by Graydon Archer
Growing up in Northern Maine, I can still recall how brutal the winters could be. Five or six feet of snow was a common occurrence, along with temperatures' far below the zero mark.
As children, we were seemingly "immune" to the bitter cold and would stay outside for hours. Usually, ten or twelve of us could be found on the banks of the mill pond lacing up our skates, or waxing the runners of our sleds for an afternoon of carefree enjoyment.
The hours of lighthearted fun slipped away unnoticed until at last, the sun's finial ray's began sinking below the horizon. Ultimately, the freezing temperatures' took it's toll and consequently, we reluctantly headed home.
Walking home in the evening's twilight, hungry and chilled "to the bone", we would catch the fragrant, and ever so inviting aroma of wood smoke wafting from the chimney's of the surrounding homes.
The smell reminded us that in just a few moments, we were going to be standing over the floor register; soaking up the warmth that rose up from the wood burning furnace that was situated in the cellar below.
Today, whenever I happen to take in the aromatic scent of a hard wood fire's smoke, I'm filled with fond memories of my childhood day's and that wonderful smoke from a chimney.
by Maya Weatherall
(Chicago, IL, USA)
Ten o'clock am and my alarm rings. I get out the bed and put my feet in my slippers.
My mom creaks down the stairs and gets the laundry out the dryer. I ask, "May I please fold the laundry this time?!?"
My mom allows me to fold and that is when my senses brightened up.
The fresh scent of cotton penetrated the whole room. I began to imagine running through the flower field and jumping around with my fresh laundry.
by Roy Ridgwell
I know you are dead and you can't reply, and I may sound unsympathetic ,but you started heading toward your death the first time you lit a cigarette.
Why did you start smoking ?. Was it the fashion of the time or peer pressure from your friends and family ?.
I hated your habit when I was a child and could never understand the attraction.
You filled your lungs with smoke and nicotine, and I never had a choice but to inhale the lingering fumes. You coated the walls and ceilings in our house with that yellow and brown gunk.
I can still recall the smell of the ash as it lay like grey sand in your ash trays.
The arm of your easy chair was ingrained with the stuff and covered with cigarette burns.
It was a wonder you never started a fire.
I may have hated your filthy habit but I didn't hate you Dad.
Hoping you are in a good place.
Your loving son.
by Brock Henson
(Canton, GA, USA)
I’m sure that everyone can remember a time in their life where they felt uncomfortable because of the way they looked. Society places such a large emphasis on being skinny or beautiful, it becomes very difficult to ever feel happy with our own appearance. That was always a battle for me growing up, accepting my own physical appearance.
As a child I was a skinny boy, right up until my 5th grade year in school, where strangely I was more active than ever before. At this point I started to grow immensely, although sideways, not vertically. My stomach bulged, my thighs blew up, and my rear end swelled. I finally understood what people meant when they said “he/she got it from their mama”. Needless to say it was a painful and embarrassing time.
Clothes didn’t fit and the posters of Hollister models sure as heck didn’t help my self-esteem. To see these random strangers all over the walls of stores with no shirts on and ripped chests was depressing, especially considering I couldn’t flex a single muscle in my body. Trying on clothes in stores usually ended with me leaving unhappy. It was either too tight or too big in my case.
Being overweight is a vicious cycle that takes tremendous will to break out of. Because I was overweight I was unhappy with myself and how I looked, and because I was unhappy I ate food to make myself feel better, especially sugary sweets. This is why many people have such a hard time making the effort to lose weight or to become healthier individuals.
Middle school was the most frustrating time of my life because of my weight. I hadn’t grown vertically for almost my entire middle school career. However, once I started high school, life started to improve for me. I joined the wrestling team and began to eat healthier. I saw massive results for myself. I could finally fit into some those clothes I had always desired! I finally had a muscle I could flex! Most of all I could look at myself in the mirror and feel happy with myself because I had made a positive change in my life.
I’d be lying if I had said that all of my concerns about my weight had dissipated. I still have small struggles but I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about myself, my body, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. Last summer I started the Paleo diet and I intend to make it a lifestyle choice, not a temporary diet. I’ve learned that really my happiness is in my hands and that I make the decisions that impact it.
by Bill Mathis
(Beloit, Wisconsin, USA)
I love the smell of roasting turkey, now. But when I was fourteen I hated the smell so much I couldn’t eat it at our Thanksgiving dinner. With seven kids and a houseful of relative’s mom didn’t notice me not eating it, or my barely getting through the meal, stomach queasy at the smell. Unable to stop the olfactory memories seared into my nostrils.
That August, shortly before school started, with lawns dried up, haying done, little league long over, vacations taken and muck farmers not needing help, my friend John and I were bored and broke. We heard the turkey farm north of our tiny, central Michigan, town needed help. A call was made. We were to be there at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, and we were, anxious to make some money. There was a large semi-truck with a trailer holding small cages pulled next to a temporarily fenced area. A sea of white turkeys filled the enclosed area. Hundreds, thousands – who knows – seemed like millions of gobbling, frightened birds, each probably weighing 15 to 20 pounds. It was hot and humid, the sun hazy from the dust. The smell, well, that only got worse as the day wore on.
Our orientation was brief and pointed. Get in with the turkeys, grab them one at a time and hand them to the guys on the scaffold next to the truck who would put them in the cages. BUT, DO NOT BREAK A WING OR LEG DOING SO! A quick demonstration ensued. We were to grab their feet from behind with our right hand so that our middle finger separated each ankle. Our left hand was to grab the wing high, as close to the body as possible and with one smooth movement hoist the bird to the loader guys. Sounded easy for smart guys entering their eighth and ninth grades. It wasn’t.
Those turkeys knew their good life was ending soon and fought like mad. We quickly discovered we had to use both hands to grab those kicking feet, then transfer them to one hand, then grab the wing and lift, without losing our balance from those lunging, desperately flapping, kicking, dumb-ass-who-the-hell-wants-turkey-anyway birds! Our thumbs and fingers bruised, our arms ached from lifting. We were soon covered in turkey shit, head to toe. And the smell, oh my God, that rank, putrid smell! It took many months for our nose hairs to outgrow that smell.
The boss liked our work, said come back tomorrow for one more load and he’d pay us for both days then. Our mothers told us to hose off outside, strip down to our underwear, then go down the outside stairs and really scrub in the basement.
We didn’t go back the next day. We never got paid. We’re both retired now and that was the only job that either of us ever quit in the middle of. What a smell! What a life!
by olive villarama
It was a day that I didn’t want to move even a muscle but I needed to go to school and catch my lessons. I peered to the window; it was too busy down there – crowds, cars, smokes, races of life moving together. If that road was only a river, the buildings were trees and the electric and telephone lines were vines, I would always love to go there and stay more than just a while.
I drew back the green silk curtains, got my bathrobe and stumbled to the bathroom. When I turned on the shower, I realized that this was also the day that I didn’t even wanted to take a bath. The water was as cold as ice. I wanted to hate it, I bit my lips, clenched my fists, I was frozen for a while. When I regained my senses, I could manage the chill already. I closed my eyes, letting the water run through my veins, every drop reminded me of the rich country rains making me forget I was in a four-cornered bathroom. Every drop coming from the shower seemed to turn into drops of rain, the floor tiles turned into soft, green grasses and all the bathroom walls became a sight of mountains covered with trees and laced with wildflowers and ferns upon their feet. Down the valley, I ran to a river, with waters flowing through the stones and lilies. I passed through the wild grasses and unscented flowers, then finally, I felt the water. I closed my eyes and listened…
Hear the rustling leaves
Hear the chirping birds
Hear the song of the bamboo trees
Hear the call of the river, flowing forever
The water is sweet
Like its soothing scent
Taking my mind to cluster of simple memories.
I heard myself singing my poem, letting the river caress my lonely heart. I never knew its exact scent; it was sweet, refreshing, I couldn’t not describe it. But whenever I went back home, the river’s scent would be a sweet greeting to me, relieving stress from the city, pouring some childhood memories…
I was then a child of four, couldn’t not be restrained and a bit stubborn. My mother was washing our clothes at the river and my father was casting a line to catch some fishes; while me and my little brother were playing by the bank, chasing dragonflies and butterflies, splashing waters and attempting to go to the deeper section of the river; then we would hear our mother, “The two of you, you’re not allowed to go there!”, then our father, “Don’t be stubborn or you can’t eat these fishes later” and we would reluctantly go back to the bank. On that day, we found a stick; we hit the water creating showers then something came to our minds, “ Why not make a boat?” First, we let the stick went down the river, then we got leaves, and when we couldn’t think what would be the next, I got my brother’s slippers and set them down to the swift current. The slippers were carried away so fast and my brother, instead of crying, laughed with me as the slippers were sailing like a boat along the river. This was the sweetest,craziest and most wonderful moment my brother and I ever had.
I was awakened by the alarm of my phone. It was three in the afternoon and I was still in the shower room. Memories were still drifting inside of me, I felt like I have to go to that very place. But I had classes I needed to attend.
And I’m here suddenly, all are memories, this is the reality. I’m right here sitting alone next at the window, admiring the rare afternoon breeze while it hugs my face. The weekend is coming, I’m going home. I will stay by the river, I will even let my slippers be carried away by the water. I will close my eyes and attempt a shallow nap ‘til what’s left with me is the river’s sweetest scent floating with my precious memory.
When I was no more than three years old, I fell asleep in my tall crib that felt like a cage. I slept restlessly but kept waking up, feeling more and more like a prisoner. The smell of my mattress was choking me.
I was an inmate in a wooden jail. My breath was a prisoner in my barely moving lungs.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no air came out.
I put my chubby hands against the bars of my crib and desperately pulled myself up. I used the bars to lift my legs higher, and tumbled over the side and onto the ground. My face pressed up against the musty carpet and I breathed in the familiar smell that would haunt me for years to come.
My mother came and found me. I could barely breathe.
I don't remember much after that. The next thing I knew, I was laying on my back, naked and barely breathing, in the Emergency wing of the hospital.
I watched the white ceiling shimmer as white men with white gloves moved in slow motion around me. I was floating underwater and I wasn't a fish.
But I was breathing...
I was breathing in the smell of death.
It smelled of sharp metal, rubber gloves, and hospitals.
The smell of terror.
The smell of concern, doctors, and ugly pennies.
My mother's face swam over me.
And all of a sudden, I was breathing again.
by Andrew McCulloch
(Canton, GA, USA)
The amount of emphasis on childhood truthfulness was always overly apparent growing up as a McCulloch. From checking the tooth brush for moisture at night, to placing a tracker on my sister’s phone, I can tell just how much they really do believe “honesty is the best policy”.
Now everyone can remember the time they broke something expensive and did not want to fess up, like my brother throwing a rock at my mother’s minivan, or the obligatory broken flower vase. Those are not quite the stories I had in mind though. I believe what happened that day will always be a hilarious and shocking moment in the eyes of my best friend of 13 years, and my own, and the friendship was only strengthened by it.
It was just an ordinary summer day over at the best bud’s house when we decided to venture into his second garage in which his dad parked and he was not there. There were all kinds of goodies in there like BB guns, slingshots, and dangerous tools, but for some reason this is not what attracted us; in there was a stack of board games on a three foot tall barrel. Behind the board games was a box of baseballs from the previous season at the local park “Hobgood”. We picked them up, as bored as we were, and began to throw them at the stack of board games on top of the barrel. Now back in 3rd or 4th grade, everyone liked throwing things, breaking things, and the shock value of loud noises. That in itself justifies why we thought this was just so funny. Smacked loudly, pieces flying everywhere, the baseball smashed into the board games. With dying laughter, we continued this for at least a solid fifteen minutes. My laughter ended when I missed the board games. Now it may not sound like a big deal that I missed, but behind the barrel and stack of board games was a window. With a slight overthrow, the baseball I threw slid past the board games and smashing into the window. My best bud began to die laughing while I sat there, hands cupped over my mouth, dumbfounded in what I had just done. I could not think how much trouble I had just caused his dad, and how I would have to come clean to my parents. This is when I went home to try and hide what I had just done for as long as possible.
A few hours after my dad received the call. He asked me what happened and I was forced to come clean. I was ashamed to say I broke it and cost my friend an unnecessary repair bill. My dad gave me $10 to go give to my friend’s dad and apologize to him. Now what I learned was that it was not the cost that mattered, rather the lesson in honesty. He appreciated my honesty and forgave me for what I had done to his window.
I count this occurrence as a major life lesson, when I learned that honesty really is the best policy. Had I tried to lie, I would have just gotten in bigger trouble, and still had to face the facts. Looking back at it, it does not seem like such a big deal though. My buddy and I will always remember my face with my hands cupped over it, and it will always serve as a hilarious, classic, and teaching moment.
by Judi Wayhart
(St. Louis, MO)
It was 30 degree below freezing with the wind chill factor, as I stood shivering at the bus stop. I had to remind myself that it beat paying $6.50 per day at the parking garage across the street where I worked in one of the picturesque Pittsburgh high-rise buildings. It was a welcome sight, as I saw the bus pull up and open its squeaky doors. As I climbed aboard and pounded up the steps, I noticed it was standing room only. I fought my way through the crowd to find a vacant spot to stand. Just as I grabbed on to the overhead railing, the bus jerked into gear, and I swayed but did not fall. As the bus began to move, I looked around and noticed that there was one empty seat left on the bus. I wondered why nobody had selected it, so I wobbily made my way back to it and plopped down next to an elderly gentleman in a brown, wrinkled topcoat. As soon as I sat down, I noticed an unusually strong odor of garlic emanating from this gentleman's skin. It wafted over to me and never left. Looking around, I noticed that others around me were chuckling to themselves, as they had obviously made this same mistake before me. I began to wrestle with my thoughts of why this man ate so much garlic. Maybe he had read about the medicinal benefits of eating garlic . . . lots of garlic. Or maybe his strategy was to eat so much garlic that nobody would sit next to him and he could have the whole seat to himself. "How to win friends and influce People" is a book written by Dale Carnegie of this man's hometown . . . could he have read this? Conversely, maybe he was trying to lose friends . . . could be a new hit novel. Then there was the vampire theory . . . no, it couldn't be that!
by Carol Waggoner Branson
The main reason to have our new Labradoodle puppy, Buster Brown, close by me at night was I knew if I was consistent in taking him out frequently around the clock he would catch on to the idea of potty training a lot more quickly. This was a good plan except for one complication. Before I could wake up enough to get up and get across the bedroom to him when I'd hear him moving around in his wire enclosed puppy cage, he would poop in his bed inside the crate. Have you even been sleeping soundly only to be awakened by a repugnant smell permeating the air of your bedroom? Being waked up by some loud, unpleasant noise is one thing, but to wake up to an obnoxious shocking smell is quite another! I don't think I even knew it was possible to be awakened due to a bad smell. And it seemed almost equally as impossible that this cute gentle little dog was physically capable of creating these overwhelming fumes of the nostril burning stench that consumed every speck of breathable air in my bedroom.
That was bad enough, but to make matters worse, then he would eat it! It was the grossest thing I had ever seen. I guess he understood he was doing something he wasn't supposed to do and thought he should get rid of the evidence. The minute the offensive fumes hit my nose, I jumped up out the bed because I learned real quickly what was going to happen next. I would frantically try to get him out of the crate, down the stairs and out the back door to the yard to finish his business all the while trying my best to hold my breath. But, before my feet hit the floor, he would be sitting there eating it! This happened night after night after night. I was at my wit's end trying to figure out what to do. I yelled at him. I spanked him. I stuck his nose down to it and showed it to him. I would go from a sound restful sleep to a screaming lunatic in a matter of seconds. He acted like he was so sorry and each night I would go to bed hoping that would be the night it would sink in, but it did not. Each night continued to be a replay of the night before. I began to dread going to bed because I knew within a few hours, the nightly ordeal would begin.
I kept thinking I was supposedly the intelligent human and I had to figure out a way to get through to him. Either that or I was going to collapse from sheer exhaustion due to lack of sleep. I made up my mind that I was not going to give up. He was going to get housebroken and I was going to win this battle. At last it dawned on me to set the alarm and get up and take him outside before the air in my bedroom smelled like an "outhouse." This became our new system. I started setting the alarm to get up every hour and a half to two hours to take him outside. He would be sound asleep, the alarm would blast and I would drag his sorry little butt out of the crate and out the door to the backyard. He looked at me like I had totally lost my mind, but as soon as we got outside, he would go potty and back to bed we went. That system, along with some medicine from the vet to make his poop taste bad, finally did the trick. Consider the irony in that statement: medicine to make his poop taste bad! How could it possibly taste good in the first place?
I was still exhausted and he was almost six months old, but he finally got the hang of it. He gets the prize for being the absolute worst mutt I have ever had to potty train. What a disgusting honor for him!
by Sally Gladden
Mom and dad would journey over to visit with their families. They were all dead!
In the Manlius, NY Cemetery,we would dip our buckets in the giant fountain water the lilacs! It was a joy to behold and play in. While dad talked softly with his parents, Jane Parker Gladden (1881-1946) and Ernest”Doc” Gladden (1880-1939), I would investigate all the other grave sites.
Mom's mother and father were all resting in Woodlawn Cemetery, Syracuse. Visiting a huge granite mausoleum on a hill was thrilling! Dad knew some folks residing there. Sundays, guests could walk through the quiet place that had a few tufts of flowers on some of the residents' shelves. Surviving loved ones did not have to visit the place often; these flowers were plastic!. What fun it was to take my favorite friend, Marie, to walk through the echoey halls of this huge mausoleum. The slightest footsteps would be intensified in that huge empty space. My friend was thrillingly scared because of the coldness, dampness and the eerie sounds. I purposefully stomped my feet in a different section of the place so that these sounds could be more scarey. I liked the cold feeling there. But, why people would prefer to be stacked up in these walls in 6 tiers? Dad said that some people feared having dirt shoveled over them and they chose to be interred in a mausoleum.
Visits to these cemeteries were an exciting part of MY education. DOD subtract DOB became a worthwhile numbers' exercise for me. I envisioned the LIVING person who resided there just by the carving on the monument. Social status remained even after death. Tombstones for small children...and babies were the most precious;the parents paid mightily for a little lamb, or a small child holding up her hand to the sky perpetually . The adults' monuments were more opulent. One could pay for a resting chair, a tree or a mighty statue. or obelisks from the Egyptians). When the survivors had money enough to pay for epitaphs such as "Loved Forever" or "Beloved wife, mother"; these were plentiful on the tombstones. As a former Methodist minister, Rev. Frank Hamilton, must have been quite well off so his carvings were ornate.
The Hamilton plot contained six spots. Since three were taken, My dad joked saying that it was okay to have him buried head-to-head with my mother so “he could always just reach over and pat her head!”. He died in 1961; mom died in 1971. Certainly he lovingly pats her on the head and they share a laugh. My sister, Nancy Gladden Dopp (1939-1998) occupies the last plot. As for me- I shall be cremated and my ashes sprinkled over my Mom's, Dad's and Nancy's plots. Now at age 72, I know what it won't be too long before I visit with them again. Some other child will be running all over the vast cemetery envisioning who these people once were and learning how to subtract by taking the years of DOB from DOD.
by Lisa L. Klein
(St. Augustine, Florida)
I know it's not politically correct to do anything-but-loathe the smell of cigarette smoke.
Uneasily, I'll admit that I love it. Please don't judge.
This revelation came to me the other night. The minute that my husband opened the casino's doors. That moment I was in a different place at a different time. I was at my Grandma's home.
The smell reminded me of being nestled in her safe embrace, mixed with perfume and Clorox. I fancied myself her favorite grandchild (probably erroneously). Although she has long been gone, that smell mingled with the casino's bells and lights and whistles, conjured up memories of candlelight and buttery panfried steak and wind blown sheets on my bed.
I know smoking is deadly and bad and I know my sweet Grandma is gone. But when I smell that smell, I feel alive and free and safe. That's how she made me feel.
I remembered Gram's parakeet. She used to let him out of his cage so that he could, quite literally, spread his wings. I was about eight years old sitting on her front porch. Out the front door she came -bird perched delicately on her withered fingertips.
"Gram, what are you doing?" I cried.
No words, not even a glance in my direction.
I watched as the tiny bird flew to the telephone wires, and then quickly back to her gentle hands. Again, she pushed the bird high, high up in the air.
I watched, amazed as this back and forth went on many times.
And the very last time, the bird stayed on the wire and then flew away into the blue skies until I could no longer see him.
"Grandma why did you do that? Your bird is gone!"
And she just smiled.
"No living thing should be caged. There's a time to set the things you love the most free." We all need to fly free at times.
So when I smell the sweet aroma of cigarette smoke, I remember my dear Gram.
And I feel free.
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by Kaitlyn D.M. Samaniego.
First off, the person I am now, and the person I am today, are almost polar opposite. I am still scared by the person I was, and the demons I am about to discuss still come back to haunt me. I am mostly healed, but I can't’ ever be 100% whole again.
It all starts in the 6th grade. For the first month, I was petrified. Fearful that someone would hate me, fearful I would end up in a locker. After the first week, I was fine. And as September came to a close, I was developing a routine, had some friends, and was beginning to be happy. Little did I know, this wouldn’t last.
In math, my teacher decided that I needed to be placed into the gifted program, I agreed, and so did my family. This caused my entire schedule to be rearranged, also allowing me to participate in the “Hi-cap program”. I was so excited! As I walked into class I felt the atmosphere change, and not for the better. My new teacher started to say:
“Hello class we have a-” My heart jumped as the class excitedly twisted their heads around , eventually finding my eyes “-new student joining us today. What is your name”
“Welcome to our classroom!” And with that she began to teach the lesson. I was in this for two periods a day, every day. Not a single person talked to me that first day. It was as if I didn't exist. I decided that it was time to change this. I walked up to a girl who seemed to have similar interests to me. her binder was covered in “Harry Potter” stickers, and she carried a green backpack.
“I like your stickers! I thought I was the only one who liked Harry Potter.” I said.
“LOL do you even brush your hair,” laughed the girl. The honest answer was no. I wore dark wash, boot cut jeans and a t-shirt every day. My red-brown hair was basically an afro, and I was a little chubby.
“Yeah! I just don’t like to do it in the way you do.”
“Well you’re not going to be my friend until you at least put on a little makeup”.
These conversations were common until right before winter break. I then decided to give up. It wasn't worth it anymore. I would go home and cry, because my entire schedule was with the same kids, who wanted nothing to do with me. I didn't have an escape. They never bullied me, they just ignored me. My studies excelled because they were the only things I had to do in my free time to distract myself. This continued over the summer, which I spent preparing for Cross Country season. I had lost a lot of weight, and was ready to run the fun season. My first comment was from and eighth grader. They ran past me at practice, and said:
“Hey fat ass! Could you do us all a favor and stop jiggling everywhere”. This is the only one I can share with you, as I have either blocked these out, or are too awful to say out loud. I was sad, but determined to beat my P.R. When I did at our last meet, I was so excited! I jumped up at our last meet. they told me:
“It’s not a big deal fatty. Maybe if you worked harder, you wouldn’t be so fat.” I looked down at my body. I didn't think I was fat. I was the smallest in my family. I could even see my ribs! Sure I had a little belly, but it wasn't that big! I looked like and average seventh grader. But I wanted to be smaller. I walked into the Honey Bucket, and made myself throw up. I did this every day after lunch until the middle of eighth grade. The rest of the year was bad as well. I had a few friends, but they didn't care about me, or put any effort in. After winter break the comments got worse in my class
“Go kill yourself, no one would notice”
“You know how your family and ‘friends’ say ‘We love you so much!’, they really don’t”
“You are the ugliest person I’ve ever met”.
“Lose some weight you ugly cow”
“How are you still alive”
“You are going to die alone, because who could ever be with a mess like you”
It was things like this that ruined me. Coming into middle school, I was a confident, outgoing kid. Currently I was a self conscious, quiet, teen. I found myself becoming numb to everything. I couldn't cry anymore, because they would just tell me how weak I was. Even when I was alone, I still couldn’t cry. I just had to kiss the wounded parts of myself, so no one else had too.
Imagine waking up from a nightmare, and then living in it. I wanted to be out already. Everyone around me wanted me to drown, and I wanted to as well. I would sit in my bathtub under the water, and think about not coming up. The people that were there to support me were Charity Husser, Steven Cross, Deborah MaCanaw, Lisa Samaniego, and The ladies of Girl Scout troop 42047. No one knows the full story. These are the people who were there for me 100% of the time. The ones that actually cared. All of this continued until the last three months of my eighth grade year. My escapes were basketball, cross country, singing, and my school work. But they couldn’t control that forever.
To this day, I still struggle with my body image. I ended my eating disorder with support from myself. No one know about it, because at the timed no one in my school cared enough to notice. I am done with that section on my life. I still get texts from people sometimes. But I had a year to heal. The ISC has changed my life. People actually care about me. I have friends who put in effort, who care about me. I have never been in a happier place. I wrote a poem this year that really helped me heal:
Here I sit.
Outlooking the future
Does it exist?
Unknown, I cry.
As I ascend,
I am catched.
But then I am dropped.
At the bottom,
It is dark.
And I am joined.
Who have dropped.
I am now able to be outgoing, to share my opinion. If I had told anyone that I was lesbian in middle school, I would have been shunned, and things could have been even worse. Regardless of this, I thank my bullies. In the end, they made me stronger. I know that things like this are way too common in our lives. I want to dedicate the rest off my life to making sure kids don't grow up this way. So no one has to go through the pain I dealt with. That is my story.
by Claudia Cook
(Frankfort,Kentucky, United States)
I was cleaning out my bathroom vanity when my hand brushed against something. Pulling it out, I realized it was my great-great-grandmother's perfume bottle. I knew it had to be hers because all my perfume bottles were pink. I squirt a bit on my hand and sniff. I'm instantly thrown back to my younger years. I was sitting in MamaGrace's lap, smelling the perfume that made my nose tickle.
I put the bottle up carefully and make my way to the kitchen to clean out the pantry. I wince when something hits the top of my head. Rubbing it, I look to see what fell on my head was dark baking chocolate. I smile remembering when MamaGrace used to make bourbon balls out of this.
I'm standing in the kitchen smelling something like melted chocoalate. I watch MamaGrace roll the bourbon dough, cool them, dip them in the melted chocolate, and then put them in the fridge to harden. That was one thing I always looked forward to on Christmas.
I guess there's a lot of smells I could compare to my memory but those smells are forever etched into my mind.
by Kirby Wright
My mother pulled out her old photo albums and I joined her in the dining room. She leafed through the pages that smelled of mildew and marveled how young her parents and aunts looked. I knew she was drifting back to a less complicated time, the years of plenty with a powerful father eager to spoil her. She showed me a daguerreotype of her parents strolling the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Her mother wore a hat, a mink coat, gloves, and an orchid corsage; Pops sported a camel hair topcoat, fedora, tie, and an ebony cane he appeared to be using more for effect than for balance. There were photos of her childhood home in Waltham, a Tudor mini-mansion featuring a nightclub-sized bar with a red baby grand. Her parents wrapped her in a world of silk dresses, singing and tap lessons, and music. The black maid Isabel loved her like a daughter. My mother was the star of the house, singing show tunes as her mother’s fingers tickled the keys. Pops promised she would go to Broadway. She could do anything knowing her father was sitting just beyond the stage lights. Like the plant that can survive on air, her soul nourished itself on the fantasies of an indulged girl.
My mother had lost Pops earlier that year. He'd suffered a heart attack after losing a leg to phlebitis and he died alone in his apartment at the Pick-Congress Hotel in Chicago. The concierge found him in his wheelchair with Sparky, his pet parakeet, clinging to his shoulder. My mother couldn't stop crying the day the death call came in and there was nothing I could do to cheer her up. She stayed in bed all day. I wondered if guilt was mixed in with her grief because she hadn’t visited Pops in years. She’d only seen him twice in the past decade, on stopovers on the way to Boston. Chicago was never a final destination. She must have harbored a deep resentment for Pops because he’d failed as a provider after the divorce, then failed a second time when he couldn’t pay for her wedding at Saint Aidan’s Church in Brookline. I wondered how she could reconcile her lack of forgiveness with the teachings of Jesus. By ignoring her crippled father, she was getting revenge for all the years she felt abandoned. This sense of abandonment turned her bitter because it was his praise and money that nourished her dream of stardom, a dream that struggled to survive as her mother sweated to pay the rent in Brookline. Pops meant everything to my mother as a child and nothing to her in the lean teenage years. Her pain eventually became his pain, as he languished alone in his wheelchair in a third-rate Chicago hotel. That’s when I became aware of my mother’s vindictive nature—if I ever did anything to cross her, I knew I’d have to pay a hefty price.
My father tried comforting her after the death call by giving her a box of Kleenex and patting her on the back like she'd done a good job at something. He brought home a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner and fixed a Manhattan. He placed two breasts, a scoop of coleslaw, and a muffin on a plate, then carried his drink-and-fast-food offering into the master bedroom on a TV tray table.
* * *
Dadio's weekend on Moloka’i inspired my mother to phone a trio of Bostonian aunts. After catching up on their latest ailments and financial woes, she invited Julie and me out to the lanai for a Cole Porter concert. She sang “Anything Goes” and the haunting “In The Still Of The Night.” A fashion show followed the singing engagement—she modeled cocktail dresses, necklaces, and an assortment of wigs. I remembered our cruise to Disneyland aboard the SS Lurline and the band playing the intro to "California, Here I Come" during the Talent Show. She approached a silver microphone and sang about a magical land of golden gates and sun-kissed girls in a ballroom filled with strangers. Their raucous applause and a First Place trophy gave life to her dream she could still make it. But now she was singing to her children on a lanai 5,000 miles away from New York. She’d clung to her fantasy for too long, and had never once tried out for a role at Diamond Head Community Theatre. Still, I entered her dream world and excited her with the possibilities.
"Would you consider Off Broadway?" I queried.
"On Broadway would be nicer."
"You could be Laura's mother," I suggested, "in The Glass Menagerie."
"I should be Laura."
"But you're a mother."
She looked at her reflection in the glass doors. "Oh, I guess you're right, Kirby. I'm just a fat old woman now."
"That Star Market cashier thought you were my sister."
"Oh, go on.”
"Do I look that young?"
“Yes.” I told her she should land a reoccurring role on Hawaii 5-0. She said she'd heard through the Coconut Wireless that you had to be ‘friendly’ with the casting director. She launched into a vicious attack of Jack Lord, saying he was a strange man because he never smiled in public and wore a big floppy hat. She claimed he didn't offer her his grocery cart after wheeling it out of Star Market. "The nerve of him," she said, "he saw me coming and just returned his cart to the rack." She said he’d been a used car salesman in New York and that she couldn't be bothered trying out for Hawaii 5-0 with such a rude star running the show.
"You've got to start somewhere," I reminded her.
"You're right, Kirby."
"What about Community Theater?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"They're auditioning for Hot L Baltimore in Manoa."
"That play’s full of dirty language."
"You can't be picky."
"Oh, everyone's so young and talented these days."
"You're not old and you've got plenty of talent," I coached. "You just need that first big break."
"I should lose a few pounds."
"You're perfect as you are."
My mother’s make-believe world transported her to the crossroads of absurdity and delusion. The sky was the limit and, if she could imagine it, it could happen. She had never abandoned the dreams that Pops inspired back in Waltham. I fed her dream world of absurdities because I didn’t have the heart to crush her. I told my mother she could be as big as Liz Taylor or Barbra Streisand.
"Please," she pleaded, "not Liz Taylor."
"Liz can't sing."
After all the talk about stardom, my mother launched into her list of ‘I Wonders.’ These were her musings on how life would be different if she'd married someone else.
"I often wonder about that Fletcher Eaton," she mused. She said he had to sell his blood to pay for their dinner at Durghan Park.