. Especially to a group of people who were so spiteful. Like a closet full of scary black wool sweaters and one white cardigan. And I guess you know who the cardigan is. (I really like the cardigans, but at the time I liked scary black wool sweaters. I don’t even own a cardigan, or a scary black wool sweater. I should go shopping.) My meanie-head friends and I would usually hang out and go to shows and just gossip about anything and everything. It got to the point where you probably shouldn’t even trust your best friend; I know I didn’t.

One day while I was visiting my father in Maryland, I called one of my ‘best’ friends. My friend, my friend in the band, the night before had played with a really good band that everyone really liked, and he was giving me all the glorious details. He told me how well his band played and how nice the famous band was. Then he told me about some people from another local band, who had said some not so favorable things about my friends, and it really made him and another band member upset. He told me that they decided that they were never going to play with the other local again. (A very girly thing to do if you ask me. I mean OK, someone doesn’t like your music, so what, you can still be polite.) But you see, that is my point, they were being too polite, way too polite, so polite that they failed to mention to the other band that they weren’t going to play anymore. I told my friend that I was sure it was just a misunderstanding and that everything would work out.

That night, ironically, one of the members of the other local band was online, so of course I said hello and asked him how he was. He told me some things were going on, but that they would straighten themselves out soon. I was assuming he was talking about the unsavory news of the infamous show my friend had told me about on the phone. Wouldn’t you have assumed so by all that had been said before? What else was I possibly supposed to think.

Seriously, I had no clue that what I was about to say would have such an affect on my life now. Sad, huh? One conversation can change your life. I wonder how many conversations concerning you but not you actually speaking can change your life. Or how many have changed my life. Nevertheless, I said it. I asked him if he meant my friend’s band, (this is how I connect curiosity if you aren’t getting the gist of the story.) I was so eager to hear what he had to say about it too. He had no clue what I was talking about, and so considering what my friend said, I distinctly remember that he put no bearing on what he said to me or who I could say it to.

So I told him everything that my friend had told me a few hours before. Sadly, the infection, the disease had taken over me, too. I had officially become part of the crew, in fact during that one conversation everything I hated about myself and any foible anyone else bestowed upon me had been poured out, through words on my computer. The guy I told this to was very upset and apologized to my friend’s band for any misunderstanding, and everything between them was fine, in fact they are still friends and still play together. As for the other band, and I, well that never happened again. They pushed me away with harsh words and tainted regrets for having told me anything, ever. I went from the loved to the hated in a matter of a fifteen-minute conversation. And quite frankly I was so upset that I really didn’t care to speak to any of them again; the only problem: my boyfriend was in the band. I decided not to do anything mean (wow, I really had become a bad person if I had to decide not to be mean), and I left. I never said anything to the band or the surrounding ‘friends’ again.

So maybe my story was pointless and you don’t understand why I think curiosity is the cause of all things and why it kills all, but it killed my friendships, it killed my personality, it killed my life. If you don’t get it, or you don’t care, take this with you:

Jetlag – A group of mental and physical symptoms as in fatigue and irritability as in following rapid travel through several time zones.

Looking Back

Sometimes at night, when it is so dark the darkness becomes almost smothering, I lie awake listening to the cars outside and the endless crying of the baby next door. I think back through my life, to try and comfort me into restful sleep.

I remember summers from my junior school days. The images yellowy, orange, warm, happy. Endless weeks abroad, the sun almost unbearable in its cruel sunburnt heat. A time when swimwear wasn’t a terrifying thought—flabby thighs, see-through bikinis were things I was oblivious to. My parents, endless sources of ice-creams and drinks, not the embarrassing, overprotective people they have become.

Every year I would go to summer camp—my sister, our two best friends, Jemima and Sally, and myself. We awaited the holiday with desperate anticipation. When I was ten we went to France alone for the first time; our previous camp experiences had been confined to a large mansion house in Shropshire. There we were at the coach station on the departure date. Armed with matching purses, our straw-blonde hair drew us together, a giggling, whispering bunch, the most devoted Boyzone fans. We were an endless source of lies. We were a set of orphaned quadruplets. We had been left millions and lived on our own with seven swimming pools with dolphins in them. We were almost feminist in our approach to boys, the fat boy who dared to send Sally a love letter obviously had not realised the cruelty of which we were capable. After arranging a secret midnight liaison behind the archery course we bombarded him with water bombs and cruel chants.

We were exclusive, we needed no-one else. We scoffed at the other girls and made up secret names for them that kept us awake until midnight giggling. The entrance to our room was taboo, out of bounds to anyone other than ourselves. A place where innocent inquiries could end up with your hand trapped in the door and where friendly invites always had hidden agendas. A place where the boys from our group would congregate eagerly trying to guess the password and secret knock. They were a gangly, nerdy crowd and were an endless amusement to us. Toby mistaking the shower for a french toilet, Ben crying constantly for no apparent reason, and Mark the little, hairy one, an unfortunate target for our jokes.

I smile to myself as numerous comical incidents flash randomly across my mind. Just as sleep is beginning to tug at my eyes and my thoughts are turning to dreams a more sobering picture comes to me. My innocent childlike memories are shattered. I think where we all are now—the ‘blonde bunch,’ ‘friends forever’—and come up with a more recent vision. The fallout, when the tables were turned and I was the one they wrote spiteful notes to, the one they giggled at, whispered about. Suddenly those holidays don’t seem so nice; they were an omen of what we were to become, bitching, malicious, ruthless teenagers.

Victoria Day on the Island

I tighten the lid on my soft drink. A chilly wind moves through my light denim jacket. It seems too late in May for it to be cold like this, even though it’s nearly ten o’clock at night. I lean back to look at the million tiny stars. I am able to point out the big dipper by myself for the first time. It makes me wish that I could remember the names of some of the other constellations.

My attention is drawn away. I know the fireworks will be starting soon.

“How long?” I lean forward to ask my sister.

She tells me that there’s only about a minute. I sit back.

Little voices begin to call out from a nearby blanket. 10… 9… 8…

The sky lights up at the cry of one. I almost feel as if I should congratulate them on their perfect timing. My sister and I jump up, grabbing each other’s hand, and run toward the cliff before us.

As the orange and silver bombs burst a humongous flock of birds rush at us from every direction. They are nearly blocking out the fireworks.

“Come back. Sit down,” my mother calls.

I move backwards without looking away from the sparkles appearing like speeding constellations.

The birds continue their constant migration over and around us as I feel the damp grass beneath me.

I can’t help thinking of how, for as long as I can remember, we have had the tradition of coming to the island (just an hour ago my mother had told me that she had brought me here when I was only a few days old). Through all those years I’ve never seen the birds making such an up about the fireworks. It’s something different.

I can faintly pick up the tune of music playing on Parliament Hill across the river. Flashes continue to illuminate the sky.

I begin to think of all the other changes happening to the island. Years ago my family would stretch out on our blanket closer to the water, to the right of the trees, path, and totem pole. At first, my only knowledge of others on the island was the tee-pees that have since been taken down. They had about as much cultural significance to most visitors as the bridge. A picture of time gone by and a symbol of change.

I remember in other years having inhabitants of the area hold signs reading “please stay off our sacred land” and patrons of the Victoria Day celebrations being asked to leave. I remember this making me afraid. Why? Thinking back I can’t say for sure.

From the corner of my eye I see the fence. The fence on a spot that once looked bare, excepting a few trees and grass. Several years ago it first appeared surrounding not too large an area. Over the years it grew taller and wider until it was over most of the part of the island most commonly visited.

Since then fewer people have made the short journey here. My family and only one or two others this year. I can only assume that they are feeling cheated out of their rightful place on the island. I wasn’t a very big fan of sharing when I was little but I wished it would happen here.

I think of how I felt when we had arrived earlier this night. We were all reluctant to get out of the car at first, seeing how much the fence had grown. Seeing mostly darkness to its left. We were all afraid.

My mother had pointed out the blue SUV just a few parking spaces to our right. My mother matter-of-factly stated that it must belong to another family of celebrators because the “Indians” did not drive cars.

Only when we saw dancing sparklers belonging to other visitors did we lose this feeling and come out from behind our shield.

It bothers me that she said that. I continue watching the fireworks. I wonder if she was afraid.

The fireworks explode larger and larger on top of each other in the grande finale. I see a small firework shoot from the far side of the fence. They’re not afraid. Neither am I.