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Tributaries: Spring 2022

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

Visual Arts

"Horse Eye" by Ellie Williams

"Future" by Anna Phillips

"March is Scarcely On" by Savannah Price

"Abstract Darth Vader" by Kerri Johns

"Mare Serenitatis" by Juan Del Real

"Untitled" by Billy Eads

"Side of a Horse" by Ellie Williams

"Sonnet 73" by Savannah Price

TOC for Written Work

Table of Contents


"My First Bully" by Morgan Garrett

"The Earth and I" by Anna Phillips

"Candy Store" by Emmett Francis

"The Other Side" by Afrodita Aguilar

"The Empty House on Clebourne Avenue" by Tucker Trivette

"Grandmother's Home" by Savannah Price

"Premature Fears" by Danielle Hardy

"Darkness" by Karla Hernandez

"I Never Saw This Coming" by Alexis Dewey

"A Walk" by Paola Gonzalez

"M Poem" by Emmett Francis




"Wedding Plans" by Reagan Brady

"What Life Can Become" by Savannah Price




"The Empath" by Rayna Wilson



"My First Bully" by Morgan Garrett


Because of you, being fat has always been my worst fear

Mirrors are my nemesis

My eyes look at my stomach like knives

I can feel the blood dripping down

As the pupils slash through each pound of flesh



Your words coming at me

The face you make as you show your superiority Insecurity


You’re afraid

But why?


Every bite I take is a slice of “That’s going to go to your hips.”

Every pair of pants that I try to exercise my way into

Only to be disappointed at the failure

To get them up to my childbearing hips

Past my burdening thighs


I try to cover those burdens with sunflower tattoos

To bring some form of beauty to my embarrassment

And I am beyond embarrassed

You often pointed out my “gut” as you’d call it


Now every picture haunts me

The very thing about which I am most vulnerable put on display

I am the elephant being gawked and pointed at

Passing a group of strangers laughing

And paranoia stirs a hellfire in my stomach

The stomach that jiggles with the stretch marks


My body is covered in experience

It is covered in life


And you grind your teeth against my sensitivity

Your verbiage constantly ringing in my ears

It never ends

Because you are the one I looked up to most

I love you, of course, unconditionally



"The Earth and I"

Anna Phillips


I just want to look at the sky

I want to feel the earth’s energy

Caress my body

My mind

I want my cottage

On the seaside

Or the forest

The clean safe air

Filling my lungs

We are one.

"Candy Store" 

Emmett Francis


As children,

We’re given lollipops,

A rainbow spiral of sugary joy.

Licking away the colors,

We compare tongue shades of:

Blue, red, purple, green.

Lick, lick, lick,

Until you reach the stick.

Earth is my favorite flavor

A massive round pop

Orbiting the sun.

It’s sweet and has savory gifts to nature:

Oceans, forests, mountain ranges,

An array of flavors.

Lick, lick, lick,

Until you reach the stick.

Sometimes at the core of the treat,

There’s an extra glob of chocolate.

I suppose some people got curious

To see if our planet has any too.

Lick after lick,

A black oily substance spouted out.

That flavor is new,

And tastier,

Called fossil fuels.

It’s in everything!

But the flavor spilled into the other colors,

Leaving our tongues black Instead of a rainbow.

Oceans transformed from sweet to sour,

Forests of thick chocolate are now gone,

Mountains that had pop rocks now just have rubble.

Lick, lick, lick,

Until you reach the stick.

What do we do when

We get to Earth’s stick?

"The Other Side"

Afrodita Aguilar

Drowning in still air, you're around and

It feels like I'm more alone when you're around

Surface skimming and empty smiles

I'm drowning in such mediocracy—

is this what it's like to be stable?

I don't like the taste of milk, so I

Chose you in some illusioned fantasy

That you were not milk, but liquor.

I want the love that burns going down

My throat.

Erratic and madly in love, what has become

Of who I was, what I was.

Drowning in still air, staring blankly

At some fixated light ahead of me

Why do I lust for a drink in places of sin?

I want the love that burns going down- no chaser

Sometimes your voice rings like hell,

Sometimes my face swells with ales

Am I drowning in my comfort?

Am I drowning in my sanity?

This person reflecting in the looking glass—

Is an imposter.

Imposter, imposter, imposter

My yells echo in the chamber of my heart

Who I was, whom I am-on the other side of the looking glass

"The Empty House on Clebourne Avenue"

Tucker Trivette


Two smiling boys and a perfect family

What a beautiful sight on Clebourne Avenue

Beautiful trees soak in the bright sunlight

Such peace lives on Clebourne Avenue

Friends and family gather to make memories forever cherished

Oh, how I miss Clebourne Avenue

Smiles fade, and distress begins to rise

Oh, the shouts from Clebourne Avenue

A man walks out on his children and leaves his wife

It is a sad night on Clebourne Avenue

Single mother and hardships to bear; she keeps her head held high

There is strength on Clebourne Avenue

Shouts of joy from a pool party welcome the new season

There is a new man on Clebourne Avenue

Treating him as a jungle gym and begging for his tomorrow return

New hope flows through Clebourne Avenue

Passion and bliss fill the air as two lovers begin to intertwine

Such euphoria lives on Clebourne Avenue

Police sirens pierce the air like his hands in a heated dispute

It is a difficult night on Clebourne Avenue

A baby is carried in a blue blanket up the stairs

There is a new life on Clebourne Avenue

Redemption reigns as the church choir sing

Hallelujah for Clebourne Avenue

The children grow in height and knowledge

There is a maturity within Clebourne Avenue

The snake slithers in with his temptatious grin

It is a silent night on Clebourne Avenue

A mistress postures herself in his bed

Such a disastrous night on Clebourne Avenue

Heated fights as the secrets grow

There is fear on Clebourne Avenue

She hangs on by a thread for her three’s happiness

There is misery on Clebourne Avenue

Smiling faces and bruised up arms

All hope is lost on Clebourne Avenue

Lost in numbness, she finally removes herself

He is all alone on Clebourne Avenue

She runs for shelter as the authorities come through

Such safety from Clebourne Avenue

The neighbors begin their whispers

There is now an empty house on Clebourne Avenue.

"Grandmother's Home"

Savannah Price



There is something indescribable

About the warm air of Grandmother’s home.

If I could have bottled the feeling, the aroma,

The bottle would surely be prescribable.


That feeling. That lovely,

pleasant feeling. Oh, what

I would give to spend one

more summer morning there.


Basking in the sun,

With Grandmother nearby, handing

Out strawberries in sugar spun.

She was understanding, undemanding,

Silently slipping snacks to anyone.

“Watch me, watch me, as I run!”

Oh yes, very well done, darling.


That feeling. That lovely,

pleasant feeling. Oh, what

I would give to spend one

more fall afternoon there.


The limbs of that darkening Tree

Invite the grandchildren into its arms.

From the kitchen, she offers sweat tea

To those who have come into harm’s

Way, slipping off a branch come free.


“Help! Oh, my leg, it bleeds, it burns!”

Oh no, let me bandage that knee.


That feeling. That lovely,

pleasant feeling. Oh, what

I would give to spend one

more winter night there.


The children lay upon the floor,

Blankets and pillows and smiles and hair.

Their bedtime, they much ignore;

Grandmother does not care.

For late-night snacks they explore.

“He got two! That’s not fair!”

Both of you, take two more.


There is something indescribable

About the warm air of Grandmother’s home.

A feeling so strong and undeniable

From its effect, you can never roam.

"Premature Fears"

Danielle Hardy

Afraid to be misunderstood before communication--

Shall I describe my mind in this explanation?


An occurrence of premature fears,

I feel the onslaught of tears.

My mind works against me,

A struggle you will never see.


I listen to the classics--

Bach, Beethoven, Mozart

As fears corrode me like acids

Rightfully tearing me apart.


I know that I can’t write;

I know that I could never explain in full.

My mind is like a maze that I can’t get through;

I keep opening doors that never lead to anywhere.

I keep stuffing my thoughts into drawers I’ll never look into.


The truth is: I hate the hustle-bustle of life,

The god-awful noise of everyday.

I try to avoid it with loud music,

But the music causes my brain to vibrate.


My mind is on fire right now;

My eyes are bleeding;

My heart is bursting,

Not in a good way.

I’m having a heart attack--

Cardiac arrest, arresting my heart

Squeezing until there is nothing left

Nothing left to give, nothing left to take.


How can anyone look inside me?

How can anyone see the tumultuous sea of emotions inside me?

I wish someone could see.

I certainly wish I didn’t always feel so built up--

So overwhelmed by my own mind and emotions.


I wish I could turn it off;

I wish I could relax;

I wish I could chill out;

I wish I didn’t feel this way so many of the times;

I wish that I could feel normal for once;

I wish I didn’t have writer’s block all the time;


I wish I could get my feelings out;

I wish I didn’t bottle everything up all the time.

I have a lot of wishes that coincide with my fears.

I fear that you will hate what you see,

That you will ignore it until I am dead.

I am going to die from the earthquake shattering my mind.

I will die from this quenching of my heart.

I feel this in my very soul.


The cello does not soothe me;

It only makes me sadder.

I can not take a break from these feelings inside.

I wish I could talk to you about it.

I wish I could let the tears run down my face right now.

In this moment,

I am taught like a wire, so tight I can’t breathe.


I can’t breathe.

Oh my God, I can’t breathe.

Please, push the air into my lungs before I die.

Please, help me discover the madness I keep inside.

The madness has never left me;

I only ignore it to get through the day.

I just feel like the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

I feel like J. Alfred Prufrock.

I feel frazzled and disarrayed.


I feel bundled and messed up--

Sincerely messed up.

A friend called me crazy yesterday,

But I guess he was right.

“Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must lead.”

At least Bukowski will always get me.


So, why do I still think these thoughts?

I can not ignore them all the time,

But I do to get through the day.

How else would I make it through mindless 8 hour shifts?

How else would I make it through class

And tutoring appointments

And student teaching?

I feel dizzy with it right now.

I feel like I should be passed out on the ground.


I feel like I need a drink,

But I don’t like to drink.

I miss Bukowski,

And I hate the chaos.


Bipolar or just crazy?

Depressed or just crazy?

Anxiety or just crazy?




That’s what you would all call me if you felt what I felt.

I am what I am.

I have never been more honest in my life.

If you felt what I felt, you would go crazy.

If you felt what I felt, you would sob until your heart gave out.


I go through all this at the expense of my own despair.

I go through all of this, so you don’t have to.

I go through all this because you couldn’t handle it.

I go through all this to feel sane one day out of the year.


This is not a panic attack;

This is not an anxiety attack;

This is not a mental breakdown.

This is just an overflowing of my emotions.

The bottle is filled,

And I can’t put the cap back on.


I’m foaming at the mouth;

I’m splitting at the seams.

The metaphorical balloon has burst;

It can not be put together again.


I am going to be sick.

I feel like I will be sick from the onslaught of emotion.

I wish you could see my struggle;

I wish you could see my mind.


I am hurting.

I am dying inside.


But alas, my premature fears overtake me.

I am once again sitting in silence while the war rages on inside.


Karla Hernandez


Lying on the ground, I felt your presence

An aura that made everything okay 

Your hand so strong and lovingly as you lifted me up

Your comforting arms so light yet reassuring 

Your lips spread memorable words to mine 

Our foreheads touching to show compassion 

Common and relative memories flood our mind  

If at all possible our souls connected 

Millions of stars pass away and here we still are 

You lifted me up to the stars I was blind too 

Allowing me to see the beauty in your eyes that are cast downward 

The stars imprisoned in your gaze

Down to earth you fell, leaving me in total darkness

"I Never Saw This Coming"

Alexis Dewey


I never saw this coming.  Six months ago seems like a lifetime to some people, but it’s different for me. I thought I had put all the pieces back together. Then, one day, the vase shattered all over again.  I suppose that’s what happens when you try to glue yourself back together alone.  You end up breaking again.  It’s inevitable. 

            One day I was fine, and the next day I was having flashbacks.  It’s the worst kind of déjà vu; I was just reliving it all in my mind.  Every emotion came flooding back, and I started having dreams and vivid memories, and I wondered what was causing them. I see his face and replay our last conversation in my head. I see that smile of his that shined brighter than those Georgia stars in summer.  I can hear his laugh in the distance, hoping it’s him.  When I think I see him in public, my heart starts racing. But, then I get closer and realize it’s just another red head.  The last time I saw him is a time I will never forget.

I was running to make sure everyone was okay, while my mind was running in a different direction.  I remember it was pouring rain that day.  I could not differentiate the rain from my tears; they were traveling at the same speed.  My body was numb, and it was getting harder to form words. I simply couldn’t speak without sobbing.  The air was thick, and the thunder was rumbling almost as loud as my heart.  However, it was time to be the bearer of bad news and to be a comfort for others.  I felt like I was living in a nightmare, and I couldn’t wake up.  He didn’t wake up.

            My life starts to feel like I am a kid again, when I used to hold my breath when we drove through a seemingly never-ending tunnel.  It takes over my mind like it once did months ago.  I cannot make it stop, but a part of me doesn’t want it to stop.  It hurts, but I do not want to lose those memories, no matter how much they hurt.  It kills me on some days to think about it or to hear his name.  Although the pain is deep and still building, I don’t want it to end.  I do not necessarily want to feel the pain, but I also do not want to stop seeing his face.  I have his picture on my wall because I’m scared that I’ll one day forget what that bright, smiling face looked like.  I even have a work schedule from the last week we worked together stuck in my Bible, just so I can see our names together.  I just don’t have the heart to get rid of it.  I even remember how he waved. He was so quiet, but he left such a loud mark on us. 

            So, I think I’ll keep the memories.  I’ll cherish what he taught me, and I tell people about his kindness and love for Jesus.  He pushed me to spread love and joy everywhere I go.  I will decide that I have the opportunity every day to show the same love and kindness that he showed. I never thought I would see someone hurting, and then lose them like that.  I never thought I would meet a friend, and, two months later, grieve their passing.  Except, it has been six months at this point, and I am still grieving.  It’s a weird concept to grieve the death of someone for longer than I ever knew them on Earth.  I’m grateful for knowing people who are so special, that you don’t have to know them for very long to miss them when they’re gone.   I wish I could see him smile one more time.  I suppose one day I will.  However, until the day Jesus comes back, I will wake up every day grateful for the people in my life. I never saw this coming.   

"A Walk"

Paola Gonzalez


when there is no perceived distinction and an attempt to walk in a straight line, human tendency is to walk in circles.



let me tell you countless nature facts did you know about crypto’s environmental impacts?

let me cuff your cheeks with my hands so gentle

I'll tell you how I love your face, something that I can’t replace


let me tell you about how I think I’m going to die.

or I’ll recite a list of names for my future cat

you can watch me cry


let me listen to you talk about electricity tell me about your interests and your latest internship be always my tranquility 

I want to overload your face with soft kisses I want to hear your voice, it’s softer than mine and look into your eyes until you get nervous,  and you awkwardly compare me to sweet wine I think, nothing should divert us.


let me lead you on a walk to see some cool trees don’t freak out, they’re just bees!

it’s spring and branches are full of color, song, and green

you too can make colors out of grey with ease


can I run my hands through your hair?

sorry, I hope you don’t care 


you get shy when I lean in

I love it when I’m close to you I think you do too though you never tell me; not even how you’ve been  so I don’t know do you disagree?



I can tell you all my secrets on the floor, do you feel rapport? you don’t have to tell me yours.

but let me get lost inside your brown eyes, I don’t mind detours  I can’t wait anymore can we explore?

"M Poem"

Emmett Francis


Mirages of nearby past manifest all around

Miracles–I muse?

My mates, my mimeses, my magnificoes

Meandering about, a flutter in my heart!

Maybe we’ll meet, maybe we’ll have a nice chat

Might their faces from afar be my mates up close?

Muster the courage to keep looking…

My dear heart slumps!

Monet paintings they may be

Magnificent from afar, macabre when near


"Wedding Plans"

Reagan Brady


Endless road seemed to stretch out before her, yawning in its eternity. The asphalt was slick and wet, sheathed with soft fog, snaking through the darkness. Streetlights flicker like the lightning bugs outside, accompanied by the cicadas chirping, a tell-tale sign that Southern summer is upon them.

A beat-up blue Saab hunkers along the road, sputtering at a steady pace. Its tires are worn and weary, long in need of replacement. Yellow headlights bleakly stare out and onto the street.

“Hey,” a boy says. He sits in the passenger seat of the car. He is sunflower blonde, with cheeks round and pinked like apples. He taps the arm of the girl who sits beside him. Her eyes are bleary and reddened, hungry in their sleepiness. Even her skin had gone sallow and pale.

“Darcyyy,” he says, nudging her harder.

The radio drones out a lazy song.

She shakes herself awake at her brother’s touch, hands tightening on the steering wheel. “I’m sorry, Hanson. Did you say something?”

He knew his sister was tired. It was because of him, after all. And no matter how much she brushed it off and said she was okay, he knew that she could barely keep their heads above water.

He only longed to be old enough to help.

“Nothing,” he mumbles. He turns to look out the window just as glaring lights flash at him. Before he can so much as scream, the car barrels into them. There is searing pain.

And then, there is nothing.


Years had passed since then. Even in tragedy, the world moves on.

This is a peek into a different life, a better life. The bustle of wedding planning creates a white noise in young Mike’s head, the words of his superiors passing through his mind without much thought. His office cubicle is sprawled with papers, littered with capless pens, and he reaches to loosen his tie.

It’s all he can do to keep the noose from choking him.

White dresses. White cakes. White roses.

He must’ve tasted at least a dozen pastries by now, yet none could make his soon-to-be wife smile. She was unappeasable, the bags that loomed beneath her eyes growing ever deeper.

He worried his cuticles between his teeth.


The shout startled him out of his daydream. His boss handed him a thick stack of papers, scowling behind her CliC Gold glasses. The thread unraveling from her cuff spun a different story.

He stood, table rattling. “I have to go.”

As he leaves, tugging on his coat, he hears his boss’ unkindly words follow. He doesn’t care. The door shutting behind him, he steps out and onto the city street.

There is only one thought on his mind. Darcy. His bride-to-be.

She had become unresponsive, despondent. And he was determined to find out why.

An autumn breeze clips at his skin even as he drives. He knows she is not at work, where she says she will be. He knows she will not be staying there late, as the little green notification on his phone assures him she will be. He’d already called her work. He’d checked.

And so, he follows her car as she leaves work, weaving through traffic. He always had loved to drive.

Dread seized his stomach, a copper taste pooling in his mouth like blood. His fingers clench the steering wheel until his knuckles go white, and every red light feels longer than the last. What if she turns and sees him? Her story will fall to pieces, and what then? Can he save them?

They’d had a simple enough life so far. They’d met at the Early Bird’s coffeehouse, talked over some drinks. Bonded over their shared trauma with 9/11. She’d lost her parents. And, well, he… he’d experienced the hell flame himself. He still bore the burns to show for it.

He thought they were perfect.

He’d left the catholic church long ago, even before the tragedy of the Twin Towers. Yet, as he followed her through a hospital building, he mumbled prayers beneath his breath.

White walls. White tile. White blanket over a still body.

Lurking just outside, Mike could only watch as the woman he loved bent at another man’s bedside. She crumpled onto his chest, the bouquet of lilies she’d brought discarded on a bedside table. Her body heaved with sobs. He watched until he couldn’t.

“Darcy,” he said, taking a step into the room. The machine beside the hospital bed beeped a steady, jarring rhythm. His heart thundered in his ears.

The woman stood, hastily wiping at her eyes. Her lips, chapped and red, trembled. Even as she tried to collect herself, her words shook, broken through with choked sobs. “It’s not,” she began, breath shaking even as she drew it, “it’s not what you think.”

Mike’s accusatory eyes looked at the man on the bed behind her. Just as fast, that man became a boy again. The ground spun at his feet. Everything began to dim. Darcy’s voice became warbled and jumbled as though she spoke miles below the ocean.

The product of his sin lay still on his hospital bed. Scars twisted the skin of his hollowed cheeks, but Mike could never forget the boy’s face. He’d seen it printed in the papers all those years ago. It had been a horrible accident. A hit-and-run. It had left an orphaned teenager without so much as her brother and had left her brother within an inch of his life.

He hadn’t even reached middle school.

“That’s your brother?” Mike asked. It was a question more than anything, a hope. How he wished he was wrong. His tongue was thick, too large for the dryness of his mouth. His hands shook as he spoke. But he could see the resemblance. The soft face, the gentle blonde hair. Had her brother been just as kind as she?

He thought he’d discarded this guilt long ago.

The hospital began to shudder and shake around him as Darcy, with hesitation in her voice, confirmed his worst fears. All it took was a cautious, “Yes.”

The woman he cherished so deeply was wracked with sorrow, and, even now, her face was slick with tears. She apologized—to him of all people, hah!—saying she knew she should’ve told him. But she couldn’t. She had too much guilt, shame.

“If only I’d paid more attention,” she whimpered. Her hand went to rest on her brother’s forehead, stroking it with a sort of parental familiarity. Her wet eyes crinkled.

Her words were lost on him.

After all, it had been him in the other car that lonely summer night. He could still taste the cheap whiskey, remember the panic as he drove away, cursing in a drunken stupor.

It had all been him.

And, as the blinking red line that tethered Darcy’s brother fell flat and stilled, the woman howled with pain. Even as nurses rushed to her side, she could only wail.

Everything went white.


"What Life Can Become"

Savannah Price



“Don’t nobody want to work anymore!” The old woman declared, stirring the boil-and-mix packaged macaroni and cheese as if she were a witch, the veteran bowl was her cauldron, and the potion she brewed would somehow fix all the lazy people in the world.

Her husband sat at the old wooden table that her mother had passed down to her, and he mumbled an mmph as he indolently read the headlines on the local newspaper. She understood the man’s low grunt to be his agreement, which riled her up even more, though he had not been listening at all.

“I just don’t know what we will do when there ain’t nobody to do the menial jobs in life! Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” she started, and her husband knew she would not stop at only disclosing one thing, but he still held a glimmer of hope. “I don’t work for Walmart! I can’t believe the amount of people this society has fooled into bein’ their own cashiers. I was there today, ya know, and had to wait in line for thirty minutes just be checked out!” She stirred the macaroni so violently that several pieces of the processed pasta flew onto the counter. “When they start sendin’ me a paycheck, I’ll start checkin’ myself out.”

She finally decided that she had beat the macaroni enough and moved onto the boiling potatoes on the stove. She preferred instant potatoes, but her husband had convinced her that “real women didn’t rely on no box to make mashed potatoes”—at least his mama didn’t before they dumped her into a nursing home.

She pulled the pot off the eye and strained the water out of the potatoes before dumping them into a bowl and taking to beating them with a hand masher. Her husband had grown bored with the newspaper, and now stared blankly at the grandfather clock across the room. After years of practice, he was able to tune out his wife’s voice and focus exclusively on the to-and-fro of the brass pendulum.

“And don’t get me started on gas prices!” She spoke in gusts now as the exercise of mashing the potatoes was too great for her body that was only used to the stationary nature of her menial life. “I reckon the good Lord will be here mighty soon with the way the world is now…” Her voice trailed off as if this idea was a scary thought for her indeed, and it should have been as she believed more in the practices and the entitlement of religion than she did in the actual thing.

“Is tha food done?” Her husband spoke blandly, interrupting her from her worries.

“Naw, I still gotta microwave them their hotdogs,” she rubbed the edge of her forehead with the inside of her wrist before gesturing to several pink hotdogs laid across a paper plate. “Would you nuke ‘em for me?” She asked, resuming her aggression upon the potatoes in front of her. Her husband huffed out a breath.

“I work all day, and come home to nuke my own hotdogs?” Despite his anger, he groaned his way out of the chair and shuffled over to the plate of hotdogs. After shoving them into the microwave and setting the time, he poured himself a glass of sweet tea and sat back down in his spot to enjoy the entertainment of the clock.

Just as the old woman finished mixing the milk and mayonnaise into the mashed potatoes, the microwave beeped. She set each of the dishes onto the table in front of her husband before glancing up to catch his glance at the clock.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you keep a starin’ at that dern clock just a ‘waiting for it to be your time to head on home to Glory,” she laughed at herself as if this was a highly unlikely possibility, but her husband was quite surprised the woman had been smart enough to guess it.

They each loaded up their plates with the food and ate in silence, all except for the steady ticking of the grandfather clock.

“I wonder what’ll be on TV later,” she finally said as she watched her husband nearing the end of his second plate. She knew he usually ambled away into the living room after his second fixin’ and remained in his large reclining chair until he shuffled off to bed around 9pm. He didn’t acknowledge her question, so she pressed on, “I hope there’s somethin’ on that home improvement channel! I been wanting to redo this here kitchen for years, ya know. I finally think I’m a gonna do it!”

He didn’t glance up at her, just fed himself another spoonful of the tasteless mashed potatoes. She picked at her own, wishing she had just made the boxed stuff because she much preferred the taste. After years of her saying she would improve or update things around the house, and never doing anything at all, the old man knew she was just talking to talk. He figured she just liked the sound of her own voice, but he didn’t much like the shrill she had to add at the end of every sentence.

“I think I’m gonna paint these here walls white! I think it’ll make everythin’ look nice and clean,” she gestured around at the cloudy yellow walls that had never changed, or even been cleaned, in the fifty years they had lived in the home. The husband thought, but didn’t say, that it would take a lot more than white paint to make the home feel clean. It was clear the woman was growing ansty with his lack of responses, so he figured he needed to put something in to keep her from getting too riled up.

“I reckon that’ll do the trick. What ‘bout the bedrooms?” He scooped up his last bite of macaroni and stretched as the old woman’s face lit up. When she began, he let her voice fade away as he listened closely for the clock’s ticking.

“I-I think the bedrooms would be beautiful in a…” She placed a finger on her chin while she thought as she had not considered the possibility of painting the bedrooms too. “Well, I’d say a nice red for the guest room and a romantic little blue for ours. What do ya say?” He nodded despite not having heard exactly what she said as he rubbed his belly while he now chewed on a toothpick.

“I reckon that’ll look nice,” he managed in between nibbles on the wood. He felt like they had this conversation every night for the entirety of his marriage, just about different things that he could not have cared less about. But, oh, after so many years, he learned he had to act like he cared in order to shut her up.

Now, as she daydreamed about her freshly painted rooms, he slipped away into his recliner to watch TV. The woman joined him soon after, taking to her seat on the large, empty sofa. She sat on the edge of the couch, as if it wasn’t her own and she wasn’t comfortable enough to relax into it.

The next morning, the old man got up early for work. When he had first married the old woman, she woke up with him and made him a nice breakfast. Now, she snored loudly in the bed, drool dangling on the side of mouth. He wrinkled his nose slightly in disgust before shuffling out of the room to get ready.

He worked all day while his wife did, well, he didn’t know what she did, but he knew that she wasn’t cooking supper or cleaning the house or painting the bedrooms. When he came through the door that afternoon, she was already getting started on something new to complain about. He sauntered past her, groaning his way into his seat at the table.

“I’ll tell you somethin’! These young people just don’t wanna work! I went down to the store to pick up some paint, for the rooms of course, and this young man was sitting outside just a beggin’ for money! Can ya believe it?” She was frying some bologna on the stove, and the man was disappointed that she had picked up some potato chips and loaf bread, both of which lay on the kitchen counter behind her. They had sandwiches most days of the week.

“I walked up to him, and I said, ‘Sir, there sits a HIRING sign just there in the window! What in the world you doin’ out here a beggin’ when you could be a workin’?’ And do you know what he said?!” She was more excited than he had seen her in a while. He didn’t say anything though, and he found pleasure in the anger his silence enticed. She sighed, but continued on nonetheless.

“He said ‘Then, lady, why don’t you go apply for the job if you want is so bad?’ I was so offended that I told the cashier inside that they had a homeless man outside just a beggin’ and harassin’ their customers for money!” She seemed pleased with herself, but the old man was quite amused with the homeless man’s insight. The woman had never truly worked a day in her life. He didn’t want to get her too riled up, now, so he went ahead and asked her a question.

“Did you pick up the paint?” He didn’t look up at her, but he could tell by her pause she hadn’t. He had partly hoped she had finally decided to commit herself to something, to solve one of her many complaints. But, he knew, she just liked to complain and continue to wallow in her complaints over and over and over. She droned on about something else now, but he was already gone.

He returned his attention to the newspaper and listened to the sound of the clock.


"The Empath"

Rayna Wilson


The information here is nearly factual and potentially honest. Some may be biased, but so is the rest. Information cannot come from an author unbiased. I was there. I’ll tell it like I saw it, but I’ll pick what I want you to know.

The story starts with a true empath and ends with her, too. She didn’t die, although many think so; they’re biased - it’s the way of storytellers. The facts are that she was an empath and stayed one; now you need to know everything in-between.

The girl’s real name is Rachel, or at least it is as long as I can convince you of it. That’s not her real name, but you don’t need to know what it is. You don't have to know anything I don’t want to tell you. Rachel is average height, and everyone thinks she thinks herself average-looking. She’s not average-looking. A modeling agency hired her when she was eleven; she knows she’s not average-looking. She would have to be a fool to think that. It’s the men that are the problem; she isn’t allowed to think she’s beautiful because of them. If she already thinks she’s beautiful, how can they comfort her? How can any of them be the one to tell her she’s gorgeous? They can’t; they can’t do their job so long as she believes she’s attractive. Men can’t handle a woman that already thinks she’s beautiful.

So, when she was fourteen, Rachel acted like she thought she wasn’t beautiful, even though she was. She wanted the approval of men. She wanted their attention. Once, a thirty-year-old man asked her, as I recall:
“Do you have a boyfriend yet?”

“No,” she responded.

“Well, when you do,” he said, “you’ll give him hell. He’ll love it.”

Rachel started college when she was thirteen. The details aren’t important; that’s a fact, though, in the middle of this nearly factual and potentially honest narrative. She started college at thirteen. She’s almost finished it. She’s seventeen now.

Men typically don’t know how to handle Rachel; she’s clearly doing well on her own, and they don’t like females in authority. None of them do; that’s how the world works. So, when fourteen-year-old Rachel decided she wanted their attention, she had to hide some things.  

This is where her empathy comes into play.

Back when she was fourteen, Rachel was more oblivious than she understood. Every true empath knows that the first rule of empathy is to not show your feelings. If anyone knows you’re easily manipulated, they’ll manipulate you. There’s nothing you can do. Older, more experienced empaths know that the greatest gift are the fake empaths. Fake empaths are the most narcissistic people around. They’re the type that say “I’m an empathetic crier,” and “Sorry, I’m not mentally here – my friend is having a really hard time right now.” They're the attention-grabbers, and they do it well.

 Everyone loves empathetic criers because they supposedly feel so deeply for other people. True empaths know never to cry in front of people. That’s too vulnerable; save it for 3 AM.

The true empaths stay hidden; they’re the ones that don’t acknowledge the homeless person sitting on the side of the street, but go home and cry in the comfort of their own closet for no reason they can verbalize. True empaths can’t explain their emotions. Someone hurts, so they do too. Someone is happy, so they are as well. Someone is angry, so the empath gets in trouble for acting out over nothing. There’s nothing. Being an empath is so irritating.

As a true empath, Rachel should’ve stayed hidden. She didn’t. She wanted attention, just like any human. She thought she was doing everything right.

She was wrong.

When she met Jordan, she was still an empath. She felt for him. This guy, this eighteen-year-old man who Rachel decided she loved, had had heart surgery. He had a fake heart in his chest, for crying out loud. She felt for him. She wanted to help him.

He had the fake heart for a reason.

It was spring break of her freshman year of high school, that one week out of the school year when terrible decisions are made, friendships are broken, someone has sex with someone else and then falls in love with a completely different person, and then everything is somehow back to normal by the end of the week. Rachel’s life, though, never really went back to normal after spring break.

The Tuesday before that week, while classes were still in session, she decided that Jordan Sikes had a crush on her, and not just a crush, but that he really really liked her. She really convinced herself, and it wasn’t her fault, either. He gave her every reason to think he was hiding his feelings for her.

Once, they sat in chemistry class together. Rachel took it her freshman year because she was busy at the college where she dual-enrolled, and this gave her a break. She was quite advanced in school, as you already know. She was bored easily. She didn’t want to take biology; so, she took chemistry as a freshman. She was smart. She sat at a table where two boys happened to sit next to her. They became lab partners. One of the boys was William, and that’s his real name. The other boy was Jordan Sikes. That’s not his real name.

Rachel did the math part of each lab for both of these boys; she didn’t care to do it, she was an empath, and she knew they couldn’t understand the material. She didn’t want to make them feel bad, so she just did their math, and they all received As almost every single time. In comparison to the sixteen and seventeen-year-old boys she did the work for, Rachel was fantastic. She was far too good for either of them, and, before she lost herself, she knew that.

Jordan Sikes kept staring at her throughout every class. Rachel knew he was staring because she could feel his eyes on her. Women are good at feeling mens’ eyes on them, even though they aren’t supposed to notice.

One time, after she had finished balancing the chemical equations by herself while William tried to follow her lead and Jordan took pictures of her work, Jordan said,

“Hey Rachel, can I take a picture of you?”

“Um,” she hesitated, like any normal person would in that situation, “Why?”

 “Oh,” he said, “I just like telling my friends about my other friends, and they wanted to see what you look like.”

William looked up from his work and said, “She probably has an Instagram, bro.”

She does. He still took a picture of her.

He started texting Rachel all the time. She loved it. Her heart jumped every time she saw a notification from “Jordan” pop up on her screen:

“How are you doing?”

“What’s going on?”

“What did you think of the homework?” things like that.

Rachel had never been given attention from a boy before. She thought he liked her. She thought it was so obvious, and that he should just get on with it and tell her. She didn’t want to wait. She had no patience. She was an outspoken woman with power; she didn’t wait for anybody.

So, Rachel told him that she liked him, even though she didn’t, because she didn’t understand what that felt like yet. She was an empath, and she hurt for him; her heart burned for him. She thought that was love. She confessed her feelings over text during spring break, just like a fourteen-year-old would. She supposed that, if she could get the ball rolling, he would just follow her lead, because after all, she was way too good for him.

He didn’t like her.

He decided that he did like her over the summer, though, and she was an empath, so by August, they were together.

It’s not surprising that he broke up with her five months later. He claimed that he loved her. She’ll never forget that. She turned fifteen somewhere in the middle of their relationship. She doesn’t really remember. She was focused on him, and busy losing herself to what he wanted. He turned nineteen. Everyone said they shouldn’t be together.

She said, “I know what I’m doing,” but she didn’t.

He said, “It’s not like I’m going to take advantage of you,” but he did, as you can imagine.

He gave her her first date, the first time she held hands with someone, the first time someone paid for her meal, her first kiss, her first neck kisses, her first french kiss, her first time going way further than she said she would or wanted to; every woman has done that last one. It’s never for them. It’s always for him.

She hated it. She didn’t want to make him mad.

“Just say no.”

Could she? Could she handle rejecting another human being? Rachel was an empath – her little heart couldn’t take that for him.

He had more surgeries and other medical complications while they were together. He would come home. He didn’t want to hurt anymore.

“Please, just once,” he moaned on the couch, and she crawled towards him to get closer. He hurt so bad, so she did too. She didn’t want to, but she was an empath; she couldn’t watch him hurt like that, so she did what she thought she had to.

Afterwards, she was on the floor. She always ended up on the floor. They didn’t even go to his bedroom. He was on the couch, because he was the one in pain: physical pain, at least.

He was on his phone. She just lied there, on the hardwood floor.

“Do you feel any better?” she would always ask as she sat up, genuinely concerned for his mental wellbeing, unlike him towards her.

He sighed and didn’t take his eyes of his phone. He never took his eyes off of his phone. Rachel didn’t want to know who he was texting; that person was clearly more important than the fifteen-year-old girl that gave her body so he could feel again. This nineteen-year-old claimed that he couldn’t feel anymore.

“Better, but you know something?” this was the only time when he would look at her. This was the only time he ever said anything that he decided should really matter to her. He said it a lot, “We really shouldn’t do this, ok? Please get dressed. This makes me uncomfortable.”

So, she dressed herself. She went home and cried because she made him uncomfortable, and then they were both upset, and she was more upset because she was an empath. It's my fault, Rachel thought, I’m ruining his life; I should’ve convinced myself to wait. It was her fault. It was always her fault. Even though it wasn’t, she thought it was.

This went on for a while. This was all that happened throughout their relationship. It was an endless cycle of Jordan needing something from Rachel, blaming her for withholding it, and then blaming her for giving it. Like Rachel would say, however: If all good things come to an end, so do all the bad things. So, this unhappy ending slowly turned itself around.

Jordan eventually became “unhappy” with Rachel. Rachel, like the powerhouse she used to be, remembered that she used to be a female in authority. She used to be far too good for Jordan. She rediscovered herself, slowly. She became too opinionated for Jordan.

At one point, possibly in the fourth month of their relationship, he started kissing her, as he usually did: not paying attention to any of her obviously uncomfortable body language. He started inching his way down her neck.

She pushed him away, “You’ve said so many times before that we shouldn’t do this. Why can’t we stop? You always get so sad after we’ve finished. Let’s not go back to that.” Rachel was rediscovering herself, but she hadn’t yet realized Jordan's real reason for deciding he “liked” her after rejecting her.

She’ll never forget the grayness of his eyes when she pushed him away. Those gray eyes had no empathy to them. They just caused pain. Both of the lifeless water bubbles on his face flickered diagonally to the right before he sat back on the couch. He went back to that phone and whoever he was always texting. He didn’t say anything except for “yes” and “no” the rest of the night. Rachel felt bad, so they ended up making out anyway; she didn’t know how to stand her ground just yet. She’d figure that out after the breakup.

There were too many nights of Rachel’s opinions getting in the way of Jordan’s happiness. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. He couldn’t deal with her anymore. So, one night, while he was driving her back from one of their dates, he decided to break her little heart. She’s easily broken, I know he thought, this will break her, and then she’ll let me do whatever I want again. The problem with his plan, though, was that she didn’t break. Instead, her walls grew for the first time ever. His exact words, I believe, were:

“If neither of us are happy, then...I don’t know.”

This, in all of its non-chalant, matter-of-factedness, was the turning point for Rachel. This boy, this nineteen year-old man, couldn’t even muster up the courage to breakup with her. She decided in that moment that she wasn’t letting it happen again. She felt a glue-like substance hardening like plaster around her heart. That was it. She would learn how to hide her empathy. She wasn’t going to show it again.

In response, Rachel, knowing she had always been far too good for this man, responded, “If you’re going to say it, then say it.” I don’t have time for this, she thought.

Ok,” he said, “I think we should....” he stopped before he reached the word. He wanted to throw her off; he wanted her to stop him. I’d go so far as to say he just wanted her to worry.

“Breakup?” She said for him, instead of falling into a pit of despair, as he expected.

“Breakup. Yeah,” He responded. Rachel noticed the slightest notes of surprise in his voice.

“Ok,” she said. She picked up her phone and started scrolling through it, just like he had always done in front of her.

“Ok?” he asked, clearly surprised at the response he was receiving.

The silence that he thought would be her answer was loud, at least for him. She could feel him staring at her, just like he used to in their chemisty class; women are good at telling when men actually care. She couldn’t have cared less.

Rachel invited this man into her house when they arrived, finally, after all the silence. He could tell she was happy. She was ecstatic. She gave him the picture frame she had already bought him for Valentine’s day. It was February. He still hadn’t bought her anything, just like on Christmas and her birthday.

“I think I’m going to go,” he said after she purposefully didn’t give him back the only one of his shirts he would let her have, because the rest of them were just too special for him to trust her with, for whatever reason.

“Ok,” she said, shrugged, and didn’t even walk him out the door.

Rachel found herself, of course, like a good little powerful woman does after a breakup, but the plaster walls around her heart only grew thicker. She was still an empath, but learned how to hide it, just like true empaths learn how to do. If she had let herself feel during that time, she would’ve lost her mind. She preferred to push it down. That way, she didn’t die on the inside.

She went through the next two years of her life pushing down her emotions. All the empathy was left inside of her, but she would only let it out at the end of the day, when no one could see her. A couple guys showed interest during that time, but she didn’t give them the light of day. Why would she? She was too busy cutting off communication with Jordan completely, in order to heal her mental health. She did it; she fixed herself without the help of anyone, because in her mind, she couldn’t trust anyone to help her. Those two guys weren’t good enough for her, anyways, even though the fourteen year-old romantic inside of Rachel wanted to give them both a chance. She cried at midnight instead.

Jordan found an empath and left a narcissist behind him; one that didn’t let anyone into her heart or life, even though several men attempted to break through the plastered walls surrounding her heart. No one ever made sufficient progress, though, because after all: who wanted to date a narcissist?

Only one guy, and she didn’t have to find him; he found her. He didn’t care that she looked like a narcissist when he first met her. He saw the empathy lying underneath her walls. Piece by piece, he has slowly stripped the plaster away, without her having to say a word. He just showed up. He wanted to be there; she didn’t have to ask him for anything. Now, Rachel thinks she knows what love is supposed to be:

The acknowledgement of a feeling without words having to be exchanged.

The unconditional affection that doesn’t fail, even through trials or anger.

The mutual understanding that, until the wedding bells, individual lives come first.

The relationship dynamic in which she gives him hell.

And he loves it.