brink-wanderlust

The Crow

Erin Kiernan

ISSUE NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

I admit I’m decently averse to travel. It took a great deal of thought and preparation for me to go to school in New York, which is only two and a half hours from my house. Now, with graduation looming, geography is constantly on my mind. I should go somewhere cool, but I don’t want to. But I should. I feel like the crow in my story. And the young woman.

Her favorite bird was the crow. There was one she liked to think of as her friend living in one of the high trees outside the church. He came out infrequently, only on the days during which he felt needed. He could sense the cool overcast days before they happened (because his small bones would ache) and knew he must show the world his face. He thought of himself as a Halloween decoration of sorts.

His eyesight was sharp, his brain quick, and on those spooky days he would rise at eight thirty and fly the couple dozen yards from his nest to the church bell tower. Perched on the tower, he waited 29 and three quarter minutes to begin his flight back across the church lawn to the nest. And every half hour until sundown, he flew back and forth between the bell tower and nest, pairing each flight with a string of caws, diverging from his straight path only to occasionally scoop up hovering insects. When perched on the tree, he could see the clock on the bell tower. When perched on the tower, he could hear the hourly chime. Thus, his flights were never late. He was a punctual crow.

On overcast Sundays, he saw her, a young woman with red hair, as she walked into the church for the eleven o’clock mass. She was always right on time, right on the hour, so she would catch him for his eleven o’clock flight. She would look up at him lovingly, a look he was not familiar with. No one looks at crows, let alone looks at them lovingly.

He felt important and handsome when she looked at him, so on overcast Sundays he would spread his wings wider and caw a bit louder and look down at her in return. He thought he loved her, so he started to come out more frequently—not just on overcast days, but on sunny days too—with the hope that she’d be there and look at him.

Every Sunday for four years she saw him and he saw her. Just a simple shared glance, but it was enough for the crow.

One Sunday in late May, he did not see her during his flight. It was five past eleven, and still nothing. No sign of the red haired young woman. At ten past, he became very anxious, so he did something he hadn’t done since he was a fledgling: he alighted on the ground. Because it was May and so very lovely outside, the church door was ajar. He crept inside to look for her. He walked up and down the aisles, glancing at every pew, sharing blank looks with churchgoers. His black beady eyes met with empty white eyes devoid of love or any feeling at all.

He flew up to the loft and perched on the organ, staring at the organist. The organist blinked twice, cowered, and played his fugue. The choir didn’t even see the crow.

The crow flew to the altar and landed on the lectern. He watched the congregation. The congregation looked down. So the crow hopped to the floor and walked down the middle aisle to the door.

He flew to the top of the bell tower and looked around. He could see the whole campus, but he saw no red.

The crow thought perhaps the young woman was sick. So the next Sunday, he resumed his regular flight pattern, hoping he would see her. He didn’t. He didn’t the next Sunday either. Or, the following Sunday.

Without her loving look, the crow saw no reason to fly. He began to spend days at a time in his cramped little nest, only creeping out for a morsel of food—perhaps a drowsy caterpillar on a nearby branch. At night the crow would whimper for the young woman and small tears would dimple his oily feathers.

Months went by and the crow aged rapidly. His feathers began to fall out and lost their sheen. He was thin and could hardly tiptoe out of his nest, let alone fly. He hated his life and the bitter world that ignored him day after day.

One day, he gathered his strength and stood up in his nest. His bones cracked and feathers fell as he opened his tiny beak to call out to the young woman, wherever she was. But his lungs were weak, his throat shriveled, and out came a caw of death, of pain, stagnation. Shrill, dry sobs, over and over, into a void.

But finally someone heard him. The sacristan rushed out of the church and looked up at the nest. The crow keeled over with exhaustion and fell to the ground. Satisfied, the sacristan walked back inside.

The crow thought he was dead and he was rather disappointed in the afterlife. Cold, hard, lonely, like the Earth. But what could he do? He lay there overnight.

In the morning, he saw the young woman standing over him with a man.

“You,” he croaked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m back. We’re visiting.”

“Why did you leave me? Have you left the church?”

“No,” she laughed. “I graduated.”

“I waited for you for years.”

“A year,” she said.

“Still.”

“You should have followed me.”

“What?”

“Why do you think you have wings? So you can fly across the same patch of lawn half hour after half hour?”



To Africa

Malcolm Slaughter

ISSUE NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

To Africa,

People still think you’re a country. I was entertaining some Facebook posts against my better judgement and not only did someone call you a country, they didn’t believe me when I corrected them. That same person also told me that Egypt was not a part of Africa. Apparently, Egyptians are “too pretty” to belong to you.

To Africa,

When I was younger but old enough to understand, I didn’t want to visit you. CNN made you look like a place that would inflict me with terminal diseases the second my lungs inhaled your air. Mainstream media didn’t focus on the rare, continent specific and generated maladies that you and Africans, “created”. Instead, they convinced me that I’d be privy to, and surrounded by, and even a target of, gunfire from impromptu coup d’etat’s that have been raging since King Leopold and The Crown left the continent. Why would I want to visit you, only to die?

To Africa,

When I was about 12, I began to tell people that I was mixed with Native American. In Social Studies class, we looked at a map of Indian reservations and there used to be a huge Native American population and settlement in New Jersey. I had long braids at the time, my mom was lightskin, and my hair was fairly “combable” so, it only made sense that I was Native American and Black, so that’s what I said when people asked, “what's your nationality”. Cherokee to be exact. The prize of being mixed with anything non-African and being “light skin” far outweighed the scrutiny of being an “African booty scratcher”. That title was reserved for the Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans, Sudanese, and Ugandans, to name a few. But, if someone was from Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, or Camp Verde, people celebrated. Everyone would complement them on their complexion, their features and ask them about Islam, having long straight hair, pyramids, and King Tut; and I did too. As long as I didn’t get grouped with the dark Africans, and I befriended the light skin Africans, I knew I’d be more successful in my social life. And judging by the consistent portrayals of a distal, dark, barbaric, otherworldly and uncivilized Africa, it became necessary that I distance myself as far away as I can from you, the motherland, if I wanted to be successful in life.    

To Africa,

One day I was watching the world cup, at an Irish pub, in Germany, during my first, and only, contract with the US Army, and I was vehemently rooting for Cameroon. They were playing against a European country and although they didn’t have a chance to win, I was ten toes down. I even found myself locating similarities in the players and myself. I thought about how I would look if I were born in Africa. And how my kids would look if my wife was from Africa too. My phone vibrated and it was some picture mail from Nassim, she was from Camp Verde, and she is easily the prettiest girl I’ve ever dated. I smiled and tapped my friend at the bar with me and said, “those East African women are the best, I’m telling you”. I promised Nassim I’d come visit Africa any time with her, all she had to do was say the word.

To Africa,

By the time I accepted you completely, and rid myself of most stereotypes that curtailed our relationship, I then realized that I can barely afford a fuckin ticket. How could a continent alleged to be so destitute charge me 1700 round trip? I’m not saying it's your fault, but damn.

To Africa,

I’m not Native American, by the way, I’m African-American. If there wasn’t so much conspiracy around Ancestry.com and 123andMe then I might’ve packaged some of my DNA off to find out where exactly in Africa my ancestors were stolen from. (Apparently the government is using our DNA samples and conducting their own research aside from finding out our origins, so, I’ll pass).

To Africa,

I’m sorry for all of these excuses. I’ll be there soon enough.

cut calls

Asad Hussain Jung

ISSUE NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

I wrote this piece thinking about a land that I had to leave, a land I fell in love with, and a land that is indifferent to my existence in it.

Stagger, beads stroll down my face,

I am taken away from a land lost.

Who steals me from this land but my home?

She calls to me in an icy tone, suctions me towards,

I grab onto whatever I can hold,

though my grip has no reciprocation.

Held for so many days, so many warm nights,

like a newborn I am shoved into a world without choice.

Who calls upon me? I ask but receive no answer.

Warm winds whisper passive farewells,

they are wiser than I,

who clutches ghost hands that tickle,

who shouts at old sages that are stone.

Sitting in my home

The place that they tell me

I am from

I wait for a warm breeze

A soft tap of a drum

The pluck of a string

I hear these sounds

I am pulled

Only to look and see

That it is my own hand gripped around my wrist

And my own voice that whistles tunes

In Defense of Travel Envy

Jen Willis

ISSUE NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

In thinking about my complicated feelings about traveling, I found that a lot of it has to do with New York City and money. So, I wrote this piece for my fellow poor people who also get infuriated when other people go on vacation. That’s it.

Before I had wanderlust, I had travel envy.

Travel envy is exactly what it sounds like -- you see other people’s photos or videos of their travels, and you get really jealous. That was me before I had traveled anywhere outside of the US and Canada that no one else in my family had already touched. That was me even while I was studying abroad, and is still me now that I’ve already had that experience and I’m back at home. Travel envy is inescapable to me, because, you know, people are poor and not everyone can afford to travel.

I remember being in high school, coming back from spring break pastier than ever, to find that many of my classmates had gotten tanned, even sunburnt. I was infuriated. I deserved a vacation back  then. I worked hard. My high school was one of the best in the state, and it took me almost my entire four years to get adjusted to it because I came from a nearly failing middle school in an underserved community. In my freshman year, I looked around at my classmates and realized I couldn’t write a proper essay. It really hurt me. I spent the next four years trying to prove myself in a school where most of the other students had been given the tools to succeed: basic reading comprehension, basic writing skills, and basic verbal communication. The Manhattan kids were the ones who had an easier time, and they were also the ones coming back from spring break tanned and refreshed. I’m not sure if any pressure would have been relieved by taking any crazy international vacations, but it certainly would have at least been nice. But my family couldn’t afford vacations back then, and I still can’t really afford them now. I can’t really blame my parents for that.

Being poor is exhausting. Being poor in New York City is exhausting. Being in NYC is exhausting in general, but there’s something about spending $130 a month on a failing public transportation system in a place where $15 an hour isn’t a living wage that is especially soul draining. I don’t care how glamorous Manhattan has to look; people in outer boroughs depend on the subway to get them to work on time, and more often than not, the MTA fails. Try saving for vacation when you have to spend extra money on other ways to get to work because the trains you already pay $130 a month for are totally useless. One day, I was feeling adventurous, and took an express bus to work. I paid my $6.50, and ended up being 40 minutes late because of traffic. Looking at someone’s vacation in Jamaica would piss you off if you saw it on a delayed train that was making you late for work for the fifth time that month; that’s all I’m saying.

So yeah, as a commuting student also working at the same time, I had (and still have) really bad travel envy. Life sucks. I run from classes I struggle in to a thankless job in a harsh city, and then back to my home, where I still live with my parents. All this to still be in debt, living paycheck to paycheck. Anyone else would be pissed off all the time too.

Poor people are allowed to feel angry at their situations. If a white girl posts another picture with cornrows in Jamaica captioned “ya mon,” I am absolutely entitled to lose my shit. As toxic as it is to compare yourself to others, poor people do it all the time. Because not only are we constantly stressing about what we’re going without, on top of it all, the world is telling us it’s our fault.

My first vacation outside the US and Canada was to Aruba, whose relatively inexpensive flights and hotel are still gaining interest on my credit cards. I had to take out my own private student loan to study abroad. Anyone with any financial sense would tell me that those were bad decisions, but they have already been made, so here we are. That’s the thing; poor people can’t even fully enjoy a vacation because they’d feel like the money could be better spent in another way. Even while I was studying abroad, I was torn. I had travel envy because my classmates could afford to go places every weekend, meanwhile I barely scraped by on my summer savings that I tried to make last for the entire semester. I was already mad at myself for taking out the extra loan in the first place, but was also mad I didn’t take out an extra couple thousand to make the trip feel worthwhile. Each financial decision is a struggle between your present feelings and your future burden. Sometimes, the need for instant gratification wins out, but it’s not like you won’t be struggling in the future anyway. It’s always a lose-lose situation.

So yeah, I’m mad to see someone going on vacation with what feels like every three seconds. My previous vacations don’t change that, because I’m still struggling now and I will have to pay off those debts later, and I feel like shit about it. Vacations that put you in debt aren’t any fun, but for some, there isn’t really any other way to do it. And just because some people can afford to just put their travel-envious feelings aside and feel good about their lives doesn’t mean everyone else has the luxury of doing so.

I don’t have a magic remedy to end feelings of travel envy. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this. Wanderlust and travel envy can be easy to succumb to if you find you’re not enjoying your life. There’s no easy answer to this problem. You can either try very hard to save up for a vacation, and sacrifice some immediate well-being; you could take out a loan and sacrifice well-being down the road, if you can afford a loan at all; or you could not travel in the first place and just live life in FOMO. All we can definitely do is take care of ourselves and find small moments of joy. Be mad, please, be mad as much as you need to. Anger gives us power to create change. But remember to take a step back and appreciate any good moments, however few and far between, because you do deserve to feel good.

I Went to Europe and All I Got Was Depressed

Gabby Gillespie

ISSUE NO. 2 • Are we there yet?

This is what I didn’t say in all my instagrams from when I studied abroad.

Content Warning: This piece heavily discusses depression and suicide

        Do not go to Europe because you think it will cure your depression.

        I do not think any continent has the power to cure severe depression. I have only tried Europe and North America. Australia seems promising, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

        I had been in a deep depression for about a year and a half when I packed my bags for old London town. I had asked about study abroad options on all my college tours and planned to go first semester junior year with all my friends since we were freshman. Even though I could feel myself getting worse, I had never let something like a pesky crumbling mental state make excuses for me to sit out.

I nodded along in agreement as family friends told me how much fun I would have. I needed to believe them. Pictures of Europe had decorated my walls and screensavers since middle school, put there not for a burgeoning wanderlust or any desire for cultural enrichment but because Europe is the classic cocoon where you escape anything that troubles you and grow into an impenetrable fortress of confidence and mystique (See: Eat Pray Love, Sabrina, Eurotrip). I fully bought into those Audrey Hepburn Tumblr posts and would think without any irony as self-loathing ate me alive that one day I would go there and leave my issues in the trash can at security.

The cobblestone streets and sunny canals on my Pinterest board did not match up with the landscape of my mind where all the gutters overflowed and citizens choked on smog. I slept three hours a night and five hours during normal daylight hours, laying in bed much of the time besides. I made myself physically nauseous from worrying. I was paranoid constantly and could not trust a single person not to betray me at any moment.  For about twenty months now, I thought in an iambic pentameter of suicidal ideation, with all my regular thoughts being followed by a stressed little “kill yourself” each time. It was the backbeat to all my melodies, showing up even without any summons or triggers. It followed me home every night, taunting, calling my name and telling me to turn around and finally embrace it.

I needed to go to a hospital.

Instead I went to Heathrow.

///

I struggle mostly with passive suicidal ideation where you can think about taking a long walk off a short building all day long but do not have concrete plans or are seeking the means to act on these thoughts. “Volitional moderators” is a term for the factors that turn suicidal thoughts into suicidal behavior. I thought the verb “to kill” over and over, but in only a few moments was I volitionally moderated enough to go “so kill”.

This distinction may seem confusing to those who do not experience suicidal depression. I just said I was constantly thinking about killing myself, so wouldn’t that mean I was always close to doing so? I guess. Yet still in my mind during all those stressed syllables, I could see a veil keeping me from what I could do. I knew when the veil was up and when it was slipping.

I know the veil was actually falling in these moments because I could see what was on the other side, and I felt the panic you get when you know something is coming to kill you- heartbeat quickening, blood rushing, mouth dry, and the clearness of mind adrenaline brings. My broken brain features a piss-poor memory, but I remember these moments crisply even though the action was only happening in my mind, these seconds before some sort of self-preservation kicked in or I got interrupted and the veil fixed itself. So when I say I really almost killed myself then, please believe me. If you said a bear chased you, I would offer the same courtesy. I learned pretty good manners in England.

I remember the four spots I came closest, and now I offer you them so if you are studying abroad or there on a trip, you can take pictures and post them and pretend to not be severely depressed too.

Here is the tourist’s guide to where to almost off yourself (that’s a British term):

1. The High Street Kensington tube stop, London, UK

I passed through this stop on the Circle line almost every day that semester. High Street Kensington is close to the palace so you will see a blend of tourist spots and upscale housing. This was also the stop closest to my school’s campus which has since been demolished and turned into condominiums. The stop itself features a Pret a Manger, a Ben’s Cookies, a stationary store, and a dark restaurant that they will let you pee even if you are not a customer (thanks, guys!).

It was late, and I was waiting for my train after my 6:30 Introduction to Theater class ended. Unlike the average college student abroad, classes were something I looked forward to, as it was a social situation that I could simply show up to without the agonizing of planning and possible rejection. Everyone else in the class walked home together while I alone had to reach my dorm via tube. I thought of my friends walking together, their bond continuing to strengthen after mine had been amputated.

I feel like I missed out on a lot of socializing as a kid so now I create these simple inorganic rules to understand how other people do it. I create values in my head based on minutes clocked together and allocate points to different kinds of interactions- small talk, one point, intimate confessions, five- like I’m playing the Sims. It seemed like everyone else around me was unlocking level after level while my bar wouldn’t move. Those little failures to connect were annoying in the moment but would all pile up when I found myself alone. If I had someone to ride with that night, I wouldn’t be thinking like I was.

I was listening to a cover of “Horse with No Name”, one of the slow, monotone songs that I would retreat into on these rides as they were perfect to disassociate to, a new symptom of my illness that left me somewhat dazed almost all the time.

I was not dissociating right now though. I was filled with dread. I had nowhere to go that I wanted to be. No one else was on the platform, I thought opportunistically, There were no witnesses to feel guilty about. I imagined the smack of body to train, sort of feeling like a belly flop into the community pool but with no pain after the hit. I thought about Mario and Luigi and perfectly timing a jump to the approach of a moving object. I almost laughed at the idea of the beeps that played when the plumber stepped on a poison mushroom going off as I jumped.

The train approached. I thought about the commuters being home late because of my interference, commuters with kids and lovers and better reasons to be on time than I had to be alive, who would resent me for my interruption even while they pitied me. My feet stayed rooted to the concrete platform until I stepped between the sliding doors.

2. North Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

When you get off the train from London to Edinburgh, you ascend the stairs to the top of North Bridge, which connects High Street and Prince Street. It is a beautiful spot. You can see Arthur’s Seat, a peak of the gorgeous Scottish highlands. From that vantage, you can enjoy the highs and lows of the hilly ancient city. You can also look down through the train station’s glass ceiling, which resembles a mammoth greenhouse.  I crossed the bridge at night, leaned over the edge, and imagined my body landing on that glass, the splat that was me shocking the travelers inside the station.

I had booked my solo trip to Scotland the night before, buying an expensive train ticket, a cheap hostel bunk, and a cheaper bus ticket in an impulsive fifteen minutes. My mom saw the charge and called me, beseeching me not to travel alone, but I refused. It was over the extended break from school in which I had over a week of no plans besides watching reality TV in my musty apartment, dreading a roommate discovered me on the couch, unmoved. I was sick of seeing Instagrams pour in from friends in Italy and Iceland, enjoying plans I had been too afraid of rejection to request inclusion on. I needed to salvage this time with something to share when classes resumed, the silence while listening to others’ joy unbearable.

A group of my friends had already seen Scotland without me, and I knew I would be making sad comparisons the whole time as I saw it alone, but it was the closest place I could go to on a Friday and make it back by Monday. I weighed my desperation against that and showed up for my early train.

Travelling alone is often touted as a wonderful, life-changing experience. A chance to escape it all and really get to know yourself. You’re free to set your own plans and do what YOU want to do. You’ll talk to people you never would have if you had friends with you. Your confidence will sky-rocket and forever will self-assurance follow you.

Studying abroad leaves you alone whether you want it or not. You will be alone waiting at airport gates, riding trains, riding the tube. Alone walking through art museums, laughing at short films in darks screenings, standing on balconies and staring at skylines, watching outdoor plays, finding small joys in being part of the world as a solo observer. You’ll be alone eating meals you put off for too long, drinking coffee in crowded shops and dreading people negotiating seating and outlets. Alone ordering take-out that feels extravagant for just one person. Walking home alone because you thought living separately from your friends would be a good idea, because you were fairly confident they would have refused you if you asked to live with them, because you did not think you could bear that so you avoid asking the question altogether.

        Most of time being alone did not make me feel liberated. I felt I had no say in my state. Attempts to remedy it were short-lived and could never fill the hungry hole I was. I saw my friends rarely enough that when reunited, huge gaps had been carved of their lives that I would never know. It felt like they had all crossed a threshold together and the moment after the fusion, it became unattainable for newcomers. I was lonely with others and with myself and no cultural experience made that go away. I had spent enough time in my head to go far past the point of healthy reflection, a point of constant circling back to flaws and miseries with no one around to take me back to reality.

I had been having a nice enough time in Scotland at first, a little high off my impulsiveness and determined to not let my mother’s worries manifest. I enjoyed a pleasant train ride where I read Macbeth. I went to the coffee shop where JK Rowling wrote and enjoyed an Irish Coffee.

But then the sky got darker. I hadn’t eaten a substantial meal that day, and the effort to secure food is mammoth for the sick like me. I put pressure on myself to find a delectable meal every time, treating a boring meal as some sort of failure to constantly live life to the fullest in this one little way. As I was away, I also needed a place to eat said meal and I was afraid of a judgmental look because I was eating alone or that I would be turned away because of the state of my travelling clothes which limited the restaurants I allowed myself to seek service in.

I finally became ravenous and went to the meal I would eat almost every day abroad after all my spiraling, unsatisfying but attainable and one that came with a place where you could eat alone and be accepted- an egg salad sandwich from Pret a Manger. Pret’s are EVERYWHERE in Europe, and I thank them for being a depressed girl’s refuge time after time. I had one of my lamest moments ever in that Edinburgh Pret as I sat at the community table, watched a new episode of my favorite show on my phone, and sobbed. I wept right into my egg salad on whole wheat with watercress. A pair of young parents and their baby in a stroller stared at me as my mayo-scented hiccups broke through the loud fast-casual eatery.  I guess they would not be one of the amazing people I met in transit.

I used to be more melancholic than anything with a few occasional outbursts, but during this time, my depression created these big, public sobbings. I was a crybaby. A loud fat crybaby with big fat baby tears and big gulping gasps, weeping over how I deserved no place in human existence. I Chris-Crocker-ed it in my bed, on the tube, on the sidewalk, and in hotel bathrooms with people just on the other side of the door.

I put on my headphones and walked to my hostel. But before that, I stopped on the bridge and dizzied myself by leaning over the edge and staring down at the station below.

I was lost in my patterns. Of doing very little then making one impulsive decision in pursuit of happiness, of starving myself and then being unhappy with the taste of what I finally ate, of thinking about killing myself passively and then finding myself here, one jump away from action.

I stepped back suddenly as if my inhibitions in the slam of the door on their way out. It was too cold to debate so I just left. I got some Indian food and a glass of cheap wine. I read on my phone in my hostel bunk and fell asleep before midnight. I had thought about going out alone, even packed an outfit, but I thought about returning to that bridge with alcohol in me and again feared a falling veil.  

3. St. James Park tube station, London, UK

You may have noticed by now I have a thing for trains. A lot of positives to suicide by train. No one would have to find my body, it would be found upon deliverance. It’s also quick, no post-moment to regret it and hope for reversal. And I live in New York City so convenience cannot be understated.

My ideation used to prefer stabbing. I remember watching the end of Romeo and Juliet in the eighth grade and observing how cleanly Juliet went through herself with Romeo’s happy dagger. That age is when I first started having suicidal thoughts, and I would run my hands over the hilt of my mother’s kitchen knives. I was afraid of cutting myself when chopping vegetables, but when I was the proverbial onion, I was not so bothered.  Stabbing is messy and requires quite a lot of strength, especially if self-inflicting. It isn’t quite so easy as an approaching D train or tube, in this case.

I find myself at Saint James Park because I have just left my parents’ hotel, named for another saint. St. Ermin’s Hotel was a secret spy base for M16 during World War II. I had stayed on the daybed in my parents’ room for almost every night that week. I sort of felt like a spy, going undercover with my family of happy tourists while keeping my state secret of personal misery. My dad, slightly amnesiac, kept asking me to list all my trips taken so far, and I smiled as I recounted museums and historical sights, hiding my feeling of inadequacy with how few I had been on, as I found it hard to find anyone to go on them with, two having been cancelled by friends already both for the reason I assumed of hating me. I talked lovingly of the National Theatre, which I spent many hours alone at, sitting on my computer and trying to write or do homework or really just avoid my insufferable roommate.

I had five roommates. Three were from China and were very nice and mostly kept to themselves. One I had chosen, a girl who’d become one of my best friends over the course of last year. I wanted to room with her because I wanted to grow closer to her and because she was outside my main friend group that I often felt periphery to. The last roommate was an acquaintance of hers who had begged her to room with us.

As someone who constantly feels completely unlovable, I try to be nice to everyone I meet. As someone who often felt friendless and bullied growing up, I try to understand that the person most people dislike often has a lot to offer. And of course, as a ~~Feminist~~, I never want to tear down another woman, recognizing the societal factors that make us compete with each other.

All that being said: this girl was a cunt.

She had a face like a puckered lemon and a personality like a palate cleanser. Have you ever met a person with so little self-awareness they sort of become a marvel? Had everyone they met just smiled and nodded their whole life or was the bubble they existed in so opaque they just missed any sort of negative reinforcement?

She was undoubtedly self-absorbed. She spun the strangest details into brags- she had eaten vegetables for dinner, her friend from home dated a millionaire, her mom was very generous to their housekeeper. She was extremely proud of not wanting to go out on a Saturday, of eating healthy food made at home, of spending a day doing homework. Her jokes were undetectable because of her monotone, and if you didn’t laugh, she would spin that into a brag too- she had this dry sense of humor not many people understood. She monologued in her bland vocal fry without interruption even as another person tried to add something, even if that addition was that you had heard this story from her before.  

Boring would have been fine. I can get along with boring. But this girl had a mean streak that came out the moment you stopped listening and nodding with brag after brag. She would disengage the moment you shared something individual, even if your own point contrasted with nothing but the experience of her hearing the sound of her own voice. The only two people I have seen tolerate her after a long period of time were the sort of people pleasers who were so nice they were in complete denial about people’s flaws. My other roommate was one of these people, and she asked me to avoid any sort of conflict.

But she’d tear me up with upturned nose and WASP-y derision. She had a narrow worldview that would have made maximum sense in a Cathy comic. She fretted about her body, said she appreciated how her friends pointed out her weight gain, and talked to me with the assumption all women were similarly preoccupied. She told me a lewd joke a male acquaintance made about her boobs. I said if my friend said that to me we wouldn’t be friends anymore. She literally said “boys will be boys.” On one of our first nights in London, we were at a bar, and a few guys were surrounding her. I went over to ask if she was okay, as women do. The next morning she rebuked me as a buzzkill. At first I stood my ground, but she would prick and prick, and I crumbled.

I look back and pity her, knowing it takes a very sad person to feel safe in such a small box. But at the time, all I felt was pissed off.

A part of me that still liked myself knew she was someone I should be flattered to be an enemy of, but that’s not comforting while she’s eating next to me, when she is currently picking apart the food I eat and the flannels I wear. I would hear her saying my name from another room with the derision she gave everything and want to come out kicking, but then I would think about her untouched arrogance, how she would bring this up for weeks, how I’d eventually assuage. So I stayed in my room and hated myself more for my weakness. I became quiet around her, fortressing myself with loud headphones (although she still talked when I had those on, unable to leave a silence).

I thought I was a fairly docile depressed person, partial to staring out of windows and weepy nights in, but anger arrived that autumn. I snapped over the trivial. I made a mistake and wanted to punch a wall. I, an out-of-shape girl from the suburbs, fantasized about getting to physically fight someone, tired of all my tyrannies being stuck inside my head.

As a fun bonus, this girl also had a casual homophobia I had not encountered much in college and was sort of shocked by to see still out living in this expressively liberal woman. Fitting in with her general Cathy comic tendencies, her sensibility was about ten years out of date, claiming herself tolerant but saying she wanted a gay best friend to dress her and take her out, but that lesbians were “weird,” giggling like a child at the idea of a woman dating a woman. She laughed as she told a story that sounded to me as about a friend earnestly trying to come out to her, but she framed as a joke (To be fair, her jokes were terrible--so might not be able to give her flack for this one).

I had heard all this and mostly ignored it. I was just starting to express my own queerness and did not need to hear her say “weird” with that little-girl disapproval about something I was actually sensitive about (Ironically, she once bragged that she had an amazing gaydar. Guess I was a blip). But then as a fun anecdote, she shared that she and her friends used to make out at high school parties because boys asked them to, a story that most people would be embarrassed about or at least disgusted by the misogyny of, but she thought was really cool of her. I was surprised she said this and she asked snobbily hadn’t I ever done that?

I saw red. The anger said, “Self-pity, take a walk. I’ll get this one.” My words were calm but my face was red and eyes hot with tears. I said how nice it must have been to kiss a girl as a teen and not watch your friends suddenly ignore you, to not worry every hug and compliment would be seen as a come-on, to not hide your crushes because if you shared, you would end up completely alone. I stood and screamed and tried to break this bubble because I was big now and this wasn’t supposed to be a problem anymore. I didn’t want to be afraid again, especially not of people in my house, in my school. Because my current mental nightmare began with meeting a girl like her who when asked what I was worth, everything she did said nothing.

I went to my room and cried and my other roommate came in, upset with me for pushing the issue. She said now the other girl thought I hated her and I answered that I did.

I was rotting. If eating a cheesy meal or watching a stupid movie with a bottle of wine made me feel better for a microsecond, I did it. It’s not like I didn’t want to be better. I held my self-loathing and my self-worth on opposing scales but I really was trying for the second to win, even when standing on platforms and bridges.

But this girl made one side of the scale tip further and further, and I am looking at my photo album and watching the light drain from my eyes. I hid out in cafes and libraries as late as I could before the tube stopped running and I had to go home. Of course, I have an illness. I was depressed long before she was ever my flatmate. She didn’t know she was dealing with a suicidal person. But she did know I was trying to be her friend once. She did know someone had said her words hurt and thought that hurt was silly. She knew it was raining and still pissed on my leg and I don’t need to forgive her.

I can’t forgive smiling to my mom and telling her all her worrying was for naught, lying and saying I was doing just fine over here on my own. I can’t forgive sobbing the moment my family’s black cab was out of sight because I wanted more than anything to be with them so at least when I woke up from a depression nap, someone who wanted my victory was there. I stood on that platform feeling more alone than I ever had. This time the volition wasn’t about a declaration or a retribution. I just wanted to not be in pain, to not have to walk back into that flat.

I got on the train though. It would make my mom sad if I didn’t.


4. Hyde Park Corner Tube Stop

        I have confided my friends how lonely I am and the invites start springing up. Maybe they wanted to make an effort all along and just needed a direction. Maybe it wasn’t about me.  

        We are on a dinner cruise and I take a picture with the people I’ve now known for two and a half years and I feel grateful to have shared life with them. We dance, and I am looking for the people I met when I had no one to talk to and am grateful for them too. My roommate talks to my friends and doesn’t acknowledge me. We roll our eyes as she walks away.

        My friends are so sad to be leaving, and I disguise my immense relief in jokes. In the same way, I thought anywhere was better before I came to London, I am thinking the same thing as I leave it. I feel pricks of jealousy as they share stories and the in-jokes go over my head, but I am a bit hopeful again that I’ll be there for the next memory.

        After the cruise, a few of us decide to go over to a winter carnival. My friends and I admire the lights and walk through the vendors, playing with their handmade toys. It’s a good night.

        I walk to the train station. My friends offer to let me sleep on their couch so I don’t have to walk home alone but I want to be tough so I begin a long journey back.

        I walk through the crowded station and think about how this will be one of my last times alone on a tube platform. The laces on my boots hit my leg with each step.

        I had a good night. I could have been having good nights all along. I could have asked for help sooner. I wasted my parents’ money and worries. I wasted an opportunity I can never get back.

        I had one good night but the hole is still there. It’s still going to be there at home. I might feel like this forever and that is the most terrifying thing I have ever thought. I just keep thinking I don’t wanna don’t wanna don’t wanna. I can see through the veil and the void on that side matches the void on mine. Hopping through the veil at least means I have say in where I am though.

        It’s coming. It’s coming. It’s coming.

        It’s just one more day.

        I pick the void I’m in.  

//////

The first time I told someone I wanted to kill myself was in a therapist’s office almost a year after I left for London. I didn’t realize I had never told anyone until I did. It’s literally something that is always on my mind. It was a secret I didn’t know I was keeping.

I still stood too close to the edges of platforms after I came back. But I also told people I was unhappy without joke or allusion. When I got angry, I hit a bag instead of myself. I made trying new things into my pattern. I worked all day and slept eight hours all at night.

But I still think like that. I know this comes and goes and I’m afraid for its return. We’ve run into each other enough in the last few months. Even when I was doing all the right things, it found me. My life is about to undergo a big change and I won’t be able to write off one bad semester and start over again.

I still haven’t told most of my friends what I almost did, but I told a couple. They had no suspicions at all. Suicides don’t tell people because they want no interference if they ever act. I give people the power to kill me but not the power to save me.

I’m a competent suicidal, who successfully hid behind jokes and Instagrams and good grades for years. I broke alone. I have lots of friends but still thought the the burden of my life would be a relieving absence to them. I gave them even less credit than I gave myself.

I wish I had been stronger. I wish I could get that time back. I wish I hadn’t spent all that money to cry in cafes. I want to know what those months would have been like if I didn’t second-guess love, but I never will. I can only have the scratched future.

Do not go to another country because you think it will cure your depression. No marble statue or Gothic cathedral is going to fix you. But if you are in another country and find yourself alone in train stations often enough to drop your veil, just get on the train. At least then you can go somewhere else.


Maryanne

LUCIA BAILEY

ISSUE NO. 2 • Are we there yet?

I chose to write this piece because I want to remember individuals who have not had the opportunity to travel as I have.

Hunting for Christmas decorations in a cramped loft, I lifted a jade

top off a crimson container. Hidden beneath period piece photos

and flaxen and snow yarn I spotted a tattered postcard of Tuscany.

On the back was your script:

One day I’ll go.

Instead days consumed of cooking cutlets, pretending to love

a man, constantly craving another calling. You’d dream

of just writing a check

One day I’ll go.

You never were able to taste real Italian wine,

gaze out at mountains capped with snow dust

have fingertips graze stone of ancient castles.

I vow now that

One day I’ll go.


A Long Walk Behind My Friend

PHIL THOMPSON

ISSUE NO. 2 • Are we there yet?

Is wanderlust a longing for travel – or a longing just to leave?

I saw your back, rounding the corner, up the stairs, out into the light. We were both headed in the same direction. After some blinking I could make out your matted hair, your old backpack, the edges of your beard peeking back at me from under your ears. The crowd parted before your measured walk, and your shoelaces were still untied.

I almost called out to you, but I saw you were listening to music and I remained silent. I quickened my pace, but the world doesn’t open for me like it does for you, and my bumping and weaving could not make any ground on your cruise-liner waft. So I decided to walk behind you and wait for a red light.

All the lights were green. After half a mile I synchronized my footsteps with yours, and decided I’d follow you wherever you were going, so I could tap your shoulder and make a joke. We like each other’s jokes. That’s why we never fight.

Another half a mile and you took your headphones off, but still I did not call. I liked being unseen. I wondered if you’d hear an echo in your footsteps, or feel my eyes on your back, or catch my reflection in a window. No. I thought you were going home but then you took a turn, a street I’d never been down. We walked down a hill together. I hoped you weren’t going to an AA meeting or a black mass. I would have to stretch my joke pretty far.

You didn’t stop. The foot traffic thinned out. Soon we were alone – or, you were alone, and I was with you. That’s all I’ve ever needed. One can live off memories. All we’ve ever done and all we can ever do are in the folds of brain-matter somewhere, tagged and marked in a dusty index. You walked past a fire hydrant and a toppled street sign. You ducked under some branches that hung from above. I mirrored you.

We walked for three miles before the road ended and we came to a fence. You squeezed through a hole in the wire, and I tarried, to give you some distance so you wouldn’t hear my body against the metal. I thought about catching up and throwing my arm around your neck. You have a soft neck, and I’ve spilled many beers on it.

I started to miss you. Your name came up from my stomach but I caught it. We had to get somewhere first. We walked together and alone through dead grass up to the waist. The weather warmed and I could hear cicadas in the sunburnt trees propping up the sky. You stopped to tie your shoe on a lonely tire, and drank from a water bottle you pulled from your backpack. I did the same.

I had a dream about you, the other night. My mom died and you said the funeral mass. You did not take off your backpack. You left before the reception because you were a professional. I woke up exhausted because the dream took place in my hometown, and whenever I dream in my hometown I have to move back, all over again, before I can get out of bed. I sent you a text that day since you were on my mind. You sent back a picture of a pair of novelty ties you bought for us at a flea market. We did not talk again for a while. We are like gorged pythons with each other – a feast, and then a long fast.

The sun started to beat down after a while. We were both out of water. We came to a large clearing of dead grass with a liquor store in it. Just beyond the heat shimmers I could make out a range of blue mountains. You entered the store and I followed.

At this point we were conjoined by invisible bronze rods. I could not walk slower or faster than you, and I could not leave your path. Fortunately, the liquor store was configured in a perfect rectangular grid, and I could maintain a safe following distance while blocked from sight by the head-height shelves. You bought a small bottle of bourbon, and I picked the same one off the shelf behind you. The cashier put it in a brown paper bag, and mine the same, and she watched me sidelong as I walked out after you.

The sun was setting and a red dusk overwhelmed the Serengeti, bringing with it a pleasant breeze. Zebras grazed to the right of us, gazelles nosed brown water to the left. You were fixed to my horizon, like a landmark or a compass point. I thought to look up at the stars to see which direction we were headed, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off you. I forgot your face. You started to drink the liquor, and I matched you slug for slug. We were both drunk then, but we stumbled in the same direction, the world wheeled in the same swinging arcs around us, the bile rose in our throats like faucets and we both pushed it back down. We finished as one and both began to sweat out the alcohol.

Night fell, night was over the land, and in the thick night I could not see you, or feel myself. Only the brushing of grass gave sign to our balanced movement. Noises rose up from the night all around us, humming percussion organs and electric guitar, the calling of an old voice choked with vinyl dust. Lights glowed, but how far away I could not tell. The lights of a carnival. I could hear the clicking roller coasters and all the laughing people. Once we drew close I saw your faint orange outline stop, and you looked at the carnival for a long time. I could see a shudder pass through you. Then we kept walking, and morning broke, and we were at the foothills of the blue mountains.

The grass gave way to veiny stone, the marula trees to vibrant firs, bursting with scent, not only their own but of the cooling earth, the hardening soil, the pinecones and the sap. Our path began to slope upwards, and I could see marks on the crags. Cave paintings, done in dark berry, depicting magic squares and the icons of secret societies, planetary motions and heavily redacted government documents. In the circular clearing you sat on a rock and took your shoes off and sang. You sang a song by Kurt Weill. Lying flat in the fallen pine needles, I sang nothing.

When the sun was in the middle of the sky, you walked again, and we’ve been walking ever since. We have had visitors: proto-horses canting, and pale men in suits, mothers with guns and casseroles, tribes of green-skinned hunters brandishing spears, a royal navy moored in a grey ocean, a seller of ermine cloaks, floating tetrahedrons possessed of alien consciousnesses and throbbing with inner neon light. You walk ahead, and I in your footsteps, we’re not going anywhere, someday you’ll drop dead and I guess I will too, and still your name is tucked under my tongue, sour and bright, waiting to be freed.


A Dozen Eggs

LIZZ BOGAARD

ISSUE NO. 2 • Are we there yet?

I don’t even LIKE eggs!

Every morning, at about six o’clock, I ride my bicycle into town to get mother one dozen eggs. I do this because mother does not like bicycles, whereas I am neutral towards bicycles—so it is only fair that I am the one who rides.

I have done this for a very long time.

So, every morning, at about six o’clock, I hop on my bicycle and followed the route. The route is a bit longer than one might expect, because our house is situated quite high atop the mountain. The route goes like this: a right out of our dirt driveway onto Winter Hollow Road, a left onto Margaretville Mountain Road, then down the mountain until I reach Maple Lane, unto which I take a smooth left so that I may cross across the little creek’s bridge, after which I continue straight ahead into town to reach the eggs.

It takes an approximate fifteen minutes and thirty-four seconds to reach the eggs. Factoring in the homeward portion, the trip takes an approximate thirty-one minutes and eight seconds. Though that is only travel; once I reach the eggs, it takes about one minute and fifty-three seconds to get them. A worthy estimate for the whole ordeal is thirty-five minutes and three seconds.

This morning, it is about six o’clock and I am standing in my kitchen. I am drinking a cup of water. Mother is sitting in her velvet armchair. She is knitting. The red velvet armchair faces away from me, so I cannot see mother, but I know she is knitting because I can hear the clack-clink-clack of her silver needles. Mother does not enjoy being bothered while she is knitting. However, I am feeling waggish today. So, I decide to tell mother a joke. I tell her this: “Mother, I will not get the eggs today. You will have to get them!” Mother does not turn from the red velvet armchair, but I hear her stop knitting. I then hear her release from her nostrils one single contemptuous huff. She then lifts one single finger above the back of her head, shakes it slowly, side to side, and says this: “That-is-in-sane. You are insane!” To which I reply, “Mother! I am joking!” At which mother reels her finger back down and releases from her mouth a calm sigh. Mother gets back to her knitting, clink-clank.

Now, I will get the eggs.

I fasten my helmet straps, hop on my bicycle, and begin pedaling. I make the right out of the dirtway, take the left onto Margaretville Mountain, then my bicycle and I start cycling right down it, no pedaling necessary, as per usual. But right about when I’m halfway down the hill, just about sixteen seconds away from the left onto Maple Lane and the cross across the little creek’s bridge—I begin to hear the whirrs of my wheels. The whirrs sound different than usual. They sound like huffs, huffs strikingly resonant of that which was released from mother’s nostrils just mere minutes ago. The whirrs do not stop. The huffs do not stop. I think about what had made mother huff. I think about what mother had said to me. I did not mean what I said, and therefore she did not mean what she said. But I cannot stop hearing the huffs, so I cannot stop thinking about her words. What if I were insane? Surely, I am not.

But what if I were?

What would I do?

(This, of course, is wholly hypothetical.)

I think I would say, hypothetically, if I really truly were an insane human being, right this very second, right on this very bicycle, I would make myself ride straight through Maple Lane to stay on Margetville Mountain, would take the road all the way through to Rosemarie Anderson’s Alpaca Farm. There, I would hop off my bicycle and over the gate and into the herd, would lock eyes with what I would deem to be the most beautiful alpaca I would have ever seen, and I… would… sniff it. Then, I would pet it. And maybe, if I were extra insane, I would hop right onto it, would leave my bicycle lying out there for the vultures with a single wheel still spinning while I set off to travel for hours, months, years on end—New York to California, Canada, Montana, all the way back and more. And it would be a comfortable voyage for me, for my whole entire body, even its most sensitive parts—even my genitals! Cause my genitals would never not been cushioned by my alpaca’s fur-pillow. And I would even check them (my genitals), just for good measure, and they would be healthy as ever. Then, even if it (my alpaca) is not yet comfortable with me, I would check its genitals. And its genitals would be healthy as ever, too—of that I’m just simply sure. And whatever sex significations its genitals would show, I hope that—for the sake of communicative limitations—when speaking about my alpaca, I would have the sense to abstain from gendering them. And—for the sake of communicative clarity between my alpaca and I—I would name them some insane name… like… Vacuum. And I would—for communicative convenience—abbreviate Vacuum to “Vac.” On our voyage, Vac and I would come in contact with many different humans. At some inevitable point, a nosy human would come in unfavorably close proximity to us. This nosy human would hear me whispering one of my poems into Vac’s ear, which would exacerbate the nosy human’s nosiness, because all of my poems would start and end with the phrase, “your name is Vac,” which does not sound very poetic, and is not very poetic—because my poems, of course, would be insane. So, upon hearing me repeatedly address Vac as “Vac,” the nosy human would ask me this: “Don’t you mean to say ‘Vick?’” And I would stand right up to the nosy human, stare straight into their nosy eyes, and shout loud and proud into their nosy ears that Vac is “Vac,” not “Vick,” that it is not short for Vicky or Victoria or any of the nosy human’s tomfoolerous monickers, that it is actually a very common nickname for those whose birth names are “Vacuum.” And the nosy human would just stand there, mouth agape, stunned to silence—and I would tip a hat I do not have, pull a rein Vac does not wear, and we would trot right out and away into the world. My sweet, sweet Vacuum and I would live our lives insane as could be, going wherever we damn well pleased to go, doing whatever we damn well pleased to do—all while the few I knew, and the few I could’ve known, would’ve never wondered where I was.

(If I were insane.)

But, alas, I am not insane.

So I make the left, cross the creek. I must get the eggs.  

3 out of 53

OLIVIA LUCAS

ISSUE NO. 2 • Are we there yet?

All I can think about or talk to other people about is hating where I currently live and wanting to move to another area of the city. What neighborhood do you live in? I find myself asking strangers. Help me please!-- I’m trying to find my place.

“Are you staying in the city after graduation?” They always say.

You shrug and don’t say, “I feel suffocated and cry a lot. Can I get back to you?”

What you do say is, “If I can get a job.”

They don’t ask about your feelings regarding the Impending Doom. May 18th has become the 2012 of 2019.

On the subway, you are grateful to be stuck on the track in between stations. Perhaps the train will never move and you’ll be forced to stay in the subway car forever. You’ll have to choose a mate from the thirty other people and negotiate which seats will be your living quarters and the bedroom. You and the thirty other people will create some sort of democracy and hopefully not become so hungry you’ll have to eat each other. You avoid considering the long-term effects. You just want a few more minutes before you have to go to your internship.

You wish you lived in Queens and had a longer commute so you could have time to think.  When they ask you where you want to live you start to say “Astoria,” but then backtrack and say “I really don’t know. Maybe Brooklyn or Scotland or anywhere I don’t have to have blackout curtains and sleep with ear plugs.”

According to the New York Daily News, Manhattan has 53 neighborhoods. You’ve lived in three over the course of four years. This is not typical. People usually move at least once a year if not more frequently in the city. You are about to move again. You are counting down the days.

At 22, you pretend you want permanence, but really you have severe unrest. You think you can always have better and so a year lease seems like an eternity and you just want the security and freedom of childhood back. You think about paying Con-Ed and it makes you want to vomit. You think about how much cable is and phone bills and you realize living the life you have now is pretty fucking impossible on the entry level job you are hoping to get. You know your parents can’t support you and you say you don’t want them to. But the truth is you are so scared of what it means to be on your own, truly on your own, in New York that you start to have fantasies about moving to the middle of nowhere. You decide Maine or Vermont or Northern California would do. You think about how sexy it would be to only see other people when you get into your car and drive twenty minutes to the nearest store. You think you might start getting into botany and how you could walk around naked and no one would see you because the closest neighbor is a mile away. You crave land. You crave space.

The train moves. You have one stop until you have to get off. You consider missing your stop accidentally on purpose and taking the train to the last stop in both directions.  They would probably notice that you didn’t show up at your internship because it’s not like you. You daydream about a world where no one checks up on you.

But you get off at 23rd street because you are already three minutes late and it’s embarrassing to be late when your commute is only eight minutes including walk time.


The Face of Rock

Julia Gagliardi

Issue NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

I live far away from my mother’s family, but I still seek out genealogical links. Places I yearn for I have never been, but more than often, have deep connections already existing.

Suburbia is exotic, I realize, for the urban dweller. The quiet, curved neighborhood streets of Riverdale are alien to a city block. Colonial-style houses enveloped in shiny white vinyl siding or dull, steak-red brick sit back on slopes of grass, the gray light of the clouded sky reflecting silver off of the windows. The lawns roll out towards the road like long carpets, instead of small brownfields pitied between apartments and brownstone townhouses. The long drone of cicadas and the eerie creaking of birds echo from the copse of dogwood and gorse. The neighborhood is almost empty. A father and son pass on the opposite side of the street, heads lowered underneath wide-brimmed hats. They subsume into Spaulding Lane. The houses, enclosed by white fences, frayed with dirt and chipped paint, look abandoned. Suburbia, actually, is eerie.

The neighborhood rounds out to a lawn on top of the Hudson River, and drops down into cliffs that lean down into the river water, the rocks gathering in craggy hills at the base of the mountain wall. Silver light hits the muddied river water, reflecting green, and on its kaleidoscope surface, a canoe sails next to a pittering swimmer, a red swimming cap skipping in and out of the water like a buoy. They dissolve beyond the wall of cliffs.

The face of rocks never changes. Layers of hardened sand, fragmented silt and blackened mud. Beds of sandstone where the water inflates and recedes. A coating of shale. The hereditary code of rock.

Perched on the edge of cliffs like a bird on a branch, the rock face of Inishmore stares blankly into the sky. My aunt Brighid once sat back in her floral armchair, a teacup perched in the palm of her hand, and narrated the history of Inishmore, one of three of the Aran Islands in the mouth of Galway Bay.

Brighid says the isle looks abandoned, with a network of pre-century cottages and dirt roads. But residents gather together in the one-roomed school and the dark pub with only one beer on tap. They drive wagons of people with horses and ponies. A converted warehouse holds a museum of prints, artifacts and paintings. The lacework of small, hand-built walls encloses livestock of cows, chickens, and pigs. Where the pavement has shattered into gravel, arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side by side. An ancient language and culture live on.

Unconformity preserves the face of rocks. An older face of rock is exposed to erosion for a period of time before the deposition of the younger face continues. A buried weathering that separates two rock masses of different ages. Gaps in geologic record.

The air is stirring; the wind conducts itself restlessly through low hanging flowers and tree branches. I have walked to the edge of the cliffs on the Hudson River and stare down into the gap of the river. All rivers and floods seek out the ocean. If I jump into the river water, I would swim to the Irish Sea.



Mājas

Caroline Hughes

Issue NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

I wrote this piece for the Brink because one of the things I want to do after graduation is travel. I’m very excited to, and I want to go to Latvia and explore my family’s history, but I feel some guilt for wanting to go there because of my mother’s feeling towards the country. In this piece, I try to explore this conflict.

The first time my grandma tried bubblegum she swallowed it. The American soldier that freed her and her sisters from their Displaced Persons camp in Germany, laughed as they all ate- not chewed- the fluorescent pink gum that he gave them. Having tried the Latvian candy that my great uncles always bring to Christmas, I know that must've been the sweetest thing that had ever touched my grandma’s tongue as a child. A spark of color in a world of gray and ash.

She doesn’t like to talk about the actual Holocaust to my brother, cousins, and I. When shes does bring it up, she talks about the bubblegum and how that soldier was the first black person she had ever seen. When my mother talks about it, she’ll share the stories my grandma had slipped to her as a child. My mom said it was to put her own complaints and issues into perspective. You can’t whine to your mom because when she was your age a Nazi plane dove down to shoot at her for target practice as she was walking to her family’s barn. It makes a fight with your best friend seem miniscule. Makes all of your problems seem insignificant, almost laughable.

My cousin’s girlfriend, a girl whose quiet nature drives my aunt up a wall, studied abroad in Florence last spring. When he visited her they decided to stay a few nights in Riga, the capital of Latvia. My grandma was proud, her own children have never visited, let alone expressed any substantial interest to. My mom and her sister may even be citizens. Their late father, my Pa John, would mention acquiring their citizenship for them after the Berlin Wall came down. However, neither of them has ever checked to see if he left even more uncompleted things behind before he passed too early.

My cousin would send me pictures, awkward selfies in front of tall spiral buildings, the captions in Latvian. I would shove my phone under my mom’s nose, asking her to translate the words, which just looked to me like my cousin scrambled his fingers across his keyboard and clicked send. She would recoil as if it were a bad smell, and claim she wouldn’t know enough Latvian to translate. After pleading and annoying her, she would glance at the phone for a second, say he spelled a few words wrong, or that his grammar was off, and then would produce a perfect translation. All within two seconds, with little to no effort.

I’ve seen my mom perform this trick many times growing up. Whether its her and my grandma following a family in IKEA, trying to figure out if they are speaking Latvian or not, or my mom whispering to her cousin at a funeral, their tongues rolling in ways that the language that WE share never does.

In middle school I asked my mom why she never taught my brother and I Latvian. It was like she was withholding a secret code that we haven't earned the right to unlock yet. When my dad would hear these conversations, he’d butt in reminding us we were also Irish and Italian (but Boston Irish/Italian heritage is boring, and I’d rather eat one hundred Latvian candies than be boring). She said it was because she barely knew it anymore. She was fluent as a child, but then her kindergarten teacher told my grandparents that she sometimes had trouble not slipping into Latvian in class. My grandparents panicked, flashing back to when they first came to America, a melting pot that burns each ingredient as it’s added. For years, they only spoke English at home.

I see her first language spark on her tongue though. Whether it’s at an Easter dinner, singing a church hymn at a funeral, or when she is reading an old to-do lists from the 80s, forgotten in a kitchen junk drawer in our summer cottage in New Hampshire. It seems so personal, like she is the only person left who speaks this sacred and secret language.

I didn’t even know my mother’s real name until middle school. To be fair I practically did know it, but still, I felt the injustice in my bones. On her driver’s license, she is Anna M. Hughes. Pronounced by everyone Ann-a. It is actually Anna, as in Ah-nah. I gave her a lot of crap for that one. Even more recently, she told me she didn’t fully erase her maiden name. She added it as a second middle name. This time I wasn’t upset. In fact, I felt a sense of relief that confused me for why I felt it, but I did all the same.

It's no secret I want to go to Latvia. Finally see the country that I cheer for in every Olympic event that they make it to. See the bitter candies in actual stores, instead of the ceramic sunflower bowl my cousin made in her sixth grade art class. Apparently there is a house in my mom and aunt’s name there, but they don't collect rent from whoever lives there now.

My mom always comments when I plan my imaginary trip, not unkindly, but truthfully in the way mothers can.

“Wouldn't you rather go to Italy?”

Well, yeah I would. I want to go to Italy, Paris, Greece, and Japan. Also, Scotland, and when I think about it more, I have a cousin I could visit in Belgium as well. Even so, I still can’t help but feel like I have to go to Latvia. There could be nothing for me to find there except my grandma’s approval for going, of course. I can’t help but wonder, do I owe something to this country? It gave me my family, my history, and technically my life, and I only know a petty change handful of words in its language. It feels almost like a betrayal to not claim it as a part of me.

This year my mom finally told me the truth. Resentment, not a kind colored in anger but sadness, carried her words from her mouth. Her parents never saw America as their home. Not the country, state, or town they lived in. Not the tiny three bedroom house my mom grew up in. It was her home, and her sister’s without a doubt. That’s where their family was. My mom thinks it was never enough for them. They always longed for a home that was as foreign to my mom as it is to me. I don’t think she’ll ever go because then she’ll have to confront a piece of her parents that she was in constant rivalry with her whole life.

People always try to fix their parents mistakes with their own children. I think my mom made sure my brother and I had her completely. We never had to compete for her against her home. I think her plan worked. My brother studied political science, learning about how OUR government system works. I’m getting my degree in English, the only language my mother comfortably claims.

Travel is Uncomfortable and I Don’t Like it

Pardo, C.

ISSUE NO. 2 •  ARE WE THERE YET?

This magazine counts down the hours to the beginning of the rest of my life. As I stare into the chasm from the brink of adulthood, I wonder what awaits me at the bottom.The concept of wanderlust is foreign to me.

I never wanted to leave where I was. The idea that it’s interesting to see other places when I could just lie at home and watch anime is atrocious. What are you people doing? Why are you spending so much money to leave the comfort of your everyday dwellings? I don’t understand. The discomfort of airplanes, of 12 hour car rides, of airports and unfamiliar gas stations, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I like the security of my place of residence. Unfamiliar places are scary! Who knows how uncomfortable it will be?

I know I sound like an asshole complaining about the mild discomfort of modern travel. I know how lucky we have it now - I’ve played the Oregon Trail. So looking back historically, the fact that I don’t risk shitting my brains out when I go to visit my friends in Arizona is actually an astounding technological feat that I should take advantage of. And for my friends? I will risk the discomfort and thank God that we have better road infrastructure and literal flying with sanitary toilets that I can make my journey upon. For my grandparents, I’ll spend a few days gazing out the car window while we cruise down the coast to the tip of the Floridian peninsula, occasionally rolling in to rest stops that have clean running water I don’t have to pay for. It’s quite a modern luxury.

So though I grouse, I kind of feel ungrateful complaining about how hard I find it to travel. I have so much going for me at the moment - my youth, few debts, no job or family to plan around. But still, there is something about travel that feels particularly daunting to me. Even without a family and work and bills to worry about, there are so many variables. So much organizing to do- where do you wanna go, when do you wanna do it, how much will it cost? Where will you stay, how will you get there, how will you get home? And what happens, if God forbid, something goes wrong while you’re gone? Even with how things have changed, there are still so many variables, so many ways things can go wrong - and what happens when everything goes to shit while you’re all alone in a place you’ve never known?

I’m graduating this year. By the time this is published, I’ll have two months until I am thrust out into the unknown - bounced out of my social safety net into a world devoid of the scholastic infrastructure that has dominated my entire existence. Sure, things are better than they used to be. My parents worked hard to establish themselves in lucrative fields so that when I grew up, I could fulfill my dreams, not dream about having a full fridge. I have their financial stability to fall back on if things don’t work out, properties that they will own no matter how far south the economy falls. But I’m not uncomfortable where I am. As ambitionless as it may be, at least it’s safe. I know what to expect, and I know how little is expected of me. I am afraid of what is out there - to imagine the future is very uncomfortable. I have the chance to achieve things that my grandparents, my parents, never could. How selfish is it to squander that chance?

I’ve never liked to travel, and I don’t like change. Although I know that my family and friends await me at the end of the journey, I freeze in despair at the first step. I look out over the winding path before me, and I can’t see them at the end. But I know they are there, waiting for me. So although I don’t know what may lie ahead, I hold my head high and take that first step past despair and begin the journey of the rest of my life.


Bermuda (A Love/Hate Prose Poem)

Anne Marie Ward

Issue NO. 2 • ARE WE THERE YET?

In this piece, I reflect on mental images of beautiful paradise that clash with the painful memories to which they are tied, culturally and personally. It’s a poem where I reflect on my past relationships and loves, and think about the places I’ve been and want to go, and what they all mean when they’ve been put together. The places you’ll go to are in the context of the places you’ve been. Thanks for reading .

He says we can never go to Bermuda, never make it ours. I ruined the whole place, seeped jealous poison deep into the earth that cannot be clawed out. Marred by a different man I had known there. A lonely island in the Atlantic, off the coast in the middle of nothing. Far from the Caribbean, unlike what some might think. “It’s only an hour flight from JFK,” ads coo, flashing on billboards above the turnpike: alluding to lush Eden a mere stone’s throw from smoggy commuter hell. To an island with no native people. Discovered by the Spanish and named after one of their own. Bermudez. Then taken in the name of the British Queen, which it stays to this day. Also called the devil’s isle. The isle that sunk ships and marooned men with craggy coral reefs in its clear shallows, all around. Isolated paradise: bleached sand and green palms and no people to cross its cerulean lagoon. Until it was captured and cajoled and filled with whitewashed limestone roofs and carnation-pink resort cabins and syrupy blue curacao cocktails, complimentary. With bartenders in frond huts who are tired of making piña coladas, again. With neon bikini bottoms and white linens and designer boutiques in the downtown.  And prior, filled with sweet sugar cane and European money and human misery. Hot wounds in broken flesh. Before we decided to forget about that. Rebrand. Pump more Western money. And it became a place for romantic trysts. Illicitly-dumped lust in Horseshoe Bay. Have things really changed? I suggest that we can make Bermuda ours, reclaim our love. And he says no, maybe we can go to the Bahamas, but I ruined Bermuda forever. But he still loves me, despite past infidelity. Despite airline miles. In spite of my time in Bermuda. If I go into the crystal water, and look back on the island, it will seem like a fever dream. Hips just above the surface of the water, fingertips submerged, torso in the brilliant light. Like it were a mirage, a gem, just floating there: you could swim through and under it, press yourself against the bottom like you could an anchored dock, and listen to its thoughts. The island was lonely, but it also never really wanted us there. That’s why it would run its jagged teeth against the bottom of our ships. Drive us mad with its tree-frog incantations and salt-water libations. It saw what we could do to each other, and figured it was better to remain forgotten. Better to be safe than sorry, it whispers. I should know. I should know, too.