A Stranger Come Home – by HIRO TSUKINO

 

Stranger Come Home

by Hiro Tsukino

 

 

The guy with the window seat smiled and shaped his hand into a gun. He put the barrel against his neck and fired smoothly, gesticulating the glory of the blow out the other side onto the woman sleeper between us. He did this in slow motion and with grace (hand model or magician?). His fist mimed the unfurling violence—blood spray, tubular bits transmuted into globular muck from the heat and force of the bullet, neck bone fragments wild—in a gesture of sprawling digits and a snaky curl of the wrist.

The ten-hour flight from Tokyo to San Francisco would be painful, but not suicide. For me the opposite.

“Bitchin,’” the weirdo said, smiling. He showed teeth.

“Thank you.” I comprehended at last that he’d complimented my tattoo. The Death Star is tattooed on my neck, mid-detonation.

But writing this, months later, I am uncertain if the weirdo meant that his “bitchin’” explosion resembled my tattoo. He’d dropped his head back after the initial shot, then tapped his neck again with the barrel, and dropped his head back and performed this motion a third time (or have I rewritten in recalling?). Meaning (possibly): How bitchin’ would it be to shoot through all three of our necks so the bullet exits your tattoo and bursts into the center aisle to initiate further gore?(?)

It was a long flight. Even I was not myself.

The tattoo was done here, I confessed.

“In the air?” He wasn’t joking.

“In the U.S.—San Fran—” I said— “when I was fifteen.”

I am not the kind of person who chats with strangers on planes, yet I pushed through my introversion and spoke of my teenage rebellion, my hope that my father would not carry me back to Tokyo so irreverently marked. He did so and worse. Those were long days inside skyscrapers that blotted out the sun, and me lost under the lengthier shadow of my father. A matrix of shadow. Deep was his, and so un-there was I, that at night I seeped through the cracks of this steel trap into punk and electronic shows and the life underground. Never long—kidnapped at daybreak by heavy-handed limo drivers. My father being who he is, etcetera. Tokyo was a fun-house mirror and a charcoal suit I will not miss, I explained. I was returning to the U.S. for good, or maybe I would not stop wandering now, I told all this to the weirdo on the plane in not so many words.

I wanted to be a good listener, who I see myself as, so I asked, “What about you? Business or pleasure?”

“Exquisitely inseparable in my book,” he said.

I remember this is what he said because I’d never heard a person use the word “exquisitely.” I smirked in return.

“Talk—tell me about yourself,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. Three travel whiskeys lay in my lap (magician).

I began and, despite my introversion, could not stop. This was a cliff’s edge time for me, running on a new life. Not new—deep me, 24/7.

I did not speak of the patriarch. I told the weirdo a little about my music and much more about the zines I had written for and published. Conspiracy zines. With expats. The one I put most heart into was a meta zine on conspiracy and knowledge. Its title: Dietrologia.

“’Nothing you can believe … is not coming true,’” the guy said. He dipped his finger in the air at the word “not,” made squiggles in the air of the rest. I had not seen him drink. Though languid, his motions were precise.

This quote is from Don DeLillo’s Underworld in which he writes of the search for hidden motives. Exactly where I had stolen the title.

“People don’t want to hear it,” I said, meaning the truth, excited that we shared this language. I immediately became paranoid: A coincidence? Was he sent to interrogate me? By my father? The U.S. Government? I was one whiskey in, a lightweight.

“Too afraid?” he said.

“The opposite.” I said this much less excited. “The concept is not scary enough.”

I thought I would say no more.

The weirdo stared at the headrest of the seat in front of him with a crazed grin as if gazing through it, through the skull and brain of the person in front of him, and entertained by the picture show of his or her dreaming mind.

I then shared what I’d learned after years of working on zines. When I published about the secrets of space travel acquired from little gray men from outer space, locked in cells under the Pentagon, people bought. When I wrote about Cthulhu cultists performing virgin sacrifices in high power high-rises of Dubai, about the living city of Atlantis leading sensitives to its rediscovery through ESP, and about the death of American rappers linked to the Illuminati, people bought.

When I published about the immorality of the 1%, about political parties as pro-corporate puppets exploiting labor at home and internationally, about the zombie-ing effect of “present culture” (see titles of current “Top 100 Songs”) to prevent labor from seeing its disempowerment and capitalism’s future catastrophes as inevitable, about our inability to conceptualize the lasting effects of parties and politicians for more than five years forward or backward, about the inability to see that as a problem, about the underfunding of education globally so that the unprivileged are learning less in classrooms about how political and economic systems operate, about these schools serving only to conform us into spectators and not actors, about racism and sexism and classism as subversive tools that keep us blind and divided, about how we uphold these inequalities through fighting and not talking, and about why this is happening, about power securing power, stuffing bank accounts at the cost of human dignity, then no one bought.

“To sum it up—” I said in a sweat.

“Please,” he said.

“People want mystery. If they know what is happening in the world…” we looked to the window simultaneously—high altitude darkness circumscribed by a soft rectangle made of white plastic, “the interest is not there.”

“Suspense!” The guy rocked in his seat and patted the sleeper’s leg encouragingly. I am certain they did not know one another. “Suspension—the state of—disbelief,” he rambled.

“Something like that.” I wiped my eyes, bleary from an unexpected sadness, two whiskeys in. The lost and those not wanting to be found, acquaintances, awaited me in this country. I was not even awaited.

Most passengers were asleep or attempting to sleep at this time in the flight. We both became aware of it and talked in a lower volume.

“What does one do with truth?” he asked. “What do you do with it?”

“Avoid. For a long time. The truths about myself.” Was I still by running from Japan and my father? I didn’t know. I didn’t wholly want to.

“Ever open your eyes at night in bed? Try it sometime. Tonight!” the guy said. “One eye sees darker than the other. Close one, open the other. The rods and cones are different, each eye degenerating at different speeds. Eyeballs are hardware, you see? We are devices of input, and we compile one dark image, one lighter image into a single 3D illusion. So let me ask you: Which eye sees the world as it is?”

The question was very rhetorical because he continued before I understood his point (slow with drink). He’d skipped several logical points ahead as if missing a teleprompter.

“You compile your own—or so you think. Your own Meaning of Life. In you, for you. But what of outside you, now? Outside your little life with its little meaning—what’s the bigger fish, the system that you, we, as data, compile into?”

“I don’t know. Life?”

“Whose objective is?”

“There isn’t one?”

He raised a finger.

“Whatever we make of it?” I answered.

The finger went limp, and his smile sagged into distaste.

He told me to drink the last whiskey and, after, when I’d enjoyed my “brief escape” and sobered up, to get serious about the “red mountain in the room.”

He put in earbuds, and we did not talk for the remaining hours of the flight. My answer, or lack of one, had disappointed him. So I did not (yet) understand the hidden meaning of reality. I knew myself. Didn’t I? The sadness returned. I could not finish the drink. I expected we would shake hands at the gate. I became anxious over it, considering what I would say to make things right, as they had been. To make a friend.

Upon landing, he got up (no bags) and passed me the way one does not see a stranger.

***

Hiro Tsukino is an artist and activist living in San Francisco. He is the editor-in-chief at Future First Magazine and was born in Hiroshima, Japan.

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Transparency – Kelly Fitzharris (Coody)

So, want to know how it feels to go through a divorce?

 

It’s absolute hell.

You feel like you’re insane; ergo, in an attempt to quell some of your loneliness and pain, you talk to other men (friends or acquaintances, whatever) and become inexplicably clingy with them, to which they instantly recoil in response.

It’s not surprising that they do this. I mean, if I weren’t in the situation I’m in right now, I’d recoil too. I can understand where they’re coming from and I do not know why I’m acting like this – it’s out of character for me to say the least.

I used to love being alone. I loved it. I craved it. I missed the days when I could just go unbothered about my life and be who I wanted to be. I still mourn the one-bedroom apartment I lived in for two years while I was attending UT at Austin.

At 32, I don’t like to play games.

I’ve been with the same man for 12 years. On January the 1st, he bitch slapped me with a divorce that I didn’t see coming. Not even close.  We’ve ALWAYS had our ups and downs; it was just a part of us. I thought that this was another one of those lulls. I didn’t ever anticipate that it would end in a conversation where he said to me, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m tired of pretending. I’m sorry.”

I don’t give a fuck about being “PC” or pandering to the masses for the moment. I’m sick of it. I’m falling the fuck apart. I’m NOT okay.

“Put on a brave face, Kelly.”

“If anyone can do this, Kelly, you can. You’re strong enough.”

“You are so strong. You have to do this for the kids.”

STOP telling me what to do and how to do it. I have so little control over what happens right now that it’s gut-wrenching.

One of the fallacies in being from a town named Niceville is that everyone suddenly knows your business and wants to know why your spouse of 9 years, with whom you have two beautiful children, and in a relationship with for 12 years, would leave you. They phrase the question in a way that implicates that I MUST be somehow at fault. How could I not?

The other disadvantage to living our lives the way that we do right now, in the digital age, is that it is lonelier than ever to go through a traumatic event like this. Tonight, I’d been with my children all day, dealt with their daily acting out and drama and was about to blow my top.  So, here I sit at a Starbucks close to my house, listening to angry music and writing this. And doing some light people-watching. (Psst: Wednesday nights aren’t that exciting.)

As I stated above, I’m 32: I’ve been with the same man since I was 20 years old. I don’t know how the hell to live my life without him! Shit, we met my junior year of college and I just never looked back. We used to celebrate our monthly anniversaries – and our 12 year is just around the corner, on March 26th, 2017.

“You’re so gorgeous. You can get anyone you want.”

That’s not the point. That’s not what I want.

I want to feel okay. I want to BE okay.

I’ve never, ever been a codependent person. But I believe(d) in my marriage and trying to make it work and sticking it out.

I let myself fall completely and totally in love with him at that young age; so much so that it hurt. We dated and lived together for three years before we were married. We had our first child soon after. Four years later, we moved to a bigger house and had another child. After I had Jackson, I went back to work full-time at the bank when he was only 10 weeks old. Two and a half years later, after speaking with my spouse about our finances and hectic schedules, he and I decided that I would quit work full-time to stay at home with the children to cut the costs of daycare and thus, eliminate the lack of disposable income.

That’s when things really began to take a turn for the worst. I was no longer bringing in a second income, so my spending had to drastically change.

I never felt like I was doing the right thing with the kids or with myself; I was constantly second-guessing myself and how I was doing raising the kids. It was a time full of uncertainty, self-doubt, and, yes, on some days, self-loathing. I am not impervious to emotion. I am not impervious to suffering.

Here’s where I’m at right now: I don’t know who I am yet.

It’s not about the destination, but the journey, the battle, the struggle, and the ultimate rise in your self-confidence and learning how to trust again. I don’t know when that will be for me or how it will ultimately go, but I know that I need to have faith. Though shaky, it’s there. I do have faith.

 

I also want you to know that the reason I’m being THIS candid and THIS transparent about what I’m going through is for those of you who might be suffering as well. This is for those of you who feel alone, abandoned, hopeless, and have a bottomless pit full of suffering.

I’ve become defensive and perpetually angry; and, you know what? If I am bitter for a while, then so be it. I don’t give a shit. Why do I HAVE to rise above? What IS it with our culture these days that tells us that we aren’t allowed to have a bad day or a bad time and just be bad at life? That’s the kind of shit that leads to hoarding, drug use, and all kinds of other unhealthy manifestations of unhealthy behavior. Because what the hell else are we supposed to do? No one likes to listen to someone who’s going through a hard time. No one wants to be around it. So, then, inevitably, the person adopts a coping mechanism.

My soon-to-be-ex is not sad about the divorce. He’s the one who initiated, so apparently that means that I’m the only half of the marriage that feels like hurling themselves off of a building while he’s absolutely fine. I never knew that that was a thing. That that was possible; even if you’re the one initiating, shouldn’t you sort of mourn what you once had? All the years spent together, the experiences?

I’m sick to DEATH of the facades and the personas we all create and put-on as we face the internet world. It’s not true and it’s unfair. So, let’s say that someone like me reads an upbeat, happy-go-lucky, go-getter article from a woman who’s in a similar situation: it will crush that someone. It will make them feel even more like a failure.

I read article after article after article about how these “perfect” social media faces lead to depression; so, here I am, being as transparent as I can be in order to offset some of that. I always end up taking a lot of flak for telling it like it is, for saying that I am sad, that I’m destroyed, and am told to “SMILE!” and I’m told, “It will get better!” and “Kelly, stop being so negative.”

So, I personally feel (and know) that it’s more helpful to read something where someone’s honest. It’s more helpful to hear about how someone’s struggling and that they are, in fact, sad, rather than read an article about how a woman in my situation is doing great, rising above her daily minutiae, unaffected by her impending divorce, and that she’s simultaneously crocheting her entire family personalized pillows while pan-frying salmon for dinner. And then she posts a flawless “selfie” where she’s wearing a monogrammed shirt and holding a glass of pinot grigio.

And I’m cleaning pee off the bathroom floor, yelling at everyone in the house to “settle down!” And the ever-popular, “Don’t you make me come in there!” while I wipe sweat from my forehead, my heart pounding out of my chest, the dog barking at a random solicitor that she can see out of the side window.

And in between cleaning up pee and quelling arguments between my kids, I’m making them snack after snack after snack, attempting to clean the kitchen, and search for full-time jobs.

THAT is reality.

Kelly Fitzharris (Coody)

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To The Sea – by Seb Reilly

There is a strange psychological effect on people who grew up by the sea. Not in every case; but for many, the idea of living away from an edge is something they struggle with. I definitely fall into this category.

Seaside people need the land to end. They need that boundary, a cut-off point. Rolling hills, lush forests, fields and meadows are all lovely. Cities full of people and bustle are exciting and vibrant. But we seasiders require water. We need the waves to lap against the shore of our home; the horizon to exist at the point where the sea meets the sky.

I love living by the sea, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I could move anywhere in the world, as long as it was on the coast. Where I happen to live, where I was born, is a former island called Thanet. It used to be completely separate from the rest of country until a few hundred years ago when the channel finally filled with silt. Thanet has the great benefit of being surrounded on three sides by water. We have the mainland to the west which prevents us getting claustrophobic on this little isle; but the north, east, and south all lead to the oceans. This is a truly remarkable place, an island that is not an island.

The water is something we often take for granted. It is there every day, and we sometimes ignore it, yet when we leave and go inland its absence is notable. Whenever I am away from the coast I can tell – the air smells and tastes different. The lack of salt in the atmosphere, the silence normally filled with the cries of gulls and the crash of waves, the sun descending into the land instead of the water, it feels off. I love the sea, and the closer I am to it whilst remaining on solid ground, the more I am at home.

It even inspires me, every now and again, to express my connection with it through words. I have written poetry, prose, articles, stories; all about the sea. I am drawn to it and I cannot look away.

I often indulge the water by submerging myself in the ocean. I walk out into it, as far as I can, then lay back and let myself float as the sun is setting. The view is incredible; the sinking sun from the water’s surface is a stunning sight. Afterwards I return to the beach to watch the final moments of the sunset, and often as the glowing orb slips beneath the ocean a green flash appears from the refraction of the light. That is something you would not see inland, and a memory I will cherish for years to come.

The ocean, to me, is a comfort. It is my environment. It is home.

sebreillySeb Reilly is an writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Kent with his family and two cats, and when he is not writing he enjoys music and film.

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Chin Up! You Should Just be Happy You’ve Made it THIS Far! – Editor in Chief – Kelly Fitzharris Coody

“Complain to me when you’re talentless and homely.”

“I’m jealous of how thin you are!”

“My, my, with that red hair, you could break everyone’s heart in this room.”

“Woooo!!I just got my royalty check and oh my god! Kelly, can you edit half of my next book for free?”

“I do love a good story… however I’ll just keep the memory of how insanely beautiful you are with me to sleep:)”

GUESS WHAT?!!!!! I am writing my own books, juggling staying at home with my children, being a good wife, running this web site, collaborating with another author on a book, and making sure there’s food on the goddamn table.

This is fun?

This is productive?

I’ve worked so goddamn hard on this book – on making it a really, really good book that I’m proud of.

The other “authors” don’t consider me a peer because of my fucking appearance. (As you can already tell, I’m going to swear a lot. Be advised.) What do you want me to do, put a bag over my head? This is my face. I won’t apologize for being a woman.

I’ve never felt more underestimated, undervalued, or disappointed in my life. Do you want to know how many times I have been asked to “sex chat?” Or if I’m “happily married?” Rather than asking me about my writing or anything else.

Oh, and while I’m here, I need to address this.

What gives?! I asked  you guys nicely if you would share a link from Underground Book Reviews’s Facebook page for me, as I was up for being reviewed by them, as I had made Pitch Perfect Finalist.

BUT ONLY ONE PERSON DID.

So, guess what happened?

A book about quiche won and, yeah, I am sort of crushed. A BOOK ABOUT QUICHE RECIPES WON AND GOT A THOROUGH, WELL-PROMOTED REVIEW. And me? Well, I’m still here. Plugging along. Going back to the drawing board.

Melissa and I have both come down with a cold / flu / plague thing, so we’ve been MIA recently. We will be MIA for a little longer as we figure out the new schedule – the themes are still going to happen, they just may happen after the holidays in order for them to work.

As of right now, we are pushing back publishing to a later date. I will put up another editor’s letter once I figure out what that date is.

Another funny note that I might mention here – half of you are friends with me on Facebook and don’t even realize that I’m the one you email with your submissions – that I’m the one working tirelessly to be a platform for YOUR writing. I created this magazine to give a voice to those who were talented and deserved to be heard.

Most other literary magazines / journals have a minimum response time of three to four months – please begin to expect the same from us. ESPECIALLY if I’ve told you we’ve accepted your work.

I’m the friend who listens to everyone else vent, is there as a shoulder to cry on for them, would do anything for them, but never receives it in return.

My throat is swollen and it’s painful to swallow. I’m going to bed.

I truly cherish the community that I’ve been able to foster here – but, sometimes, it’s hard to be everything to everyone while my own work is collecting dust in the corner. And, I’m still sick.

PS: I’ve mailed off everyone’s Pushcart Noms.

You know who I am.

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Mouthpiece – by JENNY IRIZARY

Mouthpiece

My dad was leaning out the car window, catching up with Sofia’s mom, as I ran my finger from my Basque-Puerto Rican surname to the name “Mouthpiece, a Jet,” on the West Side Story cast list posted on the gym door. I ran down to the parking lot with the news that Sofia and Mia would play Sharks, but the rest of the Girl Scout troop and I would be Jets. Sofia’s mom sighed and my dad looked at her more directly than he ever looked at my mom, saying something so quietly he didn’t need words, and then he rolled up the window. The whole car ride home, I complained that I wasn’t Polish like the Jets are supposed to be, and he repeated, “I know, I know.” When my mom walked in the door, I tried to pull her into my well-articulated reasoning: “The Sharks have all the good songs,” and, “Well, red is my favorite color.” She stared into my hazel eyes just like hers and pronounced, “It’s typecasting. The play is a racist fantasy about gang violence ending in redemption.” My dad snorted and muttered that the Black Barts and Greasers at Balboa High were about no such thing when he was a teenager. Before I could hear what they were about, my mom interrupted. “They have an idea of what Puerto Ricans look like, and you’re not it. That’s why they chose Sofia to be a Shark; she looks the part. They don’t care that she’s Mexican.” It didn’t make sense that Sofia looked more Puerto Rican than a Puerto Rican. But it seemed downright bizarre that she got an anonymous chorus role without lines, even though she was a better actress at age twelve than the two eighth grade Anglo girls cast as María 1 and María 2 less for their singing voices than for their ties to “old families,” meaning rednecks that stole land when the U.S. took over California and never left. So instead I pointed out that Mia was, believe it or not, paler than I was, in skin tone and naturally platinum hair, yet she would get to perform the famous sung-out debate between the female Sharks who “like to be in America,” because life is “alright” and even “bright” in America, and the male Sharks, who counter with certain qualifications: if you “can fight” or “if you’re all-White in America.” My dad laughed at my shade-of-blonde, flesh pigment technicality, and my mom glared until he went quiet.

I thought that would reach him, me wanting to sing lines containing his own advice in the anecdotes he told me about growing up. In that scene, Rita Moreno’s character sings, “I’ll get a terrace apartment,” and her boyfriend, the leader of the Sharks, sings back, “Better get rid of your accent.” In the ‘50s, my dad’s family got a place in Bernal Heights, and after that, a friend’s family tried to get one nearby and couldn’t. “He never told me why,” my dad had repeated every time he told the story, “I found out years later that anybody Black was denied a right to buy or rent there. He thought I already knew.” I’d forgotten that the moral that ended narratives like this one could be sung as, “if you can pass in America” and “if you keep quiet in America.” I’d acted out that advice, repeated his silence almost daily with lines like, “It doesn’t matter that my grandfather’s from Puerto Rico; I’m only Spanish.” But now that being Puerto Rican was something everyone around me saw as fun and exotic, I suddenly wanted to reclaim my heritage. If I could play a teenager in a play set when my dad was a teenager, maybe I could finally resemble pictures of him smirking with a cigarette he’s only pretending to smoke.

During and after every rehearsal that year, white girls in our troop asked Sofia when exactly her family moved here from Jalisco, boasting about their humble “European immigrant roots,” all the while insisting that she prove the Americanness they considered inherent to their stories. And thanks to my mother’s blonde Nordicness and my “only-Spanish” story, I fell under one of the few rules the male and female Sharks agree upon: “Your mother’s a Pole, your father’s a Swede, you were born here and that’s all that you need; you’re an American now.” Sofia was “once an immigrant, always an immigrant,” although we were born in the same place. The more I tried to explain otherwise after twelve years of that other story, the more they thought I was lying out of pity for Sofia. She got sick of this and reminded me that she wasn’t ashamed of being Mexican and I didn’t have to lie to make her feel less alone. “And if you think that you’re making some sacrifice by pretending to be Latina, then you think just like they do.” Did I really understand what it would mean to not pass, or did I just want to put on a costume for a few hours and shout “Olé” like the Anglo girls, because red was a pretty color?

Either way, I resented that European-Americans at school had the power to push me farther from my grandfather, not based on how much I resembled him but on how much I resembled Natalie Wood, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Sure, my dad’s parents and hers both moved to San Francisco during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and soon after Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko (Natalie Wood) was born, her family moved to Santa Rosa, the city where Sofia and I were both born, but that didn’t make Natalie Wood Puerto Rican or me Russian. Natalie Wood accessed Hollywood at a time when most Latinos changed their names to downplay their non-whiteness. Rita Hayworth started out as Margarita Carmen Cansino. And although Natalie Wood changed her name to make it more pronounceable to Anglo-Americans, she didn’t do it to disguise African and indigenous ancestry. She could ignore the lynchings and kidnappings of Chicanos and mexicanos that had taken place in the ‘30s, people whose families were living in California before it was part of the U.S. and families who had recently moved here put in trucks and dropped off across the border or murdered by the kind of white terrorists still patrolling streets, deserts, and checkpoints, or, like my classmates’ parents, building sets for a play.

When the last rehearsal ended, Sofia’s mom and mine uncrossed their arms, rolled eyes at each other, reminded us that it was our choice to participate in this offensive musical, and instructed us to change out of our red and blue t-shirts. They knew that boys our age were being asked to choose sides with those colors, and one kid in our class who went by the nickname “Chango” and had dedicated truly atrocious pre-adolescent love poetry to both of us, had joined the Sureños. Although my mom panicked over me wearing blue, I knew it was the kids who “looked the part,” who were in danger whether or not they joined a gang, and I was so pale blonde that I was beyond those accusations, even if my Anglo friends asked me why I didn’t look quite like them.

At a school in California, formerly Mexico and still Aztlán, it was less threatening for a third grade teacher to explain that when I screamed at my friend, I should “put spit into the word ‘Spic,’ like you mean it” than it would have been to stage Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit or another play centering Chicano or mexicano characters. When I asked my mom why this was, and what the word “Spic” meant, she said, “It’s a derogatory word for people who are Hispanic,” and looked at my dad, who shrugged and gestured as if to say, “Go on.”

“It’s not like they’re going to put on a play portraying Latinos in a positive light. They’re being historically accurate.” My mom seemed surprised that I would expect respectful treatment in the world of middle school musical theater. Having been a white anti-racist activist in the ‘60s, she knew better.

The lights came up slow the last night of the play, and I punched past Sofia’s jaw as she threw her head back as if hit, my fist in front of her face, so that the audience wouldn’t see there had been no skin-to-skin contact. She pulled my shoulders down and brought her knee up to hide that she wasn’t really kicking me in the gut. We stomped inches above each other’s feet, because that was apparently how hard-ass gangsters rumbled in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I changed out of my cuffed jeans and into a royal blue ‘80s sequined cocktail dress because time periods were interchangeable depending on what I could afford at Goodwill. Sofia put on a dark red poodle skirt her mom made. Both of us could go through the motions, familiar from siblings’, parents’, and friends’ stories, but neither of us got the fashion chronology quite right. Leonard Bernstein’s dance music began. On opposite sides of the gym floor, Sofia and I reflected the same steps, her left foot back when my right foot moved forward. Lights dimmed, we slowed at the same time and then froze, as spotlights brought Tony and María together, the Polish guy trying to go straight and stay out of his friend’s white supremacist gang and the sister of the Sharks’ leader, who insists he’d rather go back to San Juan, even if over half its population is living in New York City by the late early ‘60s, cheap flights available to anyone willing to work, as “long as you stay on your own side,” as the Sharks sing.

After Tony and María’s first meeting at a community dance like the one where my dad met my brothers’ mom, Tony sings María’s name as a prayer and trills, “Say it loud and there’s music playing,” but it’s always fighting and not respect or adoration that upsurges the instrumentation for the remainder of the play.

During the condemnation and defense of America, the music rises again, and from behind the sets, I heard Mia and Sofia arguing that “buying on credit is so nice,” to which other Sharks reply, “One look at us, and they charge twice.” A stratified payment plan corner store owners on Valencia offered my dad, who replied throughout his childhood and adolescence that he could afford the whole Saltine cracker box, not just a sleeve, even when it wasn’t entirely true. The same interaction I’d watched through the ‘90s at the corner store in my neighborhood. Although “cadillacs zoom” and “industry booms in America,” Sharks reiterate that people live “twelve in a room in America.” And many of my friends did that May 2001, decades after the play’s Hollywood mirage of New York City had long since faded. A few people had told Sofia that not living like that was one more sign, along with her penchant for singing and dancing in American musicals, that she had allied herself with bourgeois comforts and white people. Since I passed for white and couldn’t speak Spanish, being friends with me was further evidence.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t blending in with the Jets as seamlessly as I had previously imagined. When we mocked police, psychologists, and social workers for pathologizing white teens as “juvenile delinquents,” “depraved on account of we’re deprived,” the kids with money sang the very sociological reductions they hurled at kids from my neighborhood: “Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, ‘natcherly we’re punks.” My only line as Mouthpiece in West Side Story was in this song: “The trouble is he’s growing.” The next line is, “The trouble is he’s grown,” and that simultaneity was precisely my problem and Sofia’s.

We were both “queer for Uncle Sam,” as María’s brother accuses Rita Moreno of being. Since moving between and within gender expressions for even a few scenes was what drew me most to theater, this pejorative equivocation of queerness and assimilation was an accusation I was only beginning to realize would follow me the rest of my life. When one of my fellow Jets sang, “My sister wears a mustache, my brother wears a dress, golly, Jesus, that’s why I’m a mess,” and the Anglo girls in my troop turned and gestured at me for the benefit of the audience, that tipped me off.

Onstage in front of two hundred audience members, including my own family and Sofia’s, I didn’t have to fake tears in the last scene when María cradles Tony’s body even after he’s killed her brother to avenge his white friend’s death in his quest to be the good White ally boyfriend. She shouts at the Jets, the Sharks, and perhaps most of all the people watching the play, “How many bullets are left in this gun? Enough for you, enough for all of you? You all killed him” (to paraphrase). I’d spent hours practicing calling my friend epithets my dad ran from as a kid, down Capp Street, Valencia, Howard, and Mission. Terms that precipitated real, un-choreographed fights at Balboa High when the trouble was that he was growing and grown. After people that could have been my dad start to die in the play, the Jets advise each other to “keep cool” around cops to avoid being indicted for murder. But in all my dad’s stories, when the cops cornered and questioned his cousins any time anything happened in the neighborhood, they rarely got out of it by “keeping cool.”

I’d worried through rehearsals and multiple stagings of the play that my hair and eyes didn’t look quite like Natalie Wood’s instead of listening to what my dad had tried to tell me, in that silent way he communicated with Sofia’s mom. Un-ambivalent longing and nostalgia for sets and props didn’t belong to my father. For him there was no fixed boundary between art imitating life and life imitating art, the way there was for my friends who were “all-White in America.” Sometimes it’s possible through silence to be a Jet “from your first cigarette ‘til your last dying day,” but it comes at a price. My dad had laughed at my confusion about gradations of Whiteness and lightness and who played who in a musical because the only curtain call in his stories about colorism was that final one, without stage lights, sometimes with songs and people you love, but sometimes under the street lights and cop flashlights that end West Side Story.

***

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Jenny Irizary grew up in a canyon that flooded every winter and now resides in the city of Oakland, California. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and an M.A. in literature from Mills College. Her work has been published in Label Me Latina/o, Atticus Review, Duende, Snapping Twig, Tipton Poetry Journal,Communion, and other journals.

A Special Tribute for the Month of September- Now, My Birthday Sucks by Lynn Sollitto

Now, My Birthday Sucks

The morning of my twenty-sixth birthday began with a phone call from my boyfriend. It would change my birthday forever.

“Lynn, have you been watching the news?”

I don’t watch the news; it’s too depressing. He knows this.

What I was about to see would burn in my mind and give a whole new meaning to the news is too depressing.

“Why would I be watching the news?”

“Just… Turn on the TV.”

I sat on my bed and flicked on the TV.  The television played footage of an airplane crashing into the North Twin Tower. The South Tower came down shortly afterwards.

I grabbed my head and moaned, “No…”

Immobile, I watched the news replay the horror of the buildings collapse. These towers were a symbol of the time in my life that made me, well, me.

I moved to New Jersey from a small town in Northern Wisconsin when I was eighteen. I lived twenty minutes from “the city.” (Friends constantly needed to remind me as to which city they were referring, as the whole area was one big city to me.)

Each weekend I went by bus on the Garden State Parkway, through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan. As we exited the tunnel, The Projects loomed above us. Continuing on, the Twin Towers rose up in the distance, the majestic king and queen looking over their loyal subjects.

I would stare at the towers, craning my neck to see them as long as possible. The people hiding behind their newspapers or leaning against the window with their eyes closed perplexed me.

How could anyone take that view for granted?

The towers symbolized a time of finding myself. In my year on the East Coast, I gained confidence as I learned to navigate public transportation, drive a stick shift on highways with more than two lanes, and apply make up so expertly that I passed for twenty-one.

Most important, I realized that although I came from a small town, I was capable of doing large things.

This time in my life was a turning point: There was Lynn pre-New York City and Lynn post-New York City. The magnificent towers reminded me of this whenever I saw them.

Nearly eight years after I lived there, I watched them crumble into a pile of memories.

Later, I would mourn the lives lost. I would donate money in a firefighter’s boot.

And I would grieve for the towers that lived in this great city, inanimate yet just as alive as any New Yorker.

But in that moment, as the world watched together, all I could feel was shock.

My birthday plans were to meet my boyfriend for breakfast and then go to school. I was on autopilot walking to the restaurant, eating, and driving to school.

The weight of this tragedy hung in the air.

Campus students walked around in slow motion, statues come alive and uncertain how to proceed in this new world.

The news was turned on in my English Literature class. There was no chatter in the classroom, no commentary about what we watched. The students were silent; their gazes fixed on the screen as the destruction played over and over, a recurring nightmare.

That evening I went to dinner with my boyfriend and another couple. My favorite restaurant was usually packed with people and loud murmurs, but that night it was subdued.

I began to look at things as pre-Twin Towers and post-Twin Towers.

My children’s births were post-Twin Towers. They’ll never get to see them, and this breaks my heart.

An old movie with the Towers could elicit a tightening in the chest.

A memory of my time in New York could tie a knot in my stomach.

A year ago I visited Manhattan to celebrate my fortieth birthday. It was the first time I’d gone back since my coming-of-age experiences twenty-two years earlier.

My mom and I visited Ground Zero on our last day. As soon as we stepped into the memorial, the atmosphere changed.

Just blocks away, taxi horns honked and people yelled, but within the walls of where the Towers once stood, the air was solemn. People spoke in heavy whispers, respectful and reverent.

A well of emotion overcame me. I was grateful to be wearing sunglasses, which hid my eyes.

At the memorial, Reflecting Absence, I traced my fingers over the engraved names. The names reflected the diversity of all the lives lost that day – women and men who were not only American, but also Hindu, Jewish, Russian, and more…

…And Muslim.

The terrorists destroyed buildings and thousands of people, but they hadn’t destroyed what made and continues to make America great:

Open arms that welcome anyone wanting to become part of our diverse family.

And we must remember this to honor those who lost their lives and those who are weighed down by that day’s loss. We will stand together as a symbol of America’s greatness.

 

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Lynn Sollitto lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and three children. She has been featured on Carrie Goldman’s 30 Days of Adoption at Chicago Now and has been a guest contributor for Transfiguring Adoption. Lynn blogs about her foster adoption journey at www.lynnsollitto.wordpress.com and about the writing life at www.bittersweetadventures.com. She can also be found on Twitter or hanging out at lksollitto@gmail.com.

Want to go Back in Time? How About for Your Medical Care? Come to Fort Worth, Texas; they don’t care one bit. Especially if you’re a woman. – Kelly Coody, Editor-in-Chief

I’m looking at and talking to you, HARRIS METHODIST SOUTHWEST EMERGENCY ROOM in southwest Fort Worth, Texas, to be exact. I just want to make sure EVERYONE KNOWS how ABYSMAL THE QUALITY OF CARE IS THERE.  

How would you feel if you showed up to an Emergency Room, with your mother on her deathbed, only to get a staff full of physicians who couldn’t care less about her? All they wanted to do was to get her out of there and I AM APPALLED.

I drove her there today because she had a severe bowel blockage – after X-rays, all they did was come in and pump my mother’s abdomen full of fluid, neglecting to fill her in on the X-ray results.

As she was being discharged, I happened to see a screen shot of said X-ray slides as a nurse looked over it while my mother writhed around in her hospital bed, screaming. And I casually brought it up again, discussing it with our main nurse on our way out.

They let her leave with copious amounts of backed up stool filling her abdomen. They didn’t offer surgical removal as an option, and, instead, made my 57 year old mother sit on a makeshift toilet until she couldn’t feel her legs. She was crying, screaming in pain, and pleading with them to just stop and help her. And let me tell you something – my mother is tough as nails. She NEVER cries. NEVER.

“I can’t breathe,” she kept telling the nurse. “My chest feels heavy.”

WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT DID THEY DO OR SAY?

NOTHING.

Putting her through such a rigorous physical ordeal that I felt could have been avoided if they would have LISTENED to her and stopped minimizing her concerns was APPALLING. IT WAS DEPLORABLE. My mom has severe back injuries (documented, multiple back injuries – as well as multiple, documented back surgeries and procedures) – all of the eight hours we were there, it seemed as though my mom was being tortured.

“I’m starting to lose feelings in my legs,” she cried weakly to the nurse.

Empathy? Solutions? Answers?

HA!

Apathetic, disillusioned, empathy-lacking medical staff far outweigh the opposite. They’re overworked, don’t care, and if you cry in front of them, they frown and hand you a box of tissues.

No wonder America HAS BEEN CONSISTENTLY LAST among developed nations in terms of care quality, results, treatment over the years. And it’s only continued to get worse. I saw it today in front of my own eyes.

DO BETTER.

My mother is no stranger to traditional western medical practices – she’s been an LVN in the state of Texas and in the state of Florida since 1978. She understands that they have their marching orders, but today, they crossed a line that I refuse to let them get away with.

I received better medical care in Paris in the ’80s when I had a stomach bug. That is the truth.

America also boasts the MOST EXPENSIVE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD.

IN THE WORLD.

Get your shit together. Care less about your pharmaceutical buddies and care more about the person in front of you who’s lost feeling in their legs and whose lips are white, while you’re looking at an X-ray full of bowel blockages.

YOU’RE BAD AT YOUR JOB. YOU’RE BAD WITH PEOPLE. You don’t have a God complex-you have an asshole complex. 

Told you I was going to shout this from the rooftops. 

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Editor-in-Chief

CEO