There's a Reason Why I'm Like This by Ben Appel

 
Illustration by Mallory Evans

Illustration by Mallory Evans

Lately I’ve been very afraid of choking. I don’t know what it is; my anxiety has a strange way of manifesting itself. Last month, it was anaphylactic shock. This month, choking.
I do have a long history of choking on things. I can remember my grandfather holding me over the laundry room sink when I was four, slamming on my back after I had swallowed a penny. When I was six, I got so excited about my sister’s new Barbie that I inhaled my Jolly Rancher.
As an adult, I’ve been administered the Heimlich maneuver twice. The first time was during a quiet Easter dinner at my grandmother’s house, when I suddenly began to choke on my honey-baked ham. My eyes darted around the table at each of my helpless family members while I flapped my hands and made the universal hand sign for choking, until my oldest sister’s Hulk-like boyfriend, Ryan, lifted me out of my chair and saved my life.
The second time was during a friend’s wedding reception. Filet mignon. This time, it was my sister’s new boyfriend, John (not so Hulk-like), who had to reverse-bear hug me until I could breathe again. After I thanked John and sat back down, the waiters made a fuss and asked the guest whose plate I had spit my steak onto if she wanted another dish. Traumatized, she said no.
Knock on wood, I haven’t choked on any of my food since then, but trust me, there have been many close calls. I’d like to put it out there that it is very dangerous to eat Ritz crackers when your mouth is too dry, as well as powdered donuts and anything else crumbly. I’ve had some scary experiences with peppermint candies too, so now I suck them down to the size of petite peas, and even then I make it a point to crunch them into tiny pieces before letting them slide down my throat. And of course I cut my vitamins in half—those things are fucking huge! I also no longer eat pennies.
Honestly, I don’t think we humans are spending enough time worrying about choking. We all eat at least two or three meals a day, right? Not counting snacks and late-night shame eating. So that’s, like, a thousand meals per year, give or take. And if we heed the advice of health experts and take twenty minutes to eat every meal (I’ve Googled this), then for three hundred and twenty hours a year we have hunks of food bouncing around in our mouths, dangerously close to our windpipes.
I think we should all just take a minute to think about that.
And there are a lot of people who do die of choking. About five thousand Americans every year, in fact, including many people who matter, like the baseball player, Jimmie Foxx, who died from choking only a year after his own wife choked to death on her Chinese food. In 1956, big band musician Tommy Dorsey’s sleeping pills left him so sedated after eating a heavy dinner that he choked in his sleep. And Atilla the Hun, the fearless ruler of a massive tribal empire? He was forty-seven.
Tennessee Williams was seventy-one when he died in his room at the Hotel Elysée on the Upper East Side. According to the New York City chief medical examiner, the playwright “choked to death on a plastic cap of the type used on bottles of nasal spray or eye solution.”
What the actual fuck.
Williams’s former assistant has since gone on the record to say that this was a total untruth, that he really died of Acute Seconal intolerance—Williams struggled with drug and alcohol abuse—and that the medical examiner only wanted to make the story sensational because Williams was a big gay celebrity and all of that. But, I’m sorry, that’s a really specific fabrication.
I guess what I really want to know is, can anyone out there assure me, without the shadow of a doubt, that midway through swallowing I won’t decide to just take a break and let the pretzel sit in my throat and kill me? Or how about this: Can one actually will his esophagus to close up? And what happens if, after typing this very sentence, I decide to dislodge the shift key from my keyboard and just shove it down my throat?
I honestly think that these are legitimate concerns.
It will comfort you to know that I do experience moments of reprieve when I’m worrying about choking, when I’m able to talk myself down a little bit. For example, say I can’t fall asleep because I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that a lot of people choke on their pillowcases while they’re sleeping. Well, sometimes, after crying silently for a few minutes while my husband sleeps soundly next to me, I’ll say to myself, OK, Ben, fine, you’re going to die from choking, and yes, it’s going to be nothing short of horrific (wasn’t it Blanche DuBois who said “funerals are pretty compared to deaths?”), but it’ll also be rather quick—about four minutes, says Google. And really, what is four minutes compared to a day, a year, a century? It’s but a blip.
So, perhaps I would suffer unimaginably, but I would be dead before long, and then there would be blackness or light or whatever, and I could just put it all behind me.
You see, folks, at the end of the day, all I really want is to enjoy binge eating again. I want to be able to dunk my face into a pint of ice cream and not fear Chubby Hubby being listed as my cause of death, or mindlessly gobble Cheetos at three in the morning without imagining my husband tripping over my dead body on his way to the bathroom.
But this is what my life has come to: counting my chews, chugging copious amounts of water between precious little bites, avoiding restaurants where CPR instructions aren’t taped up where everyone can see them.
I know that over time my menacing brain will prefer that I obsess about something else, like botulism or the Ebola virus or botflies nesting in my skull.
But until then.
Choking.

 

Ben Appel is a rising senior majoring in creative writing at The School of General Studies. Quarto published his essay, “How to Be Cisgender,” online in January 2018. Visit him at benappelwrites.com, and on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

La Limpiada by Julia Angelica Sierra

 
Illustration by Sophia Levy

Illustration by Sophia Levy

 
 

Every time you broke my heart I was on a Queens-bound 7 heading towards Junction.
The first time the tears came fast and heavy and loud and I was sitting in one of the seats that pressed up next to the window and by the grace of God faced mostly away from the other passengers. But they still saw. I clutched my purse deep into my stomach and I tried not to throw up every memory that was getting caught in my throat, tried not to scream them out onto the seat next to me. The first time, I was uncontrollable and a man got on at Woodside. He sat in the row of seats directly facing the one to my side and as I looked out over the city, the sun setting behind the delicate rows of brick and glass and steel, I could see him watching me in the reflection as the sky grew darker. I wondered what you were doing at that same moment, if you were with anyone, or if you were like me, isolated and alone, and yet somehow, still being seen. In the window, superimposed over the city I saw him watch me watch him pull the sleeve of his sweater up over his wrist into his thumb, saw him use the already dirty cuff to wipe the snot that dripped from his nose. I realized that I probably needed to do the same thing but I didn’t care. Let everything fall out of my body, let my tears flood this train, let the mucus fill my mouth and lungs and burst into the river running around my feet until I poisoned every last passenger who didn’t get off in time.
The doors opened on 74th street and I wondered if I had enough time to get off, run across the platform, throw myself in front of the train, lay on the tracks, and wait to be rolled over into an oblivion. Where I didn’t remember you. Where we had never met. But there isn’t enough time. I don’t move. The doors close. The man with the snot covered cuffs is still watching me and I wonder if he can tell that just a moment before I had almost killed myself. I’m still keeping tabs on him in the window, a part of me secretly hoping he may try and rob me so I can halfheartedly try to fight him off and he can stab me through the stomach and leave me bleeding out between the rows of seats. Instead, we get to 82nd street and as I watch out the window, I see him use the quick pause of the train and the people shuffling on and off to come sit next to me. He’s so much bigger than me, his thighs push against mine and his shoulders push against mine and I can feel the heat from his body in so acute of a way that it makes me more nauseous than I already am. I could feel the movement in his body as he took heavy breaths. His face turns to the window and he looks at my reflection.
“I’ve never seen someone look so beautiful while crying,” he said quietly to the girl in the window. I wonder how many tears have been wasted on him. I hope the train fucking crashes and kills us both.

I get off on 90th street, pushing past the thighs that he had pushed into me, saying nothing, leaving behind a little puddle of salt water. I wish I could have drowned him in it. The walk to Junction isn’t long and even though the train was a small enough space for me to cry quietly into myself, on the sidewalk I am exposed. There is a cigarette in my mouth before I even make it outside, and the moment the wind hits I light it. I feel sick. I don’t remember what I came for anymore. But I’m here now. I start walking because I know that I can’t just stand there, even though all I want is to not move, is to let time and space fall around me until nothing is recognizable and I’m all that’s left. Even though it is dark now, there are still people on the street selling everything from fruit to cell phone covers, I try to look past them, I try to avoid eye contact. I force myself to breathe like nothing has changed. And nothing has really, has it? I get to the next corner and it feels like maybe probably I should make some sort of decision, any sort of decision, and so I go left. There is a restaurant and there is a daycare and there is houses and I know that I’m walking away from where I should be going but it doesn’t matter. There is houses there is houses and then there is a botanica. I stop, on a broken square of concrete, there is no one else on the sidewalk and I can hear another train rattle behind me as my cigarette burns out in my fingers. I remember that we had fought before when abuela had taken me to get a limpia because I kept having nightmares. You told me that it was bad, that it was brujeria, that as a good Catholic you couldn’t condone it, that God wouldn’t condone it, that I still wasn’t clean. But it doesn’t matter now, does it?

The sign says open, and even though I can’t see through the posters and the wares that cover the door and the windows, I can feel the people inside. I’m still crying, so I breathe in the air and the smoke and the smell of the restaurant and wipe my face off with my hands the best I can in the reflection of the glass, but I can’t really make myself out. I walk in and a bell jingles above me. Zion y Lennox plays on the radio. There are two women in chairs in the middle of the store waiting for a consult, there is another woman behind the counter who is scrolling through Facebook on her phone. We can be a lot of things, can’t we? We can hold a lot in our hands. She looks up when I walk in,
Con que te puedo ayudar, nena?” She’s smiling and I wonder if there is still eyeliner on my cheeks or if the clean tears that came after had helped me wash them off.
Ay no, no mas estoy viendo.” I look around the shelves. A charm for mal de ojo, an ointment to attract love, lotions for more peaceful sleep. As I read through labels and directions, the radio changes to Romeo Santos. I am too embarrassed to ask for what I want.
Oye, senora, no tienes algo pa’el corazon roto?
Disculpe, senora, pero no puedo respirar.
Por favor, senora, es que no se mas que hacer.
Two women emerge from a door I hadn’t noticed before. There is an older woman with short hair and beads that clack along her wrist. The younger woman holds a baby in her arms, bouncing him on her hip and is whispering quietly into the ear of who I can only imagine is the curandera. The baby starts to fuss and the mother begins to move towards me, towards the front of the shop. She pays the senora behind the counter and she puts her phone down to count the money. The curandera gestures towards one of the women in the chairs and she gets up excitedly and follows her into the room in the back. The door shuts tightly behind them. I wonder if that’s where hearts get put back together, where lungs are forced to move, where answers are given. I wonder if she would know what to do. But I am too shy, too scared, too involved in the memory of you, in knowing that you wouldn’t like that I am here. I am not ready to betray you yet. I walk out, back onto the broken sidewalk. I know that once I leave I can’t go back in.

I remember the first time I told you my mom was a bruja, you laughed in my face. I laughed with you because of course I was joking. But I wasn’t. I have always known. When I was younger she and my father had got into a fight because I said I saw a ghost. They yelled at each other for a long time. After a certain point, I think they started talking about a different kind of ghost. But in the end, he left, as he always did, and she lay me down next to her on her bed and said she believed me. Said she saw them too. Said to not be scared because they’re not all bad. On our second date I asked you if you believed in those things that come from the other side. You said that to believe in God you necessarily had to believe in evil, so yes you did. What do you think about ghosts? I wondered. You said it’s only the bad things come back to haunt us.

In Chicago, we don’t have botanicas the way that New York does. Here they punctuate street corners like commas, offer little breaks in the story that Queens tells. Here they hold the neighborhood together like the thick twine around a bouquet of flowers. Here they make sense. In Chicago, we don’t have botanicas. In Chicago, we have my mother, who calls relatives in the middle of the night to warn them about a woman wearing the color red. We have my mother who everyone thinks is crazy. I am older now. I believe in a different kind of ghost. And I wonder if she knows that they laugh at her. Quietly during family events, loudly when she is not there but I am. I wonder what kind of daughter it is that I am that they are so comfortable mocking her in front of me. I wonder what she would say if she knew I didn’t believe her anymore.
When I still saw ghosts, my mom would wake me up at five o’clock on Sunday mornings. She and her boyfriend at the time used to sell makeup and other small things, toy cars and records, sometimes shoes, at the flea market by our house. We would load the car up and I would curl up in between boxes and sleep on the way there and when I would wake up, she would have a donut and hot chocolate waiting for me and we would watch the sunrise with the other families that had begun to set up their tables. I would lay out little lipglosses shaped like dresses so it looked like a group of beautiful women dancing and she would come and arrange them in a more formal way and then right under tape a small, unnoticeable sign that said “Palm and card readings, $5.” For as much as I can remember, I don’t think I ever saw anyone with their hands outstretched, picking cards out of the pile, handing over cash. But the sign stayed up until the winter came and we slept in on Sundays.

I think that you remind me of my mother because, like her, it breaks me to know I don’t believe in you anymore. I think you remind me of my mother because I know that it is going to take faith I don’t have to forget the ways you hurt me. I think you remind me of my mother because it’s only you that I love as angrily and as resentfully and as deeply as I love her.
I first noticed it when we went to Mexico this summer. Do you remember? It was our third day there and I had been having trouble sleeping because of the horses whinnying in the stables next door. I used to lay awake next to you, the wind from the open window moving the curtain, moving the moonlight in the room. It would have scared me but I don’t see ghosts anymore. I watched you breathe, trying to match the rhythm of my own breath to yours to see if I could lull myself back to sleep. But I couldn’t because I think I knew even then that we weren’t going to make it past the summer. I knew that if it weren’t for the fact we were a thousand miles from home you would have already given up on me. It wasn’t until the sun rose and the light filtered in and made everything yellow that I fell asleep.
There is a magic in Mexico that you believe in. There are the spirits of saints that walk along the cobblestones and stand in doorways waiting for people that need prayer. There are spells that hold together houses that should have fallen apart a long long time ago. Here the bricks that line the streets tell you a new secret with every step. Here it is okay if I still see ghosts. I wonder if I had been having nightmares here if you would have been okay with me going to see a curandera. I wonder if it is only on the other side of the border that I sound crazy. I wonder that maybe if my mother had stayed here, on the streets with the secrets and the doorways with the spirits if people would still laugh at her. I wonder if maybe the moving moonlight was a ghost after all.
On the flight back home you make fun of me for being scared of planes, for wanting to hold your hand so tightly. So I let go. I bought a rosary from a woman on the street. It’s the first one I’ve ever had and I buy it because of you. Because you want me to go to church with you. Because you want me to be closer to God. Because I love you I buy it. It is woven and white and holds its shape even though it shouldn't. The day before I left back to New York that first winter we spent together, you said you wanted me to have something and you took your scapular off from around your neck, and you moved my hair back with cold hands and your face got close to mine as you closed the clasp behind me. For God to protect you until you come back to me, you whispered. You sit next to me on this turbulent plane and you sleep even though you know I am scared and I miss the boy with the cold hands and the soft words. I pray and you are still next to me, hoping that either God or magic will keep us afloat.


Every time you broke my heart I was on a Queens-bound 7 heading towards Junction.
The second time it happened it was raining and the trains were running slow and it was no one’s fault. I had my books and my laptop and my headphones and I was content on my way to go write in a cafe I had found on Yelp because there is something in Manhattan that keeps my words under my tongue. Maybe I was sitting in the same seat in the same car. Maybe I wasn’t. But again, my head was against the window. I like the 7 because it goes up over the city and when the lights blur I can pretend I am in Chicago, I can pretend you are close enough for me to reach out and touch you. The second time it happened it took me by surprise. I haven’t talked to you in a couple of months now. I kissed some other boy last week and it shocked me how little I cared about it, about him. All I really noticed was that his cologne smells like yours. Do you know you left an almost empty bottle of it in my room? That I had to come home and stop myself from breaking it against the wall just so that I could hold onto every last piece of you. But I didn’t do it. I took the T-shirts I had stolen from you, and the three pictures we had together, and that basically empty bottle, and I threw them in a shoebox and put them in my closet.
The second time it happened I didn’t cry as much. It wasn’t as dramatic. A text message from my cousin that said in all capitals that you’ve met someone new. That apparently she lives in Texas. I guess I of all people should know that you didn’t care about distance. I remember when I told you I lived in New York you said you would never come to visit because you were scared of rats. I thought you were kidding until you finally did come and we were walking and one ran out from the piles of garbage and into a building and you jumped behind me. For your birthday I bought you socks that had the words “New York” and little gray rats printed all over them. You laughed in that way I loved more than anything, that I can’t remember anymore if it was loud or quiet, and proudly wore them the next day. Do you remember that night you drove twelve hours non-stop just to see me? And deliriously tired you parked your car without paying attention and we woke up later that day and you had four tickets. Have you forgotten? You never did end up paying them.
A man got on at Woodside as I gripped my phone to keep myself from throwing it as far away from me as possible. To break the screen, to make everything unreadable, untrue. My tears now are angry and so they move slowly and deliberately down my face. Maybe the people around me will think it’s the rain. We pass 74th and then we pass 82nd and this time there is a fire in my body that keeps the seat next to me empty, keeps the eyes of the other passengers averted. I am clenching my teeth so violently I have to keep myself from purposefully breaking my own jaw. Breaking my own fingers one by one until all I can focus on is the pain of my bones cracking under my skin. This time I stay on until Junction. My body is so tense I have to unravel myself from the plastic seat before the doors close. I think about throwing myself in front of the train again. Of having everything end all at once. I don’t remember what I came for anymore. But I am here and I am angry and so I walk. The wind hits my face, the water sticking to my hair it is colder now and it cuts through my lungs. I am still smoking even though you had asked me to quit. I light a cigarette under the awning of a dollar store and it feels like I have saved my own life.


My mother smokes Virginia Slims. Or at least she does when she is sad. Like at my aunt’s funeral when I was eleven years old. It was cold and raining and the gravediggers had started to move the supports away from the grave to fill it with dirt. Families began to move towards cars and I began to panic as I realized I couldn’t find my mother until I saw the small cloud of smoke moving with the wind from the other side of a tree. I had never seen her smoke before but there was something in the shape of the gray that told me it was her. She was sitting on a bench with her back to me and her shoulders were trembling so softly that if I didn’t know her so well I wouldn’t have noticed it. She knows I am there before I say anything and without turning around she pats the stone next to her and I go to sit down. I am so much smaller than her then, I used to like to sit in her lap and pretend that her belly fat would swallow me whole, that I could disappear back into her like I had never been here in the first place. She drags on her cigarette and asks me if I can still see them. The ghosts. And I say I can because I don’t want her to be mad at me. She points to the gray in the sky. La puedes ver mija? Alli esta tu tia y el cielo esta llorando. I wonder now how bad a heartbreak has to be to make the sky cry.


I remember this street. And I remember these people and their fruits and the cell phone covers. I remember this feeling. At the corner I turn left. There is the restaurant and there is the daycare and there is the houses and I know that I’m walking toward where I’ve always needed to go. There are the houses there are houses and then there is the botanica. I stop, on that same broken square of concrete, cigarette still lit in hand. I think that maybe the women inside can feel me standing here breathing in the smoke. It hasn’t stopped raining.
The weather hides my tears and so I walk in without wiping my face, the bell jingling above me. This time it is Mana on the radio. There is the same woman behind the counter scrolling through her phone. There is the same moment before she looks up at me where I can take in everything. This time the chairs are empty, the air is quiet, and I can feel the water from my jacket dripping into a puddle at my feet.
“Con que te puedo ayudar, nena?”
I am still scared. This whole time I have been keeping you alive in my head. I have held you in my heart like you never left. I still pray for you the way you taught me. You said only the bad things come back to haunt us, but what if they have never left. What if you have never left.
“Perdon, senora, necesito una limpia.”

 

Shinran Shonin, or, a Hidden Buddhist Statue by Julia Flasphaler

 
Illustration by Gisela Levy

Illustration by Gisela Levy

      The apartment at 332 Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan once housed newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies.1 It’s now home to the New York Buddhist Church, a markedly pious turn for the building and its residents. I know this fact about Hearst’s sexual exploits because Tony tells me, as I sit on a leather couch in the building’s foyer. Pink and purple tie-dye swirl on his faded shirt. He looks at me directly and asks me what I want to know. I’m not sure, I reply. I e-mailed the church about the statue out front and the President, Hoshina Seki, wrote that I could interview her for my class. So the statue, I guess I’m here for that. He looks at me squarely and I think he knows I’m lying. I know exactly why I’m here. I just can’t tell anyone.

I first noticed the statue about a year ago, returning home from one of those long walks I could report to my therapist about—proof that maybe I was returning, that whatever brand of millennial mental breakdown I had experienced was real, but lifting. The large bronze statue looked down at me from its perch in front of the church. A placard read that it had survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. A few years later, it had been moved to New York as a symbol of peace. An angry red band near its feet told me that it was true, it really did witness the blast.

Waiting for my interview, Tony shares a bit of personal history with me. He explains that a lot of the Japanese—in fact, many of this Church’s family members—were taken to internment camps in California. Because of Executive Order 9066, not only were Japanese-Americans relocated, but the temple was forced to assimilate. “Priests became ministers and the church took on a more Protestant form” he says, leading me to a long wooden table filled with fluorescent slips of paper. He leaves me by the pamphlets and calendars, when Hoshina comes down the stairs. “You should stay for the service!” Tony grins at me and leaves.

The statue survived, but did the Japanese people? Did the families? It’s a difficult subject to broach, and I’m trespassing into a space that doesn’t belong to me. Half-Korean from my mother’s side, I’ve grown up hearing hateful stories about the loss my grandparents endured during the Japanese occupation of Korea. They raped Korean women, my aunt said. They used bayonets and skewered them. But how different are bayonets and atomic bombs?

I explain apologetically to Hoshina that I didn’t know where to meet. I am negotiating my welcome in this church, trying to assure her with my deference that I’m on her side. We take a small elevator up to the second floor and I think that Hoshina can hear my Korean aunt’s voice playing in my head, yelling at me about Japanese war crimes. I stifle my breathing until it clicks open, and she leads me to her office. Slight in stature but direct and articulate in speech, Hoshina says that my inquiry about the statue had been forwarded to her. I want to burst out, “But do you hate it here? Did your grandfather’s skin drip off his body when the bomb fell? Can’t you tell that I’m Korean?” I want her to console me.

Hoshina says that the statue was made by a Japanese industrialist, Seiichi Hirose. It’s part of a set of six that he commissioned before the war. “He made these six statues in honor of his son. His son passed away, I’m not sure how he passed away but he died, it wasn’t because of the war or anything like that—it was something else, and he felt compelled to make these six statues,” Hoshina recites softly.

“And when he donated the statue here to bring it over to New York, he had created a Shinran Shonin–who is the founder of our particular sect. He created a young Shinran Shonin—maybe about fourteen years old or something like that.”

Previous research had told me that Shinran Shonin founded Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism in the 12th century. The branch is currently one of the most widely practiced forms of Buddhism in the U.S. and Japan. According to the Buddhist Churches of America, the path of Shin Buddhism is “one of simply listening and opening one’s heart”. Hoshina echoes this sentiment, “Basically our teaching is that—by reciting the name, which is Namu Amida Butsu—that’s basically all that we really need if we can give our full trust in believing that through Shinran, he will basically—I don’t want to say like Christ, he will save you, or something like that—but he will help you to find the way to Enlightenment.” I nod.

“And what else can I tell you—well there’s not much to say about the statue, really. But well, the statue was originally dedicated on September 11th and the keynote speaker D.T. Suzuki, who was a prominent Zen Buddhist at the time—he said basically that World War II and all the wars, particularly WWII, wasn’t a war between the United states and Japan. It was really a war that was brewing for centuries and centuries and centuries. And it just came to the surface.”

      This emphasis on a collective violence sticks with me. Part of the difficulty of breaking cycles of violence comes from the transmission of what’s come to be known in the therapeutic community as “intergenerational trauma”. Doctor M. Gerard Fromm explains in Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations, “what human beings cannot contain of their experience—what has been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable—falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or a chaotic urgency” (xvi).2 The unthinkable brutality of war is handed down from generation to generation by oral histories, but also by unaddressed symptoms such as anxieties and addictions. Oftentimes the experiences, as Fromm points out, are left unaddressed.

And this is what has brought me here—trying to trace this trendy term—collective or intergenerational trauma. But mostly because I want to see that other people have reconciled their own traumas, so I can have proof that I will outlive my own. If Tony were to ask me again, why are you here? I wish I could say, in a gush—I am here because I lost my alcoholic father, after he victimized me, because he was victimized, and I don’t know how to make sense of grieving someone who is bad, of someone who is now the enemy. And the shame I inherited the moment my father’s fist struck my cheek, it killed me. And I was dead for years before I even knew and I think that is what they call trauma. I would say, I don’t know how to tell you in this language that isn’t my mother’s, how my parents failed me but because they were failed and so they failed themselves. I would say, please believe me, or give me a statue, or a sliver of comfort, because the violence I have witnessed and that has been inflicted upon me has robbed me of the very thing I need to be able to speak about it—belief in my own version of events. And isn’t there some kind of connection between the intimate dance of family violence, and the back-and-forth violence of two nations? Or is this my arrogance, my twenty-something need to thrust myself out into the world, to understand everything through my own experiences of grief.

“Well, it’s almost time for service—but I have some photos,” Hoshina interjects.
“Oh, right—yes, sorry! I forgot that I’m keeping you.”
“It’s okay—this is a photo of the man who donated the statue. And this is the statue in its original location at the park outside of Hiroshima.” Hoshina gingerly pulls the photos of a black box I hadn’t noticed was sitting on her lap throughout the entire interview.
“Is it okay if I take a photo?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
Hirose’s slim face doesn’t show the death he must have experienced, losing a son. But I know that it’s there, somewhere, because Hoshina says it’s so.

 
Figure 1 Left: Japanese metal founder and Jodo Shinshu follower Seiichi Hirose who created and later donated the statue, dated 1955. Right: Statue at its original location in Hiroshima.

Figure 1 Left: Japanese metal founder and Jodo Shinshu follower Seiichi Hirose who created and later donated the statue, dated 1955. Right: Statue at its original location in Hiroshima.

 

I return the next Sunday. Staring at a backlit rice paper wall, breathing in incense, a female Buddhist priest gives a short sermon about a sailor who falls overboard into the ocean and almost drowns, until he realizes that instead of struggling against the water he should give up resisting, and instead allow himself to float. The water buoys him up. He survives. On my way into the service, I cautiously pick up a square red service book. Leafing through it there are different mantras to recite and even a new musical notation system that corresponds to the different intonations and notes I hear the other church members around me singing. The Church itself is an addition to the original apartment that Hearst previously owned. An ornate altar is placed center, with two large portraits on either side. Someone mentions who they are, but I forget.

At lunch, I sit with three other new members who stood up to announce themselves during the service. This is an accomplishment for me, sharing space with strangers. Hoshina gives me a smile and a slight bow. She’s happy to see me back. I hold noodles that taste faintly of sesame oil in my chopsticks, trying to finish my meal quickly so that I can eat the sweet white bean cookies I purchased for a dollar. They were from the previous day’s autumn harvest festival.

Leanne, a woman with softly wrinkled and blemished skin, is attending service in New York today because she’s visiting from Hawaii. She pronounces the name slowly, “Hawai’i”, with the stop between the two ‘i’s that I’ve heard other native Hawaiians pronounce before. I ask her why there are so many Asians in Hawaii. People are mixed-race there, like me, I say. She laughs and uses the term “Asian diaspora”. Poor Japanese workers moved to the islands years ago for jobs on fruit plantations. And then they stayed. “You know—the islands are actually only one third haole—which is our word for white people—and the other two thirds are Asian or Pacific Islander. Which most people don’t know.” She smiles at me.

The two other new members are a mother and daughter, Madeleine and Bobby. Bobby tells us that she’s going to cosmetology school, but has been learning Chinese and attending meditations and service here for the past two years. She’s nineteen. She has full cheeks framed by dark curls. Her mother, Madeleine, begins a conversation with Leanne about whether to visit Buddhist temples in Hawaii or China, and where they should go. I inch forward, trying to keep tabs on Leanne’s suggestions.

On my way out I stop to pick up a bundle of mums that one of the Japanese elders brought from her garden in New Jersey. The newspaper holding the flowers crinkles in my hands. I try not to squish my gift. Walking over to the stairwell, I notice that Madeleine is sitting down with one of the Reverends. He has a service book in his hand and it seems like he’s explaining one of the lessons, or one of the mantras. They recite together.


1 CBROOKS. “#11: Odd Coincidence at the New York Buddhist Church.” Asian American History in NYC. https:blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/asianamericanhistorynyc/?p=291 (retrieved 10/25/2017).

2 Fromm, M. Gerard, ed. Lost in Transmission : Studies of Trauma Across Generations. London: Karnac Books, 2011. Accessed October 25, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

 

The Hearts of Young Girls by Amanda Ong

 

This piece was first published in Quarto's 2018 Spring Print Edition

CONTENT WARNING: This piece contains depictions of sexual assault.

Illustration by Mallory Evans

Illustration by Mallory Evans

1. girl holding on to summer by a thread

This girl wears a skirt that hits her ankles, brushes against the tender space between her protruding bone and Achilles when she walks, moves around her as she goes, a thin, black fabric painted with rich blue flowers. She imagines the flowers are freshly plucked: that their petals turn wet when fingers are pressed into their skin, its life fading out of itself and imbuing the skirt in unfurnished edges—a fleeting of moment of life caught between the fabric of this skirt. She hopes she can carry the life the skirt possesses; she hopes it may save her right now.

She wears this skirt walking across the parking lot of a mini-mart to her car holding one large bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, the hem occasionally brushing against the asphalt, while she charges ahead through the sprinkling rain as if her head is pulled by a string. She opens the door of her car, a hunk of metal seventeen years old and no longer quite alive with its windows that don’t roll down and its air conditioning that doesn’t work. It belonged to her father and was given to her when she got her license less than a year ago, an overeager sixteen year old looking for any kind of independence. The car is silver, almost mirrored looking as it reflects the rain—Ag, she knows, is the symbol for silver on the periodic table. When she learned the periodic elements she remembered this, Ag is silver, something precious among symbols of unknown liquids and gases, intangible things. She remembers reading in an encyclopedia once about the antiquated belief that silver possessed divine properties and people believed that silver warded off vampires and beasts. The grace of god lived in silver, pierced the souls of beings that lived less.

She sits down on the grey leather seats and closes the door so that the world outside becomes muted, viewed through her windows like a television screen. She hopes that silver has the supernatural properties madmen once believed it to, that this vessel can protect her from the world that lies beyond even if to believe so makes her mad as well. She has already seen enough of that world to know what there is to fear, what there is to lose, and will take the moments of safety she can.

The band of her skirt pinches at her waist where a small roll of newly accumulated fat tips over. She is not as svelte as she was just months ago, but likes to think of herself as now possessing more heft, a stronger gait, before she would ever let herself believe she has grown chubby. She leans her head back against the headrest but cannot bring herself to start the engine, and closes her eyes instead. When she opens them she thinks she may have fallen asleep, and is not sure how much time has passed. She checks the clock on her dashboard, which reads 12:07. She had closed her eyes for three minutes at most, but sees already that the rain has moved from
somewhere between a mist and a sprinkle to a drizzle as drops condense and slip down her windows, the sun shining through them from between the clouds.

It is November. The weather in this time and in this particular part of California is meek and not yet decisive enough to be winter or even fall, it is characterized the most by its inability to fit one or the other. No clothes suit this weather, no styles, no bodies. Instead she finds herself a little too cold most of the time, a bristle of her skin and goose bumps the norm as she continues to dress down instead of bundled, just as she had in the four or five months before this change of weather. A moment passes and she runs the engine, and begins driving through the silence.

Eventually she reaches the boatyard, where the people wait for her with his ashes. She is cold. The skirt she wears trails in her wake, its fine material probably not fashioned well for the weather or the place or the occasion, and grows damp and stained shades darker by the rain. The gathering is small, the dock shared between five people wearing shades of black so close to grey they vaguely resemble the clouds above. Three of them aren’t important to her, nor were they to her father, and the only other there is the mother she won’t look at. This mother does not look at her either, stares at the ground somewhere past the dock through to the water, which pricks against light rain. The girl knows that if they look at one another they will only see how alone in the world they both are now. There is no acknowledgement needed for her to know that she and her mother both feel the burden shared between them, and the question of whether or not they can carry it feels impossible to answer now.

They spread his ashes in the ocean. She doesn’t look at the water as they fall because she read once that when ashes are thrown in the ocean, fish come to the surface and eat them. She cannot lean over to look, cannot grant her self the knowledge that this is in fact what happens to him, but also can never object to them being thrown here because that is what he wanted. The rain still does not come down hard enough to really be called rain, but it is just hard enough that her hair both frizzes up and limply clumps together, just hard enough that she cannot tell what her face is wet from, cannot tell whether she is crying or if it is only this weather.

After the ceremony she leaves the boatyard with everyone else but sits behind in her car, watching them all drive away. When they leave she grabs the Doritos she purchased at the mini mart that day, smashes the bag against her body and allows it to crinkle, breaks apart the chips inside as she walks back towards the dock. She stands in the spot they stood to spread his ashes and pulls at the back fold of the bag to open. Delicately, she throws the crumbs across the water as they had done before, and hopes for two things: that she is not too late, and that fish like Cool Ranch.


2. girl swallowed whole, in a steamed pork bun

When she was still young enough to divide her life in inches grown, her mother dragged her feet between the pantry and the fridge and straight to the trash bins outside her home, hauling red cans of Chef Boyardee, bright yellow cardboard boxes of Eggos and blue ones of Rice Krispies, taking Snap, Crackle, and Pop with her. Garbage, she called it, trans fats, she yelled out. The girl cried the next day when a Chef Boyardee commercial came on while watching TV with her brother and sister, a can of Chef Boyardee autonomously rolling down streets and hills straight into the home of a family infinitely whiter and cleaner and stronger looking than hers—concerned that it was one of the cans her mother had thrown in the trash.

"Home" had always been a hard place to pinpoint. She had wanted, at one point, for those gracious boxes of preprocessed foods to be home, looked for it watching TV with her sister, tried to see it reading book-upon-book aloud under the covers of her bed in the smallest room of their large suburban home. She did not see it at school, could not find it in the soles of her shoes, or lingering along her tonsils when she looked in the mirror and stared down her throat. She did not hear it in her own voice, or her parent’s Cantonese or Shanghai dialects that she couldn’t understand well enough to laugh in.

When she is fifteen her cousin passes away, the one who she once thought was her older brother and who had been her sister’s best friend, and she learns that she had in fact, always known how to eat her way home. Her cousin was several years older than her and a soldier, always serious, had just turned twenty-three when he had stopped on the side of the highway to help someone stuck with a flat tire and a semi-truck took the space of his life and drove away.

She did not eat Kellogg cereals or Chef Boyardee after he died, but she did stow away in the back of her closet for eight hours and ate her way through four bags of chips and a pack of Oreos that tasted slightly salty with her tears, which endlessly seemed to drip into her food for all the table manners that she never developed. She swallowed without tasting or chewing much, looking to fill herself in some way, and then even full, still she shoved bite after bite in her mouth. She didn’t slow down until the day after his funeral when her family went to dim sum, because one can only eat so hastily using chopsticks.

At their usual restaurant they are seated by their usual waiter. She takes her seat at the back of the table as they all wait for any word from her aunt, his mother, a woman with ash in her hair and smoke for breath, a woman who, in this moment, possesses the skin of a soup dumpling.

The girl is not hungry. She doesn’t know if she can eat right now, doesn’t know if she will ever eat. Instead she thinks of starving until her body begins to eat itself, feasting away at her own muscles and bones and whatever is left of her, until it disappears altogether. She stares at her food, the dishes the same as they always order but for the first time in a room plagued by ghosts, everything silent while the food sits untouched, like an offering to be made to spirits not yet allowed to be dead.

She passes time naming each plate. She has never been fluent in Chinese, but has always known enough to speak the language of dim sum. When she was small at family birthdays her grandmother spoke to her in her best English, which was always spattered with phrases of Cantonese. Her grandmother would point to the dishes and made totem poles out of them, all stacked upon one another in towers of bamboo steamers, each with a different meaning: the little peach-shaped steamed buns were for immortality, a whole fish was for wealth, orange slices for dessert were good luck. Long noodles were for a long life.

She can only think now about whether or not her cousin had eaten enough long noodles,. She tries to remember if he did, recalls the weekend mornings they would so often spend right here, all the memories blurring into variations of themselves. She can see her seven cousins sitting in every combination, her grandma swatting at their skinny, tan little arms as they reach over the lazy susan. She can see them all lean over her sister’s lap to peer at a game of Pokémon under the table, and pour tea from as high as their tiptoes allowed them. She remembers how it "felt to call this place, these foods, home. There was always a certain comfort in knowing the
secret code to flip the cap of the teapot for a refill, the right way to hold chopsticks. It is correlation or causation, she isn’t sure which, but to be whole was to have these meals that always left her chest and stomach stretching for capacity.

She remembers what is no longer, her whole family together, the home she realizes has always been right here. She stares at the array of foods that once brought a warmth that overwhelmed her, a warmth like the steam that rises from a fresh bamboo platter of soup dumplings, like the golden glow of an egg tart, like unfolding the lotus leaf wrappings of sticky rice. That warmth like childhood, like nostalgia, like home—a warmth that appeared in front of her, that had once stared right back at her, but today is not here.

There is so much to grieve. A can of Chef Boyardee, the comfort of a cup of chrysanthemum tea, a cousin. Someone grasps her hand under the table, and she looks to see that it is her mother, carrying tender expression and chopsticks already poised over her plate. “Here,” she whispers, breaking the silence, taking a portion of whole fish from a large China platter. She puts it on her plate for her without asking further. “Eat it for good luck. Head to tail. Beginnings to endings.”

Her aunt smiles at this in the slightest of ways, her cheek muscles pulling upwards, her skin wrinkling in tiny indentations. Her sister begins to fight her cousin for the har gao, her youngest cousin pours them all tea. She sees still that thing that has given all, that has destroyed and created and made generations persevere. She sees hope: The feelings of home, family, and warmth can still exist, will always exist as long as the memories do. For this moment she allows herself to eat, as every bite reminds her of who she has been, of where she comes from and what this food means. It is the best way that she can begin to let herself remember. She breathes. She
still knows how it feels to find herself in the pockets of a steamed-pork-bun, and for all broken Cantonese she remembers too as her grandmother had told her, that dim sum means a little bit of heart.


3. girl without words

She did not mean for it to happen. No one means for it to happen.
Did she say no?
She is not sure anymore. She had told him she was too tight, she told him she didn’t want him, that he would hurt her.
But whether or not she had said “no”—that one word with whatever protections it could or could not have provided—she does not know anymore and does not want to bring herself to remember, even as it has just happened. She does not want to think there is anything “no” could have done for her. It should not make a difference. Either way, it is too late.

She told him she didn’t want to go further, and he said he liked it this way as he locked the door, pushed her on to the bathroom floor holding her hands down against the cheap linoleum tile. It was a party in the house of a girl she was sure didn’t know her name, From somewhere beyond she could hear the sounds of Top 40 music and voices layered on top of voices in conversation, could hear people she had hoped to dance with dance, could feel their rhythms and noise vibrate through her body. She listened closely, tried to pick out the individuals songs and their lyrics. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” was playing. She hated that song, because she was never sure if he really wanted this girl to love herself or hate herself, was never sure if perhaps he believed that there were just some people not deserving of even self-love. She remembered the quote she had loved last year as a senior in high school, one she found on the internet by Mehreen Kasana, a writer she had never heard of but admired ardently: “A woman of color’s self-love is political and radical, and it is unsettling for the status quo because she is
choosing bravely to dismantle the narratives of racist aesthetics against her.”

She had only every wanted to find home in herself, in her tan skin and girl’s hips and the sway of her breasts that were, since fifteen years old, her favorite part of herself. But writhing under his body, she understood that she could never be granted such a privilege. She was not strong enough to make her body home, was even so weak she had allowed her body to be destroyed in minutes. She thought she already learned to know all that grief could be, and perhaps she did, but it did not compare to the sharp sting she felt in her own body as that boy
stretched her in all the wrong ways. She listened instead to the voices outside of people she might know, focused on their sound over the grip of his meaty hands and the weight of his thick body and his hot, wet breath lingering on her neck.

When he finishes, he peels his body off of her and kneels over her, grabs her hand as he gets up, pulling her to stand on knees inverting upon themselves. He tosses her the clothes she had been wearing before all of this, and when he notices her shaking, asks what’s wrong with her and then leaves before she can answer.

She decides she will make it home herself, cleans blood and semen from her body with toilet paper because she does not want to stain the hand towels in this unfamiliar house, and calls an Uber home. The friends she came with see her walking outs and ask her why she leaves. They do not prod her when she manages only to say that she did not want it, they let her go even as she hopes they realize what she is trying to say. Part of her thinks they do, but do not want to deal with her realities.

She wakes up in her own home the next day, and smells her mother cooking breakfast and her sister watching Saturday morning cartoons, and can hear her father making his coffee.

There is some chafing and a bruise on the small of her back now from when he had pushed her down, from the way her skin had rubbed against the floor as he moved. Everything between her thighs burns whenever she so much moves, and she finds herself unable to speak, unsure how and with whom to share her burdens. She cannot tell her parents—she doesn’t know how would they think of her if they knew she was not so pure, was starved and dry and dirtied inside by a boy who was not supposed to touch her. She steps out of her bedroom and walks past her family in the kitchen and the living room unseen, walks out the front door and into their driveway. Her father’s pickup truck is parked on the curb, and pajama-clad and barefooted, she hoists herself into its bed and sobs.

A week ago, she would think this something George Saunders could twist into perfect fiction, that she would rather hear the romantic simplicities of this experience than its truth. She thinks of reading Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, the first book she found herself between the words of, and the vignette Sandra writes like this, a vignette she had thought was beautiful but is unsure now how Sandra could ever say what happened to her even in the vaguest terms. She thinks of all the fictions she has read of this violation, all the ways they could never
compare to her now. She thinks of everything that has happened to her in just this last night, that she could not have imagined yesterday morning.

It is then that one of her friends who had been there the night before calls. She gets enough words out of her to understand what has passed, and is on her way immediately. Her friend arrives before the sun has yet budged in the sky, and she is still sitting in the bed of the truck. Her friend brings a hand over her mouth and points to her pajamas and she realizes then that she is bleeding, has bled through her clothes and onto the truck’s plastic lining, a small puddle of dark, discharged blood mixed with dirt and dust, and these are just the elements of life.

In the end her friend convinces her to call their old teacher, the one who taught them sex-ed last year in grade eleven. The girl asks her friend to speak for her, the girl says that everything important is stuck to the linings of her insides, too thick to leave her body, but asks her friend not to say the word that begins with R. The girl has always thought that words were capable of carrying the weight that humans are unable to bare, but right now she cannot think of the implication of what that word can carry, not now after she knows what it means.

“A boy did something to her,” her friend tells their teacher, tongue tripping over the “something.” “That she didn’t want to him to do. And now she’s bleeding all over, and please, please tell us what to do. I don’t know how to help her. We just don’t know what to do.” She and her friend have both managed to let tears fall down their faces, and she can hear now that her friend speaks in between gasps. She burns, and she does not know why her friend is allowed to be breathless when this has happened to her, when for her friend these words still lack their meaning.

She can hear their teacher speaking slowly from the other line. “First, tell her I’m so sorry that happened to her. If she’s there she should know that this is not her fault. This does not change who she is. Secondly, tell her to go to the ER or Planned Parenthood, and consider calling a crisis hotline.”

Their teacher gives them directions on how to see Planned Parenthood, on how she would report the incident. She tells them they can ask her for anything, to call her back every hour just to check in with her they can. When they hang up on her, her friend drives her to Planned Parenthood. It sits in a complex that also contains a Taco Bell, perched on the side of a road that lives somewhere between street and highway and has not been repaved in a long time. The sun is already low and there is no AC in the Planned Parenthood, where they spend three hours in the waiting room sweltering under blinding fluorescent lights and walls the shade of newborn-baby-girl pink.

A nurse eventually takes her in, a young woman in pastel purple scrubs that against the walls starkly remind her of her childhood pediatrician’s office. When the nurse asks her what happened she just says that a boy was too rough with her, cannot elaborate on her lies. The nurse examines her, tells her that she is torn inside and bleeding. She tell her that it will take at least a month for her to heal naturally, that for that month she cannot use tampons or have sex or do any rigorous physical activity and should take Advil each day, that she could spot at any given moment and that there is nothing she else she can do about these things.

The nurse asks her if it was consensual, and then asks her again, and then a third time. Each time she cannot respond but nods, and then starts to cry. The nurse holds her by her arms and rubs them gently, tells her that if this was consensual that she cannot let someone do this to her, cannot let anyone wreck her inside, cannot let someone hurt her like this. And then the nurse turns around and tells her she is free to go, moves on to the next walk-in.

She walks back into the dreamy-bright waiting room where her friend sits, reading People magazine. The moment her friend sees her she stands wordlessly and they leave the complex, walking past the Taco Bell and into their car. When she finally speaks, she tells her friend that she wants to report this boy, wants to make sure he know what he did and can never do this to anyone else again. Her friend suggests she call the crisis hotline first, and she grabs her phone and begins to dial.

A deep voiced woman picks up, her tone disinterested. Her friend tells phone woman the short of what happened, still avoiding the R-word. The phone woman falters, tells her she is sorry that happened to her, her voice sounding too much like grief and now-sunken desires to help others. Her friend asks what would happen if she reported the incident and the phone woman goes over the procedure, asks if she’s had a kit done, if she’s been to the ER, tells her the police would investigate and only if there was sufficient evidence a district attorney might pursue the case.

“And what happens then?” her friend says. “Will he go to jail?”

“I’m so sorry,” Phone woman says, and the girl can hear her heartache, a miniscule reflection of her own. “I don’t know what will happen. In the end, it could be nothing. It could just be your word against his.”


ab extra: girl never empty-handed

Your first boyfriend liked to draw you in charcoals—dark shadows and soft edges. You let him. You were only fifteen then, and you thought that perhaps if you could immortalize his love for you it would make it true, that it would make it stay.

You were silly, too young for your love to be real but all too ready to participate in the aesthetics of it. All thick hair and doll eyes, a petite nose and delicate skin that possessed a translucent veil of youth and a warm glow off its surface, you were born ready to be a muse, to let men look at you, and, so young, he was ready to partake. You held small hands firmly sweating, pressed patchy dry pink lips to cheeks, and sat on floor with legs crisscross saying that love could look like this, love was meant for you.

You later found love did not come packaged in Wes Anderson movies set and timed and screened to be perfectly looked at. Real love was messy, and you had enough mess. You wanted beauty. Selfish and greedy after being hurt for so long, you wanted the trim edges and flourished words, and only those. You broke up with your first boyfriend, and then you simply found another to hold on to, and later another, and then another, all loves that looked the part.

You came to them all with ribbons in your hair, embroidered with dogs and pink flowers, mixed tapes labeled with lyric quotes in cursive, sweaters three decades old taken from your mother’s closet. You let boys look at you with your locks loose over your shoulders, swathed in your relics, and they believed then that you only let them see you like this, that this was your bare self and not curated from the history of you, not a regal presentation. And you knew from the way they looked at you that you would always have this.

You had few people who you allowed to see you un-fashioned. One was a girl dark-haired and tanner, who smiled at everything you said and never wavered in the face of your faults or your false liabilities. When a boy does to your friend what young girls are taught to fear, fed statistics of “1 in 5 girls” before they have the agency to choose their own clothes, aesthetic love and beauty are not weapons that can be used, cannot be crutches the way you have always willed them to. So you reach for your friend’s hand and buy her a bag of Epsom salts, drive her to Planned Parenthood, and call for help. You realize then that she has crept up on you, that you care about her more than your boys and facades of love, that you love her bleeding and torn and that she would love you the same.

As a child, your favorite book had been The Velveteen Rabbit, the story of the beautiful little toy’s search for realness in his world unscathed. The final answer is delivered by the Skin Horse, his words long silenced in your memory, but never lost to you: “Real isn't how you are made, it's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real ... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

You do not know when you let things become real.

You bring her gifts each day without pretension, after the salts the next day you bring chocolate because there is no heartache chocolate cannot soothe, and the next day you bring beets. You read once that red velvet cake was first made with beets during the Great Depression, a trifle of a delicacy in a world unbreathable, shrouded in dust. You decide that your friend must survive now too.

And so you take flour and sugar and roast beets, peel and cut them until they dye your skin a thin red that is near pink, a translucent glow that settles between the indentations of your fingerprints. You beat in eggs and drive cream cheese to mix with powdered sugar, bake something not quite red and heftier on one side. Your frosting is chalky with sugar and weighs down the sides, uneven and lacking sheen. You use Betty Crocker Decorating Gel in 1980s-bright, neon purple and pink, and write the best thing you can think to say. It is no paragon as it should be, no perfect imperfection, but it is also uncalculated and real, and today, it is the only thing that you have.

When you gift it to your friend, she smiles and cries and laughs and says it is all she could want right now, eats three slices and does not care that it is sickeningly sweet and a smidge dry, and nothing has felt better in all of your life. The cake reads, I LOVE YOU ALWAYS, MY BEST HUMAN.

 

Amanda Ong is a junior in CC studying creative writing and ethnicity and race studies. She likes tea, turtlenecks, and once received a Columbia Crushes post that said, “I know your shirt in class today said ‘you were brainwashed into thinking European features are the epitome of beauty’ but girl, *you’re* the epitome of beauty”. Facebook

Notice of Eviction by Rosalie Jean Wetzel

"Notice of Eviction" was first published in Quarto's 2017 Spring Print Edition.

My first memory is of California. My uncle opens the car door to welcome me and I vomit on him. I watch his smile dissipate. My sister splits her knee open on the pavement while running to see my aunt.

I have a lot of very early memories and I have tried, on several occasions, to revisit my timeline and rearrange them, hoping earnestly that somehow something else will surface first. But still, it is this arrival (I remember nothing else of that trip) and my parents’ apologies, my uncle’s patient reassurance, my sisters screams.

After they had removed the sutures from my sister’s knee, they found the wound dotted with small black flecks, where the gravel had lodged itself so deeply into her flesh that the surgeons thought it more harmful to remove them. For some time after our visit to California, I watched her turn translucent next to me in the bathtub and coax the gravel out from her knees. I wanted very badly to collect the tiny fragments, to tuck them neatly under my fingernails and wait for them to hatch into my own precious galaxies but instead I closed my eyes as my father poured water from a cup over my head.

Physicians started using sutures to close wounds four thousand years ago. They say that before they had sutures of the variety we use today, ancient Indian doctors affixed beetles to the edges of wounds, let them sink their pincers in before cutting off their bodies and leaving just their heads to hold the skin closed.

Last night I dreamt I held a gaping hole in my midsection between my teeth in a sort of urgent maternal panic stimulated by the sense of my cells spilling out million by million in streams of everything I had swallowed — him, her, hurt, violet, rose petals, pills. But the real nightmare is: what happens when the skin accidentally fastens itself around something that does not belong? Gravel, for example, or worse — something that cannot be soaked out in Loreal Just for Kids bubble bath. Like you.

Consider this a kind of plea.

I was fourteen the first time I got my heart broken. The next morning, just before the sun rose, I slipped into bed between my parents and felt the space between my cells throb with a kind of hot and percussive vacancy.

Isn’t it funny how there is nothing so dense and opaque as that particular strain of emptiness? Loneliness is when you realize that “vacant” doesn't mean what you once thought it did.

Isn’t it equally funny that there is no sensation to bleeding? You can taste the blood, watch it seep through your sleeves, but there is no precise feeling to the state of bleeding. Your hand goes to the wound, not your consciousness. Only when your child eyes are met directly with reddened fingers do you know that your body is leaking.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the heart were similarly impaired? I was fourteen for the other first time. He was eighteen. When it was over, right after he reminded me not to tell anyone what we had just done, he tried to discard the condom but it slipped between his fingers and its contents spilled all over his exposed torso, pooling in the divots between his collarbone and his shoulders. Horrified, I looked in the other direction and pretended not to notice.

That year I started weighing myself.

Here is a brief interruption for a fun fact which reads: in the summer of 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Apollo 11 on the surface of the moon. When the two men came home, they alone had left over 100 items on its surface, including a cast golden olive branch, five American flags, two golf balls, a silicon disk with goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, and 96 bags of urine, feces and vomit.

Yes, there are 96 bags of piss and shit on the moon.

Dad drops me off at the Institute of Living in his work clothes. A few hours later I am caught hiding my hummus beneath my lettuce. Dad would be disappointed. I am handed an Ensure. Cory looks up and tells the dietician: “You sure better let her go to the bathroom after giving her all that.” Dad would be proud I’ve made a friend already, though he would say I need to self-advocate. I stop sipping immediately. “Does Ensure make you shit?” I have just learned that we are not allowed to flush without a staff member checking the toilet first and I cannot imagine anything so undignified — maybe cleaning your own jizz out of your clavicle, but this is a close second. “No,” Cory says, “I just mean you’ll have to piss after drinking all that.” She’s quiet for a second. “But, if it’s anything like SlimFast, yeah it makes you shit.” I mumble, “It’s nothing like SlimFast” as the dietician politely reminds Cory that we don’t use the word “slim” in the dining room.

Cory wants to be a phlebotomist when she gets out of here, which is interesting for a number of reasons.

There are two scars on my right hand, two pale little dots like tadpole eyes or distant moons at the base of my first and third fingers where my knuckles used to scrape my teeth on their way down my throat. But no matter the carrots shooting out my nose or the flecks of blood on the water and saliva on my chin, something festered between my ribs.

Bloodletting goes back at least three thousand years and has only been has only been abrogated as a primary treatment for illness in the last century and a half. I guess it’s natural to replicate the process when your body won’t do it naturally. Do not forget that we still have our autonomous but equally ugly leeching processes.

A leech’s body is made up of 34 segments. It has suckers on both ends of its body and has 32 brains. Because of nervous system similarities, or perhaps the wealth of subject material, they are often used in research on human brain disorders.

Maybe they consumed our disorders and passed them all down through thousands of generations (the longest life span of a leech is ten years) to spit them back up in the laboratory for our studies. Would this be considered self-preservation?

All evening I lay in bed, listening to the distinct silence of my toes making shadows on the wall. In color, these shapes are somewhere between whale song and hunger and imprecise longing and the figures are angular, nebulous sprawled across the armoir. I think how there might be more inside. Angular, nebulous and the color of the word “damp.” Like memory. I want to ask them what about that moment in California was big enough to decide to begin preserving the things flashing before my baby eyes?

Imagine, if you will, a telescope in this room, poised right in front of my window. The shadows shift over it from time to time as it collects dust and stares out at the moon orbiting around me and my toe shadows, with its 96 bags of piss and shit and vomit.

Since today is trash day, this morning I walked the garbage to the end of the driveway and the steam from my coffee rose and tangled with my breath and right there, suspended in the bitterness, was a delicate miniature milky way, and the familiar way it smoldered for an instant before dissolving made me think that maybe you were somewhere in there, dozing between the molecules. Maybe, I have finally breathed you out.

Illustration by Dora O'Neill and Lily Ha

Illustration by Dora O'Neill and Lily Ha

How to Be Cisgender by Ben Appel

"Recently I read an article about a trans, non-binary parent named Kori Doty who has been
disallowed from obtaining a birth certificate for their newborn baby, Sea. In British Columbia, where Doty lives, the law requires that every child be registered as exclusively female or male, and Doty refuses to comply."

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