A lesson in overcoming sentimentality

You never realize how much nonsense you own until it’s time to move. And the writing is on the wall in its clearest incarnation when you are moving across seas and can only take what you can carry. No chance to shove entire drawers of odds and ends into a box and tape it up to open and discover its true contents later on. There is no later on, there is no one of these days. What you can carry you take. What doesn’t fit you must let go.

In this day and age where not even overhead space on a flight is complimentary, you must be shrewd in deciding what goes, and what stays.

This is my current dilemma.

 

I’m moving to France for a year, and afterwards, I have no idea where the wind will blow me. Will I move from Lyon to Paris? Will a door open across the border in Geneva? Or will I end up in Dakar? Who knows. And so I need to pack as if I am about to be come a global nomad of sorts.

I admit, this has long been a secret dream of mine. To just blow from one country to another on the wings of the freedom that holding an American passport brings. A modern day rolling stone of sorts. A MacBook toting, Canon wielding, orange penny-loafer wearing rolling stone. Ready for whatever life throws at me and determined to get my dreams whatever the consequences of seeking them may be.

But what about these everyday American essentials? Like my mini lint roller and the two-pack of refills I am yet to use. My various Hydroflasks, my bottles of perfumes that I love but never wear because i’m saving them for a special occasion that never seems to come. My row of sunglasses that I select from depending on my mood: the retro ray-bans when when I’m feeling extra chic and confident, the vintage style, slight cat eyes for when it’s time to channel my inner French girl or the every days ones that are already slightly scratched so I don’t have to worry too much about them and can toss them in any pocket or bag at will.

What will become of my variety of stationary items that come in handy each in their own regard. My watercolor paints that I use every few months to de stress, my crayons that help me to illustrate my Econ charts, or aid in stress relief. The endless pens all of varying nib sizes 0.5, 0.3, 0.7. And all the pencils from the Bic to the extra fancy one from the Japanese stationary store in San Francisco.

Don’t  get me started on the miscellaneous items. Essential oils, naturopathic remedies that I’m not quite sure work, and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I am trying to treat, but all these small bottles of pills and potions were purchased at Whole Foods for an arm and a leg in moments of existential despair. These $25 here and $17 there that add up and so I NEED them to work and am determined to continue using them until I feel some positive effects. Will they fit in my carry on luggage?

My ‘piggy bank’ Chinese cat for good luck that a friend gave me years ago. My foam rollers for when I have time to waste and want to give myself a hairstyle. A different one. Where will all these things fit?

Out of everything I own, nothing is more precious than my books. So much so that when, in a moment of delicious morbid pondering I asked myself what I would do if a fire broke out in my house, I decided that I would evacuate my books and then come back to fan the flames and then see what the rental insurance company had to say for itself the following week.

My beloved books! How must I carry them all with me and tote them around the globe?

E-books don’t compare. There is nothing better than the smell of paper. What to do?

These are the decisions that I will have to make over the next 8 weeks. How to narrow down a studio of possessions into a checked bag , a carry on and a backpack.

It will be a lesson in overcoming sentimentality and truly being unattached. Stay tuned for a report on how I fare.

Beethoven Symphony #9

I was sitting in the airport in Geneva waiting for my flight to Berlin. It was delayed 2 hours but I was in no particular hurry because nobody was waiting for me.

An old couple sat opposite me and began a quiet conversation. The lady unzipped a bag and pulled out a wax paper wrapped package and something smaller rolled up in paper towel.

She removed the object from the paper and banged its smooth white surface at the metal corner of the chair. Then peeled away the outer portion with a sort of deftness that made me think this was a regular activity. De-shelling a boiled egg.

Two bites later she had eaten half of it and was handing it to her husband who finished it off with three bites. Then they unwrapped the home made sandwiches and began to enjoy.

Little house on the Prairie. Pop, Ma. Why did I think of this? Was it her mid calf length wool skirt or his earned toned garments?

Yes. My first impression of happily wedded bliss. Was this a real life version?

I thought of my grandparents. The first couple in real life I knew of who stayed til death do us part. I didn’t know much about them or their relationship. They lived in the same house but slept in different rooms on opposite ends of the house. Hers with a dressing table on which several hand crocheted doilies spread out to give cushion to a jewelry box  here or a hair brush or comb there. His with a mahogany armoire the bottom drawer full of tennis balls and a few white globes interrupting the sea of green. Useless golf balls that only bounced once and so low that you had to bend down to catch them and try again with more force this time, but always the same. A waste of time, but at least the sound was louder.

‘Grandfather can we borrow a tennis ball to play with please?’

The answer was always yes. We returned them before we went home so they would be there for us next time.

She played the piano and he fixed typewriters. I never heard them call each other by name but I saw them look each other in the eye.

Seated at the dining table they eat without speaking, but what is there to talk about if Beethoven’s Symphony #9 punctuates the silence?

5 days in Berlin

I landed in Berlin on a Friday evening and though it was pitch back like the dead of night I looked at my watch to discover it was only 6:30pm. I made my way from the airport onto a bus and then walked the longest half block of my life to the train station. During that time several wild dogs raced past me as if they were being chased by even wilder dogs. On my train ride, I observed several unassuming commuters holding half filled bottles of beers with no hint of shame or disgrace to be drinking alcohol while riding public transportation.  Over the next 5 days I was able to understand and appreciate the meanings behind what seemed very bizarre place at first and discovered once again that things are not always how they seem.

Here are a few of my discoveries:

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  1. Don’t be alarmed by the public drinking. In Berlin, in the evenings and on the weekend, people walk around drinking beer with the same nonchalance as people everywhere else walk around drinking bottled water. When I got onto the train during my journey from the airport, I was shocked to see a young woman siting opposite me holding a half full bottle of beer. I immediately thought ‘Wow she couldn’t wait?’ And then wondered if she was going through some rough times. Several stops later more people embarked, also clutching and sipping their own brews. I quickly realized it was a cultural difference and regretted my hasty judgement.

  2. Berlin is full of beautiful cobblestone streets. This gives the the city a real ancient and romantic feel about it, it made me think of couple waking hand in hand and sweethearts buying each other bouquets of flowers. But after walking an average of 7 miles everyday, alone might I add, it began to take a toll on my feet. As it turns out, walking on uneven surfaces isn’t the best for shoes with hard leather soles. I think next time I’ll pack some comfortable walking shoes. Plan accordingly!

  3. Don’t be surprised if you see dogs running wild on the sidewalk. They aren’t actually wild! It’s been years since i’ve seen a stray dog. I though that was a phenomenon of the ‘developing world’ and so when during first few days in Berlin I noticed dogs running wild on the sidewalks I thought perhaps Europe wasn’t as keen about animal welfare after all! I would soon discovered that these dogs were not in fact running wild, but were under the watchful eyes of their owners who walked several paces behind them and as it turns out, could get them to stop with a simple shouted order.

  4. Do you want to be able to pay for restaurant food after you’ve eaten it?  Carry cash*! Most cafes, restaurants and stores - especially small boutique types do not take credit cards. I found this out the hard way when one night I ate dinner and then tried to pay for it only to have the waiter kindly inform me that I would need to go to the ATM and get cash and he would escort me there. Most places do not take credit cards no matter how many times you ask. Just bring cash and do as the Romans do.  

  5. Don’t speak German? Entspannen Sie Sich! Unlike other countries/cities where people take personal offense to visitors not speaking their language (America & Paris I’m looking at you both), in Berlin almost everyone speaks English with as much willingness as they speak German. Only once I was lost and asked a bus driver for directions but he only spoke German. Despite this he was able to, with a combination of hand gestures and a well placed ‘Okay?’ point me in the direction I needed to go, and he did so without contempt for my linguistic handicap. 

  6. Be prepared to rethink your concept of sleeping ‘When night time come’. In the autumn it gets dark EARLY! The first day I was out exploring and then noticed it was getting dark and thought I would soon return to my lodging, call it a day and soon get ready for bed. Then I checked my watch and saw it was only 4:30pm!

I have 3 more days in this beautiful and interesting city and I’m quite looking forward to what is in store!

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*Even movie theaters in Berlin only take ‘German debit cards and cash’. To be on the safe side withdraw enough cash to last the duration of your trip to avoid repeat ATM fees.


11:30pm in Croix-Rousse

I was just on the way home from my friend’s house, on the metro from Croix-Rousse when a guy seated across from me took a revolver out of his cross body bag and removed the magazine. He held this rectangular shaped object in his hand and fiddled with it for a while, then continued stroking it for a while longer while staring straight ahead with a determined and smug look on his face. A few minutes later he took the revolver back out from his satchel, put the magazine back in and then placed in his bag where it remained partially visible. If anybody else witnessed this little display perhaps they did like me and pretended not to notice. What else could we do?

When the metro came to a stop at Hotel-de-Ville the gun toting dude got up with his companion, a young girl, and they walked forward. I made sure to let them go in front of me and as I stood at my seat waiting for them to pass the dude stopped momentarily next to me. His gun was below my chest level about six inches away. It was not fake. Clearly he left it visible deliberately. He wanted anyone and everyone to see that he was packing heat. Why tho?

Walking with a confident stride, he ascended the steps and disappeared into the crowd.

It was 11:30pm in Lyon. 

They say nothing good happens after 10pm. I know that, but I was just on my way home from a girl’s night IN. We met up at my friends house to watch Netflix and eat pizza. 


I moved to France two months ago and in this space of time I’ve had the most bizarre experiences. Things that if other people told me they witnessed or happened to them I would not believe them. Not because I would assume them as liars, but because these things have no explanation.

My first few weeks in France I was traumatized by the Vigipirate roaming the streets. Army clad men holding machine guns their fingers inches away from the triggers. They walk solemnly in groups of four. Surveying the streets to protect the populace from any threat of terrorism. It scared me at first because of how they would appear as if out of thin air and they marched silently as if they meant business and would have no problem opening fire if necessary. Tonight for the first time, more than anything I wished they were at the metro stop when we arrived. But of course they were nowhere to be found. Just that guy and his revolver walking smugly through the moving crowd.

I am weak!

I often use this expression to express overwhelmed feelings upon receiving an especially funny joke. It is always an exclamation.

Today for the first time I felt that, literally. After the gun toting dude was a far enough distance away and I began walking towards my destination, my knees grew weak and I struggled to stand straight. Not because I felt myself in imminent danger necessarily but because I realized how quickly a situation could turn from calm to chaos. It was clear to me that despite the best efforts danger cannot always be avoided. We can stay alert and to try and be careful, but sometimes the only thing we can do Is hope that we are not ever in the right place at the wrong time.





The Joy of Sharing

The Joy of Sharing

One of my most vivid positive childhood memories was of the day I discovered the joy of sharing.

I was 5 or 6 years old and had to get a routine immunization shot. Usually I got them the same time as at least one sister but this time for some reason it was just me. My father took me to the clinic in the afternoon just when a lot of cars started appearing on the road. It was the time of day when it seemed as if everyone suddenly realized they had somewhere to go.

Welcome to France

A little over a month ago I moved from California to France. Whether or not the move is a permanent one is yet to be determined, however, in a literal attempt to liberate myself I sold or gave away everything I owned that did not fit in one of my three suitcases.

Before I left I was eager and entirely optimistic. I’ve wanted to live in France ever since I opened my first Hexagon textbook in second form. I knew then that it was just a matter of time. Time went by and my life went this way and then that until finally the stars aligned and I had the chance to move to Lyon to study for a year with the goal of becoming fluent in French and experiencing a full cultural immersion.

 Paris

Paris

I landed in Paris and checking into my airbnb I was surprised to discover that I had a full view of the Eiffel tower. I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate welcome to France. My plan was to spend the first three days on a Parisian holiday, a treat to myself after a slightly disastrous end to an intense summer. But my exhaustion from sorting and consolidating my entire life, coupled with a fair amount of jet-lag meant that instead of frolicking through the gardens and boulevards of Paris, I took naps during the day and once the sun went down, sat at a tiny yellow dining table eating bread and smoked salmon and tomatoes while looking at the Tower twinkling in all its glory. Maybe it was the sweet sound of silent that I hadn’t heard in so long but these three days of quietude end up being exactly what I needed.

 Lyon, France

Lyon, France

A quick train took me to Lyon on Thursday afternoon and my program began at once with a welcome meeting and then cafeteria style dinner. For the first three nights we were placed in dormitory-style housing where I shared a small room with another girl. She was nice, but her bed was extremely close to mine. So close in fact that I could hear her breathing and then late in the night her failed attempts to stifle laughter as she watched funny offerings on Netflix.

Three days of various orientation activities went by and then it was Sunday morning and time for me to meet the French family with whom I would live until December.

The Sunday morning when we stood in the lobby of the dorms waiting patiently for our new families I felt like a child again. I thought back to those days at Sunnyside, specifically the end of my second term in Junior 4 when as was customary at the end of the term, parents had to come and collect school reports. Because there was a window of time we never knew exactly when our father would show up and so would wait excitedly and anxiously to see the white van driving up the hill. And then how happy I was then to walk with him to the classroom while glancing smugly at any of the boys in my class who I saw along the way who would stop in their mischievous tracks and stare at me and then up at him with a mixture of curiosity and fear.

 Annecy, France

Annecy, France


Yes, I was in France now, and long past my childhood years, yet the feeling was strangely similar. I was waiting excitedly for my new French ‘parents’. We were all nervous.

What if they didn’t like us, what if we didn’t like them? Do we shake hands, or do the ‘la bise’, or be really American and give them a hug? I chuckled under my breath as I heard the girl next to me lament to no one in particular ‘What if they don’t like me and want to send me away?’

I chuckled not because it was funny but because the night before I had the same thought before I went to sleep.

My family was the second to show up. A man and woman both dressed in all black, walking eagerly as if they knew exactly where they were going. The woman was wearing a black hair band that stood out against her whiteish blondish hair. Her outfit was loose fitting and hung  in folds so that I wasn’t sure whether it was a dress, or a skirt, or perhaps a jumpsuit? Three silver necklaces with three silver pendants, one of a globe, one of a skull and the other I couldn’t make out rested at the narrow point of her rib cage Two silver rings on the right hand, two on the left. She wore Doc Marten mary-jane styled shoes. The man kept smiling and based on the pattern of the creases on his face I concluded that it was his default facial expression. He wore a gold wedding band and on his right hand a silver pinky ring with a square shaped black stone embedded. Obsidian? In addition to everything else black he sported a blazer with a crest on the upper left side that wasn’t a skull but reminded me of one. His black sandals the style that is common in little toddler shoes, gave further protection to his black socked feet.

‘Wow, they look really cool!’

I breathed a sign of relief, then continued to stand and wait.

They stood for a while greeting Christine, the director of my program and asking her questions about some forms they had filled out. They talked probably for less than a minute but it felt like a long time to be standing waiting to be noticed. I smiled, I tried not to grin until finally Christine looked in my direction and said ‘Et, voila….’






Homeland Security (Fiction)

The next two days I would spend every moment thinking about how I could best make it past homeland security without arousing suspicion.

The handful of other times i’d entered the country I was always called in for secondary screening. Which meant after I was already fingerprinted and photographed, I was marched to a secondary room. There, under bright invasive lights in a white walled room,  I was asked to have a seat on one of the identical grey chairs. Then wait for half an hour or an hour while my connecting flight came and went without me. And finally a uniformed agent would towards me in no hurry whatsoever, hand me my passport and say “Ok, you’re free to go.”

What they did during this time I sat trembling against the blast of air conditioning? I would never know. But as I waited, I wondered whether, like  in the movies where suspected criminals are being watched from behind the glass, I too was being watched to see if I would display any signs of nervousness or guilt. 

The night before I left, father knocked on the door my room and opened before I had a chance to say “Come in,”.  

"Herman will be downstairs at 8:30 to take you to the airport."

I don't know whether he looked at me as he said this. As usual, his voice seemed to come from every direction at once, and I looked up to him, naturally our of respect, but only to the level of his chest, avoiding eye contact. Before I could say anything he closed the door and walked away.

The next morning, at 8:25 I silently lifted my bag down the spiraled staircase, looked through the glass windows at the stone fence that surrounded the compound and paused for a while to watch the flag flying solemnly in the morning breeze.

Herman, ever cheerful and smiling oblivious to any drama even if it was taking place before his very eyes, drove me to the airport in silence.  For thirty minutes I tried to think of something happy while blinking faster than normal so tears would not come. Nothing came to mind.


We sat on the tarmac of Jose Marti International for over an hour before starting down the runway.  I looked out the window to avoid the gaze of the man seated next to me. Silence and dread enveloped me like a tight fitting brace. Twice the hostess interrupted my racing thoughts of everything and nothing with her cheerful “May I offer you a beverage?” Without looking at her, I shook my head.  I stared straight down at two square blocks pressing through my khaki pants.  Freezing air blew directly overheard. I tapped my fingers against my kneecaps. As the aircraft climbed to 10,000 feet, it started. The rage, creeping down the back of my neck and spreading out over my shoulders scorching them like rays of the sun. I clenched my fists and shoved my hands under my thighs to try and stay warm. I blinked maniacally so that tears would not fall. 

To decrease my chances of being scrutinized by immigration, I knew I had to remove everything about myself that screamed foreigner. During my first year in America on two separate occasions, someone told me they could tell I was Caribbean because I always wore bright colors. Remembering this, I dressed in khaki colored pants and a pale yellow blouse. I often noticed Americans seemed to smile quickly upon meeting someone, a smile that ended as abruptly as it began. I recalled the frequent comments by people known and unknown on my serious demeanor. So to appear as American as possible  I decided to imprint a slight smile on my face and exaggerate it slightly when being spoken to.

The story I would stick to was that I was studying Spanish in Cuba and returning to my school to complete my studies. 


The line for the border entry at Miami International was never-ending. The entire airport seemed to be under construction. As I neared the booth where the person who would decide whether or not to let me into the country I repeated mentally over and over You haven’t done anything wrong, you’re still a student.

My passport clutched in my right hand, I crossed fingers on my left hand and pushed them in my pants pocket. A tall dark skinned man with a green passport was in front of me. My passport, a dull black, felt heavier with each passing minute. I stared straight ahead, trying to look as relaxed as possible. I kept swallowing so my throat would not dry out and prevent me from speaking smoothly when the time came. 

“Next please.” the agent waved me forward with his right hand. A middle aged white man with short cropped hair and thick shoulders. His face was clean shaven and he did not smile.

“Hello,” I smiled slightly and handed him my passport. His hands wide and his fingers thick. “Hi” he said taking the small black booklet. He opened it without pausing to look at the cover.

“Where are you coming from today?” He stared at his computer screen, my passport now open to the US Visa page. 

“Havana, via Nassau” I was still smiling slightly, innocently I believed. I thought about leaving out the entire business of being in Cuba, the authorities there did not stamp my passport when I landed and when I left it was like stepping off a bus. But I had to tell the least amount of lies from this point forth. Maybe this way my karma would not be as bad. 

“Cuba?’ His voice raised in a question.

“What were you doing there?” He glanced up at me and seemed genuinely curious. As if he wanted to know for personal reasons and it had nothing to do with whether or not he would let me walk past that yellow line separating me from before and after.

“I went to visit my father” I said, forgetting completely what I planned to say.

“Your father is Cuban?” he continued, still staring at me now with a raised brow.

“No, he’s a diplomat, I was just visiting him there.” 

He nodded. Satisfied with my answer, he turned to a blank page in my passport and I held my breath. Then he spoke again.

“And are you bringing anything back with you…. cigars?” 

I laughed nervously. Then stopped abruptly. 

“No, no, just this bracelet.”

I lifted my left wrist and showed him a beaded clay bracelet. He nodded. He held the black handle and brought it down decisively against my passport page. He handed it back to me, “Welcome back.” He smiled for a split second the first during our encounter, then turned to look towards the next person in line. That was it. No secondary screening. I was free to go.

I wondered what it was that caused him to not think twice before admitting me. This had never happened before. Was it my bland clothing, my fake smile? The indifferent tone I used when answering his questions? The mention of my father's profession? Whatever it was, it didn't matter. I was backing America. Estranged but empowered. My destiny was now in my own hands.

The Internship (Fiction)

I woke up at 5am even though we would not leave for another three hours. My housemate  Becky arrived two weeks earlier than me and and was already settled and working. Her office was in the front with the design engineers. My placement was near the assembly line with the manufacturing engineers. But before I got there I would have to make it past Human Resources. 

With no US driver’s license, a foreign passport with an expired student visa and a Social Security card stamped with red text VALID FOR WORK WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION ONLY, I could only pray for a miracle. But I was already here. I had moved into the house being paid for by the company. There was no way I could be sent back now.  

I waited in a room that was more like a hallway, two chairs along a wall and a rectangular table with a vase of flowers directly in front. At 9 o'clock a smiling woman came from the adjacent office and held out her hand to shake mine. She said she was very happy that I was there and asked how to pronounce my name. After repeating it three times she still was unable to say it correctly. I gave up and just smiled and nodded.

Heather explained that it was her first day on the job and her boss was away until the end of the month. She asked me to bear with her for taking extra long. I smiled and nodded some more, my racing heart slowing down slightly. She explained the company policies on clocking in and taking breaks. She talked about how important diversity was and about the culture of inclusion. She smiled nervously. I smiled back.

I had a stack of forms to fill out and Heather seemed to be under the impression that I was familiar with them and so, sat at her computer scrolling away waiting for me to complete the task. One in particular, the I-9 form stated in bold that it was to be completed by the employer, not me and required proof of work authorization. I kept a steady hand. In the space asking for proof of work authorization, I wrote my student visa number as neatly as I could manage. In the space beneath asking for the expiration date I drew a heavy line. I moved on.  

The next form said W-4, Department of the Treasury. I scanned it and noticing there was no question about Work Authorization, I showed it to Heather and asked  if she knew how I should fill it out. “I’m not really allowed to tell you what number to put,” she said apologetically, “But when I filled out mine, I put one allowance.” I thanked her and did the same. These forms meant nothing to me. As instructed, I tore a check out of my checkbook, scribbled VOID across it and secured it with the paperclip on the top of the stack of forms. Handing them back to her I said a mental prayer “Dear God, Please let this work,” and instead of a simple “Amen.” to send it up to the heavens, I went a step further, and channeled my grandmother, the most religious person I knew, and signed off in her manner “In Jesus’ precious and holy name, Amen!”.    

Heather skimmed over each form and nodded when she got to the last one. “Looks like we’re all set!” she said in a cheerful tone that made me question her sincerity. 

“All the best, and i’m always here if you have any questions.” 

I wasn't sure what questions I could possibly have for her but I smiled, thanks her and almost raced out of her office into the hallway where I would wait for someone to take me to the manufacturing plant.

I had not been found out. 

 

Newlyweds (Fiction)

Their first date lasted four hours, and at the end of it he asked her to be his girlfriend. Nobody had ever asked her that before, and he seemed so keen, so even though she thought he was slightly phoney, she decided perhaps he really liked her, and said yes.

Ava began  sleeping over at his place six weeks in. Then sublet her apartment in the third month. The day she officially moved in, he asked her if she wanted to wear a ring.

"Why kind of ring?"

He wanted to wear gold bands.

"Why?"

So people would know that they were together.  So that other guys don't think you are single.

Uncertain of what other guys he was referring to, and believing a ring to be more of an annoyance than anything else, she thought about it for a while. She was never a fan of jewelry. The first piece she owned that wasn't made of beads was a pair of silver ear knobs she got for free when piercing her ears three years earlier. To now start wearing a ring because somebody wanted to make it known that she was with him?  Maybe it didn't matter. She told him Okay.

That night, they drove to JC Penny and looked at wedding bands. He selected thin silver looking ones that claimed to be white gold and costed $104 each. He opened a store credit card and charged them to the account. Half an hour later they walked out with two small blue boxes in a red and white plastic bag.

Two months after that they got engaged. He asked her  in an unmemorable way. They had the discussion before and with excitement she wondered aloud if he would get down on bended knee. He laughed and said that was lame.

Seven months after they met, Ava and her boyfriend were married in a judge's office. They drove downtown to a building that said on a sign out front Courthouse but could have been an office building for how nondescript it was.  His parents stood against the wall smiling while they both sat in front of a seated judge who looked like a regular old white man from off the street.

The said ‘Yes’ instead of ‘I do’. 

There wasn't that much money laying around so Ava searched and found a cute bed and breakfast less than two hours away. They left the day after the ceremony to honeymoon in Dubuque. Ten minutes into the drive, they met a four way STOP sign and right after he hit the breaks of his 1986 Toyota Celica he exhaled loudly then laughed and exclaimed “I’m going to pay so much less in taxes now!” 

 “What?”

Ava didn't understand what he meant. She couldn't connect the idea of marriage, tax brackets, tax filing, benefit, loss. Having filed taxes only twice before, and both times receiving sizable refunds, she was unaware that there was more to it than that.

They drove on in silence interrupted now and then by light conversation. Him announcing random nonsense that made her think he preferred the sound of his voice to that of silence.  Ava felt a growing uncertainty like a distant sound approaching quickly. His chatter continued with a suggestion that his parents might like to come up day after tomorrow. We could all spend the last day together. He seemed to be telling more than asking and It didn’t matter either way so she said yes when she should have said no. 

 At the time Ava were taking classes and between jobs, living on savings. But now that she had a husband she didn’t have to worry too much about money. They would both take care of each other, like the couples on tv and in books. This, she assumed without thinking it through, the way one assumes when they leave home in the morning, they will return at the end of the day, never considering the off chance at some point there won't be an end of the day.


He ate so much more than her.

Together, their grocery bill was three times what she were used to. Maybe it was the beer. Sometimes three packs per week for as much as $12 each. And he couldn’t just drink it and be happy, he had to explain to her how good it was and how fancy he felt drinking it, and something about it being hoppy but not too hoppy. Ava wondered if this was a habit he would grow tired of.

They went grocery shopping on Friday evenings, even though the store was busiest then. Walking through the aisles of the neighborhood market Ava said nothing as her husband reached out for non essentials like chips, and cookies and popcorn and beer of multiple varieties. She had long grown used to only buying the necessities, and a treat here and there. This after years of scraping by on the bare minimum. Even after her last job which was well paying, frugality was a long established habit. 

One hot and humid Friday evening in June, they drove to Hy-Vee, and as usual did the weekly grocery shopping. Ava grabbed a box of yoghurt bars; coconut pineapple 100% natural and organic. As if he had been watching her like a hawk and long awaiting this exact moment, he said loudly and firmly and in a tone that made her wonder who he thought he was speaking to “Put it back...” 

“Excuse me?”

“Maybe when you are working you can buy treats with your own money.”

He wasn’t smiling but his voice was glazed with a mocking satisfaction as if he had emerged triumphant after a close call.

Ava laughed and threw the box into the cart where it landed in that small place parents sometimes stuff their messy mouthed toddlers.

Believing he could not have been serious, she was prepared to dismiss this unpleasant manner when he walked towards her and looked dead into her eyes, “ I’m serious, i’m not paying for that.” 

They were two months in. Newlyweds. She regarded him and said nothing. He stared back, then reached and took the box and placed it immediately to his left, in a spot it did not belong.

At first Ava were shocked, then felt a little sick, and then for the first time felt what would become the familiar sensation of nothingness. She decided right then to never forget.

She continued her job search in earnest. Applying for positions she was nowhere near qualified for. Tweaking her resume to try and slip through the cracks.

After six different interviews she were offered a job and accepted it without negotiating the salary. They offered an amount that was twenty thousand dollars more than what her husband made in a year. So proud was she to have done this all on her own and so great was her excitement that as soon as he walked through the door that evening she blurted out the offer she received.

He didn't congratulate her. Deep down she knew he wouldn't, but there was nobody else to tell and be happy with.

He laughed, “We’re going to have so much extra money now.” 

Then he began to list all of the things he would buy with his soon to be acquired wealth.

Honor (Fiction)

We were in a car, my sister and I both passengers in the front seat. Were either of us wearing a seatbelt? I’m not sure. 

He drove in silence as he usually does, or did. We sat beside him close but a world away. On we went, moving forward in forgettable silence. It wasn't until the car began to accelerate rapidly that I remembered where I was.  

The increased pressure on the gas pedal was matched by hands gripping the steering wheel with such vengeance that his nails would have pierced the synthetic leather cover were they not so carefully and closely manicured - a Sunday afternoon ritual he never missed.

As is often the case*, I wasn’t sure where we were, or where we were going. We must have been in a developed country  because the roads were completely free of potholes, so well maintained were they that if I wanted to, I could have fallen into a peaceful slumber and not be rudely awakened every few seconds by the front car wheel dropping into a crater.

We were going faster now, and the highway that at first seemed to stretch out forever now had a feeling of finality, though unseen. The fields on either side now a green smear. 

Without warning, his shoulders jerked right, the left one more so, the way someone does when a piece of sweet music hits them and they can’t help but move as the beat leads. Except there was no music, only the sounds of my increasing heavy panicked breath.

Everything moved quickly after this.

The shoulder was the preemptive move of him taking the car, and us in it, off the road and onto what seemed like soft grass but was in fact rocky gravel. The tires would have spun out of control were it not for the assured grip of those determined hands steering the car towards the concrete building in the distance ahead.

It was as if my sister was not there at all. She sat unmoving, unnoticing, unbothered.

Everything was going haywire and I was the only person who realized.

My voice broke the silence.

No! No, no! No, stop! Father wait, stop!!

I reached left towards him, and across my sister’s body. Though I could have, I didn’t reach far enough to touch him. If I did it would have been to grab his hands, or to shove him and wake him from his crazed trance.

No!

This it what it's like just before it's all over. 

I reached a little bit more but stopped. 

Why do the most absurd refrains come to us at the most inopportune times?

A scripture from the Bible that I’ve never read myself, not in its entirety at least. Instead I learned by rote those verses that serve the interests of teachers, parents, older siblings. Tools used to keep the littler people in their place. Warnings of consequences, abominations. Rewards and punishments awaiting us.

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Obey . Don’t question. Don’t object.

What do do? The building was feet away. This is how It ends?

The sound of a train horn interrupted my indecision and I opened my eyes and hear another horn blow. 6:15am. The train tracks are not far enough away from my Northern California homestay.

I remembered where I was. Where I am. Away. Alone. Alive.


*Every now and then I have an extremely vivid, oftentimes traumatic and very lifelike dream that involves my father attempting to kill me or one of my sisters. Each time I wake up feeling very shaken, and slightly guilty. I had the first such dream when I was about 15 years old and over a decade later they continue. I don't know why I keep dreaming in this way. My father was never abusive towards us, at least not physically. Verbally, maybe, sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing worth mentioning.

Numb (Fiction)

I think the numbness started to kick in after I turned fourteen. It first became apparent in Easter 1999. My favorite teacher Mr. Morris was killed. Somebody slit his throat and dumped his body behind our biology lab. To this day they never figured out who did it.

When somebody dies especially someone who means something to you, you’re supposed to feel sad, you have to cry. I think I felt sad, but it was mostly shock. And confused disassociation . A lot was happening very close to me but I felt so far away. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about the throat part. I thought about it all the time. Studying for my physics exams. Trying to memorize French vocabulary. I fell asleep every night with my right hand around my neck trying and failing to imagine the same thing happening to me. It was so out of the ordinary, my first awareness of really bad things happening to people, and if it could happen to the nicest person I had ever known, surely it could happen to any one else.

We sat in the church and listened to the pastor pray for his soul. Young men from the national football team gave their remarks. High school girls led the congregation in a rendition of hymns. Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee. Another group led us is “His Eye is on the Sparrow” but I didn’t know the words to that one so I remained quiet. We said the Lord’s prayer….But deliver us from evil…

We walked from the church to the public cemetery scuffing our white canvas shoes against loose dirt that surrounded burial plots, many of which had only a cross made of two pieces of narrow wood nailed together, bunches of plastic flowers nearby long ago faded in the sun. 

Why wasn’t I crying? I cried for everything. So used to hearing the playground chant ‘Cry cry baby cry for nothing, dog and pussy dig out ya eye

The one time I should have been crying I was not, and it confused me. I was hyper aware of everything. The people on the side of the road lamenting bout  ‘those poor high school girls.’

Marsha and Kerri walking proudly but solemnly in front carrying the school banner that we only used on special occasions.  

We stood with our heads bowed and watched six men lower his casket into the ground. It wasn’t like on a movie I had seen on TV where there was velvety cloth canvassing the burial plot. No. Just dirt. A huge mound of it off to the side waiting to return from where it came.

The pastor said a prayer that went on for a long time. My eyes should have been closed but they were not and I could see a woman directly in front of me a white handkerchief covering most of her face her shoulders moving quickly up and down. 

The crowd grew quiet, people standing around, not sure what to do. Then one girl took off her yellow sash and threw it into the grave. 

Our school dress uniform was a square neck white dress with pleats and around our waist we wore a cotton sash, the color corresponding to which house we were in. The sash was $20 and we bought it from the secretary in the office I first form and didn’t consider anything other than it lasting us the five years of high school.

I bought mine almost a month after school started because when I asked father for the money he said to ‘check me next week’, and the same thing the week after until finally just when I thought I would get a demerit for not having my sash I asked one more time and the next day raced to the office with a crisp pinkish greenish bill and a few seconds later walked back to class my palms cupped in front of my face, inhaling the smell of cotton.

Not long after the single yellow sash lay strewn across the brown varnished coffin more sashes started accumulating. Unknotted from the waists of fourteen year olds and fifteen year olds, these strips of fabric sailed for what seemed like an eternity before landing soundlessly some falling into the spaces separating the wood from the earth and landing unseen into the ground 

I hesitated. Money didn’t grown on trees. Would be chastised when I got home. Accused of being ‘follow fashion’? I untied the loose double knot and stepped forward then dropped the red strip of woven cotton then stared at the stringy tassels mixing with deep brown ground.

I felt sad but wasn’t sure why exactly. I blinked away un-fallen tears then walked home alone.

I want to write about something but I don’t have anything to say.

I want to write about something but I don’t have anything to say.

I want to tell you a story but there are so many I don’t know which one to choose. 

This must be what it feels like to try too hard. 

Except I’m not really doing anything at all. 

Just sitting here in this cafe drinking an overpriced coffee thinking that being in this ‘space’ is going to somehow inspire me, or provoke me to have beautiful thoughts that will translate into well crafted sentences that don’t ramble too much, and all come together in a slightly or highly  enlightened message or at least a passage worth reading, and if I’m lucky, one that resonates with someone….anyone?

Instead, I just spent the last thirty minutes drinking my four dollar coffee and staring out the window at passers by. Now my fingertips are tingling and not due to frantic typing as they should... No, my fingertips are alight because when the barista asked me ‘what size’ I said ‘regular’ not knowing this meant supersized and I should have specified ‘Small’. What was it, a fifty cents difference? Negligible for the wallet but drastic for my nerves apparently.

What did I do that one time, when for weeks on end I wrote up a storm? Or those nights when I lay propped up on my pillow and wrote until my #2 pencil was so worn down that I had to use my fingernail to peel away some of the wood because I couldn’t stop for a minute to search for a sharpener. I was on fire then. What was it that doused the flame?

I want it back. I need to get it back. But how?

They say leap and the net will appear. Maybe I need to start typing and the words will come, the story will tell itself?

And since I’m apparently asking 21 questions, why is it that it is only when in the shower and the water is on the verge of scorching the skin off my back clean away, why is it only then that my mind is as clear as it will ever be and my emotions are so strong but not wild, so that all of my ideas, my good good ideas come to me and I think, yes, I knew you were in there, just as soon as I dry off I will write this down, I will tell this one particular story. 

And then the second I step foot on my bathmat - gone. Just like that.

I need something to blame this on. But what?

Maybe the fact that I’m about to pick up my life and move across the ocean, to a foreign place, and live in a different language and start over from the very beginning and I’m not sure how it will all play out. Maybe this is what has me frazzled? Maybe I should tell you the story of how I came to be right here, right now?

"Be careful what you wish for..."

"Be careful what you wish for..."

That is one of the refrains that has been drilled into my head since the beginning of time. A caution, a warning. Don’t ask for something you don’t really want. Watch your words, they hold more power than you realize.

I think instead of a warning this refrain should be rephrased  “Be ready for what you wish for…” 

Let me tell you why.

When I think back to everything I’ve ever really wanted, wished for, prayed for, I got it, one way or another.  Even the craziest one of all which I will tell you about some day and you might think it a simple coincidence but I know I willed it into being. But even after all of this I still doubt the ability to self-manifest.

A little over a year ago I bought a semi-professional camera. I wanted to take pictures, good pictures. I wanted to capture emotions, action, to compliment my words with images to tell moving stories.  Capture things that might not be noticed in the moment. I spent hours at my favorite bookstore in Berkeley and read guides, manuals, and then came home and watched YouTube tutorials for hours. For several months I was obsessed. Then I stopped. 

I felt like a phony. Who did I think I was to be a photographer? Maybe I didn’t really have a knack, a creative eye. Self doubt, always trying to ruin my plans. I fought it off a little bit then gave in and my camera sat on my bookshelf with a row of books i’ve read and re read and now only look at and admire.

Recently I got the courage to take it up again and revisited the idea of being someone who could take good pictures. I decided to believe it could be true.

Around this time I started a new job in a communications role, mostly writing and copy editing. Then one day there was an event and I offered to take pictures. They were well received. In fact they were so well received that it seemed as if overnight everybody in the department learned my name and I learned that people love to be photographed.

A month later my sister came to visit and for three days I had a personal muse. I played around with settings, angles, and we walked for miles day after day, exploring Northern California with our eyes, and through my camera lens.

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My confidence was back. She asked me to take her graduation photos. I agreed. It was humbling, and I felt all the energy I had lost to my self doubt come back to me.

Then boss asked me to photograph another event, a bigger one this time. The photographs again were well received, so much so that even the persecutor within me was silenced. There was no turning back. I essentially became the official department photographer. My images were used officially and I was credited. When this happened I walked around in a daze for two days. How did it all come together so quickly? How did my dream come true, just like that?

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But of course it wasn’t really just like that. Even though I doubted it, I took the preparatory steps so that if one day somehow the stars aligned, I would be ready. Once you decide what you want, the best course of action is to prepare to get it.

Today I went to work wearing stone washed jeans and a navy blue button down shirt. My shoes were clean but not spotless, before I walked out the door I had a thought that perhaps I should change into a darker wash jeans because though my workplace is casual I felt the light wash was a bit too casual. I ignored the voice even right after I heard it say ‘grab your camera just in case’.

I got to work and was asked to photograph a shot but official event. I had enough time to run home and get my camera, change and polish my boots, though I didn’t have to, I just felt more comfortable doing so. 

And it made me realize that preparation and some level of boldness is key. If I never offered to take photographs in the first place nobody would have known I had the interest and the skills. The same way they say dress for the job you want, not the job you have, it applies to every aspect of life. Believe yourself to be who you hope to become. Learn what you want to know. Train yourself to be who you wish to become. Decide what to be and be it.

Are you ready for what you’re wishing for?

 

 

Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude.

You know how when somebody does something bad to you you console yourself with the idea that it could have been much worse? But in the midst of your gratitude you find yourself fantasizing about the demise of the perpetrator....

What goes around comes around right? So if you did something bad to warrant person X doing something bad to you, then ultimately they too will get their just deserts in the end? That’s how it goes?

Maybe. But hopefully you would have learned the lesson, moved on with your life and forgotten about them completely so when what goes around does in fact come around you’d be none the wiser because by then, bygones would be bygone.

But what if by some twist of fate you get to see this so called karma in action?

Soon come

To my faithful readers who I've neglected - I'm still alive!

I've been cooking up a few things these past few silent months and can't wait to share some good news. 

For now I study for my Game theory and International macro-finance exams next week.

I will emerge victorious and return to regale you with more tales of the life of Gillya Scott.

Lamentation (Dear America)

These past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about America’s culture. In particular the gun culture that is pervasive throughout the country.

In 2007 I was a student in West Virginia and one Monday morning in April there was a breaking news report of a shooting incident at Virginia Tech. Now, this was a university four hours away, but as the events of that morning unfolded and what was at first a ‘shooting’ turned out to be a ‘massacre’, it was as if it happened down the road. At the time, it was the most horrible thing I had ever experienced, though it did not happen to me.

When the planes flew into the twin towers, I knew then that America was a place where tragedies happened. In America,  incidents that you couldn’t even imagine, somehow someone else would not only think of, but plan and execute. But I had already decided before then, that America was where I would live, and so despite the fact that on September 12th in a hotel in Port of Spain, I sat together with my father and watched repeated footage on CNN of the planes hitting the towers, and heard my fathers lamentations about this terrible thing that could only have happened in America, and despite his surreptitious warnings that if I wasn’t convinced before, this alone should be enough to assure me that America was not my promised land. But my mind had already been made up.

Woe is me.

After Virginia Tech became synonymous with massacre I realized that this sort of thing can happen at anytime, at any place and so I became vigilante, overnight. From then on, if sitting in a classroom I would always sit near a wall, preferably near a window or behind the back door so that ‘when the shooter comes’ I’m either jumping out the window, or running out the back door, assuming he comes through the front. I stopped listening to headphones in public that way If something started to go down I would be able to hear and make good my escape in time. And as time went by this just became a part of life. I was okay. I did not live in fear. I knew bad things could happen but I felt ready to handle anything.

Now thankfully I have had been in close proximity to a mass shooting, which continued with some regularity after that April in 2007.

Until 2012. It was my first summer living in Denver and working near Aurora. My coworkers and I often had lunch together, and on Fridays it was always a special event. We’d go to a restaurant and eat and chat and laugh and an hour later head back to the office then work hard for several more hours before it was time to start the weekend. It was an intense period because the company had recently been issued an FDA warning letter so there was a lot of work that needed to be done in a short space of time.

The Dark Knight was released at midnight on Thursday and  we decided that on the Friday, we would take lunch together early, and see the matinee release of the film. It was something to look forward to. 

Seven hours later, while we each individually drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our homes, me in my tiny studio apartment, a twin sized day bed I bought off Craigslist, that belonged to a 7 year old boy who was upgrading to a ‘big boy bed’. We had no idea what was unfolding less than half an hour away.

Everybody knows what happened that night, James Holmes, a doctoral student at UC Denver and an all round lunatic carefully and deliberately carried out his deadly rampage with weapons he purchased legally and easily. 12 people dead. 70 plus injured. Tragedy is not the word.

Now I know after every disaster there is a mad race especially on Facebook to see who can post their ‘thoughts and prayers’ status update first. And then a competition to see who is most affected. If there is a bombing in Paris everyone digs out their holiday photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and shares a memory of having been RIGHT AT THAT RESTAURANT! just a few months earlier. “It could have been me!” 

The outage is real, the pain and suffering tremendous.

Lamentations.

After a week or so, all goes quiet. The profile pictures revert to duck faced selfies and the previously suffering and outraged citizen goes back to reposting links to the latest celebrity gossip.

Then three months, or six months or some short time goes by and then, like clockwork ‘Breaking news….’

Five months after Aurora it was Sandy Hook.

Last November it was Las Vegas. This Valentine's Day - A High School in Florida.

I’m so sick of this country and the evil and unstable people who so easily purchase weapons for the sole purpose of shedding innocent blood.

And I am so sick of people who see something but refuse to say something or take no action when something must be done. 

But most of all, I'm slightly terrified that it seems as if over time our society has become completely desensitized to these mass shootings. The media for one treats it like a carnival. With each mass shooting the obvious excitement surrounding the coverage grows more frenzied. Reporters hunt down survivors so they can show them on air in all their painful glory: tears, choked back words, moments of silence. It doesn't seem real. A young high school student is shown on CNN, wiping tears, looking at the camera then away, nodding to an unasked question, to convince herself she is alright.

Tears,

"Are you okay?", the reporter asks, this after the girl reveals her best friend 'Did not make it'. The girl nods, wipes away more tears. ''We're sending love and prayers to you right now....", the reporter says. The girl cries some more.

Am I the only person who sees something extremely wrong with this?

Where is the FBI in all of this? The same FBI known to target ‘persons of interest’ who they believe to be involved with extremist organizations (Code for muslims) and have in numerous documented instances charged people wrongly with terrorism. Where is the FBI when an American white boy repeatedly declares on social media that he will be a ‘school shooter’. Some concerned citizen does make an FBI report. Nothing happens though. And so the American white boy goes out and buys his weapons, and his ammunition, and makes is plans. And then one Wednesday afternoon, February 14th, he carries out the plan as he had already confessed he would and in the news we are ‘shocked and saddened’.

Eyes are looking but nobody is seeing. People are talking but nobody is listening. 

There needs to be a cultural shift, away from guns and their trigger happy owners. 

People need to ask themselves some tough questions and seek to find the answers.

I have the first answer to the question we should be asking -  it is NO. Under no circumstance is it acceptable for a (deranged) eighteen year old to own a semi automatic weapon. 

Imagine an intoxicated person going into a car rental and asking for a vehicle. They clearly are not in any good condition to operate a motor vehicle, but they show their drivers license, and a credit card, ‘I can pay, I am a licensed driver, the *law states that if these two conditions are satisfied you must rent me a car’. What should the rental owner do? Take the money and hand over the keys? 

Then ten minutes later when a drunk driver speeding going the wrong way on the interstate crashes and kills several people in the process who is at fault?

What ever happened to common sense, and responsibility? If these two virtues were to be reintroduced in our society and among our policy makers, so many of our current problems could potentially be solved.

In the mean time, all we can do is remain vigilant, and hope for the best. As far as my promised land, I know now that this isn't it.

 

*hypothetical situation