Who Do They Go To?

 

I close my eyes.  The cold, hard surface of my desk props my elbow as I lean my head into my hand while automatically rambling off the conjugated forms of hacer.  Hago, haces, hace, hacemos, hacéis, hacen.  On and on and on.  I open my eyes again and they begin to glaze over as I stare at the clock.  It’s only 9:13 am and I mentally groan from exhaustion when Greg accidentally kicks the back of my chair, snapping my attention back to the chalkboard.  A few more swift kicks follow and I suddenly realize Greg’s kicks aren’t an accident.  Principal Connor pokes her head into our classroom and calls Mrs. Amore into the hallway.  “Look at exercise 2C in your workbooks, class,” Mrs. Amore instructs. Her heels clink against the tile floor and she closes the door behind her.

The class erupts into sudden chaos before the latch even clicks into the doorframe.  The girls clutter and begin giggling over the new Heath Ledger movie, while the boys discuss the much anticipated Xbox release in November.  I pull out my Walkman from my desk and raise the headphones to my ears when Greg kicks my chair again.

I turn to face him. “What’s that about?” he asks, nodding towards the door.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

We look at the door, out the small rectangle window, seeing half of Mrs. Amore’s back.  She is stiff, as if cold water has been poured over her, but then her shoulders begin to rise and fall as Principal Connor rubs her back, trying to calm her down.

“It doesn’t look good,” I point out.  “She’s crying.”

We look at each other and back at the door.  The heels of Mrs. Amore’s palms wipe vigorously at her cheeks, erasing any sign of sadness.  She then takes a deep breath as she tries to regain composure and reaches out for the doorknob.  I shove my Walkman back into my desk and face forward.  Greg places his hands folded on top of his.  Mrs. Amore walks back into the classroom with puffy, tired eyes.

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(days since), the first 5,000

(346 days since)

 

The thing about grief is that everyone deals with it differently. When going through a bad breakup, you might drive by your ex’s house just to get a glimpse of them; or go on a weeklong bender with your friends. I once saw a TV show where a man dealt with the death of his wife by dressing up every day as a mime. Either way, it all depends on the person. When I was eight, my dad ran over my prized Sky Dancer with the lawn mower. In my grief I collected the pieces and buried them in our backyard. I held a small funeral with my best friend Alyssa, and my dog Chelsea. That was how I grieved over my favorite toy. I did not shed a single tear when my father apologized for the accident, or while Alyssa and I dug the shallow hole. But when I visited the tiny grave alone, I would silently sob. And yet, in a week or two I got over it and started playing with my Skip-It instead. I’m not saying that people are like Sky Dancers or anything, but who am I to tell someone that they’re grieving wrong? That would be like telling someone that they’re breathing wrong.

But when I walk into the kitchen to find the sour smell of weed wafting in the air, I can’t take it anymore.

He is grieving wrong.

Reaching into the cabinet, I grab my favorite worn Tony the Tiger bowl and prepare my usual breakfast. Back when cereal boxes actually gave out prizes I would spend my weekends watching cartoons and demolishing boxes of cereal, hoping to collect enough proofs of purchase to send away for the bigger and better prizes. After two months of weekend binging, and three weeks of waiting, I finally received my classic Kellogg’s cereal bowls. I cherished those bowls—the Tony the Tiger one especially—and wouldn’t allow anyone else to use them. But now, after thousands of cycles in the dishwasher, Tony’s stripes are faded and his face is almost unrecognizable. At first glance, it seems ridiculous to hold on to. But its sentimental value makes it worth keeping. That and the fact that it’s the largest bowl we have, excluding the mixing or salad bowls we keep under the kitchen island. As I pour my bowl of Frosted Flakes, I look at my boring start to the day and decide to liven up my meal by pouring a glass of orange juice.

As I take my first few bites, the garage door swings open and Dad steps into the kitchen with fingertips of smoke trailing behind him through the doorway. His eyes are red and puffy and he begins mumbling under his breath something about being allergic to the dust in there. Over the past year, my dad has gained a significant amount of weight—mostly due to late night McDonald’s runs. He constantly looks bloated, as if someone turned an air compressor on into his clothes and forgot to turn it off. His button ups are at their last stand and with one wrong move they’ll be popping off in every direction. I imagine one landing into my bowl of cereal with a bloop. His light brown hair is always disheveled, and has begun to just stick out at random angles. Since shaving has become a chore for him as well, he leaves the house with a face covered in patchy gruff instead of being the clean-shaven man I grew up idolizing. My morning soundtrack used to play with the sounds of Dad’s razor clinking against the bathroom sink, paired with my mother grinding coffee beans in the kitchen. But all we hear now is silence.

We have our usual awkward small talk: him being high and me being uncomfortable. Since returning home for summer vacation, this has become a new thing for both of us. Instead of his usual weed-addled morning routine with no consequence, he has to find reasons for locking himself in the garage each morning. But I’ve got to hand it to him; his excuses are getting quite impressive. Just last weekend he ran towards the garage exclaiming, “My electric razor fell into the toilet!” sounding more excited than alarmed. “I need a screwdriver to fix it!” Twenty minutes later, when he floated back in from the garage, he’d forgotten all about the screwdriver, and instead returned with a hammer in hand. Everybody knows what he is really doing in there, but no one talks about it.

We are a family specializing in avoidance.

Mornings like these are when I wish for Before It Happened Dad. When weekends sounded like sizzling bacon and smelt of maple syrup. My feet pattering against the wood floors, I would sprint down the stairs, jumping from the second to last step. Dad would be wearing an apron with flour on his face, and pouring Mom a fresh cup of coffee while she completed The New York Times crossword in pen. Waiting for me would be a plate of pancakes that spelled my name, and a canister of whipped cream. If I asked for strawberry milk he already had it ready for me with a spoon in the glass waiting to be stirred, my favorite part. That was what I wanted. But now I was nauseous from the smell of weed and eating far more bowls of cereal than usual.

While shoveling a spoonful of Frosted Flakes into my mouth, I instinctively check my cell phone, even though I know that nobody has tried to reach me. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that I am alone. I thought your first year of college was supposed to help you make everlasting friendships. That’s what I always saw in movies or on TV shows at least.   But apparently I did something wrong, since my freshman year gave me social leprosy, causing everyone I thought were my friends to run away screaming. I shuffle through my old texts with Rose, trying to pinpoint the exact moment where I should have known she was plotting something against me. But no matter how many times I look, I still can’t find it. I guess I should have known though. As a freshman in college, you tend to become friends with the first person you meet and during that first semester the friendship goes through a trial run.

If by the end of that semester, you are happy with one another, you decide to upgrade to a full friendship subscription. And if you have found other people that you connect with more, you can walk away without question because you weren’t really that close anyway. But even then, I was so sure about Rose. We lived across the hall from one another making us almost destined to become friends. It was during move-in day while I was balancing a crate and trying to unlock my door that hers opened. Rose, wrapped in a pink towel and carrying her shower caddy, stepped out and caught me.

“Do you need help?”

I jumped, dropping my crate and spilling both my entire supply of Easy Mac and book collection everywhere.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said. Gently placing her shower caddy on the floor, she bent over to help. Her movements were dainty, refined almost.

“Thanks,” I groaned. I had been in the dorms for less than an hour and was already making a fool of myself in front of my new neighbor. When I first met Rose there, I couldn’t describe her in any other way except perfect. She was tall and slender with long, auburn hair that even when thrown in a ponytail had the right amount of wave without a hint of frizz. Her complexion was pale without looking sickly. Even her face was a perfect circle. The only imperfection I could see was a slight scar below her right eye, and even then it was perfectly placed, drawing you to her green eyes. She radiated confidence. She was in a Target-brand towel and yet, she worked it as if she were ready for a night out.

Handing me my books, she looked at the titles.

The Bell Jar, Mrs. Dalloway, and Live or Die. You’re not going to stick your head in the oven during finals week are you?”

I raised an eyebrow and smiled. Of course she was pretty and well read. “Well, if you picked up these books,” I held up The Beautiful and the Damned, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and A Farewell to Arms, “You’d think I was a raging alcoholic.”

She giggled. “I wouldn’t know. I only know those first titles. Half of your book collection just covered every book I’ve ever read—and only because it was assigned in school.”

I looked at her, trying to figure her out. So she wasn’t that well read?

“What kind of progressive, new-age high school did you go to that the only books you read were written by female writers who eventually offed themselves?”

“An all-girl boarding school in Connecticut,” she giggled. “I’m Rose,” she said extending her hand. “Rose Greenleaf.”

“Really?” I said, taking her hand.

Rose rolled her eyes. “Yeah, really.”

“I’m sorry,” I laughed. “But you’re like an accidental hippie.”

Rose giggled again, “My older sister’s name is Dahlia.”

“That’s rough,” I said, “I’m Addy Tate.”

“Addy? That’s unusual.”

“It’s short for Adelaide. It was my grandmother’s name.”

“Oh, that’s sweet.”

“Adelaide!” My mother’s voice echoed. I looked up and she was heading our way, dragging my suitcase of winter hats and scarves behind her. When she met us, she put down the suitcase and began playing with my hair. I knocked her hand away. “Oh, honey,” she gushed, ignoring my physical warnings, brushing her hand on my shoulder now. “This is such a big step for you.” Rose looked over at me. I pushed my mom’s hand away again and rolled my eyes.

“Yeah, sure. Anyway, Mom,” I said, trying to distract her, “This is Rose. She’s my neighbor.”

“Rose! It’s so nice to meet you!” All of a sudden my tiny mother lunged at Rose, wrapping her in a large embrace, rocking her back and forth. “You need to promise me you’ll look after my Adelaide,” she mock-whispered into her ear. I became mortified and actually smacked my hand against my forehead in embarrassment. Over her shoulder, I saw that Rose was more shocked than annoyed by my mother’s actions. I mouthed an apology to her and she nodded back in acceptance. “I’m Adelaide’s mother,” Mom continued, “Isn’t this exciting?”

Rose smiled. “It sure is Mrs. Tate.”

“Oh, please! Call me Pilar.” She went back to playing with my hair, tucking my curly locks behind my ear.

“Mom!” I interjected, taking a step away from her. “Rose needs to go take a shower now.”

“How silly of me,” she said. “It was so nice to meet you, Rose.”

“You too, Pilar.” She picked up her shower caddy and walked down the opposite end of the hallway my mother had come from, towards the showers. “See you around, Adelaide.”

“Bye,” I said.

When she was out of earshot my mom looked at me, wrapping her arm around my waist. “Well she seems sweet.”

“Yeah,” I said. “She does, doesn’t she?”

 

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Counting

For the first time in my life, I was running late for work.

This was a bad omen.

I blame my mother for my time-keeping obsession.  Since her watch ran seven minutes and twenty-three seconds slow, it was always difficult trying to get anywhere on time with her.  And once I discovered her inaptitude in time management, I tried ever so desperately to get her to set it to the right time. But she never listened to me. So I was always late.  To soccer practice, piano lessons, even school.  I was late to my middle school graduation because my mom swore we had enough time to go to the closest Dunkin Donuts and grab a quick coffee.

Constantly having to wait for her outside the car created my habit of counting to a certain number. It helped alleviate the anxiety my seven-year-old self was holding.  Now no matter what, I make sure I am at least 10 minutes early.

On that day as I sped off to work, I realized my phone vibrating in the cup holder. It was my mother. Probably asking me where I was since we both worked at the same doctor’s office and I wasn’t already at my desk scanning paperwork.  I picked up the phone at the next red light.

“Mom, somehow I lost track of time. Can you tell Lucy I am going to be 10 minutes late?”

“I already talked to Lucy. You’re not going to work today.”  Her voice was calm, but straining.  Something was happening.

“What’s wrong?”

“He’s having complications. You need to come to the hospital now.”

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Banned Books Challenge

I have decided to do something crazy.  Because I am crazy.  For 2014, I have decided to read – and blog about – the ALA’s list of banned and challenged classics. This list is actually based off the Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels list.  And of those top 100, 46 of them are frequently banned and challenged.

I love banned books.  I find the concept of banning and challenging books fascinating and strange.  I’ve read books that I did not like.  I’ve read books that had drained my mind grapes dry.  But after reading them I didn’t think, “You know what?  Because I don’t agree with the message of this book, I am going to make sure nobody else can ever read it.”  Because if I did, The Devil Wears Prada and Frankenstein would cease to exist.

If anyone is involved in YA book news, in 2013 Rainbow Rowell, the author of the two New York Times best-sellers Eleanor & Park and Fangirl was uninvited to a Minnesota school because parents challenged the subject matter in Eleanor & Park.  If you don’t know what it’s about, here is how Rowell summarized it:

Eleanor & Park is set in 1986. It’s about two 16-year-olds who fall in love on a school bus. The story is told from both of their points of view. Eleanor, a chubby redhead, is the new kid at school, and she’s facing some pretty intense bullying. Also, she has a terrible, abusive stepdad, who makes life at home miserable. Park’s home life is pretty good – his parents love him and each other – but he’s one of the only Asian kids at school, and he listens to bands no one has heard of, and he feels like a misfit, even inside his own house.

So Eleanor and Park fall in love. Unexpectedly. And intensely. And they both feel saved by that love.

The parents’ challenging of the book sparked large debate in the YA fiction realm; BookRiot wrote an excellent piece about why banning books like Eleanor & Park is bad for YA fiction.

But I digress.  My Banned Books Challenge has actually already began.  Just last week, I finished reading George Orwell’s classic – and number 9 on the list – 1984.  So I am already on the right track, and you should expect a blog post about it later this or next week.  And although there are some books on this list that I have already read, I am going to read them again.  All 46 will (hopefully) be read by the end of 2014.  I think the best thing for me to do in continuing this challenge is to read the books in numerical order on the list, which leaves me beginning (and re-enjoying) this challenge with the American classic, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If anyone wants to join in, I am going to add a Banned Books Challenge tab, so you can easily check out the list, and see my progress.

Happy reading!

Help Me, I’m Bored: NaNoWriMo Challenge

I have been writing fiction since I was twelve. I have also kept some form of a diary for as long as I can remember.  However, I can also count on one hand the number of diaries I actually finished.  The answer is three.  And one of them was this year.  I also have four partially written journals lying around my flat right now, and probably three back home in Chicago.  On top of that, I have on my external hard drive at least six different stories I had started and eventually abandoned.

Does this make me a bad writer?  I don’t think so.  If anything, it just makes me a flighty writer.  Some of those unfinished pieces are ones I started when I was fourteen.  Now, I’m no S.E. Hinton–who wrote The Outsiders when she was a mere sixteen–so when I look at those stories now, I can’t help but laugh.  They are my sad attempts at being the female J.D. Salinger.  There’s unnecessary cursing, and even a few “phonies” thrown in for good measure.

And when I look at them, I completely understand why I stopped.  I was running out of steam.  When I was fourteen, I would have been the master of the short-story.  I didn’t understand how to correctly map out a story.  I just wrote what I thought sounded good, had the action start quite early in the novel, and then plateau and fizzle out.

I would also just bore myself with the story.  If I was bored creating my own tales and characters, why the hell would anyone else want to read them?  So I would chuck it, and instantly begin a new story.  I was also very Harriet the Spy with my writing, hiding my notebooks and laptop screen whenever my parents, friends, or other family members came into the room.  I didn’t want them to see my writing.  I was very self-conscious.  Well, I still kind of am, but not as severely as when I was younger.

Now, I share quite a bit of my work with friends more than family.  Mostly because sometimes I feel like my family doesn’t really understand why I want to be a writer.  They have never read any of my stories, seen me write in public, or heard me acknowledge a story I am working on.  I think when I decided to go to the University of Greenwich for creative writing my family was like, “What? When did you suddenly become a writer?”

But I digress.  I started Librocubicularist to get me into the habit of 1. writing more frequently, and 2. sharing my writing with strangers.  After I finished my dissertation on young adult fiction and worked on about 10,000 words of my creative project, (days since), I knew I wanted to keep going with it.  (days since) is about nineteen-year-old Adelaide Fitz and her struggle with grief a year after a car accident killed her older brother, Nat, just a few months before she started college.  Nat’s death causes Adelaide to struggle with school, making friends, keeping relationships, and being herself.  But as the one-year anniversary of Nat’s death draws near, she has no choice but face her problems.  And when Nat’s old roommate, Zander,  lands on her doorstep one summer day, Adelaide begins to realize that she cannot shut the world out if she ever wants to feel somewhat normal again.

So  yeah, that’s a short–and not very good–summary of what my novel is about.  And I have been working really hard to keep on writing, and surprisingly, I am not getting bored with it.  I have plotted it, outlined it, built character development charts, everything.  To be honest, this is the most amount of time and effort I have worked on a single piece, and I am proud of it.  With NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in just two days, I am getting pushed even further to get (days since) off the ground and fully in motion.  As of now, I have a bit over 20,000 words written and edited.  By the end of November I want to have at least 50,000.  And I really think I can pull it off.

Wish me luck!

Just a Patch of Grass

We are staring at a patch of grass.  In context, there is nothing special about it.  It’s very green with bits of fresh clippings sticking to the toe of my shoe so I can at least deduce that the local gardeners are taking care of it; but it has a bit of a crunch under my step meaning it still needs some help.  When I slowly lift my head, the patch of grass is interrupted with a tiny bouquet of fresh flowers.  A lump rises in my throat and I try to suppress it.  They’ve already been here.  I continue lifting my head and my gaze is met with a heavy grey stone.  It is tall and strong.  Unnatural.  Man-made.  Looking further up, I see a scattering of more upright stones, poking their heads and breaking the surfaces of the grass.  I look back down.  It’s not really just a patch of grass.  I know this.  He knows this.  But it makes it easier to be here if we think like this.

This specific patch of grass is special to us.  Although we are surrounded by almost identical other patches of grass, they share no meaning.  But this one, with this particular stone is important.

This stone is my brother.

I read the etchings on the stone and reflexively reach out my fingertips to trace the letters carved.  I run my index finger across his name, spelling it out.  N-A-T-A-N-I-E-L.  I can’t bring myself to trace the dates; they are so finite.  So complete.  For some reason I expect the stone to be hot and burn at my touch.  But it’s hard and cold.

Zander clears his throat and I jump, forgetting he is next to me.  I gaze at him, and I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know why I wanted to come here.  This wasn’t a good idea.  Zander places his hand atop the stone and lets out a heavy sigh. He knows this was a mistake too.  We aren’t ready for this.

I start to take a step back and a look of panic spreads across his face.

“You don’t want to leave yet, do you?”

I think about this question.  I want to be here.  I need to.  But it’s difficult with him next to me.  Not because he makes me uncomfortable.  But because I can feel we both have our reasons for wanting to come.  But we both don’t want the other to know what they are.

“No, I just–I think that we both need our time with him.”  I take another step back, “You can go first.”  Before I turn, I can see the panic drain from his face and replaced with relief.  I walk away, heading towards a large tree.  I sit down, feeling the roughness of the bark against my back and turn my body away from Nat’s grave, giving Zander more privacy.  I tilt my neck and lightly rest the back of my head against the tree.  Closing my eyes, I try to filter out Zander’s voice–is he talking out loud?–and filter in the sounds around me.

I am a headphones kind of girl.  I don’t go anywhere without some way of blocking out the sounds around me.  I hate listening to other people.  Their conversations, their problems, their noises.  It might just be the after-effects of the whiskey diets I had drank earlier but right now, I am reveling in the silence.  The sounds of my surroundings slowly transform into a natural  symphony.  The combination of the rustling of the leaves in the wind with the swaying of branches interweave with the caws of a distant crow.  Everything sounds so wonderful, even with the slight humming of Zander’s voice as he talks to Nat.  I sway to the natural sounds for either five minutes or an hour.  Time has frozen here but I suddenly feel a presence.

Fluttering my eyes open, I meet Zander’s raincloud grey gaze.  He sits next to me and forces a smile.  It isn’t genuine.  The corners of his eyes aren’t twinkling like they usually do.

“You look pretty serene considering the circumstances.”

“You don’t.”

He playfully bumps my shoulder with his and his wry smile fades.  The conflict of his emotions are hard to stomach.  I wish for the false smile to return.  His brows furrow and picks his next few words carefully.  “I had a lot to get off my chest.”

Worry is spread across his face.  He has something else to say, I can tell.  He opens his mouth again, as if he is going to tell me what is wrong.  But he closes it.  Ashamed.  Maybe another time he will be able to tell me.

“Well,” I get up and stretch my arms over my head.  “I need to be with my brother now.”

 

**This is a scene I have been toying with in my young adult novel.  I just felt like sharing it today.

Smoking Out the Window: A Palimpsest with Jorge Luis Borges “Paradiso, XXXI”

A palimpsest is something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.  One famous palimpsest is The Archimedes Palimpsest, a prayerbook from the early 1200s, comprised of 174 parchment folios.  My modern-day palimpsest has bits of Jorge Luis Borges’ Paradiso, XXXI within it.  In order to create this, I used lines and phrases from Borges’ piece and interwove them with my own text. The intertextuality between my piece and Borges creates a voice that uses Borges’ religious imagery and combines it with my “sinful acts.”  This successfully intertwines the works with fluidity while simultaneously juxtaposing two opposite concepts.

 

***

 

There aren’t many things that drive me to prayer.  Not drinking on a Monday night or sneaking someone into my flat at 3 am.  No, I stifle those prayers inside myself.  There is no need for them.  I’m not weighed down by these sins but instead bathed in a tranquil light.

I have done many things that should bring me down to my knees.  Many memories could have been eased with a quick prayer within the day.  Instead I ignore this unnecessary urge and continue with the sin.  But as soon as I am in my room and I pull out my tobacco, guilt sets in.  Beneath the rose I begin to roll a cigarette and crack my window slightly.  And I’m praying to the carpenter’s son that I’m not caught.  It is when I’m sitting on my window ledge, cautiously directing the smoke out that I become religious.

Dear God, please don’t let me get caught.

Yet, this isn’t a new experience for me.  This scene has played out since I was seventeen and living with my parents.  Smoking out the window, looking over my shoulder, and praying.  Feeling the judgement lurk in every mirror.  Oh Lord, what would my parents think if they found out?  If I was caught, would their image of me be lost for ever like an image in a kaleidoscope?  This time will be my last.

Amen.

But every night I’m still hugging the windowsill.  Muttering a short prayer with every deep inhale.