Lost Innocence

wp-1457988085995.jpgShades of orange, yellow, and brown cover the landscape of our home. It’s that season again – when our three large trees shed their foliage to become barren reminders of a spring long gone.

We can play hot lava in the backyard now, with grass acting as lava and the leaves as solid ground. With youthful exuberance, we bound from group to group until I am the only one left standing. I jump in the air and giggle at the remains of my brother and sister. Their lifeless corpses jerk on the ground as if being swallowed by the lava.

Dad comes out and says with a derisive sigh, “Looks like raking season is here.”

“We’ll do it!” the three of us exclaim.

He smiles and nods before disappearing into the shed.

When he returns, he hands us each our very own rake.

“Careful of splinters,” he says as he returns to the shed.

I start raking. Little brother watches intently, and I realize this might be the first time he’s ever raked. He mimics my every move, and I smile and move even more deliberately than I did before. The rake becomes an extension of his two hands as he pulls one lone leaf closer to the center.

“Boring. When can we play?” little bro asks.

I twirl my rake in the air, imagining I’m a ninja, and he follows suit, albeit awkwardly. We whack our wooden handles against each other’s and yell out “Cowabunga!”. The metal prongs are dangerously close to us, but I only half think about how much it would hurt if we scratched ourselves with them.

Dad exits the shed with a tall ladder. “Be careful, kiddos.”

We nod our heads furiously.

“Whatcha doin’?” I ask him.

“Gutters,” he says with a tsk.

We make a giant pile of leaves in the center of the backyard. It towers almost as high as little brother, and it looks perfect for the next game.

We play it all the time in autumn. Every time there is a pile of leaves, we measure it up and down. We push leaves higher into the pile to add buoyancy and enjoy the thrill of flying into the air and falling onto it without a care in the world.

With a big running leap, I watch my brother land and flatten the pile. A spray of leaves scatters and cascades onto the dry earth. A few flutter in the wind and land on his arms and legs. With a giggle, he gets up and runs to do it again.

I look at the pile and notice branches sticking up from within. My smile fades.

“Not fair! It’s my turn,” little sis says.

The two start to run towards the defeated pile, but I run out in front of them, arms spread eagle.

What if little bro or sis falls into one of the branches? What if it goes all the way through? I wince.

“You can’t,” I say.

With a gasp, sis looks at me hurt and confused. Little bro starts to cry.

“You’ll get hurt!” I say.

I know they won’t listen, so I walk away and come back with some garbage bags. I clean up the pile while they run around the yard doing somersaults and swinging their rakes around like swords and staffs. I sigh sadly.

“Oh, to be young again,” I whisper.

 

Sheltered

“We just gotta get you drunk,” my best friend says to me.

Her words were earnest and true. I’m about to turn nineteen, and I have yet to go to a teen party. I often wonder if movies like Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie get them right. I’m curious how alcohol might taste. I’m not wanting to get drunk, though. I just want to know how it would be to open up a bit. Maybe let a boy kiss me or even fondle me. I’m not ready for where that would lead, though, so maybe not so much.

I nod at her. Life isn’t exactly great right now. I’m coming to the realization that I might not be able to go to Texas Wesleyan University next year despite deferring already for a year. I might be stuck in this stupid town another year because I can’t afford to live out of home yet. I have no car or license, for that matter, and I’m always loaning money to my folks.

A party is sounding better every second.

“I have an idea,” she says with a sheepish grin. “What if we give you a surprise party at my place?!”

“Oh! I love it!” I say.

“I’ll ask you if you want to stay the night. And then later, I’ll say to your parents, ‘We’re going to throw her a party!'”

“Sounds foolproof. Let’s do it!” I clap my hands excitedly.

My best friend has recently moved out of home, and now she shares a trailer with another girl. It’s not exactly a big place, certainly not glamorous, but at eighteen, still in school, and working at the movie theatre, she couldn’t afford much else. Still, it is the perfect place for me to have a big party.

*****

“I talked to your mom and dad,” she says to me two days later. She’s driving me to a local restaurant so we can meet up with a few of our friends where I will likely pay for everyone’s food just so I can feel included again.

I see the look on her face and nearly burst into tears, “The night’s ruined.”

“Pretty much…” she says.

I brace myself by digging my nails into the palms of my hands.

“You can’t stay the night,” she says.

“Get fucked,” I think out loud.

“They want you home by nine because you have work tomorrow and they don’t want to be waiting all night for you to get home.”

I kick the underside of the car’s dashboard.

“And they mentioned they may call at some point during the night too.”

“So basically they knew it was going to be a party with alcohol…”

“Pretty much.”

I dig deeper into my palms til the nails break skin. The heat rushes to my cheek. I turn my head to the passenger side window, and gaze at the void.

“You need to get out of there,” my friend admits.

“I will soon,” I say. “Maybe I can pick up more shifts at the movie theatre and come live with you.”

But my heart’s not in it. My mom will never approve, and my dad will just be angry with me for hurting my mom if I do go. Not to mention the crippling debt. They need me too much.

*****

I sit on the futon and smile at the chatter around me. As always, I’m certain the only reason I’m included is because I pay for the pizza. Strawberry daiquiris and loud music drive the message home more. I sit beside the phone, waiting for it to ring, so I can be the party pooper who says to stop the laughing and revelry. My best friend kindly makes and drinks a non-alcoholic version so I can feel included, but I don’t. Well after she leaves to drop me off and comes back, these people will be drinking, making out, dancing, whatever happens at a party. I wish I knew.

I sigh. If only my parents didn’t know where she lives, I could rebel and not come home. If only I could gather the courage to stand up to them maybe I wouldn’t be so boring. Maybe people would like me more.

I leave to go back home and try to look happy. I have to fake being surprised, after all. I have to fake the excitement of having a birthday party that my friends put together. I barely have it in me to do. But I do it anyway. My mom gives me an almost knowing smile. It mocks me and says indirectly, “You’re too young to drink anyway.”

When I finally lay my head down on my pillow, moisture sticks to my cheeks. Only one year left of my teens. I’ll never know if Can’t Hardly Wait got it right or not.

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Uninvited Guests

Slums wadn’t all that bad before de ‘plosion. Me and mine had a good life. Squattin’ in any ole empty house, hootin’ ‘n hollerin’ wid our pistols, eatin’ possums and squirrels ‘n roastin’ dem in barrels of fire.

Wad a good life.

‘Til dat ‘plosion. Now we stuck in dis hell.

*****

Aww, gentrification! It’s the buzzword at the moment. What better way to improve life than to make a place liveable again? I was excited when the real estate agent explained my new digs. The fact that there was once a family of squatters in it made me even happier. A house with a history. That’s the dream!

The organic coffee shop around the corner was renovated with actual remains of the explosion. The story was: there was a big meth lab here. Somehow someone got their hands on nitro instead of – errr whatever it is they use to make meth, meth-y. It caused the biggest urban explosion ever. Destroyed all the houses, the people, the pests. Everything. How awesome is that? This neighborhood has so much character now. With it’s white-picket fences sitting on all the ash and bone that seeped into the dirt. I was immediately in love with the place.

It was my first night living in the new house when I started to second guess my decision, though. The house sat on the edge of what used to be called the hillbilly slums, and apparently it was the only one to be relatively untouched.

As I completed the finishing touches on my hydroponic – errr – herb garden, I saw it.

“What the hell are you doing in my house? Get out!” I screamed. A little boy sat on the lounge, eating my popcorn and chucking bare kernels at the TV. He looked to be covered in soot, but mostly I just noticed his feet. Toenails, specifically. They were so long.

“No, you get out,” he hissed back. “This our house!”

I stormed over to him, but before I could do anything else, a man was standing over me.

“You heared da young’un,” he said.

I jumped back. He was missing most of his teeth, clothes filthy, hair fiery red. He was pretty scary. I watched him pass right through my couch to sit beside the boy.

I might have fainted after that. Maybe.

When I woke, I caught them burning some … oregano. I wouldn’t stand for that. I jumped to my feet – pilates has given me lots of buoyancy – and stormed to stand in front of them. They stretched their heads to either side to look at the TV.

“Hey! That’s mine,” I said.

“No cause for hollerin’. ‘Nuff ta go ’round,” the ghost man said. He stared me down with his ghostly eyes but extended his hand in a token gesture.

I blinked a couple of times. It was good oregano. Shame for it to go to waste on the dead. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “What the hell.”

I sat down beside those soot-covered hillbillies and wondered if there was such a thing as dead herpes. But one whiff of the goods, and I forgot all my troubles.

I didn’t bother to learn their names. What’s the point? They’re dead. During a cloud-induced state, though, I might have agreed to let them stay here with me.

Now I dunno what ta do. I think the ghost man is tryin’ ta take ova my body. I am startin’ to talk like ’em. They spend all deir days here, tendin’ to my herb garden while I try ta write. Mayhap dey planned dis all along… 

 

Mayhap me and mine can finally be free of dis hell! Damned hipster takin’ my home. Now we gonna take it back!

 

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Uncomfortable

I’m looking forward to having some game time today with my best friend.

I straighten up the living room, check batteries in the controllers, grab the Code Red Mountain Dew from the fridge and the Doritos out of the pantry. Three games sit on the floor in front of the TV ready to be chosen.

A knock sends me flying to the door to answer it. I feel like a six-year old all over again, but I’m really in my early twenties and far too old to act like this. It’s just… I don’t have enough friends that I can feel as comfortable as I do with him.

I open the door, and he’s standing there with a bag hanging over his shoulder, and just past it, I can see his wife waving excitedly at me from their car . I wave with both arms high in the air, “Hi, Rho-rho!”

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally feel fine spending time with him. I have rules. His wife must know we’re hanging out. She’s my friend too. We’re all buddies.

Rhokesia never has any reason to distrust me. She and I talk all the time about the perfect guy. She knows my type: cool geeks. Antoine is neither of these things.

So we play the games. I drink over half the bottle of Code Red, as he drinks wine. I keep kicking his butt and punching him when he beats me. It’s all good fun.

“You’re just so cool,” he tells me. “You’re just like a guy!”

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That’s what every girl wants to hear…  I’ve been stuck in friendzone with so many of my guy friends. But I don’t mind him saying it, though, since it’s him.

His hand lands on my knee, “I wish I’d met you before I married.”

I push him away, mouth agape. You’ve just ruined it!

“You and I have so much in common. I have nothing in common with Rhokesia,” he continued.

“No,” I say standing up. Asshole! Nothing can ever be the same again.

“But I thought-”

I am not attracted to you! “No!”  Come on, Mel. Say something real!

This complete disconnect from mind and mouth infuriates me. My face goes red, but I suck in a breath before finally speaking, “Antoine, you have to go.”

“But-”

“No. That’s it. It’s over. You’re married!”

He nods his head, resigned, and I walk him to the door. “I can’t believe you would think-. You were my friend,” I say, preventing him from saying anything else.

As he crosses passes the front door, I see him turn to say something, but I slam the door in his face.

I cry for a moment in anger and frustration. How could he? I never did anything. I was just being me. Oh my god. I’m despicable. I did this. Somehow I caused this. 

My hands shake as I lift my phone to get her number.

She has to know. 

I stare at her name in my list and pause.

What if she blames me? I blame me. 

I scrunch my eyes and take two deep breaths before closing my phone.

You just can’t see him outside of work anymore. It’s better this way.

I step away from the door and collapse on the couch. I guess single girls aren’t meant to be friends with married men.

Bring Back Teacher

“Two dollars and you can have your own ‘Bring Back Teacher’ t-shirt,” I heard behind me.

Snatching my wallet, I handed two one dollar bills to the girl talking.

I was going to be an activist.

“Extra small for you, Mel?” she asked with a smile. She hadn’t actually been talking to me, so I could see in her eyes her surprise at my sudden about face.

“Yes, please,” I answered, a smile from ear to ear.

The white t-shirt with blue lettering “Bring Back Teacher” was simple, but we had our message. We had our demands, and they were going to be heard.

We were going to bring back our favorite teacher, Mr Teacher (not his real name).

So the next day hundreds of us wore our t-shirts. We were going to make them hear and see how important he was to us. We marched around the halls of the school, chests pushed out and fire in our eyes.

Our activism failed. Nothing happened. Not a damn thing.

That was the first and last time I was an activist, because one of the hardest things to accept is that sting of defeat, and the overall sense that you’ve just been ignored.

*****

Unfortunately, it turned out I was on the wrong side of this. I had teachers and students surrounding me, telling me that he didn’t do what they say he did, but never once did I question it.

He had embezzled money from the school. For all his knowledge and drive to impart it, he had done something really stupid. He was caught by another teacher, and though he paid it back, stealing was stealing. He was officially let go, and we were stuck with a terrible replacement teacher.

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So what do you do when you realize you’re on the wrong side of a cause? Do you admit you were wrong? How do you deal with that? Is it hard to switch sides? As it turns out, it can be. The teacher who discovered what Mr Teacher did was put on trial with all the students and faculty because she told on him. The snitching was worse than what he did because he was loved by all, and she was effectively driven out of town (remember, this is Paris, TX, folks) by the end of the year.

I remember telling my friends that what he did was wrong. I remember being told I was stupid, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I should just keep my mouth shut. And so I did for fear of being pushed away as the teacher had been.

I held my belief, though, but I had no way of vocalizing it well enough for them to see the truth (though I doubt they would have anyway).

And to me, that’s the issue I personally have with activism. I’m not a debater by nature. I stumble with words, intent, and language. If I’m speaking, my mouth struggles to keep up with my brain, so I can’t seem to form proper sentences that make any sense. I do believe strongly in my stances, and I do admit fault if I realize a stance I have is incorrect. But I will always confess, I’m the last person you want to speak out towards a cause.

Therein lies the reason I don’t tend to write political posts or discuss subjects such as feminism, neurodiversity, equal rights, or even religion (and the hundreds of other causes that deserve equal discussion), because even though I’m a writer, I’m not always the greatest with words or expressing myself. I’m an ill-suited advocate of human rights.