“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
- Toni Morrison
Succumbing to the Stress
Speaking in Flags
Field of Life
The Quiet House
What Doesn't Sit Right
Elizabeth 'L' Mahoney
It Is Never Too Late
Vermin Stinks spotted the glass floor when he flew out of his tree. There are usually more trees. On the right, there was a giant concrete slab which got way too hot for his liking. But today, when he got back to his tree, there was a giant red mass!
You could fit millions of me in there! he thought.
This mass was held up by four black discs at the bottom. On one of the sides, it read “F.O.R.D.” It had six of these warm glass floors, but five of them were upright so Vermin couldn’t lie down on them. The biggest one was slanted, and he drooled at the sight of it.
“Finally! I found the perfect sunbathing spot!” Vermin exclaimed.
He landed on the huge glass floor. What made this the perfect sunbathing spot? Well, this glass had the direct sun landing right on it which also made the glass nice and warm.
Vermin had been looking all day for a nice place to rest, but there had been one issue: humans. Humans had always yelled when they saw him, probably because he was a stink bug. With all of this yelling getting in the way of Vermin’s peace and quiet, he despised humans. Vermin got comfy and soaked up the sunlight for a few minutes until he heard distant voices.
“Why I oughta!” he hollered, becoming irate at just the thought of someone disturbing his peace. Then something even worse than humans appeared, Tandrew Tadpole.
“Hey! HEYYY!” Tandrew got louder as he got closer, a loud buzzing accompanying him.
I’ve known him since he was an ugly nymph, and he is still as unbearable as he was the day we met (which was only a week ago). Tandrew had no concept of personal space, peace, basic decency, or any manners. Also, since he was a dragonfly, he only ate tadpoles. He tried to share them with Vermin, but he thought they were disgusting.
“Oh great, how can my day get any worse?” Vermin said to himself as he rolled his eyes.
“Do you mind if I sit with ya?” Tandrew said enthusiastically.
“I do, actually.”
“I’ll behave, I promise! See?” he gestured with his hands. “No tadpoles today.”
“Disgusting dragonflies,” he mumbled to himself.
Tandrew urgently waited for a response, “So?”
Vermin was too tired to argue at this point. “Just be quiet.”
Tandrew quickly flew down with a huge smile on his face and got comfortable, right next to Vermin, of course.
Once Vermin shut his eyes, he heard something jingle and then a loud slam. He was so fed up at this point he didn't bother to open his eyes back up, until he heard Tandrew yell.
“Vermin! Get up right now!”
“I said to be quiet!” he scoffed.
“NOW!” Tandrew screamed with urgency.
Vermin angrily opened his eyes to a huge black wall coming towards him. He quickly looked up to see a massive shower of water that was drenching them. He tried to fly, but the water droplets were too heavy on his wings and he got pulled back down. He started running upwards, hoping he could outrun the impending doom of this wall crushing him, but the wall didn’t stop. It seemed to have no bounds as it reached incredible lengths.
The wall caught Vermin, but surprisingly it didn't crush him. It swept him up with such incredible force that he was glued to the wall.
He looked ahead to see that this dark barrier was about to set him free into the unknown. There was a cliff ahead, right at the edge of the glass floor. He braced himself for the worst as he got flung off his once so tranquil resting area. Vermin closed his eyes and felt the air move past him at implausible speeds. His mind, for some reason, locked on Tandrew.
Why am I thinking of him? He always has a hankering for those slimy, undeveloped frogs. Always bugging me, always way too close. I should’ve just told him to bug off! Vermin thought.
Suddenly, he felt something jerk him upwards. Vermin was in disbelief for a moment and had to work up courage to open his eyes. When he did, he saw something translucent sparking with the sunlight with an iridescent body in the middle.
Vermin said very quietly, “I’m actually happy to see you.”
A singular drop of moisture fell to the ground below, a drop Vermin tried very hard to contain within his eyes.
Field of Life
Frolicking through this grassy heaven, enjoying what’s neighboring your being. Grass and grass; the acres of green surround you, peacefully. You bend down and brush your hands through the dry ground as it dances with you. You breathe in, smelling the nature around you, but you begin to smell the true nature of this memorable, heinous land. It’s something foul - disturbed - that you wouldn’t want to imagine exactly what you’re imagining. You can hear the souls calling to you, begging for freedom from all of the despair and carnage left behind, right underneath this field of life.
Suddenly, yet particularly late, you realize that this grassy heaven is no more than a mask for the hell cast beneath it. They reach out to you, pulling you into their world. You try to escape, but there’s no escaping what’s encircling you. Finally, they latch onto you, and that’s when you stumble - falling right onto the dirt - as you try to grab ahold of the unforgiving earth. You let out a hopeful scream, but the only ones that can hear you are the ones down below. The grass in between your fingertips, no longer secured to the soil by its root, instead pulls from its resting place. You are then pulled into their resting place, now knowing full well what’s been below the grassy heaven you so ignorantly danced upon.
His dry hands maneuver themselves around the block of wet clay, turning the oblong shape into something more meticulous and beautiful. After minutes of pulling apart and piecing together chunks of the clay, it is all coming together. He takes a deep breath, wanting to admire his work from a far.
Grabbing the towel draped over his shoulder, he begins to wipe away at his dirty, clay ridden hands. Realizing that it is not coming off, he begins to scrub at it even harder, forcing some of the skin underneath to pull apart and bleed. Panic runs through the man's veins, realizing that something is not right.
His hands start to fumble and grasp at his hair, leaving traces of the substance to clump and dry within the roots. His breath becomes shaky; he feels as if he is being suffocated by the encompassing walls, only able to form sharp wheezes that resonate in his lungs.
A sharp pain shoots up from his wrists, causing his eyes to form tears that continue to pour down his sweaty face. His fumbling hands move up to his face in an attempt to wipe away the tears, getting the clay in his eyes, only causing more pain and clouds forming within his sight.
He stumbles up from his stool and over to the door, managing to open it with his slippery, shaky hands. His feet get caught up in themselves, sending him to the floor, busting open his lip and breaking his nose.
“Help! Anyone! Please!” he manages to squeal while his lungs constrict with lack of air.
Making his way down the long corridor, he moves deeper into the fancy museum and its exhibits, hoping to come across someone, realizing just how elegant it is and momentarily stalling while he takes in the scenery.
The rooms are all marble from floor to ceiling. The long hallway is laid out with an antique red carpet rolled down through the middle, surrounded by a variety of realistic sculptures. Between intervals of ten to fifteen feet, sit the realistic depictions of men and women of all ages.
Walking up to one in particular, he is in awe at its detail. The eyes are open wide along with the mouth; the eyebrows are raised as high as humanly possible. Even the miniscule veins within the neck and face are flexed and prominent, adding to the whole theme of stress and fear within the artwork. It's quite astonishing, really, he thinks.
In the midst of his despair and hysteria, the sound of heavy footsteps down the long corridor saves him from his fit.
“Please help! I don’t know what's happening to me,” the man pleads to the dark shadow that is now his only savior.
“Calm down, you'll be fine,” the voice speaks from the shadows, sounding unamused, somehow making him feel even more horrified.
The shadow makes its way out from the dark and comes up to the younger man. Realizing it is his boss, the guy who recruited him to this museum as a featured artist, a wave of calm washes over him.
“Allan? Oh, thank God it's you. Listen, this clay. Something is wrong—”
“Shhhh, let it happen. Calm down. Listen to me…” Allan, his boss, cuts off.
In an instant, an even more intense pain shoots from his elbow down to his wrist, causing him to turn his head in an attempt to find the cause. Seeing that the clay has managed to creep its way up his whole arm, drying and ceasing all of its sensation and mobility, he panics even more.
“Listen to me. In about ten minutes, the clay is going to make its way through your entire body. I told you that you’d be a featured artist. Didn’t I?” Allan states with a sinister look on his face paired with a humorous tone.
Time passes, filled with unreasonable questions and even more unreasonable answers. After about eight minutes pass, the clay has reached up to about the young man's neck, disabling him from making any movements whatsoever, completely succumbing to whatever supernatural material is in the clay. With a sharp pain, he can feel the dryness of the clay make its way not only through his skin but through his organs, pausing everything.
His breathing stops mid-scream, his hands freeze while held out, reaching for help, his face, the perfect depiction of terror—fits right in with the other statues within the museum.
The soil and mulch sprayed through the air, masking any other scent to be found. At this rate, my grandmother and I had developed a face cleanser that covered our faces from the brown specks. Our fingers became roots within as we planted the flowers, tomatoes, and potatoes.
“We must wait,” she breathed to me. “The amount of love we share and cherish under the sun and moonlight will dictate how well they grow.”
I nodded as we sauntered inside the rickety house. My grandmother and I were very close, so this should not have been a problem for the growing children. I hoped.
Every morning, every night, I watched as the seeds became sproutlings. Though one night was odd. In the corner of my eye when I glared out the window, it was almost as if a tiny paw was peeking out of the dirt.
“How strange,” I said to myself.
Brushing it off, I moved on with my life, but this little paw stuck with me on and on. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Any time I turned or looked too closely at something, it was there! It was almost as if it was ingrained or branded inside my head. Sighing, I lay down on my bed looking through my old photos on my cellular phone. I smiled at the pictures of my guinea pigs back at home.
“Oh piggies, I miss you. I shall be home soon.”
Finally, the day arrived when a full sun and a full moon would appear, which would result in the harvesting of the grown children. Walking towards our garden, I noticed dirt sprawled around crazily.
This could not be. Maybe I was going crazy! Looking towards the potatoes, their eyes started turning into actual eyes! I ran back inside and hid. I was sure that my grandmother would fix this. Right?
The full moon shone brightly in the wretched black night sky. Grandmother and I arrived in the garden to see what had grown. I was sweating from being so nervous and anxious when we sat down to pick the potatoes. Oh those gosh darn potatoes.
“Not again!” I exclaimed. They all started to grow little pink noses, four paws with adorable toes, big ol’ eyes, and a round body with colors of all sorts of patterns.
“Guinea pigs!” my grandmother shrieked out of despair unlike I who yelled out of adoration and curiosity.
She turned to me and stuck her pointer finger, which was just as long as her nose, at me.
“You ruined the garden ritual. You didn’t think about just the plants and us. Selfish child!” I was in absolute awe.
“I- I didn’t mean to!” Looking around me the pig potatoes surrounded me with bravery in their eyes. In a matter of a few seconds, they all climbed on top of each other and magically formed one big pig potato. It made a very loud wheeeek type of howl to the moonlight.
“To be fair,” I said, “I think this is the best Garden Ritual I have ever done, even if it was my first and I ‘ruined’ it.”
The Quiet House
There is a house in a field somewhere. Far from here, far from anywhere anyone has ever known. It is surrounded by mountains, like castles and moats. The house is old, but it is safe.
It was a home once. The upstairs window is made of glittering colorful glass, depicting a night sky full of stars. Under our stars were framed portraits of friends on malachite green walls, scuffed creaking pine floors, the old couch where my mother would read me Thoreau. It is not a big house, but it is steady. It watched over me and my mother with graceful adoration, promising to bar man and nature.
When I was small, my mother and I would make trips into town to pick up supplies for the month. We would go into the consignment shop by the church, and she would tell me to pick out a few books from the dollar section.
One day, I unknowingly chose a horror book. Stories like that were alien to me, and I was greatly disturbed by the creature that stalked the protagonists.
As I shivered in my childhood bed, a draft caught my closet door, causing it to wrench open. I ran to my mother's room, fat tears rolling down my flushed cheeks.
She woke with a cry, white hands searching for something beneath her pillow. When she saw it was me, she paused. “Why do you cry?”
When I told her what ailed me, her face broke into a weary smile.
“Child, we are safe in this place. It is not to be feared. There will never be a monster in these walls.”
It has been ten years since my eyes last gazed upon the stars of the stained glass window. My hands shake as I put the key in, and I marvel at the way they dwarf the knob.
The house sings a creaky welcome beneath my muddy boots. I thought my mother’s memory would destroy me today– that I would see her in every line of our home and collapse beneath the weight of her absence.
I sink onto the dust covered couch, dropping my bag beside my feet. There is pain. My grief feels like a wound in my chest, gaping and dark. I put my fingers to it, and find that it has grown shallower.
As I gaze at the remnants of my mother’s and my life, sunlit and chipped, I hear her voice.
Succumbing to the Stress
A wave of hysteria—
Ten pounds of weight inhabit the bottom of her gut, a bubble rising to the top of her throat.
Shaky hands thread themselves into the strands of her jet-blackck hair, pulling at the root until a piercing pain shoots from her scalp, down her sweat ridden neck, forcing those same fumbling hands to drop back to her sides.
“I'm fine. I'm perfectly fine,” she repeats, while internally, she is anticipating the icy hands of death to whisk her away at any second.
Her hands occupy themselves by scratching at the dead skin behind her long fingernails, drawing blood to the surface while her teeth squeeze at her tongue. Tears build in the dam behind her eyes from the stinging sensations, yet the pain keeps her wandering mind away from reality.
She feels disgusted by the vibrant yellows of the encompassing walls, the relentless ticks of the clock above her head signaling every third heartbeat; her clothes feel itchy and scratch her as if thousands of ants lay beneath her skin.
The taste of blood and cotton dries out her throat and tongue, making each and every breath laborious. Her despairing wheezes break the buzzing silence of the room. Her lungs constrict as if she is being smothered by the surrounding air. Her feet seem glued to the floor, but her head feels miles up in the air, floating up and up until she reaches the ceiling.
As this goes on, her hands move themselves back up to her sore scalp, only to pull at the roots again, now with an extreme force. She continues to pull and pull until the fistfuls of hair finally give. With wide eyes, she looks down at her sweaty palms to see wads of black hair and pieces of bloody, dry skin still attached at the roots. She drops the hair and puts her hand to the empty spot on her head in an attempt to stop the stinging pain.
The bubble pops, the heavy weight subsides, the sweat dries.
She is only left with blood-stained fingertips and an unrelenting throbbing in her head. Her eyes continue to glance down to the floor beneath her feet while her mouth draws flat.
Her heart, which once beat like a drum, now remains hollow, weightless—nonexistent.
Speaking in Flags
We could stitch ourselves the same and call each other colorful, stare at each other and count 50, red, white, red, white, and not have to ask each other what they mean or where we got them from.
We could hang ourselves on bridges and buildings and shrivel and talk about how the wind is really bad today and nothing else.
We could pretend to admire each others’ tears but then replace ourselves as soon as we get the free time.
We could set ourselves on fire, turn ourselves upside-down, set ourselves at half-staff, and still fly the same.
What Doesn't Sit Right
Elizabeth 'L' Mahoney
I will never forget my mother’s scream when my little brother went missing.
I was at the top of the stairs on my way to bed when a knock sounded on the front door. Despite my better judgment, I stuck around hoping to hear the town’s latest gossip thinking it would be one of my mom’s friends from her weekly “book club.”
But, upon hearing a man’s voice, my curiosity piqued. My mother never had a man's company later than 7:00 on a Tuesday, especially if my father wasn’t home—an issue no one outside my house bothered to notice until everyone in town looked at us like birdseed and picked apart every single aspect of our lives.
I quietly made my way back down the stairs now wondering how my mother could be so brave knowing what my father would do when he found out—he always found out.
I barely made it four steps when my mother let out a screech that rivaled the cries of a dying animal. I rushed down the remaining steps expecting her to be surrounded by dark pools of blood. What I was not prepared for was Officer Colluk dolefully looking down at my mother as she sobbed and screamed on the floor. He held his cap in his hands.
That night is full of blurred images of officers rushing in and out of my house, examining every inch. My mom and I were forced to sit outside on the curb; it was cold outside. Mother told me my brother Eli went missing.
“How terrible. I hope he’s okay,” I said.
She sobbed next to me. Neighbors began to crowd around the barrier hoping to get a glimpse of the unknown. Nothing like this ever happened in suburbia.
I could hear distinct conversations of those who cared the most saying there was evidence of Mother’s guilt—how they’d known all along she was strange. They pitied me for having her as my mother.
One of the town sheriffs brought my father to the scene just as a state trooper took away my mother. She was dragged away screaming her innocence while in handcuffs tight enough to leave bruises. They had come to the conclusion in mere hours that my mother killed my brother. She used my epi pen on him, thinking no one would suspect it—I was allergic to bees after all, but Officer Colluk had found the evidence before the state took it.
Colluk came up to me after all was said and done to ask me one last question.
“Why would your mom use your epi pen if Eli didn’t need one?”
I remained quiet thinking I had been caught, but Father butted in before a follow-up question could be made.
“Cole, is there really a need for more questions? We’ve all been through a lot tonight, and I really would just like to enjoy time with my son alone.”
An unsatisfied Colluk nodded offering his apologies, and walked back to his cruiser.
As my father and I headed back into the house he held me tightly and whispered sternly to me, “You did a good job son, but you better hope your mistake doesn’t cost you.”
The stairs are dark and covered with a layer of dust and debris. The scent of mildew and something ancient permeates the stale air. My shoulder drags against the walls of the narrow stairwell as we move down,
My guide says nothing as he leads with the flickering oil lamp. The soft light illuminates just enough so we don’t trip on the loose gravel and gouges in the stone stairs. At best guess, they haven’t been walked for fifty years, not since the owner of the house boarded up the door and placed a wall over it. It was only when they found the owner’s remains that the house was torn down and the stairs came to light in a remote corner of the basement. If the mystery of his death wasn’t enough to make others stay away, the nail marks on the inside of the door were.
Prickling pain brings me back to the present. My feet and hands are so cold, I feel one wrong step on the stairs and they might break. My guide is already a few stairs ahead of me. I can just see the top of his bald, sweating head. As I hurry to catch up, my foot dislodges a small stone. It tumbles down the stairs, disappearing into the darkness. My guide turns to stare at me, almost through me, looking startled, then annoyed. His gaunt face seems oddly familiar. We hear a small thunk as the stone hits wood, and the bottom of the stairs can just be seen in the darkness. A small door waits there in the shadows. As we draw near, the air carries the scent of rot and flowers towards us. He stops at the door; his hand hovers over the dust covered handle. He breathes deeply, grasps it, and pushes. A burst of air floods the stairwell, fluttering cobwebs hanging from the low ceiling. It smells like a funeral. We step through the door. We are in a tight little room, small enough that the pitiful oil lamp reveals the dirt walls and stone floor. The room is crowded with dozens of vases, their flowers dried and brittle.
Calla lilies, their white spirals still fragrant after all these years. In the center of the room there is a figure, a woman kneeling, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes cast toward heaven. It’s the eyes that send my guide stumbling as fast as he can up the decrepit staircase, the eyes that are sunk into a wrinkled face, a once living face. As he runs the light retreats with him, but I can still see. I can see the half-lidded green eyes that still wear the gold eyeshadow I love using so much. I can see the hands, not just folded but bound in my lap, the nails worn and bloody. And I can remember.
I remember the look in his eyes as he fed me fish at our new dining room table. At the time I thought the anticipation was for me and what the late night might hold for us. The fish tasted funny. I brushed it off as him not being a very good cook. My eyes became heavy and my body hit the floor. The wood of the small door lodged under my fingernails as I clawed for purchase. He dragged me down the stairs, hands bound so I couldn’t tear at his face. The sound of the door latch echoed down the stairs as I fought for breath. I felt my racing heartbeat spreading the poison ever further through my veins.
I look at my desiccated face, a strange absence of feeling in the void in my soul. My guide steps back into the room, but his eyes look only at his feet. I see the ground dampen under his tears.
My father never cries. I watch for hours as his tears fall. He questions his faith, and finally leaves. It is dark again in the chamber and I am still cold. I move to stand closer to myself, and peer deeply into my eyes. I wait for the warm light to come and relieve me of my watch. I wait for the peace that comes with death. I wait . . . .
It was the first of August, 1999 when Mom first moved into that house, and it was the second day of the month when I heard the violin.
I had an apartment, but I spent the summer break helping her move.
We slept above boxes and bubble wrap. We had set up the CR-TV, and I hooked up my dreamcast to play Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Mom came in that night to thank me for helping her move in.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
I was trying to solve the puzzle and still had my biker jacket on, because she hadn’t put on the heat.
“I’m okay,” I told her.
“You know I love you.”
“I know, Mom.”
She wandered over to one of the boxes and took out sheets of music. She flipped through the pages and laughed uncomfortably to herself.
“You know,” she said, “I always wanted you to play the violin. Figured it was hereditary.”
“I know, Mom.”
“Hmm,” she said, “my own daughter, without an ear for music.”
I touched my ear while not looking at her.
“I love music. I just never could understand why it meant so much to you to have me play.”
“On lonely nights, I can hear it,” she said.
My mother wasn’t all there.
She had a lot on her plate. She wanted her perfect little daughter to go to a prestigious music school, and my father used to beat her and tell me that it was a waste of time.
I got over it. I didn’t listen to either of them. My father died a long time ago, and I have zero memories of him.
My mom and I kept ourselves above water. We managed.
I had a wonderful boyfriend who I was living with, and a friend of mine was watching over my dog. I got to sleep more often, play games, and paint. I got to do what I pleased.
Mom had never lived in a house before, and neither had I. But this was a nice two-story house for her to start over again.
She flipped through another page of her music and placed it in her box.
She always wanted me to be like her, but Mom had her flaws too, flaws that I would prefer not to talk about, ‘though I have to. She was insane. Mom listened to music and said that a thin man on the edge of a hilltop would waltz her into eternity.
She liked violins. She loved them, in fact. Strings were her life and pulling them was never too hard for her.
Mom liked to pull the strings, and she stood there for a long time looking at me while I was trying to concentrate on the game. I had gotten to a crucial section of it, and a lullaby music box had started to play from the TV to further the narrative.
She backed out of the room with an insect scuttle, and when I looked up she was gone.
I heard her whisper, and it echoed, “Goodnight . . . . Goodnight . . . .”
I went to the guest bedroom not long after and crashed on the air mattress.
I was reading a short story collection when I first heard it. Mom taught me famous violin solos, so I could recognize the song instantly from just the few first strings. Its manipulative strings.
“I always wanted you to play the violin,” I heard, “thought it was hereditary.”
I got up from my bed upset, looked out the window, and listened to the sad strings.
It was Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 - 2. Canzonetta Andante. The song haunted the night air along with my mother’s voice. I thought she was the one playing the violin. The music drifted out into her new backyard of opportunity, yet it felt as if she was crying through the strings.
But it wasn’t her.
There was a full moon that night, and I could see a thin silhouette waltzing on top of the hill nearby. He was playing so smoothly. Every note was so perfect that you could almost picture a whole orchestra waiting at the bottom of the hill to play along. An involuntary shiver went through my body each time he plucked a string.
He was abnormally thin and extremely tall. His hair was messy, there were great big circles under his eyes, and his skin was so pale that it reflected the moonlight. He waltzed and waltzed, and at one point he stopped and turned and stood at his full height. He must have been at least nine feet tall!
I stepped away from the window. I didn’t know what to think.
I wasn’t sure if he had noticed me. He was too similar to the tall, thin man that Mom had been going on about, but I tried to put it out of my mind. I decided to sleep it off.
I left a few days later after Mom was done moving in, but I returned later that month to visit. That was when I heard it again. I was in the backyard that time, and the music was coming from inside the house.
Mom stepped outside, and she started laughing and dancing around in circles to the beat of the song.
I walked back inside and saw that The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari was playing on the TV. I froze and a shiver went down my spine when I looked at the screen. A character in the movie named Cesare looked almost exactly like the man I had seen earlier that month. The only difference was that the man with the violin had been thinner, taller, and more fallible in his movements.
It horrified me to be reminded of that odd man and be forced to remember his violin.
I would only hear it one more time, but that would be enough for me to understand him. I would soon see why he played.
Some time had passed before I found myself back at my mom’s house. I was staying over for the holidays with my boyfriend. We stayed in the guest bedroom, but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t when I heard the violin playing a third time.
I couldn’t recognize the melody, but I was overwhelmed with sadness when I heard it. Pictures of my mom and memories from my childhood flashed across my mind. It felt like I was seeing them for the first time, like I was understanding what everything really meant.
My mom did everything for us. It cost her life, her sanity. Did it cost mine too?
The music was still playing hauntingly when someone knocked softly at the bedroom door. My boyfriend was still asleep.
Before I could get out of bed and open it myself it creaked open. My mother was standing just outside the door.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“Mom . . . who is that?”
“The Violinist. The player above all players. He plays and pulls the string and when he stares he stares not mindlessly, but at the things beyond human comprehension.”
The somber melody ended, and the Devil’s Trill began to play.
I had just pulled back the covers and gotten out of bed when she crossed the room. One second my boyfriend was sleeping peacefully under the blanket. The next he was a corpse with several stabwounds lying in a bed soaked with blood. I hadn’t seen my mother’s hands in the dark. I couldn’t have known that she had a knife with her.
I didn’t even hear my boyfriend’s screams. I only heard the deafening shrieks of the violin as the music intensified.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and tried to call for help. I tried to run. I tried to push her away, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t hear anything as my own screams and the music and the sickeningly wet sounds of a knife going in and out of a torso overlapped and muddled together. I couldn’t do anything but cry as I tried to get my mom to stop. I just needed everything to stop.
She threw me to the floor and stood over me. All of the sounds faded away as the music ended. The room was quiet except for the faint drip of blood falling from the knife onto the hardwood floor.
“Don’t you see? You should have played, but you cannot. You cannot pull the strings.”
“You do not pull the strings…he does.”
The song restarted. It felt like the notes were coming from the walls, trying to claw their way towards me.
I didn’t want to accept that my own mother had murdered my boyfriend. I couldn’t accept it, but if I hadn’t she would have killed me too.
My legs wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get up. I could only move my arms, so I crawled across the floor away from my mother. I had to get out the door.
The violin stopped playing for a few seconds, then started back up again. It played, then stopped, then played, then stopped each time louder than the last.
I sobbed and covered my face in my hands when I realized where the music was coming from. Whoever was playing that cursed violin was now standing in the hall right outside of the door. There was no other exit.
I heard the violin play and stop one last time.
The floorboards creaked as someone stepped into the room, and the walls groaned in protest when they skittered to the ceiling like a spider. I could hear its ragged breathing and the way his nails scratched off the wallpaper.
I didn’t want to see him, but I moved my hands away from my face and looked anyway. I already knew who he was. This was the Violinist.
“Veidit. My love,” my mother swooned.
The Violinist turned to her, twisting his neck in the process, “I thought it was hereditary?”
“My…dear…it is…” she said.
“How?? Our daughter does not play music. She’s a somnambulist! She sleepwalks. All she needs is to open her eyes. Let me help her open them,” he said with a sickeningly sweet tone.
He dropped from the ceiling, crouched over me, and his long fingers stretched forward to press against my forehead. My hand found a piece of scrap wood on the floor by the door, and I thrust it towards his chest. It sank in with a spray of blood, and the Violinist writhed and screamed above me. He was gone after I blinked though. He was outside, back on the hilltop playing the same song that I had heard months ago, and I was back in my mother’s bedroom looking out the window.
“Well done my daughter,” I heard him say over the music.
I saw it all then. I knew what Mom wanted, and I knew what I wanted.
She wasn’t all there and I wasn’t all there.
She was right. It was hereditary.
I’m restrained in a straight jacket in a stiff chair. I can vividly see the bloody bodies of my mom and my boyfriend playing over and over again in my mind. Music is playing over the hospital’s loudspeakers. It’s a violin soloist.
The doctors are preparing to give me an injection.
“How are you feeling?” the doctors ask me as I rock back and forth.
“I’m okay,” I say, rocking back and forth as much as I can.
“Do you want us to turn off the music?” they ask.
They turn off the loudspeakers, but the music keeps playing. I know that I’ll see him there before I turn towards the dark window. The Violinist is waltzing and playing as merrily as ever. The doctor’s voice is muddled now, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.
Everything is gone. My cursed heritage is in my blood.
She did not help. Daddy did not help. The Violins…the violins…were the horrors that shrank back and squealed in my mind, and August of 1999, I helped myself. I cut my strings.
“They have driven me from hearth and home,” I say as the doctors hold me down and slowly unlatch the straight jacket to inject my daily medication.
Inspired by the painting Gas by Edward Hopper
The oil runs dry at the last rest stop for miles. A vintage Mobilgas sits with its three vacant pumps underneath the buzz of lights that say, “Gas, food, convenient store, coffee, 24/7.”
The attendant looks up from his comic book when the rope rings the bell from outside. Someone’s pulled in, he thinks as he closes his horror comic at a zombie crashing into an Archie Bunker look-alike’s car and overtaking the two men inside at ‘Smooch Point.’ They knew what they were doing with that comic, thinks the attendant as he steps outside to hear the rumble of a truck engine cut.
A woman steps out of the vehicle, pushes up her trucker cap, and buttons up her flannel.
“Howdy there,” she says.
“Howdy, need a filler?” the attendant asks.
“Do I! I’m grabbing some coffee.”
The gas attendant holds up his hand, “Be my guest.”
She smiles and enters the gas station alone. The attendant checks underneath the car and there’s a puddle that looks like oil. He studies it and then returns to the register to cash out her selection of rations: an extra large coffee, three packages of Twinkies, and a Pleasant Nightmares comic book.
“Will that be all?”
“That’ll be it.”
“I saw a puddle underneath your truck. Figured I’d inform you before I pump?”
She nearly spits out the coffee.
“A–puddle?” she coughs. “Where?!”
He leads her outside to where it was but it’s gone.
“Lord, you had me hounding for a scare then.”
Must’ve hallucinated it, the attendant thinks. “Sorry about that.”
“You’re fine. Must get awfully funny out here when it's late.”
“You have no idea.”
She smiles and pats him on the back. The attendant pumps her gas and she pays and leaves.
He returns to his counter when the rope rings again.
“Again? This is gonna be a busy night.”
The attendant steps out to find nobody is there. He looks from end to end at each endless stretch of road, but there’s nothing. The trees shadow the purple ghosts dancing across the sky as the attendant wonders in that moment if he’s ever prayed to a god or his ancestors.
That’s when he sees the puddle in front of the gas pumps. Confused, he approaches it with caution. He bends down and traces his finger through it. Rubbing it between his fingers he thinks it must be just gas. He smells it and it gives off that faint methane scent.
Curious, he depresses his finger into the puddle. He jumps back when his whole hand disappears. It felt like a pocket in an underground spring. His hand is covered in black, potent with methane and sulfur.
The attendant looks around to see if a seal has been broken and if there is a leak underneath the pumps. But there are no cracks. There are no traces of damage to the ground. It is a clean hole as if it had always been there.
The attendant, disturbed now, takes a rag and wipes his black coated arm clean.
He returns inside to find a wide-shouldered, round man in all black wearing a wide- brimmed fedora and a smile that looks like it will never go away.
“Does the blood answer to gas?” the stranger asks in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry?” the attendant asks withdrawing a bit.
He looks out to see if a car had pulled in at all. In this dense alcove of nowhere it doesn’t surprise him, though, that someone might have entered the station without his knowing. He does not see a car outside which runs his blood cold and the puddle is gone again too.
“Wh-what can I do for you?” he asks the man facing away from him.
“I’ve come to give an offer,” the stranger says.
“And what offer is that?”
“I would like to buy this land. Underneath it is oil. And out here in this frontier my boy, oil is paid in blood.” He pushes his hat up and his wide grin and eyes without eyelids have the attendant grabbing at the door handle without him knowing.
“I am the Baron,” he says. “I have worked my many years in oil.”
His shoes clack on the linoleum floor as they can hear the rain start to pour outside.
“You want . . . to buy this land?” the attendant asks.
“Fill the phantoms and the evils and we have a deal. Draw up the contracts for when God comes to talk to us.”
“I don’t own this land.”
“No one does. It’s full of ghosts. Ghosts and gas are both a familiar tale.”
“They’re fading from existence.” The Baron leans into the attendant with his smile. “Ghosts like us are going to run out eventually.”
He walks around and points out his Model-T Ford which has manifested from nowhere. The attendant didn’t see it in front of the pump when he first looked.
“I own the first ever automobile, my boy, and I get to places faster than anyone. Can you move? Or did you stand idly waiting for the next bell to go off in your flea-like existence?”
The Baron takes his hat off and brushes dirt and dust off it to reveal that the top of his head has caved in. The attendant does not react. He doesn’t know how. The stranger replaces the hat back on his head and continues out the door.
“Fill’er up,” the Baron whispers.
Following him out to the car, the attendant can vaguely make out the haunted road where echoes of rifles from dead quail hunters and outlaws stand about.
Apparitions file along the trees in a misty haze as the light of day fully disappears. Something is off as the attendant takes out the pump and proceeds to pump the gas.
“And fill up the tank that I have for a spare. I have a long drive back to the railroad.”
“Where did you say you were from?” the attendant asks.
“I didn’t, but I’m from California.”
“What year is this?”
“1910.” The attendant gulps as the Baron’s eye does not blink but continues to stare soullessly into the boy. “Time fades for the bleeding hack. Like me you got nothing left but to run from the dust that’s only lookin’ to be your friend after time has guzzled away your last drop.”
The attendant refuses to make eye contact as the Baron enters his car, “It’s a shame you didn’t accept my offer.”
“I don’t have any authority in your offer.”
“But you work here. Therefore, you should have taken it while you had the chance. Now you’ll suffer for it!” He places his two fingers on his hat, bends it, and drives off into the rainy night.
The attendant returns to his counter, bug-eyed and watching the forcefully penetrating rain, wondering if that man will make it to his train, or if he had died on his way here?
That’s when he sees the puddle again. Out in the center and rain drops plop into it until a head emerges from it. It rises holding a wide brimmed hat and a horrific grin. It’s him. The Baron.
In a panic, the attendant rushes to the door and locks it and picks up the phone to find that it’s an old rotary candlestick phone. He dials for the police or tries to, but the words have rearranged and so have the numbers.
The store goes dark as the attendant hears a creak from behind him. Turning slowly the attendant finds the Baron standing there. The Baron grabs the attendant by the neck and throws him out in the dark.
The attendant lands right where the puddle is, and the Baron proceeds to shove the poor attendant into its black depths.
“You should have seen what offers could have been given to you!”
The attendant coughs and begins to laugh; the Baron, confused, lets him up.
“Make a deal with God before you come fingering your past, Dalton,” the attendant says.
The attendant knew his real name, but how?
“What are you?” the Baron asks.
The Baron feels a blow to his chest. A revolver has put itself there as the ghosts from the store move out in a black mass and crowd over his bleeding heart.
“A ghost . . .”
The shadows hold the Baron down as the attendant shoves a nozzle into the Baron’s blown-out chest, causing petroleum to spew out from his mouth and eyes and nose and ears as he squirms for fear and begs for dear mercy as the strings of an orchestra squeal in the night from his gurgling lungs.
“Blood does answer to the gas. And as for you, Dalton, I thought I told you to keep off this land.” The Baron’s mutilated body says nothing. “I’ve done this to you every year on this night and you still expect that deal. Please don’t make me cry.”
The attendant sees the ghosts fade and a coyote bays in the far distance and he thinks of reading his risque comic. The attendant switches off his nozzle and returns to his comic while the shadows tear into the broken future.
Let it pump. Let it spill. The black silk is the new Silk Road.
Men, even of statures to the rank of attendant, have entitlement to their oil, he thinks as he shut the door to the haunted valley to call it a night.
The city where the church stood did not exist like the mountains that followed. While the trees began to shed their October dress, the lights that withered between the streets of Tilson died and stayed dead. Even the fawn in their first year would take part in the unwritten understanding that everything beautiful would be buried and born again in the same months as it always did. Though such comfort in routine would see its defeat in most of the city, a portrait of tradition could be found in the faces at a church dinner.
Two women, Beth and Talisha, sat alone at a table fit for six others. Beth’s plate was being freshly filled for a third time as she enjoyed listening to the clash of silverware with the chattering of familiar voices. She nodded in approval, allowing her tall stature to take in the room. When she sat down, she noticed Talisha still toying with her first plate of pasta.
“Did you try the venison chili?” Beth asked.
“I did. It’s good,” Talisha spoke softly.
“It’s from Ryan and Sarah,” Beth stated proudly. “Knowing Ryan, he probably went up in the mountains and found it himself. Tasted as fresh.”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“Did you hear about their niece? Little Jessie?” Beth whispered, looking around the room.
“I did…I did,” Talisha said, putting down her fork.
“Can you believe that? Little Jessie…remember how happy she was coming here. Why did she stop?”
“That was a long time ago,” Talisha pondered.
“I wish she had stayed,” Beth continued. “The church could have helped her. God could have helped her.”
“Maybe. Who really knows?”
The chatter around the room grew quiet. Many began to return their plates and gather their coats. The sound of chairs scraping against the gray polyester carpet filled the room.
“She used to run around during Sunday school with those little pirate toys,” Beth went on. “Always a smile, always a bright look on her face. You just knew she had Jesus in her heart.”
The two sat in silence for a while and watched the room empty out almost completely. Talisha got up to hand in her plate as Beth waved hers for Talisha to take as well. When she got back, she looked around the room and noticed only a few stragglers left.
“The first thing she did when she got here in the morning would be to wrap her little arms around Cathy, then she would run to her again before she left,” Beth said, looking over at an older lady sitting alone at a table across the room, “That part never changed. Even at fourteen or fifteen, you could never separate those two.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Talisha said, glancing in the same direction.
“You lose that purpose in life when you stop believing,” Beth went on, “and you give up that sense of community when you stop coming to church. I wouldn’t know what to do without it. . . . I mean, look what she did.”
Talisha’s eyes perked up from her plate. “We don’t know why she did what she did.”
“She was depressed!” Beth snapped with an offended tone. “Who wouldn’t be in this world without God?”
“It takes a lot to have faith nowadays,” Talisha raised her voice slightly.
“She had faith! Then she stopped coming. That’s the problem.”
“How do you know what her problem was?”
“I’m just saying what I see,” Beth retorted.
“So, she would hug Cathy, go home, and then what?” Talisha interrogated. “You talk about her as if she lived here. You don’t know what she did for fun, how she did in school, don’t know why her parents stopped coming. For an hour a week, you watched her hug Cathy and play with toys and now you know what her problem was?”
Beth didn’t flinch. She stood up straight, threw her shoulders back, and spoke softly. “Her problem was my problem as a child. I would have preached the gospel to her as my mother did to me, as I would to anyone thinking of ending their life. You should do the same. You should’ve wanted for Jess what you have for yourself.” She leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table and grasping her hands. “You have this church and carry His spirit. She only had it as a child before she chose to leave us behind. You sat at the same table she did. The difference is you stayed.”
Talisha sat up. “Not here, not this table,” she protested. “I’m going to check on Cathy or do you know the answer to grief as well?” Talisha made her way over to the other side of the room and sat next to Cathy near the window. “How are you, Cathy?” Talisha asked in the same tone she would her mother.
“I’m fine dear, how are things with you? What on earth were you and Beth being so back and forth about?”
“We were just talking about Jess,” she said somberly.
“Little Jessie? How is she?” Cathy said with excitement.
“No one told you?” she asked with concern.
“No…no, what happened?”
“Cathy…why don’t we get out of here, leave the church for a while?” Talisha asked softly, reaching out to hold her hand.
They drove off getting lost somewhere between the laws they left behind and the unwritten ones that followed.
The mountains stood just as tall in the summer that preceded. They welcomed a frequent visitor to once again tread on the critters below. Jessica returned to her favorite spot where the view was another world and the cliffside wore its moss like a soft glove.
“You need to call out of work and join me right now,” Jess said, turning her phone around for Talisha to see her view.
“Stop! I’m already mad for missing this weather,” Talisha responded.
“My mother loved this place,” Jess reminisced.
“I still remember the first time she took us. I never wanted to leave,” Talisha said in the same tone.
“Everyone from church tells me she’s in a better place. How is that possible?”
“Is that why you haven’t been going? Cause I feel that.”
Jessica crossed her legs, dangling them over the cliff. She placed the phone on her lap, placed her hands comfortably on the moss behind her, and leaned back on the support of her arms.
“People have fallen off, you know,” Talisha added, realizing where the camera had moved, “living on the edge.”
“People have done it, but no one can say what it’s like,” Jess said. “Do people even miss me at church?”
“Of course! Jess…are you kidding? Everybody in church loves you.”
“I know…you guys say that a lot too.”
It Is Never Too Late
I am an Army veteran. I am also a convicted felon. I have owned a half-million-dollar house, and I’ve lost everything to addiction. I have been a rising star, and I have been an utter disappointment. Through my trials and tribulations, I have learned this: no matter how hard life gets, no matter how far off course life can become, it is never too late to change it.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, played a major role in my life. On 9/11, as it is commonly referred to, four separate but coordinated attacks on the United States were carried out by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda. On that morning, four commercial airliners were hijacked. The first two planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. The third plane was flown into The Pentagon in Washington D.C. The fourth plane crashed down into a field in Pennsylvania. It is the deadliest attack on American soil in U.S. history, with 2,750 people killed in New York, 184 people killed at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania (Bergen). All 19 terrorists died, and over 400 police and firefighters were killed (Bergen). In response to the attacks, the United States launched the Global War on Terrorism. Wanting to make a difference, I joined the Army in April 2004 as an infantryman, with full knowledge that I would be heading to the Middle East.
After a year stationed in Ft. Drum, New York, I was deployed. In August 2006, my Battalion, 2nd Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment, flew in a commercial flight from Ft. Drum to Germany, where we refueled before continuing the flight to Kuwait. After a week in Kuwait, we boarded a military C-130 aircraft that flew us to Baghdad, Iraq. Our objective for the deployment was to take over a terrorist stronghold in an abandoned power plant. In October, A Co. 2-14 fought our way into the powerplant. For most of us, it was our first time being shot at, and our first time shooting at others. For me, it was extremely exhilarating, a high unlike any I had ever felt.
However, we were only two months into a fifteen-month deployment, so we had a long time to go. For several months things went relatively smoothly. We would receive “pop shots” here and there (someone would shoot a couple of rounds at us and then run away), but no one had gotten hurt.
That changed on May 17, 2007, when Sgt. Steven Packer was killed on a routine dismounted patrol in Rushdi Mullah, Iraq. Steven was my friend, on his third deployment to Iraq. I was in 3rd Platoon, and he was in 1st Platoon, so I wasn’t on that mission and didn’t see it happen. It did break my heart, though. That night, zipped completely into my sleeping bag, I cried. My squad leader, SSG. Joseph Weiglein, knew that I had previously been in 1st Platoon and was close with Steven. In the following days, we had several talks. He was consoling me, and it helped.
Twelve days later, as I was walking back from the Euphrates River with my squad to the power plant, I heard an explosion. It took me a few moments to gain my composure, and when I did, what I saw was a nightmare. Sgt. Richard Correa was the point man (up front) and had stepped on an improvised explosive device. The explosion was so large that it killed both him and my squad leader SSG. Joseph Weiglein. I was the platoon RTO (radio telephone operator), so on top of my infantryman duties, I carried the radio. It was my job to keep my composure and call in a medevac. I could smell the murderous gunpowder and feel the exploding dirt still raining from the sky. I identified the grid coordinates, switched my radio channel, and called in the 9-line medevac. About ten minutes later, we loaded our fallen brothers onto the Blackhawk helicopter that came to us and solemnly walked home. I was in shock. It would take several days for reality to sink in, and for me to allow myself to weep and mourn the loss of my friends. SSG. Weiglein had slept on the cot directly next to mine, so every time I turned my head to see that empty cot was a reminder of that horrible day.
There is a terrible stigma in the military concerning mental health. Drilled into our heads we repeated, “We are the U.S. Army. We are soldiers. We are the best America has to offer. We must be tough!” When I returned to Ft. Drum in November 2007 because my deployment to Iraq was over, I was treated like a hero. My daughter would be dressed in flag outfits that say “my daddy’s a hero.” People would thank me for my service. I didn’t feel like a hero. I was angry. I was having nightmares and flashbacks. I didn’t feel tough, but I never talked to anyone about it. I started drinking heavily, every day. Everyone I deployed with did. Then one day, it was all over. My contract was done, and I was out of the Army, or so I thought. One year later, in 2010, I was recalled for a deployment to Afghanistan. When I returned from that deployment, my alcohol consumption picked right back up.
Then one morning in October 2012, I woke up and my hands were covered in scrapes. They were swollen. Something bad had happened. My phone rang that evening, and when I picked it up I discovered it was the police calling. There had been a bar fight and I was wanted for questioning. I have no memory of the incident. I don’t know what started it or who was at fault. Defenseless, I was scared. I was charged with felony assault and arrested. After accepting a plea deal, I was incarcerated in Washington County Jail for six months with five years of post-release probation. According to Marisol Dominguez-Ruiz, writing for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
We know now that PTSD can result from a traumatic event such as combat. PTSD can be triggered suddenly and can present in a variety of ways, and veterans with PTSD are about 60 percent more likely to be incarcerated than those without it. People with PTSD are also more likely to have a substance abuse disorder, which can also lead to incarceration. In fact, almost one third of America's war veterans have been arrested or booked into jail. (Dominguez-Ruiz)
Therapy would have been a much better life choice than self-medicating with alcohol, but I wasn’t ready. To make matters worse, I became addicted to methamphetamines. I was numbing myself so that I didn’t have to deal with my trauma. I suffered that addiction for three years, and they were the darkest years of my life. While in active addiction, everything I did was fueled by addictive thinking. I was on the hunt for instant gratification. Gambling became an everyday pastime. I once won $40,000 in a day, only to lose every penny of it to drugs and gambling over a two-week period. My life was a whirlwind of misery. My brain, which was very sick at the time, started to think that maybe suicide would be a good option. I was tired of living in the same destructive cycle. Certainly, no one thought of me as a hero now. I was just a sad story, a once promising young man with a felony conviction and a drug problem.
Then one night I had a moment of clarity. I knew I couldn’t beat my addiction myself. I had tried and failed before. I told my wife Sarah, “I need to go to rehab. I need to go now.” After a little bit of online searching, we found St. Joe’s Addiction Center for Veterans, and a couple days later I was on my way to Saranac Lake.
It was January of 2021. It was snowing on the drive there. As we made our way further into the Adirondack Park, I thought, “It really is beautiful up here. Why have I never come up here before?” I was scared though and tried not to show it. I knew the detox would be painful. I knew the therapy would be painful. I went anyway. I was ready to feel better. I was ready to fix my life.
St. Joe’s is an amazing place. It has truly been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I went to several group therapy sessions a day, and I did the work. We dug into my PTSD (I was diagnosed after I got out of jail), and my substance abuse every day. I opened up about my past, my feelings, my fears, and my addiction. I learned about addiction and how my thought process was working. I took the time to slow down and heal.
Recovery comes first and foremost in my life now. Because of recovery, I have been able to mend the damaged relationships with my children. I have earned their trust back. I have been clean and sober for thirteen months now. I have a growth mindset now, and last September I decided I was ready to put it to work. I am now attending SUNY Adirondack, and I have no plans of just passing my classes. I am going to excel.
I learned that trauma left untreated is very dangerous. Our society should be dismantling any stigma attached to mental health. We should be pushing people to get the help they need, instead of judging them for needing help. Today I am thirty-six years old, and my story is proof that it is never too late to turn your life around. There is never a point in which you have veered too far off the path and cannot go back. Changing your life is not easy, but it is possible. A year ago I was in rehab because I had hit rock bottom. Today I am a college student, and I once again have a promising future.
Bergen, Peter L. “September 11 Attacks.” Britannica.com, Mar. 2003, updated 17 Mar. 2023,
Dominguez-Ruiz, Marisol, Kyle Virgien, and Corene Kendrick. “Our Veterans Need Support,
Not Incarceration.” American Civil Liberties Union, Nov. 11, 2022,
My Self Discovery
I was on vacation in Cape Cod in the basement of my step-grandma’s cottage, watching a YouTube video of the Dobre Brothers, my favorite YouTubers at the time. The four brothers were all shirtless playing outside on a water slip and slide and goofing around having the best time of their lives together. I thought to myself, I wish this could be me; I wish I could go shirtless and be like them. Before the video even ended, I went on the internet to find out what I was feeling and why I was feeling this way. I felt hopeless. I knew there was something about me that I just couldn’t describe. It was unbearable to feel something that I couldn’t explain or find the words to illustrate.
During internet research, I came across the term “transgender.” I read the definition, and looked further into the term and the signs of being trans. I started to feel like this was me, but I couldn’t be sure, so I took random internet quizzes of “Am I Transgender?”, “LGBTQ quizzes,” “Am I FTM Trans or just a Tomboy?” The results of the quizzes I took all said that there is a very good chance that I am trans. They all said that I am definitely not a girl.
After all of the research, I spent a good amount of time just thinking. I thought, “Damn . . . this is me”—all of the hatred and agonizing feelings towards my body, wanting to chop my hair off, and my perception of myself to society. The internalized struggles I have felt my whole life were actually something real and not just me going crazy and thinking I was just a weird “tomboy.” Knowing that there was something more beyond just “female” and “male,” and that there is a whole entire community that I never knew existed, made me feel like I finally belonged somewhere, and I could be that person that I knew myself to be. I had known my whole life that I was different; I felt a weird feeling about my life and my body that I couldn’t describe.
In elementary school we would have lip syncing battles and we’d be placed into groups; these groups would be split up with all boys and all girls. Every time I was in a group with all girls, we would always do very girly songs by Katy Perry or something and then make up a cringy dance that I would have to do. We would have to perform it in front of a crowd of people in our auditorium. We would normally be dressed up in pink or purple outfits with glitter and girly props. Every single time, I wished that I could be placed into a group with the boys. They always looked like they had a lot of fun; they would play with props like guitars and boyish things and dance to Bruno Mars or other male singers. I got jealous and always wished I could do that instead. I didn’t know why; I just knew I wanted to be with the boys.
Then there was the time where I impulsively chopped my hair off, knowing that I did it for a reason, but not necessarily knowing why I did it. Afterwards, surprisingly, I felt a little bit better about myself. There were a few times where my mom would put me in a dress, and I felt very uncomfortable. I didn’t know why; all I knew is that I felt uncomfortable in dresses and absolutely did not want to wear one. I couldn’t figure out why I hated it so much.
In gym class in middle school, we would have our swimming unit. I was highly uncomfortable dressing down in our bathing suits in front of other girls; I hated how tight the swimming suit lay against my skin showing off my chest to not only myself, but other people. I felt very insecure about my body and wished I didn’t have to wear a “girls” swimming suit. I just wanted to go shirtless and just wear swim trunks like boys. This feeling was unbearable; I couldn’t figure out why I was like this, why I wanted this so badly.
Thinking about old memories finally made sense. I remembered wanting to fit in and be considered “one of the boys.” All those times of hanging out with boys over girls, the times where I felt a weirdly gratifying feeling whenever people referred to me as a boy—it all made sense to me now.
Gender has never been something I ever really thought about; it wasn’t something that people talked to me about as a child. I never thought about gender all that much; I was just being the happy little kid that I was. I presented the way I wanted to, not caring about how other people saw me, but I also secretly wanted people to see me like a boy.
Reading the definition and signs of being transgender just made everything fall into place, like that last puzzle piece was added to the puzzle; it sounded exactly like me, like that was what I was missing my whole life.
I felt scared. I was scared of how society would see me. Scared of rejection. Scared that my friends and family wouldn’t support me. Scared of my father’s reaction and that he would yell at me or disown me. Scared that I would never feel any acceptance from people and that this discovery would just make my life worse. Yet as much as I felt scared, I also felt excited. I was so happy to finally present the way that I wanted to. I wanted to cut my hair short, wear more masculine clothes, have people start referring to me by a different name and pronouns, start testosterone, and undergo top surgery.
The more I thought about it, it started to feel more real. I got up from the bed and strutted into the bathroom. I looked up into the mirror and gazed at my reflection. I tried to see a more masculine version of myself, and I smiled.