Posted in Storytime

You are What You Eat: A Very Short and Humorous Tale

We were sitting around the kitchen table when my Uncle Leo walked in. He grumbled a few choice words as he shuffled across the floor trying to peel the Buick’s emergency break from the palm of his hand. With a swift jab of my elbow, Henry’s snickering stopped and he covered his cheeky grin with his fan of cards. When Uncle Leo made it to the sink, he slammed his new accessory to the counter with one loud thud. It startled me so much that my cards scattered around me like confetti and Henry let out a loud screech as he tumbled to the floor in a fit of cackles.

Uncle Leo, though, seemed less than amused with the situation. He sluggishly turned his head to the side, away from the afternoon sun, and his big brown eyes practically rolled back to his brain before fixing in on Henry rolling on the ground in laughter.

I, on the other hand, was more interested in evading the pugnacious Uncle Leo before things started to get out of hand. Henry just never knows when to quit, which reminded me of my father.

Before the situation had a chance to escalate, the sound of my Grandma’s truck revving up the driveway cut through the tension in the room and momentarily distracted both guys. I hopped out of my seat and lept over Henry like a gazelle to the screen door. I was out in the yard before my Gram could put the truck in park. She didn’t even have to ask to know that Henry was up to his callous tricks again.

She sighed, “What’d that boy do now?”

“Put super glue on the emergency break in Dad’s old Buick.”

“Good grief! He should know by now to avoid all those there relics.”

Gram snatched her purse from the passenger seat, near the dog, and flung open the car door. She slammed it shut and was about to charge ahead but was comically snapped back when her zipper got caught in the door. But with one swift pull, she yanked her jacket free. Resembling a bull just released from its pen, she stamped through the grass in her heels like a drunk goose. I knew Henry wasn’t going to last the whole eight seconds it took for her to throw her ecclesiastical morals out the window and swear upon the name of the good lord.

I followed her as she stiff-armed the screen door open in front of her and entered like she was a damn Queen.

“What the hell kind of shit are you pulling, Henry,” she barked, “You know better than to go on and mess with your Uncle Sal’s stuff like that you little brat!”

“Come on, it was just a…”

“Don’t you say another word,” Gram snapped as she pointed her wiry finger at Henry, “Don’t you dare tell me that this was a joke cause that ain’t no excuse in this house no more.”

Gram’s demeanor loosened as she dropped her hand back to her side and the red rage in her eyes calmed to their original caerulean color.

“Cause your Uncle Sal said those same words before he…before he blew himself up trying to scare the shit out of your Great Aunt Maria” Gram stammered.

The room became still as my father’s untimely demise was brought up. Uncle Leo, who hadn’t moved from the sink, only paused his fiddling with the break to turn and face Gram. I looked to the ground and crossed my arms. Henry finally picked himself off the floor, giggling like he was imagining my father as Wile E. Coyote getting blown up trying to catch to the Road Runner. But unlike the cartoon wolf now covered in soot, my father was now covered in six feet of dirt.

Gram quickly shook off the solemn mood and shot Henry an unforgiving look. Her sassy stature seemed to put Henry in his place as he half-heartedly apologized to Gram, and of course to Uncle Leo too. When she was satisfied, she put her purse down and walked back to the car to retrieve my Dad’s eager Dachshund, Pickle, from the truck.

As soon as the screen door slammed, my Uncle finally turned around proudly displaying his hand which was freed from the break. Henry reluctantly sighed and reached for the emergency break my Uncle Leo was holding out before him.

Before he left, Gram opened the screen door and let the dog scurry in past her legs. Henry gave Gram a somber look as he ignored Pickle who was jumping up on his legs as her tail wagged enthusiastically.

“Look Hun, I’m sorry I yelled” Gram apologized, “Here. Take one of these.”

Gram offered Henry a piece of chocolate fudge brownies she got at the store as a peace offering. Henry snatched it from the container and popped it into his mouth as he pushed the screen door out of his way.

“What a little shit” Uncle Leo mumbled as he rubbed his sore hand.

A genuine smile crept across Gram’s face as she placed the plate on the kitchen table. She knelt to the ground to give Pickle a belly rub and didn’t even flinch when angry yelps and coughs suddenly started pouring in from the yard,

“What the hell, this tastes like salty dirt! What in God’s green earth did you give me ya old hag!”

In tandem, My Uncle Leo and I looked to Gram.

“I find it funny how your father named this cute little hot dog Pickle after you fed him a whole jar of them when you were just three years, Rae” Gram said with a tinge of nostalgia, “When your daddy yelled at you that the dog was gonna turn into a pickle cause of it, you howled in a pool of tears and pickle juice ‘til your daddy scooped you up in his arms and told you it was a joke.”

“Uh, yeah I remember that a little…but what does that have to do with Henry’s hissy fit in the front yard” I asked.

Gram looked up to reveal a sly smirk on her face, “Your father had it right with his joke about Pickle, you are what you eat. And your Uncle Leo had it right with Henry being nothin’ but a little shit so…”

My Uncle Leo hoot and hollered as he bent forward in laughter. Gram and I began to chuckle too. Even Pickle howled to join in on the collective laughter. I mean, she was the one who helped make Henry’s special fudge brownie.

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Posted in Storytime

The Corners: A Short Story

“Hello? Is anybody there?”

*Silence*

*Begins to walk down creepy hallway to certain death*

CREEEEAAAAKKKKK…

“What was that? Show yourself!”

*Music stops, dead silence as blonde bimbo starts to peer around corner*

*and…BOO!”

Winston flinched in his chair. I shot him a sly grin only to be greeted with a soft green pillow to the face. I let out a soft giggle. His bottom lip protruded out as he crossed his arms like a child having a temper tantrum. He glared across the room at me with his dull green eyes, unamused with the situation.

“Oh, shut up ya hypocrite,” Winston said as he ran his hand through his fluffy blonde locks.

“Hey! I didn’t even flinch!”

“Yeah, because you were too busy lookin’ at me!”

Winston flung himself onto the loveseat, arming himself with another pillow and chucked it straight at me. I dodged it with ease sending it careening over couch straight into the painting on the wall. I held my breath as it teetered from side to side gently scraping the wall.

It eventually settled against the wall with a slight tilted to the right. I reached over and gently pushed the corner up until it was level with the straight-edge top of the couch. I dropped my hand with a thud onto the armrest and I turned to face Winston.

The playful mood in the room deflated like a cold balloon as Winston pushed himself up from the loveseat,

“I’ll be right back. Going for a quick cig.”

“Yeah, okay. Want me to pause it?”

“Nah.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, drew in his shoulders, and shuffled out of the room. I zoned out on the worn coffee table my feet were resting on until the slam of the backdoor echoed through the house, jerking me out of the trance.

I reached for the remote on the other end of the couch, punched the power bottom with my thumb, and launched it across the room. It slammed into the wall, leaving a dent in the outdated, brown paint. I curled my thin fingers into the pillow on my lap as if it would stop the hot tears that were beginning to spill onto my cheeks.

I stood to my feet, letting the pillow hit the floor, and turned to face it. The painting. His painting.

The acrylic on the canvas shimmered under the sun’s rays that were peeking through the blinds. Every bump, ridge, and edge were highlighted as if it the painting itself wanted to prove its authenticity through its imperfections.

The scene it portrayed was nothing out of the ordinary, however. It was of a busy street corner full of grey, uncharacterized citizens flooding though an intersection. Each head, void of any defining features associated with human faces, as if to emphasize their lack of importance to the viewer.

But right in the middle of this little grey and black street corner, was what appeared to be a young boy with his face looking toward the sky. Each wrinkle and crease of his face outlined by the reflection of the single sun ray that was pouring from a small whole in the overcast sky. He wore a baby blue hoodie with cream colored pants, accented by his bright red sneakers.

To the untrained eye, it looked as if the painter wanted to tell you that in the midst of all the grayness of the world, there is hope. But to me, I don’t see hope in that little boy’s brown eyes.

I leaned in close enough to feel my hot breath rebound off the painting back onto my lips. And there it was, a little glob of white paint representing a tear that was creeping out of the corner of the boy’s right eye. It wasn’t a tear of sadness, not even hope. No. It was the kind of tear that is shed out of sheer relief.

That’s what he wanted I guess. Relief.

Elias wasn’t born with a silver spoon in hand. He was like a boxer, cornered in a ring. No matter how hard he swung, or how many times he dodged. He was always beaten to a pulp.

His father left his mother was he wasn’t even out of the womb. His mother died before he spoke his first words. And he lived in so many foster homes, he lost track after number 28.

He got in trouble during high school on the daily for defacing locker doors with his doodles and popping pills like a Pez dispenser. He didn’t quit until Winston knocked some sense into him during their long night shifts at the local McDonalds. He was hired three times, fired twice, and quit once. There’s still a dent on the corner of the glowing yellow “M” from one of the many rocks he threw as revenge towards “the manager from hell”.

I forced him to take an art class with me on the weekends during my freshman year at college. I told him that if he wanted to draw for the rest of his life, he needed to do more than doodle on bathroom walls. He loved it.

He started painting in his spare time, sketching out designs on the back of unwanted receipts during his uneventful shifts at Play it Again Sports. After he finished his first full painting, he hung it on the wall behind the couch at his and Winston’s place. He argued with Winston on whether or not it needed more than one nail to stabilize it. They decided on one after learning it was the last one left in the box.

He died on a Tuesday. 14 days before his 24th birthday. He was wearing his favorite baby blue sweater. He was buried in the corner lot of Mountain View Cemetery. His name isn’t on the stone. It was faceless, like the emotionless people in his painting.

I heard the backdoor creak open as Winston’s feet softly padded on the kitchen tile. The door clicked shut just as he reached the entryway to the living room.

I took my eyes away from the painting on the wall and peered over my shoulder to where he was leaning against the doorframe.

“Sorry.” Winston said.

“It’s okay.”

Winston pushed himself off the doorway and took several big strides to embrace me into a warm hug. I buried my face into his cotton shirt and lost control of the tears.

“Do you think he even cared? Cared about what it would do to us?” I sobbed.

“Yes. I know he did, but depression isn’t something that can be fixed with a good talk and a hug, Nadia.”

“I know. I just wish we could have done something more…” I trailed off and let the wave of grief flow over my whole body.

After what seemed like hours, I had finally calmed down and Winston released me from his arms.

He glanced back to the painting, then to me, then back to the painting. Without losing eye contact, he walked past me, climbed onto the couch, picked up the painting, flipped it upside-down, and placed it back on the wall.

He shuffled off the couch and took a few steps back to get a good look at it.

“Uh, why did you flip it upside down? It looks weird now” I said.

“No, I think it looks better. See,” he pointed to the little boy, “now instead of looking up to heaven er whatever, he’s looking back down to us.”

I paused and examined the painting closer. Winston was right, he looked almost superhuman branching off from the street corner looking down to the clouds.

And in just a moment, that single tear’s meaning changed entirely. It changed him into a little boy who looks to the ones he left behind on Earth. He became the boy who cared, but harbored a disease that told him otherwise. It snuck into every corner of his life and whittled him down until there was nothing left.

But a corner is not just a place where the path ends, when there is nowhere to turn. It’s a place where two things collide and somehow make the perfect match.

Like the corner of your first smile, your first timeout in the corner when you learned markers are for paper and not for walls, the corner of the fence that doubled as your soccer “net”, the corner of the paper where the sun always went when you colored, the corner of the page you bent to remember where you left off, the corner of your graduation hat that  bent after it hit the ceiling when you threw it up into the air…

The corner is where two things meet. And to have a corner, means to have a connection between the pieces of your life that seem to be more like a deck of cards thrown at you that scattered all over the floor.

I gave a meek smirk to Winston. He grinned and put his arm around my shoulder as we quietly stood, looking at the little boy on the corner.

 

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

1-800-273-8255

Posted in Storytime

The Things We Aren’t Supposed to Talk About: Act I

I think it’s the sound the bottle makes when the pills rattle down the orange, plastic siding that gets me. It’s like a little bell that rings out across the room, announcing to those around of its presence. No, they’re not the drugs that you hear about in the news or see in action-packed movies and hippie dramas that focus solely on the crappy side of life.

No, they were the ones we aren’t supposed to talk about.

I sit on the edge of my bed, burying my toes into the fluffy carpet while my I squeezed a worn towel around my soaking wet hair. The smell of melons and coconuts wafted around my freshly cleaned body which was sporting smiley face PJ shorts and an oversized Brewers shirt.

After a good while of squeezing, I released the towel from my damp hair and tossed it across the room. It landed next to the laundry basket, on top of some books. I stared at it for a few seconds, deciding whether it was worth it to get up and fix, before shrugging it off and curling underneath the warm covers to protect my hair from the cold breeze coming from the open window.

I blindly reach for the bedside lamp switch before my forearm touched something and pushed off the table to the floor. It clattered as it hit the carpet with that unmistakable chime.

I groaned, picked my head up from my pillow, and rested my chin on my elbow while looking down to that orange blob on the floor.

I let out a frustrated puff of air before reaching down and scooping it into my hand. I pulled it close to my face and held it there. I fiddled with the white sticker plastered across it, bending the corner, then straightening it, and then bending it again.

With the repetitive movement, I zoned out, consumed in the thought of what exactly lead me to holding this bottle in my hand.

Maybe it was because of the long walks at night to the bridge and wondering if the water was as cold as everyone says it was. Maybe it was because of the naps I would claim to take, only to end up weeping while hugging a bottle of painkillers for comfort. Maybe it was because of the academy award winning performance I would put on every day, smiling and laughing as if I had never felt the sting of sadness before.

But I knew the truth. The truth that I couldn’t accept. That depression isn’t something that just goes away like a cold. It’s an illness, one that people have a hard time accepting as an illness that needs medication to be cured. Some think a good therapy session and friends is sufficient enough to rid you of this “first-world problem”.

But would you ever tell a cancer patient to “be happier, it’ll cure you” or a person suffering from MS to “walk it off, it’s not that bad” or an elderly patient taking their last breaths “keep breathing, it’s not that hard”. No. Because they are suffering from something that they can’t control. So why do people think it’s okay to say that to people suffering from depression, anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, etc. that it “isn’t something that requires medical attention” to just “work it out”, or “toughen up”.

But sometimes even if they believe that it is a true illness, pills shouldn’t be an option. No, that’s what weak people do. The strong people put a smile on their face and perceiver.

But when you take the box cutter from the office and hide in the bathroom, ready to end it all, it’s no longer something you can control on your own. It’s no longer something you can smile through. That’s not normal.

So here I am, laying in my bed holding my Sertraline, Zoloft, Prozac, whatever you want to call it, in a little, plastic orange bottle. Holding the thing we aren’t supposed to talk about. We aren’t supposed to admit we have because it makes you sound weak and privileged. But I knew for a fact, that if this little pill hadn’t come into my life, I wouldn’t have been here to celebrate my 21st birthday, hug my family, hang out with my friends, graduate college, travel the world, and meet the love of my life.

It saved my life. It has saved many lives. But, we aren’t supposed to talk about it.

I push the lip of the lid down and twist the white cap off while tilting the bottle toward my open palm. The pills trickle down the side, tolling like mini bells, until one lands on my hand. I close up the bottle, place it next to the lamp, and grab the water bottle beside it. In one motion, I toss the pill into my mouth and took a sip from the water bottle, with my lips immediately beginning to pucker at the surprising tangy twist the water held.

I gagged and spat, opening up the lid to reveal the over-powered lemonade I forgot I had made that afternoon before going on a hike with my friends. I rolled my eyes, scoffed at my own stupidity, and even cracked a smile at how funny I must have looked. I snickered for a bit before placing the water bottle back on the table and clicking off the lamp.

I snuggled back into my warm bed and listened to the sounds of a lively Saturday night on campus as they drifted in with the breeze. And in the distance, beneath all the laughter and shouting, beneath the sounds of cars and crickets, I could hear the very faint sound of little chiming bells that lulled me into a deep sleep.

Posted in Storytime

A Tree Growing in Winter

The soft crunch of the snow beneath my worn-out boots filled the quiet morning street with life. I watched snow flick off the tip of my boots as I marched across a sea of white. I exhaled and my breath became one with the cold in a burst of fog before thinning into nothing. But before long, my puffs of air disappeared altogether as the warmth of my inner pith faded.

I reached the lone stop sign near what I believed to be the end of the street and I climbed up on the snow drift beside it. Even though I knew fully well that not a single car would cross my path. I planted my feet into the solid ice shell covering the last snowfall and began my long wait.

To keep warm I kept my limbs moving and practiced my greeting.

“Good morning! How ya doing…no, to easy” I muttered.

“Oh, I got it! What about, ‘Hey! You excited for school’…nah too dorky.”

But my practice was cut short as the trudging and scraping of familiar boots interrupted my thoughts.

“What’s up?” he called.

“Hey…” before I could get another word out, he exclaimed, “Why the heck are you standing in the drift? Your feet are gonna be soaked ya know. Geez, your always such goodie-two-shoes, just get on the street.”

He motioned for me to stand next to him on the lightly frosted street, but I just looked down at the snow that was up to my knees. To be honest, my feet didn’t feel cold at all. They were safely cocooned beneath me and I felt no reason to move.

“Suit yourself…” He scoffed.

As we waited in silence, him attending to his precious Tamagotchi, I gently removed my hat from the perspiring crown of my head and nestled it in the canopy of my jacket. The cool air brushed through my hair and whisked it about my head. The fluttering strands danced along with the breeze keeping my mind occupied on pushing it away from my eyes until the bus arrived.

Right on time, as usual, the bright yellow bus appeared in the distance. Shining in dew, it roared to a stop in front of us. I shuffled out of the drift and climbed on. When it took off, I watched the world pass in a white blur until we arrived at school.

The classroom felt the same as it had always felt, a cold and empty space where others seemed to flourish and I fell short. They would fervently raise their hands whenever a question was asked. They would zip through math problems and scurry about in gym. I guess you could say I didn’t have enough energy to keep up.

Even in music class I couldn’t keep up with the beat of the song. I would move my lips to the songs, but never actually make any sound. I was as quiet as the morning snow, but down to the very roots of my being I was trying my best.

I worked harder than most of the students, focusing on how to best adapt my weaknesses. I was the bud that never blossomed at the right moment. Not at the same time when all the other students were being nurtured and cared for. When I finally understood something, it was a long past thought to the others and my accomplishments were flat lined by their taunting blades.

But on this particular day, something amazing happened. Not just any normal kind of amazing like when a child takes its first steps, or when someone catches a Hail Mary in a football game. No, it was more than that.

It was during a typical third grade English lesson discussing the basics of figurative language. My teacher asked us all to write a simile, using the words “like” or “as”. I watched as all the other students scribbled out one idea to the next. They shouted them to friends across the room in excitement proclaiming their brilliance. The car was as fast as a cheetah, the man was as tall as a skyscraper, and the train roared like a lion to name a few.

I sat there puzzled for a few moments. All of those ideas sounded perfect, but they all sounded so plain. Something that had been written before. I stared across the room for inspiration and found myself looking out of the teal-framed window. It wasn’t much of a view though because the thick branches of a tree filled the frame. The thick bark was bare as it held a part of the morning snowfall on its limbs. It cast a billowing, patterned shadow into the classroom as sun broke through the clouds.

After some contemplation, I jotted down a line on my notebook and tore it out to turn it in. But then the dreaded sentence came from my teacher’s lips as she told the class that we would be reading them aloud.

I froze in fear. There was no time to practice and I couldn’t just mouth the words of the poem. My thoughts swirled as each student spoke their sentence and a roar of claps spread across the room. When it came my turn, I gingerly stood up from the safety of my chair and fell into the spotlight.

My fingers gripped the piece of paper as my heart began to practically beat out of my chest. It’s paced beating a cold reminder of the time that was ticking by as I stood in front of all their cheeky expressions. I glanced over to my teacher and she gave me a soft smile and a quick nod of approval to begin. My lips parted, but no sound emerged. I was frozen with fear as the pressure of the eager eyes around me intensified. I drew in a short breath before I slowly and painfully moved my lips and tongue to form the words I had written down,

“The moon rose slowly like a tree growing in winter.”

I quickly sat back down into the comfort of my seat and held my little hand to my chest as if it would quiet the sound of the rhythmic pounding of my heart. When I finally gathered the courage to look at my teacher, she was standing in awe.

There was not a sound among them, not a single hand clap. I felt ashamed because I knew that it was too different. It was probably wrong and I would have to be put down gently by the teacher, again.

But then, the miracle happened. My teacher ecstatically jumped from her chair and exclaimed, “This is exactly what I’m talking about. That was amazing! I’m…I’m in shock…” She trailed off as she smiled at me with bright eyes glowing in pride.

She began to clap and the rest of my pupils followed as the sound of their hands rustled the silence out of the classroom. I felt a warmth spread across my cheeks as I blushed.

I never had thought it possible that being different could feel so good.

That night, as I lay in my loft bed tracing shapes on the popcorn ceiling, I couldn’t help but wonder if a tree really does grow in winter. Or if the moon really rises or simply appears to as it circles the earth. My finger caught a few loose pieces of the popcorn and they fell onto my blanket.

I picked one up and analyzed all of the rough edges and uneven white paint distribution. I rolled it between my index finger and thumb and imagined it as a little snowflake. A snowflake that fell millions and millions of miles only to be stopped from hitting the ground by my thin little fingers.

I then flicked it to the floor of my room, rolled over, and snuggled into the warmth of my sheets. Before I drifted to sleep, I imagined a forest covered in white snow and in the middle of this forest full of tall yet bare trees, there was a little tree, barely a couple feet tall, flourishing with bright green leaves.

Huh, I guess some of them really do grow in winter.

Posted in Storytime

Bravery

In today’s society, bravery seems to be defined as the absence of fear. A synonym of fearlessness. That when someone is faced with the choice to run away with terror or run head on with courage, they choose courage. It’s in almost every movie and storybook that allows our minds to escape our dull daily lives.

The story is simple:

The superhero starts off ordinary. Then they find out they are anything but ordinary. They have special powers that they decide to use for good. A villain comes around, someone who uses their powers for evil, and starts to wreak havoc on the citizens of the world. The superhero must then decide to run away with fear, or run head on with courage. They ultimately decide to face the villain and they win. The superhero is then considered brave and courageous.

But this definition of bravery being fearlessness is flawed. It is impossible to live through life without any fear. Fear is a constant storm that rages in our minds. It never ceases to exist so we must build a shelter to protect ourselves from its wrath. The shelter we build with our hope and strength, however, it’s only temporary. The storm of fear thrashes against it with raining bullets and thunderous punches. It shatters windows with its piercing screams and rams it with howling winds. It’s the temper tantrum of fear that desecrates the walls that we surround ourselves with. We can either let the fear take over our lives, or decide to be brave. To be brave despite the fright and keep building the shelter to protect us from the storm. The storm that is always there, but doesn’t always have to win.

Being brave is exhausting, it is the constant upkeep of our shelter. When someone is fighting a battle there is physical exhaustion of course, but the mental exhaustion is what gets them in the end. The constant battle against fear with the tireless effort to build up the walls that fear tears down. The terror will never go away, so why does society think that being brave means to be without fear?

Being brave doesn’t mean you don’t fear anything. Being brave means that even though you are entirely and absolutely filled with fear, doubt, uncertainty, and terror, you still decide to act with blind courage because there is something more important to you than those fears.

When you have a terminal illness you fear death, but life is more important. When you face depression you fear life, but happiness is more important. When you charge into battle you fear a brutal death, but protecting your people and values are more important. When you have fear, something is always more important.

I won’t be the last to say it, or the last time you think of it, but it is completely and utterly okay to be afraid. It is okay to fear because bravery is not easy. It is not as simple as one would like to believe. It may come more naturally to some than others, but that doesn’t mean that it is not possible for someone to be brave. Do not think for a second that you are not capable of being brave.

You have the ability to be a superhero, just look a little closer at the story of your life. You are led to believe that you are ordinary, but you are anything but ordinary. You have hidden special powers that you can decide to use for good. You have villains that try to destroy your world. You have the choice to run away in fear, or run head on with courage. You can defeat the villain and save your world. You can be brave and courageous.

We all have the capability to fear and conquer those fears. “It’s all in your head” is what they say about fear, but “it’s all in your heart” is what they should say instead about bravery.  Because bravery is not to be without fear, but to decide what is more important: fear or bravery. The choice is yours.