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Dear God

By Allyson Darling

Essay

1

 

Are you there, God? It’s me, Allyson.

They never came. The boobs. You know the ones. Aunt Emma has them. Hers are bigger than avocados but similar in shape. And I know—you already know that. You know everything.

I was sent to the office again for skin showing above my jeans, the smallest crescent moon of pale. Mr. Frost handed me a clipboard that clamped a note. The note held words: “dress code violation.” And he asked me to take it to the office. The girls pull their thongs above the bands of their jeans to show the boys behind them in class. The room is a sea of lace funnels into asses, but Mr. Frost doesn’t notice. He talks about Spinal Tap for fifty-three minutes.

My thoughts dawdle back to last weekend, reliving scenes and events, picking them up to consider, like the shape of rocks for skipping…

My mother is unyielding. Can I stay home instead? I think I’m getting sick. I have cramps. Terrible cramps and it isn’t my fault I have this stupid uterus.

No. You’re going.

She says. I would complete this final step in being confirmed into the Catholic Church. Whether I wanted to get married in the church or not, whether I wanted to get married at all, or not. And I would not complain about it.

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“Nobody would pass me the ball. Even friends who I thought were my friends wouldn’t pass me the ball.” These words from my nine-year-old after another round of recess Darwinism style bounced around in my head like a bright orange basketball stealing my sleep at 2:00 a.m and making me despise a group of four-foot tall 4th graders.

 

“I blame Trump,” I tell my husband (also at 2:00 a.m.). In a mumbled sleep chatter he reminds me that childlike cruelty existed well before Donald Trump became the President. I know if my husband was fully awake he would share yet another tale of the bullying he experienced as a child, which is supposed to make me feel better because look at him now, but I’m a fire sign, I’m a fighter, and even though he has fallen back asleep I continue this fight with the cracked plaster on our ceiling wondering what the world would be like if we all simply believed in passing the ball.

 

It’s not like I’ve ever played in a basketball league before, but as a native Angelino I did grow up in the era of the Showtime Lakers. By default that makes me a Chick Hearns-style sideline expert on the benefits of passing the ball. Of course most of the Lakers back then were known for their dynamic running game and flamboyant offense, but then there were players like Coop. If you called him Michael Cooper you clearly didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Cooooooooop, heralded for his defense and his beyond belief Coop-a-loops he would slam-dunk on his rivals after retrieving a perfectly timed pass from Magic Johnson or Norm Nixon. Even NBA all-stars of a basketball dynasty recognized to win the game they needed to pass the ball.

 

It seems if you’re not open it makes more sense to pass the ball. It also seems a team would get more open shots the more times they moved the ball. But 4th grade asphalt antics aren’t about the open shot. It’s about taking the shot whether you can make the shot. It’s about ego and arrogance and power. It’s also about a pack mentality where one group of kids endeavors to dominate over the other, especially if the “other” is different from the pack.

 

TRS 1

 

My friend gave my pages back to me. He said, “If you’re saying this is rape, you need to make the scene clearer. You need to make us hate this guy and feel shit for this chick.”

I attempted to explain. “What is not rape about it? He put all his weight on her. He took off her clothes. She did not have a real opportunity to protest.”

“She went out to his house. She talks about how he’s hot and how she’s into him. He’s nice to her for awhile.”

Yes. And she wanted to be wanted. She needed men to want her. That’s how she felt good about herself. She wasn’t looking for sex. Maybe at some point, but not on that night. Sex was not her agenda. I know these things.

My friend pressed. He said, “That’s not how it reads. You wrote a sex scene. All I read here is sex.”

He stripped her, and held her down, and said, let me feel you, and then started fucking her. She didn’t have time to protest. It was one thing and then he was fucking and consent should not be passive.

My friend shook his head. He didn’t buy it. Didn’t buy her. Didn’t buy her motives. He did not believe her. He wanted more booze, maybe. More rape.

“We’re going to need more rape.”

Dis/comfort

By Kristen Arnett

Essay

 

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I don’t know what’s inside me, but I’ve got ideas. Discomfort is not a word I’d thought to associate with the egg-sized lump in my guts, but after the lump arrived, it made me uncomfortable to understand I knew so little about my own body. My body, I thought, was a private place. The lump arrived without my knowledge or consent. I had no control over it.

 

***

 

MRI machines create a non-rhythmic thumping, a kind of kunk-a-chunk-chunk-kunk-kunk-ing that never settles right in your brain. I’ve got on headphones that a hundred other people have worn. The oversized pleather cups dig into the soft space behind my ears. It’s clear in the unkemptness of the technician, a man well into his fifties who wears a white lab coat covered in dark stains, that these headphones haven’t ever been cleaned. His coat is the kind I might wear, if I were a tech. This is how I know the headphones still hold the residue of everyone who came before me—I’d have never cleaned them.

Before he slid the headphones over my ears, right before he tangled his hands in my hair and accidentally pulled some out, straight from the root, the technician asks, “What kind of music do you like?” He holds my thigh in his ungloved hand, cupping the soft place near my ass, positioning my knees over a cushion other people have already put their legs over. He maneuvers me into the tube. My elbow bangs against the narrow rim. Staring up at the plastic overhead just three inches from my face, I try to regulate my wild heartbeat. I fail. A navy line runs down the tube’s center, a positioning indicator improperly aligned with the middle of my body.

He’s going to tell me when to breathe.

He’s going to tell me when to hold that breath.

He’s going to tell me when to finally let go.

Junk Drawer

By Amy Atwood

Essay

junk2

 

You’ve been sitting in front of the dreaded blank screen for hours because everything you think you could write about sounds damn depressing, probably because you just returned from burying your great uncle. So instead of trying to write something lighthearted, you let Amy Winehouse’s crooning distract you and you stare at nothing.

As you stare at nothing, you begin to wonder how they embalmed the cavity of your great uncle’s body. Then you visualize this. There’s the mortician—a typical, overweight, balding white guy in a surgical coat—vertically cutting your great uncle wide open, like how Moses had his way with the Red Sea. There must be some process, some preparations taken to make him presentable for the open casket—the thought of which feels too creepy to be therapeutic.

Marked

By Melissa Grunow

Essay

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“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.”
― Sylvia Plath
, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

 

The springtime Mississippi air was making my hair frizz and my bangs curl, and I looked younger—felt younger—than anyone else in the dance club. I was nineteen; Lisa was twenty-four, and it was spring break for both of us on the cusp of Mardi Gras 2000. We were dressed in matching backless shirts and short skirts that we had bought together that afternoon in anticipation of our night out.

Lisa’s outfit showed off her man-in-the-moon tattoo on her shoulder blade and the compliments led to revealing her zodiac signs—Leo surrounding Cancer—tattoo on her lower back that was slightly covered by the ambivalent fabric flitting her skin with each movement. I hung back and watched her soak in the attention from southern men, her hair straight and looking redder than mine under the deceptive club lights, even though she was actually blonde.

pointy-fence

 

Over the weekend of June 25, 2016 at the Bronx zoo, two separate individuals were arrested for trespassing after they crossed posted boundaries and entered two exhibits separately—the  snow leopard and red panda. One of them, a reporter for the New York Post, was just trying to get some good pictures for a story. On May 28, not even a month earlier, a four-year-old boy slipped away from his mother and fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo, and the tragic ending to this story suddenly made everyone in America an expert on parenting, gorilla behavior, and zoo design.

While troubling and often shocking, these stories are hardly new. Instead, they partake in a long history of sublime and violent encounters between humans and zoo animals, a history that resists easy explanations and online punditry, a history that repeats itself.

tyler2

 

For an environmental writing conference, no one’s smoking pot. Not to my knowledge. Not to my discerning nose. Instead, participants, maybe seventy in total, are skipping the evening barn pubs to secure an easier early morning of bird watching—experts, as makeshift rock stars to this cohort, identifying fowl based solely on song. Our feathered friends remain elusive to Vermont’s dense canopy; we walk the trails in contemplation. Later, after breakfast, the afternoon workshops, classes, and readings commence. We fill our notepads with the wounds of the world.

At Daybreak

By Jasminne Mendez

Essay

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Alabama. 1984. Mami is very pregnant.

 

Open your eyes and breathe life into your belly still swollen

with pain pills from the night before.

 

Papi is working the night shift as a guard on base

and his gaze is on the moonlight hovering over

Mami’s room in the barracks across the street.

She came with him “por si acaso.”

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In the strip club, we watched the girls dance and Ben told me they were molested as children. Ben will move soon to study law in Virginia. He was above it—all those dancing girls. He said that without saying it. What he did say was that he couldn’t get into it about them, because he just knew what most of them have been through. No need to discuss. Then he bought his friend Dave a lap dance. Then he began to rub my leg.

“I don’t even know how we ended up here,” I shouted.

This was how I expressed feeling uncomfortable in a strip club—one that we had walked into through an alley. The alcohol wasn’t wearing off but it was turning inside me. The lightness of the first part of the night always gave away to the dread, the magnification of all the bad things. We did more shots as all the others bars had closed up shop. We smoked cigarettes. We were in the club because we ran into people who had better ideas than we did about where we should be.

Scott and Jen

 

By the time my debut novel came out in 2013, I had honed a one-word answer for when people asked me what the book was about: loneliness. Of course, it was about a lot more than that (immortality, magical realism, an enchanted herb, partition-era Poland, World War II, 1940s country music stars), but people can relate to loneliness—who hasn’t felt, at some point in their life, on the outside looking in? But now my second novel, The Summer She Was Under Water, has come out, and I’m struggling with that one-word answer. Often, I say the book is about a dysfunctional family, another great sales generator (just ask Jonathan Franzen or Gillian Flynn). That answer feels disingenuous, though, because there is a much more direct (and more uncomfortable), word to describe it: incest. Brother-sister incest, if you want to be really specific.

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Blood comes before the scar; hunger before the apple.

–Leslie Jamison, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”

 

“Defensive”

1. defending or protecting someone or something from attack: helping to keep a person or thing safe


2. behaving in a way that shows that you feel people are criticizing you


 

It’s not my fault the new rosebushes didn’t get watered. I was running errands, taking the kids to soccer and music lessons, and I have an essay for American Lit due tomorrow. Why didn’t you do it?

When my husband complains, I first point out that it’s not my fault, and then point out why he is culpable instead.

It’s not my fault the dinner burned. I had to get our son into the shower, and make our daughter do her homework, and couldn’t you hear the oven timer?

But more often than not, my husband was merely stating that the rosebush was suffering because everyone forgot to water it. He didn’t mention the burned dinner other than to ask, what’s that smell?

I grew up in south Louisiana’s Bible Belt. I read my Picture Bible, with its comic strips, until I knew all the stories. There were plenty of moments where Jesus gave women grace and forgiveness—the Samaritan woman at the well and Mary Magdalene come immediately to mind. But the women in the Old Testament were out of luck. Jesus wasn’t born yet.

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I don’t know how to write this essay. It’s smarter than me. I’m overthinking every line, every angle. I write it, and I take it apart. I hold a broken piece and try to fit it in somewhere else and stare for a long time and take it out again. Writing about family is complicated. Reading what I write about my family is complicated. Write, delete. Hold back, unleash. Delete, delete. I’m exploring the idea of family because I have some sort of family identity struggle going on because I always have a family identity struggle going on. Is this what happens when your parents get divorced? When your parents break do you break too? Divorce or separation doesn’t equate brokenness—doesn’t have to but usually does. People don’t get divorced because their relationship is going well. Divorce means something is wrong—so wrong the animosity between my parents is still palpable after twenty-five years.

I want to tell you stories about my parents, and I want those stories to reflect me with big psychological terms. I want to contain my identity in a manageable, cohesive space. This essay. I’m starting to think this is impossible.

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July 8, 2016

To: Nelnet Education Loan Servicing, The U.S. Department of Education, the FSA Ombudsman Group
, and the Better Business Bureau of Nebraska

CC: Loretta Lynch, Barbara Lee, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Barack Obama

BCC: The Nervous Breakdown

From: Ariel Gore, Oakland, CA

 

I am writing to make a formal complaint against Nelnet Education Loan Servicing and, by extension, the U.S. Department of Education that empowers them, for a pattern of willful incompetence that I believe amounts to fraud.

I entered college as a young single mom in 1990. I was told that an education was the road out of poverty. I did not take out any private loans. I took out the maximum government student loans recommended to me, and was assured they were reasonable based on the educational products that were being sold to me. Those loans amounted to less than $40,000. I did well in school and graduated from Mills College with honors in 1994. Instead of studying creative writing at the graduate level, I opted for a more “practical” master’s program in journalism and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. I have been on an Income-Contingent / Income-Based Repayment Plan since 2002 and have always made the required payments on time.

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My ex-husband and I used to half-joke about what we’d do if we got divorced—I don’t always like you, I’d say, but I like being married.

He’d say: I’m never getting married again if this doesn’t work out.

His girlfriend moved in with him before the divorce was final—they’ll be married in a few months.

Our two sons have yet to be introduced to a man in my life.

We separated six years ago. Neither of us is who we said we were.

 

***

 

Though it gets a bad rap, not being in love with your boyfriend is a comfortable place to be; one doesn’t feel off-kilter. When he was unhappy with me I was clear-headed, took out a notepad and wrote down his concerns, moved toward problem-solving to preserve the trappings of what we had—daily phone calls and text messages, steady sex, a date I needed one. I made space to accommodate this thing I kind of wanted, this thing I was finally mature enough to settle into. Not being in love with a very nice boyfriend is a good compromise.