A Spooky Girl’s Love Story
He asked if I wanted to take a walk, and I obliged. It was hot, hot, day in the deep South, but I was willing to take any reason to keep his company. He smirked, and suggested we cross the street to a nearby cemetery. The cemetery in question was one I'd passed by many times while driving through downtown, and it'd captivated me since childhood. It's a sprawling location, nearly two centuries old and sits solemnly in the middle of a bustling urban area, defiant to the rush of the world around it. In that moment, I decided that I'd loved it from afar for much too long. He was familiar with the cemetery, and had spent many hours there throughout his youth. He was willing to be my guide, and I was eager to have one.
The heat became overwhelming, and halfway through our walk, I took my shirt off, desperate to feel any sort of breeze upon my skin. I was impressed by his resolve. He and I walked to the edge of the graveyard, where there was nothing more than a patch of grass and a crumbling old headstone nestling in the shade of a couple large trees. We sought refuge underneath their leafy branches, and did our best to avoid the ants crawling over their roots. He lamented over his decision to wear a hoodie, and soon, he was shirtless as well, wearing nothing but a pair of burgundy colored jeans. I was impressed- this time, by my own resolve.
His presence was intense, almost too much to handle, but I had no urge to leave. The sexual tension was as thick as the humid Carolina air, but neither of us wavered, no one dared to "make a move". He spotted a tattoo on my back, and touched me only to inspect it, tugging gently at the straps of my sports bra. I grew weak in the knees, but kept my feelings veiled. I knew how much he'd been through, and that he needed a friend, not another lover. And honestly, I needed the same.
I noted my amusement at how elegant I found his name to be. He revealed that not only was one of his middle names Wolfe (an homage to Mozart), but that he was wearing underwear with a wolf's face on them. He smirked and asked if I'd like to see them. My immediate thought was "Oh good god, yes", but I tried to guise my interest with a very cooly spoken "Sure, why not?" He unbuttoned his (rather tight) burgundy jeans to reveal boxer shorts with the visage of a determined looking wolf printed on the front. With his pants around his ankles, he looked up at me and commented that he didn't usually wear underwear, but felt the need to put that specific pair on that morning. I reluctantly divulged that wolves meant a lot to me. He asked why, and I began to stumble over my words.
Strange as it may seem, I find wolves to be symbolic of love and life-long partnership. And when I moved back to my hometown, I saw them everywhere: in my dreams, on clothing, in artwork, the list goes on. For months, I had a feeling that love was coming for me soon, but was making an active effort not to lose my head over the possibility even though the night before, as he and I were exchanging messages, I wondered out loud if it was possible to fall in love with someone based on a conversation. I'd had a lingering interest in him (much to his surprise) even before I moved back home, and had tried not to give too much thought to the matter. But as the printed yellow eyes of the subject of my dreams stared brazenly at me from just feet away, I knew I could not deny what was stirring inside of me. I stood there, in the cemetery I'd always wanted to see, face to face with my emotions, forced to acknowledge the mysterious workings of the universe, across from a handsome young man waiting expectantly for his curiosity to be satisfied. In that moment, it felt like a million different paths in my life had been illuminated and were beginning to converge. I knew that I was falling in love.
I tried to dance around my connection to wolves, using words like "fierce" and "determined", but quickly caved and revealed my dreams to him. He absorbed the knowledge, and we spoke briefly on the mating patterns of wolves. He pulled his pants up and we headed back to the apartment building I'd met him at. After about four hours together (I'd only intended to be there for 15 minutes), we said our goodbyes. I took note of the heart spray-painted on the dumpster near my car, and smirked. It seemed like a good omen. I still have a picture of it in my phone.
We've spent much more time in that cemetery since that day, although it's been less frequent now that we are so deep into our lives together. But the memory remains a constant for us, and we often find ourselves reflecting on that day when we think about how far we've come. These days, when I pass the cemetery, I'm no longer filled with longing. I'm filled with feelings of love and wonder, amazed at the funny ways life can play out and how beautiful things can be if you choose not to fight the tide.
Welcome To The World, Baby Girl
When all of this is over, and the tubes have been taken from your nose and the needles from your arm, we will take you into the world so that you may explore its wonder. You will go where we go, a passenger on every trip, no matter how small it may be. We must make up for lost time. We will visit every park and every zoo, and capture images of your wonder. Our little family will be sure to explore all we can of what lies around us, waiting to be discovered. I see the curiosity that gleams within your big brown eyes; I know it because it glows in mine.
Once we take you from that sixth floor ward, you’ll know what it’s like to feel the touch of Mommy’s skin, to feel my fingertips run smoothly across your dark mess of hair, unhindered by the latex that tends to tug at the strands you and I worked so hard to grow. You will know my kiss upon your cheek, and will have a chance to study the whole of my face- the slope of my nose, the fullness of my lips, the roundness of my chin- instead of settling for the glimpses caught during those moments in which I am feeling bold enough to pull down my mask and sneak a whiff of your scent.
Your Nanas and Papas will come to know your face through more than video feeds and smartphone screens. Their smiles will fill your memories, and replace any recollection you may have of the masked strangers that tended to your every need. Kind as they have been, their gentle hand is no match for the love that exudes from a mother’s touch. You will rarely leave your father’s arms as he makes up for all the nights he could not hold you. I will be by his side, watching the two of you learn each other, as my belief in miracles begins to solidify.
I wish to hold you in my arms and listen to your every tiny breath. But the times insist I wait- the test results have not come back and though I miss you dearly, I cannot risk your health in order to pacify my sadness. You’ve already fought so hard.
Some day soon, I will show you the warmth of the sun and the stillness of the moon; your father will find the shape in every cloud, and I will help you trace every constellation in the sky. But for now, I can only write NICU love letters from afar as you sleep blissfully, innocent and unaware of the chaos of your birth or the state of a world that you have yet to know. I sit in a quiet and lonely room, watching you develop a love-hate relationship with your pacifier through the camera that hangs above your crib.
Society’s comforts are fractured and collapsing, but we are sure to rebuild and begin again. Life will become almost as new to us as it is to you, and we will learn to navigate it together. What came before matters little; you are all that fills my vision of the future.
When I was about 18 weeks pregnant, I got a call from the genetic counselor working with my OBGYN. They said that based on my blood test, there was an indication that my daughter could have one of two conditions: spina bifida or something called gastroschisis. We scheduled an ultrasound for the next day and were informed afterward it was gastroschisis, which the doctors said was a significantly better diagnosis than spina bifida given the former is more treatable.
Gastroschisis is a birth defect where due to the malformation of the abdominal wall, the baby’s intestines are forced out of a hole that forms to the right of the umbilical cord. It doesn’t cause them any pain in utero, but requires immediate medical attention after birth. It is a common enough defect to where most hospitals have a procedure in place for it, and the survival rate is around 95%. Most people born with it go on to lead normal lives with little to no complications, save maybe needing to have a more limited diet. We’ve also been in touch with a charity/support group called Avery’s Angels and they’ve been a huge help. The hospital I will be giving birth at has one of the best NICU wards in the US and so she will be getting some of the best treatment possible.
She will have to be in the NICU for an undetermined amount of time. Despite all the positive information surrounding the condition, my husband and I sometimes falter in our optimism. This is our first child, and we are mourning the loss of starting parenthood off normally. We will not get to hold her for a while. And we won’t know when she’ll be able to come home until the time comes. Once she does come home, she will require more attention and medical care than most, which means my maternity leave will be longer than most. That adds a layer of financial pressure to the situation, which has pushed me more than ever to make a living off of writing. It’s the only way I can see being able to bring in any sort of extra income while also being around 24/7 for my daughter. Becoming a parent for the first time is scary, but this has added a very heavy layer to the situation.
We are doing our best to enjoy the pregnancy and treat it as normal. The ultrasounds are hard as you can very clearly see her intestines floating above her body. Despite all this, she is an active baby and is growing normally. We saw her movements externally for the first time just a few nights ago. Nothing major, just a little shift in my belly.
I’m 23 weeks as of right now. Her due date is in May, and that is a long time to wait for something you know is going to traumatize you. I’ve been trying to write something on the situation, and intend to eventually send it in to a parenting magazine of some sort, but I’m having trouble finding the words. Sometimes I feel like I won’t be able to fully get my story out until I’m a little further along in the journey.
We decided long before the diagnosis that we were going to name our daughter Silver. The other day at work, an older man came through my line wearing an interesting ring. I asked him about it, and he said he used to be a jewelry maker and it was one of his first pieces. He continued, noting that he made it out of silver because he couldn’t afford gold at the time but felt that it worked out in the long run given that silver is strong and incredibly durable. It seemed like a good omen. My husband agreed.
The House on Birchwood
It doesn't happen much these days but in my childhood, on breezy afternoons in the spring, my grandma would open all the doors and windows and let the Carolina air flow throughout the house. I was free to go in and out at my leisure, so long as I stayed in the yard.
Most of the time, I would stand outside picking crab apples off the tree in the front yard. Some days, I'd just watch bugs crawl in and out of the rotting fruit that'd fallen to the earth. On one particular day, I grew bored of this and walked inside seeking entertainment. As I stepped in, I heard a woman's voice floating down from one of the bedrooms. I walked by the staircase and saw my grandparents' bedroom door wide open, sunlight pouring into the hallway. Music swelled behind the woman's voice as she sang longingly in a language I did not understand. Her vibrato bounced off of the walls and rode the breeze down into my ears. The notes she held were endless, and I stood and listened before going on my way.
My grandparents' love for opera and classical was nothing new. They cared very little for the noise of contemporary artists, and took great joy in easy listening or antiquated musicals. The two were deceptively intellectual and artistically-minded, qualtities I did not fully appreciate until adulthood.
The reason this sticks out is because it is the only moment I can recall in which I took the time to just....be. It was not a concious effort, simply a point in time in which there was no more than an operatic cry, a breeze on my skin and the crsip smell of spring in the air. Sometimes, I go back to this memory and am small child looking up into the hallway. Other times, I am an adult watching myself experience bliss for the very first time.
When asked about a happy place, this is where I go. I came across a passage in a Hermann Hesse novel in which hearing a symphony is described as a transcendent experience that quickly gives way to a dream-like state. When I read this, my brain shifted to that old memory, and I was forced to set the book down and revisit my early glimmers of transcendence.
Papa died five years ago. Grandma is still here. She doesn't hear so well anymore, and so their old records are in the basement collecting dust. She chills easily, and so the windows stay closed, even on temperate days.
I moved back into the house a year ago, and brought a record player of my own. I plugged it up next to Grandma's favorite chair and every once in a while, I put on something I think she'll like. Luckily, she tends to hear the music just fine. And every time she listens, I secretly hope to catch her looking up the stairs into the hallway and catch sunlight pouring from her room.
Alex was the first true friend I made when I moved to Myrtle Beach. He opened me up to hip-hop, The Boondocks, and marijuana. His smile was big, his laugh infectious. We didn't talk as much once he left the neighborhood, but he would still take the time to check in here and there. The last two times we spoke on the phone, he was high out of his mind. I thought he'd just gotten caught up in life, but it turned out he'd gotten caught up with something stronger. I saw him once before he died, when he left for the Army. He was clean and had cut off his signature dreadlocks. The last time I saw his face was in an open coffin. His service was in a small funeral home just off the highway. I made sure all the former kids from the nieghborhood got an obituary if they couldn't make it. His mom was honest in her suspicion as to cause of death, but she refused the autopsy. Some things should be left alone, she felt. I am inclined to agree. She lost a son, I lost a brother. That was all that truly mattered. I got dreadlocks in his honor, and had them for three years. I cut them off six months ago. He'd cut his own so he could move on with his life. It was time for me to let go, too.
Mike was another friend from Myrtle Beach. The first person to really push me to create, we had some rowdy times as well as some pretty manic ones. Mike believed in my words and he encouraged my vision. He was a wreck, albeit an especially talented one but psychoactive substances care little for skill sets. I didn't make it to his funeral. I was poor, had no car, and lived six hours away. I wish he knew that he inspires me every day. I hope his mom's okay. He'd be proud to know his brother is happy. Sometimes I think I hear him in my dreams, making one dumb joke after another, but that's probably just wishful thinking.
I miss my homies.
Magic: The Gathering
He told me more than once that he felt like he was settling. The laundry, the food, the sex, the free place to live, the care for the kitten that shredded my blinds and my furniture- it was never enough. A match made in hallucinogenic heaven turned into a bad trip in such a short time.
These things he would say, often unfair and cruel. I knew this all along, so why did I walk on eggshells? I was so afraid that something already broken would crack that I allowed the forced removal of my spine. As I flopped over his lap and begged for support, he told me I should be happy with how flexible I’d become. Oh, fair enough then, I thought. I guess I’ll just drink a bottle of wine and not think about those burger joint waitresses that text him late at night. I can only imagine what he told them. Probably the same thing he told the girl he knew from high school, the one I naively let into my home. Boundaries? Sorry, don’t know the meaning of the word.
And it was MY home, though it made him angry when I said so. Sorry buddy, but a name on a lease does not a partner make.
A couple hundred bucks on the first of the month, and the rest went to beer and trading card games. What’s that? You need money for a super rare card? For a deck you’re going to take apart and never use again? What happened to your check? Oh, it went to Sierra Nevada and magic mushrooms? Oh yeah sure, good thing I make enough to pay electric on my own...no, no, that’s okay, I’ll get the cat food, too. The fuck you mean, I can’t survive without you here? The iPad I got you “just because” says otherwise.
There was a time, for a couple months, I sent him back to his dad’s. I had parties, visitors, I came and went as I pleased. Had a friend stay with me, but she was more of a wreck than I could have ever fathomed. Familiarity can be blinding.
After Allie left my home in destruction, and the infestation took over, he was there. The night her pill-addicted boyfriend broke into my apartment window looking for her, my sorta-kinda-not-really-ex-boyfriend had convinced me to let him stay the night. But I was the one who sent the addict from my home as he slept, lulled into his dreams by weed and wine. For sake of ease, I told the cops he was my boyfriend, and our toxic cycle began once more.
My mom’s dad fell sick, and I was gone for weeks to help the family. He yelled, angry that I was not back yet, and mocked the hospice nurse’s predictions. Papa died the day after I returned home. My father’s mom passed less than two months later. In my grief, he considered only himself. How dare I inconvience him by wanting to stay at Grandma and Papa’s house on the night of the funeral? What was I thinking, making him turn off the Xbox to come pick me up from work after my Grandmommy left this earth? What a ridiculous notion, going to your partner in a time of need. After a much-needed vacation with some brutally honest friends, I sent him on his way. The hole he left in the closet door let me know he wasn’t going without a fight.
After he left, I drank merlot during the day and watched Star Trek marathons in my underwear. If I wanted company, I had some. If I wanted to be home alone and listen to music undisturbed, I was free to do so. I stayed out all night (sometimes) and spent time with the friends he never liked. Free? Definitely. Destructive? At times. I was willing to take anything that came with the promise of not being judged by someone who only loved me part-time.
My apartment became a sanctuary again. I was no longer afraid of what I would find when I walked through the door. Even still, there were too many memories in those walls and six months later, I left to get back to my roots.
He tried to stick around, under the guise of friendship. But shady characters never quit shady dealings and though I was no longer in love, he still found a way to get under my skin. A few lies and a twisted story later, I knew had to wash my hands clean. Our mutual friends could believe what they wanted. I knew they’d picked their sides long ago, despite their awareness of his patterns of behavior.
His relationships went the same way every time, they said. They were disappointed in him, they said. Yes, we heard the verbal abuse and yes, he said really awful things about you while you were together, and wow, I can’t believe he got physical with you, are you sure it wasn’t just playfighting? He’s still just such a good friend, ya know?
Familiarity is not only blinding, it is also comfortable.
Six years later, many of these events are still quite vivid. Thankfully, the situation no longer rules my waking thoughts. The person I became turns my stomach to think about. Toxic love can break even the strongest of wills and bring out the ugliest sides of the self. The old wounds that opened with every partner after just left more scars, some more visible than others. It never got as bad as it did with him, I’d never allow that to happen again. But old habits die hard, and the same things that I saw in him, I found in other partners time and time again. When you spend so much time trying to love someone else, sometimes you fail to realize that you’re not loving yourself. The hurt builds on itself and it can be a tough structure to knock down.
I would not wish toxic love on anyone. Even relationships that don’t last shouldn’t have to go down in flames. The concept of peaceful un-coupling seems so foreign to me given how many love affairs have blown up in my face.
I’m married now, with a baby on the way. But if it weren’t for all the muck I had to wade through, I don’t think I would be able to fully appreciate just how beautiful of a life I have now. My husband and I both came to the relationship with deep wounds, and even though unpacking our pain has been incredibly difficult, we have been able to heal immensely with the support and honesty given to us by the other person. Finding a partner who is willing to work with and not against you is not a hopeless endeavor. In many cases, it just takes time. Time to be with yourself, time to figure out what you need, want and deserve, and time to heal from the wounds. Self-love and appreciation is the goal, everything else will follow in its footsteps.
I’d like to pick up Magic: The Gathering again. I genuinely liked the game, and sometimes breakups have a way of ruining even the most trivial of things. The ex from six years, he took all the good cards with him. I didn’t fight him on it. I had no energy left. But I’m a big girl. I could build a new collection on my own if I so choose.
Although, I could just learn a new game altogether. I’ve spent enough time living in the past.
And besides- I did, after all, marry a huge Yu-Gi-Oh! fan. Wouldn't want to let that go to waste.
The Dream For My Life
My goals and dreams have flucuated frequently (as these things tend to) but what has always remained is this: to be a wife, to be a mother, to make a living off of a creative pursuit. At the time of writing this, I am a newlywed(ish), I am five months pregnant, and I have gotten back on this website after a four year hiatus. I'm crafting stories and putting together pieces that have been in my head for ages and am getting new and intriguing prompts on the website every day. A friend gave me a book on writing 6 years ago and I am finally reading it after all this time.
Even if writing does not end up being what puts food on the table, I can take solace in knowing that the love for words has not left me, and that the love of a family has found me. I am about to take some major time off work, especially given our daughter will be in the NICU for some time and I hope to be able to channel the time alone and heavy emotional burden into something beautiful.
I want my daughter to grow up strong, smart, and have the same love for art that my husband and I do. I hope to see her successful and independent and not fall victim to the same traps that I did in my youth. I hope for us to have a more stable home life than my husband and I did growing up and for us to always stay strong as a unit, no matter what comes our way.
I dream of seeing more writers and creators move from the internet and lined notebooks into bigger and better things. I do not care about a saturated market, I only want to see a genuine one. There's an infinite number of voices, and entire lifetimes to experience them. I want artists to be able to cut through the trappings and politics of the fine art world so that they can proudly display canvases on their terms. I want poets to not be held back by their bios or stack of rejection letters. I want musicians to not be controlled by sponsorship or feel as if the only route to success is through endorsing things they do not believe in.
Some of these dreams are easily accessible. Some of them are lush and lofty. They all occupy space in my head, even if it is to varying degrees.
Route 20 Outbound
I sat on the crowded old bus, eager to get home after a long day of working in the city. My shoulders ached, my bad ankle was beginning to swell and I could not help but to stare longingly out of the finger-streaked window, eager to ignore the lined paper sitting unmarked in my lap. Despite my grievances, I managed to find solace in the notion that even with a bus full of people, the seat beside me remained unoccupied.
A hiss signaling departure escaped from underneath the vehicle. Confident that my solitude (as much solitude as one can get on public transit at 4 PM) was secure, I leaned my head against the glass and closed my eyes. The driver took his seat, closed the doors, and adjusted the mirrors in preparation for the trip. As his hand approached the brake, a loud slap came from the outside of the bus. The noise bounced violently off of the metal framing and pulled me from my psuedo-slumber. After a quick press of a button, the doors swung open and a short, rotund figure waddled onto the bus. I shot up and looked around to see what seats were available for this character to plop its body into. There was only one.
Without making eye contact, the figure lumbered down the aisle and forced itself into the open space next to me. I pulled my bag closer to my feet and slipped my notebook inside of it. I would need as much space as I could get. Being an avid people watcher, my curiosity got the best of me and I inspected this person from the corner of my eye.
It was a woman, with dark hair and dark eyes. Her greasy locks sat lazily upon her head, and her body was draped in a loosely fitting blood-red dress. She held nothing in her hands but a wilted flower. Although I would have preferred to sit alone, I was intrigued by this woman. But the perma-scowl that decorated her face suggested I keep all questions to myself. Since I was as equally unable to socialize as I was to relax, I decided to stare straight ahead, waiting for the bus to approach my stop.
“I hate this damn bus.”
A gravelly voice came from beside me. I turned my head slightly, just enough to acknowledge the speaker.
“Every time I get on here, it’s too hot and the drivers want to skimp you on the air.”
I was stunned, unsure if I should answer or not. I wanted to learn more...but at what cost? She spoke again.
“I came from a good family, ya know. Closest thing we had to royalty in those parts. But what good does it do me now? No one gives a damn about me anymore. But my sister? Oh-ho, she was always the favorite. Parents put her picture up everywhere, like she was some good luck charm. Me? They always said I was born to be miserable. Tried to avoid me every chance they got. Said I brought nothin’ but trouble.”
Was this it? My chance to speak? Before I could come up with something clever or inspirational, she continued on her rant.
“Lemme tell ya something, kid- sometimes bad shit follows you everywhere you go. From the day you’re born ’til the day you die. Hell, maybe if I’d left home sooner than I did, I coulda been happy. Or at least miserable on my own terms. Guess all I can do at this point is try to make it through each day with what little bit I got. Hey, pull that string for me. This is my stop.”
At her command, I pulled the bright yellow cord hanging along the window pane. As the bus slowed to a halt, I realized that the woman and I were getting off at the same place. I allowed her the time to rise from the seat and followed patiently behind as she lumbered off the bus in the same way she got on. I stepped onto the sidewalk and noticed she was headed in a different direction. I knew that if I did not say anything to her now, I would have lost my chance to say anything at all.
“Hey, uh...what’s your name?”
The woman turned to face me. The perma-scowl remained, but her dark eyes glimmered with amusement.
“My name? Been a long time since anyone cared ’bout that. ”
She took a step closer to me and extended the hand that had been grasping the wilted flower. She opened her palm and waited for me to take the brittle stem. I took it from her gently. Her scowl softened slightly as she spoke her final words.
“They call me Jyestha. And maybe you can do something with that. Gods know I’ve been carryin’ it around long enough. It’s a lotus flower. Family had ‘em everywhere when I was comin’ up.”
With that, Jyestha began to walk away. The manners enforced in my upbringing wanted desperately for me to say “Thanks, nice to meet you”, but I could not bring myself to lie. My encounter with Jyestha was unsettling. I felt suffocated (mentally and physically) for most of it, only to find refuge in her departure. But the lotus flower, however wilted it may have been, was a thoughtful gift from a woman who constantly expressed dismay. I knew I should at least thank her for that, and so I jerked my head up, hoping to catch her before she strayed too far.
I looked around to find that Jyestha was nowhere to be seen. The road was open and wide, with no large buildings or trees that would have obscured a clear view. All that I saw, standing only feet away from me, was a single crow. It cawed loudly in my direction and flew off into the afternoon sky. I watched its wings flap into the distance, and turned to begin my walk home.
I twirled the brittle stem between my fingers all the way back to my house, and pondered what I could create with such an unexpected gift. Even in all her inauspiciousness, Jyestha still found a way to shine a light into the day.