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Luxury Jail

I’m glad I had a top bunk. It was my island of half-safety. And yet I must
acknowledge the threat may not have existed at all, because the way some tell it, the
Catawanee County jail is the Park Hyatt of Tennessee jailhouses. Two days ago, it was a
hot June Friday, and men of various ages, ethnicities, and attitudes were in a holding cell,
waiting to be processed, or “booked,” in correctional parlance. I was among them. Some
of us paced about, some sat on the long bench; others leaned against the wall or stood in
place. It was a long wait. Aside from the general shock of having upended my life, here
was the striking thing about that long wait: the manner in which the vocal ones discussed
the merits and drawbacks of the respective jails where they’d done time over the years. I
wondered what kind of losers I’d managed to surround myself with—these people who
compared jail stints as though they were a series of jobs or home addresses, as though
jail-hopping was a viable way of life. If I’m ever in a position to weigh the pros and cons
of multiple jails, please just end me.

There had been ten or twelve of us in that holding cell. I was one of the standers,
trying to will myself invisible–anything not to draw attention. Inside me was a bundle of
nerves, despair, and curiosity unlike anything I’d ever felt, and I knew this had to be the
only time I was ever in this predicament. We waited upwards of three hours. Some were
silent and miserable like me. Others chatted like it was a cocktail party or a networking
event. A stocky man with buzzcut red hair bounced happily, making small talk with those
nearest him. He was clearly a veteran of the system, a fact which seemed not to bother
him, and oddly, he was already in a jumpsuit. The rest of us still had street clothes on.
A different man, who’d been fidgety but quiet, dropped to one knee and pulled a pouch
from his shoe and rose back up and announced, “I don’t go anywhere without my
cocaine!” Nobody reacted much, but I wasn’t the only one peeking as he snorted bump
after bump. One last binge, I guess. How had he gotten it past the officers? Of course, the
real body search was yet to come; his contraband wouldn’t travel much further.

The painted block cell had a concrete bench along each wall, stopping only for an
aluminum toilet-and-sink combo in one corner, an apparatus sparer even than a similar
setup I’d used on an Amtrak train. On the wall above was a metal plate where a mirror
would be, but it was so dull and scuffed, you’d be lucky to make out a vague outline of
your head. I didn’t see how anyone could use that toilet, out in the open like that and with
other people around. Nevertheless, one man did. Mercifully, he only had to pee. The
holding cell was next to a large room with a big, crescent-shaped desk, where officers
milled about, shuffling bags of inmates’ belongings and scribbling on paperwork, happily
chitchatting. Their camaraderie contrasted with the anxiety of the holding cell. I gathered
that the big desk was ground zero for the alleged “booking” of inmates. Everything I
knew about jail came from television.

There were other holding cells attached to the main room. Mean faces peered
from those cells to ours, further intimidating those of us already afraid. Real predator-
prey vibes. My hackles were raised perpetually, my fight-or-flight response ever ready to
engage. Yet, a few feet from me, the buzzcut redhead was as carefree as a fox in a
cranberry bog.

Now, about that fast-approaching body search, an event sure to rack up further charges
against the holding-cell cocaine smuggler: when it was my turn, I was led into a tiled
enclosure with a pair of showerheads. It would’ve felt private were it not for the deputy
accompanying me, who commanded me to disrobe. The deputy became less a full person
and more just a latex-gloved hand with index finger and middle finger aimed at my
anus—I know, because I had to bend over, and I could see him coming. That man’s hand
is all I remember of him. He told me to squat, then he searched, feeling for contraband.
The violation wasn’t a bit sexual, but it was a violation, nonetheless. That’s when I knew
I was rubbish. Never before and never since have I been so humiliated. My sense of
dignity evaporated. A dousing of delousing powder and a short shower followed, all
under the faceless deputy’s gaze, and I slipped into what would be my uniform for the
weekend. I was scum.

Beyond booking, after it was finally my turn to go inside, the jail proved quite
unfamiliar. I had ideas about what it might be like from shows I’d seen, but the parts they
show you versus real-life walking through one–as an inmate, no less–are inexpressibly
different. A sizable gap between spectator and participant does exist. Night had fully set
in. I could see it through the narrow slits that served as windows, much too narrow for a
person to fit through, understandably. The jail, or at least the part I was privy to,
consisted of a large common area with tables and a television mounted high on the wall,
and radiating from this common area were two floors of pods filled with bunk beds.
These pods held maybe ten sets of bunks each and were vaguely pentagonal—I never
counted the sides, but it felt geometric in nature. The common area was separated from
the main hallway by glass, which I imagine was tempered and shatterproof and
bulletproof and reinforced in whatever ways glass can be. The lights were off in the pods,
and many of the inmates must have already been sleeping. It was ghostly quiet as the
deputy led me through the darkness in search of an open bed, using only a flashlight and
the light bleeding in from the common area. It was like crashing a giant sleepover for
adults, and to wake the wrong one could be perilous. Unnatural, this feeling of tiptoeing
through a compound of strange, sleeping men.

I had only thought of Wallis sparingly. She was the woman I was sleeping with
and casually dating. The casual part was all on her end—it was clear she could take or
leave me, but I was hooked. A friend told me I was in lust, not love, but I was convinced
it was love. Wallis was uniquely pretty, effortlessly seductive, and had a chihuahua that
liked to shit on the floor. More than once, I stepped on a turd on my way to the bathroom
in the dark, yet the shit was so small and solid it hardly seemed like shit at all, more like
Silly Putty. Shit is shit, though, so I complained, but that accomplished nothing, because
the little imp was a demi-god with full run of the apartment—Wallis’s apartment, that is.
We’d sit on the balcony for hours, Wallis smoking weed and me drinking whiskey, both
of us smoking cigarettes. The chihuahua, Thor, had the advantage of being cute and of
being owned by the woman I was obsessed with, so I tolerated him. For all the time we
spent together, though, Wallis refused to acknowledge we had a relationship. I don’t
know what she thought we were doing. She simply wouldn’t talk about it, so I never
knew where I stood with her. A lonely man will tolerate much for the attention of a pretty
woman, and I knew that the moment I was out of jail, I’d go right back to her apartment.
Anyway, here I was, tiptoeing through this mostly-dark jail pod with a deputy who’d had
his fingers in my asshole moments before. I was a guest at a terrible weekend retreat
where no one could leave, the aesthetic was the wrong kind of minimal, and humility and
indignity were baked into the experience–all of which is the point, I know. The deputy
finally shone his flashlight on an empty bed—the aforementioned top bunk. He set a
blanket, a small toiletry kit (no metal, nothing sharp), and the book I’d brought with me
on the mattress. Slowly I climbed the frame at one end, trying not to shake it and wake
the guy on the bottom. I could tell there was a body there, but it never stirred. The deputy
gave some instructions that I didn’t really hear and then turned and waddled off, the beam
of his flashlight disappearing past a doorless doorway.

I lay down, doubtful that sleep would find me. No pillow, just a very thin blanket,
which proved surprisingly sufficient to keep me warm in the cold jail. Must’ve been the
material. I guessed it to be wool, but then I’m kind of dumb about such things. For all I
knew, it was some special prison blend designed for cheap mass production and sold in
bulk to correctional facilities and the military. Physically, I managed to get comfortable,
but mentally, I was a wreck. There was despair at my predicament, but it was more than
that. A broad agitation encompassed many feelings: regret at having gotten caught;
shame at what people must think, were they to ever find out; fear of the unknown, but
also, a curiosity about incarceration, about life on the inside. No, it wasn’t prison—there
weren’t violent felons lurking about with shivs, making booze in toilets and plotting
against rival gangs—but it was the closest to that type of thing I was likely to come, God-
willing, being mostly a law abider with no inclination to hurt or steal and a strong sense
of which authorities not to cross. Yet the curiosity gets shuffled aside, replaced by the
despair, and then the regret, the shame, the fear—all of this in constant rotation, as I lay
there on that top bunk, warm under the jail blanket.

Time creeped. There was little noise: distant snoring, a crackling of mattress. I
longed for sunrise, when I could better assess my surroundings. Any amount of
reassurance would’ve been welcome, like the way morning light can diminish a night’s
terror. No steady stream of sleep was to be, though. There may have been moments of
unconsciousness, but I can’t be sure. What is remembered is the intermittent re-
positioning of my body in futile attempts to attain a state of rest. Another thing: when
your only choice is to stay put, it’s hard not to feel useless. Even a forty-eight hour jail
stint holds a yearning for purpose. And here’s something I find surprising over and over
again: true leisure does not exist. Wallis said, “Enjoy your weekend of relaxation,” i.e.,
your weekend of jail, in which nothing is required of you but to be there—no work detail,
no cafeteria service, no laundry duty—nothing to do but lie about, the only exception
being the obligatory Alcoholics Anonymous origin story film and discussion class, in
which they pressure you to admit uncomfortable things (for the record, I stood my
ground). But the weekend could not be called restful, it was merely existence.

When it was time for the AA class, it was nice to be with a smaller group in a
quiet room, darkened for the film. We were all weekenders. It was less intimidating than
the buzzing and humming pod and cavernous common area. In the discussion that
followed, one of my fellow delinquents claimed he didn’t believe in alcoholism or
addiction of any sort; he said addiction was in the mind, and that if you didn’t think you
were an addict, then you weren’t. His name was Michael, and, apart from the AA class,
all he did that weekend was either sleep or pretend to sleep. I could see him lying there
whenever I walked to the toilets, prone on his bunk, face buried in the crook of his elbow.

After class, there was a long walk down some corridors to get back to the pod. It
was three other men and me, and one of them boasted about fucking his girlfriend one
last time before turning himself in, implying that those forty-eight hours in jail were depriving
him of some life-saving treatment: critical coitus. Midway down a long hall, the same guy jumped,
kicked a leg out and farted, pumping his arm like he was ejecting a shotgun shell. He assumed
we were amused. I can’t speak for the others, but I couldn’t stand him, with his tapered black
hair and sneering lips, his small and slightly athletic build suggestive of the kind of guy
who plays pick-up basketball with strangers at the Y. He disgusted me, and he quickly
became an emblem of everything I hated about the place—the pathetic men slouching round
and comparing jail stints, the lack of privacy, the general put-upon-ness of being detained.
His face became a symbol of the whole sad experience. I never knew his name, and I don’t
want to know it.

Back in the pod, inmates were tooling about, their movements purposeful. I felt
like the only one who didn’t know what to do with himself. Many of them had returned
from some type of work detail. A tiredness attended them, like that of laborers at day’s
end. Their pay must’ve been pennies. A skinny, long-haired man strolled through the
bunk room plumbing a cup of ramen with a plastic spoon, and I wondered where he’d
gotten water hot enough for the noodles. He clearly savored it, and I found myself a little
envious. It had to be secret jail knowledge—how to obtain water hot enough to hydrate a
cup of ramen. There must’ve been a microwave somewhere, which I wasn’t inside long
enough to discover, and I wasn’t about to go exploring. The man was close to my age, his
jaw stubbly and his longish hair a greasy blonde. On the outside, we might’ve sat at a bar
laughing, things made funnier by intoxication. We could’ve been drinking buddies.

At intervals, I tried to read. The book I brought was much too thick for a
weekend, even if I’d been able to concentrate. It was Umberto Eco’s The Name of the
Rose, and the prose was dense. I’d read it before and loved it and thereby could rely on it for
psychological comfort while stuck in jail, or at least that was my logic. Engaging and
humorous as the book is under normal conditions, however, the effort was futile. I’m not
sure what, if anything, would’ve made for effective reading this weekend, with it being
my first time in and everything so new and overwhelming. Crossword puzzles, maybe.
It’s not reading in the narrative sense, but it uses words and can distract the mind in a
non-committal way. Ill-fated reading aside, there is something to be said for the mere
presence of Umberto Eco in the Catawanee County Jail, its bulk solely mine in a place
where nothing else was. I could hold it and look at its cover and the simple maps inside,
and I could smell the pages.

In a perfect example of the way coincidences can be meaningless, the man in the
neighboring bunk had the same first name as me, lived in the same part of town, and was
in jail for the same reason. How about that? I would see him a few times over the years,
either in a sports bar or restaurant, and it always embarrassed me, like we’d shared a lap
dance with the same stripper in a moment of vulnerability, and each feared the other
would out us in the presence of people we knew. I could see he felt it, too, but we only
ever said hi. And the person I was with might say, “Who was that?” and I’d say, “Just
somebody I used to see at the Red Door.”

When mealtimes came, shouts of “grub” would echo off the concrete walls. From
the second-floor balcony, I could see a man in white wheeling in a cart, a line forming
already. The man with the cart handed out paper bags. Lunch on Saturday was a peanut
butter sandwich and a child-size carton of milk. I sat by myself in the common area,
eating the depressing meal at one of the round, stainless-steel tables, all of which were
anchored to the floor by steel posts, like they’d grown there. The stools around them were
smaller versions of the same. Steel flowers in a cement garden. Nothing was moveable.
At least people were leaving me alone. I stared at the television high on the wall, where
numbered cars were zooming round a track, their sponsors’ logos like stamps of
ownership. It struck me that my situation was similar to that of being on layover at an
airport. I could sit at the cold, hard table as long as I wanted, waiting for time to pass, just
as at an airport, I might sit on the same plastic seat for hours, waiting for my flight. This
made the situation more bearable.

They let you have a pencil and paper. Saturday night, I sat on my bunk and wrote
several pages of whatever came to mind. Wallis was the intended audience–something
for her to read when I got out. I wrote about how I wished I was hanging out with her,
and how seeing Thor wouldn’t be so bad, given the current situation. Sometimes we
played pool at the sports bar near her apartment. That’s where I longed to be. She had her
own cue stick, which she’d remove from its case and ceremoniously screw together
beside the coin-operated table. She probably didn’t miss me at all and certainly wasn’t
worried about me. I bet she was sitting on her third-floor balcony, up high with the pine
branches, holding that damn dog and laughing with her roommates, all of them stoned.
That she considered forty-eight hours in Catawanee County Jail a weekend retreat should
have told me something, but I was love-blind, or lust-blind. One or the other.

Dinner was nominally better: a slab of meatloaf and a baked potato with butter.
There was also a fruit cup with pink, squishy chunks, vaguely melon-like. If the cafeteria
continuum ranges from school food to hospital food, then this fell somewhere in the
middle, though I did avoid the mystery melon. The deep compartments of the plastic tray
made it easy to carry without spilling anything, so I took it to my bunk. A lot more men were
at the tables than there had been at lunch, and the noise in the common area
reflected that–thus, my decision to eat alone. My goal was to go unnoticed. I was
intimidated by the camaraderie these men must surely share, which would make lonely
little me a target. The guy I’d met earlier, who shared my name and neighborhood, was
eating on his bunk, too, but we didn’t talk to each other. It was best that way.

The toilets were in a large passage adjacent to the common area, at the opposite
end from the bunk pods. The stalls were all doorless. Anyone could walk by and see you
at your most vulnerable. This was one of the more hellish aspects, me having always
been exceedingly private about such things. If someone conceived a version of hell
specifically for me, it would include open toilets. Mother Nature spared me any
embarrassment, but imagine being there longer than I was. One can’t hold on indefinitely.
I never saw the showers, presumably beyond the toilets down that large passage. They
must have been a similar hell. That anyone could go about the usual hygienic routines in
a place like that was beyond me. Of course, we do what we have to do.

Sleep came more readily Saturday night. It helped knowing the majority of my
sentence was over. I realize it’s laughable to talk about being “on the inside” when it was
only a forty-eight hour stint. Many of those guys had been there for months, and several
were likely to land in a penitentiary at some point. They must have resented us
weekenders. I found it hard to dwell on that though, because I was getting out.

When I opened my eyes, it was day, and this was an enormous relief. Sunday had
come. For a while I lay there, curled under the blanket and able to truly relax for the first
time. A few inmates were up and going about their mornings, but there was no work
detail, and the pod was the calmest and quietest it had been all weekend. I decided to read
and managed more pages in an hour than I had the whole day before. Passages I had
underlined and circled from the earlier reading took on new dimensions. They became
sacred text:

“…full knowledge, the learning of the singular.”

“…signs and the signs of signs are used only when we are lacking things.”

“Images are the literature of the layman.”

Entire essays could be pulled from these fragments: critiques on religion and
social class, epistemology and linguistics, visual art. At the end of an anxious weekend
where I’d felt trapped in someone else’s world, I could feel myself returning–the old
interests, the old crutches of my daytime thinking life. Soon I would be leaving never to
return. Hard lessons had been learned. Jail had done its job.

When I was booked on Friday, I had been allowed to use the phone to arrange for
someone to pick me up on Sunday. It had been impossible to find anybody. They were
either out-of-town or simply didn’t answer. It’s not like I had many people I could rely on.
Wallis was too paranoid to come that close to a law enforcement facility, because her life
revolved around getting high on illegally obtained substances. The signs couldn’t have
been clearer that she was no good for me. Finally, I was able to leave a voicemail for a
friend-of-a-friend named Robert. There was no way for me to know if he’d get the
message or be able to help. All I could do was hope.

The morning hours dragged. I couldn’t stop looking at the big clock on the
common area wall, close to where the television was showing a church service. There
was no way of knowing when an officer would come for me, but I knew it must be
getting close.

It might have been my imagination, but I thought I could sense a general
resentment. Every Sunday, I bet, the men with lengthy sentences saw group after group
of weekenders get called to the heavy door, where a deputy waited to guide them to

I read a few pages, occasionally watching the inmates who were up and moving,
careful not to make eye contact. Bonds had formed between some of them, it was
obvious. The tendency is to look at a person in jail and guess what they are there for. The
next thing you know, you’ve created a backstory for the frumpy middle-aged man who
looked like he’d been there a long time, completely at ease. He was in his element,
conversing with his bunkmate. He was a man resigned to his fate, which is admirable in
the abstract. This reverie was interrupted by the approach of a deputy. I could see him
through the big glass wall. The door opened, and a name was called out. Not mine. It was
one of the other weekenders. This gave me hope, though, because it meant the process
had begun.

When I stepped into the hot glare of Sunday afternoon, no one was waiting for
me. No car idled outside the rolling gate, but they wheeled it open all the same. They
were finished with me. Rather than worry about having no ride, though, I took off
walking, as if it was the start of an adventure. When I turned the corner, my belongings in
a bag and thinking they could no longer see me, I wanted to run. It was an impulse like
Barry Keeler had years ago when he finally hit a shot in the church basketball league, and
his run back down the court was filled with his thrill, both heartening and pathetic. I may
have been a low-life, but now I was a free low-life. My body grimy from a couple of
showerless days, I bounded through the grass by the road that led into town. That strip of
grass was greener, and the sky arching over was bluer. The grandeur of ordinary trees had
swollen. Newly freed eyes, even after only forty-eight hours, are a revelation.

To my left, a long, low warehouse stretched the length of about three blocks. As I
reached the halfway point of the structure, I looked up and a car was turning off Highway
13, maybe a tenth of a mile ahead, and coming my direction. It slowed as it drew near,
and I thought they must be turning on one of the perpendicular streets, but they didn’t.
Instead, the little sedan slowed to a stop right beside me, and the driver was smiling up at
me through the passenger window. It was Robert, the friend-of-a-friend I’d left a
voicemail with on Friday.

“Hey, man! I was scared I missed ya!” he said.

“Dude, I’m just glad you’re here! I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

“Get in!” he said.

I settled into the passenger seat, my bag in my lap. Though I’d embraced the idea
of an adventure getting home, I was nevertheless relieved to see him, my brain still
humming with the high of recent release. An open can of beer was in the cup holder. He
noticed me looking.

“You want one?”

The Time I Flew

My Dad worked atop a hill that loomed over another hill.

“Mommy, I was so worried for you.”

Five-year-old me didn’t understand the concept of death, not really. Mom says she tried
to stop the car. She clung onto the back and waited for her superhuman strength to kick in.
I used to roll down that hill. Long summer days I’d spend with Dad at work. He had a little
portable TV, grainy and unreliable, that sometimes I could find cartoons on. If I was bored there
was an endless amount of pens, paper, rubber bands, and paperclips. Sometimes I’d make art
using the scanner on the copy machine. I’d pile rubber bands or pens on there and watch it spew
out new creations. One time I pressed my face to it.

I’d broken my arm that day. A clean break. I wowed the doctors by not crying. I was a
big girl after all. Daddy was going to sign my cast.

That hill seemed to go on and on. One could tumble down and never reach the bottom.
Daddy’s hill led to another, much steeper hill. A small line of trees stood between them.
That day the car flew. I’d never flown down the hill that fast. Where green melted into blue as
sky became ground. We whirled like the teacup ride at the fair. I didn’t like that ride; it made me
sick. I’d like to say that I had some epiphany. That my short life had flickered like the grainy
images of Daddy’s TV. But I didn’t really know. Not enough to even be scared.

Mom flew through the air when the car hugged one of the trees that stretched between
Dad’s hill and the next. She was told later, that she barely missed a tree stump that would’ve
killed her. She didn’t notice. She laid there for only a few seconds before she was crawling
through the driver’s door because my side of the car was still hugging the tree. I still had
my seatbelt on, of course. Mom had told me to keep it on. I patted her cheek and told her how
worried I was for her. Not for myself. No, I was fine.

It’s been over twenty-five years now. The trees have all been cut down. Dad is dead.
There are new people who work there. Maybe they bring their children with them to work.
Sometimes I think of those hills and those trees.

Maybe, now, we’d fly higher.

Let the Girl Dance

Macrame would have made the most sense. Anyone would agree. Crafts were the longtime
hammock for my hummingbird heart, the only cat’s cradle where my breathing slowed.

Russian Literature Discussion Group was a muscular option. My spleen would soften in Rose
Parlor chairs. My Grand Inquisitor would accept samovars of conversation in lieu of answers.

But Easy Salsa kept shouting across the Student Center.

It was surprising to find myself there at all, my goosey legs wobbling from one booth to another.
Vassar’s premier introvert was not looking for the camaraderie of a “Mini-Course” taught by a
fellow student. The girl who kept her dorm door shut was not open to intramural extroversion.

But some unbidden heartburn hurtled me into the open. Some trickster angel smashed me like an
avocado. And there I was, gushing and grinning at Louis.

“You want to learn Salsa!” A tiny man of laughing colors, Louis was brilliant enough to taste the
hilarity. “Yes! Oh Lord, yes.”

We had met in Italian 101, the language requirement that I chose for my grandmother and Louis
chose for music. I knew he lived for the cherub he’d fathered at seventeen. He knew I was all
anxious A’s and underweight pastels. He plucked the barrettes out of my hair while
Professoressa was pontificating, and he had the most ecstatic accent in class. I prayed for his
family and earned his accolade, “Sicily’s sweetest, just too skinny!”

And now I was handing him twelve dollars to learn Easy Salsa.

“You won’t regret this.” Louis feigned salesman smarm, shaking my hand as though I’d just
signed up for a reverse mortgage. “I will take care of you, good girl.”

Although I was bewildered by my own existence most of the time, I regretted this particular
decision instantly. What was I thinking, make-believing I could inhabit a body for eight
Thursdays? I was all disembodied head and Diet Coke, earthless empathy pressed like a leaf
between pages. I was a Type 1 diabetic with no background boyfriends. I did not join. I did not

I sat dumbstruck, listening to my cola fizz and scold me at Christian Fellowship that night.

“You OK?” Vanessa crashed onto the couch beside me, linguini legs flying.

“I did something ridiculous today.” I took a gulp of soda, scalding my throat.


I laughed. Of course, Vanessa would need no context to approve. Her hair was long enough to sit
on, and her eyes were as enormous as any Byzantine icon’s. She loved Jesus and women and
cackling mid-sentence. She could turn tempera paints into liturgy, and she could give me
permission for anything with an eyebrow flourish.

She asked the campus chaplain why God had doled out Type 1 diabetes to “the two most
beautiful girls at Vassar.” She elbowed me when my freckles “got weird,” hers the only eyes to
recognize low blood sugar draining my color. She grabbed glucose tablets while giving her
“testimony,” saving herself without apology.

She was the first one I told. “I signed up for dance lessons.”

“Oh my God.” Vanessa shook my knees. “What kind?”

“Easy Salsa. No way it’s easy enough, but—”

“GIANNA!” She bubbled over. “I DID TOO!”

Cognitive dissonance knocked over my soda. “But you already know how to dance.” More
accurately, dance knew how to Vanessa. Her every movement was droll and delicate at the same
time, conscious comedy and Eden’s first elegance. I loved to watch her walk.

“Well, not formally.” She shrugged. “Besides, eight weeks with Louis.” She wiggled her
eyebrows. I snickered my blood sugar out of place.

“You’re going to be sensational. I’m going to be lucky if I can stay upright.”

“You’ll blow us all away.” Vanessa shook her head.

“You don’t understand. I once gave myself a concussion by opening the freezer. My Varsity
sport was ‘remaining generally ambulatory.’”

“Salsa is different.” Vanessa had decided my fate. “It will take care of you. Besides—” she
grabbed my knee “—you have it in your blood.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re Hispanic.”

We had been through this before. I was a mashed potato with one drop of marinara. I was named
for my grandmother but as clumped as clotted cream.

“I am one quarter Italian. That’s not even—”

“You’re a formidable Latina woman.” Vanessa waved her magic hand over me. “Salsa will
recognize you. Anyway, you’ll have me.”

We crossed the quad together that first night, following the sound of Louis’s laughter to Main
Building. The Yellow Parlor was proud of its identity, a staid host for seminars on neutrinos or
the redistribution of wealth. The world’s earnests and eminents spoke here.

But Louis was his own sovereign nation, and he had exiled the velveteen chairs. The Yellow
Parlor would feel its brightness again. I would feel around in my pocket for a tube of glucose

“You low?” Vanessa always knew.

I pulled out a strawberry discus. “Just a little.”

“You’ll be fine.” She pointed into my palm. “Don’t you love how they smoke?”

I watched the sugary haze rise like the O’s of Alice’s caterpillar. “I love how they save my life.”

“Your life is fine.”

“Welcome to my life!” Louis had spotted us. “Ladies, ladies, welcome! Pick a partner! Pick a
place! Tonight…we dance!”

“God help us.” I giggled and chewed as fast as I could.

“He always does. Blow us all away, lady.” Vanessa wiggled off to attend to another curve of her
infinity of friends.

Louis was full hibiscus, fluorescing in colors no one could name. “My people!” He clapped his
hands overhead. “Attention! We are dancing now! Salsa waits for no one!”

This would become endlessly evident, a madcap joke that punched me in and out of line. “Easy”
Salsa was subjective. My feet seized like opossums, pale and lost. The music hurtled hymnic,
fast as an honest prayer, and I froze. I contemplated telling Louis my body was an atheist.

That was not necessary. My body was telling Louis secrets without my signature.

“Miss Gianna!” Louis crowed, pausing to keep other birds in air. “Keep dancing, keep dancing!”
He put his feet on mine. “You have these lovely feet like skis. You have these long legs. Why do
you not dance?”

“I am—”

“Oh, you are.” He scrunched solemn. “You are. You are…” he shook my shoulders, some sort of
shamanic CPR “…a ballerina.”

A snort shot out my face. “That’s hilarious. I wanted to be a ballerina desperately as a kid, but I
was so awful at it they kicked me—”

“Well today, you are our ballerina.” Louis stiffened his body like a corpse, lurching side to side
until his laughter loosened him. “Everyone look at Gianna!”

“Oh God, Louis.”

All the birds landed.

“Look at this lovely lady!” Louis winked at me. “So serious. So careful. She is doing the ballet.”

“Minus the grace,” I added. A tall man laughed loudly three dancers over. Vanessa arabesqued
her arms overhead and nodded confidence in my direction.

“My lady is following instructions,” Louis acknowledged. “She is obeying the rules. Alas—” he
crumpled to the floor “—my lady has no blood.”

The tall man frowned sympathetically. I shrugged at him.

“Ballet or blood?” Louis asked. “In Salsa, you choose. Bleed music.” He shook his fists. “Bleed
sadness. Bleed passion. You have passion, my lady.”

“If you say so. I also have low blood sugar.”

“Then bleed all over. Bleed badly. Bleed life! Red, not pink!” Louis mercifully abandoned me
and returned to giving flight instructions.

I could not read his directions. But I grasped for good, steadying my sugars and scribbling flash
cards and reporting for dervish duty every Thursday.

Vanessa and I debriefed before Christian Fellowship meetings. “Are you loving this, or what?”

“I’m surviving.” There was something quite lovable in that.

“It’s the highlight of my week,” Vanessa insisted. “I hope he makes us a mix CD of all the
music. I hope he offers Slightly Less Easy Salsa next semester.”

“I hope you know I want to be you when I grow up.” These are the things a good girl says when
she finds another diabetic with icon eyes.

“You’re crazy.”

“I’m serious. I watch you dance, and I thank God for inventing dance. I’m hopeless, but you
move like the Holy Spirit exists.”

“My maple syrup girl.” Vanessa put her head on my shoulder. “God’s girl. Prima ballerina. You
don’t know what you’re talking about.”

We did not expect Louis’s mischief in Week Five. “There is no passion alone!” He clapped his
hands overhead, which caused his visiting toddler to shriek from her stroller. “There are no
bodies alone!”

“It is not good for man to be alone,” I whispered to Vanessa.

“Or woman.”

“Tonight, we find our lovers.” Louis wiggled his fingers, florid fairy dust filling the room. “Pair
up. Do it. Pronto!”

Vanessa looked at me. Louis swept her into his arms. The tall man looked at me. He had John
Lennon glasses and a nose like a tuber.


“Badly,” I nodded.

His name was Steven, Film Studies with a minor in German. He was writing a thesis on Gene
Hackman. He joined Easy Salsa for a friend.

“Me too, kind of.”

He danced better than me, but so would an electrocuted mollusk. I stepped on his feet and
swooped hypoglycemic. Louis and Vanessa stunned the seraphs with their art.

“I don’t feel well,” Vanessa admitted on the walk back to the dorm.

“Low? High?”

“Just off. I don’t know.”

She worried aloud about her major – “choose early, choose often doesn’t seem to be working” –
and coughed about Christian Fellowship. “Ever feel like they’re trying to whip us into a frenzy?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it can feel almost manipulative. Just chanting the same chorus seventeen times until we
all FEEEEEEEEEL things. OHHH Jesus Jesus Jesus…like they work us into a trance and say it’s
the Spirit.”

She had a point. “I’m the wrong one to ask,” I admitted. “My body kind of checks out during
‘worship.’ I grew up with all these stodgy old hymns that I loved, old English kinda—”

“—maybe they’re not stodgy. Maybe they’re great. Also, Sarah – that little pixie thing that prays
loud – put a note under my door the week I skipped out. Some crap about ‘do not give up
meeting together.’ Don’t tell me how to do God. I talked to God this morning.”

Her electric wires sizzled, and my spirit knotted up when we reached her door. “You sure you’re
ok, Vanessa?”

“Yeah. Love you, dancing girl.”

There was only a week left of Easy Salsa, and I was more relieved than wistful. My legs were
sore, and my pride was pickled. It has always been my way to be little-girl grateful for memories,
but ghoulishly grateful that the actual memory-making is over. For once, I had been a ballerina
and danced with a tall man. That was enough. Now I could return to Russian literature and
Italian verbs and the London rain of my closed room.

But Vanessa swung feral, dripping tragedy. “This feels like an ending,” she lamented. “This feels
like some turning point. We’re going to be juniors next year.”

“We have a lot to look forward to,” I promised.

“You do.” Vanessa’s dark eyes stomped the rest of her face.


“I have no idea. I just want to feel alive.”

My opossum feet nearly fell off. “Vanessa, you’re the liveliest music I know.”

She stopped and smiled loudly. “You’re music, you know. You’ll always have somewhere to
turn. You dance in words.”

“It almost makes up for the balderdash body.”

“But the body is on borrowed time. Especially ours.” She wrinkled her nose. “What comes

“There is no after.” I flailed. “There will always be something. There will always be an Easy
Salsa. Or a Hard Salsa.”

“I don’t know.” She picked her cuticles.

“Don’t do that. You’ll make yourself bleed.”

“I want to.”

Louis did make mix CDs, “six dollars unless you write me a review,” which we all did. I rated
him five out of five stars but noted that the appropriate metric was full constellations. Steven
vanished with all the other boys whose fingertips I’d touched.

Sarah asked if I would take the role of Prayer Coordinator in junior year, but the title tasted so
weird I declined. I signed up to offer a Mini-Course on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, but no one

Vanessa declared Art History and cut her hair. “I’m applying for a semester abroad,” she
announced the last time she came to Christian Fellowship.



“But you don’t speak—”

“—I’ll learn. It’ll be an adventure. I’ll call you if I get stuck.”

“You’re incandescently brave.”

“I want that needlepointed on a pillow.” Vanessa jabbed me. “I just know to stay moving. Like a
shark, you know.”

I couldn’t help myself. “It’s actually a myth that they die if they stop—”
“—well, I hear there are sharks in the Mediterranean, and then all speak Italian, and we’re going
to talk trash about you, ballerina.”

“I’m going to miss you terribly.” It was true. I was happiest on my hermit nights alone, which
made my scarce dance partners as precious as powdered sugar.

“You’ll be fine.” She shook her head, then pointed at my chest. “Just bleeeeeeed, OK?”

“Can’t stop, won’t stop.”

“And convince Louis he’s in love with me?”

“You don’t need my help there.”

“Oh, and take over the damn Fellowship.” She curled her legs under her ferociously. “I want to
come back and sing some stodgy hymns.”

“You just grab the Spirit with both hands.” I was preaching to myself more than Vanessa. “No
one can tell you that you’re doing that wrong.”

“They’d regret it if they tried.”

Vanessa went to Siena, and I went home to poetry and prose. She packed enough insulin, and I found a new power source now that I was at least part ballerina. We would never be close again. 

College is four years of intricate knots, meshwork over black holes. We fall through our best intentions and land on our own feet. If we’ve loved anyone, we are not alone. If we’ve forgotten ourselves in a yellow room, the Spirit will remember how to move us. The right paths will shout until we obey. Macrame would have been the wrong choice. 


by Elizabeth “Blu” Cartwright, Honorable Mention in the Novus High School Creative Writing Contest

Whirring and mechanical hums linger in my ears as I slumber. They stay in my
dreams; however, I would gleefully take those sounds over the ticking of the house. At
least that silences when I head off to dreamland.
The house I’ve lived in for as long as I can remember should feel familiar, and it
does, but there’s a sense that something is awry with every new day. A picture frame I
don’t recognize with a black pictogram or an old-fashioned doll that I might have played
with in my youth. The doll’s stitched face is cute and non-threatening in nature, and I
can’t help but feel a little nostalgia. Regardless, no memories surface in my head as to if
I ever used it. All of this never perturbed me, and I willingly existed with the company of
this house and my probable amnesia for a very long time. It didn’t feel alarming. It was
as if I was born in this house, from this house, and would die in it as well. I do not recall
any mother or father embracing me, and certainly no friends around to visit. The house
is my only companion, and maybe we communicate through ticking.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
The second act of the play drove those men insane.
“You, sir, should unmask.
Indeed it’s time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
I wear no mask.
No mask? No mask!”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

The feeling that the house communicates with me cannot be false. It tells me
about the outside world and things I am certain I have never known myself. This
ticking— or maybe speaking— has no familiarity to it like the house itself. My life has
been strung between phone lines, an outsider listening in. The house tells its stories
and I expand my narrow worldview.

Tick, Tick Tick.
Who is the Perceiver?
“Let’s call this you the perceiver.
We like to imagine the perceiver as a pupil of an eye. The perceiver may cast his gaze
upon anything-
Colors or sounds, touch or feelings. But how do you imagine it looking at itself directly?
A mirror?
Oh I wouldn’t trust the mirror, my dear William.”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

It’s hard to acknowledge or respond to any snippet of outside life given to me. I
cannot even fully comprehend it in the first place. I imagine figures outside in life, living
their life to the fullest and answering these predicaments existing in their world. I’m
being presented with questions without their context and thoughts without their thinkers.
My perspective isn’t shared with anyone else, as I’m sure from what I have heard that
others can talk to people around them. I, however, have lived in absolute isolation. To the outside world, I do not exist. A conundrum much like the tree falling without anyone
to hear it. Therefore, the only one with the answer is the house.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
This old house isn’t similar to that one.
“bedrooms and drawing rooms and halls and attics, kitchens and bathrooms and
nurseries, all dark, all quiet, only some of those windows let any light in. but there was
only one basement, and it was where she lived: the matriarch, screeching rat-queen
cluster of veins and connective tissues and grinning, gnashing mouths. it was her
Tick, Tick, Tick.

What does this house look like? I feel as if I see something new every day.
Maybe the house is considerate enough to keep things fresh and new. It all feels gray.
Somehow the furniture is intricate, and yet, they feel like blobs in my vision as I wander.
Even paintings of the highest quality are difficult to focus my gaze on. I drag my feet
across the rug as I walk forward. I’m assured that anything I walk across leaves frayed
threads in the perfect carpet, my gaze darkening the significance of anything. My touch
leaves spotted fingerprints on the pristine and untouched glasses and vases.
Occasionally, I will mistakenly knock one over. The shards will vanish by the end of the
day, without a trace they had ever been there in the first place. Maybe I’m not alone,
perhaps it is the house. I’m fully convinced of the latter. No one else leaves visible
tracks like mine.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
Is it such a good idea to cut unknown things?
“Those flowers are unknown to me.
Yes. They are also unknown to me.
Shall we cut them off?
Yes, let’s cut them off.
We present the roses to our queen.
And the bad flowers go to the guillotine.
Yes. Cut them off!
Yes. Cut them out!”
Tick, Tick Tick.

I’m not sure about what I dream of. It’s empty and quiet. No ticking interrupts my
sleep, as it does my wandering. But it’s more baseless to the outside world than the
ticking. The endless ticking. What does any of it mean? I can ask for these questions to
be answered, but it will never happen. I am certain of this. Maybe the outside world
exists only in my sleep, and this house is my dream. I have never seen my dreams. It
feels as if this sleep is impossible. I never expend any energy, so why would I need to
sleep? How haven’t I died without a crumb of food? These are ordinary human things
that I feel further the divide between me and everyone else. Maybe my sleep is a time
when I stop existing. I shouldn’t exist in the first place, but being nonexistent is
surprisingly not scary. It’s like I fade away, and the last feeling is a relief indescribable.

Once I return, it’s as if I never left. I start back where I was and the ticking starts again.
The only difference is… time.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
Time is a funny thing.
“Another way of looking at it is by realizing that the traveling twin is undergoing
acceleration, which makes him a non-inertial observer. In both views there is no
symmetry between the spacetime paths of the twins. Therefore, the twin paradox is not
actually a paradox in the sense of a logical contradiction.
The paradoxical aspect of the twins’ situation arises from the fact that at any given
moment the travelling twin’s clock is running slow in the earthbound inertial frame, but
based on the relativity principle one could equally argue that the earthbound twin’s clock
is running slow in the travelling twin’s inertial frame.”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

Things change during the time I am asleep, but I cannot be certain that time
passes. I’m not sure what could create time passing, but I suppose it’s my actions and
movement that distinguish me from the static pictures on the wall. But the ticking could
also count time, couldn’t it? I guess I am back to overthinking once again. But, I can’t
help but wonder if the world accelerates at a different pace than I do. Maybe I move
slowly to them. Maybe my lifespan is an instant. I imagine vivid scenarios of them in my
head. But I have never seen another person. I have never seen myself. I imagine their
thoughts accompanying each other, their dialogue in my mind. I realize now that a lot of my life has been speculation and maybes. This… hasn’t been very changing, so I
suppose I will describe something else.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
The passage of time can easily change in a secluded place.
“…I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique
clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which
caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its
position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant
afterward the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and of course slow.”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

There is a consistent point in this house, and it’s where everything ties together.
The wall is fashioned as if this were a living room; however, no fire is ever lit inside. And
any attempt would be immediately rendered futile. The furniture always faces it as if it
were truly the hearth. But it produces neither heat nor light; It produces the ticking. A
long pendulum fills the space of the cavity in the wall, and sweeps slowly and surely.
When it reaches the side, a long, drawn out, metallic tick shakes the walls and the
house trembles in response. The tick could even be considered a clang more
appropriately, and it would still describe it. The sharp cogs of the escapement
mechanism are visible and leading up into the ceiling. Gears and sprockets no doubt
make up the invisible wall behind and throughout as well. This is how I am certain that
time moves. This is how the house speaks to me. We beat in unison.

Tick, Tick, Tick.
My heart is certainly real.
“While a human heart circulates blood to oxygenate the body’s extremities, the living
room circulates people, activity, communication. It is the room most likely to be found
‘beating,’ as active and vivacious as the name would imply. The comparison is only
strengthened when we consider also that the living room is most commonly the room to
contain the fireplace, making it additionally the locus of actual, physical heat.”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

At almost every point of my life, I compare my life to what I hear. People exist
outside, I’m sure. But I am surrounded by plaster and mantle. And gears… Ticking,
beating gears. My head feels grazed now, as I’m thinking. As if it has fallen inside itself,
or maybe imploded from paradoxical existence. Do people exist in my world? Do I exist
to them? I feel as if I need to stop thinking. I’ve described all I know, so please, help me.
Find the answer, house. Answer me, please! I know you hear what I say, what I think!
The beating in my head nearly has me keeling over in pain! I’m desperate, and I only
think of the outside world anymore! Will I enter the real world once I die?

Tick, Tick, Tick.
“Love and escape do not compute
I see the photograph before you shoot

I’m standing still but still I’m spinning
This journey ends at the beginning
It seals my fate in the great figure eight

No turning back”
Tick, Tick, Tick.

Time has to be real, and so do people! And I must exist to them, to be a part of
their minds! They cannot prove against it, they cannot! My existence is characterized by
none seeing, hearing, nor feeling me. But I do, I do! I did fall, and I did make a sound!
You cannot say otherwise, damned house! You are my vessel into existence! You know
I exist, you have housed me, and so I do! I am! My thoughts, my feelings, my dreams,
they are real. They have to be. If they are not, then what explanation do you have? I’m a
doll or plaything? A character to a citation? I really do remember, I remember
everything! I never had amnesia, that was deceit! I will reach the real world someday,
carve through your prison walls, your sarcophagi trinkets! None matters anymore, and I
will make a difference in the real world! I will trample blades of grass as I stumble
through a forest, and make conversation with a person! Then I will exist, and then you
will not oppose me! Let me out, decrepit house!

Tick, Tick, Tick.
Id, Ego, Superego
What would you define your person as?

Your memories, your personality?
Then who is reading me as I write?
Who leaves behind these notes for you?
As you investigate further, try to find every snippet,
You lose your own meaning.
I suggest you abandon this silly dream of yours,
And try to find real life.
Characters in a page will never live what you can, yes?
Your experience in life defines you.
Your body the vessel,
Your voice as the olive tree.
You secure your existence in this living encryption by…
Simply talking, yes.
Writing yourself into others
Like a selfish parasite burrowing your eggs into others.
That way you can live on, and your existence is definite.
You are quite lucky.
Hundreds, no,
Many, many people like this man
Born to nonexistence
No mother, no father,
But their own dwelling.

They are not human, but they exist.
So they’d like you to believe
If I said I made it up, would you believe me?
Would you seek a nonexistent, impossible to reach concept?
Of course you wouldn’t, that’s extremely foolish.
What human with all their riches in the world
Would ever devote to such a stupid cause?
You can argue that this is all imagination, and you could live on your life
And you could be correct.
But I hope that after learning about this,
You don’t think about it any further.
Nonexistent people don’t exist. They don’t have literature to share.
Stop chasing a means to prove this.
None of this is real, and your perception is all there is.
Trying to peer into what your brain cannot comprehend will kill you very slowly and
Do not attempt this.
I hope you understand.
Tick, Tick, Tick.

Horrified, I really am. The ticking told me the truth… and I shouldn’t seek out
people from the outside world. I was truly dead from the beginning, doomed to eternal

I was protected until now, protected from silence.

Who Will Tend to Your Wilted Roses?

By Lynn Marie Moody, Third Prize Winner of the Novus High School Creative Writing Contest

“I suck at telling stories,” was something my older brother, Buddy, had told me a
hundred and one times. Many nights were wasted sitting on the old white rug on the
floor of my bedroom listening to my brother tell stories without endings. He had a short
attention span and a lot to tell me, but his stories were my favorite. I have always
dreamed of being like Buddy. To me, he is flawless, has amazing grades, a great work
ethic, straight teeth, is determined, and could build any gizmo or gadget he could dream
of. Although I fall short of being everything he is, it was no secret that my parents saw
very little in him and me both. Being “just like Buddy”, was an insult made by my
parents, but to me a compliment. No matter how perfect I thought I could be, “good job”
was an unattainable trophy. Praise was no different than any other affirmation; “How
was your day,” “Good night,” and “I love you,” were all just as rare. It was a struggle to
understand what I was doing wrong and why I was unable to earn these words.
I have few fond childhood memories with my parents; however, my mother’s
roses are something I vividly remember. The roses grew on either side of the front
porch, to the left grew magenta pink roses and to the right grew pastel yellow roses.
The roses were important to my mother, so she tended to them well, ensuring they
would bloom early each fall and late each spring. As a child, I thought the roses were
beautiful, but I knew their stems were lined with sharp thorns.

Trying my hardest to fall asleep one night, I stared blankly up at the ceiling and
“talked” to the fan. I felt the vibrations of my phone from beneath my pillow. Squinting
my eyes, I saw his caller ID.
“Hello,” I whispered in one short breath.
“I’m on my way,” a shallow voice responded.

I spilled out of bed, gently placing my feet on the floor. The thick bristle of my
toothbrush scraped away the lining of fear in my mouth. I put on a pair of socks but held
my shoes in my hand. They were too loud on the tile floor. No sound was made by the
door of my bedroom when I opened it. I greased the hinges earlier that day and hid the
can of WD40 under my sink. 14, 15, 16, skip, 18, I walked down the staircase, careful
not to step on the steps that creaked. Past the dining room, through the kitchen, and
into the laundry room, closing the door behind me. I broke the seal to the door,
something I had done many times, so why was it so loud now? Slipping my way into the
garage, I watched my step for gardening tools and grass seed. I found my way to the
back door. I stepped out into the crisp August night air. Making my way towards the
front of the house, the light from the oven shined through the window in the kitchen. By
the time I made it to the front porch my socks were wet from the dewy grass. I sat on
the steps to the porch and laced up my shoes, despite the fact my socks were still wet.
I can’t remember if at that moment I was breathing; the bound of adrenaline in my heart
was louder than any breath I had ever taken. 1:26AM, my watch read. It took 12
minutes to drive from his house to mine. Attempting to pass the time I look to either side
of me, two decaying rose bushes, one to my left and one to my right, wilted petals still
scattered the ground below where they had been. I checked my watch again. 5 minutes
had passed, yet somehow it was only 1:27AM. I swear that hours went by. Finally a
break in the silence far off in the distance, the roar of an engine streamed down the long
ribboning road I grew up on. A shadow flies by, causing a flash in the glow of a street
light. My knees buckle as I try to stand, but still, I stumble forward. We met halfway
down the driveway. When he saw me he tried to turn off his bike, almost stalling. I
guess he was nervous too.

“What’s up,” he said, as if to prove to me he was standing in front of me. It had
been months since I had seen anybody other than occasionally my parents or brother.
He leaned his bike up next to a tree, and we began to talk to each other like we were
old people at a high school reunion. Crickets mocked the sound of our pubescent
whispers. It had been about an hour or so when he asked if I wanted to go on a ride.
No, my dad had always told me that if I ever rode on a dirtbike I WOULD die and that
boys were evil.

“Sure,” is what I said, of course. So he pushed his bike to the top of my driveway
and turned it on. Holding his bike up with one leg, he looked up at me and smiled. I got
up on his bike and wrapped my arms around him, holding on as tight as I possibly
could. To say that I was terrified would be a lie. I was so much more than that. Pulling
in the clutch and shifting down into first gear, I tightened the death grip I had on him. As
he began to pick up speed, I loosened my grip and felt the wind breeze across my face.
At that moment I felt euphoric. My leg untensed and my feet scraped against the
ground, burning the rubber off the tip of my shoe. I tensed my leg up again. He turned
around and headed back to my house stopping by my mailbox. We stood by one of the
many thin flimsy trees that lined the driveway. Now we were close enough to a street
light that I could see him. His curly hair was frizzy and torn up by the wind and his lips
were cracked. The stars reflected in his deep brown eyes; looking into his eyes was like
looking into a galaxy full of stars. I stared at him for a moment.

“I. love you,” he said to me. I continued to stare at him. In that moment he spoke
those words not only to me but also to a little girl who wanted nothing more than to be

“Thank You,” was the only thing my young, ignorant mind could think to say at
that moment. I could not remember the last time I had heard those words. He gave me
a tight hug. I felt cared about and tended to. We sat there for a moment. He stepped
back and picked up his bike, and while looking up at me he asked, “Which bracelet do
you like the best?” He was polluting the paracord bracelets that lined the handlebars of
his dirtbike. In the late night, they all looked the same, so I just picked one. He took it off
his handlebars and gifted it to me.

“To remember tonight,” he stated while clipping his bracelet on my wrist. Then I
watched as he drove off into the distance. It was a long walk back to my house from the
end of my driveway. Once I got back into my house, I took off my ruined shoes and wet
socks and hid them in a bag next to the fridge in the laundry room. Quietly I creeped
back through my house and into my bedroom. I laid back into my bed and went back to
“talking” to my ceiling fan. Clipping and unclipping his bracelet over and over again. It
was a struggle trying to explain to my ceiling fan why he chose a lonely, wilted flower to
tend to. I was taught that only perfect flowers deserved to be tended to. If only I could
have stayed blissfully ignorant, even perfect flowers have flaws.