- In the South, you are looked in the eye and wished “Merry Christmas,” and any response that is not “Merry Christmas” is not acceptable, and is greeted with polite disdain.
- For the first time in four years I was not in a retail store to hear the collective moan of my fellow employees when the first Christmas song of the season played at exactly 12:01 am on Black Friday.
- In 2000 Charlotte Church’s Christmas album “Dream a Dream” made history by being the one and only album by a white artist that was played consistently in my mother’s house. My eyes prick with immediate tears whenever I hear her version of “What Child is This — Greensleeves.”
- I have a scale of whiteness, on it a range of activities and idioms that determine how acculturated I have become to White America. Buying an ugly Christmas sweater means I have gone too far. Read more »
Dear Phoenix, I’m sorry, but I had to go. I called my mother, and told her I was coming home. I slept in the other bed — the dog’s bed — the bed covered in our possessions packed together. If he cared he would’ve gotten in the dog’s bed with me last night, not fall straight away to sleep like he always does. How does anyone fall straight away to sleep, like how do jumbo jets lift off the ground? And if he cared, how could he help me unpack and repack our possessions tossed together: our underwear, the socks, the DVDs, collected papers. I packed the car. I put the cat in the carrier, to lie on his t-shirt. Someone on the internet said to put an item of clothing in the traveling carrier, and she has always loved him more. I said I would go. I had to go. If he cared he would say so. If he cared he would’ve gone, and gotten the letter from the trash. If someone said it would end over a letter, I would’ve said What is this, Jane Austen? I would have said How Tragically Romantic. Really, we were cold. I had to go. The morning was dark as night, and I hadn’t seen outside at 4am in months. I was surprised how, finally, Phoenix had accepted winter. My breath fogged the windshield of my car. It was time to go. This was my fault. No one smiles at an ultimatum. Do this or do that. Do this or I will do that. I had to go. I said I would leave. I said This is Over Unless You Do This, which he didn’t do. So, it was over. Dear Phoenix, I am sorry. I wish I could stop doing things I’ll have to apologize for later. There were times on the 101 in traffic I loved you. Those were the times as sun was leaving the desert, the sky was purple, and, improbably orange, unconditional love seemed possible. Those were the times I felt like I deserved to be forgiven.
We keep a case of Budlight in the fridge. We keep drinking. (We won’t cry in front of strangers, unless we are crying for someone else, a pain not belonging to us.) We keep the crockpot the griddle the blender on the shelf created by the cabinets beside the fridge. We keep a stack of unpaid bills in the single drawer next to the bed. We keep the vibrator on. We keep the vibrator on top of the stack of bills. We keep banging the walls. We keep the walls up. We keep still. (We wash dishes in hand-burning hot water.) We keep looking for the other sock, the other sock.We keep sleeping in the unmade bed. We keep fixing the fitted sheet. We keep moving. We keep letters in the bags in the back of the closet. We keep the cat off the table. We keep the dog from running away. We keep looking for the other sock. We keep singing six-month-old songs on the radio. We keep dirty laundry in the blue bin. We keep not having important conversations. (We have never seen rain like the storms of monsoon season in the desert — all the lights off, the heavy green curtains of the motel room drawn back, the palm trees bending away.)We keep picking up the phone. We keep putting the phone down. We keep looking for the other sock. We keep running.
He keeps a case of Budlight in the fridge. I keep drinking. (I won’t cry in front of strangers, unless I am crying for someone else, pain not belonging to me.) The crockpot the griddle the blender sit on the shelf created by the cabinets beside the fridge. I stack my unpaid bills in the single drawer next to the bed. I keep the vibrator on top of my stack of bills. The bed bangs against the walls. I keep the walls up. I keep still. (I wash dishes in water so hot I burn my hands.) I keep looking for the other sock.We keep sleeping in the unmade bed. I keep fixing the fitted sheet. In my head I keep moving. I keep letters in the bags in the back of the closet. The cat won’t stay off the table. The dog doesn’t run away. I keep looking for the other sock. We keep singing. The dirty laundry is in the blue bin. I will not start an important conversation. (We have never seen rain like the storms of monsoon season in the desert — all the lights off, the heavy green curtains of the motel room drawn back, the palm trees bending away. There is lightning and thunder in our hearts.) I keep picking up the phone. I keep putting the phone down. We never find the other sock.
You are twenty-six, so you know everything about anything. You know a train goes by your shotgun apartment as often as you choose to notice the whistle. You know winter. You know how to politely say, “Fuck You.” You know how to make a graceful exit. You lie to yourself. You don’t heed warnings. You don’t eat well. You exercise to say you did. You write poems. You drink. One day, you get in your car, and you drive. You don’t ask anyone if you should go. You just fucking go. There’s a man waiting. There’s a dog in the backseat, not your dog, but his, and she keeps her mismatched eyes on the road. There are poems on the floor of the backseat, not yours, but you wish they were yours. You press the button, and the window goes down. You sing along to old burned CDs. You grin in the rear-view mirror at the dog; the dog is looking at the road. You think, “Look what I’ve done.” You don’t feel twenty-six. You don’t want to die. You watch a truck pass the center lane, hit the guard rail in front of you, jerk away, and then roll. You see the driver stand up in the dirt on the side of the road. You are as cool as a cucumber. You add understanding that phrase to everything you know. You shake. The dog whines. She has to pee again. You have to pee again. You get a “You’re-not-from-around-here” look in the convenience store. The first towering saguaro you see, you know you are not from around here — add that to the everything you know. You add the particular sky blue. You add orange mountains, sorbet in the sun, almost red clay in the dying light. You add armadillos. You drive. Ten and two. Five and seven. Four. You chew gum. You should stop, but you won’t, not until you get to Phoenix.
Evan and I maneuvered the last long wood table from the closet, turned it on its side, and carried it from the main conference room into our small classroom. My TA’s cheeks were bright pink from exertion, he should not have been lifting anything. Only two weeks before he’d been in the hospital for a collapsed lung. But now we were done setting up the tables in three rows, two chairs on each side, one on each end, so I did not fuss. As my Elon 101 class slowly trickled in I could see the apprehension on their faces. For a month, we’d been sitting in a semi-circle, talking, mostly about our feelings, so our time together was more like a therapy session than an advising class. This new room arrangement, and my email from days before prompting them to bring their laptops to class was a notable shift toward more businesslike endeavors.
When the usual stragglers were settled down, I had them boot up the computers, and log on to the site where they could search for classes. Then Evan and I distributed the Four-Year Plan sheet, a white piece of paper covered in columns and rows of lines, on which students could create a mock-up of their class schedules for all four years of their college careers. The week before I’d had individual meetings with my advisees to discuss declaring their majors, and picking tentative classes for the Winter and Spring terms. I’d shown them how the General Studies program worked. I showed them how certain classes double counted toward their majors, and toward general studies. We talked about study abroad, about language requirements. We talked prerequisites and co-requisites. At the end of each conversation, I asked, “Did this help? Do you feel better?” Read more »
Or do you shower? Do you turn on the water first, then walk away to find a clean towel?
Or do you step into the cold ceramic of the tub, & turn the faucet hard to the right?
Do you face the coming spray? Do you watch each drop as it passes below your line of sight?
Or, are you turned away, staring unseeing at the tile — thinking about the day?
Do you use a wash cloth? Or squeeze gel onto a loofah & then press it to the base of your neck?
Or with soap in hand, let the curve of it glide along your skin?
Where do you begin? Hair, legs, right armpit then left armpit.
Where does it end?
Do you pull the towel from the rack or is it heaped on the lid of the toilet?
Do you lean down first to dry your ankles or pat moisture from your arms?
Is there a lover waiting for a turn?
Are you the lover waiting, hoping the water is still warm?
This is why I am not writing. Look how many ways I could clean my body.
Look how many ways I forgot to look at the water emerge from the spigot, & the strange pink tile of my bathroom, the way the tub is brighter in the morning with the light off, than at night with the light on. Look at this bar of soap – I remember how big it was two days ago.
This is why I am not writing. Look at all the ways I could be writing: with sentences cut short by line breaks or no line breaks. I keep forgetting that not every line breaks. Some lines should not break.
******An email from the students of my Elon 101 class*******
Dear Mysterious Monet and Evan
We the students of your Elon 101 course regret to inform you that we have come to a consensus to drop your course. I understand that this may come as a shock to you, but trust us when we say we are truly not sorry. It has nothing to do with you as a teacher, but us as students. We have decided that we are too Kool for skool. If you are offended by us dropping your course, take solace in the fact that your course is not the only one we are dropping. We is also dropping curses such as math, global, and English (obviously). We were informed by our 6’6” linebacker OL that we were supposed to say what we wanted to get out of this class, and we have decided that we want to GET OUT of this class.
On a serious note however we are looking forward to a great year of Elon 101, and we are looking forward to learning about all that Elon has to teach us. We also all think that you’re a legend on this campus because you once wore army pants and flip-flops, so now we all wear army pants and flip-flops.
See you soon Momo,
Love Gar-Bear and the orientation group!
P.S. Evan you seem like a pretty OK dude too #creativeWritingUnderTheTree
I’ve been up since seven today, running from the moment my feet hit the carpeted ground. I am spent. I am so happy. Common myth is that RAs (Resident Assistants) are either the no-nonsense, police-like, mostly despised individuals or the overly perky, frantically enthusiastic busybodies who work in the residence halls of colleges and universities the world over, but we know we are people who, in some ways, do the hardest job, of holding each other accountable. Some of us succeed, some of us do not. We try to build community. We try to make a place of brick and stone feel like home. We laugh, a lot. We love people. We make mistakes and we want to be better. This is only Day 2 of the full staff (there are eight more to go):
1. Three of us made a Walmart run, in which we had less than ten minutes to procure: shoelaces, water bottles, deodorant, assorted candies, a coffee maker with the necessary accoutrements, Koolaid, fruit snacks, Popsicles, sprinkles, a poster board, and a tub of vanilla/chocolate ice cream. At the checkout line we were very amused to find the cheap relief of Vagi-Care.
2. Today was color day, in which each staff wore a predetermined color. It was quite marvelous to see large groups of various green shirts walking around campus or the red table across from the purple table.
3. After a discussion about timeliness, where I expressed my expectation that staff members be punctual, I felt compelled to explain my own lateness to this particular meeting by telling 20 students who have never seen or met me before that I was late because, I’d needed to poop so badly that I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom.
“If you don’t have a TA, we have a list of students who have expressed interest that you may choose from.”
But I had a Teaching Assistant in mind — an RA I’d worked with for the first few months of returning to my undergraduate institution as I had like the prodigal son. I doodled in my brand new Life 101 notebook, a beautiful flower printed hardcover journal I’d found on sale at Barnes & Noble, as Jason the facilitator continued on in some other vein. I knew who I wanted to be my TA, but I didn’t know if he’d want to be my TA.
I am usually quick to dislike 50% of people, finding some fault in them that I assume encompasses their entire personality. It is only with time that I learn that I am wrong, that because someone bites his nails is not an indication of some hidden evil. On the other side, there are 50% of people who I love with all parts of me that can love, and when what may be perceived as negative attributes surface (as they do), I am too far gone to do anything except love them.
This is how I love the RA who I wanted to be my TA. I loved him when he first walked into my office, and I kept falling in love with him, when he dropped all of his binders as he tried to balance them in one hand to open a door, and when he dropped them he shouted, “Darn!” And when I finally saw him angry, his speech impaired from emotion, I loved him the most. Soon I realized I loved him like I love my poems, in fear. I wanted to protect him, keep the world’s judging eyes away from him. Nourish him in a dark corner. Lots of things can grow in the dark.
I thought I’d conquered my fear of rejection. I thought I’d mastered being vulnerable. But of course, like love and hate, rejection and vulnerability have layers and nuances — pockets and eddies that pull you down. And so, I almost didn’t ask him that I loved to be my TA. If he said no, well that I could handle — with cheap wine and Pride and Prejudice, but if he said yes, no space was wide enough to contain that much joy.
I look down at my notebook. I’d written, “Joy.”
Ankles lost in ivy, I watched TJ from the edge of a copse that bordered a busy road. He was swinging a long, thick branch back and forth like a metal detector amongst the tangled underbrush. Traffic passed with each green light. I prowled the perimeter, slapping at my legs – even away from the dense foliage the bugs were thick. I scanned the ground for what we both searched for: a small lock-box. TJ kept moving, eyes focused on the end of the stick. Sweat was making my shirt stick to my armpits, and I recognized that my cropped pants were too tight for all the bending and stretching I was doing in pursuit of the lock-box. It was only moments before I’d enter stage one of summer swamp crotch.
Just the day before, I had been introduced to Geocaching. Or rather, reintroduced. I’d thought the worldwide scavenger hunt of coordinates and clues had faded in popularity since my years in college, but I was wrong. After a dinner where I acquainted TJ to one of my high school friends and her fiancé, we spent ten minutes scoping out a cache hidden under a piece of parking lot modern art. I can only imagine how the four of us looked, wandering, seemingly aimlessly, from signpost to bench, running hands along metal surfaces or huddled around the iPhone screen to check the GPS. At one point, my friend Elise used my umbrella to poke into a hole in a tree. Eventually, we found the microcache, a teeny red cylindrical container, under one of the feet of the statue. Inside, a long, thin roll of paper listed lengthwise the names and dates of those who’d found the cache before us. Read more »