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05 January 2016

Wormwood 2015: Second Issue


Wormwood
Second Issue
Summer 2015


Edited by Marc David Bonagura

Copyright 2015
Talking Weeds Publishing

Contact: marcbonagura@gmail.com





All rights revert back to authors. No part of this journal may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the authors, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.










THE APPRENTICE 
Mark Bellamy

I saw him coming with a face like thunder, but didn’t realize just how angry he was. I should’ve turned and ran while I had the chance. Instead I’m rooted to the spot, like a deer caught in the headlamps. He grabs my shirt and throws me to the ground.
One of the other kids steps in, “Hey, Steve, go easy. He’s just playing the game. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
You can shut your mouth as well.”
I get up, which was a mistake. Steve turns and cracks me right in the mouth. The pain instantly blasts through me, lights are flashing behind my eyes, and I can taste blood, salty and metallic.
I can hear some of the other kids, “what did you do that for?”
Lots of arguments are breaking out, what started out as fun into a mass brawl. This is a good time to make my exit.
Up till this point it was a beautiful day during school summer holidays and the usual motley crew of kids are playing in the school grounds that are on our street. The ages range from about eight right through to sixteen. I’m ten years old, so one of the younger ones. The smell of freshly cut grass seems to add to the ideal of a perfect summer day. We’re taking time out from playing soccer and playing cricket instead.
Everyone is having fun, but my day is about to implode. A bigger kid called Steve has his turn at bat. He’s a strong kid, so I’m told by one of the others to back up as he can really hit it. Steve cracks the first ball and it heads straight for me. We use a tennis ball instead of a real cricket ball, so it’s easy to catch. My problem was that Steve was a little pissed off at being out on his first ball.
I felt small and ashamed. I hadn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, I had put up no fight at all. Hot tears welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. I climbed over the school fence and made my way home, the tears blurring my vision, but not enough that I don’t notice dad digging in the garden. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Dad probably has the best garden in the street. Beautiful plants with scents that carry for a hundred yards in every direction, with so many colors. Not random colors though. They’re all carefully chosen to compliment each other, many different bushes and shrubs, all trimmed and strategically placed.
I would have been better off staying home and helping him in the garden. I hate gardening but I’m sure it would have made him happy, and, of course, I would have avoided big, bad Steve. I’m hoping I can sneak past dad without him seeing me.
I had a good idea of the kind of man my father was. A man’s man, brought up in the toughest area of Plymouth during WWII and the blitz. He once described to me of the sound of the engines of the approaching bombers, the shrill sound of the air raid warnings, and, of course, the terrifying whistling sound of the falling bombs. Then the ground would start shaking with each explosion.
I remember asking, “You were safe though dad, right? You were in the shelters?”
“Only safe as long as they didn’t take a direct hit,” he replied.
He told me how they walked home after the all-clear signal had been given, only to find their house and all their belongings were blown to pieces.
A violent upbringing, he was more than a match for most and feared absolutely no one. He wasn’t very tall, standing around five-feet, nine inches, with bright ginger hair and beard, fading tattoos from another life in the Army serving in the Far East and the Korean War.
A legacy of Irish ancestry, his father was an illegitimate son of an Irish rover. He took his mother’s name, Bellamy. The true family name would have been a very Irish, “Ross.” The other Irish legacy was his temper. My mother was the polar opposite of dad and years of marriage had dulled the edge of his temper, but make no mistake, it could still be called upon whenever he so chose.
 “Hey, Mark, stop. What are all these tears for?”
Damn, why couldn’t he have been in the back garden working in his greenhouse or on his vegetable patch? Of course, he had to be in the front garden digging away for some new shrubs he had just bought. I felt embarrassed. I can feel my cheeks starting to burn. I’m struck by the thought that my dad has probably never cried a moment in his life. He probably came out of the womb swinging. I look up at him. It’s a warm day and the sweat is dripping from the end of his nose and chin. I feel like crying even more, maybe because of the embarrassment, and I have to catch my breath. 
“Nothing, dad.”
“Nobody cries at nothing; tell me what has happened.”
It dawned on me that maybe dad would go and sort this out for me. I look back on this thought now with shame, getting my dad to fight my battles for me, but right at that moment I was smarting and felt this could be revenge of some sort.
“Steve just beat me up.”
“Okay, let’s go and find this Steve.”
With dad in tow I head back over to the schoolyard where we were playing when trouble broke out. Steve was still there with all the other kids. Now I would have some kind of revenge.
“Which one is he, Mark?”
I pointed out Steve. What happened next caught me completely off guard.
“That’s him, dad.”
“Right, get back over there and hurt him.”
“Dad?”
“Now. Go on.”
“I’ll wait here for you.”
I was horrified. I just stood there with my mouth open.
“But, dad, he’s bigger than me.”
“I said, go and hurt him, Mark.”
There was no option. But I have no idea how I’m going to hurt this kid. My eyes are stinging from the tears and my vision is blurred, so much for the beautiful day and the smell of the freshly-mown grass, long forgotten now in my moment of misery.
I stalked back into the schoolyard and made my way over to Steve. I look back now and feel a little sorry for him. I’m sure my face and bunched up fists painted the picture of what was about to happen, but he was also well aware that my father was watching.  It must have been clear what had happened.
As I got close, Steve just stood stock still, unsure of how all this was going to pan out. I threw my first punch, and while it connected, it was pretty useless. He saw it coming and just rolled with it. It suddenly dawned on me that with my father standing close by, Steve had no intentions of fighting back. He was much taller than I and simply put his hand on top of my head so that my wild, flailing punches had no hope whatsoever of reaching their target.
It was over. Steve let me go and that was that. Dad called me over. I thought he was angry, but when we got back we went into the yard and my education into looking after myself began in earnest.











Taylor Polito
Old Soul, Beginner’s Mind
   
The best hiding place for a set of car keys has always been – and may always be – hanging on the trip lever of a toilet tank.
I learned this on the morning before my sixth birthday. I was in the family room watching Little Bear when I heard glass shatter against the kitchen wall. There was a struggle going on in the kitchen, but I paid little mind. This had become a usual occurrence in our home and I found my place in the living room, just waiting for the right moment to swoop in and grab the keys from the counter. I knew that if I could get to those keys, you wouldn’t be able to leave in your car.
As I waited, I watched Little Bear hum happily even though he thought his mother forgot his birthday. He was making his own birthday soup.
You were pounding your fist against the wall rhythmically, crying and screaming. Dad was screaming, too. He was blocking the garage door. I peered over through the doorway and saw a candleholder in shambles on the ground. You sat there, attempting to crawl between his legs. He hovered over you as the screams grew louder, and I knew it was time to go in for the keys. The sounds of your yelling overpowered the house, making the walls shake – making me shake.
As I moved closer to you, I smelled what I liked to call “onion sweat.” It was a smell I’d grown accustomed to over the years. It rolled off your skin and remained pungent in the air around you. It was a smell that permeated our house for years.
I skipped to the kitchen, reaching over the counter to the best of my ability, and grabbed the keys from the counter. I opened the snack drawer and pulled out a bag of teddy grams to hide my tracks. Then, I scurried back through the family room, in to the hallway bathroom where I turned on the water and pretended to wash my hands. I climbed on to the toilet cover and removed the lid of the tank. I hooked the keys on to the trip lever and made it back to the room just in time.
Unknowingly, I discovered the most secure hiding place for a set of keys. You never found them in that tank. Not even once.
I made it back in to the living room just as Little Bear discovered that his mother didn’t actually forget his birthday. In fact, she had been planning a huge surprise party for him. She invited all of his friends and they all ate cake. I loved that part. I hoped that someday you would stop drinking vodka, that someday you might throw me a surprise party, too. That someday you might remember.
Later, you said, “I love you, I do. Don’t you ever end up with a man who doesn’t love you.
And I said, “I won’t mommy, I promise.”
You fell asleep with your head hanging off the couch that night, and I held your hand.
I returned the keys to their spot on the counter and put myself to sleep.
* * *
You woke from a nap with a chip on your shoulder that night, when the police escorted you from your car to our house to get your things after you had punched my sister in the face. I was eight years old when I watched them drag you out the door by your wrists.
I told Dad that you didn’t mean it. I knew he wanted to believe me, but he said, “Your mother is sick. She needs help.”
I told Brianne that you didn’t mean it, and she said, “Mom’s sick. And she’ll do it again. She’ll always do it again.”
Brianne was in her senior year of high school. She did my hair every morning and let me hang out with her friends after school. She drove me to LaRosas’ for dinner at night, and helped me with my homework. She told me about what happened that day that you got taken away. She told me about how you punched her right in the face when you picked her up from Ray’s. She said she walked home barefoot in the snow, with blood running down her face. You sped away and made it home safely. You left her there, on the side of the road. No coat, no shoes. She told me about how a police officer just happened to see her as she walked down Huelit Road. She told me about how you denied it, but the police said your blood alcohol content tested way over the legal limit.
I remember the nights that you were gone and how the shadows cast devils on the walls in my bedroom. I remember the nights I spent buried in the clothing you left behind, breathing in the smell I loathed and still somehow felt comfort in. I remember how Dad reacted when he heard me talking to you on the phone. I remember how he pulled me out of bed by my hair and threw the home phone against the wall. I remember hearing it break. I remember how Dad told me I could live at Papi’s after that incident. I remember how you told me that meant you had custody of me now. I remember how you picked me up from Papi’s and didn’t bring me back. I remember surveying the world through a passenger-seat window, observing how quickly asphalt moved beneath the wheels of your car – and how slow the trees in the distance – and how the sun never seemed quite movable. 
We would drive all day with just two hours set aside for your AA meetings on Sundays, where a woman spoke softly against the synthetic white noise of a fan, opiates pulsing faintly through her veins. I watched her as she told the counselor that she had been off the stuff for a long while. I watched those eyes of hers flicker, and I knew she was lying. It was the same motion I saw in your eyes, when you would say I’m going to get clean. I could see the effect of constant use in her pale complexion, in her restless nature, and in her blank expression, but this woman, her eyes, they revealed to me something more than I could possibly explain at the time. 
They spoke to me, saying: “I don’t want this.”
The woman was turned down from the next meeting – the councilor was notified of an operation she and a few others were conducting behind the scenes of each meeting. From those meetings, I developed an idea of normalcy. Everyone was doing it, whatever was said to work as a coping mechanism at the time. Salvia. Opium pills. Heroin. Cocaine. The works. They’d trade their ideas of recovery and their drugs at break-time. I’m still not quite sure how anyone could trust these people to be in a class together. Relapse was constant. Members were always getting kicked out. New people were always coming in. It was a dangerous cycle. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. You started doing the works as well. You followed their footsteps. You stopped caring about getting better. You started looking for something new. And you started small.
On weekdays I went to school. I was in fourth grade. I loved school. I even asked for extra homework.  You’d pick me up from school with a smile on your face. The smell of onion sweat would follow you, every part of you. It would always try to hide behind the scent of Chanel No. 9. My teacher said nothing. The desk attendant said nothing. I skipped out the building with my hand in yours, and we’d load ourselves into a silver sedan.
Each night we would park in a new fast food parking lot along Route 9, our clothes packed tight in the trunk. I forced myself to be strong when you checked out at night. As you slept I watched the kittens lap milk from a bowl placed in the lot. I watched their mother come lay beside them as they drank. She watched over them; she protected them.
“Nobody wants us,” you’d say in the morning, as you’d drive me to school.
“No one. We only have each other.”
I believed you sometimes. Other times, I didn’t know what to believe.
When my father found out you had me the whole time I was supposed to be at Papi’s, he didn’t press charges. He couldn’t. You’d get him right back.
That house was a war zone, and Brianne and I were your weapons. In some sort of truce, we all ended up back together. We were a family, after all.
* * *
It was Thanksgiving when we came home to find you there, in the garage. There were broken bottles everywhere. The whole garage reeked of vomit and urine. Three empty pill canisters rolled about in a draft that touched the cold, concrete floor from the outdoors. Your face was swelling, bright red and dull yellow. It was distorted, taking the shape of the ground and any other objects around you and under you.
I remember how the world moved so slowly when I saw you there. It moved so very slowly. You were muttering words no one else could recognize, and I knew that you were saying, “this is your fault, this is all your fault,” and your eyes would hardly open. Dad lifted you in and held you there for a moment, quite unsure what to do.
I watched him as his mind failed him for a moment. As his eyes failed him. As his strength failed him. I watched him become a child, younger than myself. I saw him become my fear, my anxiety. I saw it in his eyes that he wished right then that he could shrivel up and lie next to you.
I watched him as this moment fled; I watched him become a man again. I watched him as anger overtook his cool blue eyes. I watched him realize he had to be strong for all of us. I watched him resent us for it.
He hoisted you in to the passenger’s seat. And I watched you put on your seatbelt. You were hardly conscious. You wanted to die. And still, you put on your fucking seat belt. You left us a note that said, “I tried for my children” and maybe you thought you did, in your own twisted mind. Your whole life, you’d been dreaming of starring in soap operas. And now, in your adulthood, you dragged us in to one, and we were clawing, tearing the ground beneath ourselves trying to resist. We visited you in that hospital, and the first thing you said was, “I wish I’d taken twenty more.”
* * *
And then I was a teenager, and you were looking through online dating posts. You used Dad’s money for surgeries, and more surgeries. You mutilated your natural beauty in search of something you thought would be more desirable.
We were left alone. Dad was almost constantly on business, he came home here and there, one week at a time. Brianne was studying in college and only came home when there was an emergency. I spent countless nights on my friend’s couches. I packed bags of supplies to carry to friend’s houses. I had four safe houses. Three were comprised of family friends, and one, my boyfriend’s grandparent’s house. But, things were going well. You were staying clean for weeks at a time, and I was staying home with you. We would listen to music in the car and sing along. There were good days and bad days.
I remember when you brought me in to town, and I thought we were going for brunch, just the two of us. I remember walking in to Funk ‘n’ Standard; you said you’d be right back. My friend Luke was there at the counter serving juice to a customer when I walked in. We were talking for a minute and you trailed on in, holding hands with this guy I’d never seen before. He had a dirty blonde ponytail and greatly resembled my high school’s drug and suicide prevention counselor – what a coincidence, right?
Luke stood behind the counter as we ordered smoothies, and I lagged behind as you two walked out the door in to the summer heat. I stayed around just long enough to hear Luke say, “Wow, you look a lot like your father.”
There was no brunch to be eaten. There was only a flurry of confusion as I followed you and Edward around town. Then, Edward hopped in our car; I got in the back seat, and you started driving. Our brunch ended up being a hoax; it was just a way to feel safe on a first date with a man you met online; you took Edward on a tour of the town – and then you pointed out the my high school, and then you pointed down the road, to the barn I worked at every day – and then you pointed out my best friend’s house. You didn’t even know this guy. You didn’t know what he was capable of. You didn’t know his intentions.
The whole time we drove from landmark to landmark, you were talking about how you were such a great Girl Scout leader for troop 1123; how you adored coming to my school to teach art appreciation, and how you worked hard to keep food on the table. I kept my mouth shut. But when Edward turned to me and said, “Let’s clap for your mother! She gets the best mother of the year award!” I shook my head.
We passed Turkey Swamp Park, and I smiled; “Dad and I used to go fishing at that lake, over there.” I pointed out the window, finally opening up a little to the concept of speaking to Edward.
And you said, “Sweetheart — you know your father has been in jail for fifteen years.”
And I felt my eyes get wider than ever and a smile grew wide across my face. I realized I couldn’t keep this act up for you. I couldn’t be a buffer – a way to support your lies. I realized I could no longer allow you to use me. It was not my place to parent you, to support you in your lies, to hide things from my father to keep you in the clear. You were married to my dad, and I could not solve your marital strife. I could not encourage your habit of catfishing. I realized it wasn’t my place to protect you, to supervise you or to support you. Dad was working hard for your superficial needs, spending months away from home to make money for our family. How would he feel to know you were spending all of your money on surgeries and cosmetics, rather than food to put on the table? How would he feel to know you had taken me on this awkward date with this weird man with a greasy ponytail? And how would Edward feel to know that Dad was in fact, not in jail? How would he feel knowing you were not a Girl Scout troop leader, that you never taught an art appreciation class, and that you did not qualify for the mother of the year awards, if that’s even a thing?
I told Edward the truth; I said, “My dad hasn’t been in jail. Not ever.”
And you said, “Don’t listen to her, she’s just having another one of her episodes.”
And I said, “I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but don’t try bringing Edward around our house tonight. Dad’s supposed to be home around 9:00.”
And you pulled to the side of the road, and said, “Get out.”
And I did.
I didn’t walk home that night. I sat on the swings at Laird Park until the sun went down and spent the night down the street at my boyfriend’s house. I already had my bag packed to stay over. I told the whole family about Edward and his gross ponytail. I told them about your new found title, ‘Mother of the Year.’ I told them that father had been in jail for fifteen years, because, you know, that was news to all of us.
* * *
I went to school that morning, and when I came home, you were gone. The house was silent except for dad’s loud snoring. I picked up my phone and dialed your number. I wasn’t sure where you were or if you needed help getting back home. I had a feeling you weren’t coming back.
A strange sensation hummed through my body, and I was numb. I backspaced the numbers from my phone screen and put my phone face down on the counter. I looked down at your spare set of keys and fumbled with them for a moment.
Your car was in the driveway, and you were nowhere to be found. So I took your car to Asbury Park and sat on the dock until the stars took over the sky.
It was that afternoon, I put my needs before yours for the very first time. I sat there, under the stars, watching the waves tumble over the jetty and I remembered that cold December morning – the day before my sixth birthday. I realized I would always make my own birthday soup.














Paige Padhla
 

I’m scared I’ll go through college studying things I won’t end up being interested in by the time I earn my degree.

The loans will catch up to me. I won’t be able to get my own place and I’ll be paying my education off until I’m 50.

I’m scared my kids will have even more anxiety than I do—the systems now will only worsen with time.

I’m only 19 years old.

I haven’t seen any other countries.

College books are more important than paying for material things—$300 for a Spanish book is dubbed more meaningful then a flight ticket to Spain.

I’m too busy saving up for another car because the one I bought just a few months ago is living out its last months.

But if I had to pick what petrifies me the most, the thought that keeps me awake at night, it would be the idea that I end up miserable and working towards nothing for the rest of my life.
































It’s always hot in Shinjuku
Charles Huang

It’s always hot in Shinjuku, though, honestly, it isn’t the heat that bothers you so much as the humidity, a variable- no, a coefficient that multiplies the energy and the entropy in the steamy air with merciless efficiency. Cicadas shriek, harbingers of sweat-soaked shirts and fantasies of dehydration.

You are running. The sidewalk feels foreign under your feet, hard and unremitting against your running shoes. Although a sidewalk capable of being foreign in the first place is a unique product of your imagination, a luxury permissible in a slightly dehydrated mind sated with…everything, the gauntlet of First World Decadences that people like you like to rage against while sipping ice water. In a world where all you have is words, you learn to latch on to language and its many hypocrisies, to exploit the backdoors that lie between sentences. The doublespeak that Orwell once feared becomes a reality upon the quicksilver tongue of your mind. You have few principles, but you bend them tenaciously. You wonder why you were thinking about a foreign sidewalk in the first place.But then again, everything feels foreign here because, well, everything is foreign. You are in a foreign country, a country that for all the affluence it shares with the one you call home is nevertheless alien. Your tongue, dry as it is from the heat, chafes at Japanese syllables. It slips like oiled marble over the slash-and-curl characters that are supposed to translate into sounds you barely know, and that angers you, because language and all its liberal arts derivates are supposed to be your secret, your thing, your raison d’etre, and when you find yourself confronted with a language whose depths you cannot plumb you feel as if you have been deprived of some fundamental right. Those who wield language rarely have the power to wield anything else. Exhaustion seeps through your lungs, though it isn’t exhaustion per se; more like a dryness, if anything, as if someone’s sanding your throat, your bronchial tubes with names you never bothered to look up. You think for a brief moment that you’d be all right if you could get some water into your lungs, before you realize having water in your lungs isn’t actually a good idea. You feel weak- weak in your physical inability, your clumsiness with the languages you supposedly treasure, your twenty-dollar bills that are worth no more than a thousand yen and a few coins at the nearest automated teller machine. You’ve become so adept at picking apart other people’s weaknesses, at scavenging other people’s failures for your own self-esteem, that being made aware of your own faults is all the more searing. You know self-reflection is a virtue. You just wish it weren’t so damn painful. That in itself, you think, is another fault. And your mother wonders why you don’t go out more often. But then again your mother is not here because right now she is in a country whose language you actually do speak, surrounded by people you actually know in an environment where everything is not so utterly alien. So you are running for yourself, running despite the heat because after all you’re only human and you need exercise and Vitamin D like everyone else. So, astride your rationalizations, your wracked posture and the multiple convenience-store plastic bags-cum-trash bags lining the wall of your tiny hotel room like coffins, you decide to go out, anywhere that is not in, a gesture you fool yourself into believing is a huge internal concession on your part. You wonder why you take the irrational step of acting rational only when you have exhausted all other options.

Maybe it’s because you don’t do it that often, but every time you run, you never quite know where you are running to- or if you were never running towards anything in the first place, and all your life, you’ve just been trying to run away. 

It takes a special kind of person to consider getting lost in a Tokyo subway tunnel a successful exercise in building character. But you’ve always been special. You’ve been told you were special ever since you were born, and you’ve learned to live with that definition, learned to play with its capricious meanings and connotations until you could use its wide umbrella to justify almost anything you wanted about yourself. You could ace tests because you were special. You could fail tests because you were special. Everyone else was special, but you were special, special precisely because you could milk the word and everything it represented like no one else.

By law, you’re required to wrestle with your roots and your heritage at least twice a year. It’s kind of an unspoken devil’s contract for those in your occupation- namely, a second-generation immigrant and a wannabe wordsmith. Or rather, a rite of passage, if you will. You’re not allowed to publish until you’ve sufficiently wrung out in so many twisted loanwords the gigantic disconnect between the decadent lifestyle you lead right now and the bones of your ancestors fertilizing some farmer’s ridge in Shaanxi.

You are Asian, although for an embarrassingly long time you understood little of the distinctions that bubbled between the five letters of that word. Okay, let’s try again. You are Asian- you are Chinese. Which is a pretty safe- if “safe” is the right word here- margin to occupy amidst an otherwise wide swath of descriptive range. You aren’t Taiwanese, or Japanese, or Korean. You are an eighteen-year-old Chinese-American, and you’ve lived long enough in the country represented by the second half of “Chinese-American” to know that being Chinese-American means not having to be marginalized by the fringes of an already-marginalized ethnic group. To be the majority amidst a minority. That, like a lot of other things, is something you’re used to by now. Which, you have to admit, is all kind of odd since you’re discovering all this in a first-world coffee shop near Shibuya.

You’ve never been much in the majority of anything, though, now that you think it over, which is even more telling in the context of a community where to be a part of the majority meant being above the norm. To your credit, you obeyed that tenet as long as you could- you read your books, got your grades, memorized your times tables, but some time in the future, some time around when your math homework and the opposite gender started getting harder to understand, you realized that you couldn’t keep up with your brain anymore, and the world refused to slow down long enough to let you catch up.

Or maybe your brain just couldn’t keep up with you.

You linger on that thought long enough for the abstract smell of coffee to worm through your nose. Japanese is such an expressive language, and you think you’d still find yourself saying that even when (if) you someday understand it. People are so animated here, which you suppose is a necessity when you’re trapped in such a small country with so many other people. You can’t waste things; not movement, not time, not emotions. People don’t ever loiter in Tokyo, the homeless in Shinjuku-gyoen-mae notwithstanding, as if one could lose something by standing still. You’re always constant, always kinetic, accelerating or decelerating but always in motion by some force that no one, least of all you, can understand. All you can do is mouth formulas in response, by rote: F = ma. All you can do is live your life in stasis, the unchanging stone in the mouth of a proverbial river, watching as the rest of the world passes you by.

(On the subject of waste: you think about how the convenience store people always give you two more plastic bags than necessary, but then again you realize that’s because you’ve always resorted to silence in these sorts of transactions, yielding to the suffocatingly wasteful politeness of people and customs you don’t know and never will.)

(You finally end up spending ¥14250 in a bookstore for about six books, wordlessly handing the credit card your parents cosigned in your name to the bespectacled ordinary cashier. In all of Japan, bookstores are the one institution that don’t rely heavily on attractive staff; you take it upon yourself to guess that the kind of person that chooses a bookstore for blowing large amounts of money isn’t the kind of person interested in the conventional benefits of the service sector. She swipes away, you sign away the equivalent of, say, a quick calculation later, half an hour of a night in Kabuki-cho. You don’t have the heart to do another quick calculation to find out how many hours you’d have to work in the U.S. to cover this. Or how many someone else would have to.

(You feel vaguely sick to your stomach, as if in the realm of frivolous purchases involving your parents’ money, books were a particularly heinous example. You like to think you’ve developed a sense of financial responsibility from being on your own, but the truth is, you’re scared. It’s because you know precisely what responsibility entails that you shirk it, disguising your cowardice as prudence and your nausea as morality. How could you not be afraid of it? You’ve been on the receiving end of it for over eighteen and a half years.)

(But books are all you have. Books are your sickness and your cure, and you are sure, ten years in the future, when all the bookstores are shuttered and gone, victims of debt and the times, you will still have books, your one abiding rationalizing vice.)

Books are decadent; words are decadent, language is decadent when you live in an age where Social Media and Technology and the Inherent Vices of the Human Condition have butchered the English language into so many monosyllabic scraps. You feel vaguely guilty, somehow, as if spending the equivalent of about $185 on dead-tree media is as elitist as buying out a $1000-night suite in Ginza. Which, in a way, it kind of is. Words are a privilege of the upwardly mobile, people who have the luxury to savor things as small as the taste of language on one’s tongue. You are a foodie for words, a connoiseur, playing with letters the same way others’ lips dally with truffles and wine.

The thought makes you feel ill for a moment. After all, no 18 year-old wants to wake up one day and realize they’ve turned into their old English teacher.

It’s because you don’t have anything else, you think bitterly. You’re suddenly playing judge and defendant in your brain all at once, trying to justify yourself to the Powers-That-Be on why you deserve to occupy so many cubic feet of space on this planet, consuming so many resources without providing anything of value in return. You are not a math freak or a computer genius, variables and code spilling from between the fingers with which you milk obscene amounts of money from the vacuous world behind a computer monitor. You like to think you’ve disdained all that, you know, materialism and money-chasing, but it’s sour grapes. It’s always sour grapes. In the absence of any other significance in your life, you’ve latched onto words as your modus operandi, words which you cannot use since you’ve gone to a foreign country where no one speaks them, a trip in order to find yourself and all you’ve done is spend obscene amounts of money on a credit card which is yours in name only.

It all comes to a head when you begin to convince yourself that reading a book called The Pornographers in Tokyo would be the high point of character-building- but then again, to be fair, Akiyuki Nosaka is a pretty good writer.













Selected Poems 
SaraGrace Stefan
College
you bring your Norton anthology
and sit on a washer,
as it bumps and groans
and your jeans and underwear
swish and crease.
cause you have to write an essay
about Donne, and Herbert, and Marvell,
and how their writing reflects
the changing of the times.
but as the metal of the washer
reverberates under your fingertips
and the detergent and water churns,
the seething in your mind comes
to a halt.
all you can think about is
high school nights filled with
loud music and fast car rides.
friends you vowed to never forget,
who are now few and far away.
With nights only growing more rapid
And music pulsing somewhere without you.
and the way
that your mother’s advice seems to
drift after you, crystalizing into truth
before your eyes.
And turning everything
Cloudy and unclear. 
“don’t mix your whites and reds.”
“things will change.”
“the colors will bleed together.”
“it’s only a season.”
and the puzzle of
living among so many people
and still getting so lonely 
and the growing fear that
all of this will go by
in a surge of water and suds.
in the rumble of a washing machine,
the grind and the dull roar.
and then you’ll
be sitting somewhere else,
thinking about the way things
used to be.
you’re not sure what your thesis will be,
but you wonder
if a metaphysical poet could
find the poetry in
a cold basement,
in two socked feet
and a purple highlighter.


Joan
You wanted to be armed for battle.
To come in, in a blaze of glory-
Sword swinging,
Passion singing.
You wanted to go down in history
As a hero, ripe with valor and
Golden with courage.

You wanted to be
Immortalized in
Marble, jade, stone.
An imposing monument,
A testament to your
“came, saw, conquered”.

But what was meant to
Stand tall
Came booming down.
Ozymandias.
And with past victories
Dusting your boots
You are neither
Valiant nor passionate.

But forgive yourself this.
You are not legend,
Not fable.
You are flesh and bone.
You are peace and war.

Every fight you muster through
Is a good one if you were
Able to stand on your own
Two feet to fight it.

You are not the epitome
Of goodness;
Not the vanquisher of
Darkness.
Because darkness and light
Are both on this page
And they are both within you
And like sunrise on the
Bloody battlefield
You are both dark and light
And still beautiful
Despite whatever carnage may
Have come before the dawn.

Do not waste time
Lunging at shadows that
Look like you.
Do not say:
“I am not afraid”.
Know that you are.
And I am.
And we wear
This fear like armor
And remember that this
Quickening of our pulses
And flushing of our faces
Is what separates
Us from the dirt and the rock.
This is what separates flesh from
Unfeeling marble.
This is what separates truth from legend.

















The Devil Drinks Smirnoff
Erika Wendy Schneider



“…A frank, honest look at my way of handling the alcoholic situation may suddenly show me that I possess, and use, a whole armory of murderous weapons.” –One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

“Hey, Jude,” I call playfully from behind the door, which refuses to budge. My knuckles tap the window in succession, to the tune of The Beatles. Still, there is no answer. The mellow night’s air settles on my shoulder blades, until I feel a strange urge to slouch. “Nana?”
I press the doorbell and hear it ricochet from the inside. Again. And again. There is no indication of acknowledgement, or human life for that matter. Yet, her cumbersome white Lexus takes up the length of the driveway. She is home, but she is not there. With a jittering heart, I use my last resort and call the house phone.
The shrill pattern, paralleled by the speaker in my own device, pierces my eardrums as I pretend someone else is calling. I almost want to pick it up myself, to trick my mind into thinking someone is there.
The answering machine indicates that she was happy once. She crafted her message, “You’ve reached the Olsons. We are unavailable right now, so please leave your information and one of us will get back to you” years ago, before her lover’s heart failed. Her voice had intonation on certain words and spirit all over.
I respond to the machine, “Hi, Nana. I miss you.”
I retrieve the key from under the mat and twist the door open. The kitchen is immaculate – there is not a sleeve, nor a drop, in sight. She is impressively rational, before her blood meshes with the poison. I police the remainder of the downstairs before giving into temptation. The evidence is never far from her reach, anyway.
I drag my limbs, which grow heavier by the second, up the flight of stairs and tentatively peek through the sliver in her bedroom entrance. Her flaxen curls are in a fitful disarray. The shines in her eyes appear more like a film over her dilated pupils. The world news flickers from the television screen, relying only on pictures to express the stories, because she can’t handle the noise.
I lean over her bedside, wave my hand before her gaze, and say, “Nana, are you in there? Nana? Judy!”
My obstruction of her view confuses her. She takes a moment to recount her surroundings, the polished cream dressers and untucked sheets. She takes up a quarter of space on the California king-sized bed. He needed more room than she does.
After several labored breaths, she says, “Eri? Is that you, my love?”
“In a sense,” I respond, distracted by the concoction of her perfume and the choice substance. “But where are you?”
The skin around her eyes crinkles and she laughs, though it sounds forced. “What are you talking ‘bout? I’m right here.”
“Can you see me right now?”
“No,” she admits, tittering anxiously. Her hand searches for my own and squeezes it. At least in this state, there is life in her.
I look around for her glasses and notice them, bent slightly out of shape, under her pillow. I place them over her ears and she blinks several times before smiling.
“Oh, you look beautiful. But…wait.” For a moment she appears deceived, tapping her chin with her forefinger. Her nails are chewed to the skin. “Did your mother tell you to check on me?”
I bite my tongue, waiting to see if she’ll forget her question. She persists, however, with flames in her eyes.
“Why did she send you?” she asks angrily. “She is useless! Can’t do anything for herself so she uses you to attack me? Her own mother?” Her jaw drops as if she can’t believe what she’s saying, like this is a completely new revelation.
“Nana,” I scold, retracting my hand from her grasp. I notice the horns beginning to sprout between the thinness of her hair. “Mom doesn’t know I’m here.”
“She better not! I am tired of her. She ought to get her own life and stop messin’ with mine.” Her slurs are thick, melding words together until they are barely coherent. If we were strangers, I wouldn’t understand any of it.
“Maybe if you didn’t give her a reason to, she wouldn’t meddle…” I say, vacantly and in vain.
“Thas bullshit ‘nd you know it, Erika. I’m not doing anything wrong.” She defends herself like a toddler who gets framed for stealing a toy. “Where is the phone? I’ll tell her myself, which is more than I could say for her. I hate her, hate her!”
Suddenly, my skin grows hot. She is not the woman we love. The length of her tail snakes around my ankle, prepared to constrict. I yank my foot away. “I am not going to argue with you if you won’t remember it tomorrow!”
“Fine,” she says, more mildly than I assume she intended. Her thin eyebrows dip in resignation and her tail retreats under the covers. Where has her power gone? The heat melts my skin, until I am but the misguided embodiment of sympathy.
I lay beside her on the bed, disturbed by the miniature bottle that grazes my knee. One swallow of liquid sloshes at the bottom as I pick it up. I study the label, then look past it to her scandalized countenance. She hadn’t thought to hide this one. I wonder how many she stored in the trash by the curb.
“Why is this here?” I ask, playing dumb, enabling her despite myself. She is her most transparent under the influence and I crave answers. I see the wheels turning in her head, making their way through the mist and the mud. Her thoughts are probably no clearer than her diction, which is very sad to me.
“I…don’t know,” she says, mystified by herself. Except she does know.
I touch the contour of her face, which sweats out the alcohol as best as it can. For the first time since I walked in, she looks me right in the eyes. There is blankness in place of the maternity I used to know.
“Nana…if you drink enough Vodka, does it taste like love?”
She takes some time to organize her thoughts. I know she is internally practicing ways to justify her actions. When seconds turn into a minute, I assume she forgot about my question. Then, barely penetrating the darkness of her bedroom, my nana’s voice arises.
“It numbs the loneliness,” Nana explains, stretching out the syllables in her words so they fill the whole bed. “Sometimes when I’m sober and I wake up in the middle of the night, I think he’s still here.”
The tears form in my eyes like dew does on morning grass. My palm, trembling like her hands do when she gets withdrawals, rests on her cheek. For a heartbeat, I understand how the vice keeps her soul alive when her spirit wants to die. Who am I to take it away and leave room for the pain?
But how could I leave her like this – a danger to herself and a devil to her family? I scratch my scalp. An itch has formed beneath the surface.
“Are you aware of how much I love you?” I ask, not expecting a thoughtful answer.
“Not as much as I love you,” Nana, from somewhere deep inside, says without hesitation. My unshed tears spill over, but she cannot tell.
I grip the bottle and feel under the covers for the accompanying sleeve. There are three left. Her BAC would get her arrested if she took the wheel, which I wouldn’t put past her. She believes the problem is not in herself, but in the stars. To her, Shakespeare had it wrong all along.
“What’re you doing with those?” she asks. Of course, now she is engaged. I brandish the poison in front of her face. She opens her eyes widely, attempting what I imagine is meant to be comedic. “Oooh,” she coos, as if the liquor is encrusted with diamonds.
“I’m taking these away.”
“I can stop anytime. I promise. I’ve had enough, I know! Please leave them.” The darkness of the room carries into her voice. “Please.”
I turn away sharply, for if I see her sadness, I will give in. This has gone on far too long. She calls my name over and over while I make my escape. My hair burns at the root.
The sounds of her weeping penetrate the walls, travel all the way down the stairs, and follow me out the front door. My body keeps moving, avoiding her pleas, dismissing her addiction. My two-minute walk home takes thirty seconds, because I do not slow my pace for anyone. I sprint against the wind; it whips my front into numbness. I don’t sense the frigid air of night, which not long ago chilled deep down into my bones. My body’s only sensation is the relief that complements escape.
My feet have found my abode. Dizzy with liberation, I smash the stolen bottles on the concrete before my door. Glass shatters upon pavement, but it sounds like chiming bells. I heave with heavy breaths. Sweat-riddled hair clings to my cheeks. I run my fingers though it and my breathing halts altogether.
There, growing beneath the threads of my hair, are two horns I’ve only seen on one head before.











Excerpts/Poetry
Donna Claire


The Boy Beyond the Curtain

I was not alone in the ER hall,
For six hours I have been listening to a boy
Whine through the thin blue curtain with a white trim.
His head hurts too.
It throbs and stings, a pain of seven
Almost a pain of eight.

The doctors have answers they spent
Their youth committing to memory,
But the mother fights as mothers do:
“We can’t find a quiet place in our house
I guess he will just have to suffer.
Hey! Stop faking it will you?”

Her laughter makes me jealous.

And he begs her, and the doctors,
Begs to be able to go on the
Senior field trip.
It’s already been paid for,
It’s at the swim club with the nice water slide.
“Howyou do this to me?”

We have so much in common.



Nurse

She’s rather ditsy for a nurse,
Confusing which fluids to attach
To my IV unit. A very human woman,
Hospital air has not bleached her skin,
Made a desert of her knuckles.
Though, human is a gentle way of saying,
She makes simple errors, instantly fixed
Still, she worries my mother
From time to time.
But my nurse is still smiling
Enough for the three of us.

Her features are pressed
Into her face, eyes sunken but
Somehow bright amber.
They glow with a will to keep looking
Though she has seen too much.
Children have died, most likely
Before her eyes, and yet she
Is smiling as if the darkness
Native to the foundation of this building
Is stout and weak,
As if it cannot touch her.

As she changes my bag of saline,
I wish to ask her to diffuse into it her
Admirable sense of optimism.
But by the time I have the courage,
Mustered and on my flat, dry tongue
She is gone, off to the next patient.
Perhaps they will be as lucky
As I almost was.


The Cleaning Lady

Your hair was knotty and stripped,
My floor clean but perhaps
A bit dusty from the person before me.
I could not move enough to
Make a mess of anything,
But how I wished to make a mess of everything.

You walked in humming a song I didn’t know,
Your broom was matte red,
Sections of bristles were missing
But that did not seem to harp your chipper tune.
At first you ignored me and swept the mess
You were paid to see into your green pail,
Cheap plastic with the dollar store sticker
Still stuck to its center.
But then you looked at me.

Your broom fell down and you knelt down,
Took out your cross, golden and
Took my hands into your hands, and
Asked me to repeat pious things,
Asked me to imitate the bravado in your voice,
Asked me to inform the devil that I would live through this one,
And I laughed to myself.
“I’m Jewish,” I thought.
What could your apostolic words do for me?
Soon after, you left with your broom, and prayers, and cross.
And I laughed to myself.

But I want you to know,
Knotty cleaning lady with the booming voice,
That though I laughed and disconnected myself from your spirit,
Did not immediately see the deeper value of your words,
I did not take for granted your hope,
Your belief in me, and in my health.


Nurse Part Two

Unadorned woman, you spoke Russian,
And I was so grateful to hear
Slavic sounding words roll off your tongue,
To have our common language bring my
Reddened ears home.
To hear the most familiar accent
Fill the room while my parents were out
Having a well deserved smoke.

We had the same sense of humor,
And you helped me walk to the bathroom.
You understood me, I was certain,
Because you did not ask me to rate my pain
Or wave a pen between my eyes,
Humming to yourself as my eyeballs rolled
To the location of the ballpoint.

Instead, you asked me about my hobbies,
And asked me if I was hungry.
“I just ate,” I said. And you laughed, looking
At the thick plastic hospital dishware.
“How about a milkshake?”
But I knew the hospital menu, sparse and disappointing,
Yet you promised me I could have one.
You asked simple questions: “Chocolate or vanilla?”
Of course, I told you that vanilla would do.

Bright plastic lid, straw with the red spiraling stripe,
The taste of soft serve ice cream, you
Brought me the real deal, but
More importantly you brought me
An icy whipped piece of the world
I feared slipping away from.
As I sucked up on the straw I tasted
The promise of joy, the promise of
Good things to come, and I
Suddenly felt immune to the
Dark alleys and narrow corridors
Closing in my brain.



Nurse Part Three

I’d seen you before as a solid color blur,
Neon speedracer through my room’s window.
Yesterday was a yellow day for you,
Today you are hot pink, smoldering color in everything
Your nails hair shirt pants legwarmers, except
Your nurse’s shoes, but I forgave you.
Silly voice, unnatural and it must itch your throat.
I appreciate you in ways the younger children might not.

Spectacles are welcome, distractions a must,
And the younger ones probably clap for you smile for you,
I’m too old to clap and smile
But I know the time it must take
To dye your hair a few times a week,
Repaint your nails after a long day,
Miss time with your family
To make yourself up like an accent wall.

I’m wise to you, rainbow nurse,
And while you fuss about my room I want to,
Wish to, tell you to just relax, remind you
I’m old enough to understand how exhausting it can be
Giving your all, just to make sure
Your patients feel closer to distant memories,
Of being away from this place not knowing it stood proud
Down the road from a college campus, with a courtyard in the back.

“Thank you,” I mutter,
I was still shy back then.
What a shame that you didn’t notice me show
How grateful I was for you trying so hard
To make every one of your patients,
Youngest to oldest,
Feel the gentle breeze within the polar opposite of here.




The Tired Doctor Who Needed a Laugh

“Do you know why we’re here?”
“Sure do, I’ve got a brain tumor and you’re the oncologist.”
“How did you know that?”
“I read your tag.”

It wasn’t supposed to be a joke,
But you had designer bags under your eyes
And I had a renewed spirit, and we
Seemed like a good match.
Morbid humor bouncing back and forth between
The drained pediatric oncologist and her
Just-happy-to-be-here patient.

I met other doctors.
Strong men with mousy voices,
Stern faced women whose quivering lips
Made me wonder if this was the right job for them.
A round faced trio that had trouble getting their words out,
Men with three dollar haircuts proud moms happy wives.

But none of them had first-class voices
That flew me off to a lakeside bench,
Or anywhere else simple enough to shoot the breeze.

I told you that I liked your hair,
That you looked like this other doctor from this other time,
From better days, and you thanked me.
“Short hair is easier to maintain,” you said.
It was choppy towards the ends, splashes of red
From the few minutes you found yourself outside
Walking through the carpark.

“You’ve got a really great sense of humor,
I wish I could just stand here all day.
Feel better, alright?
I hope, uhm, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”






Nurse Part Four

You were thereabouts my age and very funny,
Someone I would have been too shy to
Try and make friends with in high school.
And you snuck away from work here and there
To sit on the edge of my high tech bed, and
Talk to me as if I were your friend not your patient.

Your laugh was bubbly, overflowing as if
The soda machine got stuck, and the syrup
Kept funneling out without enough cups
To contain the delightful fizz, and pleasantly,
It goes everywhere without issue
Without making a mess or making things sticky,
Just your topshelf bubbles.

You asked me questions like the others, but
Yours were thoughtful questions, the kind,
The kind you might ask someone you’ve known
All your life as if you’ve just run into them on the street,
Yearning to catch up with the person who used to
Compliment your life perfectly.

And you made me laugh, took the edge off
Removed the pressure of putting up a front
By telling jokes to distract from the dismay.
No, you told me jokes and helped me
Laugh through the horrors face the tears,
Collect them into a glass jar and toss them off the roof.
Letting the rainy weekday afternoon wash away
The sticky misery clotting my lungs.
A joke to chase a dream,
To stifle how I think,
To clear me of acid thoughts and morose maggots.

Thank you.







   A TRIBE CALLED CRAZY
   T.R. Patmore



   
When they admit you to the psychiatric hospital, they take away your shoelaces "for your protection."  It doesn't matter that you're not wearing shoes with laces — or that you're not wearing shoes at all.  It doesn't matter if you say, "But I don't have any shoelaces."

The nurse simply replies, "For your protection, I'm going to be taking your shoe laces, twine, and any other items that aren't on the approved list. You will also turn in any sharp objects including knives, pencils, and cigarette lighters." You don't bother asking the nurse what kind of cigarette lighter is sharp.
"For your protection, the possessions you turn in will be stored in a twelve-by-twelve locker, which is kept behind a locked door that can only be opened with permission and supervision — for your protection."

They take you to the psychiatric hospital after you've spent the entire day in the emergency room. The ambulance he called found you on the corner, still walking towards the shore. They ask you too many questions, and you puke in the street. Even though you took all those pills, and the world has zoomed out making everyone look so far away, and your vision billows and bubbles like a bed sheet in a breeze, you find yourself yelling at your boyfriend, who just pulled up in his car, for calling the cops.  Even though you're yelling at your boyfriend, you don't resist the EMTs. You slur your answers, trying desperately to stay awake. The sky begins to lighten, and you wish you'd made it to the beach.
Someone yells, "Yep, it all came up," and you know they've just looked through your vomit. You're too intoxicated to be embarrassed. All you really want to do is sleep, and you know you have to fight that.
You tell them your name.
You give them your address.
You tell them your phone number.
You're secretly proud that you can remember it all.
Your best friend, and your boyfriend meet you at the hospital. They get there after you were forced to drink a milk carton of sweet charcoal.  You fall asleep, too tired, too drugged to keep your eyes open. When you wake, your vision has cleared, and you're angry. You let your boyfriend have it, right there in the curtained off quarters you think of as a room.  All the events that led to this moment began that one day, before you'd even met, when he got behind the wheel after drinking and lost his license.  It was he who asked you to drive him to and from work. It was the early hours of his job that led to you spending nights at his house. It was because you weren't coming home anymore that your parents changed the locks on the doors.  You moved into his room in his parents’  house after only a month of dating. It was because no one formally asked his parents' permission that you still dont feel comfortable being there without him.
 His friends couldn't understand all that. They complained that they never got to see him alone anymore. They complained that they couldn't just have a "boysnight out." When you got home from school last night after midnight, because your class let out at eleven, he insisted on fighting with you. He didn't care that your professor had accused you of taking advantage of the leeway he'd offered when you signed up late, having liked his previous class so much that you knew the extra class and work would be worth it. Your boyfriend didn't care that you'd worked tirelessly for weeks to catch up with the work. Each assignment had been ten pages long, and there had been forty of them. Your boyfriend didn't care that your professor was now trying to give you a C in a class that you would never have picked up had he not promised that you wouldn't be penalized for the late work. Your boyfriend didn't care that you were overwhelmed, and behind, and still had so much work to do with finals week coming up. All he cared about was going out with the boys.
After your rant has left you sobbing into your hands, your boyfriend puts his arms around you, knowing that he pushed you to your breaking point. Because he called the police. Because he was afraid you were going to die. Because you swallowed all those pills. His touch makes you cry even harder, which makes it impossible to convince anyone that you're not crazy, especially because you probably are — you did swallow all those pills, after all.
A woman pushes the curtains apart. She is clearly in a bad mood. Her tone is aggressive, and you can't understand why she was chosen to talk to an attempted suicide.
"You're going to have to be admitted."
"I don't think so," you tell her. "I have finals next week. I have three papers to write. I can't be admitted."
She argues with you, and you can't believe the audacity of this woman. When she storms out after you've delivered a sound verbal lashing on the merits of treating emotionally distraught patients with kindness, you call your mother. It's the hardest phone call you've ever made, and the sentences are heavily punctuated with your sobs. Luckily, the high school she works in is around the corner, and she arrives within ten minutes.
She argues with the nasty woman, too. You feel proud of your mother as she lets Nasty Woman know that if you're going to be admitted, it will be to a facility of "my own choosing."
They won't release you to your mother. You have to wait for an ambulance to take you to the psychiatric hospital. It's ten at night by the time you're wheeled into the vehicle, and almost eleven when they let you walk out of it.
 When you walk through the automatic glass doors, a woman at reception ushers you into a room that is furnished entirely out of rubber. The seats, the bed, and the walls are all the same squishy, rubber-ball material. Despite yourself, you laugh because you've finally been sent to the rubber room. Then you panic, because you've finally been sent to the rubber room.
They give your mother the paperwork to fill out because the panic has induced yet another fit of gut-wrenching sobs, and they think you're sixteen instead of twenty-three. Your boyfriend puts his arms around you, unable to look at you, because your anger at him for causing all of this has filled him with intense guilt.
When the intake nurse finally realizes that youre an adult, she hands the paperwork over to you. She tells you that if you don't sign yourself in, they will be forced to have a committee decide whether or not to commit you against your will. Since you're crying so hard and you did swallow all those pills, you know that, chances are, you won't be going home today. She tells you, conspiratorially, that the place you will go if you are involuntarily committed is a much uglier place, like the one the Marquis de Sade inhabited.
This is nothing like Cuckoos' Nest, where patients who sign themselves in can sign themselves out. In fact, you can't leave until they tell you to leave. You sign away your freedom, careful not to let the tears smear your signature.
She tells you the average stay is between three and seven days. You cry some more because its finalsweek and they won't let you bring a laptop to the hospital. You cry when you fill out your medical history.  You cry when you hand over your purse and your cell phone to your mother. You cry because, as they aren't on the approved list, they only let you keep two tampons. You cry because you're wearing a medical gown and socks when you hug your parents goodbye. You cry even harder when you hug your boyfriend and he tells you how sorry he is, when deep down you know it's your own fault. You cry once they've gone through the doors leading to the outside world, sure that you're sure you'll never see it again.
They take you upstairs. They take your picture. They take your temperature. They take your blood pressure.  They make you take your clothes off to see if you have any evidence of heroin use or other distinguishing marks. They take a picture of the tattoo on your lower back. They take what's left of your dignity.
They give you two clean medical gowns. They give you two thin towels. They give you a cheap toothbrush, a tiny tube of toothpaste, a trial-sized bottle of mouthwash, and a hotel-sized bottle of shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one. They give you five minutes to take a shower and tell you not to wash your hair. They stand just outside the bathroom door, as you stand in a small-tiled cell without a curtain. There isn't even a bar to hang a curtain. You think of the word "hang" and understand why. The cheap shampoo-conditioner is the kind that makes your hair feel like wet straw, but because your hair is curly and wild — and a mess — you wash it anyway.  Because you don't have a hairbrush, you only end up feeling worse.
You lie down on a rubber mattress under the blankets and cry into your pillow. You hold the scully cap your boyfriend gave you before he left, and you smell it because it's the only scent that isn't foreign and antiseptic. The smell of his shampoo makes you cry even more, and your heart hurts. You cry until the sleep takes you.


The day in the loony bin begins early. The shrink who'd diagnosed you with bipolar disorder, and prescribed you anti-seizure medications, wakes you up alongside a resident shrink. She has an angry Eastern European scowl and a manly grayed haircut. The sobs are back. They ask you why you did it. You tell them that you had been overwhelmed, fighting with your boyfriend, and made an impulsive decision. The resident doctor tells you to make a list of ways to avoid making impulsive decisions in the future. You wonder why there are so many angry people working with the emotionally disturbed.
After they leave, a nurse comes into your room and escorts you to the far side of the floor. A kind nurse, with a long grey bob, takes your temperature and your blood. She looks in your ears, and asks you where you're from. You tell her the name of the town you grew up in, the one where your parents' house is, and not where you've been living with your boyfriend the last three months. She smiles, because she meant where your parents' are from.
"Puerto Rico."
 She tells you how she spent many years traveling the world, studying the ear canals of indigenous people.  She discovered that they all have ear canals that go back and down. She tells you that if you aren't Taino, then she is a duck. It makes you feel proud. She asks you what you're doing there, and you tell her that you tried to kill yourself.
"Did you want to die?"
"No."
She presses her lips together, and nods empathetically. "What do you do?"
"I'm a student. I have an Associates in theater, but now I'm at a four-year university working on my Bachelor's degree."  You've been in a few plays, but you know you're only telling her this to make yourself seem more special. She looks you in the eye and tells you that you don't belong here.
"Think of it as research," she says before sending you on your way.
There is a wheeled cart with breakfast in the common room. You pick at the eggs and finish off a fruit cup, wondering how they manage to make everything taste like cardboard.  You go back to your room where a young man in a lab coat requests your presence in one of the meeting rooms. A team of white lab coats are waiting for you when you get there. They ask you what happened. 
This triggers another episode of sobs, through which you manage to say, "I made a stupid choice, and I don't want to be here. I think it would be better for me to go home."
They are annoyed at your tears, probably because it takes twice as long for you to get your words out. They stare blankly at you, until the head doctor, that same mean-faced one from earlier, dismisses you coldly.

There are two pay phones in the hallway just off the common room, in plain sight of the office where attendants and doctors mill about behind shatterproof glass windows. You make a collect call home, give the number of the pay phone, and your mom calls you back. She asks you if you want the rest of your family to visit. An image of your aunts flashes before your eyes. They hand you potted plants and I'm-sorry-you-tried-to kill-yourself flowers, and look at you with expressions of pity — and fear.
"No. I don't want them to know I'm here. It's none of their business."
"Your brother told Titi Magdalena[1] last night," your mother hesitantly reports. You know that the entire family already knows. This is the burden of being a member of a family with twenty-six aunts and uncles, and the same number of first cousins, all living locally. What would normally be a well-kept secret in any other family so easily becomes front-page news in the family gossip rags.
You are furious with your brother for betraying you. He gets on the phone and is not sorry. He is angry with you. He is angry because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and your little stunt has ruined the holiday. He is angry because you tried to kill his best friend. He is angry because mental illness runs in your family, and you am not the only person who has had to struggle against these impulses. He is angry because there has only been one person in your family to lose that struggle, and that makes all of you statistically more likely to fail in our own battles. He is scared that he almost lost you. He doesn't say any of this. All he tells you is that he loves you. You cry.  You tell him that you are so sorry, and you promise to never do this to him again. Your mother gets on the phone, and you give her a list of things you need.

If you want them to let you go home, you have to convince them that you are not sick. According to your soft-spoken roommate with that dead, medicated look in her eyes, this means you can't sit in your room all day. So you have to learn to sit together with all the other crazies in the common room.  A fat woman with frizzy hair and wild eyes looks at you. She asks you gently why you are there. You're not really sure how to answer.
"I tried to kill myself." It sounds harsher than you intended.
"Have you been here before?"
You shake your head.
"This is my third time," she tells you. Tomorrow you will sit with her in her room when she gets back from Thanksgiving dinner. She will tell you she is schizophrenic. She hears voices. When they are too loud, she checks herself into this hospital. You can't imagine wanting to come here. You remember the kind nurse's words to you, and remember that you don't belong here.
The girl sitting to your left chimes in proudly, "It's my third time too!" You feel like the only sane person in the asylum, despite the fact that you're not the only one with messy hair and a hospital gown. The girl to your left asks you how old you are.
"Twenty-three."
"God, I'm the youngest one again!"
She tells you that she's the youngest everywhere, and that she surely expected for you to be younger than she.
"Make sure you take a pencil," she warns you, gesturing at the one they gave you to indicate which bland foods you'll be eating until you make Level 2. "They're hard to come by."
You smile.
She smiles.
Her name is Hannah. She is nineteen and a student at Rutgers.  She's there because she is part of the outpatient program they can force you to be part of once you're released.  She's a cutter, which means that she turns to slicing her own skin as an escape from her problems.  She tells you that they admitted her because she wouldn't sign a contract promising not to cut herself over the holiday. The mean-faced Eastern European doctor gave her the same ultimatum I'd been given last night. Hannah had to choose between signing herself in or the Marquis de Sade's old room.
She's plain-looking, with a round face and light brown hair.  Her dark eyes are hidden behind a pair of black-framed Buddy Holly glasses.  She is a plump girl who claims to be a Buddhist and a lesbian. You think these are both phases of rebellion she uses to make her parents angry. By the time they call for the morning meeting, you've decided to stick with her, because she's the only person even close to your age.
At the morning meeting, a nurse takes attendance and explains the rules.  She describes the level system.
"Everyone starts at Q-15. At Q-15, you will be checked on every fifteen minutes for the first twenty-four hours."
 Level 1 is reached automatically after the first twenty-four hour period passes without incident. This means you eat all your meals in the common room, based upon the form you filled out while talking to Hannah and Frizzy. Level 2 means you can actually leave the ward. You can go out for cigarette breaks (four times a day), or outdoor recreation time (if they have it), and eat your meals in the hospital cafeteria. In order to achieve Level 2, you have to attend a minimum of three meetings and maintain your participation in group sessions.
She tells you about the meetings they would have had if they weren't following a weekend schedule due to the holiday. They would have had therapy sessions, both private and in groups. The group sessions are comprised of those people who are observed to be easiest to help.  Those who show the most individual progress.  Those who aren't in medicated hell.  They would have had informative meetings at various points throughout the day, where you would watch movies about various psychological disorders or attend workshops on how to deal with them, but because it is a weekend schedule, this will not happen. Because it is a weekend schedule there will be two visitation periods every day, and lots of free time. Because it is a weekend schedule, you will probably not go home until Monday. Today is Thursday.
They announce the names of those who have been granted permission to go home for Thanksgiving dinner, and despite the fact that your name is not called, you clap for those who are getting to escape. Then they pass out a worksheet that asks you what your goals are for today.  Finally, you take turns going around the room, introducing yourselves, stating your goals from yesterday (for those who were here), whether or not you achieved those goals, and what your goals are for today. Your goal is to get to Level 2.
Once the meeting is over, you go to the bathroom and try to make yourself presentable for visiting hours. You brush your teeth. You try and wrangle your hair, but your curls have decided to split into strands, which wave around your head in a curly brown halo. You sit by the window, and wonder if you could jump out and run away. You cry because you've never been imprisoned like this before, and there is no way out.

Your family arrives shortly after lunch. They bring bags of clothes: shoes without laces, clean underwear, and tampons, which you immediately smuggle to your room. They bring a hair brush, real conditioner, contact solution, your lens case, and a better toothbrush. They bring you a book to read and one to write in. You try to laugh at their jokes, but only tears come out. You apologize repeatedly because you're embarrassed to be seen like this, and you tell them how much you want to go home. They look at you with concern and fear etched around their eyes. Your mother looks like she hasn't slept. She probably hasn't. Before you know it, time is up, and you're hugging them goodbye. When it is all over, you go to your room and cry.
There is another meeting, but only for Level 2s. You go to your room and write. You write a list of how to avoid making impulsive decisions, but when you try to read what you have written, you see only smeared ink on the page.

Dinner arrives. You sit next to Paul. Paul is a thirty-something former body builder. He is tall and lean, and looks like the German villain from the Die Hard movie with Samuel L. Jackson. He has harsh angular features, light blue eyes, and short blonde hair.  He is an alcoholic and an addict. He'd been in rehab before. Until recently, he had been doing really well, devoting himself to his body.  He worked in construction, and before long he'd started going out with his co-workers after work for a beer. Just going on Wednesdays turned into Wednesdays and Thursdays. Soon Wednesday was the beginning of the weekend. At the end of a barroom night, he'd call up an old connection looking for coke. All of this climaxed one night with a brawl that injured his shoulder and caused him to appeal to his mother for help. She brought him here where he linked up with Hannah, and you.  Together you are a trio of support, like a three-legged stool, united you'd stand, divided you'd fall.
The other patients scare you. A thirty-ish woman with badly dyed, cropped cherry-coke hair gives you dirty looks. She sits with an older woman with long scraggly hair and grey streaks, and an even older black man with a salt-and-pepper afro and a couple of missing teeth. You avoid them because you know you're in a prison, and you're afraid they've shaved their toothbrushes into shivs.  An old white man with glasses sits alone at the far end of the room, occasionally twitching and whispering to himself. A young, barely eighteen-year-old black boy puts puzzles together alone in the art room. It will be three days before you hear him speak.
Paul tells you that Cherry Coke and her crew are junkies. He tells you that these kinds of places get filled with junkies in the colder months because they get beds, hot meals, and drugs. This only makes you more afraid of them. Junkies scare you. At meal times, they all sit together, whispering among themselves. You remind yourself that you don't belong here, that you're only doing research. You keep your head down, and you sit with Hannah and Paul. They will keep you safe. 
The next day, during the first visiting hours, your best friend is the only one who comes. She wants to fight with you. She is angry, not because you tried to hurt yourself or that you hadn't spoken to her in a month. She is angry because three months ago, before you'd met the guy who was your boyfriend now, she liked him first. She is angry because you'd known that, and you'd kissed him anyway. You tell her that calling "dibs" on someone is ridiculous, and fighting with you here and now is so incredibly selfish. You tell her to leave. You cry because you've lost your best friend.
 During the second visiting hours, your parents bring you turkey that isn't fully cooked, with stuffing and rice. You cry because you are not home to eat it, and because you know that your mother wanted you to have a real meal today. You cry because you know she is more disappointed than you are that the meat is undercooked. You smile at her because she gave you the drumstick. As the youngest,  you've never gotten that piece before. You cry because you realize that you had to try to kill yourself in order to get it, and it will be years before you forgive yourself for taking it this way.

On the third day, a new patient arrives.  Victor is nineteen years old, a white and Latino mix committed to speaking like he comes from the streets but is too articulate to pull it off successfully. He hides his emotions through humor and, boy, is he funny. During visiting hours, he sits with two friends in the same room as you and your family. The entire room fills with laughter at his jokes. It lasts the whole time. It feels good to laugh.
Victor takes a moment to tell your parents what a nice girl you are, and about how you made sure he felt comfortable upon arrival. He tells your boyfriend how lucky he is, and afterwards he tells you how lucky you are to have your family there.  He doesn't seem crazy.  He seems like he has emotional problems, and you like him because he reminds you that you don't have to be crazy to be here.  He makes you feel normal. If you didn't have a boyfriend, you would want to kiss him. The loony bin suddenly becomes more comfortable.
Victor is a smooth talker, so by the following morning he is on Level 2, and he stands on the line with you, Paul, Hannah, and the rest of the Level 2s waiting to go into the cafeteria for breakfast. The Level 2s get to eat in the main hospital cafeteria where staff and other visitors go to eat. At first it is intimidating, and embarrassing, to be guided single-file through a sea of normal people staring at you, but then you realize your upper hand. If you're going to be locked up with the crazies, you might as well act like one. So instead of averting your eyes when people stare, you twist your face into a pantomime of crazy, and you laugh with your friends when the normals flinch.
You all sit together, Hannah, Paul, Victor, and you. Without being asked, each of you grabs something for everyone else to use: drinks, utensils, napkins, condiments. Someone gets desserts.  Someone else goes back for soups.  You have become a family.  You call yourselves "A Tribe Called Crazy."  Your camaraderie inspires envy among the others.   The young, no-longer silent black kid, whose name you've discovered is Devon, joins you first. Salt-and-Pepper-Fro follows. He starts calling you "lilbit," because "you're just a little bitty thang."  Cherry Coke and Scraggly Hair are too proud to join you, but they stare longingly at the oasis of happiness and love you all managed to create in that prison of madness you've been confined to. 
When you get back from breakfast, your doctor makes an appearance.  She informs you that you look better and that you will go home tomorrow.  It's the best news you think you've heard in months. You hold your head higher. You take a shower and get dressed without crying.  In fact, you haven't cried in days. When you go into the common room, everyone tells you how pretty you look, and the common room fills with applause and whistles. You smile, curtsey, flutter your eyelashes, and take your seat next to Victor.
He is your best friend on the inside now. He still doesn't tell you why he is there, but you haven't told him why you're there, either. Even though you’d told others, it’s harder to say to him.  Sometimes you avoid your feelings and laugh while painting silly pictures of each other. At other moments, you cry together, sitting on opposite sides of a hallway, your feet grazing each other, in the middle. The nurses watch closely, making sure you’re not actually touching. It’s against the rules for patients to touch. You talk about how it doesn't matter why you're there. Everyone is there because, for whatever reason, they made bad choices and need help making good ones — even you.
The next day when you wake up, you should feel excited. Instead you feel sad.  You know you're going home, but part of you wants to stay.  It is safe here. It is comfortable.  Here, you have Hannah, and Victor, and Paul.  Here, there are people who care about you, and take care of you, and let you take care of them. Here, nothing hurts. You laugh all day and do arts and crafts projects. You put puzzles together. You write in your journal, and you learn about yourself. Here, it is not finalsweek. There are no accusing professors or boyfriends to fight with. Here, you are part of the Tribe Called Crazy.
You never got to experience the private or group therapy and are envious when your friends are called into group. It is Monday now, and the normal week's schedule has resumed. Your mom arrives, and you have already folded all of your things into shopping bags.  They give you back the laces you didn't have, the sharps you didn't bring, and the tampons you don't need anymore. They give you the papers to prove you are no longer crazy and tell you that your social worker will call you.
One of the nurses breaks the rules for you, because she likes you. She interrupts group therapy, because she knows about your Tribe Called Crazy and the bond you've all formed. You aren't allowed to hug anyone. Touching is prohibited in there. You wave goodbye with tears floating in your eyes. You promise to bring them the things they've asked for: Q-tips for Paul, Dutchies for Victor, a teddy bear for Hannah. You tell them to call or email you when they're out, even though you know you're not supposed to make contact for six months. You wave, and smile, and leave through the doors you came in through. All of the moments you've shared, all of the people you've come to care about, get left behind. You will only see one of them ever again.
When you go out into the day, your mother and your brother take you to lunch. The motion of the car hurts. The blur of the trees, and houses, and streets moves faster than you've moved in days, and you get dizzy.  Your mother asks you questions, but she sounds far away, and you cry because you're overwhelmed. It's a sensory overload, and you have to ask for a minute to calm down.
The next day you're on your own. No one stays home with you. No one helps you acclimate yourself back to the real world. Your boyfriend won't take the day off no matter how much you beg, and your mother has already taken too many days off because of you. After so much time being apologized to, and promised the attention you need, after five nights in a mental institution, they leave you alone, and you cry. You cry because you realize that you are on your own. You cry because you realize that no cry for help will bring the right kind of calvary, because you are your own army. You cry because you realize that unless you want to go back in, you will have to keep yourself out.  You cry because you know that you're not crazy, you never were.  You cry because you realize that the whole reason you went in there was because you didn't want to be lonely anymore.  Despite what you wanted, you cry because you're right back where you started. The worst tears come when you realize that you were just another body on the conveyor belt. There wasn’t a moment of therapy. Not a second of actual intervention. They threw you in under duress, let you out before you were ready, and called you cured.







 













Selected Poetry
Jessica Heron


91

i am a bird and
you are a bird
and as one bird helps another bird
feathers are tossed, gently drop
through the sky, float side to side
one loose feather at a time
until our wings no longer cover each other
they bare-boned, we desperate for cover
or another way, or time, if we could say now
“easier”
but it was never that. you were a bird and
i was a bird
gentle and fragile-feathered
gently frantic, gently losing our feathers
by the toss or the tear
falling side to side through the air
then no longer there


139

though you were not there when I became you
these arms, these legs
they moved toward you

lying down
standing up

it used to be i awoke
and in my waking it was you
i slept, and in my dreams it was you-

repugnant moves
how you've made an enemy within me

hemmed in, embittered,
and in rebellion, myself against
oh how you tear and sew the threads


Stuck

I was where the nurses don't wear white anymore, no, no
no more Nurse Ratchet caps, just swinging lanyards, but still the orderly fashion,
still the ladies with tiny cups in hands that genuflect toward
me, hands together in almost prayer, and I have no choice but to answer them and
accept that it's not their fault
but mine, so then night and day
they offer the concoction concluded by someone I knew for
five minutes.
It's not a situation ideal, but I deal.

Because I fell I won a shooting star above my room, like a child might draw, and dream of slipping
down the fiery slide of its starshine.
It wasn't my dream, but it became that, that singular and blazing time-
my routine reality quickly a brightly-lit dream.

They can be caught like fireflies and they shine through
the netting, those children's dreams.
They go on in the shade as I change, and I grow over, not up. Naturally then
I inevitably get caught, while I shift in my richness,
and in this prison I shine hard as I can shine, but never so bright
as the florescent past-midnight cracked-open door for the nighttime routine check.


Untitled

vibrations of song singing strumming so long, or good day
to have one she, she vibrates away     away      away
shake baby shake
shake her ribcage
in space between her bones and her lungs and her heart and her
pallid skin and it shakes til it bends her blues,
it blends her moods into blood red hues and sepia tones,
lively alive under the shade of no woman no cry,
so why not take all of me, alive
in the songbooks of yellowing crumbles,
she holds them dear and to her chest and close,
whistles.
The wind of his ghost rustles through the tulips
and she tiptoes with him, through it.


Untitled

October fresh tingles down cobblestone spine skin willies chilly feeling just fine and
dreary air blasts a face mask of frozen skeleton underneath grey stone sky rushes windy
debris pin-pricking into my eyes crying for clarity oh why does certain dying feel refreshing and new?

Hands tell time without touching fingers squeeze life through knuckle wrinkles
cold skin colder cracks wind carrying signals it's the end but it's the beginning laid down
spinning motion frozen like bare trees nothing to sway in the wind while it's blowing

Now day is dark with starshine caskets filling unempty gaps between mortal never-
ending truth and dirty growth bending simple answers from impossible branches twigs
snap fragile bones blessed with few moments dried and broken

Gone north toward snowy water once flowing ice white polar carpet soft on feet not
feeling temperature when it's again the same finally reawakening to stony cold
comforting transition


Untitled

Beyond mind is being, the verb of a noun that saves when it drowns and drowns when it lives. The mind erased leaves a soulful trace to find being when mind can't be found. In my mind there I be but I can't find me, mind my be be my mind and my mind inside be me, Down down down my life does drown, being mine, indeed blind, deaf, dumb in my mind. The clouds throughout shade and numb, hide the being through which my mind keeps doubt. In some case it may be my mind keeps being and does not keep me.







At the Station
Rachelle Eve Adlerman

At the station,
between the platform and the parking lot
rest all the lonely trinkets that time
(and passengers) forgot
or else thought keen to leave here, alone,
to atone,
or perhaps to keep the streets clear.
Amidst bottles, cups, cans, newspapers, rubber bands,
between a dragon’s hoard of unclean things,
a dozen or a hundred thin, whining voices sing—
“I kept rain off his shoulders,” “I was her favorite hat,”
and “Oh, see that? —this was her class ring.”
They fling their accusations up
from the knotted roots
and bring you down, bring your eyes
down, cling to your lingering frown
til you turn away, enraptured
by a train’s forlorn hoots.
You can count the advertisements left,
the transit tickets sounding high,
blown about and away, abandoned, and bereft.
A dollar coin, a billboard cleft
in twain, a soiled wedding train,
a hefty sum of memories, afraid and cringing in the rain—
you’ll never know so tenderly.
You’ve already boarded the train.




Mark Bellamy Grew up in a working class family in Plymouth, UK, both his parents worked to make ends meet and he has one younger sister. He was a bright kid, qualifying for one of the top schools in Plymouth at the age of eleven and was in the top three in almost every class in the first year. After that, he decided that was enough and threw in the towel. No amount of pressure, bribery or threats from his long suffering parents could change his decision. He left school at the age of sixteen in the bottom three in most classes and joined the workforce as an apprentice in a printing factory. His journey through life has given him four wonderful children, two boys and two girls, and a beautiful little granddaughter. The journey also led him to the shores of New Jersey, USA. It was here that a new passion was ignited. He always had a passion for all things creative, movies, music, books and he has had moderate success as an oil painter. While taking a class at Brookdale Community College in English writing, his English professor, Marc David Bonagura spotted an interesting story in one of his essays and encouraged him to pursue the story further. Now begins another journey.

SaraGrace Stefan is a nineteen-year-old from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. She has been writing about giant bugs, runaway children, and magical lands since she was a little girl. Her current, more angst-riddled writing now competes with an abundance of English Literature and Writing homework from Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Her book Hands to Hold for People Trying Not to Cry in Public Places is available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Lulu. SaraGrace’s writing has also been featured in the Waltonian newspaper as well as the 2014 Inaugural Issue of Wormwood.


T.R. Patmore resides in NJ where she provides editing, writing, and creative consulting services. She received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Montclair University in 2007, and was that year’s recipient of the Anthony Lovasco Shakespeare Award. She is supported, inspired, and motivated by her fourteen year-old son, her six year-old daughter, and, most of all, her husband, without whom she would never have had the courage to take the leap into the crazy madness of writing full-time. She is currently penning her first YA novel, blogging at http://www.justmyinkblot.com/, and refusing to allow anyone to convince her that fairies aren’t real.
 
Jessica Heron's poems have never before been published and she is thrilled to be getting published in Wormwood. Her other work exists in journals and flash drives. When Jessica is not writing, she is teaching ESL. She resides in Freehold, NJ.
  
Erika Wendy Schneider is a writer living in New Jersey. She is inspired by honest media, rounded characters and nomads in airports.






Photography courtesy of Danielle Galbraith Solomon, Donna Claire, Taylor Ann Genevieve, Crystal Dawn Froberg (cover) and Cimarronography (back cover)


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