A Recipe for Turning Your Life Around

by Samantha Brodsky

 

2 brave hands to peel away the stiff sheets from the week-old pajamas clinging to your flesh. The striped material—that as you fan past your nose trails the lingering smell of vodka and potato chips—is sprinkled with cookie crumbs the size of small pebbles from the night before. A wince curls your chest over as you study the imprint your body has left in the mattress, a sunken mold like a sorrowful, wingless snow angel.

1 pair of fresh clothes that somehow feels too tight, soiled, and unfamiliar.

1 shot of tequila you’ve measured free-handedly into a Cinderella sippy cup. You take it down straight. The intense bitterness compliments the numb nature you have grown so accustomed to, and you attempt to shake off the shivers shooting up your torso like snaking bolts of electricity. You welcome the warmth into your belly. It’s an old friend, but one you’ve sworn that after today will be one soon forgotten.

Do not mix.

1 mirror to confront your clouded gray eyes that remind you of the echoes of your nightmarish thoughts like polluted puddles. You must tell yourself that the reflection you see through the speckled glass will soon be a mere memory. You must tell yourself that the lurking terrorist sitting cross-legged in the corner of your mind will dissolve into nothingness, but that it will take time. Your trembling fingers weave themselves through your knotted, neglected hair, and the cold water against your face is a reminder that you can still feel. The crispness of its lather will revive your senses and make this day bearable for the most part.

1 lullaby you whisper through tense teeth. You know it all too well. Each lyric lags behind like wisps of smoke, draping the air in thick, black veils. You become a prisoner entangled in this web you yourself have spun.

1 wooden broom to sweep dust along the floor into piles of weightless bunnies. You imagine them hopping about, their padded paws sliding on the tile, their little pink noses fuzzy like the slippers she used to love. You imagine hearing her laughter—oh, what a sound—and this sparks your heart into motion again as if someone has reached through your chest, rhythmically squeezing it like a perfume pump. But then you remember, and it settles back down into its cold, dark stupor. An empty cavity.

Do not mix

1 shot(s) of tequila for the pain.

1 phone call to your ex-husband. “Today’s her birthday,” you say and extend your arm out in front of you as though gloating over a perfect manicure. You study the winding wrinkles that twist around your fingers like vines. You remember the last time you touched her bow-strapped braids. You remember stroking her smooth-as-velvet skin. “Have you drank anything today?” he asks, and when silence bolts your mouth shut, he tells you that he has to go. You try to argue, but no words escape your lips. He is good-as-dead to you, but today you need something, someone.

1 glass of water for your thirst to be happy again. Or as an attempt to erode away the knot that has latched itself so firmly onto your throat. You can’t remember a time when breathing came easy.

Do not mix.

1 trip to the kitchen table where you aimlessly stare at the white walls as if they will share their secret of how they can be so bare, stripped of all spirit, and still manage to stand tall.

1 hour to weep in front of the front door beyond which is a world you’re not quite sure you’re ready for. It’s been almost a full year: four seasons of change, four seasons you have remained unchanged. There will be people who pass you by—most people, that is—who will be blind to your misery. They will stroll around you without the slightest bit of pity toward the vacancy of your mannerisms, the lifelessness of your footsteps. But you soon step out into the sunlight and walk down the street to her old pre-school. And you sit there, on that creaky swing she used to love, watching those precious infants, chubby-cheeked and red-nosed, sauntering through the leaves with a freedom and carelessness you envy. You simply sit there and miss her. And that’s good enough for you. For now.

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History of an Almost Relationship

By: Monica Chen

Their friendship develops like the tuning of an orchestra. A single violin plays and slowly, slowly more are added in until the harmonies swell and fill the room. They’re in the same high school. Same grade. Same chemistry class. Their parents are friends so they see each other at parties. They sit next to each other on the couch in one house, at the dinner table in another, on the floor at someone’s potluck, on the bed at another’s graduation. His gaze rests on her a little too long when he should be paying attention to the movie. She giggles and brushes her hair behind her ear.

Harmless, her mother calls him. Harmless, her brother calls him. When he sees her, he sees the sun, whole and bright, warm and strong. When she sees him, she sees bruises and blood. She sees force and pain and a man as old as her father who shouldn’t have but did anyways. When he tries to hold her hand, she flinches and pulls away. She apologizes and apologizes and says it’s not him. She’s just not comfortable with physical affection. He doesn’t push her. He never pushes her and yet all she can see is force.

All he wants to do is take care of her. Find out why she’s so sad. How could someone so bright, so warm be so sad? Her smile may be his favorite sight in the world, but it’s so rare. So rare. He tells her jokes when she cries. Her laughter is breathless as it escapes from her mouth. She looks up at him with her deep brown eyes and whispers thank you’s in his direction. He sits next to her when she cries. They greet the silence like an old friend and she thanks him for always being there. He tries to hug her when she cries. She squirms out of his reach and apologizes and apologizes and wishes things were different.

He tells her he loves her. He’s never felt like this before. He tells her that he would never hurt her and that she’s all he needs. He tells her that he loves her. She tells him not to. She tells him she’s too broken to be pieced back together. He can’t piece her back together. She loves him too. She loves him too, but she’s not ready. She has to figure herself out, solve her own problems. She tells him that one day she’ll tell him why she’s like this. She doesn’t. He tells her that he’ll wait for her. He doesn’t.

Voracious Amnesia

By: Timothy Swenarton

I forget about my brain’s unpopular appetite. Call it voracious amnesia. It really doesn’t care for time or location, either. An unpicky eater. It knows to wait, fester, bide its time. It hungers for words of a certain order. A collection of syllables laid out in a pleasing feast. From this desire, my brain and I have developed a cooperative parasiteness. We both know each other’s weaknesses, but exploit them when most necessary– when most hungry. Only, as of late, it has been feeling starving; an empty void of craving and needing and waiting and feeling.

In the natural flurry of a shopping spree, I inevitably find myself standing in a dressing room. This room is perceptibly different, in that it has an abundance of space. I bunch my trial clothes in the corner and begin to undress, running my socked feet against the purple carpet and imagining the circles I could run in here. There are no rules to the back world of dressing rooms. Consciously, we have divided public and private space into gendered areas, but here, born from necessity, boys and girls can try on clothes in rooms right alongside each other. Almost as if they are equally human. In the room beside mine, a boy is dressing in a variety of clothes his mother has picked out for him. If I don’t make any noise, I can hear the gushes of air he swallows in hopes of fitting into smaller clothing. Then, the creak of the swinging door as he presents himself. I never see their faces. Her tisks and tutters can be heard next. Oh, no no no. This just will not do. Guilt begins to creep in. All the other stalls are empty, and they most likely don’t even know I’m here.

“The presence of a highly attractive person can make others around them feel worse. Members of your sex will hold your looks against you if you are attractive and successful, according to work by German psychologists. If you are accomplished and unattractive, they found, heterosexual people of your sex tend to attribute your success to innate talent. If you are good-looking, however—a sexual competitor— they will more likely chalk your achievements up to luck.” – Laura Curren, writer for Psychology Today.

It’s negativity. That’s the weakness my brain knows too well, but also the substance that it pines. It likes to chew over phrases. Bite and bite. Crunch and crunch. Escape is melodramatic. I would never say I need to escape. But, between you and me, I need to escape.

My father sits in his leather chair. The one that has cracks running through the cushions from overuse. The one that will conform only to the shape of his rear, taunting me to try and fit. He doesn’t have a clue. We go weeks without speaking and I love those weeks. It’s a comfortable silence that fills me more than words. The hypocrisy sustains the void. Me.

        Ugly?

Yes, ugly.

Seriously?

 

I know. I want to tell him I know, I’m just worried. Worried what curved mouths say behind my turned back. Worried that I’ll misspell the word fine. Worried that I can see my value best when the lights are turned off.

About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by the age of 18.

“A nationwide survey of college students at 2- and 4-year institutions—found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time in the past year.” – National Institute of Mental Health

An era of apathy has ended, now replaced by an age of disassociation via mathematics. Who is hiding behind the percentages?  Shadowed faces cast their eyes downward. Just another number.

The mother came back with more clothes this time. Leaving wasn’t an option yet. My socked feet now felt as if they rested in glue. I heard how her eyes could cut and I’m afraid of drawing blood. The boy let a quick sigh slip through his teeth. The mother did not speak. A ballistic yell gathered itself in the back of my throat. A plea to make my presence known. To pay the bill before my brain had even ordered its meal. She threw the clothes over the door and the whole process began again. The creaking of the door, my brain beginning to drool. Zippers began to unzip faster; buttons began to pop quicker. Until, finally, the door creaked a last time.

        Ugly.

Long after they had left, I sat in the dressing room feeling scattered, forgotten. The spacious stall now seemed filled with dense, unbreathable air. My mind consumed.

Sam’s Story

by Jeremy Robson

When the time came, we were drunk. We were tired and numb. We were nineteen. We were old, with nothing but a bottle between us. We let the breeze drift under our hair. Mine combed, Julian’s not. We could see the people gathering across the water. Sam’s house looked small. I couldn’t remember if the shutters were black or dark green. Looked like both from where we were. Julian nudged me with the bottle. I took it without looking and held it by the neck. I sighed and spat. The saliva struck the water in front of us and the ripples carried it back, almost to my heels. I dug them in deeper and drank.

The morning was dull. A few wisps of clouds lay scattered over the pond. Beach trees hung down to trace their leaves across the surface, like fingertips curving along a face. The air was slow. It shifted around us and lingered inside my collar. I lifted my hand from the bottle and used a finger to let my neck breathe. I gave the vodka back to Julian and closed my eyes. I couldn’t help it. In the darkness inside my skull we were moving fast. Sam was smiling next to me. Julian stretched out in the back, one arm over the headrest next to him. There was glass clinking on the floor as we rounded the corner to Sam’s.

Julian cleared his throat. I opened my eyes and looked over at him. He was thinking too. He almost said something but I put my hand out for the bottle. He pursed his lips and passed it off.

We stared together. At the water. At the shriveled leaves that dropped, floated by, and sank. We watched the sun get hotter as it slanted off something metal in the distance, making us squint. We cooled our eyes in the shallow waves and bowed our heads as a quiet wind swept over.

I could just make out Sam’s mom, coming through the back door. She moved as if walking through deep snow, stopping as an older man put his arm around her. I looked away. Julian was staring at me.

“What are you gonna say?” he asked. I reached in my pocket and tossed him a piece of paper. I kept gazing out at the water. It was strange being at the pond in the morning. Seeing it in the daylight, unshadowed. It was too clear. We were too exposed. Tiny fish swam along the shoreline. I wondered if they knew we were there. If that was significant to them.

“You know you can’t say this.” My eyes were on the fish.

“I know.” He gave me back the paper and I crumpled it again slowly. I could feel Julian watching me as my hand smudged ink into the margins and folded the blue lines over each other.

“What were you getting that night?” he asked.

“What?”

“At McDonald’s.”

“Oh.” One fish kept darting around the others. I followed him closely. “Sam got a McChicken.” Julian smirked. I looked at him, chuckling. “Always fucking got the McChicken.” We laughed like children and took a few hearty sips each. But the conversation was over. We were both back behind our eyelids. The smell of stale car freshener hiding behind the warmth of burgers and fries, mixing nicely with the undertones of empty beer bottles. It was a Tuesday. A fucking Tuesday. The day before we’d been playing pickup soccer at the high school. It was a rare summer day that got us up before noon, but we were there. Barefoot on the sunburnt grass. Some guys we grew up with were there too. We played till the sun knocked us down and our shirtless backs stuck to the hard ground. I walked back with my shirt slung over my shoulder, my flip-flops in my hand.

Julian was playing with the bottle, twisting circles into the sand. “I should’ve been driving.” He wasn’t looking at me. He clenched the bottle tighter. “I wasn’t as messed up. I was fine.” I didn’t say anything. The fish had lost interest in us. I set my gaze across the pond, memorizing the grooves in a fallen log.

“Sam always drove,” I said. He had a lei hung over the rearview mirror. We’d all gotten them from a party this girl had thrown in high school. I remember seeing it laying half hidden under the floor mat that night.

        “Give me the bottle.” It was empty now. We’d been there all morning. I still had the paper in my hand. I crumpled it smaller and stuffed it in. A single sheet of notebook paper. It didn’t come close to filling the bottle. I stood and Julian followed suit.

        “You wanna do it?” I asked.

        “You mean…” He looked at the water. I nodded. “You got it man,” he shook his head.

        “Alright. I’ll meet you over there.” He nodded and started along the shore. I watched him arc his was around the pond towards Sam’s dock.

I sat down and stared at the bottle for a while. I picked at the sticker but couldn’t get it off. I wouldn’t be buying Russel’s for a while. Maybe ever again. It’s what we drank when we were home. It’s all we drank in high school. Ever since we found a bottle of it Julian’s brother had left in their mom’s car. So it’s what we came back to when we were home for break.

The glass had grown warm from the morning and from our sweating hands. I looked out to the water, imagining the splash. The sinking. The slow descent to the leafy bottom. Finding its place amongst the waterlogged sticks and rocks that were skipped only to dive down and disappear. I put the bottle down and started digging. I clawed at the sand, feeling it collect under my nails. I got through a layer of wet sand and stopped. I placed it in with the Russel’s logo up. I did it carefully like putting a baby to sleep in a crib.

When it was covered I started towards Sam’s. I made fists in my pockets as the fish followed me on my way. I was only a couple of minutes from the friends and family all neatly littering Sam’s lawn in perfectly aligned folding chairs. I took my time, kicking sticks out of my way. I could see Julian in the second row, behind Sam’s parents and his little brother.  I was stalling. When I realized it, I sped up my pace. Julian looked confused when I sat down next to him. I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder. I didn’t know how I was supposed to look either.

Sam’s dad turned around and we spoke quietly for a moment. There were hushed voices for a few minutes until Sam’s granddad got up and started things. I listened at first but was soon back, trapped in my mind. Trapped against the warped metal of the car door. The driver’s side was crushed in, pushing Sam right next to me. He wasn’t moving and my leg hurt. I yelled for Julian. He grunted.  I tried the seatbelt. It was stuck. I nudged Sam and told him to wake up. “We have to call the police,” I said. “My leg is fucked man. Julian! Get your phone out.” I squirmed in the seat, trying to get free. I could hear Julian wrestling in the back. The windows on the left side of the car were shattered. Branches were coming through. The front of the car was buckled around an old-looking birch. The sirens came. The windshield started to flicker. The lights were too much and I closed my eyes.

I heard Sam’s granddad say my name. It was my turn to speak. I got up slowly, in what I thought was the right manner. There was nothing in my head as I shook the old man’s hand and took the podium. I remembered I was drunk and started to speak.

“Sam,” I said, “was my best friend.” My eyes landed on his dad. He was our soccer coach in elementary school. He used to say, “Good shit, kid” when I scored a goal and I thought that was cool because my dad never swore. I scanned the rows of people. I glanced at Julian and he looked away. “It’s weird. Being up here, in Sam’s backyard. I guess…everything…sinks in, at different times. Its amazing to see how strong everyone has been.”

Sam’s dog had his paws on the windowsill by the back door. I noticed his ears twitch as he looked out the window. He pointed his little brown nose at me and we stared at each other.  Over the heads and passed the eyes of Sam’s family, of Julian, of other close friends, and people who probably knew the family but not Sam. The dog kept looking at me. He seemed to know. Not what happened. Or what was going to happen. But that things were different. I stared at him till my eyes watered. Till I was crying.

I looked back down on the exhausted faces. “Sam…I don’t know what he would want me to say. But I know that we all love him.” I nodded and kept my head down as I shuffled to my seat. I could feel Julian staring at me as I sat down. I didn’t look at him.  

I sat still for the rest of the service. Perfectly still, except my toes were tapping in my shoes. When it was over I told Julian I’d meet up with him later and I darted down to the water.

I reached the sand and sprinted till I got to where we were sitting that morning. I dug as fast as I could, tossed off the cap and fished out the piece of paper. I smoothed it on my thigh and read it aloud:

 

Sam,

        I’m sorry. I’m sorry Sam. I keep replaying it in my head, trying to change it. What the fuck were we doing?  And you were smarter Sam. We need you. Julian and I don’t know what the fuck to do now. I’m sorry man. I love you. Your mom gave us your copy of Asbury Park and it’s all we’ve been listening to. Last night I went to pick up Julian and we put the CD in and ended up just sitting in the driveway all night. It’s been the best time I’ve had since you left us. Do you remember when we were six and we ate so much peanut butter we had to go to the hospital? I never minded taking care of you man. When you were shitfaced at prom and Megan was pissed at you, Julian and I snuck you out past her dad and carried you home. We never told you that. I knew you never would’ve forgiven yourself for making us do that. We didn’t care though. I got a bottle of Russel’s and Julian and I are going to drink it for you. I know you’d get a kick out of that. We love you. I know you know that.

 

Untitled

by Emma Sheinbaum

I’m going to bed early tonight, please

leave the light off.

I can’t stay

up any longer

because being awake is too painful,

because going to sleep is like taking a breath, I

don’t know how to explain this to you except

every blink is a wink at the future,

where everything can

go wrong, every inhale

is toxic air going in every exhale

my last sweet thoughts going out,

        a drop of honey that isn’t   

        honey

        clings to the white strand

        bending, almost snapping

        from the honeysuckle

during recess in middle school, there

were bushes at the top

of a hill sloping steep with

dirt patches and overgrown grass on the way

to the bush we hiked only

to extract the honeysuckle nectar that they would eat

and I would not, but

would extract from the green petaled flowers hiding

in green leaves anyway.

I tore the stem apart, I

pulled the white thread, I watched

the drop cling to the end

of nature’s string, I

 

watched the kids around me close

their lips around it, I didn’t notice

the gleam the sun had put inside it, and I

let it fall to the ground,

faking sweetness on my tongue. I will not

be awake to watch it fall I will

not watch the nectar seep into the ground

I will

feel pill chalk scratch

against my tongue and

pray that I melt

into the pilling sheets.

Have You Ever?

by Cassie Walters

 

Dry tears race from my swollen eyes.

Have you ever

run, legs stretched, to get away.  You

        felt so ashamed.

You clutch your means, and leave, and

        you just can’t

find the right words to tell.  Goodbye.

        stay here,

“No!” You bust through the door,

        but then you find

a veiled path guides you off the beaten way, and

        something so divine

catches your swollen eye and you break to get a better look.  Now

        you can’t bear to leave?