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Tributaries: Spring 2021

Online creative writing journal publishing DSC student creative output - from poetry and stories, comics, illustrations, drawings, photographs, paintings, songs and videos

"The Artist's Tools" by Amber Roberts

“The Gift of the Harvest” by Diana Almazan

Table of Contents


Poetry


“A Song That Never Gets Old” by Stephen Langston

“Him” By Debora Columbie

“Reinvention” by Kaycee Painter

“That which begets itself: the ceaseless hunger” by Jonathan Fleming

“Deep Blue Spaceman” by Stephen Langston

“Together Apart” by Logan Johnson


Fiction


“A Multi-Purpose Machine for Killing” by Stephen Langston

“Jake” by Danny Solorzano

“Toothbrush” by Meg Howell


Non-Fiction


“It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry” by Caitlin Pedigo

“Godwinks: The Chain that Defined my College Career” by Anna Bramblett

“I believe it’s a good thing to…” by Danielle Hardy

“Perspective Manifests Abundantly” by Ashley Fann

“To the Red Truck Riding in the Left Lane” by Katie Gravitt

“Finding Me” by Caitlin Pedigo

“Well, Who am I now?” by Jacob Dills

"A Song that Never Gets Old"

Stephen Langston


Moving in step with the clocks

The men and women proceed down the frozen concrete belt

And all quietly wish for spring

But along the way, my eyes are drawn for a single second

To the same familiar face on one hundred plasma screens

Wearing his dad’s old wool peacoat

The doorman hums the same tune in the mornings

But the jokes he tell us no longer make me laugh

And though I don’t come around every night

The bartender always knows what I’ll have

Play me a song that never gets old

Pave the streets I walk down in gold

Give me more hours in the day

And let that feeling never fade away

Give me a winter that isn’t so cold

And play me a song that never gets old

When the summer sun sets

Unruly girls in wrinkled dresses gather at the pier and linger

And when asked for a dance by young men, they send them away

But the boys strut off into the darkness unshaken

Because they'll be back to ask again the very next day

And here, sitting sleepy-eyed in the theatre

The movie on the silver screen’s playing on repeat

And the sun’s never rising from the west

But I still look up, hoping the sky will be green

And the radio station says they’ll play whatever song you request

Play me a song that never gets old

Tell me a story that’s never been told

Give me more hours in the day

And let that feeling never fade away

Give me the nerve to be so bold

And play me a song that never gets old

A proud sailor that lives down the hall

Tells the same story a thousand different ways

As he pounds his fist on the table and coughs up a storm

And though the midnight train sometimes keeps me up at night

The bed I lay in always feels so warm

 

"Him"

Debora Columbie

 

Flat line. Game over. End of the road.

There was no sun, no moon, no stars.

No light, only darkness.

A fear so consuming it Suffocated its victim.  

The fall to despair was deep.

But In came a hero singing his own song.

With a melody distant yet understood.

A song I had once heard.  

Each chord a shot of lightning.

Restarting my heart.  

Each note a new breath.

Giving me life, Awakening my bones from its deep slumber.  

Not a fairytale or fiction.  

Reality, He gives life where death once knocked.  

He is Light where darkness once consumed.  

I was a slave him my liberator.  

They say He isn’t real.  

They say he can’t exist.  

They question why I believe.  

But how could we see the sun if there was no sky?  

How could we hear if there was no sound?  

For I was blind, yet now I do see.  

I cannot unsee His glory.  

Deranged, unhinged, demented they may call me; but how can the blind called the sighted insane for describing the colors of the rainbow?

There’s now a Golden sunrise, a full moon, a starry night. Heart rate. Restart. A new road.

"Reinvention"

Kaycee Painter

 

The curse of looking like your parents is that

you can cut them out of your life,

 but you will forever see them in your smile. 

You could strip away everything within yourself that reminds you of them,

but not your DNA,

not your genes,

not your face.

The one scar that will never heal

is the resemblance they have marked you with.

But you can reclaim it, you can be the 2.0, better than ever before. You change the meaning.

You are not them.

"That Which Begets itself: The Ceaseless Hunger"

Jonathan Fleming

 

I used to hate to be afraid of anything. To me, fear always felt like failure. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started questioning the validity in confronting every single insecurity. I mean, I don’t want to be defeated by these things, but maybe I already am.

 

Is it cowardice to refuse to be dragged into a fight when you know there’s no end, when you know there’s no victory?

 

I’m still in my twenties, but I’ve lived long enough to have a room in my mental mansion full of the shadow of doubt. It’s in the upper west wing where it can await the sunset: that moment of twilight as I close my eyes and begin to fall asleep. Its whisper is strangely inviting, drawing me into a conversation about my past and all those moments that I’m still questioning.

 

Oddly, it waits until the night to bring to light all the decisions that I made in uncertainty. It lays them all before me and asks, “Looking back, would you choose to do anything differently?”

 

A question I still don’t know how to answer.

 

And, I used to fight the fear, try to overcome it, to endure those overwhelming conversations with the sections of my subconscious that still second-guess every single decision I’ve ever made. But, honestly, I’m tired of trying to search for a victory that I no longer believe can be achieved through the solitary strength of my resolve. And, besides, what’s the worth in searching for answers that never seem to satisfy the ceaseless questions that I consistently contrive in my mind?

 

Surrendering to You both my successes and my failures, whichever each moment reveals itself to be at the end of all things, has proven itself to be my greatest difficulty. But, unlike You, I can’t return all things to the perfection for which they were made. The sweet taste of victory doesn’t lie in my strength; so, I shall surrender my life, and trust it to You, the Redeemer of my night.

"Deep Blue Spaceman"

Stephen Langston

Would you like to come free from the seams?

Don’t you wish you weren’t so blue?

Would you like to be a part of the dream?

To exist as one of a few?

To fly so far and live so free

The one you’ve always meant to be

Your thoughts I heard, your dreams I’ve seen

from off the radio and on the tv

It’s time to reach out and take my hand

To fit the bill ambition demands

Ignore the little details of the plan

And race away to distant worlds, space man

A deep blue spaceman, unstuck from time

Played the keyboard and spoke in rhyme

Striking keys at every star he passed

He journeyed freely as planets spun

And shined even brighter than the sun

He sailed the Sea of Tranquility

And fished for jewels of antiquity

And scaled the slopes of Olympus Mons

Where stories through static had told

Of solid rivers of gold

Behold, an undying sun with a supernova shine

The whole of Neptune in a bottle of wine

The only sound that man can hear in space

You’ll see the cosmic light show follows

Wherever our deep blue spaceman goes

Vices paraded across the stars

And the ones in his company were dressed like czars

But when the stardust fantasy finally faded

The spaceman found the diamonds he held were a dreary color

And the rocket he flew in belonged to another

A deep blue spaceman, stuck in the dream

Was far more blue than the records made him seem

And his voice trembled with every song he sang

He realized too late that he had gone too far

And now grew dimmer than a black dwarf star

There’ll always be others to fill the gaps

Brash, emboldened brains, and murky minded madcaps

Another stray to come our way someday

So if you want to leave, I won’t mind

Return to the deep blue Earth you left behind

"Together Apart"

Logan Johnson

Relationships are important, so make sure that your support system is strong. 

But do not get closer than 6 feet in the process. 

Hugs are no more,

And elbow-bumps have taken the spot of firm handshakes. 

The four walls of our home have become even more familiar than before,

The furniture rearranged yet again. 

Scattered paint buckets and tools are the norm, 

Because we are constantly having remodel ideas. 

Our children are home with us, 

Disintegrating the boundary between working woman and mom. 

Now we are expected to be both at the same time. 

We can no longer smile at others for them to see,

Because our masks are covering our lips. 

So we have learned to smile

But with our eyes. 

If you have to get groceries, you must make it quick. 

And try not to touch too many items. 

But try to get them delivered instead. 

It’s okay that it costs more because it’s the right thing to do. 

At your doctor’s appointment, park in the back

By the dumpster.

Because patients aren’t allowed to walk in the front if you are sick. 

Even though it is a doctor’s office. 

Yes, the large green dumpster. 

They will be out to get you in 40 minutes. 

But thank you for being on time. 

Deadlines approaching,

Zoom meetings scheduled,

Chicken nuggets in the microwave,

And no time to shower. 

But it’s okay because we are not expected to turn our camera on. 

And if we were,

We only have to change shirts and keep our pajama bottoms on out of view. 

Fix your third cup of coffee 

And use the dry shampoo 

There is no time to complain

Or cry

Or be frustrated

Because we are expected to adapt. 

In a current pandemic that says we are still together

Apart 

"A Multi-Purpose Machine for Killing"

Stephen Langston

 

 

It was a bitter winter’s night east of the Iron Curtain. Snow capped the rooftops of a row of deteriorating post-war apartments, and far off in the distance, the glowing pinnacles of space towers and steel plated arms cut through passing clouds. Three members of the KGB, their uniforms just barely visible under long coats, rummaged through an apartment in one of the derelict buildings. An older man, the superior among them, scanned the old parlor room. It was still well furnished, although everything was covered in layers of dust. He’d read in a file beforehand that the last occupants had been liquidated decades ago over some long forgotten suspicion, but that had nothing to do with tonight’s visit. Strewn throughout the room were the recently deceased bodies of several defectors and foreign intelligence officers. Some were still in one piece, and others, not.

He knelt over the nearly unrecognizable remains of a Soviet runaway from eastern Belarus. The only way he could identify the man was that a wallet had been left intact within the mess that lay before him. He examined the photo ID and then the butchered face of the corpse, and found the faintest resemblance between the two. Before he could continue with the inspection, he heard the footsteps of someone coming through the front door of the apartment. The old KGB agent half-turned his head towards the parlor doorway, already recognizing the one who entered.

“So then, you’re back. It’s about time. This brings your total to what now, forty-seven?” he asked the one in the doorway.

“Incorrect, comrade. It is fifty-one,” a grating mechanical voice said, correcting his mistake. “There are four others I left in the stairwell. Three dissidents, and one foreigner.”

The KGB agent looked over to the figure standing in the shadows at the parlor’s entrance. It stood seven feet tall and was dressed in the guise of a traditional Cossak soldier. Splatters of blood embellished it’s jet black uniform. It’s thick wool trench coat, along with its other articles of clothing, were riddled with bullet holes and tears. The figure took a few steps forward, and became illuminated by moonlight that poured in the windows. Through the rips and tears and bullet holes, its skin shined. The metal man’s head had several fresh dents, and steam spat out a broken gasket in the back of its neck. One of its optics had even been shattered, but the other still glowed a bright yellow.

“They look to have given you quite a bit of trouble I see,” the older agent said with a tinge of sarcasm.

“I still function,” the machine answered coldly. “But I will require servicing and maintenance within the coming days.”

“I’ll make a note of that,” the old man replied. His attention then shifted over to his two fellow agents inspecting the other corpses in the room. “Find anything of interest yet?” he asked them.

One of the other agents, a scruffy man, prodded at the tattered body of what he presumed to be an American CIA operative in the corner. Chuckling to himself, he said, “Little more than small arms and false identification documents. Then again, there isn’t much left to sift through now. The robot saw to that.”

The last agent, the youngest of the three men, was examining a body sprawled out on a grand piano. Looking into the final expression of terror still on the corpse’s face, he replied, “Sometimes I think the Automan is a little too effective.”

 “Mhm,” agreed the scruffy agent. “Won’t be too much longer until men like us aren't needed anymore. Comrades, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all phased out and replaced by machines like this one.”

“Don’t be silly,” the older man said. “The Automan is formidable, no doubt about that. Its strength and intellect may be unmatched, but we make up for it in our human intuition and cleverness.”

“But only until they install an intuition and cleverness protocol in the Automan,” the younger man quipped to his superior.

“Well, that certainly isn’t today. We’re here now because we’re still very useful. Now focus on the task at hand,” he snapped back.

 The young agent then grabbed the corpse off the piano and plopped it onto the hardwood floor. Blood pooled beneath the dead man’s remains.

“Be more careful with that,” the older agent instructed. “Search it properly. You won’t have the chance once it’s been vaporized.”

“And try not to make such a mess while you do it. Remember the policy. We were never here,” added the scruffy man.

“I know, I know,” the younger replied back to him. He stuffed his hand into the dead man’s pockets and pulled out a random assortment of baubles, then looked them over in his hand.

Curiously, the scruffy agent stopped going through the corpses, and went over to get a better look at the piano. Ever since they’d entered the apartment, he’d been shooting glances over at it. He lifted open the piano’s fallboard, revealing the clean white and black keys beneath. He pressed down on a few of them and listened closely to the dull sounds reverberate off the flaking walls of the apartment. “Hmm, it could stand to be tuned a bit better, I think,” he said.

“You think?” the young agent asked.

“Yes. My parents had me take a few piano lessons when I was a child, you see.” He smiled as a feeling of nostalgia washed over him. “But that was long ago. I know I wouldn’t be able to play now. It’s all but forgotten by now.” As he peered back down at the keys, a thought suddenly crossed his mind. He looked over to the Automan standing silently in the middle of the room. “Machine, play for us a song on the piano, if you would please.” The robot remained quiet as it processed the request.

“What song?” the machine asked out it’s speaker.

“I leave it to your discretion.” replied the scruffy agent with a grin.

“Very well then, comrade,” said the Automan.

With heavy footsteps creaking the floorboards beneath it, the hulking metal mass walked over to the piano. The scruffy Russian pulled up a chair for the Automan to sit on, jokingly presenting it as if it were a king’s throne. The robot slowly lowered its heavy chassis onto the seat, and the chair squeaked and cracked under the immense weight, but just barely held. Accessing a musical database, it chose randomly from a catalog of various piano concertos, picking the second movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In preparation, it hovered its blood soaked alloy fingers over the piano, and a few red droplets dripped onto the pristine white keys. Three of its fingers had been blown off its left hand, so the robot took a short moment to recalibrate its functions to accommodate the handicap.

“Hurry it up, machine. We have little time to waste,” the older agent ordered.

“Affirmative,” the Automan replied, unemotional. Without further delay, it laid its fingers on the keys and began playing. The scruffy and the young Soviet agents listened intently. The machine played for them the most beautiful melody to ever grace their ears.

The old agent, still wanting to remain focussed on his task, rolled his eyes at his two subordinates in awe of the Automan, then made his way to the apartment entrance. He carefully stepped around the broken up pieces of the front door that lay at the foot of the doorway and poked his head out into the stairwell. Along the wall just outside the apartment were four mangled bodies neatly stacked one atop the other. A trail of blood leading from the pile went down the stairs all the way to the ground level. This along with the mess inside the apartment, was too much for just the old man and the two other agents to take care of themselves. He would have to call in for additional assistance to clean it all up. The machine’s preference was to always do things in a brutal and unclean manner, and he’d known that. The old man cursed himself under his breath for not giving the Automan clearer instructions not to make such a terrible mess.

Truthfully, of all the things he’d had to do in his years of service for the KGB, he thought that cleaning up after an Automan was by far the worst chore of them all. Sighing, he instinctively stuck his hand into one of his coat pockets, fishing for a pack of cigarettes, and was almost surprised to find that nothing came up. He realized that only the week prior, he had decided to finally quit smoking after having done so religiously ever since the age of fifteen. Granted, he was just shy of fifty-three, and the damage to his lungs had already been done, but his physician had told him that there wasn’t a chance he’d make it to seventy if he continued with it any longer.

He turned and reentered the apartment just as the Automan’s fingers climbed halfway up a crescendo, then abruptly ended the song part way through as its superior entered the room. The old man took out his vaporizer pistol, and the other KGB agents followed suit. The youngest of the three took out a small rag from his pocket and pressed it against his nose and mouth, and to this, the scruffy man rolled his eyes. As the older agent held the pistol in his hands, he couldn’t help but begin tapping at it longingly in his hand, the same as he’d liked to do with his cigarettes.

“On second thought, continue playing, machine,” he ordered the Automan.

The robot’s one glowing eye flickered. “As you wish, comrade,” it replied. Obliging the old man’s request, the Automan resumed playing the piano with grace as flashes of red light went off around the parlor, filling the room with vapor and the scent of charred flesh.

 

"Jake"

Danny Solorzano

 

 

            He can’t remember the last time he was ever happy. Truly happy. He would get a glimpse of it every now and then, but it would fade away in a matter of seconds. He’s gotten to the point in his life where he has to force himself to get up in the morning and convince himself everything is going to be okay. He will get through the day and press on because that’s what life is. But he’s tired of thinking that way, and this morning he woke up and realized how repetitive all of it has been. He woke up and realized he never wanted to do any of this again. Every day, he got into his car, and inside the console of his car was a rusted, old pistol he carried around for self-defense. He never had to use it, and why would he? Most people liked him or at least tolerated him. He never had anyone he considered an enemy. Heck, he rarely argued with anyone. Most people saw him as a pushover and a beaten dog who bends to the will of the loudest person in the room. He's aware of it, and it's always bothered him. He liked to think of himself as a tough, silent type, but that's not how the world viewed him as.

            Oh, Jake.

            It’s January, so the wind is blowing extremely hard and sending chives down his spine. He’s wearing a wool scarf that always makes him a bit uncomfortable, but he likes to wear it to show off what little fashion sense he had. He gets into his 2003 Toyota sedan and drives it to work. Once he gets there, he takes his coat off on the coat rack and hangs his scarf over it. As usual, it falls down to the floor, and he has to pick it up and hang it somewhere else. Once he gets there, he puts on his uniform and starts prepping overpriced food with his fellow chefs, all dressed in white. The entire kitchen is spotless because his boss is a real hardass who wants to make sure every little thing is clean. They weren't necessarily a high-end restaurant, though his boss liked to think they were. People only come in every once and a while to feel fancy for a night before going back home to their mundane, boring lives. Jake would be lucky to even afford dessert at a place like this. With the amount they were paying him, he was lucky enough to make rent in his crappy apartment with his dick of a landlord.

            He gathered all of his materials and went to the salad station. For the first few hours, everything was relatively quiet. Gracie, the pastry chef, was going into the latest gossips, and when she wasn't, she was going about the government and diving into all of the conspiracy theories she read online. Jake wasn't sure if she believed them at first, but the more she talked about it, the more he realized she actually brought into all of these lies. Whenever someone disagreed with Gracie, she mocked them and told them not to cry to her when the government turned on the people. But for once, Jake had enough. He didn't want to think about all of these bullshit lies coming out of her mouth on his last day, but what was he going to do? Tell her to shut up and start an argument with her? It would just be one more talking point for her, and she would become the center of attention which she enjoyed being. It always pissed him off how she's always able to come off as the good guy, even when she's wrong.

            “Biden’s just going driving this country to the ground. You know he and the commies are trying to push that green deal or whatever it’s called? They’re actually going to pass that bull crap. Can you believe it?” She shouted out loud.

            “No, he’s not,” Jake said out loud. Everyone went silent and turned their heads.

            “What do you say?” Gracie asked.

            “No, he's not! Honestly, what kind of news are you reading?"

            “Alright, alright, let's stop this before it gets out of hand," Marcus, the sous chef, exclaimed.

            Gracie scoffed. “At least, I talk to people.”

            “About complete nonsense! At least when I open my mouth, I say something useful. You open your mouth, and the whole kitchen groans. I'm tired of hearing all of it. Can't we just have a day at work where you're not talking complete nonsense all the time? Please?!" Jake yelled. He wasn't even completely aware of what he was doing or what he was about to say next. The words were just coming out of his mouth, and he had no control over them.

            Gracie opened her mouth to respond, but Alice, the soup chief, shouted, “Gracie, stop! He’s going through some things. Jake, head outside and take a breather.”

            “I’m good,” Jake said before looking at Alice and telling her sorry.

            “What? I don’t get an apology?!” Gracie shouted.

            “Enough!” Marcus screamed. “Or I will throw you out of the kitchen!”

            The kitchen went dead silent again, and no one said anything until Alice spoke about the latest episode of some show Jake had never watched. Jake didn't open his mouth for the rest of the shift, and in fact, he actively tried to avoid conversations all throughout work. Yet, he caught Alice looking at him a couple of times throughout his shift. Not knowing what to do, he would look away and try to hide his face.

            Once his shift was over, he went back to his car, but he heard a voice call out from behind him as he was about to enter the car. It was Alice.

            She was racing towards him, trying her best to catch him before he left the parking lot. She was a generally nice woman. She was always kind to him and never said anything horrible about him behind his back. She seemed to be one of the few people who actually cared about him at work. She was a very beautiful woman. She had dark, brown skin and a large afro. She had a perfectly symmetrical face and large thick glasses which covered a good portion of her face. She always seemed happy, and he could only think of a handful of times when he's actually seen her upset. What’s making her come over to talk to me?

            “Sorry. I don’t do much cardio,” she told him when she finally reached him. “What was that? In the kitchen earlier? You’re not the kind of person to start shit with anyone.”

"I just…didn't want to hear it from her today," Jake told her.

            Alice chuckled. “It does get a bit tiring hearing her talk, doesn’t it?”

            “Yeah. It does…”

            That’s where most conversations with Jake would end. They rarely went forward because he was so awkward with people and couldn’t hold up conversations with people, but Alice wasn’t about to let him drop the conversation.

            "You know? I think you're the best salad chief we've ever had."

            “Really?” He says. “What makes you say that?”

            "The preparation, the actual process of making the salad, and the presentation. It's perfect. It makes me wish you tried for a better position in the kitchen. You should try to take Gracie's job."

Jake laughed. “I don’t think I’m qualified.”

            “You’ve been with us for years now. I’m sure they would be more than happy to move you somewhere better in the kitchen,” Gracie said.

Jake chuckled a little. “I’ll think about it.”

            “Hey, ummm….I’m cooking a lobster bistro at six today. I can’t eat all of it myself. I was wondering if you would like…”

            “Yeah,” Jake said, ears perked up and smiling like an idiot. “That sounds great. I’ll see you then.”

            Alice gave him a peck on the cheek before walking to her own car. Jake’s heart fluttered for a bit, but it died after. How long has it been since you’ve been on an actual date? He asked himself. For a while, he couldn’t remember the answer. Then he realized it was actually with his last girlfriend, Maria. They went out for three years, but they quit seeing each other after she had to move. That was five years ago. How pathetic do you have to be….

            He got into his car and started it. Come to think of it, this was the first event anyone had invited him to in three years. Most people either forget to include him or deliberately try not to include him in events. He sighed and placed his head on the wheel. She probably only invited you because she feels sorry for you. But that kiss on his cheek. It was the first time in a long time he had ever felt something that made him feel alive, and yet it probably meant nothing to her. It shouldn’t to him. 

            On his way home, he stopped by his mother’s place. It wasn’t the house he grew up in. They had to sell that house when his father died because his mother could no longer afford it.  It was an apartment in a run-down building. Its inhabitants were just as welcoming as the building was. The building had bits of wood falling off it, and the wooden stairs had splinters all over it. One step of the stairs was completely broken, and he had to go around it every time he walked to the second floor to greet his mother.

            Once he got to the top of the second floor, he knocked on the first door he saw. He could hear his mother coughing a storm inside the apartment before the door swung open. She was holding a cigarette in her hand and blew smoke into his face once she saw him.

            “Hey, Mom,” Jake said in a low voice.

            "Hey, Mom!" His mother mocked him. "Grow some balls and speak up when you address me. I raised you to be a man, not a nancy.”

            Jake sighed as he entered the apartment. He actually debated about seeing his mother one last time, but in the end, he thought it would be best since the last time they spoke, it ended in a fight over where to place her new couch. The shit that ruins mother-son relationships, he thought.  Jake took a seat at the kitchen table and pulled out his phone while his mother went into the kitchen.

            "Are you hungry? Is that why you came over? Need to do laundry? Come on, I can't keep playing the guessing game. Tell me the answer before I drop dead,” She yelled.

            “I just wanted to see you, Mom.”

            His mother chuckled. “Sure, you did, sweetie.” He heard her open the fridge and pull something out of it.

            “Alright, I’m going to assume it’s food. I brought some pie from Ingles a few days ago. You can have a slice, and since I’m feeling generous, you can have a cup of coffee too. But that’s all you’re getting from me.”

            He could hear his mother turning on the Kuerig and popping a K-Cup into the machine. He heard the coffee drip into the mug, which always made him smile. Coffee was always his favorite part of the morning, and since this was going to be his last day, he figured he could use another cup of joe before the day is over.  She came out from the kitchen, carrying the pie on a paper plate. She placed the pie and the coffee in front of him and took the seat right beside him. She took the time to whip out another cigarette and proceed to smoke in front of him.

            “That Roku you brought me with Netflix and shit….I hate it. Can't stand it. Don't know how to use it and don't ever want to learn how. I wish I could still afford cable. If they hadn't cut my hours at the mill, I would've been fine. But…those bastards are doing everything to try to get me to quit. Since I'm older now, they're trying to push me out and make room for the young people. But the joke's on them. I ain't leaving. Not a damn thing they could do is going to make me leave." She took another whiff of her cigarette. "But like I said, I hate that fucking Roku thing."

            “You’ll find something you like. If not, there’s a bunch of other streaming services out there.”

            “Yeah! Too many! If I wanna watch Star Wars, I have to go here. If I wanna watch Star Trek, I have to go somewhere else! I hate it. It's a bunch of bullshit what it is."

            “You’re just going to have to choose which one you like best, mom” Jake took a bite from his pecan pie and a sip from his coffee. “This Folgers?” He asked.

            “Like I can afford anything else,” his mother told him. “How’s the restaurant, Jakey?”

            “It’s alright. Nothing much has changed.”

            “They going to promote you any time soon,” his mother asked.

            “I’ve only been working there for three years. I doubt they will.”

            “Oh, Jakey," his mother said in her smoker's voice. "It's not too hard to ask." She took another puff of her cigarette. "When are you going to get married, Jakey?"

            “I don’t even have a girlfriend.”

            "Your father proposed to me when he was your age. Told me he would give me a good life. Said we would have many kids. But all I got was you and this old-ass apartment when he died.”

            “Did you love him?”

            His mother scoffed and gave him the eye. “He was a hotshot lawyer. He made a lot of money, and I was a waitress at an IHOP. I was a pretty young thing with no direction in life. He comes in, talks big, and I said yes when he got down on one knee. I lived the good life for ten years before shit hit the fan. Now, look at me. I'm working at some carpet mill and living in a building bound to collapse within the year. I ended up back where I started. Poor with nothing to my name…..but worse. I had to take care of you. You know how hard it was to raise a kid on a carpet mill worker's salary? I suppose you don't. You're a chef with no kids or a wife. You can afford the good life, but I can’t. I hope you’re happy, Jakey. One of us should be.”

            Jake felt the tears in his eyes swell and his throat getting tight. He cleared his throat and took another bite of his pie. “I’m not happy, Mom. I don’t think we’ve been happy since Dad died. But if there’s one thing I can say about you is that you did your best. I won’t forget that.” The tears continued to build up in his eyes.

            “I really did try to be there for you, Jakey. I want you to know now, from the bottom of my heart, I care about you. I love you. You’re a blessing, kid. It was tough for us, but we made it.”

            “I could’ve done a lot more, though,” Jake said while looking down at his pie.

            “No, you couldn’t. You were a kid. I could’ve done a lot more and a lot worse,” She chuckled.

Jake took one last bite from his pie. He drank a bit more of his coffee before getting up. "I'm going, mom."

            "Well, that was a short ass visit. I knew you only came for a free meal.” His mother gently smacked him on the head. “Take care, kid. And find someone. I’ll even take a boyfriend as long as he treats you right.”

            Jake chuckled and left the apartment. He went down the same flight of stairs and headed back into his car. He took a deep breath when he got into the car. The sun was setting. He grabbed his wheel with his two hands and lowered his head to the wheel. At least, he knew she cared about him. That was nice to hear, but it doesn’t change anything.

            He backed out of the apartment building and drove down the road, but he didn't get less than a mile out before his car backfired. He groaned as he pulled to the side of the road. He looked at his fuel tank. The damn thing was empty. He had forgotten to fill it after leaving work.

            He hit his wheel and threw himself back onto his seat. For a moment, he thought about what he was going to do. Should he try to find the nearest gas station or call his mother to bring him a gas canister? Then he scoffed. You know she would only make fun of you for not filling your tank up.

He then looked at the console of his car. He opened it and pulled out the revolver he always carried. He could just do it now. It seemed like the perfect moment. This way, no one he knew had to discover the body. He could end it right now, and it would just be some poor sap who took notice of his red windshield. He thought about it for a quick second until he heard a car pull up right behind him. He shoved the gun into the console and pulled the car door open.

            An older, white gentleman walked out of the old, muscle car. “Looks like you’re having some car trouble, huh?”

            "Yeah...forgot to fill it up," Jake replied.

            “I gotcha.” The old man went to his trunk and pulled out a gas canister. “Wife always thought I was paranoid carrying one of these around. Little did she knew it would come in handy.”

            “Guess you get to tell her that when you get home,” Jake replied.

            “Sadly not.” The old man told him. “She passed away a year ago. I just got back from visiting her at the cemetery.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Jake said.

            “I miss her every day.  She was a tough woman, a fighter. She was a nurse during Vietnam. She’s seen a lot of things. In the end, it wasn’t a bullet that took her but cancer.” He put the end of the gas canister into the tank and started filling it up.

            “I’m very sorry.”

            The old man forced a smile. “I was lucky enough to be with her for the majority of her life. She was my one and only until the very day she died. I was pretty sure death was going to come for me right after, but he hasn’t. Probably because of the kids. They're grown up now, but they act like teenagers sometimes. For some people, it takes a little while to grow up."

            “I had to grow up early. Dad died when I was young. Mother had to raise me. My first job was at a buffet restaurant. I started out as a waiter, but I became a chef after working there for a year. I fell in love with cooking there. Hated how fast I had to make the food, though."

            The old man chuckled. “You live on your own?”

            Jake nodded.

            “You’re a hard-working man. Your father would’ve been proud of you.”

            Jake shook his head. “He was some hotshot lawyer. I’m a chef.”

            “Doesn’t matter. You’re supporting yourself. You’re doing the best you can with what you got. That’s what a real man does. Most men in your situation would’ve ended up a lot worse, but you made the best out of your situation. That’s what makes you different. You may have never been some hotshot, but at least, you’re living an honest life.”

            Jake smiled. “I suppose so.”

            The old man pulled the gas canister out of the tank. Jake pulled out his wallet and held out a few bills for the man to take.

            “No. You keep that, son. I don’t mind helping a good man out of some trouble.”

            “No, really. It’s not an issue,” Jake said.

            “No, thank you, son. You give that money to someone who needs it. I’ll be fine.” He loaded the canister into his car and went to the front seat. “See you around, son.”

            “See you around,” Jake said. He watched the old man get into his muscle car and drive away. Jake waved him goodbye before getting into his own car and heading home. When he got home, he took a nice shower and dressed himself up for dinner. He took one last look at his apartment and thought about what the old man told him on the side of the road. Perhaps his father would’ve been proud of him. He lived in much better conditions than the ones he lived in when he was younger. He did well enough for himself. He lived in a decent apartment building on the right side of town. He had noisy neighbors like everyone else, and the rent was overpriced. Yet, he was glad to be living here. He sighed and closed the door. He looked back down the hallway and scoffed a little. He did do well for himself.

            He went back to his car and drove to Alice’s place. When he got there, he noticed a homeless man walking down the street dressed in rags and reeking of the trash he had been going through.

            “Long day?” Jake said.

            “You making fun of me?” The homeless man said angrily.

            Jake handed him a couple of bills. “Take care of yourself, old man.” The old man forgot Jake’s bad joke and walked away, counting the bills Jake gave him.

            Jake then buzzed Alice, who let him. She lived in an apartment complex not too far away from his. It was a considerably nicer and more modern building. It had windows going down all four corners of it and was called the Corners. Once he entered the building and rang him up, he went into one of the nicest elevators he had ever been in. It took him right up to the sixth floor, and he didn't have to walk far, as it was the third apartment to his right. He knocked on the door, and she opened it up. She was in a loose, blue dress and had done her makeup and hair for him. She had a smile on her face that showed off her perfect white teeth. Jake smiled back. “Hey.”

            “Hi. I just got done making dinner. My roommate is out right now, and she won’t be back for a while.”

            “I can’t imagine what it’s like living with someone else,” Jake said.

            “It’s not too bad. It’s all about finding the right person,” Alice said as she escorted him to the dinner table. When he went into the living room, he immediately noticed the large balcony outside the living room. The table itself was clear glass, and the balcony had white tables with matching chairs. Jake couldn't help but smile in awe.

            “You have a beautiful apartment,” Jake said.

            “Thanks. We actually tried to go for a minimalist look, but my roommate is very materialistic. She had to overdo it with all kinds of stuff. It was hard trying to blend our styles together.”

            The glass table was covered with dishes. She made turkey, rice, mashed potatoes, and of course, lobster soup. She must've had help. There was no way she did all of this without some kind of help.

He took his place at the opposite end of the table. He tried the soup first and immediately fell in love with it. “It’s really good. You can really taste the lobster, and the cream doesn’t take the flavor from it.”

            “I’m glad you like it,” Alice said from the other end of the table. “I heard you were really into seafood. I could show you the recipe if you want.”

            “That would be great,” Jake said. “I can already tell you this is the best dinner I’ve ever had.”

            Alice giggled. “Wait until you try the mashed potatoes. But if you don’t like them, they aren’t mine. My roommate insisted she help somehow. She was freaking out when she figured out I had a date.”

            Jake stopped his spoon from touching his mouth. He looked up at her, but she was already digging into her own plate. He smiled a bit. So this actually is a date. I should’ve told Mom. She would be freaking out at the mere mention of me going on one.

            "Oh!" Alice said. "I have this white Moscato I haven't opened yet. It's been aged for ten years. My father gave it to me and told me to open it only for a special occasion. Now seems like the perfect time."

            "Woo, you don't have to do that!" Jake said.

            "No, I insist!" Alice shouted. She disappeared into another room, and Jake took another glimpse of the area. The roof was high, and the walls were pure white. A large flat-screen tv hung above a faux fireplace with a light gray couch planted right before it. A nice clear glass coffee table was laid out in front of the couch. A couple of magazines and comics were laid out on top of it, with a kindle residing not far from it.

            Alice reappeared, carrying two wine glasses and her Moscato. She uncorked the wine and poured it for him then for her. She held the glass.

            “To my first date in two years!” She said. The glasses clinked, and they both took a drink.

            “Two years?”

            “Yeah. I haven’t really been in the dating game. I always get….screwed over.”

            “Me too," Jake said. "The last girl I dated….left to get a better job. I didn't want to go with her. I couldn’t leave my mom."

            “I'm so sorry. The last guy I dated never texted me back."

            Jake laughed along with her.

            They finished what they could from their big dinner, and they went out to the balcony. They poured themselves some more wine and continued talking about each other's interests and hobbies. They drank so much wine their words started slurring. She was smiling a lot more and was becoming more comfortable. Once the moon was well above their heads and the stars were shining brightly, they had a brief moment of silence while staring up at the sky together and marveling at its sheer beauty.

            "I never liked it here, "Alice said. Jake laughed.

            “Why are you here then?”

            “It was the only place I could get a job,” Alice told him. “Chattanooga…..it’s beautiful. It’s just not for me.”

            Jake nodded. “I was born here. Grew up here and around so many people from so many backgrounds. It didn't help, though. I always felt so alone. Always felt so hated and….unloved.”

            “Jake...don’t say that. People like you. Sure we all think you’re a little odd, but we don’t hate you.”

            “It doesn’t feel like that,” Jake said. “I get lonely sometimes.  A lot, actually. I can’t remember the last time I had a long conversation like this one. Heck, I don’t even think I had a long conversation like this one before.”

            “Well...now you have.”

            Jake nodded. “I guess.”

            Alice stared at her glass for a bit before looking up and saying, “I always thought you were cute.”

            Jake chuckled. “I thought you were cute too.”

            “Really?! Why didn’t you say anything?!” Alice asked.

            “I don’t know. I didn’t think you liked me.”

            “I adored you. I really did.”

            Alice lifted her head and moved her lips towards his. Jake lowered his. They kissed each other for a good long minute before Jake pulled away.

            “I had a really good time today.”

            “Please don’t leave.”

            Jake smiled. “It wouldn’t be right. We’re both...wasted.”

            They laughed at one another before kissing each other again.

            “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?’ Alice asked.

            Jake nodded tears in his eyes. "Yeah...yeah...you will."

            Jake made his exit.  He headed down to the car and drove far away from the city. He headed to the nearest beach where he could get a good view of the ocean. The drive was about two hours long. On his way, he listened to his favorite albums back to back, and he played the latest episode of his favorite podcast. Once he got to the beach, he took the handgun out and headed towards the sand. He took a seat right in front of the ocean so he could feel the water touch the tips of his feet. He watched the waves come in as he felt the hard, rusty metal of the handgun on his fingers. He rubbed it and thought back to the moment he brought it.

            “You sure I can’t get you something newer?” The pawnshop owner asked. “That gun could backfire or jam very easily.”

            “Nah,” Jake told him. “I just need it as a deterrent. I don’t actually plan on using it.”

            “Well, if you say so. I’m guessing you only need one box of ammo.”

            “Yeah,” Jake said. In total, he only paid around three hundred dollars for it.

            In the present, Jake took a long look at the handgun. He took a deep breath and remembered all of the bad, good, and neutral memories of his life. Every kiss, every heartbreak, every argument, every fight, every laugh, every cry, every smile, every frown. He remembered all of the people who made his life so special, and he remembered the people who made his last day so special. He mouthed the words “thank you” before lifting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger.

 

"Toothbrush"

Meg Howell

 

For Pete’s sake, here we go again. The hand is reaching towards me, so quickly, so needlessly aggressive. I don’t know how much more of this battering I can take. My bristles are frayed and bent--like an arthritic old woman when it gets cold. The water turns on, and, yep, now we’re getting dunked. They could at least give me some of that Brita water they indulge themselves in, but no, I get the dregs of it all. I am now bottom of the barrel. What I wouldn’t give to be back in my cardboard and plastic case, hanging somewhere on a shining metal rod in a

Target, waiting for the chosen one to save me. That was my art museum moment. I was what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre. And look at me now. 

I live in an always slightly damp porcelain container less than three feet from a toilet that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks. I have seen it all. Genitals of the eldery, pimple-popping teens covering MY mirror in their gunk, drunken vomits. You name it, I’ve experienced it. It’s a warzone out here. I am constantly covered in a chalky residue and left alone to stare at my torn appearance in the mirror. The only words I can muster up are, “What have you become?” 

I also wonder why the human I got had to be a geriatric old man. Compared to the rubbery and colorful ones around me back on the shelf at Target, I am sleek. Minimalistic, you could say. My siblings come in a greyish-blue, but I come in a muted mint green. I am fitting for a hipster who loves Monstera plants, chunky-knit sweaters, and an earth-toned color palette, not a man whose flannel pockets are filled with used tissues and receipts from a Piggly Wiggly from 1975. 

But, this is besides the point. Back to the matter at hand. I’ve been dunked in the unholy water that has doused many others before me. I am not the first, and I am far from the last. I see the Colgate lid being screwed off, and I wonder why he has such bad taste. I guess when you get that old, things begin to not matter. Mint is mint, no matter the brand. Anything is better than that spicy cinnamon crap. He squeezes out far too little, and I know the end times are near. I wish he would be a bit more generous for my sake, but no, he likes to leave his mouth an aromatic diffuser for both garlic and spearmint. 

We’re moving towards the mouth. All I can see are the cracked, slightly bleeding lips meeting me like the face of Satan himself at the gates of Hell. I always thought I was a good person, but here I am. The lips part. I’m greeted with a set of plaque-covered teeth. Yes, to my continued astonishment, he somehow still has all but three teeth (which I can only assume were lost due to his Coke-a-Cola consumption). What he doesn’t have, though, is a healthy foundation. I wish you could smell the gingivitis I’ve got to deal with. The load is far too heavy for me to carry alone. 

Ok, time to work. Each trip back and forth across these teeth feels like falling into quicksand. The man never flosses, so I have remnants of Digiorno Pepperoni Pizza and Barbeque potato chips as an outfit at the moment. While I am not complaining, he is entirely missing the back teeth. The environment of his mouth, if I could describe it in one sentence, would be that one scene in A Series of Unfortunate Events where the Baudelaire kids are on the rickety wooden boat surrounded by murky water and incredibly powerful leeches. I am the Baudelaire kids. The murky water is his saliva. The leeches are his breath, the continual rot that only grows by the day, and I have become weary at the mere thought of it. (Yeah, some of us hygiene utensils are cultured in the cinematic arts—what’s it to ya?) We are now six months in, and I am long overdue for the can, but he uses me and will continue to use me until I have met him in his old age.

Now for my least favorite part. The tongue. The soft playground for all the young bacteria babies that I must interact with. They are covered in snot and scrapes, they smell like a molding slice of Brie and a two-week-old cup of coffee, and they want to hug me, perhaps so tightly they squeeze the life out of me. 

After a grueling minute and a half (because he never quite reaches the suggested two minutes), my time is done. I am waiting for my shower of tap water, but instead I am coughed on and placed haphazardly in the porcelain jail cell I spend my days frequenting. I must come to terms with the fact that I will never be clean again. Another day in the books as a toothbrush.

           Another day in a lifetime of disappointment. 

"To the Red Truck Riding in the Left Lane"

Katie Gravitt

To the Red Truck Riding in the Left Lane,

            I believe that it is good to move to the right lane to let faster-moving traffic pass in the left lane. Yes, the speed limit is the same in both lanes. But if you are travelling 45-mph in a 55-mph highway section…you are the problem. There, I said it. You are the problem. But don’t dismay! There is hope! People can grow, they can change! This letter will probably not be the epiphany in your life that brings you the realization that the world would be a better place if everyone drove courteously. But maybe the idea will rummage around your mind and take hold the next time you see an agitated motorcyclist pulling up behind you.

            I get it. It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining, beautiful, whisps of clouds gently clutter the sky, it’s 75 degrees. A perfect day for a pleasant drive. You have the radio turned on, surfing through your favorite stations. Maybe your significant other is in the passenger seat, holding your hand. Or possibly even you and your sibling are in an awe-inspiring conversation about the meaning of life. Maybe you just went out for some chicken nuggets, completely forgetting in your haste to find food that Chick-fil-A is closed on this particular weekday. Whatever your adventure may be, it’s a great day for a drive.

            In your enjoyment, maybe you didn’t see the motorcyclist with apparent road rage issues in your rear-view mirror. Maybe you didn’t check your mirrors or your blind-spot at all. Regardless of the how it came about, your ill-timed lane change almost made me your new rear windshield sticker. Not the best foot to start off our travelling relationship, but I’ll forgive you. If you had cut me off then proceeded to continue at the speed limit, I would have let it go. But you didn’t. You proceeded to drive well under the posted speed limit. Now is it your fault I am borderline too late to be considered early for work? No, not at all. Is it your fault I left myself just enough wiggle room to get to my work and open the store? Of course not! It is, however, your fault that you are riding in the left-hand lane going 45-mph on a 55-mph highway! DON’T BE IN THE VROOM-VROOM LANE IF YOU AREN’T GONNA VROOM-VROOM. I’ll be fair. I can’t legally complain if you are riding in the right-hand lane at the posted speed limit. I should be impressed that you’re a model citizen. But if you’re going to drive your dusty, old pick-up truck 10 miles under the speed limit next to the car in the right-hand lane, that was also driving 10 miles under the speed limit, then I hope you find a pebble in your shoe.

            My next complaint of a similar category is inspired by your driving under the speed limit in the left-hand lane, travelling next to the car on your right side at the same speed. It is good to safely move either in front or behind the car to your right so that the impatient, nearly late people can scoot on around you! It’s really just a common courtesy. I have an analogy for you! Let’s say you are at Walmart and you only came in to buy a gallon of milk and a case of eggs. By some miracle you made it from the back of the store to the ten items or less line of Walmart with only your gallon of milk and case of eggs to purchase. Now let’s pretend your best friend in the world is coming over and you promised to have pancakes ready for dinner when they got there. You aren’t running late, but you’re very aware of how convenient it would be if you could go through the check-out quickly. So, you skip right up to the ten items or less check out line, ready for a smooth transaction. That’s when you see it: a buggy full of groceries. You aren’t even entirely sure it’s only ten items. But in that line you must stand, waiting on the buggy full of groceries. But imagine! What if that nice person in front of you turned around and said “hey, go ahead of me! You only have two items.” Doesn’t that fill you with joy? Isn’t it great when people go out of their way to show just a little bit of kindness? That’s exactly what it feels like when a slower-moving car moves from the left lane to the right lane! How generous! How empathetic! If you were wanting to move more swiftly down the road, wouldn’t it be nice if slower drivers were in one lane and faster drivers were in the other?

            It’s not just the premise of you riding in the left-hand lane next to the cars that are also travelling the same speed that irks me. It’s not that I gave myself just enough time to be considered “early” to my shift. It is also not that I just like to ride faster than I should (although I would be a liar if I said that wasn’t one of the more enjoyable parts). Instead, let’s discuss safety. It’s definitely not your problem that I ride a motorcycle. There are many risks involved with my choice, all of which I am completely aware of when I hop on it every morning. However, let me first point out that you cut me off with your bold and pointless lane shift. But aside from that, your slow, misplaced driving is also irritating the angry soccer mom behind me. Her big Toyota 4-Runner is slowly trying to turn me into a sandwich. Should she and I both probably take a breath and be more patient? Probably. But just like you enjoy going ten miles under the posted speed limit, we enjoy going just a little bit over it. I guess it’s just our turn to be inconvenienced.

            I know I am not entitled to your changed behavior, but I am entitled to my own opinion. Although I cannot change your choice to travel under the speed limit in the left-hand lane, I can still speak the words from this letter into the universe and maybe they will travel the air-waves and somehow circulate in your brain. No profanity has passed my lips while thinking about, despite you being the initial dealing I had with public on my way to my customer service job. I appeal to your humanity. Check your mirrors and blind spot before you change lanes, maintain a stable speed when you are driving, and please stay in the socially accepted “slow lane” if you are going to drive way below the speed limit. Consider your fellow Americans. Your breezy Sunday drive will be just as enjoyable in the other lane.

Sincerely,

An Irritated Citizen.

“Finding me”

Caitlin Pedigo

Who am I? To answer that, I would need to go back to a town called Chatsworth, GA. A small town, where everyone knows your name. And your mother’s name. And your father’s. Because you were one of the biggest families in town. Now when I say “big”, I don’t mean “notorious” or “well off”, I mean I’m the oldest of six children. Six. Just think of the Brady Bunch, only we didn’t have Alice the maid, but we were definitely accompanied with a laugh track.

Life in a small rural town with five siblings is a lot when your parents are no longer together. You pick up extra responsibilities. You learn the meaning of taking care of something bigger than yourself. You also learn things about yourself much faster when you have to be a part-time-mom at such a young age.

Jump to 13. I meet a boy. I think he’s my world. But I’m only 13. I had no clue. We start to date. I think I know what love means.

 I started getting into things of the alternative lifestyle in my teens (Black hair, nail polish, black clothes, the works.) It only progressed as I got older. Being a goth kid in a Southern Baptist area? I guess you could say I enjoyed a challenge.

I was raised as a Baptist child. My mother was (and still is) a firm believer in the church. I, however, find organized religion to be about as helpful as a dull blade. The judgmental stares. The whispers. The threatening lectures of my “doomed soul”. My mother didn’t make me go to church much longer after that. But I didn’t let the church turn me sour to the entire concept of religion; I think God and I are on good terms.

That boy, Lee is his name. Lee and I are still together. I still think he’s the one. We’re 15, and he’s the skater boy of my dreams. I tell him I want him with me always. He nods.

Murray County High School. 2009. Otherwise known to me as “the year my soul started to get sucked through the ceiling fans”. My education was gained in these halls, although being a goth kid in a cesspool of redneck stupor was rather challenging. Even during constant bullying and unending mockery, I overcame and found friends.

Lee did not approve of me having friends. In fact, he was pretty clear about me wanting as little contact with others as possible. I’m 16, and still can’t see a red flag.

2010 was a big year for finding me. After much mental deliberation, I finally came out to my family as bisexual. My mother, the always supportive and loving woman she is, told me she knew. She helped me become more comfortable with who I was as a person.

Lee says we should get married right after high school. I am excited but can’t help but feel like something isn’t right. If I’m happy, why do I constantly dream of not being here?

May 2011. I was 18. The world was my oyster. Except I had no idea how to shuck an oyster.

High school graduation. The year I was able to say goodbye to Murray County. It was bittersweet, and yet so satisfying.  I decided I wanted to immediately go into the workforce. With little to no experience, I learned very quickly (I say “quickly”, but it took me three years to stop being stubborn) that I was worth more than a nametag job.

Lee didn’t approve of me wanting more than what I had. He liked me working and coming home. That’s it. I still think I’m happy, I guess. I tell him I want more out of life. He tells me I’m setting my expectations too high. Setting myself up for failure. Why am I still so blind?

2014. An even bigger year for me. I started college. I very quickly was enveloped in campus life. I became a student worker. I learned how to come out of my shell even more than I already had. Sure, I was still awkward and loud, but I finally learned how to embrace it. More importantly, I gained an amazing support system, who taught me what in this world was fertilizer for my flowers, and what was poisoning my garden.

I finally figure it out. Lee isn’t good for me. I tell him I’m unhappy, and I want out. I leave that night. I had never felt so free.

I continue my education at Dalton State, with new friendships, new experiences, and new horizons. The wind at my back, the sunshine warm on my face.

So, who am I, really? I’m still finding me, honestly. But I know multiple things. I am a sister. I am a mothering soul. I am a survivor. I am a lover. I am a friend. And I’m still learning how to shuck that oyster.

"Godwinks: The Chain that Defined my College Career"

Anna Bramblett

 

My grandmother, who was sweetly called “Grandmama,” passed away in 2015. I can still remember her final words to me: “If you ever need help, Anna, just call on the name of Jesus.” 

 

That was the first godwink.

 

What is a godwink? The term “godwink,” dubbed by author SQuire Rushnell who wrote When God Winks at You, is a “coincidence” that God sends in the lives of all of us to remind us that He cares about us, to help steer us in the right direction, and to comfort us in hard times. It can be a new job opportunity, or an old friend who texts you out of the blue. I learned about these godwinks when I read Rushnell’s book, which - wouldn’t you know it? - was my Grandmama’s. My aunt gave it to me for Christmas in 2020, what I deem to be another godwink. This is the story of all the godwinks that happened to me during my years here at Dalton State - and how I got to where I am today (For the sake of privacy, I have chosen to keep the people mentioned in my story anonymous - those who were in my life know who they are)

 

I have a good friend that attends school here with me; we’ve known each other for almost a decade now. He and I began college here in the fall of 2017 and were inseparable for the first week. He invited me to a club event, which I went to and consequently made friends at - the second godwink.

 

For reasons I still am not quite certain of, we temporarily stopped being friends, which caused me to drift towards those friends I had made in the club I attended. I ended up dating one of these friends - the third godwink.​             

 

That dating relationship turned out to be a big mistake and resulted in my departure from the club (the only social environment I was a part of at school at the time) and the alienation of myself from nearly all of my childhood friends. It was during this difficult time that I followed my Grandmama’s advice and truly dove into the Bible, into prayer, and into my studies. Even in terribly hard times, this was the fourth godwink. Why? I’ll tell you why... because it caused me to​     grow into a stronger person, and it drove me to new and better things...

 

My first professor at Dalton State, a man who I deeply respect and admire, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, randomly asked me if I wanted a job. At least, for me it felt random; apparently he had been asking students the same thing all day. Anyhow, I applied for the available work study position and out of the several students that applied, I was chosen… and recommended by a few other professors, to whom I owe my thanks, who saw the value of my work ethic. Hence, the fifth godwink.​          

 

It was at this job that I met my coworker and now one of my best friends, who helped draw me out of my fearful and insecure state that came as a result of my traumatic first college years. Through no intention of our own, we happened to share three of the same classes that semester and spent nearly all of our time together. This was the sixth godwink​      .

 

The job I currently have has caused me to meet so many people, and therefore open many doors. I have had intimate conversations with professors and TA's alike and have another students. I am vice president of a club and have rejoined the club I once left; my confidence has improved as well. It was the string of godwinks that led to this moment right now, this life I live, and I am so grateful.

 

You may be asking yourself, why would I write this? I write it to encourage you to look for all the godwinks in your life. Start connecting the dots! I know times are tough right now, but hey, this may be our worldwide godwink, the one that causes to think clearly about what we believe in, to lace up our boots and start working to have a better future, and most importantly, to make it impossible for us to look elsewhere than to our Lord for help. Be the change you want to see in the world. “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). “Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise” (The Twelfth Doctor Who). Finally, hang tight onto HOPE, for it “is oxygen, and we all need to breathe” (Plumb).

 

 

 

 

 

“I believe it’s a good thing to…”

Danielle Hardy

Part I: Duality of Belief

Immediately, the tune of “Affirmation” by Savage Garden began playing in my head. It’s a good place to start with what I believe in. The song starts with the lyrics, “I believe the sun should never set upon an argument. I believe we place our happiness in other people’s hands.” I believe in both of these statements. Sometimes, though, my beliefs have two sides to them, and they’re not simple or stand-alone beliefs like the beliefs in the song because they often have a negative reason behind them. What I’m saying is that I’m a believer, but I’m bitter. I’m saying that I’m a dreamer, but I’m realistic. I’m saying that I’m a deep-thinker, but I wish I wasn’t. I’m saying that I’m passionate about passion, but I’m empty at the same time. How is that so? I’m saying that good things can’t always exist without their bad counterparts. Most of my beliefs are dual in this sense.

For me, it’s easier to say what I believe is a bad thing, so I can compare it to the good things. I believe, as most people do, that it’s a bad thing to hurt someone intentionally, but I believe it’s a good thing to love people with all your heart. I believe it’s a bad thing to fall in love with someone and leave them, but I believe it’s a good thing to still love them even after you’ve pushed them away. I believe it’s a bad thing to hold hatred and rage in your heart because I believe it’s a good thing to forgive and grow from every experience. I believe it’s a bad thing to shame people over the way they look because I believe it’s a good thing to promote self-love. I believe it’s a bad thing to be afraid of life, to hold fear in your heart so badly, that it holds you back; I believe it’s a good thing to stamp down on that fear and tell it to bug off. I believe it’s a bad thing to hate yourself for merely existing because I believe it’s a good thing to think you were put in the world for a reason.

Part II: Enjoy Yourself

The society we live in constantly tires us out. Some people go about their lives without ever really enjoying themselves. We get into the mindset that we have to sacrifice our happiness just to survive in the world. They tell us we have to work a job we hate for the rest of our lives just to make a decent paycheck. They tell us that we have to make others happy to be happy ourselves. I’m saying forget that. Set aside a little time in your busy day for something that genuinely gives you joy. Unabashedly enjoy the little things that make your life worthwhile.

Read that book you’ve been thinking about, or watch that movie you’ve been interested in. Play that game for hours because it puts you in a different world. Smile at those people you pass by daily, or don’t. Spread your kindness through the world, or spread your cynicism. Drink that bitter coffee if it makes your day easier. Wear that funky shirt everyone thinks is ugly. Wear those faded jeans because you think they make you look good, or wear those sweatpants because you’re so comfortable in them. Do your hair the way you want to, not to please anyone but yourself. Take a hot bath to soothe your muscles after a long day, or take a cold shower to feel alive. Go to bed early so you can wake up to watch the sunrise. Don’t wake up for work; wake up to see the sky. Listen to your music loudly when you’re alone in the car, and sing at the top of your lungs. Decorate your room with all your favorite things to create your safe space.

Do all the things that you enjoy because you will never be this young again. Enjoy yourself, and fill your life with good memories.

Part III: Who Am I Again?

A man once told me that it’s a good thing to reminisce on the things that have happened in the past as long as you move forward from it. He said, “The things that have happened to you don’t make you who you are; you create yourself from how you grow from your trauma and experiences.” Whether your experiences are good or bad, you can always grow. I took this to mean: “You are not depressed because these things happened to you; you deal with depression because that’s the way you are.” I was slightly offended at first, but I know he meant that I have the conscious decision to dwell instead of grow. I say grow as in change for the better because staying the same wouldn’t have benefitted you. It means to change your mindset into a better one, and change your situation to make yourself happy. Say to yourself: “Soon, you will be happy. You will grow, and everything will change. Then, you become who you want and who you’re happy to be.” I believe this is a good idea because you don’t have anyone but yourself to blame for dwelling in your despair.

            I say all this with hope because I am drowning this time. I am falling into the depths of my depression, and it is my depression. My mind is a tumultuous sea, and I’m standing on a boat in the middle of it. Right now, the storm has arrived, but I saw it coming. The clouds are rolling in; the wind is whipping my hair across my face. The boat rocks upon the waves. The rain starts to fall just as I see the last bit of sunshine. The force of it knocks me into the water, and I’m drowning. I see the darkness just as a shockwave ripples through me. I swim back to the surface, and I grab onto the side of the boat, holding on until the storm is over. When the rain stops and the sea settles and all is still again, I climb back into the boat and prepare myself again.

In the end, I tell myself that the storm will cleanse my soul. I say: “You will come out of this storm stronger than before. And when the next storm hits, you will be prepared just as you were this time because you knew this was coming. You can’t float until you get in the water.” This newfound optimism is growth, and all you have to believe is you will be happy again soon.

Part IV: The Little Old Lady & Me

The little old lady orders, “One bacon egg biscuit, a small black coffee, and an ice water.” I ponder what that tastes like together. The appeal is not there for me. She reaches the window, and I take her money, “Five eighty-two, ma’am.” She shakes as she hands the exact change to me, but I pretend not to notice. I’m afraid she’s embarrassed of the way she shakes in her old age compared to my young, steady hands. She thanks me, and I wish her a good day as she drives off to the next window for her food. These interactions happen often. I wonder if these random people are happy within themselves. I wonder what they do for a living, whether they work at a plant or an office or if they’re already retired. I wonder who they are. I wonder what they like to do in their free time. I wonder if they enjoy the same things as me. I wonder if they have someone special or have lost someone special. I wonder if they’re going home or to work or somewhere else. I keep wondering. I believe it’s a good thing to wonder about people. Wonder about the people you barely interact with; wonder about the people you see everyday but never speak to; wonder about the people you talk to once a week or every day. Wonder about them because we are all so different. We all lead different lives. We all experience different things every day.

 It’s important to acknowledge the differences within ourselves and the people around us. Everyone is different in their emotions, reactions, and experiences. If people keep living like they believe the world revolves around them, they’ll never grow into something more. We’ll never grow as individuals until we step outside of ourselves and imagine ourselves in the shoes of someone else. We recognize ourselves and know who we are inside, but we also have to see others for who they are. If we don’t, we are stuck in our world, not the world everyone else lives in.

I first had this type of epiphany when I was in high school. It was probably about the end of my junior year, especially as I started my first job. I was distressed. I pondered this as I worked, as I wiped down tables and swept tiled floors and sanitized cushioned chairs. I pondered this as I did homework, as I walked to and from classes, as I marched the football field during band practice. It gave me anxiety. I suffered with at least two existential crises a day during the entirety of my senior year. Lately, I’ve grown accustomed to the thoughts. Regardless of the anxiety, I believe it’s a good thing. It makes me aware of myself and those around me. It makes me look at people from an outside perspective rather than only thinking of myself. It prevents me from becoming a narcissist. I wonder how it affects other people. I wonder how other people think. I wonder if they think these types of thoughts as well. I’d like to ask people questions like these, THESE INTENSE QUESTIONS THAT REALLY MAKE YOU THINK, but I save them for my mind and my notebook. If I ask them out loud, people will look at me like I’m crazy, but it’s still a good thing to wonder. Now, the next time you’re walking by dozens of people on the sidewalk or as you drive past loads of people on the road or as you sit in class with people you barely know, I ask you to wonder about them.

"Perspective Manifests Abundantly"

Ashley Fann

P.M.A. A.E.W. No, I am not imitating what it sounds like when I get my eyes checked. Do either of those acronyms mean anything to you? I assume you have not heard them before, and I wonder what you would guess they stand for. These two combinations of random letters carry significance to me. The first is symbolic of a way I try to live, and the second is representative of something that brings me great joy. Figures connected to both of those acronyms have impacted my life as I continue to grow further into adulthood. I stand before you at twenty years old, still finding my place in life, but the things I will detail today shape my personal learning process in positive ways. 

Let us begin at the beginning, as we should, by discussing P.M.A. No, P.M.A. is not a medical or psychological condition. The letters P.M.A. represent the concept of a Positive Mental Attitude. The notion of a positive mental attitude is a philosophical concept that can be adopted into a lifelong mindset. At the root of the concept, it is about displaying an optimistic disposition, even and especially in the face of unpleasant emotions and experiences. The concept directly opposes helplessness by valuing hope as a vital state of being. The string of words I have written and rewritten in my drafting notebook to eventually recite to you may seem like common sense, but I have found that many people, myself included, have a tendency to make s home of life’s adversities. It makes me wonder why I, and so many others, wasted so long wallowing in pain or simple inconvenience when all I had to do to be happy, even joyous, was change my perspective. You may judge me from my words. You may dismiss me as an overly optimistic fool or a hippie. The beauty of P.M.A. is that I won’t fret over those possibilities. 

Life will not always be a positive experience. That is why it is essential to understand that this concept is meant to aid in unpleasant times. Grief, stress, anger, pain, and other emotional hardships are merely inevitable in life. No matter how fast you are, you cannot outrun them. But, with the proper conditioning, with a positive mental attitude, you can win those battles. Mass collections of people rarely share identical struggles. Although our experiences are individualized, we are all sharing the fight that is 2020. 

If the year 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me the importance of perspective. As I watch the world handle each incoming challenge, I make observations like a biologist studying living organisms. I observe humanity as a collective, but I also observe how we react as individual cogs in a disjointed machine. I note how we respond to tragedy, hardship, and attempts to find joy despite the seemingly increasingly dreadful hand we are being dealt as we mark days off our calendars. Sometimes people comment on what 2020 has been as if it will magically fade away when the clock strikes midnight on January first of 2021. I suppose wishful thinking is a proper way to label that type of dismissive behavior. Perhaps that is how some cope with the odd times we are living through, but the coronavirus pandemic will not suddenly dissipate at that tick of the clock. The divided state of our society will not resolve as we close in on a new year. 

However, there is something we can do to make things better. On an individual level, we have the power to look past the sometimes overwhelmingly negative state of the events unfolding around us by being mindful of our perspective. We have the power to change the course of our day, and with that comes the ability to change the days that follow. Like falling dominos, the days that constitute our lives pass. We are powerful enough to influence the next action; we simply must recognize it. 

P.M.A is not about blindfolding yourself to ignore life’s hardships, but instead about recognizing the way you can conquer those hardships. I first learned about P.M.A. from a man named John Joseph. John is an author, an Ironman triathlete, frontman of hardcore punk band the Cro-Mags, and much more than I can fit into these lines. He grew up in the foster care system of 1970’s New York City before enlisting in the Navy when he was old enough. He has lived a genuinely challenging life in his 58 years, but he did not allow that to define him. John now lives a straight edge life, following P.M.A. and Buddhist beliefs. His third book, The P.M.A Effect, was penned about the way of life. 

Now, you may ask what is A.E.W., and how does it connect to living with a positive mental attitude? A.E.W. stands for “Always Encourage Wealth.” I’m kidding. This is not some self-help nonsense about getting rich quick through some mystical placebo effect. Instead, this is about living happily. Something that brings me copious amounts of happiness is A.E.W., All Elite Wrestling. Every Wednesday, I am able to recognize a great joy in a small detail of life. Every Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., Dynamite​         airs on TNT. For two hours, I am able to escape. For two hours, I am able to put away any frustration of my day and enjoy life. No matter what may be happening, All Elite Wrestling brings me joy. If I had a good day, it is only amplified by sitting down with my parents and getting excited over whatever is set to unfold. Maybe one of my favorite athletes has a championship opportunity, and perhaps their appearance is a surprise; what happens doesn’t matter because I will still celebrate the fact that it’s Wednesday night Dynamite. 

Wrestling is a multifaceted world of its own. A part of A.E.W.’s world is Darby Allin. He is a wrestler from Seattle and is currently the TNT Champion. I have only known about Darby for a little over a year now, but he has had a significant impact on my life in that time. From the paint on his face to the way he carries himself, at first glance, you know he is a

unique individual. His unique nature is one aspect that inspires me. Across his chest, you will find the words “Nothing’s Over Til You’re Underground” tattooed. Darby has a personal story behind those words, but they have come to mean a great deal to me, and I believe they echo the sentiment of P.M.A. I often get down on myself. I often fear I am not smart enough to achieve my goal of becoming a professor. But those words serve as my reminder that nothing is definite. Nothing is concrete, so why should I tell myself I cannot do something? Why stop trying? I shouldn’t, and I won’t. Darby is just one example of the figures of A.E.W. that inspire me. I could tell you about Tony Khan, a kid who loved wrestling and now owns a wrestling company. I could tell you about “Hangman” Adam Page, a man who used to be a high school teacher. I could tell you about Brandi Rhodes, a woman I look up to with every ounce of my heart. I could tell you about her background in figure skating or her Master’s degree. I could tell you about the lengthy legacy Chris Jericho is setting. I talk for hours about what these people mean to me, but it all comes down to one thing. These people help me find more happiness in life, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I was lucky enough to accidentally met Darby before the pandemic hit, and I hope I am fortunate enough to meet him again so that I can thank him for the influence he has had on me. I hope I am lucky enough to meet any of the rest of the people who make A.E.W. possible so that I can thank them for what they do because I am just one of the millions of people they bring joy to.          

We have the option of taking the easy way out. We have the opportunity to use the excuse that this year is just a bad year, full of bad luck, hexes, whatever impossible challenge that you feel comfortable submitting to, but we also have the power to look past the bad and recognize the great. Thank you for listening to me speak about something I am passionate about. I hope you can carry something beneficial from my words.

 

             

“Well, Who am I now?”

Jacob Dills

When I turned fifteen, a switch flipped. Maybe it was just natural growing pains that all teenagers go through. After all, everyone knows teenagers are brooding creatures. The hormones take over, and as childhood innocence withers, one’s focus morphs from external curiosity to vanity. Suddenly, the curtains blow open, and you’re thrust on the stage. All eyes are now on you. The world is yours, and you are all that matters. Teenagers fancy themselves invincible; they don’t understand death any more than they know how to file a W-2. So, who was I then? I was a teenager. I knew everything, and I was invincible.

 Not every teen goes through the self-centered, rebellious stage, but a lot of them do. All I know is, I certainly did. Most of my friends exhibited similar behavioral problems, but I was a particularly nasty case. Some of my friends came from bad homes, others carried childhood trauma, and a few had already started taking drugs. I had none of these severe issues to pardon my behavior. I was fortunate (and today, extremely grateful) to have a loving, patient family. Still, at the time, they were too loving and too patient for my liking. Hate may be a strong word, but, at the time, I hated them. The darker my wardrobe became, the more they worried, and the more I loathed them for their concern. Maybe they thought the devil had a hand in it. My grandparents forced me to attend their little Baptist Church again—Sunday School included— hoping I would see the light, but the only thing I saw during the service was the back of my eyelids. I was hopeless. Nothing seemed to improve my attitude, but they did not give up on me.

One night late in October, I snuck out of my grandparent’s house, in hopes of attending a small gathering with the only friend I had who could drive. One of the older guys he knew lived on a vast tract of land a few miles from my house, and his family was out of town. Rumor had it there was to be beer served at this gathering and even a few girls in attendance. I let my imagination overrule my better judgment. Allegedly, there was a bonfire set up in a field next to a makeshift shooting range at this party. Earlier that evening, I noticed my papa cleaning one of his hunting rifles. The wheels spin.  I devised a brilliant, foolproof plan: I would take the gun to the party to gain favor with the older dudes (hopefully, with the girls most of all). I messaged my ride, imploring him to ask the host if he wanted me to bring a rifle. He responded with enthusiasm. My grandparents always went to bed after the nightly news. When I heard the Tonight Show’s brass band reach its crescendo, I knew the time for my escape was close. I lie in bed in the dark, sick with anticipation.

After what feels like an eternity—but probably no more than an hour —I sent my friend a message to pick me up at our rendezvous. We planned on meeting by the roadside, where the woods open into a grazing pasture, about 200-yards up the street from my driveway. He tells me he’ll be there shortly. I changed clothes, slide open my bedroom window, and slip into the void, gun in tow. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t afraid of being spotted by a passing driver. I trudged to the clearing, sat down in the dewy grass next to some cattle fencing, and gazed to my left, taking in the abyssal blackness. To the left was an outlet-road, the only way from which my friend could approach. Not even five minutes had passed, and I see high beams scattering the darkness. But they’re coming from the right. The whirring of the engine increases as the lights grow until they shine pierce my essence. Soon the vehicle stops. It was my papa’s truck.

 I received a tongue-lasing of Biblical proportions. My grandparents could understand sneaking out, but why had I taken the rifle? My one defense was the truth. They knew I was rebellious, strange even. They worried about me incessantly, but I didn’t want them to imagine I a had committed to something worse than what I did.  I show them the boneheaded exchange between my friend and me, but it did little to placate their anger. I had been taught, repeatedly, about gun safety, they said. I’m not sure if they ever truly believed anything that I said that night, but I told the truth. They delivered the sentence: if I wanted to remain under their roof, I was not to hang out with that friend, or any associate of his, for that matter, ever again. All my electronics were confiscated until further notice. My windows were bolted, and I was to be in bed by 9 p.m. I plead my case, tried to argue, and swore oaths, but these efforts were answered with an ultimatum. I would carry the punishment, or I would move in with my dad. My dad, at that time, lived an hour away. The fear of changing schools sapped my will, and I found these terms proportional to the crime.

My papa saved the worst for last, “Since you wont to play with guns, you’re gonna git to.

You’re goin huntin with me next month durin the rut, and you’re gonna learn some discipline.

Oh, contrapasso! Oh, cruel fate! My grandpa comes from a long line of hunters. It’s a family tradition, almost as sacred as tent revivals and VBS. So, of course, I detested it. Most of all, I was embarrassed by it. He took me hunting a few times when I was younger, but we never saw a single deer. As a teen, I was into music and art, but not hunting. Hunting was a sport reserved for hicks; rednecks loved hunting. To me, sitting in a tree-stand all morning in 40degree weather, soaked in doe urine, was the closest you could get to dying and going to hell. It didn’t help that my girlfriend at the time was into PETA; that alone was enough for me to swear off hunting, permanently.

In late November, “the rut,” or mating season for whitetail deer, begins in Georgia. Because the mating season for whitetail lasts for just one week, it becomes the most active hunting period. Woodlands that have been deserted since summer suddenly teemed with orangevests. The occasional shot resounded through the hollows, and when the wind blew just right, the smell the acrid odor of smokeless powder overpowered the usual scent of sapling pines. The woods awoke, like a hidden world brought back from death, and I was dragged screaming into it. On the first day of the rut, as I sat twenty feet up a tree, clad in orange and camo, freezing, and saturated in doe urine, I cursed myself and the stupidity that landed me here. I would have rather been anywhere else, church even, than here. From the moment you approached the stand, you had to remain completely silent because deer have excellent auditory senses. Their olfactory senses are even better, supernatural almost. If you’re a real hunter, and my papa is, you don’t eat before because the deer can smell your breakfast-breath from a quarter of a mile away. I was cold and stinking, and I was starving. However, you must remain vigilant despite these privations. If you fell asleep in the stand, you risked missing the deer if they decided to appear. We sat in the stand for over six hours and didn’t see a single deer or any sign that deer exist at

all.         

The next morning, we tried again. We spent seven hours in the woods without seeing a deer, but something did happen--I appreciated the sunrise for the first time in my short life. Of course, I’d watched the sunrise from the school bus windows before, but I had never appreciated it. Never understood it. Maybe the isolation allowed me to see it with new eyes. Its russet beams parted the indigo twilight, penetrated through the tree tops, vanquished shadows while casting new ones. My load felt lighter. Suddenly, I could tolerate my situation, maybe even enjoy it. My grandpa noticed me smiling, and he smiled too.

         

We didn’t see a single deer during the rut, but we kept hunting weekly throughout the season. The more time I spent out in the woods with papa, the more I respected his patience and his reverence for nature. Gradually, the misconceptions I had about hunting faded. It’s not some redneck sport. It requires a level of patience most people can’t stomach, careful planning, a lot of luck, and a stoic disposition. The key to hunting is enduring the elements. I no longer felt ashamed of my family’s tradition. The more time I spent out there, with just my grandpa and the trees, the more time puzzled over how foolish I was. I felt remorse for my sins. I had a good life, full of people who loved me. How could I ever have hated them? When it came down to it, they were all I had, all I had ever known. They would do anything for me, but I had repaid their kindness with venom. Worst of all, I worried them every day for their trouble. I no longer felt embarrassed of my family, but embarrassed with myself. I wanted to repay them and make them proud.

Late in the season, we saw our first deer. A runty, young spike ambled out of a white-oak thicket close enough to the stand that I could hear twigs snapping with his every step. My mood, the crime, my sentence, the untold hours spent in these woods for the last two months, the sunrise, the guilt, everything I can remember from this period in my life careened toward this moment. I wanted to scream, but I kept silent. I slowly pressed the rifle against my shoulder and tried to remain motionless—no sudden movements. A hunter must wait for the proper angle before shooting. If you miss a vital organ, you can wound the animal, sentencing it to a slow, inhumane death. The spike raised his head and snorted. He stomped his front legs. He paced back and forth. It seemed as if he hoped to flee back into dusky glade, returning to the thicket’s security, the shadowy womb which birthed him. He doesn’t. Eventually, he turned his broadside toward me--the perfect angle for a clean kill shot. I can feel my heart drumming away in my chest, my hands trembled. I steel myself and take aim right behind his upper foreleg, just as papa taught me—one last deep breath. On the exhale, I squeezed the trigger. My shot found the mark.

The amount of adrenaline coursing through my body meant that I hardly notice the blast.

Afterward, my ears rang for hours. I could hardly hear my papa shouting his congratulations.

We lingered for a time before we descended from the stand. If you try to chase the deer immediately, its adrenaline will spike, and you risk losing it deep in the brush, or so I’m told.

Pink, foamy blood stained the underbrush and acorns, which meant the shot penetrated the lungs. He couldn’t have made it very far, and I’m relieved knowing he won’t suffer. We followed the trail, and as the rosy puddles thickened. We found him in a hollow only a hundred yards away from the stand. My papa wet his fingers in the blood and streaked it right below my eyes, an ancient, post-kill ritual to initiate new hunters. The distant winter sunlight streamed through openings in the tree-line, illuminated the corpse’s upper-half while his trunk remains lost to the gloom. His blank stare gazed upward, at heaven itself, but found nothing. The daylight glared off those reflective, black eyes. I stared into those eyes, and I saw myself.

Today, I rarely go hunting, but I talk with my grandparents every few days and visit them as much as possible. I do respect the sport and its place in my family’s tradition, but it’s just not for me. I’ll go with my papa, but only to spend time with him because the old man won’t be around forever. I let him do the shooting. I’ll stick with fishing. Sometimes, I’ll go to church with my grandparents, even if I disagree with their preacher. I want a family of my own soon, and more than anything else, I hope they’re around to see it.

"It's My Party, and I'll Cry."

Caitlin Pedigo

 

“When we are born, we cry that we are brought to this great stage of fools.”

-William Shakespeare, King Lear

To contradict one of Fergie’s most iconic songs, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” I think it’s not only a valid response to overwhelming emotion, but crying is important for release and healing. While her song is nonetheless empowering, it adds to the harsh stigma around people who cry when needing to emote, especially men. As a person who has radically changed her mind around the ideas of crying when feeling an array of emotions, I feel it’s most important for everyone to cry.

When I was younger, I felt it was important to set an example to my siblings and keep a strong face. I almost never cried when faced with hard times, and I thought it meant to keep it all in because crying was not an option. I have since learned that this made me a very fragile young adult, as there were so many things I hadn’t processed; so many things I hadn’t let go. I now cry almost every day, and it makes me stronger than ever. Our culture has rejected the cathartic act of crying when we should celebrate its importance.

We hear the phrase “crying like a baby” or “a girl” so often in our culture, that it has leathered not only our emotions to seeing someone else cry, but to cry ourselves. When we go to the movies, we see the stoic, stone faced characters that men in our culture have been pushed to emulate. Our infamous action heroes remain calm, no matter the circumstance, but I argue that these films portray unrealistic representation of human emotion and reaction. We also see crying used heavily in cinema and television when they want to invoke reactions from their audience: sadness, anger, great joy, these emotions are conveyed through tears, yet is not as accepted in our day-to-day lives.

Men are often shamed worse than women when it comes to crying. Men are often told since childhood that they should “man up” or they should “hold it in”, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, to use ancient Greek literature as a reference, it was often considered manly to cry. In Homer’s Iliad, the entire Greek army cried (multiple times, in fact), Zeus was written to have “wept tears of blood”, even the immortal horses sobbed after the death of Patroclus. The Bible has several passages of men being brought to tears. Somewhere along the lines of history, it had become irregular. There was no “Age of No Weeping”, no one led a revolution telling people to buck up. Yet somehow, even in our “more enlightened” era, we have rewired our brains to not only accept crying as “feminine”, but overall taboo for men.

Women are not spared from the stigma, either. While it’s statistically proven that females cry at larger percentages than men, the act of crying in general is still often portrayed as weakness, rather than strength. People who cry often are seen as “over-emotional” or “not able to handle pressure.” But, I would like to further argue that crying during periods of great stress/grief/joy help you not only process these emotions but deal with the situation better overall.

Crying is healing and taking the time to process the emotions we go through is not only important for mental health, but it’s vital for our overall growth as people. We go through the mundane and the drab, but also the exciting, the grief, the fear, the drama, the wonderful joys of this world that no cinema world can replicate. Why do we feel, as a society, that we should stow away our tears to these wonders? I would like to see this world embrace our emotions once more, like the many writers before us, and shed a tear or two. Or, a Greek army’s worth.