A Tourist in my Own Country

A Tourist in My Own Country

 Celine Sawiris

 

         “Yalla, yalla we’re leaving!” yelled her mom, storming into her room. She was standing at the tip of the balcony and in front of her, she saw her whole life. She saw buildings slowly tumbling down, she saw the innocent turn guilty, and she saw her family torn apart like never before. All her life she imagined what it will be like growing old in this very same spot… but before she knew it, it was all just a dream, rudely interrupted by sirens. She heard the voice of the Muezzin and recognized that it was time for their prayer. But something seemed off this time. Every day she had been woken by the same sounds. She’d had the same routine. And she never expected anything less; until suddenly, prayers turned into warnings: “Live from Tahrir Square, the biggest Revolution in the Arab Spring since 1952.”, she heard the TV shout from next door. With no explanation, separated from her family, the next thing she knew she was in a car full of strangers, supposedly there to protect her. Each going into different cars, as it was too risky to all be in the same one. The naive little eleven-year-old girl with wet cheeks looked outside her window and all she could see were hopeless faces standing in the midst of destruction. Leaving family and friends behind with no warning and no time to say goodbye, she waved naively at the streets.                     

      That was five years ago. And at the time, she would have never imagined that she would be put in such a helpless position. She wanted so badly to be part of the change, to help her country, and to prove to the people of her worth. But she couldn’t. “People stare and wait, wait for us to mess up, as if their happiness depends on it. Today is that day,” her mother told her on the plane ride to the unknown. Her family fled, and along with them she went. She knew she wasn’t coming back. She never understood what it meant to be privileged until she was forced out of her own country. She became a tourist in the city she called home. Next thing she knew, she was in a new country, new city, and new school. And the same little naive girl now stood on her own, on a different balcony. Unfamiliar.

     That little girl was me. People tell me to forget about the past because as we say in Arabic, “Elle fat mat” which means what passed is gone and you can’t change that. This new life always reminds me that my choices have already been made by others and in order to move on I needed to accept that. “تحیا مصر ”, “Long live Egypt”, they said, not knowing that it had died long before it was able to live.

Family Lore

Family Lore
Amanda Braitman

The two of them sat alone at the dinner table. The girl was fifteen. She’d only just lost the baby fat and was still figuring out her hair. It would be a long time before she figured it out.

“Can you tell me one of the stories about my dad?”

“Harry? Which one? You want the toothbrush story?”

“No, not that one—”

“Oh, I know which one you want.”

The girl’s grandmother was delicately-boned and vain. She dyed her hair dark brown and complained bitterly of her chubby youth. Really she was beautiful still, and everyone knew it. Her name was Dolores, and since she was a little girl everyone had called her Doe. Nicknames like that were all the rage when she was young. Doe, like a deer. It was fitting; she had large pudding brown eyes.

The girl, Samantha, hadn’t inherited those eyes. She hadn’t inherited anything from Dolores; not her eyes, which were small and pale and blue, or her hair, which was thin and golden and always shiny with oil, and which slipped annoyingly out of ponytails (Dolores’ hair had been thick, chestnutty and voluminous when she was Samantha’s age). Not anything. That was why Dolores liked Samantha the best. The other grandchildren reminded her too much of herself. She didn’t want to see her pudding eyes or chestnutty hair belonging to anyone else, especially when her eyelids now drooped and wrinkled and her hair had long ago thinned and whitened.

Samantha must have gotten all her genes from the other side of the family.

Anyhow, Dolores liked Samantha best. And Samantha and Dolores were sitting at the otherwise deserted dinner table, everyone else having gone off, the plates having been cleared, and Dolores was fingering her wine glass, which still held a sip of Pinot Grigio (Dolores rarely drank anything other than Pinot Grigio; it was her go-to).

“Well, you know how it goes,” Dolores said. Beatrice often requested the story about her dad that wasn’t the toothbrush story.

“Yeah, but I want to hear you tell it.” Dolores just loved hearing that. Samantha knew she was the favorite; she knew how to play Dolores.

“Well, we were down by the shore one summer. Your grandpa always insisted on wearing that ridiculous Speedo… No man should go near one of those things, in my opinion… There were seven of us. Your Uncle Ronnie must have been thirteen, which means Harry was fifteen. Helen, my sister—”

“I know who Aunt Helen is, Doe” Samantha interjected, rather brattily.

“—Of course you do, dear—and Nathan, and the Benjamins, who were very close friends of your grandfather’s—goodness, what a shame; Marty Benjamin died just a year after that summer down the shore. Perhaps the adrenaline had something to do with it…”

Dolores’ doe eyes lost focus. She was remembering how Marty Benjamin used to look at her, how his hand used to linger at her waste, how his green eyes twinkled when he played all those practical jokes. She was remembering that terrible sunburn he got, red and ugly all over his back, and how, when everyone else was at the beach, he’d asked her to rub aloe into his skin, to take the sting away…

“Grandma?”

“I think Don must have been about thirteen as well! He was there too, of course.”

Two children ran into the dining room and crawled underneath the table. “Shhhh,” they told Dolores and Samantha from behind the curtain of the tablecloth, and the women nodded solemnly in response, though the children couldn’t see them do it.

“Well, you know how your father liked to swim,” Dolores continued. “And he was such a strong swimmer. We never could figure out who he go that bit from.

“So we were down the shore, all of us, and one morning, Harry went for a swim. It was a gorgeous morning, I remember I’d looked out the window when I’d gotten up for a glass of water. It had rained in the night so the air was fresh, and the little shore animals had just begun scuttling, but the seabirds hadn’t caught on yet. Not a squeak or squawk out of any of ‘em.”

Samantha, in her mind’s eye, saw a lightly lapping pastel sea, a bright pale sky that hadn’t decided what shade of blue of it was going to be yet, and a hermit crab or two on the beach, scuttling, as Dolores had said. Soft yellow sand that looked white in the early light. A lone umbrella, striped and beachy, stuck lopsidedly in the sand, with her father’s flip-flops abandoned underneath. She could smell the salty sea air, feel the salty sea breeze stirring the downy golden hair on her shoulders. All she could taste was the bitter Pinot Grigio, which Dolores had let her sip.

“He’d told Don; Don was the only one up when he left. He’d said to him, ‘I’m going for a swim, Don.’ That’s all he said. Don couldn’t remember what time that had been. All he knew was that it was early.”

Samantha, in her mind’s eye, saw her Uncle Don, thirteen years old, kicking a soccer ball in the scruffy yard of the rental house. She heard the thwack of his bare foot against the—

“Have you seen them?” a flushed child rushed into the dining room and inquired in a loud and breathless voice.

“Seen who?” Samantha asked. She felt a small hand squeeze her around the ankle.

“Jessie! And Marissa!”

“Who’re those goons? I’ve never heard such ridiculous names in my life!” At this, Samantha felt someone sharply pinch her calf, and she sent a soft kick in the direction of the suspected culprit.

“You’re no help at all!” said the bossy child, and she huffed away.

Samantha went back to imagining the thwack of the soccer ball against her Uncle Don’s thirteen-year-old foot, and Dolores went on.

“God knows your Grandpa and I were still sleeping soundly. Anyway, Harry went out for a swim, and no one knew except for Don, and soon everyone woke up and started putzing around, and it was a little while before anyone realized that Harry wasn’t there. You know your father—he mostly kept to himself, especially around Ronnie.

“I think it was Ronnie, actually, who realized Harry wasn’t there. I just remember him stomping up the stairs and barging into our room, saying, ‘Harry told Don he was going swimming but Don thinks it must have been two hours ago and we can’t see him anywhere.’

“It was eleven o’clock then. The sun was already beginning to burn the sand—it was the middle of summer. The dead of summer. I remember because I’d grabbed the binoculars and run out of the house in my bed clothes, without bothering to put on shoes, to try to see Harry in the waves.”

Now Samantha saw her grandmother, attired in her elegant pajamas—she imagined a silk paisley sleeveless top and matching silk shorts—rushing through the scruffy yard and over the path on the dune that led to the beach and the sea. She saw the lifeless, empty sea beyond, the calm waves of early morning now frothing under the nearly-midday sun. The sky had decided on a deep, shiny blue without clouds, and the sun was beaming down on everything and making it all too bright, too hot. The scene was muted—the sea’s frothing was a whisper, and no one else was saying anything. That great big sea, whispering its secrets. Had it swallowed Harry? Dead before the sun reached its zenith?
She saw her grandmother wading into the water, waves crashing against her legs and soaking her paisley silk pajamas, cramming the binoculars to her face. She saw there was no wind, and that her grandmother’s naturally dark hair (she would have been in her mid-thirties at this point) hung still and lank against her neck. The soft sea breeze had burned off with the nearly noon sun.
Samantha saw, through the lenses of the binoculars (so it was blurry around the edges and rimmed in black darkness), the seething, empty sea and she didn’t see anything resembling Harry’s bobbing head or his strong, swimming limbs.

“Then Jimmy, that is, your grandfather, went barreling past me on the hot sand, stumbled through the surf, and dove. I watched him through the binoculars, all his inelegant splashing, until someone grabbed my arm and pulled me away. I only realized later it was Mrs. Benjamin. My sister and Nathan had still been in bed, they had no clue what was going on, no one had woken them up and they’d slept through the commotion.

“Mrs. Benjamin took me into the house and closed all the blinds. She made me a cup of tea that I didn’t touch. They all thought someone had died. They thought someone was going to die. Harry, or Jimmy, or Mr. Benjamin, when he went in to save Jimmy when Jimmy was flailing and gasping for breath thirty feet from the shore (it was a cramp, he told me later, trying to be heroic).

“Mr. Benjamin dragged Jimmy onto the beach and no one noticed when Harry came back. He just walked right out of the water, like a phantom, like some creature of the sea. Jimmy was the first one to see him, and he thought he really had drowned, and then he thought Harry was a ghost.”

Samantha saw her fifteen-year-old father, gangly and awkward like the boys in her class, rising from the sea. She saw it from the perspective her grandfather must have had at the time—lying down on the beach with everyone crowding around him, blinking sand and salt and sun out of his eyes and coughing up the sea. And there was this black, glistening shadow, and the shadow stood over her, blocking out the sun…

“Harry was fine. Not a scratch on him. He even thought he might have seen a sea turtle. He said he was sorry; he’d swum very far without looking back, and when he had finally looked back, he couldn’t see the shore in any direction. So he turned right around and hoped he was going in the right direction. That had spooked him a little bit. When he’d caught sight of land, he’d relaxed and slowed down. Taken his time, he said. He promised he’d never do it again, but then he went and moved across the country!” Dolores clenched her fists in mock anger.

Samantha laughed at this.

They sat quietly together at the large wooden dining table, in the large wooden dining room, listening to the clanging of dishes and the running faucet in the kitchen. Dolores had finished her wine at some point during the story. Samantha was glad. She didn’t like the taste but always felt compelled to accept whenever Dolores offered a sip.

Dolores liked Samantha because Samantha, unlike the other children, didn’t feel the need to fill every waking moment with chatter. The truth is, though, Samantha thought she should probably say something to fill the silence; she just couldn’t figure out what.

“You know, Samantha, I have a theory,” Dolores was the one to break the silence. She had both her hands wrapped around her wineglass, and her head was tilted down so she looked at Samantha from under her finely-tweezed eyebrows. It was a knowing look.

“My theory, is that every person has this one summer. This one, incredible summer, during which all of their dreams come true, and they have no worries, none at all, and they’re surrounded by their favorite people, and the future looks bright and full of promise. And they spend the rest of their lives trying to replicate that summer, trying to live up to it. That golden summer. Their golden summer. Do you think that’s true, Samantha?”

“I dunno, Grandma. Maybe.”

Samantha bent to look under the table. The children, Jessie and Marissa, were fast asleep on the hardwood floor, curled around each other.

“Of course you don’t. You haven’t been on this earth nearly long enough to understand what I’m saying. But what I’m asking you, is, do you think you’ve had your golden summer yet?

Samantha thought back to last summer, the summer after her freshman year of high school. She certainly hoped never to recreate that summer.

“No, I don’t think so,” Samantha said.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t have.”

When Samantha didn’t ask, Dolores explained, “Mine was when I was twenty-one, just after I married your grandfather.”

Now Dolores saw herself as she had been fifty-five years ago. Bronzed, perched on the precipice of her newly married life. Jimmy was there too, also bronzed, somewhere in the background. There was a swimming pool. She stood tall on the diving board with her arms out, face towards the sun, eyes closed, wearing a content, close-lipped smile.

“What happened that summer?” asked Samantha.

“Oh, nothing much,” Dolores said, and she pursed her lips.

A Tale of Time and Space Compression

 

A Tale Of Time and Space Compression

Anjali Mehta

 

The cold wind bit into my lungs as I pushed harder and went faster. My feet pounded across the pavement as beads of sweat rolled down my forehead.

Upon reaching a dead end, I decided to run back. It was only 3:36 p.m. yet a cloudy darkness had settled across the sky. I was at a stoplight holding onto a frosty metal pole. I had arrived at the intersection of Division, Catherine and Chatham Square. In front of me I saw a maroon board and in large white letters, it said “貢茶 Gong Cha.”

Tears and sweat dripped down my face. People rushed past me to cross the street but I stood in shock. There was a five-story brown brick building with a rusty maroon fire escape. On the street level, there were several stores with bright yellow boards and in the mix of navy blue Chinese characters I had forgotten, there were two which stood out, 貢茶.

The warm aroma of oolong and tapioca flooded my nose as I walked in through the sliding glass doors and into the small and cramped tea shop. There were two brown tables with matching chairs. An old Chinese lady sat in the corner while a couple sat on the other table. He had his arm around her but she was too busy drinking her bubble tea. The decaying cream walls were covered in brown and white posters with facts and information like how many Gong Chas there were in the world. It still listed Singapore as one of the locations. There were maybe 4 or 5 employees who stood behind the black countertop at the front of the store. They wore red aprons and looked at my tear-soaked face in a sympathetic yet slightly confused way.

As I watched the familiar fortune cat wave its arm up and down, I was transported to the Gong Cha 9521 miles, 3 oceans, 4 continents and a 21-hour plane ride away. I was back in the basement level of Great World City, my neighborhood mall. Opposite a sushi restaurant, Ichiban Boshi, and a Nike store, there was a maroon board and in large white letters it said, “貢茶 Gong Cha.” There were no seats or even walls, it was an open cafe with nothing but a dark brown counter. Brown and white posters lined the front of the counter displaying facts about Gong Cha and the various locations it was in. I guess I never noticed that New York City was one of those locations. There were only 2 employees and it always had a long line unlike the Indonesian confectionary store beside it.

I closed my eyes and inhaled that perfect blend of oolong milk tea and delicious black tapioca pearls. I was back home. The grey concrete floor underneath me turned into the yellow marble floor in Singapore. The walls, couple and elderly lady vanished. The black counter turned into a higher and more dark brown counter.

When I used to live in Singapore, my brother and I used to spend our Sunday afternoons walking to Gong Cha and updating each other on high school stress. One day, we were disheartened to see the simple white letters of Gong Cha replaced with the big, bold, bulky bright red letters of diarrhea-inducing Li Ho. To then see this Gong Cha, in another continent so far away, my mind was racing with emotion.

Time-space compression is a concept Doreen Massey maintains in her discussion of globalization and its effect on our society in her essay A Global Sense Of Place. She states that because our world is “speeding up” and “spreading out,” time-space compression is more prevalent than ever as internationalization takes place. People are able to connect with those across the world as easily as they are able to connect to those across town. We can experience different cultures without ever leaving our country. You can experience authentic Taiwanese bubble tea without ever having to go to Taiwan. Time and space have been erased.

I slowly walked up to the counter and in a shaky voice, I echoed the same words I did with my brother “may I please get a medium milk tea with pearls 50% sugar, less ice.”

I was transported to a time before Li Ho and a time in Singapore with my brother and feeling of longing crawled over me. My mind raced with thoughts and emotions filled my headspace as my excited taste buds danced with each flavor of sugar, Oolong, and tapioca.

Seeing that Gong Cha reminded of what I left behind. It reminded me of where I wasn’t and the people I wasn’t with. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my previous life. I remembered my friend telling me about how nervous he was to serve in the mandatory Singaporean military, I remembered when my friend came out as bisexual, I remembered stress-drinking bubble tea while studying for my AP Biology mock, my father’s first time trying bubble tea, my brother telling me about a nasty rumor, the day my best friend moved back to Houston, getting lost whilst on a treasure hunt with my oldest friend, being sad after a terrible after prom. It was a stinging reminder of the time before Li Ho and the time before I moved here, the time before I was alone.

Walking into Gong Cha was not unlike me walking into a spice store at the beginning of the year. Inspired by Frank O’Hara, we were assigned to write a ‘walking around’ poem. A new friend, Alice, and I caught the L to Alphabet City. After updating our Instagram and Snapchat stories we arrived at E 6 st and Ave B when a pungent smell caught our attention. It almost smelt like my mom’s kitchen. Curiously we followed the scent and found ourselves in front of a quaint spice store. I wrote the following in my poem.

Then I walked into a small spice store

The familiar smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard

The store was called SOS Chefs of New York. It was a very dimly lit narrow store. Mediterranean lamps and bottles of spices lined the walls. In fact, there were so many spices, there was hardly any wall. I closed my eyes and tried to decipher the smell. There was ginger and turmeric, which mixed together is my mother’s remedy for everything from a stuffy nose to a broken heart. There was cumin and crushed coriander, the essence of Khichdi, the most comfortable comfort food. Ajwain and tamarind which create a brilliant flavor in pickles and rice. Clove and neem, which are the heart of Ayurveda and a staple in every Indian household. There was also Egyptian spices and Moroccan spices. Spices from every corner of the world. Everything you ever needed all in one little spice store on 1st Avenue.

In that store, like Gong Cha, home had come to me.

In her essay, Massey discusses how local streets are now lined with global foods such as pizzerias and Kebabs. Our very own University Place has everything from Vapiano’s famous aglio-olio to Anita Dongre’s designer saris, to Ramen Takumi’s authentic sushi. Time-space compression, she says, is the “geographical stretching of our social relations.” You can go abroad and find the same shops, the same music, eat the same food as you did back home – and all of it is just “down the road.”

You no longer need to travel for days and nights along extensive trade routes such as the Silk Road or go to quaint spice markets in Marrakesh or herbal shops in Goa, you can just take a short subway ride to alphabet city.

As is with most Indian women when they get married off, their mothers will part them with a spice box. My mother’s is 4 generations old. Like the SOS Chefs, my mom’s box boasts spices from all over the world. Spicy chili powder from Everest, aromatic saffron from valleys in Kashmir, Harissa from the Mediterranean coast. These are used in everything from dal to shaak.

Massey’s claim about things speeding up and spreading out is not wrong, however, no matter how advanced globalization gets, nothing ever matches up to mom’s cooking.

In fact, even the most authentic south Indian food on Lexington avenue’s ‘Curry Hill’ can ever be as good as mom’s food. On the corner of 26th Street and Lexington Avenue, you’ll see Saravana Bhavan. It’s a brownish-red 3-story building. On the street level, there is a white store and in big red letters, it says “SARAVANA BHAVAN. INDIAN VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT.” It looks exactly like the one in Singapore, with the same strange green logo. As soon as you enter through the glass doors, fermented idli, hot ghee, and spicy sambar fills the air. The inside is completely white unlike the lime green interior in Singapore. The tables and chairs look elegant on the white marble floor. The one in Singapore is much smaller and in a 2-story Singaporean heritage shophouse. It is noisy and mostly filled with workers from Bangladesh. The one on Lexington has soft music and is filled with white-collar workers. .

This is yet another example of Massey’s time-space compression. In the last part of the essay, Massey discusses the introverted and extroverted sense of place. The introverted sense of place is one that provides stability and rootedness in the midst of change. We seek refuge in our sense of locality.

In Singapore, my family made it a point to go out for dinner or lunch at least once a week. More often than not, we would ditch the fancy restaurant and end up in little India at Saravana Bhavan. I was looking for that stability and just as Massey said, I found refuge in that Saravana Bhavan, in the same way, I did at the Spice Store and Gong Cha. In the midst of this change and madness, I found rootedness here. So many miles away, I was back in Singapore and forgot about NYC. For one quick second, I forgot how alone I was. I still pictured my family outside my bedroom door instead of a lonely Goddard hallway.

Earlier this year, we visited the Modern Museum of Modern Art and observed the aptly named City Dreams exhibit by Isek Bodys Kingelez. We saw stunning and intricate sculptures made largely of paper, paint, and glue. In the mix of the fantastical and utopian “maquettes,” “Ville de Sète 3009,” caught my attention. It is a city surrounded by water with towering buildings and futuristic structures. Electric lights glimmer by the orderly gardens and towering buildings, all constructed in buoyant colors and shapes.

The structures that composed of “Ville de Sète 3009,” are not unlike the structures which make up Singapore. One of the lesser known tourist destinations in Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s City Gallery is a museum with 3 miniature “maquettes” of Singapore carved out of wood. It displayed everything from the large circular swiss hotel building to the concrete Central Business District, the 5 buildings of Suntec City, Park Royal’s vertical gardens to Hort Park.

In “Ville de Sète 3009,” Kingelez references Postmodernism with Japanese pagodas, Art Deco, Dutch gables, similar to the model of Singapore which has Japanese gardens, British architecture, and French rooftop bars.

This idea is echoed in Massey’s extroverted sense of place which discusses “place” and it’s links with the wider world which integrates the global and the local. She defines “place” as a unique point of social intersections and understandings. This is exactly reflected in the Kingelez exhibition. “Place” doesn’t need to have a fixed identity and definition, it can be progressive and changing. Massey claims that cultures and communities are merged during time-space compression because of rapid growth and change, as “layers upon layers” of histories fuse together to shift our ideas of what the identity of a “place” should be. This is reflected in Kingelez’s artwork and in Singapore.

“Home” and “place” are progressive words with progressive definitions. In this postmodern society and globalized world, everything is forever changing and in constant flux. Though Gong Cha and that Spice Store and Saravana Bhavan remind me of home, it is important to maintain an extroverted sense of place and recognise Massey’s understanding of place as immersed in global networks/processes, a product of interrelations and continuously changing. I may not like change, but I have to accept it.

When the changing gets too much, though, don’t worry, there’s always a Gong Cha right around the corner.

 

Bibliography

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Harcourt Books, 1974

Fusselman, Amy. “How To Make Rape Lemonade.” 12 April 2018. McSweeney’s Internet

Tendency, https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/how-to-make-rape-lemonade

Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1988.

Kingelez, Bodys Isek. City Dreams. 26 May 2018-1 Jan. 2019. Museum of Modern Art, New

York.

Massey, Doreen. “A Global Sense of Place.” Space, Place, and Gender. University of

Minnesota Press, 1994.

Mehta, Anjali. “Alphabet City Walking Around Poem ” 2018.

Singapore City Exhibition. 12 Mar.–4 Dec. 2016, Urban Redevelopment

 

Remembering That Overcast Afternoon

Remembering That Overcast Afternoon

Isabella LoRusso

 

 

  1. For the First Time, When he is Dad and I am Ten

            My dad was sunshine. He looked like Danny Zucko from Grease even though he was 49 and never made it to his senior year of high school. Passion burst out of him in invisible rays, piercing the air endlessly, and stopping only when they landed on something. Dad named his restaurant Isabella’s, meaning there was a big sign on the front of the building with my name on it. Dad was the most talented man I knew—I ate five-star dinners every night. All of our pride was in one another.

            When I was ten I remembered an overcast afternoon from that year. I’m sitting on the edge of the rickety grey futon in our one bedroom apartment. Dad is standing in front of me in his white t-shirt and jeans—he’s one leather jacket away from singing “Grease Lightning.” At this point I’m in the four foot range, my hair still blonde, skin marshmallow soft, and I don’t need glasses. Good thing, because now I’m crying.

            With tiny soft thumbs I wipe my eyes, mewling, “I feel sad.” Dad gently pulls me into a hug; my arms are caught bent against my chest as he presses me closer. But I don’t need them anymore to wipe away my tears. His sunshine keeps me warm and dries them all up.

 

  1. For the Second Time, When he is Antonio and I am Fourteen

            Antonio, on the other hand, looked less like Danny Zucko and more like My Cousin Vinny. Antonio built a cheese factory in his 24-square-foot kitchen. Antonio once tried to use Elmer’s School Glue to hang a fifteen pound whiteboard. Antonio had a few screws loose.

            When I was fourteen I remembered that overcast afternoon again; I’m sitting on the edge of the rickety grey futon in our one bedroom apartment. My eyes are dry when I mutter, “I want to die.”

            Without moving forward or backward, Antonio just kind of stands there with his arms hanging.

            After a while a soft gust of voice blows my way: “I had a friend once who wanted to die.” I am crawling my way out of a broiling desert, aching for another breeze of his voice to cool me down. But the air is stagnant.

            I’m not used to the sting of disappointment yet. Immunity takes a long time to build up. Personally, it took four years for my sunshine to become my toddler-on-a-leash, my patient, my sign-language-speaking gorilla. Four years of, “You can’t go into the restricted section, Antonio,” and, “I’m not pretending to be eight for a discount, Antonio, it’s Golden Corral,” and, “Antonio, stop taking pictures of random kindergarteners, you pedophile.”

            Maybe if I cry he will hug me, I think. And his sunshine will keep me warm, and dry up all my tears.

            In hindsight, I shouldn’t have expected a toddler or a patient or a gorilla to start parenting or healing or speaking to me.

            He waddles back into the kitchen. My eyes are no longer dry.

 

III. For the Last Time, When he is Anthony and I am Eighteen

            Everyone calls him Antonio, but his real name is Anthony.

            I don’t know anything about Anthony.

            When I was eighteen I remembered that overcast afternoon; I’m sitting on the edge of the rickety grey futon in our one bedroom apartment. Anthony is so old now. His skin hangs in bags under his chin and eyes and cheeks. He doesn’t look like anyone. Too shabby to be Vito Corleone, too hollow to be Geppetto. This is the clearest this memory has ever been, yet I know that shouldn’t be possible.

            My back is haunched—I’m trying to hold back the floodgates in my eyes with my palms. Until a sentence my lips were virgin to slops its way out of my mouth: “I want to kill myself.”

            If there is someone clawing at the other side of Anthony’s stonewalled face, I can’t tell. He marches around the corner to the closet—the only corner of the apartment I can’t see from the edge of the futon.

            When he comes back, his right hand is clenching a silver and black handgun and his left palm is sliding the clip into it until it clicks.

            By the time he stops in front of me, Anthony is holding the gun in one clutch from the barrel, presenting the handle toward me.

            The weight of that gun is exactly the same as one jug of chocolate milk or half a watermelon. That’s what I calculated ten months before this overcast afternoon, after the first five or six times he wrenched my tiny fists open to wrap my fingers around it.

            For the first time voluntarily, I take the gun.

            No, no. He misunderstood. I howl again, but louder, “I want to kill myself.”

            When he finally speaks, he says every word the way he spits on the sidewalk, “Huh- I had a friend who wanted to kill himself…he wanted to kill himself- wanted to shoot his brains out! But you’ve got nothing to be crying about- You’re spoiled!…

            So here—take it—blow your brains out! Do it…You wanna do it?- Do it.”

            The best grip my tender fingers can make is shaky and awkward; keeping my finger on the trigger is hard to do without squeezing it; I try to keep it a quarter inch away from my skin, but every time I cry it bumps into my skull. It is ice cold and getting tangled in my thin, blonde hair. “I’m gonna do it!…I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna kill myself!”

            The cancerous feeling, the reason I’m saying these things, is rooting deeper into my stomach. It scares me to not know what it is. I wanted to ask him. I wanted to stop crying. I wanted him to be sunshine. Unfortunately, there’s a hereditary element to depression.

            Anthony strolls back to the kitchen where I can still see a sliver of him in the dark behind hanging pots and pans. My arm is aching from the weight of the gun—the cycle of rapid debate on whether or not I should do it is ricocheting off the inside of my skull; it’s a tornado in a hamster wheel of incoherent thought; in my mind I pull the trigger: my brains are shot out my left ear, across the futon, across the dark hardwood floors, across the brown comforter on the bed, and then. I feel too nauseated from the spinning to kill myself. And lower the gun.

            After finishing his last batch of cheese Anthony makes his way back to snatch the gun from me. Soggy drips from my nose and drool in my mouth are all that’s left of my sobbing. I inform him, almost asking, “You gave me a loaded gun.”

            Anthony’s face curls up like he bit into a lemon before he uses his are-you-stupid voice on me. “Ta! Nooo. Are you kidding me? I would never give you a loaded gun.” He shakes his head, disappointed that I assumed he would be that crazy. He tells me he took out the bullets when I wasn’t looking.

            I’ve stopped crying. The gun is back on the easy-to-reach shelf in the unlocked closet. Anthony walks back into the kitchen to cook us a five-star dinner.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Curiouser and Curiouser”  

The “Wonderland” of Dreams in the Context of Carl Jung

Diya Radhakrishna

 

Where would one meet a grinning cat, a despotic playing-card and a caterpillar smoking a hookah, except in the world of dreams? I’ve always thought that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland shows nothing but the extent to which dreams can be removed from reality. Carl Jung’s theories caused a shift in my perspective – I began to notice how dreams may in fact reveal hidden truths of real life. Alice’s “Wonderland” may be what Jung refers to as a Big Dream, dreams that are “absolutely foreign to one’s experience of conscious, normal reality in wakeful life” (Collier). This is a dream that is usually memorable (Collier), and it is also referred to as an “archetypal dream” (Hurd).

The concept of the archetype is central to the Jungian idea of Big Dreams. Defining them as “psychic innate dispositions to experience that represent basic human behavior and situations” (“Collective Unconscious”), Jung says of archetypes, “We often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions of persons living nowadays” He notes that they are seen, repeatedly, in popular literature, mythology and art (“Archetypes”). I understand archetypes to be themes and ideas that seem universal to the human experience, represented in the individual context. It is interesting that this concept, when applied to Alice’s “Wonderland”, could create a meaningful and memorable Big Dream.  

             The first archetype I noticed in Wonderland was the Jungian “Persona” of Alice herself, as she appears in her dream. The archetype of Persona is defined as “our conscious presentation of the self” (Adams and Nelson, “Jungian Dream Interpretation”), referring to the social role we believe we are supposed to play. Alice’s social role is, in her young life, defined by her education, the knowledge she has acquired in school, the logic and the social and natural rules and hierarchies she has been taught about. The more I observed Alice’s behavior through the book, the more I could see evidence of her Persona in Wonderland –she tries to project a social image of being knowledgeable and wise, despite often having a limited understanding of many concepts both in the real world, and in Wonderland itself: down the rabbit hole, she speaks of geography with a sense of self-importance, but the reality of her knowledge is that, “Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.” (Carroll 6) In her need to appear well-informed and erudite, she is hesitant in acquiring true knowledge when she has the chance. This may be seen in her encounter with the Duchess, when she says to herself: “And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.” (Carroll 6) She is constantly applying the social institutions of her own world to Wonderland, eager to identify different members of a court of law, to talk about her school, home and even her cat Dinah.

Wonderland itself is not conducive to the development of Alice’s Persona – where she tries to apply logic, none exists; the limited knowledge she has is inapplicable; the social institutions she understands are proven useless and turned upside down. According to Jungian dream theory, the reason why Wonderland is so bizarre could be because the place itself is Alice’s “Shadow” – the antithesis of her Persona.

The Shadow archetype “refers to that part of the unconscious psyche that is nearest to consciousness, even though it is not completely accepted by it.” (Zweig and Abrams I:4) It could thus refer to one’s hidden fears and desires – something that is, in part, informed by the social context of one’s life. In the introduction to Meeting the Shadow, Zweig and Abrams say that “Many forces play a role in forming our shadow selves, ultimately determining what is permitted expression and what is not. Parents, siblings, teachers, clergy and friends create a complex environment in which we learn what is kind, proper, moral behavior and what is mean-spirited, shameful and sinful.” (Zweig and Abrams Introduction XVII) As the Shadow, this place of Alice’s dreams shows us everything considered unacceptable in the normal world: a woman treating her baby the way the Duchess does, the idea of schooling turned upside down by the Mock Turtle, a court of law as a place of chaos and disarray. Wonderland is the exact opposite of Victorian England, where Alice grows up, in how it is completely chaotic, devoid of the social conventions and rules that must permeate through every aspect of her waking life. She is annoyed when the Duchess declares, “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.” (Carroll 53) – a statement that seems to satirically suggest the social attitude of Alice’s time. Perhaps Alice’s experience of Wonderland shows the yearnings of a young girl caged by the strict social order and moral conventions of Victorian England exploring a secret desire for freedom from these things.

Events in Wonderland mirror those Alice would experience in real-life, and her reaction to them shows fears and thoughts she may not acknowledge when she is awake. An example of this is in how the Duchess tells her, “You don’t know much…and that’s a fact.” (Carroll 49) – words that reflect her own fear of appearing ignorant, that her “knowledgeable” Persona is a farce.

Many children are overwhelmed by how quickly they are changing during adolescence. In Wonderland, Alice finds herself constantly shrinking and growing when she falls down the rabbit hole. When the caterpillar asks her, “What size do you want to be?”, she replies, “Oh, I’m not particular as to size,” going on to state, “only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.” (Carroll 40-41) This experience and talk with a caterpillar, completely fantastical on a literal level, could reflect, in real life, the pains and fears related to the physical changes of puberty that a girl of Alice’s age would encounter. Adolescence also brings forth questions on life choices. Alice’s talk with the mysterious Cheshire Cat reflects an uncertainty about her purpose and direction – literally, as she asks him, ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ (Carroll 53). Adolescent questions of identity that Alice might have when she is awake are also a part of the Shadow that is Wonderland, seen in her talk with the caterpillar and one of the most famous lines from the book: “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” (Carroll 14) Thus, Alice’s many experiences in Wonderland can be seen through the Jungian lens of the Shadow archetype; they  reflect the unacknowledged fears of a young girl changing physically, emotionally and intellectually as she grows up in the rigid social order of Victorian England.

Alice’s Wonderland also seems to depict other archetypes. The archetype of Anima in males and Animus in females shows “the internalized ideal images of the opposite sex” (Zweig and Abrams I:5) The Animus archetype, in females, is meant to depict the masculine aspects of one’s character and the way this part of us affects the way we live (“Animus”). Alice’s Animus might be represented by the character of the Duchess, who in many ways does not show behavior that is stereotypically feminine in nature. In a society with stringent gender roles, the somewhat violent, aggressive and volatile Duchess could be showing a side of Alice that wants to break free of the norms imposed on her as a girl and act in a primarily “male” way.

 The Divine Child archetype is something that “not only symbolizes your innocence, your sense of vulnerability, and your helplessness, but it represents your aspirations and full potential.” (dreammoods.com) This could be the baby that the Duchess abandons – a baby that “would have made a dreadfully ugly child”, but could become, according to Alice, “rather a handsome pig” (Carroll 52). This pig-child could symbolize Alice’s innocence and imagination, something that is potent and powerful but does not fit into the real world that she’s growing up in. Thus Wonderland, a dream that at first glance has nothing to do with reality, may in fact provide insight into Alice’s subconscious conflicts in the context of the era in which Carroll’s book is set.

                            In interpreting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jungian psychology seemed to make sense of the fantastical. Encouraged by this, I decided to test Jung’s theories on my own dreams. I realized that like Alice, I have experienced “encounters with mythological creatures and strange, intelligent animals” – one of the indicators of a Big Dream (Hurd). Many of my dreams have left a profound impact on me that has made them markedly memorable, as a Big Dream should be. Graham Collier, in his article, “Dreams – Big and Little”, says:

“Jung regarded the Big Dream as a kind of ‘wakeup call’: as a means of alerting one to psychological imbalances in character development that are working against one’s wellbeing, and are therefore injurious to one’s positive and meaningful psychological growth. He also pointed out that such important dreams were not to be taken literally; could only be understood if ‘read’ symbolically.”

When I “read” Alice’s bizarre Wonderland using Jungian archetypes, it gave me insight into her fears and worries, her personality, in the context of her life. When I did this with my own Big Dreams, many elements of my dreams acted as archetypes and pointed to personal conflicts and weaknesses prevalent in specific situations in my life. For example, just recently I dreamt that I was back in the auditorium of my old high school in Bangalore, India, at an event called SING! – something that happens in my roommates’ school in Queens, New York. As I watched performances by a bizarre mix of Indians and Americans known to me, I was acutely aware that it would soon be my turn to perform. Suddenly, I was stumbling onto the platform with no idea of what the role required of me. I stood there confused and embarrassed as the spotlight shone on me and the audience simply watched from the shadows – the next thing I knew, I was waking up.

             This dream occurred when I was staying with family friends in New Jersey over Thanksgiving Break. They were a conservative South Indian family, and I felt pressurized to play the role of the docile, conforming Indian girl around them. Although I enjoyed spending time with them, I felt as though I had to pretend to be someone I’m not. My failure to “perform” in the dream perhaps, using Jungian archetypes, showed my struggle to execute this uncomfortable social role in real life. The Persona here is the character I am in my dream-play, and like in real life, I am unable to keep up the act. Thus, using Jung’s archetypes helped me make sense not only of a rather strange dream, but also of my own struggles and feelings with respect to the social context I was in.

Another dream that clued me in on a social and emotional aspect of my life was one that recurred every night last summer. I dreamt I was desperately trying to evade a half-seen, silhouetted male figure who wanted to confront and capture me. This threatening man was often armed, faceless and nameless; even when I couldn’t see him, I was aware of his presence. Every dream was set in the stairwell of my apartment building – while I ran up and down, he was constantly one step ahead of me. I usually woke up panting and sweating, just before I was caught. This mysterious, frightening dream made no sense to me until I read about the Jungian Shadow archetype. According to Jung, the Shadow “represents everything that a subject refuses to acknowledge about himself” (Jung 284). This corresponds with my greatest fear, one that I have only recently come to terms with – the fear of making decisions.

I’m afraid of committing to one thing and closing out my options. This dream occurred to me when I had to make the biggest decision of my life: where to go to college. The figure in my dream was a literal, as well as an archetypal, Shadow. It symbolized a choice I was struggling to make: the choice between staying in India for college or coming to New York. I felt threatened by this decision, daunted by its immense consequences, but it was a situation I could not evade – just like the threatening men in my dreams. John A Sanford, in his interview with Patrick Miller, says of one’s reaction to the Shadow in dreams, “You may remember running very fast during the dream… and not remember why. But in the dream, you know.” (Miller). This relates very strongly to my own dream where I ran from this strange figure with a very particular reason in mind in the dreamscape, but with no idea of why I had done so, when I woke up. Jung says about confronting the Shadow, “To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (Campbell 145) In real life, I refused to acknowledge that I was struggling with my indecision, and this is seen in how I was constantly running away from my archetypal Shadow in my dream. Facing my fear gave me immense self-confidence; interestingly, after I made the decision to come to New York for university, I have never had this dream again.

I also found it significant that the person I was afraid of in my dream is male. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense that the male figure I was running from but could not escape may have also represented the Animus, the masculine part of my otherwise feminine self-identity. The man in the dream was always overtly aggressive and armed, and even though I often could not see his face, I associated with him a strong image of masculinity. The one time I identified the figure, it was a fictional character – Harvey Specter from the television show Suits – someone whom I have always considered to be a stereotypical example of male egotism, emotional repression and anger. Perhaps confronting my Animus shows a recognition of the fact that I have been repressing a side of me that is aggressive, that is angry and proud. In real life, I have always been afraid to express emotions of anger – both because I like to think of myself as a calm, composed person, and because it was often reinforced, socially, that aggression or pride are not characteristics that a girl should show.

In Meeting the Shadow, Zweig and Abrams say, “For different people, in different families and cultures, what falls into ego and what falls into shadow can vary. For instance, some permit anger or aggression to be expressed; most do not.” (Zweig and Abrams XVII) In my case, the characteristics that fell into Shadow perhaps also fell into the Animus archetype, for I could not, in real life, bring myself to express the “masculine” emotions that I felt, and this fear of showing such a side of myself manifested in my dream. 

I realize now that my archetypes speak of my own fears and decisions as I emerge into adulthood in the twenty-first century, just like how archetypes in Alice’s dream speak of gender and identity in the context of an eleven-year-old girl in Victorian England. However, there is one archetype that has featured in a Big Dream of mine, but that I could not identify in Alice’s: that of the Self. When I was taking my final high school exams, I was under great pressure, from myself and society, to perform to my full potential. At this time, I would often dream of myself walking alongside a lioness. I was very aware during these encounters that I was in the presence of a dangerous beast, but I was not afraid of the animal – in fact, I felt quite at peace by her side. There was a strange sense of unity and calm in this dream that occurred at a time when reality was full of with anxiety and stress. After I read about the presence of the “Self” in dreams, a Jungian concept, the dream made more sense to me. Jung compares the experience of the Self to the “unified duality” (“Self”), like the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang. It shows two separate parts of one’s identity coming together and has been likened to a half-man half-animal situation (“Self”). Jung says that “The Self appears in dreams, myths and fairy tales as a “superior personality””. I believe that in my strange dream, out of place with reality, I saw my Self symbolized by the image of my human figure walking alongside the lioness with a pervading feeling of peace, both of us aware of, but not threatened by, the other. In Vedic dream interpretation the lioness usually symbolizes strength, power and grace (dreamsnest.com)– all aspects of my personality that I was desperately trying to reach. In how this lioness was beside me, it seemed as though my subconscious mind was showing me a unified picture of the different parts of my personality that I needed in real life. It is also interesting that “According to Jung, the experience of the Self on the empiric plane is similar to a religious revelation” (“Self”): my dream was set multiple times in a Hindu temple.

In both the case of Alice in Wonderland and that of my own dreams, the dream itself seemed removed from reality. Yet, it was pertinent to the experience of reality because it revealed hidden truths about its subjects, Alice and me. I believe that Jung was right to talk about such dreams as “Big Dreams” for they are indeed pervasive, impactful forces. Different elements of the dream world, such as the archetypes of the Persona, Shadow and Animus, seem to form a looking glass that mirrors reality. I believe this goes to show that dreams, if interpreted with care and context, can provide access to meaningful insight into one’s personality; this would be a powerful tool to carry along on a journey of self-discovery. Opening the door to my dream world with a Jungian key has made me, as Alice would say, “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Works Cited

dreamstudies.org/2008/11/14/big-dreams-archetypal-visions/.

  • Jung, Carl. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 284.
  • Miller, D Patrick. “What The Shadow Knows: An Interview With John A Sanford”. Interview. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.
  • Policoff, Stephen. The Dreamer’s Companion: A Young Person’s Guide To Understanding Dreams and Using Them Creatively. Chicago Review Press, 1997
  • “The Self.” Carl Jung – Archetypes – Self, www.carl-jung.net/self.html.
  • “What is Persona?” Carl Jung – Archetypes – Persona, carl-jung.net/persona.html.
  • Zweig, Connie and Jeremiah Abrams. Introduction: “The Shadow Side of Everyday Life”. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.
  • Zweig, Connie and Jeremiah Abrams. Part I: “What Is The Shadow”: “Introduction”. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. TarcherPerigree, 1991.

 

Heartland Fever by Isha Fazili

 

I wanted to be a white girl

from pre-school to sixth-grade

from classroom to playground

in Rolla, Missouri

where the white girls 

sat taller, swung higher,

their skin smooth, bright,

clean. 

 

I wanted the long blonde braids

that dripped down backs

like honey.

I wanted the soft cream skin

that wrapped around bones

without shame.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

like the ones I knew,

who went to Sunday services,

danced at the same studios,

ate at the same barbeques,

whose mothers ran school fundraisers

whose fathers went fishing on long weekends.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

but could never look like one.

The bleaching, prodding, plucking

did not make the hair on my face blend

like peach fuzz

into my cheeks.

The locker-room lotion, serum, sunscreen

did not make my brown legs shine

like ivory ribbons in the sun.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

but my mom had visa interviews

missed fundraisers,

and my dad watched cricket

having no patience for fishing.

We went to prayer on Friday,

not Sunday.

 

I wanted to be a white girl

because I believed white

was the only kind of girl to be.

I hated the valley of my body,

became used to hiding

its river of colored tenderness

until I took the train here and

it all spilled out of me,

as slow and sweet as melting toffee.

 

Now I live in the deepness of my skin

smooth, bright, clean,

and my dark glows

like the city streets after warm rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stigma Kills by Oriana Barone

  Aunt Louisa’s small, red brick home resides on a five hundred foot cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the small seaside town of Monte di Procida in southern Italy. As a child, I would step out onto her blazing hot, red-tiled balcony, which tickled the bottom of my feet as I tiptoed to the shaded right side to see the breathtaking view. Looking directly straight out from the balcony, I could see jewel-blue water that glistened from the rays of the Mediterranean sun; I could hear seagulls screeching, the waves splashing against the jet-black sea rocks and children giggling on the beach of Acqua Morta, which translates to “The Sea of the Dead”. Looking down from the balcony, I could see the cobblestone stairs that led to Aunt Louisa’s vineyard, which flourished down the verdant cliff in her backyard.

Here is where my 18-year-old cousin Ciro plunged to his death. Ciro, who was eight years older than me, would always take me to pick juicy purple grapes in Aunt Louisa’s vineyard. One time in particular, before we headed down the stairs, Aunt Louisa poked her head and fragile, thin shoulders through the tinted green glass door. She opened her chocolate-colored eyes wide and said, in a stern tone, “Do NOT go past the blue gate!”

I trusted Ciro as he firmly held my tiny hands while we walked down the fifty steps, covered in dirt and broken tree branches, to reach the thriving vineyard. I looked up at Ciro, as he ran his fingers through his amber locks. They glistened in the sun like gold. The corners of his Bambi eyes crinkled as he smiled at me. He had emerald green eyes, with Mediterranean Sea blue creeping around the edges. We arrived at the vineyard, and, in the distance, I could see the eroded sky-blue gate Aunt Louisa ordered us not to pass. The gate, covered in spongy green moss and faded orange rust, blocked the entrance to the edge of the cliff. I remember Ciro tell me, in a soft voice, “Ana, come grab my hand. I don’t want you near the gate.”

            Ciro spent most of his youth working to achieve perfection by studying hour upon hour to obtain and maintain a 4.0 average. Ciro was a remarkably ambitious and determined teenager, but he was also a perfectionist who suffered when he performed poorly. His ambition and determination allowed him to gain admission into a prestigious college in Italy — Bocconi University. When Ciro received his acceptance, he was not relieved; instead, he felt, even more, the pressure to prove to the town that he was worthy of a prestigious college education. After his acceptance, he had told Aunt Louisa, “Everyone is going to laugh in the face of my acceptance if I don’t get a job with a high salary.”

The town of Monte di Procida has just over 300 residents; therefore, everybody knows each other. Consequently, everybody knows every detail about each other’s life. Word spread quickly; everyone was amazed about Ciro’s acceptance into Bocconi. I remember there was a day, shortly after his acceptance, when we walked down the narrow street where Rosaria, his neighbor, was outside watering her daffodils by her red-orange stoop. She placed her melon-pink watering can on the stoop and threw her dark brown fishtail braid behind her bony shoulders. She ran to Ciro, pursed her lips, and powerfully kissed his freckled cheek.

“Congratulazioni, Ciro! You are going to have the best time in Milan! These are going to be the best three years of your life,” she excitedly said.

Ciro hated to be the center of attention. His cheeks flushed, he awkwardly giggled, and softly responded, “Grazie, Rosaria.”

Bocconi is in the metropolitan city of Milan, a five-hour train ride from Monte di Procida. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, but unlike Monte di Procida, it is unwelcoming and grey. Unlike the slow-paced culture of southern Italy, Milan is fast-paced. The residents are always on the go, rushing to work in the streets, which makes it quite impersonal. Bocconi, in particular, is full of high-achieving and talented students that were all at the top of their classes in high school; Ciro was a small fish in a big sea of gifted students. He moved into his single bedroom dorm on the fourteenth floor. The dorm room, surrounded by plain white walls, had a slight sheen from the sunlight the small squared window that faced a courtyard provided. Perhaps the sharp contrast of the plain white walls in his room to his colorful past led to his gradual depression. Regardless, Ciro began his undergraduate experience with high hopes for his future endeavors. “I can’t wait to have a fresh start,” he had exclaimed to Aunt Louisa when he first entered the dorm.

I video-chatted with Ciro after he had finished his midterms, and I curiously asked, “Ciro, how is Milan?” He sat at his desk while the plain white walls crept in the background and nearly matched the pale shade of his face. Now that I reflect on my time video-chatting with Ciro, I realize that he seemed so lost as he stared into space. He was drowning in his inescapable thoughts, screaming for help on the inside while trying to find a piece of his broken puzzle. He resembled a skeleton; his face was whiter than bone, and his collarbone protruded from his skin. I could see the weight he was carrying on his bony shoulders as they began to tremble. In a toneless voice that matched his colorless skin, he softly said, “I am going to go take a nap. I’ll see you soon, Ana.”

Eight years after Ciro’s death, I asked Aunt Louisa to recall Ciro’s time at Bocconi and the conversations she had had with him. While at Bocconi, Ciro had experienced feelings of sadness and loss of interest in academia. He received a D on his first mathematics exam. He had called his mom, Aunt Louisa, and cried into the phone, “I am not good enough. What is happening to me?” Ciro sat alone every night in his small dorm room and called Aunt Louisa.

“You don’t understand how badly I want to jump out the window right now,” he had said in a quavering voice one night.

Aunt Louisa let out a sigh and responded, “Ciro, this is just a phase; it is normal to feel this way. You are experiencing something new.”

Ciro replied, in a trembling voice that struggled to form words, “It is not normal to feel this way. Please don’t tell anyone how I am feeling.”

When Ciro came home after the end of the semester to celebrate Christmas, I sat with him on the black leather couch in Aunt Louisa’s small living room. To the left of us was the Christmas tree, enveloped with gleaming gold lights. The sweet smell of fresh tomato salsa and minty basil sauntered into the room from the kitchen down the hall. Rosaria, Ciro’s neighbor, was wearing a black knitted sweater, and her mousy brown hair was tied up in a messy bun. As she walked down the narrow hallway to the right of the couch, Ciro forced a smile, hoping to hide his depressed state. He appeared to dread the questions and remarks that others would make. He viewed others’ comments more as judgments than expressions of concern or care.

Louisa looked wide-eyed at Ciro and took a step back. She shouted, “Ciro, I barely recognized you!”

Ciro looked like a walking corpse; he was extremely skinny, and his cheekbones protruded from his snow-white face. He had purple rings under his emerald green eyes that no longer gleamed as they did before he left for Milan; Ciro looked empty.

Rosaria asked, “I heard you decided to take some time off of school. How come?” Chiro’s freckled cheeks turned tomato red, and his eyes brimmed with tears.

“He is lazy; he doesn’t want to put up with the stress of school,” Aunt Louisa yelled from the kitchen.

Later that evening, Ciro came out from his room wearing a puffy black North Face jacket and a grey beanie. “I am going to go for a walk,” he told his mother.

“Be back in thirty minutes! The spaghetti will be ready then,” Aunt Louisa replied.

“Okay, Mom. I love you,” Ciro exclaimed before slamming the front wooden door shut.

Twenty minutes after Ciro slammed the front door shut, the phone rang in the kitchen; it was the police department. Aunt Louisa picked up the phone and frantically asked, “Is Ciro okay?” Rosaria and I were sitting on the black leather couch when we heard Aunt Louisa yell in confusion, “What? That can’t be Ciro. We are having dinner in ten minutes, and he said he would be here! He just went for a walk.” Then we heard Aunt Louisa scream in agony. Rosaria and I ran down the end of the narrow hall to reach the kitchen, and when we turned to the right, we saw Aunt Louisa laying stomach down, her fists clenched, as she punched the wooden floor. Her heart-rending sobs echoed throughout the empty hallways of her red brick home. Rosaria tightly wrapped her arms around Aunt Louisa’s trembling shoulders, and frantically yelled, “Louisa, che successo? Louisa, what happened?” That night, Ciro passed the blue gate and jumped to his death from the edge of the cliff in his backyard. In one second, he was there, and in the next second, he was gone. I was ten years old at the time.

The stigma of mental illness became apparent to me when I had a conversation in a salon in Naples, eight years after Ciro’s death. I sat in a bright, red leather barber chair while my hairdresser, Tilda, straightened a thick strand of my golden hair. She looked at me with her deep-set brown eyes through the squared mirror, and curiously asked, “What do you plan to study in New York?”

I answered, “I am going to be studying psychology.”

She immediately stopped straightening my hair, slightly opened her mouth and stared at me wide-eyed. She crossed her skinny arms, looked transfixed, and asked, “Aren’t you scared to work with i pazzi?” Pazzi, in English, translates to lunatics.

 In a calm tone, I answered, “No, I am not afraid to work with what you call crazy people because I know that these people, like Ciro, are not crazy — just sick. Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not in character.”

 

Main Street by Bea Palmer

 

They decided to take away my favorite pizza place in order to make room for new apartment buildings. When I was a child, I’d cry until my mom removed all the green stuff from on top of the cheese. Now that I’m older, dried Italian herbs on top of the cheese still make me uncomfortable.

Light splinters through the trees that line the freeway when we drive fast. Even when I shut my eyes I can feel the nauseating strobe light, warmth then no warmth, in time smaller than seconds. When I put the blinder down, a shimmery handicapped permit flutters from the ceiling onto my lap. It belongs to my 9 year old cousin who died in February because she had a heart defect, and now it belongs to her mom, Tracy, who pretends to limp out of the car when we pull up to Target or the movies, all of us laughing. When I tell people that my 9 year old cousin died, sometimes I omit the fact that she was sick. I don’t know why death by sickness seems to hold less weight than death by kidnapping or car accident. I want everyone I tell to feel her death the way I do.

Pieces of Easter-colored card stock pile on the counter, they tell Mackenzie to Get Well Soon. But half of her heart was missing, it wasn’t like she had pneumonia. When I sleep in her room now I imagine her small, bloated body next to me, her flushed arms that felt like fuzzy peaches, even when she lay at the front of the room at the wake. I touched her arms then, and her cheeks, and her dress. I don’t feel sad until I open her dresser and see all her shirts and shoes. In this moment I don’t feel sad that Mackenzie died, I feel sad about how small the clothes are. I take fists full of fabric, sliding the coat hangers together, and I press my face into the gentleness of glittery words on blue and purple shirts. I can smell when there was a person in these clothes.

I don’t tell strangers about my cousin’s death even though I could. Yesterday, a woman named Debby sat in the chair next to me while we were getting pedicures done. In this moment, I don’t think about pizza, or the boy who doesn’t like me back, or Mackenzie. I think about Debby as she tells me about her big date tonight. Her hair is yellow like a duck and she wears two thick swipes of eyeliner beneath her lower eyelashes, and she has a Long Island accent because she grew up on Conklin and Staple Street. Her date’s name is Barry, and she met him on AfroRomance, a dating website for Black people, Puerto Rican people, and Debby, who is a white lady. She made oatmeal raisin cookies for Barry because he mentioned in their text conversation that he loves oatmeal raisin cookies, and she offers me an oatmeal raisin cookie and I eat it, and it’s one of the best cookies I’ve had. She tells me about her ex, Tony, who was a bodybuilder and a piece of shit. She shows me a photo of Tony, his wet, brown skin contouring each engorged muscle and vein. Debby and I exchange information so that she can send me recipes; she’s working on a cookbook but hasn’t thought of a title yet.

When I leave the nail salon, I think about how equally strange humans are, the separate ways we spend our time. The pizza place is down the street and if I go now, it could be my last time. If I don’t go now, the last time I went could be my last time. I don’t go because I’m not hungry and I don’t think I care enough. Sometimes I notice things that are there but soon won’t be. I already knew my parents were getting older, but I just realized that so are my kindergarten teachers, and my neighbors, and my dogs who I met as puppies. I became attached to Cassie the same way I did with my stuffed animal pig, Balsamic. Balsamic had mangy, too-loved fur, a palimpsest of baby pink or lavender, and he smelled like something warm. He sat in bed like a piece of toast. Cassie was funny and smelled warm too, but instead of Balsamic’s rug-like quality, her hair was glossy and dark blonde. My hair was uneven and looked like it had never been conditioned, despite the fact that I went out of my way to condition twice each time she showered, hoping it would fall from the towel onto my neck like ribbon, the way Cassie’s could. I wasn’t pretty, and neither was Cassie, but I was uglier. The two of us had art class together, and one day, I asked Cassie who her best friend was. She said that it was Giulia, and then she said sorry. I said I know, and cried when I walked to the bathroom.

I came home from school and went to my bedroom. I saw Balsamic’s blameless smile and hated him. I took scissors from my pencil bag and softly snipped the legs off of his body. His stuffing mushroomed out of the slits and gathered on the floor. Once I had him fully dismembered, I lifted an ear to my mouth and put it right in. Chewing took too long, so I swallowed harshly. Piece by piece, I ate his cleanly sectioned carcass, then, I cried. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I said.

Crushed Peanuts – Caroline Steudle

Crushed Peanuts

Caroline Steudle

I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed eating peanut butter from the jar and thinking about the time Jamie and Sam and I tried to make Chinese dough balls, the kind like Jamie’s family always makes for the New Year. That was the summer after we graduated high school, the summer the three of us worked together at that math-and-science summer camp. It was hosted by a local boarding school, and it was the most popular summer camp among all the middle school nerds of lower Alabama who would rather spend three weeks watching high school teachers perform mediocre science experiments than eating s’mores or telling ghost stories.

It was Sam’s idea for the three of us to be counselors – he needed extra cash for next year, he reminded us, when he’d be at Vandy. It was always Vandy, never the full word, and he dragged out the ‘a’ nice and long so we’d all have time to reflect on how impressive he was for going there. He talked about college as if he was the only one going – or, really, as if he was the only one going anywhere of any value. He was going to Vaaandy to study mechanical engineering, something that I, with my undecided major and state school prospects, couldn’t possibly compete with.

My spoon scrapes the side of the peanut butter jar and I wonder if I made the decisions I did just because of people like him, to prove some kind of point about what I was – what I am – capable of. It all just felt like a contest, and my friendship with Sam has always been dangerously competitive. Even once we were at different colleges, even now that we’ve graduated. We kept in touch because he always liked to boost his ego, and his old high school best friend was the perfect foil for his new successful self. He never said it, but every time during undergrad, when he’d call to catch up and graciously remind me that there was nothing wrong with choosing a state school, every time he pretended to regard my studies on the same plane as his, he was really just implying, with every word, that I was never going to make it out of Alabama. Would I have come to the city if not for that?

It was Sam’s idea, too, to make those dough balls. The camp lasted six weeks, and we had to spend all six of them living in the same dingy dorms that the middle schoolers were so thrilled to occupy. The school was technically a public school, state funded, so all parts of the campus were varying levels of dilapidated. The furniture was falling apart, wardrobes missing hinges and desk shelves slanted at precarious angles. We had to share communal bathrooms with hordes of messy 13-year-olds who had very obviously never had to clean up after themselves. And, as Sam lamented far too often, there was no real kitchen anywhere in any of the dorms. Instead, each hall was equipped with a toaster oven, a hot plate, and a microwave.

I think the same competitive streak that has pushed me out too far into the world is what caused Sam to insist we attempt to cook. He said, “Man, I wish I could cook here,” and I said, “Yeah, but you can’t.” He heard my simple, factual statement as a challenge.

Next thing I knew, I was standing alone, surrounded by overstuffed shelves lined with products plastered with big-eyed cartoon characters speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. The Asian market was dingy and crowded and, according to Sam, the only place where we’d find whatever special flour that the dough ball recipe required. I waited for him and Jamie to return with the flour, trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible, though everything about my appearance – namely, my glaring whiteness – screamed, “I don’t belong here!”

On the way back to campus, I sat in the backseat, unable to contribute in any way to the argument happening in front of me.

“Powdered sugar,” Jamie insisted. “That’s how we always made them at my house.”

“No,” Sam argued. “My aunt topped them with crushed-up peanuts. Mixed with a little sugar – there’s nothing better than that.”

“We didn’t get any peanuts,” Jamie feebly countered, but she’s always been a people-pleaser, and she knew as well as I did that it didn’t matter how many times her family had made the dough balls growing up, not when Sam’s aunt had made them the one time he visited her in Malaysia. He had the bottom of a jar of peanuts that he’d been snacking on in his dorm – just the perfect amount for what we needed, he told us. What we didn’t have was powdered sugar.

Since it was the aspect of the recipe that required the least effort, knowledge, or cooking skill, the task of crushing the peanuts was delegated to me. While Jamie and Sam boiled and simmered, kneaded and rolled, I put peanuts and sugar into the cheapest food processor we could find at the Walgreens down the road and pressed the button. I hated that this was all they assumed I was capable of. I hated that they were right.

Jamie was part of the problem, too, you know. That summer, when Sam and I had just graduated, she still had a year of high school left. She wanted to feel like she was on equal ground with the two of us, but that was always overshadowed by her need for everyone to get along. Sam, for his part, treated her and me as if we were equally below him. Still, her strategy of doing whatever she could to placate the two of us did little more than make her the perpetual mediator for Sam and me. By the end of it, she was the only one who really knew how much we hated each other – something we weren’t willing to admit, even to ourselves.

Now, I haven’t talked to her in… has it been months? We were never really close, individually; she existed in the context of my relationship with Sam. She was much more sincere than he when insisting how lucky I was to have so many options, more time to decide what I’d spend my life doing. Not like her, pressured into the medical field by expectant parents and a highly successful older sister. She was incapable of condescension but instead showered me with an exaggerated reverence that made me feel a lot better about myself than I liked to admit. I wanted to give her something to actually be impressed with. Every supportive comment only made me feel more like a fraud.

She was the one who carefully suggested I be in charge of the peanuts. “I know you don’t love cooking, and, you know, Sam and I are a lot more familiar with the recipe and everything, so maybe it might, I don’t know, be a little bit better if you, uh, just grind up the peanuts?” She had a tendency to ask her statements. She was always looking for an answer from somebody else, some confirmation or refusal.

I felt a steady, vibrating pressure under my thumb as I did my one menial task. The blades ripped through the peanuts in the processor with a satisfying, drawn-out crunch that made it impossible to hear Sam explain how the real name of this dish was Dongzhi tang yuan, also known as glutinous rice balls or Chinese New Year dough balls – as if he hadn’t just looked it up on his phone, as if I couldn’t have done that on my own or Jamie didn’t already know. The tension within the processor was slowly relieved as the peanuts were crushed into smaller and smaller pieces. It was almost therapeutic, a mixture of violent and soothing that I hadn’t realized I was craving. I didn’t want to stop. But finally, the blades were spinning with so little resistance from the peanuts that I knew they had to be a fine enough powder. I reluctantly removed my thumb from the button and opened the lid.

Of course, I’d fucked it up.

Did you know that peanut butter is made by putting peanuts in a food processor and pressing the button for just barely longer than the time it takes to crush the peanuts into powder?

That’s all that was in the food processor: crunchy peanut butter.

Is it the peanut butter that brought up this memory? No, I think it was the failure: failure to realize that all the time I spent aiming for success was actually setting me up to appear successful. Failure to figure out what it is that I actually wanted, besides something that would impress the small people from my small hometown. I’m still not sure what I do want. I know it’s not this, somebody else’s idea of a good life. I am sitting on my bed eating peanut butter from the jar, avoiding confronting the truth that I will soon have to leave this apartment and begin a life and a job that will never feel like mine. But people like Sam and Jamie sound impressed when they call. Sometimes, I can convince myself they actually are.

That night, they finished making the dough balls. They were white and round, unexpectedly chewy. They stuck to my teeth and weren’t nearly as sweet as I expected. I wondered if they would have been better with crushed-up peanuts. I probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway.