Blackberries

December 1st was a cold day, full of blackberry thorns. The kind in the summertime. The ones that pierce your purple stained fingertips causing your scarlet blood to race along the small valleys of your fingerprint.
She smiled. A smile that suppressed the fact of grief. The fact of loss that flowed along her eyeliner filled waterline, occasionally breaching out onto her puffy under eyes. Another fact that was freshly cut into her clouded mind. That day, she desperately clutched one item that once might have given her comfort, her cell phone. She hoped to see the only thing that could comfort her now, a simple text to brighten the screen, to brighten her year. It would say that it was all a joke, a sick really joke.
School was bad, really bad. Her Mom told her it would be okay to stay home. Another fact that now looped in her mind. She went anyways. Maybe to distract herself, maybe to collect others pity. She greatly regretted it now.
She walked the first December day, a day heavily burdened with frost. Her heavy head was draped down into the safety and warmth of her sweatshirt’s hood like some sick animal. But not even the type you would take to a vet.
An average person could have never read her tired eyes of continuous sorrow. Another fact, maybe even a good one if you could call it that. A fact that gave her a sliver of safety. To any average passerby she was just like any other teenager, sulking on their way home from a tough, work filled day at school.
She remembered this time last year when she decorated the fresh Christmas tree with her family. Sitting in their front room curled under thick fuzzy blankets. Their neighbors green and red lights shining through the frosted windows. Their chilled hands grasping to the warmth of their steaming hot chocolate filled mugs. Little soft marshmallow islands peeking over the rim. The smell of fresh cut pine in the air. Laughing as they pulled out the individual newspaper wrapped ornaments out of the musty cardboard boxes. Reflecting on their distance memories.
They didn’t get a Christmas tree this year. They didn’t even put up the lights.
She passed the neighborhood park. It was empty now, but she could still hear the hushed laughs and whispers of her brother, Nickoli and her hiding under the steep red double slide they used to race down. She could still see her Dad pushing them simultaneously on the now abandoned dew kissed swings. Her dark brunette hair trying to escape from her braids that trailed behind her. Their big blue green eyes clenched shut. She could still hear them pleading for him to push higher, faster. She could still see her Mom smiling, sitting at a nearby bench. Her bright peach pink dress hit her right at her knees. Her hair was neatly tucked behind her ears and pulled into a short ponytail decorated with tan bark that Nickoli had snuck into it.
She noticed the faded hand prints that decorated the damp sidewalk. She picked out their four matching bright yellow prints in the sea of rainbow splotches.
She contemplated what had gone wrong. Why the worst things always seem to happen to the least deserving of people.
She started walking faster. Her hands strained as they clenched the thin straps of her heavy backpack. She almost found herself getting comfortable with the rhythm of her shoe’s scraping against the icy street.
She rounded the corner. The air smelled of change. An unwelcome change. Their house stood lifeless and almost completely unfamiliar. She paused in front of it. Tilting her head trying to find an angle of comfort. Trying to find an angel that blocked the view of the dying grass. Not able to find a single one she moved on.
The key turned with ease, causing a subtle clicking noise as the lock gave way. She cursed that this was the one thing that went okay today.
The house was cold. Nobody came to greet her. Overflowing stacks of junk mail and piles of dirty dishes cluttered the kitchen and living room. She wrestled with the fact that her family had gone careless.
She walked down the hallway towards her room but instead she found herself planted in front of his. The old hardwood creaked as she shifted her weight. Bright yellow bubble letters letters that were unevenly nailed to his door, spelled out his name. She quietly knocked even though she knew nobody would be there to answer.
Pictures decorated the room, memories attached to each of them riddled her mind. She didn’t let herself think of each of them for too long. Somehow the room even smelled like him before then, she didn’t even realize each person had a particular scent.
She sat down on his bed and smoothed out soft ripples that were created around her. She thought about how much he would hate this. He always liked order. Always liked everything to be tied in a neat little bow. This was not anything close to order this was not tied in a little neat bow.
A picture displayed on a shelf above his desk, nestled behind one of his many model cars. She had never noticed it before. It pictures of one of the many annual summertime trips up to Oregon to visit their grandparents. In this one they were picking berries. A purple stained smile stretched ear to ear on her face while his cheeks were stuffed. Blackberries had always been Nickoli’s favorite. Somehow that almost brought him back to life. Somehow that had almost made him feel real not just a picture of a little boy that decorated their mantel. After a long year of searching through the thorn filled bushes, she might have actually stumbled upon a single blackberry. Somehow, she had found a single hint of happiness surrounded by what she once thought was perpetual pain.

The Night I Grew Up

“Stanley, get your butt back inside right now,” Ma laughs.
I squirm out of her arms. “You can’t catch me!” I yell. I run down the block through giggles and sweat. The Tennessee heat in summer is like no other. It suffocates you in its sticky arms until you crave winter.
“Stanley Elton Jones. Dinner’s gettin’ cold on the table.” Her words turn from playful to stern, forcing me to obey. I slowly walk back with my head down, trying to hide my smile.
The mouthwatering aroma of cornbread fills my nose. Jeanie and Pauline, the twins, set the table with silverware and white, paper napkins. Rita brings out the baked potatoes while Anne sets the sweet tea down, giggling with Rita. Ma barks at us to wash up, so the routine line behind the bathroom sink is formed. When I finish, I dart to my spot at the table, practically drooling at the feast of potatoes, beans and bread in front of me.
Pauline takes a big bite of bread. “I heard from Dorothy that Ruth said that Eliza told her that John’s dad got fired from Brentland High,” spitting crumbs everywhere. I look at Pauline, then look at Ma, then back at Pauline, and then Ma again, just waiting for a reaction. We sit in silence with our heads down for an awkward eternity, just waiting for someone to say something. Anything. Ma scrunches her face, leans back with her arms crossed and clears her throat.
In all my 11 years, I’ve never seen a school’s interior. Never written with a pencil, never seen a teacher write on a chalkboard, and never even learned how to read or write. Ma always says that there aren’t any schools around for me, but I’ve seen the school the kids on my block go to on the corner a million times. Everytime I ride past the school on my paper route to ole Miss Edmonson’s, I wonder what I’m missing inside.
I’ve also never seen Ma cry. She’s the strongest girl in the whole world. Her pockets might never be full, and she may make her dresses stitch by stitch, but she raised all 6 of us kids alone. Mary Lou, the oldest, moved out the second she could to live with her white boyfriend in his fancy mansion filled of butlers and servants. Her pale powdered face was a disappointment to Ma, a woman who wore her hair natural and always let the beautiful coffee color of her skin show. Even when I’ve heard the stories about Papa packing up his bags and leaving, no one’s ever mentioned Ma shedding any tears.
But we’ve learned better than to talk about that in the Jones house.
Anne breaks the awkward silence by offering around the beans. I accept, piling a mountain of beans onto my plate until Ma smacks my arm, and laughs “Enough, Stanley! My Lord. ” The silence has officially broken, and it’s a normal Jones dinner again, filled with laughter and gossip heard around the neighborhood.
After I take my bath, I unwillingly trudge to bed. The clock beside our bed only reads 8:00. I hesitate to ask Ma to read me a book, nervous she’ll get annoyed. Instead, I lay in bed next to Ma, counting sheep as I slowly begin to drift off, despite the feeling of being wide awake.
Next thing I know, I hear the sound of shattering glass and shrieks coming from outside. I sit up abruptly, frantically looking around in the dark. Ma sits up, her messy afro blocking her hazel eyes from viewing the room. She pushes her hair out of her face, jumping out of bed and immediately running to the other five in their room. The covers conceal my trembling body. Ma runs back with my sisters trailing closely behind like ducklings. We sit on Ma’s bed, huddling together like a pack of sardines. Gunshots echo outside, making us jump with each one. Jeanie and Pauline shake. Rita and Anne ineffectively try to contain their sobs. My eyelids act as a dam in an attempt to withhold my tears. Ma grabs the shotgun from the wall, and as hot tears slowly roll down my cheeks, I pray to God it won’t be used tonight.
I crawl to the window, peering outside, unknowing of who – or what – I might find. The only thing I saw was a torch, slightly illuminating what looked like a ghost in all white with a pointy head, eyes and a big smile. A giant, 10 foot cross is lit on fire. The flames spread to the house a few doors down from mine. I feel the warmth, just laying in front of the window. The screams pierce my ears.
“Stanley! Get back to this bed right now!” Ma whisper-screams. I stay at the window, barely hearing her. I’m stuck with my jaw to the ground, the fire reflecting onto my eyes. I rub my eyes as I drag myself to the bed, wishing I’ll just wake up, and this will all have been a nightmare. Sadly, this nightmare is a reality. I lay my head on Ma’s lap and weep until the sun rises.
I wake up with a headache, my memory hazier than a foggy day of what happened the previous night. I walk out, rubbing my eyes and yawning. The girls sit silently in the kitchen, gathering around Ma at the table, listening intently to the radio.
“Eye witness reports indicated that a group of 50 white-robed individuals were seen marching last night in southern Tennessee. A gruesome attack of white supremacists in Baileyton, Tennessee, occurred last night from 2 to 5 in the morning. The attack on the negro community burned down 12 houses, leaving 23 dead and 13 injured. Authorities reported that the fire began with a 10 foot cross which was set on fire in the middle of Elm Street. The group calls themselves the Ku Klux Klan.”.

Lilies

January 12th was one of those gorgeous mornings. There was dew on the grass and the trees swayed in the light breeze. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the air smelled of fresh rain. The lilies I grasped tightly smelled fresh with life, yet made me feel empty inside.
Lilies were your favorite. I remember you would always stop to smell them while walking me to school. It made me anxious when you did that, I always worried about being late. I would walk on without you and leave you alone with the lilies until you finally caught up with me. Now, I would do anything to smell lilies with you again.
I kept walking. The breeze became stronger as it started to sprinkle. Droplets of water lie on each petal of the lilies. Keeping them healthy, letting them grow and live longer. Bigger droplets fall with a rhythm. I put on my hood, keeping myself dry and hidden from the depressing nature of the rain. I remember we used to play in the rain together. You would watch me splash in puddles, the dirty water got all over me, but I didn’t care. I’d look up at you, your strawberry hair drenched and your baby blue eyes sparkling. Your big smile showing off your shiny white teeth.
Worms became golden on rainy days. I remember searching for them with you while walking up and down the street in the gutters. We would pretend to fight hard against the weak current in the narrow gutter stream. I always got too cold or wet and made you come back inside with me. I would sit by the fire while you made me a cup of hot chocolate. Now, I would give anything to be able to play in the rain with you again.
I finally reach my destination, the air is damp and cold. I bend down, getting my knees all muddy and grasp the cold stone, the marking where your lifeless body lays. My heart pounds faster and harder and my chest feels heavy. I look at the engraving, “ Abigail Joes, born December 4th 1973,” I’ve almost memorized it. I choke on the last part. “died January 12th 2015.” That was 4 years ago.
The night comes rushing back to me. “Mom! I need it, please!”
“Honey, calm down, you need to learn how to manage your time better. You should have been working on this all why are you just starting this now?”
“You don’t understand Mom! This project counts for most of my grade!”
“Why should your problem of poor planning become my problem? I am exhausted and I could have done this Monday, Tuesday, any other day, but not tonight. Maybe you’ll learn. Honey, I am sorry but no.”
I try and swallow all of this, I can’t go there. I fiddle with the old flowers surrounding the grave, I crumble a petal in my hand, the brown particles carried away in the wind. I keep the dead lilies there just as I keep my memories of you. I spread the flowers around the stone. I grab the freshest lily and hold it close to my heart. I close my eyes and I am brought back to the night that will always remain with me, the night that keeps me from ever wanting to be happy.
“Dad what’s wrong?Dad, Dad! Are you okay? You are scaring me.”
“This is all your fault! If you hadn’t made her go to the store for your stupid project, your mother would be alive right now! You are so selfish. Get out of my sight!”
The door slammed shut on me.
I remember crying that night, and all the nights after that. I would see Dad packing up your stuff and my heart would ache. I started walking a different way, avoiding the lilies, not wanting another reminder of the horrible thing I had done and what I had lost. I will never forgive myself.
Hot salty tears pour from my eyes, my stomach feels weak and I can hardly breathe. It’s all my fault, I am the reason pain and hurt lingers with me. I would do anything to change that night. As it starts to pour, I get up and whisper “Im sorry, Mom.” More tears fall with the fast rhythm of the rain. As I walk away with the lily in my hand, I take off my hood, letting the rain drench me. Each drop filled with guilt and pain, until my clothes are so full of water, it is almost too heavy to carry.
As I continue to trudge down the empty streets towards home, I try and clear my mind of you, but I can’t. I keep thinking of everything I miss about you, there is so much. I miss your smile when you tell me how beautiful I am, I miss hearing your laugh while we eat lunch together, I miss arguing with you about stupid things like having no food in the fridge, but most of all, I miss you telling me you love me, I don’t hear it enough anymore.
My head raises and my stride slows as I approach the lily plant. Its once vibrant orange and yellow flowers have faded, brown wilted lilies are left. I sit down on the wet sidewalk, and examine the fresh lily still kept tightly in my hands. I admire the unique pink shade with the white border tracing around the edge. There are darker pink spots, almost like freckles on every petal. I turn around and dig a small hole in the moist dirt. I then take the pink lily and carefully place it in the hole while patting down the dirt around it until the flower sits up right. I stand back and admire my work as I brush the mud off my hands and onto my still soaked jeans. I smile knowing this is something you would have loved.

Passed On

I slump down in Dad’s beat up, dark green Chevy, and draw my knees to my chest. The sun has begun to set. I wrap my sweater tighter around me and sink further into my seat. The weather is in that strange place somewhere between summer and fall, with warm, sweet air and cool breezes. I gaze out the cracked windshield as Grandpa and my brother, Jack, walk through the rows of trees, picking ripe, red apples. Grandpa holds a woven basket, so full of apples that his hands shake under the weight of it. He hands the basket to Jack, who takes it inside to Mom and Grandma, who are peeling apples for Grandma’s famous apple pie. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
Grandpa rests against a tree and wipes sweat from his forehead. His eyes settle on me, and he walks over, his gait deliberate and even. The passenger door creaks as he pulls it open, and the truck sinks a little under his weight. He gives me a crooked smile that looks like Dad’s, his eyes wrinkling at the corners.
“Hey you,” Grandpa says, wiping his hands on his jeans. He smells familiar, like apples and soil. “I see you found your dad’s truck.” I nod and tuck my hair behind my ears. Grandpa reaches under the dash and pulls out a key, worn from years of use.
“Wanna take it for a spin?” He asks, holding the key in his calloused palm. I reach over and hesitantly curl my fingers around it. His skin is warm and leathery, like the seats in the truck.
“Sure,” I say. I slide the key into the ignition and turn it, only for the truck to cough, then shake itself into silence.
Grandpa chuckles, his laugh deep and melodic. “It’s been sitting here for years. It may take a few tries to get it started.” I turn the key again, and this time the truck sputters to life. Grandpa smiles at the hum of the engine and turns on the radio as I pull out of the driveway. Twangy country fills the air, and it reminds me of the music that Dad used to play.
“You know,” Grandpa begins as we roll over the uneven road, “Your dad loved this truck.” I can’t help but look at the worn leather seats and the cracked dashboard. Grandpa notices my disparaging glance and laughs.
“I know, I know,” he says. “It doesn’t look like much. When we got it, it was pretty well worn, but you should’ve seen the look on his face when we gave it to him.”
“Really? This old thing?” I ask, running a finger over the dust covering the dashboard. Grandpa leans over to turn the radio down. The country music fades into the background, and he shifts to face me.
“For weeks before his eighteenth birthday, your dad kept hinting at how much he wanted a truck.” I nod and ease off the gas. I don’t want to miss a word of what he has to say.
Grandpa rarely talks about Dad.
“Oh? What do you mean?” I ask, hoping he’ll continue.
Grandpa laughs, remembering. “For one thing, he would slip pictures of trucks he had cut out of magazines underneath our pillows so that when we woke up and went to make our bed, that was the first thing we saw.”
I laugh. “That was pretty smart of him.”
“Yes. He was like a dog with a bone when he wanted something.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, your dad had just gotten his first job and was heading off to college that fall, so we thought, why not?” I lower the radio a little more. I love hearing what Dad was like when he was my age.
Grandpa’s eyes are lost in memories. “We didn’t have nearly enough money, even for a used truck, so your grandma and I picked up extra shifts at work. Some nights we came home way past dinnertime, but it was worth it to see your dad’s face that morning. The night before, we slipped the keys under his pillow and parked the truck in the driveway. Your grandma used some of her fancy red ribbon to tie a bow around the hood.”
Grandpa sighs. “He took this truck everywhere. It went to college with him; it took him on road trips with his friends. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even drive. He’d just sit inside, with the windows down, and turn the volume all the way up so that country music would blare across the neighborhood.”
Grandpa strokes the seat, tracing patterns into the soft leather. “Sometimes, I do the same whenever I’m missing him. I don’t know; I guess his truck brings me closer to his memory.”
Tears blur my vision as I look at him. The truck has slowed to a complete stop. “Why don’t we do that then? For old times sake.” Grandpa smiles and nods, a tear tracing its way down his wrinkled face. I lean over and turn the volume up and roll the windows down. Our voices pour into the night along with that old, twangy country music. I imagine Dad sitting here now, his fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel, and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. I hear his voice, deep and filled with emotion as our words join together.
When the music fades, I sigh, out of breath, and peer down the road towards Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the lights inside spilling out onto the lawn and the orchards. Grandpa turns and faces me.
“You know,” he begins, his eyes shining, “I hate seeing this truck go to waste. Would you want to take it?” And despite the rough interior and the weak engine, I know that this truck will bring me as close to Dad’s memory as I can get. And knowing that, I respond with no hesitation.
“Yes,” I say, grinning from ear to ear, “I would love that.”

A Whole New World

My old life was one where I knew everyone at my school, had friends, and wasn’t a stranger to everyone I walked past on the streets of my neighborhood. Before my family moved from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, that life was good. I remember biking down to the dirt field to play 4-on-4 football, coming home with scraped knees and dirt all over. My dad used to be home, not at work until the late hours of the night. Now, I only see my dad on the weekends, for a 14 year old child, that is not enough.

I walk into fourth period, my least favorite because the next one is lunch. I scratch the paint off my old wooden desk and place my books and binders underneath. School has never demanded much effort from me, but this year, nothing makes sense. The way these teachers teach is completely different from the teachers at my old school. The next 45 minutes go by in a blur, and lunch is up next. Most kids eat in the cafeteria with all of their friends, but I sit outside. I see all the groups of friends talking, some point and laugh. I have to just sit there and take the hits, knowing that if I stood up for myself, I’d be left with 2 black eyes and a broken arm. The bell finally rings and I saunter to fifth period.

“Hello, I’m home” the front door slams behind me. No response. Mom is probably at work and dad is going to be gone till who knows when. I scurry up the stairs, chuck my backpack next to my desk and dive onto my bed. The poster of Troy Polomalu hanging on the wall stares at me. The football signed by him sits in the glass case, not allowed to be touched by anyone. I got it 4 years ago when I was ten. Dad took me to a Steelers playoff game, I got to go on the field and pick one player to get an autograph from, I picked him. Ever since that day, I have always wanted to play football at the same position he did.

My phone buzzes on my desk, a text from mom lights up the screen. Reading it would be a waste of time. I already know that it is going to say something like “I am going to be home late, so is your father, make dinner for yourself.” It happens every night, my parents show up at 10 o’clock and I am by myself. I pull out my binders and start to scribble down the answers to my math homework. Everyday, I go through the same routine, go to school, come home, start homework and then wait for my parents. All I want is to have a couple of friends like I did back in Pittsburgh, I want to feel like I am back there, with everyone, having my parents home and being with them. Hunger enters my thoughts so I jog downstairs to grab a bite to eat and suddenly hear a knock at the door. I glance through the front window and see two boys standing there. I slowly pull the door open and come face to face with two kids I’ve seen before.
“Hello, what are you doing at my house?” they are both standing there, hands at their sides, smiles on their faces. One of them is taller than me, only by about an inch though, the other one is about 3 inches shorter than me, but built like a linebacker.
Their body language seemed calm and inviting, “We wanted to know if you wanted to join us for a game of football, everyone here plays it.” said the shorter one. They are inviting me? Maybe they just want to do it to make fun of me or maybe they don’t actually want to be my friends and they just want to take advantage of me. As all these thoughts crossed my mind, they were quickly overruled with the fact that people who were my age wanted to be my friend and play football with me.
“Uhh, let me check with my mom first.” I quickly shoot a text to my mom and then lock the front door and leave. We hop down the steps leading up to my house and walk across the recently mowed lawn.
“So where do we go to play?” I ask, wondering why I got invited in the first place.
“Just down the street, we don’t have much grass in this town, but we always have the dirt field.” The taller one said, pointing down the street.
“We have played at the field since we were in grade school, we would come here after school, toss around the pigskin and then go home, all of it has changed though, high school means more homework and more homework means less time at the field.” the shorter one said.
“I probably should’ve asked you this when you came to the door, but what are your names?”
“I’m Logan” the shorter one said.
“I’m Cameron, your name is Vincent, right?”
“Yeah, nice to meet you guys, why did you guys come to my house to get me though?” I ask with complete perplexity in my mind.
“We saw you sitting by yourself so we wanted to invite you, plus, we need an extra person.” Logan said right as we arrived. We hopped the fence and landed in a rectangular shaped dirt field. I thought back to all the days, playing on a field exactly like this one, with all my old friends.
“Do we play tackle or flag?” I asked just to make sure all the same rules were in place.
“Is that even a question? Tackle.”
And then we were off, playing until the sun set over the horizon, walking home, comparing scrapes, cuts and bruises. Laughing all night long, this is exactly how I remember it, just being kids.

Circus Animal

A thin lining of water guards just my stomach from the room’s air. I push up against the glass of my lonely bowl. It feels cold against my scales. My head and tail slope down, making my body form a C shape. My stomach muscles stretch as my spine curves. My body is upside down, floating on the top of the water.
My eyes are plastered open, looking desperately at the activity around me. My body is lifeless, yet inside my heart beats fast with life. My owner walks by the bowl, not turning to look at me. They always waltz by me, doing whatever they desire while I lay upside down, paralyzed to any movement. They make me feel small, like I do not exist, like I’m not there. I wish they wondered why I’m upside down, wondered the slightest bit, but they do not care. They think it’s normal, usual, but I wish I could break free of my bodies trap.
They stop walking for a moment and turn to look at me, their blue eyes wide. I see nothing in their eyes. No emotions or feelings, just a plain look covered by their cerulean shade. Maybe they will try to help me this time, fix me and get me back to the way I used to be. But they do not touch my bowl they just watch me for a minute, as if studying me. They watch me like I’m circus animal, like I’m trained to be immobile, like I want to be there. I want to scream at them for help, but I can’t. I hate how they look at me without knowing whats wrong. I try to flip and turn and show them I’m struggling but I can’t break free from my paralysis. I can not move. As much as I hate their actions of staring and gaping at me, I need their help, the help they do not give me.
I used to never need assistance. I used to float through the water, my body moving smoothly, but now I can barely move an inch. Swimming made me forget the world around me, forget the tank that I was stuck in constantly, but now the tank is all I feel, all I touch. I cannot touch the rocks or the fake plastic plant placed in the middle of my bowl, I can only touch the cold glass and the water that doesn’t soothe me anymore.
I remember the days when my friends were around. We would fool around all day, letting the hours pass by us seamlessly. I remember when our owner used gift us with lovely gazes, and feed us our delicious flaky food. As the food would drop to the bottom of the tank, my friends and I would chase it down, trying to savor the last bits red and green flaky food. My friends left me years ago. An indigo net reached down into the water and pulled them up, one by one, and they never came back. It’s not fun to chase the food when my friends are gone. The food is flavorless now, not holding its original. Now when my owner drops it in, they act like it’s a chore, not an act of love and care they used to have. But I wish they would remember those days they used to love me.
I gaze out my bowl, my body still unmoving. They’re still looking at me, no emotion in their eyes that they used to have everyday. They lean towards my bowl, but I know they will never give me assistance. They rapidly tap on my bowl, causing the tacky plant and rocks to rattle with each blast of their finger. They know that’s the only way to get me to swim, to get me to show off for them, like a circus animal would show their tricks to the audience.
My body quickly snaps out of its paralysis, flipping me right side up. I suppose my body does it out of instinct, out of shock. I paddle in the water for a moment, using every fin on my body to keep me stable and upright. I point my head down to the rocks. My tail starts to whip back and forth as fast as I can. Perhaps I could reach the bottom, reach the rocks that hold my beloved memories and feelings. I paddle towards the tan colored rocks and fake orange plant that look so close I can almost touch them. They are no longer a blur out of my peripheral vision that I could barely make out. I push and push, I need to go deeper, I need to reach the plant and the rocks. I force my fins back as hard as I possibly can, but I do not touch the bottom. Not even the plant stacking up inches from the bottom. I float back up to the surface, my body looking lifeless and dead. I end upside down, in the corner of the tank, it’s edge squished against my face.
My mind wanted to reach the bottom, the bottom I used to love so much but my body couldn’t, my body gave up. All the feelings of energy and hope faded out of my muscles. All that was left was my beating heart. I was at the surface once again, but this time I had no feeling of courage in my bones.
The surface used to be unknown to me. I only touched it when food was spread across its top. Now the surface is all I know. I miss the comfort of the bottom. The feelings it casted inside of me. Now I’m only accompanied by the solitude of the surface. My friends are gone forever just as the rocks that lay beneath will forever be too far away to brush. I’m no longer a circus animal performing to an audience. I have been caged up, will I ever be released?

Sea Storm

Wind rushing past your ears blocks out the tour guide’s voice. You stand with the crowd on the slowly rocking deck of the Syracuse. Everyone inches closer to the woman in the blue vest, who tries her best to inform you about sea creatures that live in this corner of the planet. You want to share the information with your fictional friends.
People jostle you, each with their own questions. When pushed back to the edge of the group, you decide to sneak in closer under people’s arms. Being shorter than average, it’s not too difficult.
Voices overlap, each with different timbres. Everything sounds like gibberish. Questions are flung at the tour guide- she talks as quickly as possible, trying to keep them all in mind.
You have questions of your own, but keep them to yourself until the crowd settles down. Approaching the blue-vested person is easier without getting bowled over by an overeager tourist. Then, a yell from another guide alerts the group that there’s a sighting of whales on the starboard side. Everyone but you stampedes over.
You follow slowly, not wanting to trip and pitch over the side. Staying away from the rails for fear of strong wind or high waves, you wish someone was there to share your concerns.
Trying to keep the soles of your feet glued to the ship’s deck, you watch the white-crested waves. People start trailing back, wearing faintly disappointed expressions. False alarm. Aren’t you glad you hadn’t sprinted over to the so-called whales with everyone else?
The ones returning are only part of the group. What could be keeping the rest over by the side? The tour guides must be familiarizing them with marine life. Deciding to head back inside to your safe, cozy quarters with blankets, you question if you should have gone to see the ‘whales’.
Seeing a sea creature is an experience- so far your experiences so far have been of cloudy skies, chilling gusts of wind, and isolation from fellow travelers. Never having been off land before encourages you now to see marine life. To feel the movement of the seas.
While navigating through the corridors of the Syracuse, groups of people pass you, with conversation and laughter letting you know they’re approaching. Inside you wish to be part of one of those groups. To laugh at a bad joke, sharing food and stories with friends.
But the past actions won’t let you. If you get close to people, won’t they leave you for someone better?
Opening a door that you were sure led to the area near your quarters, you’re greeted with a gust of wind. You’ve somehow made it across the whole ship to the stern. No one else is in that area, it’s just you alone with your thoughts. And, as you find out when a large drop of water lands on your nose, the dark clouds.
They seem to cover the whole sky, dull grays shutting out any sliver of blue. In the time you spent wandering the ship, the clouds turned from silver-gray to the shade before a rainstorm. More drops follow the first until it seems the ocean rises up to meet them. The moment before the downfall, you stretch out your arms, feeling free as a butterfly.
The freshwater pours down from the sky, collecting in your shoes. It makes your feet heavy, but your soul feels freer than a bird on its first flight. Like it could sing, a sustained note, encompassing the feeling of calm.
Raindrops tap out a beat on the deck, forming a pattern. There’d be no audible music to anyone else if they were here. You’re the only one hearing this melody. It pulls at you, making you want to move, dance, sing, laugh, and cry. Wishing time would stop and this moment would last forever.
That wish does not come true. A group of teens known for their contemptuous comments bursts out the door, yelling and giggling. Then staring at this strange person, standing out in the cold with arms outstretched, reaching for the lightning flashes. Without turning around, you can tell they’re casting disdainful looks toward you.
One of them speaks with a nasally, annoying voice. “Hello? Are you all there? Why don’t you crawl back into that deep dark hole you came from?” Her friends snicker, whispering among themselves. “Wait, you’re still in that hole. You’ll never dig your way out.”
Shrinking in on yourself, rain snakes down your back, creating a trail of cold. A flash of lightning arcs down towards the ship, stopping at the edge of the stern. When the group finally goes back inside, you fold down to your knees on the cold, wet deck. The Syracuse rocks, jostled by the waves. The wind is powerful, carrying the energy of a devil’s rage.
You’ve got what you wanted, didn’t you? A place with the storm, no other humans around. No one to see you and judge you, no one to disturb you.
No one to notice you.
It’s hard to pinpoint the feeling that keeps you outside, in the cold, instead of going to your quarters and crying your hidden sadness away into blankets. Eventually, you pick yourself up and trudge inside.
~~~
Storms- the embodiment of released emotions, hidden away where no one knows. Waves mix with the wind to rock you sharply. Spikes of mood raise the breeze and cause waves to splash over the railing.
Tour guides giving advice lead everyone to safety. Everyone’s voices are raised- you can’t think. Spoken words intruding on your serenity. Music is your savior- it blocks out the noise of everyone else. But some voices sneak through- yelling ‘you shouldn’t be complaining’.
You’re a pathetic excuse for a human being.
Stop caring.
Your dark thoughts manifest as new travelers, throwing verbal arrows. Approaching guides for advice doesn’t always work, but you try. That’s all you can do sometimes- try.
Your boat of life rides along on the seas.

Purpose

My life had purpose. I knew it.

As a dog, you may regard me as simple-minded, or even stupid, but I know that you also regard me with respect- even the humans that fear dogs with a passion are aware of my service to their kind.

I believe I am called a police dog by the majority. My handlers and my master address me by the name ‘Bullet.’ I especially adore hearing my name called by my master, as she always seems prepared to challenge and cajole me until I’ve accomplished my best self.

Currently poised beside my master, my umber eyes settled fixedly on the curiously heavy-set male a distance from she and I. His body appeared to be concealed in the stiff, padded black suit I recalled from my training sessions as a juvenile dog. Inwardly, I yapped with amusement. How silly that man looked when he walked!

Master’s voice resonated for all those beyond the vast enclosed arena to hear. Young humans peered inquisitively through the fence barrier while their parents observed with muddled emotions. My nose detected oncoming rain, though its cool, earthy splendor couldn’t conceal the sharp tang of fear-scent that thickened the air.

I waited.

A flick of her hand, and I was gone. Long strides devoured the distance between him and I, never slowing as I pursued the awkwardly fleeing man. The final obstacle was a dauntingly tall, plastic wall held up by two people that I had to clear to reach the runner. I narrowed my eyes.

I was taken aback to one of my numerous tasks as an apprehension dog, tearing after a bad man as he attempted to retreat into the woods. It was difficult for both of us to navigate through thicket and tree, and I felt lucky to have four legs instead of two. A massive felled tree was the only thing between me and the bad man. In a single bound I had cleared the tree and subdued the felon, checking him with a few vicious bites to his arms and legs until my comrades arrived to take him away.

I decided this occasion to be no different.

With a monumental leap, I soared over the wall, slamming into the guy with ceaseless momentum and taking him to the ground quite roughly. I snapped powerful jaws around a section of the suit, thrashing my head violently as my sharp teeth sank deeper into the thick material. He squirmed vainly underneath me. Nope, he wasn’t going anywhere on my watch.

A shrill whistle, and I swiftly released my once unyielding grip on the patch I withheld. I maneuvered the course backwards to return to my master’s side. I gazed up at her with my tongue lolling pinkly.

What’s next? I blinked up at my master. I’m ready.

She crouched to meet my gaze, beaming elatedly. “Good dog, Bullet. You’re such a good dog.”

The big van came to a screeching halt, and my limbs strained to keep me from face-planting into the floor. My fellow K-9 companion’s legs failed her and led her to a fate I had just avoided.

Rrruff, that’s gonna hurt in the morning. I winced internally.

An officer- my master! – opened the door for us. I descended to the ground warily, as a metallic odor that burned the inside of my nostrils greeted us almost immediately.

Blood.

My canine co-worker and I shared an anxious glance before we parted ways. The bulky vest I wore didn’t budge as my master led me to the apparent scene of the crime.

My hackles raised as we approached the large building- a school, I presumed. Other officers trailed us closely, their cautious apprehension obvious. My master was wary, too- her fear-scent was strong and competing with the blood-scent. At last, we reached the entrance of the building. Slowly, stiffly, we entered.

Master’s voice boomed against the empty halls as she uttered a quick demand. No human response met her words. Only a great, suffocating silence.

A desperate scream met our ears. I barked in acknowledgement before pounding down a hallway after the noise. My partners trailed me, peering into every classroom along the way before following me again. I soon found myself alone in the labyrinth that once brimmed with the laughter of children.

I turned a corner to find the cry’s owner, a young girl battered and bruised. Her shiny eyes rounded at the sight of me before she buried her teary face into my fur. I emitted a small bark, just enough to echo for the others to locate me. They eventually did, and the girl was taken hastily away to a safer place.

Now, to find the bad, bad man that did this.

His scent was strong, and it drove my senses mad. Master noticed my tense posture, and we both turned our heads.

A silhouette against sterile lights, the man hastily drew a weapon I’d laid eyes on many times. My master withdrew hers as well. Both stood deathly still, reminding me of the instant just before two dogs lunged at each other.

Abruptly, the man turned tail and fled down another corridor and down some stairs. Master yelled in surprise and exasperation before chasing him, but not as fast as I was on him. In a flash I had brought both the man and I tumbling down the stairwell, snapping and striking the whole time. I decided I’d had enough of this and found a hold on his exposed neck. I bit down, hard, just before I felt a metallic touch just above my eye.

Bang!

White-hot agony seared the flesh, while my skull felt bound to shatter with horrible pressure. My vision flashed a pristine white for an instant before being engulfed in maroon.

I’m falling, I’m falling, I…

What is my purpose? Why am I here?

I know.

To live for someone. To love a someone. And to die for someone.

My life had purpose. I knew it.

A Voice In the Dark

My eyes flutter open to a gray morning. It seems like pieces of ash drift down from the sky. I know something is wrong. Anke’s body is cold in my arms, her skin pale. The beloved patchwork doll our mother had made for her lies on the ground, its dirt-smudged face smiling eerily up from the dirty ground. I shift my body, but she doesn’t stir. I know my baby sister is dead.
I cannot bear to stay in Germany any longer. It holds too many painful memories of what I have lost: my mother, my father, my home, my dignity and now my sister. I hide in alleyways that are crusted with dirt and blood and filled with the lost screams of families pulled out of their beds, children torn from their mothers’ arms, sisters shoved in opposite directions, brothers made slaves to the Reich.
With the coming of dusk, I am reduced to a frightened kitten. Men with stony expressions and dressed in brown shirts march up and down on the backs of my closed eyelids. Screams fill my ears and the scent of gunpowder wafts around me like a suffocating blanket. Anke, I plead. Anke. My arms close on the air in front of me. But the doll is clutched tightly in my fist. I can feel her tiny, yet steady heartbeat. “Why me? Why do I have to be all alone?,” I think. I wrap my arms around my knees and rock back on my heels. I am so lost.
“Well, don’t just sit there, you pathetic child, go.” The voice that fills my head is commanding and cold.
“Where would I go? I can barely take care of myself.” I shiver uncontrollably. I know I cannot stay here. I know the voice is right.
Before I can really process the full reality of what I am about to do, I stagger to my feet. The darkness is absolute except for scattered flickers of a cigarette where a Nazi patrols the street, watching for those who might dare to break curfew.
Stumbling along, dizzy with hunger, I run my hand along the rough brick that makes up the buildings’ walls, feeling my way through my hometown. I know all the streets and alleys. This is where I grew up.
“Stop!” The hiss in the dark startles me. I remember that the doll is still in my other hand. “You need to be more careful, stupid, blundering girl. There’s a soldier five feet ahead, around the corner on the left. Do you want to be killed?”
“No. No, I’m sorry. I can do better.”
I want to prove I can do this. I suck in a quiet breath and will the gnawing pain in my stomach to leave me be. I walk to the corner of the building. A faint orange glow escapes into the night as the man strides closer to where I crouch. Adrenaline pumps frantically through my veins as I fight to remain still. I watch as a polished boot appears, not a foot away from me. It takes all my effort not to scream.
The boot turns sharply, pivoting back around, and returning the way it came. “Let’s go. Don’t just sit there, girl.”
She knows where every guard is.
So just like that, I have reached the forest that borders the town.
“Keep walking, girl. Faster. Don’t you want to escape?”
I trust the doll, I trust the voice. She has led me this far. I trip over tree roots hidden by the blanket of night, scrape my face against branches that reach out like arms. I am bleeding and covered in mud and dirt. One of my shoes is missing, I realize.
But I don’t stop. The doll gives me directions, and eventually, I hear voices.
“They can help you. Tell them what you are. They will save you.” The voice is soft in a way it never has been.
I summon up all my courage and leave my hiding place behind a moss-covered log. As I approach the two men, their conversation stops. The fatter one sneers at me. He bears an uncanny resemblance to my father. “What are you doing? It’s past curfew. Or maybe you wouldn’t know what that is. Seeing as you live in the forest.” The fat one looks at his friend expectantly, until the other realizes it was a joke and he should be laughing. I assume that he is the stupid one of the pair, the one the fat enjoys having around because he is a suck-up and follows all commands. As the stupid one laughs too loudly, the fat one eyes me suspiciously.
“Please,” I beg. “I am one of you.”
The stupid one’s mouth hangs open as he gazes at me dumbly. I am reminded suddenly of an old classmate who never could seem to grasp the lesson. “You’re one of us?”
“Yes,” I say, “I’m a Jew.”
Now the fat one is laughing. “You think we are Jews? Dummes Mädchen.” He looks to the stupid one. “What do we do with Jews, Peter?”
Peter, shaking nervously, pulls out a gun. “No. No, no, no. This is all wrong. You said they would be able to help. You said they could save me.”
“Oh, you stupid, pathetic little girl. Don’t you see that you can’t trust everyone? Have you not lost enough to understand that?”
I can not stop the tears from coming. My father cackles, laughing at my expense. No, not my father, the fat man. My tears blur my vision, but I can still see the stupid one shaking as he points the barrel at my forehead. I know that he does not want to shoot me, but that he will not disobey an order. That is why the fat one keeps him around. I turn and run, praying the darkness will be my shield.
My eyes snap open. Anke is in my arms. The world is bright and sunny.

Glass

As I woke up, I recalled from the previous night that we would be viewing open houses. After breakfast, My family and I piled into the car. My parents were considering moving to a more “prime” housing spot closer to work and school. Unbeknownst to me, that dark, fateful day was going to be ingrained in my memory forever.

Arriving in Palo Alto, we entered an elegant open house, and after my mom told me to “be a role model for your brother”, my little brother and I set off to investigate the home. The house was a very spacious and bright place with plenty of beautiful glass windows. I looked around some more and figured it would be a great place to play tag or hide and seek because of the plentiful rooms and vast square footage.

I initiated a quick game of tag with my brother. We joyously raced after each other around the house, through the numerous rooms, along hallways, and around the backyard.

I was completely unaware of the memories that would shroud this place in disturbing dreams I would have for many years to come.

With an explosive burst of speed, he tagged me and yelled, “You’re it!” before madly dashing away.

I chased after him, sprinting at full tilt from the bedroom, shooting down the hallway into another room. Rooms rushed past me in a blur. I was right behind him, poised to strike when he leaped and effectively dodged to the left.

I had barely realized he had slipped from my grasp when I had that scary, sinking gut feeling that something wasn’t right, and there was danger; I had that feeling just before something goes wrong. My heart stopped as I realized what was about to happen.

I felt the impact; I felt myself hitting the glass. The glass shattered in a deafening crash, and as I reflexively closed my eyes tightly, I could feel every shard scraping past me, turning against and cutting my skin. I suddenly felt a piercing pain in my leg, and then the thrum of agony came, overwhelming me. As I finally opened my eyes and looked down to assess my injuries, I was completely terrified as to what I would see. I was still in a state of disbelief about the whole incident. I saw the gash carved into my leg and gaped at it, my mind still attempting to grasp the truth, attempting to wrap itself around the fact that I had suffered an injury to dwarf any I had suffered in the past.

As I squinted through the pain, I watched in horror as glistening beads of blood formed on the shining, open wound, small flecks of glass glinting in the gash. Pulses of pain emanated from my wounds, throbbing intensely with every pulse of my now rapidly thudding heart.

Instead of the expected sharp pain of a cut, there was a surprisingly dull ache. It felt like I had merely fallen off of my bike into a bush with an intense, throbbing ache in my leg and sharp scratches all over my body.

Shell-shocked, I released a desperate cry for help as I limped toward my parents, part of my leg hanging limply. Fear was stalking me, threatening to pounce, but I pushed it to the side, determined to get help. As I began to run toward my parents, the flesh hanging from my leg flopped lifelessly, the adrenaline pressing away my pain.

My parents were speaking to the seller of the house. As they turned toward me, I could see them move in slow motion.

They froze, stopped cold at the sight of blood dripping from innumerable wounds. They just stood there, mouths agape, hoping what they were seeing was false. They scanned the cuts and scrapes in disbelief, so shocked by the turn of events that they were at a loss for words.

They suddenly seemed to snap from their trance and began scrambling to get some form of help, all while yelling for someone to dial 9-1-1.

The next hour felt like a rush; my mind was racing, but my body was unable to move. I had memories that were strange; they were warped, blurry and disjointed. “Put it on speaker!” “911, what is your emergency?” “Use a cloth to apply light pressure on the wound.” Sirens. The fire department arriving. “Oh man, it’s cut down to the bone.” Being lifted onto a stretcher. Going outside to see an ambulance sitting there. A dark, silent ride.

I was rolled into the emergency room and placed onto a hospital bed, an IV line attached to my arm. Painful shots of painkillers were administered to my open wounds, one after the other. The harsh, blinding fluorescent white lights of the emergency room glared into my eyes. All we could do then was to wait to see what would happen.

The recent happenings were just settling in. Earlier I didn’t have time to think. But now, as the adrenaline left my veins, the fact that I would have several permanent scars, the fact that I had experienced such an event at all, was beginning to surface in my mind.

As I thought back on that moment, my memories of that impact as the glass exploded around me, were strange. It was as if I had floated from my body and was merely calmly watching the scene unfold below me from a third-person perspective. Every shard of glass glinted as it flew past me, turning in the sunlight somehow supernaturally. Every shard of glass remains in my memory, lodged forever.

An eternity may have passed, or just a few seconds.

They put a gas mask on me, pumping anesthetic gases into my lungs as they began to work on my wounds and tie the gash closed with their needles and threads. I could feel the push and pull of every knot.

36 stitches. A scar to remind me for the rest of my life.