How My Marriage Failed…Twice

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Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Back in 1999, I was approaching my late twenties. Everyone else had children and were married. I was working a dead-end job at a printing company (one of many menial jobs I had attained in my early-adulthood). In an effort to offer my ego a sense of promise and hope, I bought into the ideology that college was right for me, and I’d obtain a decent office job upon completion of my formal education. I felt empty, despite my pursuits. I felt my biological clock was ticking. I wanted purpose in life.

I met my future husband in a chat for singles in northeast Ohio. I looked forward to chatting with him daily after work. When we finally met in-person, he seemed agreeable in both appearance and in character.

We married on August 11, 2001 (one month before 9/11). Admittedly, we both managed to work during the week and drink on weekends. For me, drinking was a social engagement, and I did not always wish to focus my life on social activities. On New Year’s Eve 2002, I pledged to give up drinking. Amid chuckles from New Year’s Eve revelers (mostly extended family members), I committed myself to Jesus. From that moment on, I gained purpose in many previously devoid areas of my life, such as work. I found it easier to handle my anxiety attacks, and I even quit smoking after several failed attempts.

In 2003, we had our first child, a boy, and in 2005, we welcomed our daughter. But something was different with my husband and me following the arrival of children. I did not feel connected to him at this point, and I believed I probably was never emotionally connected to him. I felt alone and isolated from every adult and supposed family member in our town. It was apparent from the birth of my children that I’d be on this journey of parenthood alone. I did not even mind at first. As long as I had the mental and emotional stamina to do the job, I was excited to be given the role as a mother.

My husband’s drinking continued. Soon he acquired a taste for rum and malt liquor. If we didn’t have money to pay the bills, he’d find a way to scrape up enough money for a forty-ounce of Steel Reserves. When the money ran out, he’d call his folks to go to their house and drink well until the next afternoon. I began to grow fond of the times he’d abandon the family because I’d get much needed peace and quiet. No yelling, no slamming or fighting, no violent tirades in the middle of the night, at least not until he returned home drunk on Long Island Iced Tea.

I had met a friend named Eva who educated me on matters of domestic violence. She encouraged me to call a local women’s shelter every time I experienced an incident at home. Each time I called I gained a little more information on the steps I needed to take to formulate an escape plan. One fateful day, I told my friend about bruises I had on my arms. She directed me to file a report at the police department. I’d be documenting the domestic violence for future references. But, as luck would have it, the officers arrested my husband after I was photographed and made the report. I was able to obtain a CPO (civil protective order) pending his arrest.

The court date was scheduled in a month. I had one month to get my ducks in a row and leave the marriage. I encountered too many obstacles the first time I tried to leave. Even after I stayed two weeks at the women’s shelter in Lorain, I returned home with our children to a drunken nightmare.

By 2008, our dissolution was final and me and the kids relocated back to the Akron/Wooster area. I secured an apartment in a public housing complex in the small town of Rittman, Ohio. A temporary employment agency helped me get my foot in the door at a local factory. Dylan and Olivia made friends and did well in school. In 2013, I saved up enough money to purchase a Freddie Mac house for $70,000.

Over the next few months, life seemed to be moving ahead. I felt compelled to make my failed marriage work. My ex-husband had told me he wasn’t drinking and he vowed to be a good father. We remarried in June 2014. I did not feel anything but annoyance at my husband. I needed to adjust to this change, but he took refuge, once again, in the bottle just two months after we tied the knot the second time.

He worked the graveyard shift at a company just ten minutes away from Rittman. Rarely did he come home directly after work. I’d drive by the other side of town and see his car parked for hours. I called the bank’s automated line to discover he was taking out several large chunks of money when he was gone. When he returned, he’d stand outside my locked door and hurl verbal abuses at me.

He never was the type of man to discipline his children with any degree of sensibility, only harsh words, no lessons to be learned, no encouragement or love shown towards them. He started to call them names and create divisions with the kids I worked hard to be unrivaled. Police tried to intervene on several occasions, but each time they left after receiving promise from my husband that he’d take a brisk walk to become sober. He’d simply walk down to Bert’s to get another bottle or case of beer.

In May 2015, I reached out to the domestic violence shelter in my county. I applied for a small grant to help offset my legal fees in my divorce. Within a few months, they approved my request and I obtained a lawyer to prepare my case. This divorce was not much different from the first. The child support awarded was about the same, I did not ask for spousal support (aside from temporary spousal support). I retained my home, and was granted the 2004 Chevy Cavalier that we’d had financed together. I was saddled with this $156 a month car payment after he had wrecked a car I owned free and clear. Additionally, I was required to make the $90 full-coverage auto insurance payment. He moved into his parent’s house once again. In February 2016, he elected to serve 6 months in jail instead of a 5 year probation for another DUI. He did not want to be troubled to drive to Wayne county each week for the probation.

He’s been released of his sentence today. His parents will be there to pick him up, feed him, support him and provide not only a home, but a refuge. In the cocoon of their house, a middle-aged man remains an adolescent, he remains unwilling to sacrifice his desires to become an adult. I scribble down a plan to stop using my credit card to buy groceries. Just a few months ago, the credit card was merely an “emergency” utility. It’s been six months since he has paid any child support. I have applied for home mortgage modification. Maybe once I hatch out my plans I can let go of this man-child. Perhaps I will pray about this matter.

 

About the author

Tracy Kocsis has contributed as a freelance writer for The Post  weekly newspaper in Medina County, Ohio. She enjoys writing about local events that are relevant to her community of Rittman, Ohio. In addition to writing, she has also contributed photography to the newspaper and has published craft designs in Pack-O-Fun magazine (June/July 2004).

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Harriett’s Father

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Photo by Fuad Ismayilov

 

I know exactly what a pedophile looks like. He looks like everyone else.

Harriett and I were best friends. We had a special bond that blossomed as we grew. We lived in the same building. My family occupied an apartment on the first floor, Harriett’s mother and father lived on the fifth floor, apartment 5B. And although I had to climb five flights of steps, it never stopped me from spending as much time with Harriett as possible.

Our birthdays were a few weeks apart, both Virgos born in September, both only children. Harriett was my ideal and I wanted to be as much like her as possible, Harriett, tall and slim, with a mop of curly red hair and elfin features. By the unlucky happenstance of genes, I was doomed to be short and fat with dark, stringy hair, thin lips and a large nose like my dad’s.

My parents were in their mid-forties when I was born. They’d never expected to have a child.

I was a tot when my mom was in some sort of car accident never explained to me which left her  brain damaged. She cannot, without assistance, eat, dress, or use the toilet. I couldn’t understand her silences; her inability to communicate with me. She’d sit slumped in her chair in front of the television set, never taking her eyes from the screen, her useless hands clenched into fists. I constantly watched for something to soften in her face. She couldn’t kiss me, hold me, comfort me, tell me a story or even scold me for doing something naughty. Here I am, Mommy, love me! But my mom could not love me the way other mom’s love their kids. I loved her, hated her—no longer knew which.

I’d sit on the floor in front of our television and watch families laugh. Wonder what it was like to hear my mother laugh. I never felt the warmth of affection, heard kind words or shared laughter, wished we could have a conversation like kids and their mom’s did on the TV shows I was allowed to watch. Once, after dinner, I yanked her arm and screamed, “Talk to me, Mommy,” wanting her to admire the paper doll I had dressed. Dad lost his temper and spanked me. “You don’t yell at your mom like that ever!”

Every night I’d kneel by the side of my bed and ask God why I was born to this household, pray for mom to get well. But God did not seem to hear me. Although Dad took no interest in my activities, I’ve never know him to do anything for me out of kindness and consideration. He never wanted to hear about how I got the scab on my knee or how well I did on my spelling test, the resentment I felt was for my mother. I tried not to hate her, but her pallid, silent face tugged at me—a part of me wanting to feel sorry for her but another part—a bigger part could not begin to forgive her for not being normal and loving like other moms.

My dad’s a postal clerk, a silent suffering man full of suppressed rage. After work, he does the shopping and takes care of whatever errands have to be made and returns home slump-shouldered, back hurting, opens a can of beer and prepares dinner. Then we eat without talking. After we wash and dry the dishes, he helps mom to bed and collapses in his easy chair, with no time for a needy daughter.

Our doctor suggested that mom be moved to a nursing home, but my dad refused. He hired Miss Dorothy, a retired nurse who smelled of talcum powder to look after Mom. On Miss Dorothy’s first day on the job she made it clear that children were to be seen but not heard. She likes to have her nose in everything, she’d glower at me when I was thirsty and running the water in the kitchen sink too long, or making too much noise tapping my pencil while I was practicing my times tables, always complaining about her minimal, ordinary tasks.

I grew up knowing little about my parents’ earlier years.  Sometimes I’d take the photo album from the shelf and leaf through pictures taken before I was born. When I asked Dad a question about their families he’d give me an eye roll of exasperation answer, why do you want to know? It’s not important.”

My father spoke to me only if he had a specific purpose in mind; “Clear the table, take your toys into your room, turn off your lamp and go to sleep.” Other than being corrected or chastened I can’t remember any meaningful conversations with him.

 

Once, I overheard him tell Miss Dorothy that I had been in the car the time of my mother’s accident. I thought a lot about what he’d said, but this is what I remembered: brakes screeching, a loud bang, the whole world spinning upside down, a spooky quiet and then sirens. I wondered if I were to blame. Had I taken her attention away from the road? The more I tried to remember, the more jumbled my memories became. Was this the reason Dad never showed me any affection, or was it because he suffered severe back pain, and took pills that never helped? There were many questions I wanted to ask but fear stopped me from asking.

Each afternoon after school I escaped to apartment 5B where, unlike at home, I felt welcome, although I never brought Harriett or anyone else into our apartment—asking her to my house was out of the question. I’d told Harriett a little bit about my mom, Dad, and Miss Dorothy. She listened, tried to cheer me up. Harriett was always on my side.

Harriett’s father worked the night shift—something to do with fresh produce — I never asked Harriett what that meant—and was home during the day. He was a friendly, nice looking man, known and liked by other tenants in the building. Harriett’s mother worked nine to five at the neighborhood bank. I spent Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas in apartment 5B. I’d watch Harriett open her presents, and there was always something for me. On Valentine’s Day we each received a tiny red velvet box of Whitman’s chocolates. My heart filled with delight. Harriett’s family liked me. I ached to stay there, be a member of their family— a part of their wonderful, ordinary life.

When we were tots, Harriett’s father cuddled us. He oohed and aahed over our carefully crayoned coloring books and read to us all the Dr Seuss books. We thought them funny. He read “The Little Engine That Could,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Heidi,” and “The Secret Garden” to us, one huge arm around each of our shoulders, and as we grew, pointed out our spelling mistakes or praised us for error-free homework and never wearied of our questions. After school, rain or shine, we’d see his eyes skimming over the tiny heads looking for us, to walk us home and sing “The Wheels on the Bus.” With time, his cuddling became touching me in places I knew were private. I felt guilty, though not sure why, yet I was happy relishing his attention, his capacity to notice, to listen, to care and decided his touching was not a bad thing. It was a good thing. My dad never touched me.

I especially liked the days the weather was nice and Harriett’s father would take us to the park. We’d step over the lines in the sidewalk, each of us lengthening our strides to match his pace and chant: Left/ Left/ Left my wife and forty-eight kids/ Right/ Right/ Right in the middle of the kitchen floor/ Left…

Time passed. Harriett’s father’s caresses increased in frequency and intensity, his hands finding opportunities to wander over my tiny breasts. I wondered if this kind of stuff happened to all kids. The scarier part was thinking it was happening only to me. That it was my fault and that I was too dumb to object. This is not right…No, I’m sure it’s OK. Harriett’s father just likes me. It doesn’t matter. It does… stop it. Stop it. Stop these mean thoughts. I’m just a kid with silly fears. So I tried not to think too much about it, wished I were older so I could start to have answers to my confusion.

In apartment 5B we were not allowed to lock doors. One day Harriett’s father came into the bathroom as I was peeing, legs dangling over the toilet bowl, my panties down around my ankles.  I’d unrolled a length of toilet tissue, and to my discomfort and embarrassment saw him watching me. I closed my eyes and when I opened them he was gone.

He often found opportunities to press me against his chest and I began to notice something hard and insistent in his pants poking at me when Harriett was out of the room. I wondered if Harriett had noticed. Of course she hadn’t.

“What did you learn at school today, sweetie’?” he’d ask, rubbing my chubby buttocks, trying to convince my seven-year-old self he wasn’t doing any real harm. On rainy days we played hide-and-seek and no matter where I hid, Harriett’s father always found me first, hands outstretched, feeling my body.

Maybe I didn’t like Harriett’s father as much as I thought I did. Maybe the truth scared me too much; and although I was just a little kid, some things got to a person my age—although I was too young to put a name to such things.

One afternoon when we had just reached our teens and Harriett was in bed recovering from an upset tummy her father invited me to play Hearts with him. I sat down on the couch with my hands folded in my lap. I picked up my cards and noticed there were dirty pictures on the front—naked men and women doing stuff. I felt an unfamiliar sensation in the pit of my stomach I knew I should not be feeling. And from what little I knew about sex, I knew this much: what I felt was wrong. I saw the funny way Harriett’s father watched my face and my heart began to hammer when he reached over, slid his hand over my chest and down under my belly and began to rub his finger on top of my jeans. I wriggled away. “Doesn’t that feel nice?” he asked.

“Touching me there is bad,” I whispered, not far from tears.

Harriett’s father stared at me, his silence growing large and fearsome until he smiled and said, “Let’s stop worrying about what’s bad and what’s not.”

I moved away so his hand was no longer on my leg and said, “I need to go home.”  I was at the door when he added:

“By the way, sweetheart, we wouldn’t want Harriett … disturbed.”

I wished I knew how to put a stop to the touching. I no longer believed it was OK, but I didn’t want to lose Harriett as my one and only true friend.  I wondered how she would react if I told her. Harriett? If I tell you something terrible about your father, something you won’t like, will you be mad at me? Silly goose, what could you possibly say that will make me mad at you? Oh, you never know, but….

One day while Harriett was not in the room, I gathered up all of my thirteen-year-old courage and whispered to her father, “I need to tell you something.”

“Sure, sweetheart. What is it?”

“I don’t like it when you touch me.” I whispered desperately, afraid that if my heart beat any louder he would hear it.

In our second year of high school our close friendship fell away. Weeks passed when Harriett and I rarely saw each other.

One afternoon I went up to apartment 5B to tell Harriett I’d been accepted into Brooklyn College not remembering that Tuesdays Harriett stayed late for cheerleading practice. I’d pressed the doorbell, Harriett’s father far from my mind, when he answered the door and before I could react, grabbed me and pressed me against the wall, his hand jamming up under my T-shirt. I panicked, gasped, “Please don’t! Please… get away. Get away…” Freeing myself from the lock of his arms I spun out of his reach and groped for the door knob, panicking until I finally got the door open. My breath coming in rasping gasps, gathering breath and momentum, I scooted down the five flights of stairs two or three at a time into our apartment. Ignoring Miss Dorothy and my mom, I flung myself onto my bed, willing my heartbeat to slow.

When Dad came home I waited until Miss Dorothy left, came out of my room, took a deep, shuddery breath and gathered up my courage to tell him what had happened.

The look on his face was a mixture of disbelief and anger. He grabbed my arm and shook me.

“How could you make up such a vile, terrible lie? How could you impugn this good man’s character?  He’s been there for you through the years while I was working, fed you milk and cookies and helped you with your homework. You should be thankful to him. He’s a saint.”

“He’s not a saint. He’s a criminal.”

Dad waved a hand, his eyes all slitty.”Oh you stupid, miserable, child, you’re always looking for attention. Trust you to be dramatic. Who do you think you are, Miss America?”

My mother began to snuffle and hum, flutter her hands. “You’re giving your mother undue stress!”

Another piece of my heart crumbled. Maybe I hadn’t explained it properly. Maybe he needed to be seventeen-years-old with a cold, impossible-to-please father. I raised my voce loud enough for the tenants in the building to hear. “I thought you’d understand. I thought you’d care. I shouldn’t have told you. You don’t care!”

“I do care. I care that my daughter is a dangerous liar. Wash your hands and set the table.”

Bitterness and desolation swept over me that was far more powerful than pain.

I never went back up to apartment 5B, nor did Harriett ask me for any explanation. Whenever we passed in the school halls, I gave her a little wave, but she gave me the silent treatment—can only guess what her father had told her.

Years passed. I wanted to move on, to forget. But I never did. When I’d first met Harriett’s father, I loved him before I began to despise him.

I decided I would put my story down on paper for all those girls in need of rescue, and because my soul has waited too long to tell this story. I’ve intended to show how cruelly the delicate fabric of a child’s life can be ruptured by child abuse, and how precarious the illusion of safety and security really is. Child abuse leaves a stain on your heart and takes a long time to heal and be forgotten. It is a crime that is less visible, but has been out there everywhere all the time. I know of nothing more damaging, more powerful, more deceitful, and more sinister than child abuse.

I open my computer to Microsoft Word, stare at the empty screen. How do I start? Then I begin to type, each sentence pushed along by anger.

I know exactly what a pedophile looks like. He looks like everyone else.

 

About the author

Barbara Weitzner has an M.F.A. in creative non-fiction from The New School and a B.S. from New York University. She completed a 250-page manuscript for a memoir and it was selected as a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. Her most recent essays were published in Poets & Writers Magazine March/April 2015 issue and Brain, Child Magazine, March 2016. She teaches creative writing workshops and has taught poetry workshops for adults and children with developmental disabilities. She also attended Robert McKee’s Story seminar and the Harvard Business School Executive Education for High-Potential Leaders.

The Messenger

Eleven days after Mom’s funeral I returned to work to well-meaning colleagues who said things like, I’m so sorry about your mom, how are you doing? Others offered a reticent Hi, not wanting to stir up old wounds. But they weren’t old, which is perhaps why on my first day back I felt like a delicate flower losing petals to the wind.  This surprised me.  For eight years Alzheimer’s had formed a plaque around Mom’s memories, first distorting, then decimating them until she was confined to a hospital bed in her living room, unable to talk. I liked to think she still recognized me. I doubt she did. The moment she died, I dropped to my knees and thanked God for she was finally at peace.

I kept my office door closed trying to read emails and answer important phone calls. In truth, I spent more time staring at the photo of my mother holding my infant son. I experienced every mundane working moment through the lens of grief. By the afternoon, I couldn’t stay locked inside my four walls.  I ventured out to purchase cookies for my coworkers to thank them for making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of Mom.

 “Yes, she’s in the lobby… Well, when can you pick her up … “  Pauline hung up the phone.  “His mother is downstairs in the lobby and I don’t know how she found her way here because she has some kind of dementia. She retired years ago, but still thinks she works here. Her son said he’s in Brooklyn and he can’t just fly over here.  Do you believe this?”  Well…of course I could.

I was about to ask Pauline if she wanted a cookie when the phone rang.  “A female companion?  Okay no problem, I’ll find someone and send her down.”

She had barely hung up the phone when I blurted out, “I’ll do it.”

“No, you don’t have to, I’ll find…”

I cut her off. “You don’t understand. This must be the reason I’m here. It’s me. I’ll stay with her until her son sends someone.” I said the last words as I sprinted toward the elevator not sure if I was rushing because I feared Pauline would try to change my mind or because my mounting fear would immobilize me.

I stared at the blinking numbers as the elevator descended 25 floors and I gave myself a pep talk: Okay, I can do this. I must be strong. I’m sure she’s anxious, worried. I’ll have to distract her, like I did with Mom. And whatever you do, don’t cry. 

She sat in a café chair with a security officer standing on her left. I waved the officer off. “I’ll take over. Can you bring another chair?”

“Hello,” I said as I sat on my haunches until my chair arrived. She was dressed in a winter coat, her hair covered in a gray cotton turban, the kind religious women from Borough Park don to keep their hair hidden from men.

“Oh, are you here to help me?” I recognized the anxious grimace, the one I had tried so hard to drive from my mother’s face when she had fixated on something like her missing purse, which was missing because she had hidden it and she had hidden it because she had misplaced it so often that she thought burglars had taken it and so she would hide it on them and when she couldn’t find her purse she would say: Those son of a bitches stole it again.

“Yes, how can I help?” I smiled. Then she smiled.

“This is me.” She pointed to a magazine she held on her lap. I recognized the employee publication; my bank still publishes it. This issue was from 1985 and it was turned to her retirement photo. “I worked here for seventeen years. But I have no money.” Her frown was back.  “It’s not right. Can you get me my check?”

Distraction: “Wow, this is you? You look the same.” I meant this. Although her brown hair with hints of auburn peeking through the turban appeared to be a wig, her face had been spared the wrinkles of seventeen more years. It was the same with Mom; at seventy-nine, her olive complexion that tanned but never burned, had been as smooth as the days she had spent soaking up the sun on the beaches of Coney Island.

I scanned the print underneath her photo. “So your name is Santa. It’s nice to meet you Santa. My name is Maria. Your son Sam is very worried about you.” Her eyes piqued curiously.

“How does he know I’m here?”

“Well, he called looking for you. He’s making arrangements to pick you up.” I looked intently into her brown eyes “He loves you very much.” At this her lips curled to form a fulsome smile, just for a couple of seconds. Then the money frown was back.

“I’m on a fixed income and I don’t want to bother my son or my daughters. I shouldn’t have to. But look,” she opened the palm of her left hand, “all I have is this token.”

Little White Lies: “Well, Santa don’t worry. We’ll take care of everything. We’ll get you the money you need.”  Lies are the caregiver’s tool of trade. I told them when I needed to convince Mom to change a sweater that she had worn for four days straight: I bought you a new sweater, let me help you try it on; when I needed to get her into the bath: oh look at that dirt on your foot let me scrub that off for you, and when we had a doctor’s appointment:  let’s go to the mall.

I glanced at the magazine again, scanning it for fodder—clues to questions that I could use to engage Santa in conversation. Santa moved from Germany to this country in 1936 and when she arrived she taught sewing. My heart pumped against my chest, “You taught sewing?” She nodded. “My mom was a seamstress…”

When Mom was single, she sewed her own clothes: tailored suits, A-line dresses, flowered skirts with billowy blouses. She wore deep red lipstick, slept with curlers so she could tease her fine dark brown hair into the latest style, and owned a pump in every shade with a clutch bag to match. In photos, she looked as if she had stepped out of a 1940’s Hollywood movie set.

I continued blurting, “…she made all my clothes when I was younger.” Pale pink Easter dresses with satin bows tied at the waist, gabardine gowns worn to cousins’ weddings, and bell-bottom slacks, even a leather mini-skirt when they became the rage.

I was giddy with delight at the thought that my mother and Santa had shared the same profession. There was something about this moment that was quite extraordinary, yet I felt its meaning was elusive.

“Did you sew your own clothes?” I asked Santa. She confused the past with the present, “Oh no, nowadays the finished product off the rack is much cheaper.” And I thought, exactly what my mom, the consummate bargain hunter, would have said.

“So can you help me get my money?” Two of my colleagues, Denise and Helen, joined us.

“I remember you.  You worked in the other building.”  Helen said.

“Yes, I delivered messages between floors.” Santa stared admiringly at Helen. “I like the way you dress. You are very beautiful.”  It wasn’t long before this conversation led back to the money.

Humor: “Santa, don’t worry. I never have any cash on me. At least you have a token. Maybe I can borrow it?” We all laughed.

“So do you remember the names of the people you worked with? Maybe I know them,” Helen asked.

“Well, not really. I was just a messenger. But I liked the people I worked with and the people liked me. I always had a smile because, you know, no one wants to come to work, but we all need to work…”  Santa’s words seemed carefully chosen, a subtle shift to lucidity. The three of us listened intently, as if we were aware she was going to say something profound.

“…and everyone has their problems, but we just need to be happy.”

Helen, Denise, and I exchanged bewildered glances as we tripped over each other’s responses. “You’re right…”, “Yes, we all do have our problems…”, “That’s right, we just need to be happy.”

 

About the author

Maria Masseirosato has an M.F.A. in creative non-fiction from The New School and a B.S. from New York University. She completed a 250-page manuscript for a memoir and it was selected as a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. Her most recent essays were published in Poets & Writers Magazine March/April 2015 issue and Brain, Child Magazine,March 2016. She teaches creative writing workshops and have taught poetry workshops for adults and children with developmental disabilities. She also attended Robert McKee’s Story seminar and the Harvard Business School Executive Education for High-Potential Leaders.

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It started with a locker and a boy who knew all about the French Revolution.

It started with an overconfident girl who’d read too many young adult novels where love is always reciprocated and who had not yet cultivated a healthy fear of rejection.

It started with Valentine’s Day, which was on the only day she had first period study hall. It was the fates trying to intervene, she decided.

She decided that he probably liked her just as much as she liked him, and it was only awkwardness that stopped him from asking her out. (It wasn’t.)

She decided that maybe what needed to happen was she give him a sign, but a sign that didn’t put herself too much at risk. An anonymous sign.

With chocolates attached.

And a business card to her karate studio, because that would give them an opportunity to spend time together. And then he could figure out the sender, and it would be a mystery.

On the off chance he knew her handwriting, she wrote with her left hand.

It was just like the plot of one of her books.

And she slipped out of study hall to “put something in her locker,” but she put a white envelope in his locker instead.

She thought she was clever, because she came back to study hall with her math binder in her hands to cover up her actions. But his best friend looked at her skeptically and asked her what she was doing.

She was sure her plan was foolproof. She repeated her cover story, and got her homework from her math binder to prove it. She spent the rest of class solving linear equations.

She’s not sure what happened after that. She saw the boy and a group of his friends clustered around his locker and assumed that she knew what they were doing. A mutual friend came up to her in the hall and whispered, “was it you?” Our heroine tried to act confused. His friends looked at her strangely as she walked into English class.

If she and the boy had ever talked, it stopped abruptly after that day.

She doesn’t remember speaking a word to him, not even asking him what the homework was, not even when he moved to another state for his family’s job a month later.

She doesn’t remember admitting that she did anything, not even when a girl on his bus recounted the whole affair in sordid detail from his side at play rehearsal one day, ending with, “he ate the chocolates, even though he knew it was you.”

She knows she never spoke a word to him when he moved back to her school years later. She always thought about re-introducing herself and maybe apologizing for any awkwardness she caused, but at first he wouldn’t look at her, and then the opportunity passed by. She sees him at his lunch table when she asks some of their mutual friends about a project they are working on in history or math, and he is always there, texting or playing a game on his phone.

But they are both different now, she and this boy. She has morphed from the smart, quiet girl in the back of class to one with a strong group of friends and a subject she’s passionate about. He has become an athlete, and she thinks he now likes science. Their mutual friends have stopped watching her carefully to see how she’ll react when they mention his name in passing.

She hardly thinks about him anymore. But she still freezes up when she sees the red and white business cards laid across the glass countertop at her karate studio.
About the author

Ivy Kingston is in high school in a small, suburban town in Connecticut. She uses a pen name to protect her anonymity on the internet, which she is told is a dark and scary place. She recommends that you read her blog, hallsofivy.wordpress.com. This is the first time she’s ever told this story.

What Did You Do to Earn Your Beefeaters?

jenningsimage

“What did you do to earn your Beefeaters today?”  The gin ad kept running through my mind.  I couldn’t make it stop.

I pushed the heavily laden canoe into the teeth of the wind up a forgotten arm of Trout Lake in Northern Manitoba.  To pause and breathe meant to lose distance paid for in pain.  This series of small lakes and portages between Southern Indian Lake and the South Seal River could break me.  On the lee side of my shirt mosquitoes crawled bug on bug so thick I wouldn’t know its color if I couldn’t say from memory.  I almost never found the portages where the old map indicated. Two-hundred-foot contour intervals hid heartbreaking hills.  With the canoe on my shoulders, I walked up hills so steep the bow touched the dirt rising in front of me.  Camp tonight would be another bug hole in unbroken bush.

The water in this arm of Trout Lake had so little depth I abraded the bottom of the paddle on the rocks.  With each push, I recited the caption of the ad, “What did you do to earn your Beefeaters today?”  The ad, a black and white photograph showed a man and a woman across from each other in an intimate booth, martini glasses between them, knees grazed.  Memory of the photograph, reminded of what never was, and was too late to ever be.

Another heartbreaking push with the paddle, there would be no Beefeaters tonight, and no young woman’s admiring gaze.

The man in the ad was everything I was not, groomed, the kind of body a model acquired from good diet and hours in a gym.  His perfect complexion lacked the marks this country would leave.  His look showed the confidence of a man who had seen too little.  Her look overwhelmed any stoicism I might want to pretend to in my harshest moments: perfect shining dark hair, short pencil skirt, heels, and that expression, a combination of adoration and mystery, the memorable look differentiating the classic beauty from one more healthy young woman.  Words rarely find it, but a man knows.

I hated the man in the ad for what he was, and I was not.

Knowing helped nothing.  What I loved was not the young woman, but the vision of the artist, the photographer who manipulated light and pose.  Chances were, he was short, fat, cynical, altogether a person to avoid.  Hell, maybe the woman whose pose he directed for the picture did nothing for him.  Didn’t matter.  He had the power.  They always do.

David O. Selznik, Margaret Mitchell, and Vivian Leigh created Scarlet.  Homer created Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships.  The artists have always done it to the rest of us.  They always will.  The idea I might pit whatever decency, good sense, or sobriety I might acquire against the power of this art is another cruel joke.

The mosquito bites anesthetized my face.  When I touched my finger by accident to my cheek, the blood on my fingertips surprised me.

 

About the author

Edd B. Jennings runs beef cattle on the banks of the New River in the mountains of Virginia. Since spring of 2016, he has placed work with Trigger Warnings, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Jotters United, Bedford 87, Thread Magazine, Quail Bell, Roane Publishing, Sicklit, and Ginosko Literary Journal, and Quarterday.  His nonfiction Arctic
canoeing books and his novel, Under Poplar Camp Mountain, are with the Leslie E. Owen Agency.

Sounds

I heard something in the middle of the night.

At first it simply seemed like a whooshing sound, like wind, or air, blowing through some sort of narrow pipe. I thought it was just the gutters. The gutters run down the side of the window, outside my bedroom. I always like to sleep next to the big window. I can look out, and see nothing but the dark sky at night. I can’t see below. It’s as if outside my window, outside my bedroom, there’s nothing but a vast black expanse, extending into a borderless, shapeless infinity. And I fall asleep, every night, a point of light dimming out in the emptiness.

But not that night.

The sound continued to ‘whoosh.’ Vacant, empty, yet hard, concrete. Almost metallic, like there was definitely something, but the material was itself indefinable, receding, just out of reach. A handful of air again. What’s curious was, after a while, the sound began to develop, or I began to notice, a tone. A note, or a conglomeration of notes, not harmonious, but not entirely discordant, either. It’s hard to describe, but it was less a sound, and more a space, a setting, a background or backdrop. Like wallpaper, but three-dimensional, and animated. Abstract. Like electricity. Then, it began to take on a cadence. Surging, from here, to there. Then from there, to here. A rhythm. Converging, splitting off. Rising, falling. Rippling out to nothing. Like a celestial, or infernal, instrument, at once sounding like it was playing right outside my window, and from a vast distance away, from another galaxy, another time, or, from inside my own head.

It was quite noisy. I didn’t think I was going to be able to fall asleep.

But eventually, I did.

And slept quite well. The next day I had forgotten all about it, and went about my day normally, drowning it out with the usual flood of sounds, voices and noises.

Until tonight. When I am staring out the window of your room. The memory suddenly rushes back. You live on the third floor. There is a building across from yours. I can see the street, lit by a hazy yellow lamppost.

I listen, trying to see if I can hear the same, or a similar, sound again. It’s the middle of the night. No, nothing. But it’s been replaced by other sounds. The clock ticking. The fridge humming. The blended silk curtain rubbing softly against the window frame. Your light, almost imperceptible breathing.

Just me, and these sounds.

 

About the author

HC Hsu is author of the short story collection Love Is Sweeter (Lethe) and essay collection Middle of the Night (Deerbrook), which has been nominated for the Housatonic Award, CALA Award and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Memoir competition winner and The Best American Essays nominee, he has written for PifBig BridgeIodinenthposition100 Word StoryChina Daily NewsEpoch TimesWords Without Borders, and many others. He has served as interpreter for the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and his translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s biography Steel Gate to Freedom was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2015.

number one

by Catherine Orlando

unnamed

image by Simay Yildiz

 

 

Stop.

Stop right there

and don’t run your eyes

heavy and languid and physical

like a touch along my clavicle

like my hunger like

the fact that I couldn’t stomach

lunch or dinner today or

dinner yesterday or the day before

that. So don’t. Don’t run your

eyes along that like its something

good like its something you like

like its there for You.

 

Stop. Don’t pinch or poke

or prod my thin pale pasty

white skin

yellowing and yellowing

with each cigarette and each

minute second hour

day I spend

lengthening my face and

taking in my

skirt.

 

stop

please

don’t question the little hills the rumpled

goose-flesh the signs i’m

frozen because no one

knows no one’s

noticed no one

sees the full grown girl

who

still can’t keep her breaths

even

 

don’t

don’t pause for a

moment at the way my

blouse flutters and jumps over

my sped up lub-dub

because my heart is

racing to the

finish line

and doesn’t want

to be caught.

 

About the author

Catherine Orlando is a rising junior at the Johns Hopkins University. She’s spent the first half of her time in college not really knowing what to do with herself, and thinks that’s okay. After exploring options other than creativity, art, writing, etc., she’s returned to what she truly knows and truly loves. In response she’s recoiled back into her past, creative self. Her poetry is some of the outcome.