Student Writing from the 2015 Winter Showcase
Sometimes you are waiting for something to happen but you are always left waiting. You spend more days in a car than you do in your bed. The afternoon is a good time to marvel at trees of various seasons and you finally think you know what it means to be whole because you’ve lost all mathematical ability to understand fractions.
Sometimes you appreciate winter sun as it sneaks past the shade and leaves the front door looking like an oddly stained rosewood. It is as though you’ve learned to understand the seasons. The globe on your desk rotates at an angle that makes the sidewalk seem crooked and you trip into the library gripping a railing while your legs retract their mysterious fatigue.
Sometimes you restart your system by setting aside the plate of obligations you feed yourself every morning. You take a deep breath and turn to the wall because you cannot appreciate winter sun at this time. White walls make for great pillows you tell yourself when you are left in the hallway. Still waiting
for something to happen to you to anyone to something around you so you pursue a better understanding of the seasons but you find that you are left hanging with one arm hooked around a branch which is slowly chipping at the edges of the clock that you’ve snoozed eight too many times so
You turn away from the wall. You warm up a ceramic plate of obligations mixed with leftovers from yesterday and from weekends ago. You do not sing while taking a shower. You let the shower take you. Your unsteady hands build a cradle for your unsteady head until the water is slightly warmer than what you wanted. It leaves you waiting you are always left,
You’ve found a home in domesticated paradise and loose dirt makes you sneeze. The kids run to trucks for ice cream. It isn’t summer, but winter is too far away– or too close. You feel like a used batch of coffee filters, or maybe you’ve spent too many nights watering plastic trees. Weeks later, you will blow out the candles and wish your situation was not so disposable.
Every day has become a Tuesday now, and midnight is subject to roadblocks from construction. You find solace on a rooftop and finally take a seat after deciding that even trying to scale the fall has become too much work. Sneakers hang by their laces, humbly ornamenting power lines as a man is seen incorrectly locking his bike to a mailbox. To crescent moons you pay homage; there is only ever sincerity in your lungs.
Sometimes you run out of things to sell, so you sit
at the kitchen table with your hands folded
around a glass of orange juice that hasn’t been sipped.
You’ve already traded all senses of composure
three months ago for a pack of stale cigarettes
which tasted like cardboard rain.
There are twelve cans of chili in your backpack,
but no can opener in your pocket.
You crave fresh onion tears.
The people from the basement walk out in pairs, ducking under the low threshold that opens into the backyard. They are scattered in an arrangement that resembles the pigeon droppings on the hood of your car. You pretend the oil has been changed.
The silent sounds of solemn consummation are drowned in sirens of the distance, and you are left wondering if the neighbors will ever take that song off repeat. Spaces in memory are heavy in weight when the door has locked behind you, keys still inside. Your skin has broken into craters.
You’ve made it twenty-six minutes without thinking of the color orange, but you will not make it twenty-six more. It is Tuesday morning again, like it was yesterday, and like it will be tomorrow. Though there is never guarantee of the sun’s rise, you dress yourself in corduroy and denim, and think of the faces you could have never met. You ache for an address that holds your name alone.
I Thought I Hated Haiku
I've developed this
of falling in love.
Your being swallows me whole
without second thought.
You are composure-
I am inconsequential.
our paths will not cross.
My eyes are simple,
Icy blue and humbly
They fail to compare
to your radiant gaze and
your crooked smile.
I struggle to craft
words with enough metaphor
enough: if - and - or
enough thought to couple you
with awe inspired.
You make my head spin,
with chaotic impulses
It is not enough.
for, as long as you are here
I'll dream in haiku
The man who made me
feel more in seventeen beats
than I've felt in years-
I do not know you.
I know only what I want
to believe you are.
To the frat guy I hooked up with last weekend,
I’m sorry I stole your shirt,
but you have my number if you want it back.
You looked so surprised when I straddled you,
while I was on the phone with my roommate.
Your hands clumsily fought the metal hooks
that held back my last bit of modesty
My tongue traced a trail from your earlobe to your belt buckle
and you writhed as if no one had ever done that before.
Your perfect teeth grazed my collar bone, but left no mark.
The only evidence that you were there was in the
warmth of blood racing to the surface of my cheeks.
Yes, I was too inebriated to untie my own sneakers, but
I remember the answers to all of the questions I asked you.
You have two dogs, dachshunds.
One is named Sky because
his fur is dark with lighter spots that look like clouds at night.
Your favorite color is purple,
you want to visit London,
You like Game of Thrones.
The reason your closet is a mess is because
there is no rod to hang your clothes on.
It does not bother you that the trim painted
on the wall where it meets the ceiling is uneven.
You still wear your retainer,
which explains why your teeth are so fucking perfect.
You wore jeans because your khakis looked funny that night,
you were not originally planning to dress like james dean.
You're 20 years old and your eyes are blue,
what color are mine?
The reason I asked you so many questions,
and why I made space in my memory for
all of your answers
is because I feel the need to justify my actions.
If I know you, then I can’t be a whore.
Why does nobody take into account that I went upstairs
on my own accord, and with my own intentions?
-not because I was drunk.
Why is it that I get muffled whispers of judgement?
while you get a round of applause for finally getting some.
Where are my celebratory high-fives and fist bumps?
Why am I the one adorned with scarlet letters?
"KS" for Kappa-Slut?
Who the fuck are they to measure my worth by my body count?
And if I am a slut, why is that such a dirty word?
How can four feeble letters carry shame when my shoulder can’t?
I grew up with the phrase, "words will never hurt me"
etched onto my palms so that I could remember them any time
I extended my hand to greet someone.
I wore that phrase like armor, and it protected me.
So why did growing up change so much?
when did the writing fade?
Find what you love and let it kill you.
Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and let it devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.
~ Falsely yours”
I shall profess,
Upon engaging with my beloved,
I have been shot, dead.
And it serves me right for reaching such
I lie sideways on a flattened surface with stuttering heartbeats,
Locking eyes with my beloved.
Oxytocin, a most lovely adrenaline.
No surgery could remove this
Snakes slither behind your back. First unseen, then later unforgotten.
Snakes attack the weak, they feast on the fragile.
Snakes release venom from their thin grins, puncturing hearts.
Snakes don’t blink, don’t think twice.
Snakes cannot be drowned.
Snakes aren’t sweet and smooth, more so savage and scaly.
Snakes don’t suffer from broken bones, so instead they go for yours.
Snakes lock their gaze with your vulnerable soul and
Snakes squeeze you dry, till every drop of unknowing spirit fills their thirsty veins.
Snakes slither onward with only hisses, no melodious love songs from a
Snakes, those vile beasts are found in the wild,
Watch your back in this concrete jungle; they’re disguised in human form.
so much depends
upon the first red brick
laid with callous hands
by a tired laborer
entire existences rely
on the stickiness
of gray grout
growing up can be like this
a type of brickwork
backed by a parent’s
made out to cold weather
and the tendency
to pack an extra brown bag
in the mornings
with her favorite sandwich
sat to waste
Studio Audio Work
Celine Dirkes's "Identity" Oral History Podcast
Julia Tache's "Feminism in Music" Oral History Podcast
In All Ignorance…
That Tuesday started out just like any other weekday. Mom, already dressed in her scrubs, woke me up and dragged me into the bathroom to get ready for school. She stared at her watch as I brushed my teeth. “Keep scrubbin’,” she’d say as I gagged at the taste of dry pasty mint. My clothes had been laid out on my bed: my favorite Mets T-shirt and a pair of cargo shorts, which I hate to wear. The smell of eggs and bacon lingering down the hall was all the motivation I’d ever need to dress quickly and meet Mom back in the kitchen. “You keep eatin’ so fast you’re never gonna know when you’re full!” she’d say to me as she’d sip her coffee, always black, and read The New Yorker.
On that particular morning, we were running a bit late. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence; I was slow on my feet, and Mom always had a million things to do before work. She put my backpack on, zippered my jacket, and pushed me out the door, closing it behind her. She always walked me halfway, to the point where I would meet up with Freddy and she would get on the subway for work. Freddy was okay. He would go on and on about his comic books; I’d nod my head and pretend to listen. I never really understood what he liked about them. He’d always tell me about his favorite super heroes, and when they would die he’d be extremely upset. Unlike him, however, I understood the pattern: each hero would miraculously come back to life. I liked sports, something Freddy knew nothing about. Some people joked that if you told him to run home, he’d actually go home.
At school I received a math quiz back, which I had failed. Mr. Peterson, like a broken record, told me how smart I was, and how I just didn’t apply myself. Mrs. Livingston read lines from Romeo and Juliet, while I imagined me and Mrs. Livingston holding hands, professing our love to one another. In gym class, to the disapproval of all my friends, I’d pick Freddy to be on our kickball team. I’d watch as he’d fall trying to kick the rubber ball as it bounced underneath his foot, and I’d feel embarrassed for him, as even Coach McCloon laughed.
It was after school that my day would go from ordinary to strange in a split second. As I walked out of the school doors, I noticed my Dad leaning against his 1986 Chevy Celebrity with his hands in his pockets. When I was younger my father would take me for rides, and I’d tell him to play rock and roll. I’d felt like a celebrity as I sat passenger in that car, cruising through Brooklyn with the windows down. I hadn’t seen Dad in three months, though, and before that his presence had been rare. He waved to me and smiled. “Hey, bud!” he said as he stood up off the hood of the car. His beard was long, and I could see his unkempt hair under his Mets hat. I was confused, and a bit nervous, but I walked over and gave him a hug anyway. “How are ya pal?” he said as he put his hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, Dad” I waved to Freddy as he made his way down the sidewalk to go home. “What are you doing here?” Dad looked around, as his smile began to straighten.
“If we hurry up we can catch the Met’s game…get in.” He opened the passenger door.
“Is Mom coming?”
“Mom’s still at work, kiddo.” He motioned toward the passenger seat. “Come on, Harvey is pitching. Get in.” I buckled my seatbelt as he closed the passenger door, and quickly made his way around to the driver’s side.
His car smelled the same. Cigarettes with a hint of aftershave and a mix of other things I just associated with Dad. Empty packs of Marlboro Lights and coffee cups riddled the floors, and the same air freshener hung from the rearview mirror. We drove for what seemed like an eternity. Dad didn’t speak much, other than briefly asking me about Mom. He told me that as man of the house, it was my obligation to take care of her. This made me feel powerful, even though when at home I’d never have a say. Mom was the boss, especially now that Dad was never around.
As we drove through the Holland Tunnel I closed my eyes and stuck my fingers in my ears. The bright yellow lights and the thought of the tunnel walls collapsing scared me.
“It’s alright bud, don’t be afraid.” Dad said.
“Where are we going?” I asked. I was sure the Mets game had already started.
“I just have to make a quick stop, Pal.” He said. “Hang tight,” He put the Met’s game on the radio. It had already started. “Look at that, we already got a man on second…and no one out!”
I got excited whenever Dad spoke about baseball. “You think we’ll win?”
“I don’t know, bud. It’s hard to say. We’ve been looking good so far though.” Dad coughed into his hand.
“Where are we?” I asked.
Dad looked worried, lost in thought. “Jersey City. Dad’s just gotta go talk to his friend for a minute.” He pulled to the side of the street, parking. “Come on, bud. The Mets should be on in here.” The sun was going down, and it was beginning to get dark. We walked up to a brick building on the corner of the street, with bright neon signs, which made it impossible to see through the windows. Outside stood a tall bald man, who smoked a cigarette and wore a leather jacket. The man nodded his head at Dad as we walked in.
The inside smelled similar to Dad’s car. There were some empty booths with torn red seats, and in the center, a bar shaped like a square. There were a few men at the bar, mostly old men who sat alone and kept quiet. There were also two younger men; their hair slicked back, both wearing shiny leather jackets with padding on the elbows, and smoking cigarettes. They reminded me of pictures Dad had showed me of himself when he was younger.
“Go sit down over there, Dad’s gonna go talk to his friend.” My father pointed to an empty corner at the bar. I climbed up onto the stool, and folded my hands together on the bar top. “Hey Deb, can you put the Mets on for him?” my dad asked.
The lady behind the bar had big boobs, which I stared at whenever she wasn’t looking. Her attention was spent mostly on the two men sitting at the other side. She poured a brown liquid into tiny glasses, and the men would tilt their heads back and slam the tiny glasses back down onto the wooden bar, making me jump in my stool each time. She noticed me looking over and smiled.
“Hey, hon,” she said, making her way towards me. “You want some pretzels?”
“No thank you,” I replied, “Can I have one of those instead?” I pointed over to the tiny glasses, now empty on the bar.
She laughed. “I’m sorry sweetie, I don’t think you can.”
I looked down, a bit embarrassed as I felt my cheeks turn red.
“How about a Coke?” she asked.
I sipped my Coke through a tiny red straw, just like the old man who sat alone three seats down from me.
“Your Daddy shouldn’t be too long, you just relax and let me know if you need anything.” She smiled as she wiped the bar with a damp white cloth.
I watched as the Mets took the lead over the Braves. I sipped my Coke, occasionally looking around at the different people. The old man with the red straw in his drink left, and the game was coming to a close. Dad was still in the room in the back. It had been quite a while.
“I have to pee.” I said.
Deb laughed. “Well then, go pee.” She pointed to the corner, where the bathroom was, right next to the room Dad was in. As I made my way over, I heard a pounding from behind the door he had gone through. A sliver of light spilled through the slight opening between the door and the jamb, spilling onto the dirty cracked floor. I peeked through to see a man tied to a chair. He had a bloody towel stuffed in his mouth. He looked scared, blood dripping from his forehead. He was crying.
“This is what happens when you fuck with the wrong people, Marty” I heard Dad yell as I made eye contact with the man. He let out a muffled scream, in an attempt to spit out the towel that had been stuffed in his mouth. I ran into the bathroom and stood for a moment, unable to understand exactly what I had just seen.
The bathroom smelled terrible, so I held my nose as I peed. The mirror was broken, and there was no soap in the dispenser. I scrubbed my hands together while the water ran, washing them as best as I could without soap. The thought of having dirty hands made me feel sick. There were no more paper towels, so I wiped my hands on my cargo shorts. When I left the bathroom, I saw Dad leaning over the bar. He had a sick smile on his face, one I’d never seen on him before, as he spoke to Deb. “There he is!” he said as he looked back at me. “Gimme one more, Deb.” She poured him some of that brown drink, and he took it back, and slammed it right onto the bar, just like those other men had done earlier. “Alright, Champ. Let’s hit the road. Time to go back to Mom.”
The ride home was pretty silent. “How about them Mets?” he said “You’re my lucky charm, I should bring you around more often.”
I kept quiet, only nodding. “What was that drink you had?” I said after a moment.
Dad looked over at me. “That’s called bourbon, kid.” He burped. “Excuse me.” He chuckled.
“Why couldn’t I have any?” I was a bit annoyed; if all those men could have it, and Dad did too, why couldn’t I?
He took a deep breath, as if he was exhausted from a long day. “Well son, bourbon is a drink for us old guys. Kids like you shouldn’t drink that stuff. Besides you don’t need it yet. When you’re old enough I’ll pour you your first.”
“But why are they in such tiny glasses?” I was puzzled.
He just began laughing. “Well you never can have too much of a good thing, now can ya?” We were going back through that tunnel. I pushed my fingers back into my ears, and covered my eyes. This time my Dad didn’t say anything.
When we arrived back in Brooklyn, my Dad walked me to the door. As he knocked I noticed cuts along his knuckles.
“Dad, what ha—“ I began to say but the door swung open.
Mom’s makeup ran down her cheeks and her hair was a mess. She grabbed me and held me tight, sobbing over my head.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She only gently pushed me into the house. “Go to your room”, she said softly.
I sat on my bed, shuffling my baseball cards. I put them in stacks based upon who I liked and disliked. On the left were my favorite players, all Mets. In the middle were the other ones I liked, and on the right were the ones I didn’t like. I’d gotten Freddy into collecting baseball cards. He had no idea who any of the players were, so I figured I’d trade him the ones from the pile on the right.
I listened as Mom and Dad screamed at each other.
“You can’t just drive up to his school and take him wherever the fuck you want!” Why not? I wondered.
“He’s my son! My fuckin’ boy! I can pick him up from school, I can take him wherever the fuck I want!”
I’d never seen it, but I’ve heard Dad when he gets angry, and it sounds scary.
“I should have called the police. Next time you pull that shit, I’m calling the police. I don’t care anymore. You come and go as you please, you’re a mess. I don’t want my son around you.”
I heard glass shatter. “Your son?!” Dad screamed. For a moment there was silence.
“Get out!” my Mom screamed. The door slammed shut. I watched through my window as my Dad got into his car, and sped into the night.
“They Once Were”
The paintings had once been alive. They once chattered incoherently, shuffling along the roads and bridges; otherwise, they’d keep to themselves, hiding beneath the pier, the manhole covers, the cellar at the grocer’s. They once frequented the cafes, the parks, the abandoned wharfs. They once nibbled at the bread thrown to them, and drank from rain puddles or unattended mugs.
They used to hold political beliefs, some radical, some reasonable; they used to have humanitarian purposes, like exposing corruption or helping the poor; they used to dream and think, to discuss amongst themselves in their covert language the mysteries of love, death, isolation, the human condition. They used to try and inform the populace, some successfully, some not. Some only described, some criticized, some applauded, some hated, and some were only having fun. Some were scorned within their own groups, and some were vindicated after years of trouble. Some were lost, in fires, storms, and war; some were lost to time. But even these were not truly lost, since at least one person could always remember them.
But one day, the paintings did not talk, nor shuffle about. The longshoremen and fisherwomen noticed first, then the bar patrons, then the teamsters, then the day laborers and artisans and intellectuals and officials. Soon, everyone knew.
The paintings, it seemed, had died.
Many questioned why they had died; was it a trick, perhaps, to make people care about them? Was it a minor illness, a change in style or concept? Could the paintings still feel, or were their emotions gone, just as much as their movements were?
A select few did not care at all about the fate of the paintings, saying that they were a waste, and not that lovely anyway. But many more were upset at this loss, uneasy about their own existence. The papers were busy the whole month; not one classroom or lecture hall was without mention of the paintings; students, teachers, professors, scholars, historians, and all other manner of academics, whether amateur or not, tried to determine or explain what had happened to the paintings.
Meanwhile, the workers, the patrons, the families, the servants, the bachelors, the owners, the couples, the children, the lonely, the wild, the strange, the surprisingly kind, the night hawks, the dawn risers, the optimists, the depressed, the newly depressed, the alcoholics, the insomniacs, the mentally uneased, the pure, the devout, the young, the experienced, and even those who claimed to be the uncaring, mourned and cried out in horror and shook their heads and shook the paintings’ frames, their eyes wide or closed in shock and in anguish.
They didn’t want the paintings to be dead. All the joy they had brought, all the wonder, the welcomed sorrow, the new ways of thinking and looking. It wasn’t possible for them to be dead. It couldn’t be like this, not forever.
Before long, the rains came; fearing for their beauty and wellbeing, many took the paintings home, and placed them on their walls. They hoped that this was just temporary, that the paintings would sometime sooner rather than later be restored, that they would once again chatter and nibble bread and shuffle along.
But no one could restore the life in them, and no one could learn how to, so they stayed there. Silent since then.
James M. Jackson
The day started like any other as the sun’s yellow orb rose in the east. Darkness waned and dawn washed away shadows, and dreams- as though they never existed. I was snug in my own bed, my own room, cocooned in a warm down comforter against the autumn chill that seeped into the house. I heard a noise. My door squeaked. Opened a crack. Wider. And then I could hear the sound of footsteps. They came right to the side of my bed.
It was standing over me.
“I want to axe you something.” I stared through sleep encrusted eyes, yawned, turned over and glanced at the clock. 6:00 am.
I shook my head. “I told you before. The word is ask. Not axe.” He stared at me, and then gave me a long blink with those big brown eyes. I knew that look. He wasn’t going anywhere until he got an answer to his satisfaction.
I sighed. “What do you want?”
“Can I go with you to the game today? Mom said it was alright.” He blurted.
“What? No. I’ll be playing, I don’t have time to babysit.”
“I’m not a baby,” he wailed. “You know, I never told Mom about that girl you had in here last week.”
That woke me up.
I had come home with Nancy Ross, and things got hot and heavy. I heard a noise in my closet, got up, opened the door, and there he was. Mouth agape and staring.
“What were you doing?” “Why do you have your shirts off?” Why was she kissing you down there?” His questions were asked in rapid fire succession. I had a hard time getting him to shut up- much less believe that we were playing “Doctor.” He didn’t buy it and now the little shit was blackmailing me.
“Keep your voice down.” I hissed. My brother Justin. He was ten years old, my own personal hemorrhoid, and had gotten to the stage where he wanted to know my every move, every thought. He followed me like a shadow around the house, and came into my room on a daily basis, scrounging through my things.
“Why don’t you play outside, in the tree house?” I asked. Our yard was bigger than any of our neighbors, it was a vast place, perfect for football, and playing samurai, for going on any quest you could imagine. He had inherited it, but that wasn’t enough, now he wanted more.
“I’m too big for the tree house, and it’s boring.” He crossed his scrawny arms over his chest, and glared. I could tell he was about to throw one of his tantrums.
“Too big? I played in that tree house till I was seventeen.” He squinted and gave me a sidelong gaze.
“Your only seventeen now.”
“That’s right. I just stopped going up there yesterday.”
“No way.” He grinned, flashing small teeth with one missing on top and bottom in the front. With his fresh haircut, green onesie pajamas, round head, and reddish brown skin, he looked like a cinnamon jack “o” lantern. I had to smile.
His eyes narrowed. “What are you grinning at?
“Oh nothing. I was just thinking about Halloween.” I was trying to keep a straight face.
“Plee-ase,” Justin stretched out the word so it was a dramatic plea. “Mom even said she would drop me off, and pick me up, since you’ll ride your bike there, so that won’t be a problem for you. I can watch your bike so no one steals-”
“Ugh, you’re killing me, Jus…Okay, okay, you can go, but you’d better forget what you saw last week, and be ready by ten. And you’d better listen to everything I tell you.” He was nodding, and smiling, like one of those bobble heads.
“Thanks, Gabe, I’ll do everything you say. Promise.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Yeah right. Now beat it and let me get a little more sleep.”
Seven Maples playground was about five miles away from our house. It was surrounded by seven huge maple trees that shaded a basketball court in the middle of a park. The park sloped down to the narrow lake which was surrounded by sun splashed benches and walkways. The area was a magnet for talented young players strutting their stuff and the hottest girls for miles. Justin was seated on the second row in the bleachers, watching the game, but also guarding my silver, sleek, seven month old Giant. A handful of the brothers in the neighborhood had Schwinn’s- good bikes- but I take my cycling seriously. I felt I needed to get the best. My two wheeled Mercedes was not only pretty in appearance but pretty important to me. It took a while to research and save enough to get it. I was actually glad my pain in the ass wanted to come today- I could concentrate a little better on the game without the usual glance over to check on my ride.
It was a jump ball foul that started the argument. The kid from the other team had started trash talking-at first. Then we collided during a play, and our dialogue became more insulting. I think he said something about my mother and then I went up for a jump shot, and he rammed me with his shoulder, knocking my body out of the air. I hit the ground, and actually saw stars with white lines like I was in hyper-drive. I was still trying to navigate beyond the blur when I raised up and punched him in his face. Immediately both sides of the court filled with spectators and players shouting. More fights erupted.
Above the melee and “Muthafuckas, Bitches, and Fuck yous,” the sudden blast of gunfire boomed coming like a thunder clap, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Anger vanished and panic descended in its place.
Everyone dropped, cringing low. Silence reigned for a spilt second, and then people began to run- some screaming- some sobbing, and all making their way to safety. I turned around checking the bleachers for where Justin had sat seconds earlier.
Now, scanning the frantic crowd I saw him. He was on the ground motionless.
“No.” My wail squeezed down to a whisper, but somehow it seemed to fill the space. I ran fighting against the surge of people running toward me. Time moved in nightmarish speed. I finally reached him and dropped to my knees, screaming his name. Still he didn’t move. “Jesus Christ”.” I cried. It wasn’t blasphemy- or profanity it was a prayer. People were still fleeing, no one was within fifty feet of my cries. A dark stain blossomed just below the words “Madison Middle School” on his white tee-shirt. I had to act. I had to move. It had to be now. I picked him up, got on my Giant, and took off. Holding his small body in one arm, he seemed so light, so frail, and I realized I hadn’t picked him up in a long time.
I pedaled full speed into the face of the wind. Tears tumbled from my eyes, shattering on my hand. Trees whipped by, and pine needles crunched under my wheels. I could smell asphalt and taste fear. My heart thumped, my jaw was clenched, and my shirt was plastered to my chest. I blew past the stop sign. A horn blared, tires screeched and then I heard a metallic crunch, and a loud boom. “Godammit!” an angry voice bellowed. I glanced behind me, turned, and was suddenly zooming up on taillights. I veered to the left, my shadow crashing against metal, handle bars scratching the car door in a jagged line. I glimpsed startled faces glare at me in anger, and then in shock, but they were quickly out of sight. The road ahead twisted, narrowed, dipped and climbed at random. I focused on the tunnel of space before me -and slid sideways across a puddle. I leaned into the turn, and bounced over a pothole.
And kept going. The hospital was one block ahead.
I could make it. He could make it.
We had to.
We never found out who shot my brother. He now lives only in my memories. Whoever fired that shot took all that he was, and all that he was going to be, and the ripple has expanded every outward altering my world. Have I looked into your face before that day? Even more troubling have I come across you since. Did you have to bring a gun to a fucking basketball game? The days after, newspapers and television were filled with stories of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. There was no mention of a child shot. The police investigation didn’t go anywhere because Justin died in the wrong part of town. -But that was the status quo for black folks. If this had been the white section they would have sent out the Special Victim’s Unit or some other such pompous named entity. All we got was a fat ass cop who looked like he sucked down a crate of Donut’s, and was two days short of retirement. I had never thought of murder, but now I contemplate it every day.
Time has passed and the world has moved on –but not me. I’ve seen counselors, psychiatrists, and have been informed through their collective wisdom that there are five states of grief- as if they have it all mapped out. States? I tell you there are, countries, worlds, universes of grief, and I am a permanent resident with no exit visa.
The outline of Justin’s posters still shadow the blue painted walls of his room. Above his bed there were small holes where he hung his model spaceships.
All his other belongings slumber in the basement cocooned in boxes, all gathering dust, shadows, and cobwebs. What had once been his shining domain, flanked by photographs of basketball stars, and astronauts was now shrouded in dark curtains. My Mother and Father never said they blamed me.
But I blame myself and my confession is an unburied corpse that I carry everywhere. I can’t help thinking, that if I could take back my single act of violence, that squabble on the basketball court, perhaps I could break the flow of events that proceeded it. But for all my wishing the matter has been irrevocably resolved by his murderer with a gun.
Jerry and Rachel’s First Date
Setting: Restaurant/Café in New York City. Present day. Middle of winter.
(The play opens in the café with a relatively crowded crowd and Jerry sitting in the lobby when Rachel walks in the door and approaches him)
Excuse me, are you Jerry?
Yes, you must be Rachel. Pleasure to meet you. Shall we sit?
(Jerry stands up, gestures toward the middle of the room and the two walk over to an empty table and sit down.)
(Smiling and slightly laughing when speaking)
It looks like I owe our mutual friend quite the thank you. How do you know Monica?
Monica and I are actually roommates. We live in an apartment right here in the city.
Oh cool. Just the two of you live together?
Technically yes, but our apartment is always full. Our other girlfriend always stops by as well as the two guys across the hall and Monica’s brother.
Seems like a nice group of friends. What do they all do?
Well our one girlfriend is a part time masseuse/ part time lyricist and singer. Monica’s brother is a paleontologist. That’s the dinosaur guy right?
(Jerry nods his head yes in acknowledgement)
And across the hall our one friend is an actor who currently stars in a soap opera and as for his roommate, we know he has a job but nobody’s exactly sure what he does.
And what about yourself? What do you do for a living?
When I first moved to the city I was a waitress in a coffee shop right by our apartment, but now I’ve kind of bounced around from job to job in the fashion industry. What about you. Do you live with anyone?
No I live by myself in an apartment, but like you, it seems to always be filled with people just showing up including my best friend whom I’ve known forever, an ex girlfriend of mine and the guy across the hall who always just kind of appears.
What do you mean he just kind of appears?
Well I’ll be watching TV or having a conversation with someone and he kind of just bolts in the door and leaps into the living room. It’s quite the unique entrance.
(At this time the waiter walks up to the table with a notebook and pencil in hand)
(In a bored, yet slightly sarcastic tone)
Hi and welcome to Café One. What can I get you guys today? Maybe a hot soup to warm you up on this cold day?
(Rachel and Jerry both peruse the menu)
Ummm, I’ll have the Turkey BLT and a water.
And for you sir?
I’ll have what she’s having.
Very well then. I’ll put in your order right away.
(Waiter exits left)
So tell me Jerry, what do you do for a living? Monica tells me you’re quite the funny man.
I’m actually a stand-up comedian and I’m currently working on a sitcom pilot with my friend George, the one I told you about who’s my childhood friend.
Oh my god that’s so cool. Is George a comedian as well?
No. To be honest, I don’t know what you would call George professionally but I do know that he’s always wanted to be an architect.
I think it’s nice that you’re still friendly with your childhood friend. What about your other kinds of friends? Where’d you meet them?
My other friends I met in college. I went to Faber College where I joined a fraternity.
Which fraternity did you join?
Delta Tau Chi. My buddy Pinto’s brother was a member there so he got in as a legacy and I just kind of tagged along with him.
I love the nicknames that the members of frats have. What were some of the more interesting ones at yours?
Oh we had a Flounder, Bluto, Otter, Boon, D-Day and Stork among other colorful names.
So if you were in a frat for four years you must have done some pretty wild stuff. Any pranks that come to mind?
Probably the craziest prank we ever pulled was when we had Flounder put a horse in the Dean’s office during the middle of the night. But this wasn’t just any old horse. It was the horse of this guy named Doug Neidermeyer, who was this cocky and sadistic jerk who had been making Flounder’s life hell for weeks. Our thought process was that if we stuck his horse in the dean’s office it would frame Neidermeyer as the culprit, landing him in huge trouble with the school.
That’s terrible! Did you pull it off?
We should have, but it turns out Flounder had a gun on him and he ended up shooting the horse who collapsed and died on the floor.
(Gasping and shocked)
Wait what!? How did that happen?
I never said that Flounder was a bright individual. It’s never been medically confirmed, but we believe he’s quite challenged.
(We hear a click and a ding in the background and an offstage voice yells out “Order Up!” The waiter goes to get the dishes and walks over to Jerry and Rachel’s table and puts the dishes down.)
Alright guys here we go. I have two Turkey BLT’s and two waters.
(Rachel and Jerry both smile and nod and utter a quiet “Thank You”)
As this is a small café I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. (Sarcastically) You two are kidding me, right? You’re not so out of touch with society that you don’t even realize what you’re saying, are you? Please tell me this is all just a big joke?
A joke? What do you mean? Jerry and I are just meeting each other for the first time.
So you two are serious? (Sarcastically) So then let me take a wild guess that you went to a wizardry school in a big castle?
(Smiling and Surprised)
No, but my friends Harry and Ron did. Do you know them!?
(Puts his hand over his face in complete shock)
Oh my god. OH MY GOD. You’re not kidding? I have to leave this place and get a real job.
(Waiter lets out a grunt of disgust and exits left)
That was odd. What do you think he meant by saying that we were joking?
(Jerry takes a bite out of his sandwich and a couple of the pretzels on the side)
No clue. I thought he was quite rude though. How’s your sandwich?
The sandwich is delicious, but these pretzels are making me thirsty.
(Jerry takes a sip of his water)
So how about you? What were your scholastic days like?
Well I actually started out at CULA in California where I was a sorority girl and a major in fashion merchandising so you can see where my career path came from. After college I didn’t make many plans because I assumed that I was going to settle down and marry my boyfriend Warner, but then he dropped the news on me that not only was he going to attend Harvard Law School, he was breaking up with me. Could you imagine?
Wow, so what did you do?
Well to prove everyone who thought I was just some dumb sorority girl from California wrong, I studied my hardest for the LSAT and I got accepted into Harvard Law School.
That’s some real self- determination. I like that in a person. So what was your time like at Law School? It was never even mentioned to me that you went.
I’ll tell you one thing, it certainly was not easy. When I first got there, I was ridiculed because of my beautiful, overly-girly looks and naive behavior. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I discovered that Warner was engaged to another girl, some bimbo named Vivian Kensington who kind of looked like Selma Blair if you know who that is. My personal life was in shambles and my scholastic one wasn’t much better. On the first day of class I was humiliated by some professor named Stromwell who threw me out of class for being unprepared. The only friends I made were Paulette, who was a divorced manicurist at the local salon, David, and Emmett, who was kind of like the TA in one of my classes.
That sounds horrible. Did it get any better?
Oh absolutely. I’m a fighter Jerry, I wasn’t going to let a couple of meanies stop me from achieving my dreams. I studied hard and started to impress my professors and eventually landed an internship with one of my professors who was this really famous defense attorney. We got this really cool case where a former sorority sister of mine was accused of murdering her billionaire husband, but I knew she didn’t do it and I was the one who eventually won us the case.
(Waiter re-enters carrying a dessert menu)
(With disdain and sarcasm)
Before I offer you guys dessert I am going to give you another chance to tell me that this isn’t some big joke and that the two of you aren’t just screwing with me.
Dude, what are you talking about? That’s the second time you’ve asked us if we were joking with you when we haven’t said anything really funny all evening?
So to be clear, the lives that you two have led don’t remind you of anything?
No, we’re just two people who got set up on a blind date and we’re telling each other our life stories which happen to be very interesting.
(Mocking tone of voice)
Very well then. Can I offer you two any coffee or dessert?
(The waiter hands Jerry and Rachel the menu and they look it over)
I’m going to have a cup of coffee and I think I want a slice of cheesecake. Jerry would you mind if we split a piece of cheesecake?
Quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
(Waiter storms off stage left in a tizzy)
He thinks we’re unbelievable? Well I think he’s unbelievable. Where does he get off saying that we’re just liars and joking about the various aspects of our lives?
Forget him Jerry, he’s not worth it. Let’s get back to you. I know this is unconventional to ask on a first date, but would you mind telling me about some of your past relationships? I’m always interested to hear about the romances of other people.
I don’t see why not. I’ve had various short-term flings but to date the only girl I’ve really ever loved was named Jenny. Jenny and I met when we were real young, it was actually on a school bus going to school when none of the other kids would let me sit next to them except Jenny. From then on, Jenny and me were real close, you could even say we were like two peas in a pod. We spend almost everyday together and it always seemed like we were running somewhere like through a field or down the street to run away from some bullies chasing us.
She sounds lovely. Whatever happened between the two of you?
When college time came around we both went our separate ways. I played football in college and she went to one of those all women schools where she started singing and playing the guitar. We run into each other every now and then, but I don’t know what the future has in store for us. What I do know though is that she’ll always have a special place in my heart. What about you? I’m sure someone like yourself has had many relationships to talk about.
In that category you and I aren’t all that different. I too have had a lot of flings but the only real relationship I had, scandalous enough, was with my friend’s brother, one of the guys I mentioned earlier. I don’t know, we have this weird on again, off again relationship where everyone is always wondering will we or won’t we. We’ve been dragging it out for so long that none of us have any idea how it’s going to end and to be honest, sometimes I get a little tired of all the games we play and all the hoops we have to jump through. I wish relationships were easier.
I understand your pain. It seems to me like you still care for him though.
I think our relationship is a lot like yours and Jenny’s where they’ll always have a place in our heart no matter what and just because you love them doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in love with them. Do you kind of understand what I’m getting at?
More than kind of, I completely understand. You get these ideas in your head about the way it’s supposed to go and then when the plan goes awry, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Life can be humbling like that. One minute you’re in love, feeling like you’re the king of the world, and the next it feels like this love boat you were on hits an iceberg and everybody drowns. Just like that your whole life changes.
Well said my friend.
I think that’s enough deep, psychological talk for the evening. Let’s switch gears to something more jovial. It’s a Friday night, do you have any big plans for the weekend?
Actually I do. My friend and I are going away for the weekend to my uncle’s house in the Hamptons.
Ah sweet. What’s your uncle’s name?
A weekend at Bernie’s. That sounds pretty cool.
(The waiter enters and comes storming towards the Jerry and Rachel’s table)
(Furious and yelling)
Alright that’s enough! I want both of you out right now! I’ve had it with the two of you and can’t stand to hear anymore of your stories. I’m not even going to give you the bill, that’s how badly I want the two of you out of here.
(Waiter signals his finger towards the door and gets to the point where he is about to lift Jerry up out of the seat.)
Alright calm down, we’re going. Sheesh I still don’t get what the big idea is.
(Jerry and Rachel both hurriedly get up and put their coats on as they walk to the front door. As they reach the front door, Jerry stops and turns to Rachel.)
I don’t know about you, but I had a really nice time today. Do you think you like me enough for me to call you?
You had me at hello.
Is that line from a movie? I think I’ve heard it before.
End of Play