Category Archives: Issue 8.

This Is How We Say I Love You

By Cat Taylor

Not-quite-yet hungover,
sprawled on couches,
beanbags,
beds,
pronounced like “drink some water,”
and “we’ll go to Waffle House in the morning.”
We’ve never stopped wearing our hearts on our sleeves
still sewing them back on
where our parents would have stuffed them in a drawer somewhere
When someone uses the wrong pronouns –
on purpose
That someone doesn’t get invited anymore
and that’s how they know we love them

This is how we say I love you
All-the-way hungover
Speaking it so quietly
it just might be a prayer
I can never remember how they like their coffee –
but I ask them every time
Knowing we’re all just
lonely lighthouses on abandoned islands
showing weary travelers the way home
offering cigarettes and sweet tea

This is how we say I love you
All verbal hand grenades over a game of Monopoly,
near brawls over subs vs dubs
I love you
Spoken so often
that sometimes it comes out as
laughter turned quiet because it’s starting to hurt

This is how we weather the storm
Love baked into every casserole
(we’ve got vegan options, too)
Barefaced and laid bare
no need to hide here
No “positive vibes only” drivel
Bring your bad vibes
Your frightened and trembling vibes
We’ll love you through those, too

If I haven’t told you today,
I love you
We’ll go to Waffle House in the morning

waffle house.” by shil is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0?

Soup

By Maddie Fay

maybe it’s the way i was raised
or maybe it’s my cancer rising
but i only ever feed myself well when i am feeding someone else.
i mean,
my love language is soup.
which is why my whole house smells like curry, garlic, and ginger,
why over the course of a couple of days i spent twelve of the hours i had meant to spend sleeping
pressing blocks of tofu,
individually sauteing seven different types of vegetables in fresh herbs and aromatics,
and really testing the capacity of my roommate’s food processor.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that everything that feels good is either dangerous or morally wrong, or, most likely, both, but I imagine it started with the church.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that love looked less like a fairytale and more like my best friend falling asleep in my sweater with her head on my shoulder, so close I could smell my shampoo in her hair, but I imagine it started with her.

I once spent six months eating cold unseasoned green beans out of a can for almost every meal because suffering for suffering’s sake feels righteous when you believe that you deserve it. I once spent ten years pretending not to be a dyke for essentially the same reason.

And lord, am I ever. A dyke, I mean. A big, masculine dyke,
Like,
I have always been more king Kong than Fay wray.
Like,
I have always been taught to be afraid of what my hands can do.
I remember big fat dykes depicted as monstrous,
Only able to destroy,
And I wonder if that’s why there are so many of us who make things.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time because i have been backed into enough corners to be cautious,
but mostly,
i use it for fixing things and cutting fruit.
danger is contagious and i do what i can to stop it from making me dangerous,
I do not want to be a frightened and frightening thing.
but one time a woman i really liked tried to wake me from a nightmare,
and with ghosts still circling my head
Before I was awake or aware,
i punched her in the face.
When I opened my eyes, there was fear in hers and blood pouring from her nose and no amount of apologizing could unbreak what I had broken.
she kissed me and told me she still trusted me and it made me remember all the bloody noses that i had once forgiven with similar ease.
So i told her i was thinking of moving to oregon and that work was getting busy and that i would wash and return her tupperware before she left in case it was a while before i could see her again.
i hugged her at her car
and she held me for too long
like she didn’t even notice all the sharp things where my skin was meant to be.
i spent the next six months
bleeding venom and avoiding handshakes.

And I don’t mean to say that I am violent,
Because I am not,
I do not yell
Or degrade
Or intimidate,
I never sleep punched anyone else before or since,
I would never hit a friend or a lover while awake. I only wear spikes to make people think before they touch me, I am all flight or freeze. But violence is not the only way to hurt someone you love. Shutting down or running away can break a heart too and blood all looks the same when it’s drying on your hands no matter where it comes from. So now I try to protect the people I love from everything dangerous, including getting too close to me.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time,
but on days when my body remembers in the present tense,
i take a knife from the kitchen block instead.
i cut up limes and sweet potatoes,
drown out the sirens in my head
with bubbling water and simmering oil.

i’m still learning what love looks like,
and i am so tired of breaking,
and maybe this is why every time i see someone beautiful i fantasize about building them a house,
maybe this is why i make soup.

i am only easy to love
on the days when love is not a life raft.
i have never been afraid of fire
but i am frozen earth
full of ancient seeds,
already there are new green things pushing up through cracks in me
and i worry that if the ground were to thaw,
softer things might take root,
and i am afraid that anything delicate might not survive in me.

It’s not that I am wholly unable to love recklessly,
I run whole body into the ocean every time i see her,
emerge breathless and invisible and singing praises to nobody at all but the stars.
The last time I wanted to die, I took an overnight bus to the ocean. I held my breath and dipped my whole body beneath the surface of the sea,
tried to practice drowning but instead,
by mistake,
fell in love all over again with the waves and the moon and the stars,
All the beautiful things too big and too powerful for me to hurt accidentally.
I am a soft foolish thing,
All alive and longing.
I have loved fully
What I always knew I could not hold,
My tiny heart so full of moon and sea
And every mountain
That every place is now both a home
And not.

I am not as afraid as I used to be,
I have done a lot of therapy,
And maybe one day I will sleep next to somebody breakable without feeling guilty.
And I think maybe one day,
I will trust myself enough to love the softest things that love me in the fearless way I love the ocean.
And I don’t know when that day will be,
Or whether you will stick around long enough to find out,
but i do know that i want you always to be warm and full of good things,
so in the meantime,
If you want it,
I made you some soup.

Riddles

By Jack Walsh

The late afternoon sun hung low beyond the city walls, and the glare obscured the enormous thing crouched in the shadow of the gates – a thing that had suddenly become very shouty.

An inhuman voice bellowed, the force of it sending a cloud of dust blowing past the man on the road. “Step forward!” The traveller did not feel inclined to do so.

“I said step. Forward.”

The man swallowed, raised his arm to shield his eyes from the sun, and took a step.

“C’mon. Little bit more. Scooch on up.”

The man, squinting, took another half-step.

The thing sighed. “Zeus almighty, guy. Just come into the fucking shade already.”

The traveller crept up until the sun dipped behind the walls. And there, guarding the way in, was a creature more horrible than any he could have imagined. The cruelest eyes looked at him from within a woman’s face, and a long tongue flicked itself over blood-stained fangs. Below all this was the body of a lion, a sight rendered all the more grotesque by the incongruous addition of eagle’s wings. It was an unholy abomination, a magical being seemingly designed by committee.

The creature watched the man as he struggled to process her appearance.

“And don’t forget the tail,” she said, pointing behind her. “It’s a snake.”

Indeed, an asp raised up from behind the monster. “What? I wasn’t paying atten…Oh, hey. I’m the snake.”

“Hey…” said the traveller. “I’m Oedipus.”

“And I…” said the monster, pausing with a flourish as she spread her wings. She then shook her tail with annoyance.

“Sorry,” said the snake.

“And I…” the monster repeated as the snake added to the drama of the moment with a fearsome hisssssss, “am the Sphinx.”

Oedipus said nothing.

“The Sphinx!” she said again.

After a beat, the snake added, “hsssssssss?”

“Like in Egypt?” asked Oedipus.

“No, that’s like a totally other thing,” replied the Sphinx.

“So, you’re like a sphinx.”

“No, I’m the Sphinx!” she screamed, a small burst of flame coming from her throat. “Ow! Holy shit!…I didn’t even know I could do that! Fuck. Do you have any water?”

“Uh, I…I’m sorry. I don’t,” said Oedipus.

The Sphinx flexed her jaw a few times and, grimacing, smacked her lips with distaste. “Ugh, gross…So, you. I imagine you want to go into Thebes or something.”

“Um, yes, ma’am.”

“Then, you must answer…my riddle.”

A look of vague recognition crossed Oedipus’s face. “Oh. The riddle of the Sphinx.”

The Sphinx rolled her eyes. “Ugh, Ares, Apollo and Athena, yes, of course the riddle of the Sphinx.”

“Now, remind me of the deal with that,” said Oedipus

“If you get it right, you pass safely into the city of Thebes.”

Oedipus nodded. “Gotcha.”

“If you do not…” the Sphinx paused again. The snake hissed.

“I die,” Oedipus jumped in.

“Yes,” said the Sphinx, annoyed at the interruption. “Yes, you die. Horribly. Right here.”

“You can turn back, though,” she added. “And maybe I’ll let you run a while across the plain before I swoop from the heavens and devour you alive.”

“Very well,” said Oedipus.

“Very well what?” The Sphinx stutter-stepped with excitement. “You’re going to run for it?”

“I will answer your riddle.”

“Oh.” The Sphinx frowned. “I should warn you; no one’s ever gotten it right.”

“But I shall,” said Oedipus.

“But I shall,” muttered the Sphinx in a sing-songy tone as she reached under one massive wing and pulled out a laptop computer. “Okay. Let’s see here…” She opened it and typed a few keys.

“Shit. Hang on.” She tried again.

Oedipus politely feigned interest in the architecture of the city walls.

“Oh, duh. Caps lock,” said the Sphinx. She clicked the mouse and scrolled down for a moment. “Okay, where was…a ha. Here we go. Oh, you really are quite doomed.”

Oedipus exhaled and rubbed his sweaty palms on his tunic.

The Sphinx looked at him over the top of the monitor and began.

“Name a city…that does not have an “O” in it.”

Oedipus blinked. “Uh…”

“I bet you can’t!” the Sphinx gleefully interrupted.

Oedipus glanced past the Sphinx. “Um…” he coughed, ”Thebes?”

The Sphinx’s jaw dropped slightly, and then she looked back at the city behind her.

“Athens, also,” suggested Oedipus, helpfully.

The Sphinx scowled. “Okay,” she said, looking back at the laptop.

“Oooo, also, Atlantis, Sparta, Delphi…”

“OKAY!!” snapped the Sphinx. “Enough! Fuck. We’ll move on to the next one.”

“Wait, what?” asked Oedpius.

“The second riddle.”

“You just said there was a riddle.”

“No, there’re three.”

“Well, you didn’t say that.”

“Well, there are. Obviously. There are always three magical things. Three wishes. Three guesses of the goblin’s name. Three, I dunno, ghosts or whatever. Three riddles. Okay? I just have to find the next one.”

They were quiet for a moment until the Sphinx began to mutter. She tapped the keyboard angrily several times.

“Shit. I think my IT guy is doing updates right now.”

“In the middle of the day?” asked Oedipus.

“I know, right?” said the Sphinx.

“You should eat him.”

“Ha ha. I totally should.”

“Yeah.”

“Hmmm…”

Oedipus shuffled his feet. The Sphinx watched the screen. The snake hissed softly to himself.

After what felt like several minutes, the Sphinx spoke. “So, what brings you…What’d you say your name was?”

“Oedipus.”

“Right. What brings you to Thebes, Oedipus?”

“I’m here to see my girlfriend.”

“Ah, a special lady in town. Got a picture?”

Oedipus pulled up a photo on his iPhone and handed it to the Sphinx.

“Oh, cute,” said the Sphinx. “Although…”

“What?” asked Oedipus.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that…you guys look a lot alike.”

“What?” Oedipus laughed. “I don’t know. I don’t really see it.”

“You don’t think so?” The Sphinx held the picture in line with Oedipus’s face and eyed the two. “I mean it’s almost like she could be your sister. Or your moth…”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Well, y’know how they say,” said Oedipus, taking the phone. “Couples kinda start to resemble each other.”

“Do they say that?” asked the Sphinx. “Hmmm. I thought that was about dogs and owne…oh, hey! Here we go. Next riddle.” She looked at the laptop, and began to read.

“I truly believe that Cyclops is the son of our lord, Poseidon, God of the sea…”

Oedipus waited for more.

“I bet this won’t get many shares. Are you brave enough to share this?” asked the Sphinx.

Oedipus glanced at the Snake, who gave him a look that suggested that if he had shoulders, he would shrug them.

“Tick tock,” said the Sphinx.

Oedipus looked at her. “Wha…?”

“Are you brave enough to share this?!” demanded the Sphinx.

“Y…Yes?” offered Oedipus.

The Sphinx smacked the side of the computer. “Gods-dammit, you are really good at this!”

Oedipus cleared his throat in a way that he hoped seemed modest.

“But I shall feast on your entrails, yet!” shrieked the Sphinx. “I shall drink your blood and pluck your heart from your che..oh, shit. Here’s a good one.”

The Sphinx’s eyes moved back and forth over the screen. Oedipus couldn’t help but notice that she silently mouthed the words when she read.

After a moment, the Sphinx pushed the screen partway down and looked at him. “You have been a worthy challenger…”

“Oedipus,” he said.

“Right. A worthy challenger, Oedipus,” the Sphinx continued, “but you will soon learn that mortals were not meant to match wits with the scions of Olympus.”

The Sphinx opened the laptop again.

“There is a creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening,” she said.

Oedipus opened his mouth to reply but the Sphinx continued. “This creature is man. Like if you agree.”

Oedipus blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

“99% will get this wrong!” added the Sphinx.

“I..” began Oedipus and then looked at the snake again, who had clearly lost interest at this point.

“Like if you agree!” shouted the Sphinx.

With some confused hesitation, Oedipus forced a queasy smile and raised his hand in a thumbs-up gesture.

The Sphinx let out a horrific wail, beating her mighty wings and thrashing her tail furiously. “Aaaaaaaa!” said the snake. At the edges of the surrounding plains, thunder boomed. The Sphinx once again fixed her fierce eyes upon Oedipus. He braced himself.

“Okay, well, enjoy Thebes,” said the Sphinx while clicking the mousepad. “The place right inside the gate has killer moussaka, just FYI.”

“Oh…” said Oedipus. “Cool.”

“Actually,” the Sphinx mused, “I could really go for some, now that I’m thinking about it.”

“Aren’t you, I don’t know,” said Oedipus. “Aren’t you supposed to die now that I solved your riddles?”

“Hmm? Oh, no, I don’t think so.”

“I thought maybe you were going to throw yourself off a cliff or something.”

“No,” said the Sphinx. “I mean, I have wings. So. That would be weird. Anyway, you wanna grab a bite? They’ve got WiFi. I have other things I could ask you for fun. Wanna find out what character from the Iliad you are?”

Oedipus eased past the Sphinx, who was making no real effort to move out of the way. “Oh, um, thanks. But, I need to get going and see my mom…I mean, my girlfriend! Haha that was crazy.”

“Mmmm,” said the Sphinx, offering no further comment aside from a raised eyebrow as she turned her attention back to the internet.

fearless

By Jeremy Maxwell

for Amy Tecosky

“Let’s go to Nike,” Sydney says, and starts putting on her shoes. She doesn’t bother with socks because the stick-poke on her leg is not even an hour old, much too fresh for fabric. Fraggle is already getting ready to do another one on somebody else, laying all the shit out on the table and taking giant slugs of whiskey straight out of the bottle. Yesterday he sat in the kitchen floor and did all the veins in his feet, turning them into tree roots twining up his legs. Blood and ink all over the linoleum, it looked like a fucking murder scene by the time she made him quit.

The radio is up loud and when she finishes with her shoes she stands up and turns it off, stops and looks around. Fraggle glances over at her in the new quiet and shrugs, drops everything but the bottle and heads for the door. Chad and Stacy are making out on the futon in the corner and Sydney kicks it as she walks by. They pull their faces apart and Stacy starts messing with her hair and straightening her clothes.

“Come on, Jupiter, get in the car,” Sydney says, and the giant dog lifts his head up off the couch. His ears twitch forward and that’s about it. Chad and Stacy get up and follow Fraggle out of the apartment, hands already all over each other again. “Jupe. Come on,” Sydney repeats and the dog lumbers down off the couch and stretches hard into his front legs. He yawns and shakes his head and follows everyone out the door.

I’m hunched over the coffee table rolling more joints, even though there are already a dozen laying in front of me. I take a drag from the one in my mouth and call behind her as she disappears outside. “Nike? Y’all can barely even wear shoes,” I holler after them. No one listens or cares and I get up and start sticking joints in my pockets. “Well goddamn, hang on,” I say, and hurry to catch up.

***

Thunder Kiss ’65 is playing in the car and as soon as it’s done, Sydney starts it over. She is yelling at Stacy in the backseat and it’s hard to tell if she’s pissed or just wants to make sure Stacy can hear but either way it sounds like she’s having a shouting match with Rob Zombie. “Look,” she says, “when you hit him there’s only three things he can do.” Fraggle swerves around another hole in the road and everybody goes leaning into each other and then back again when he corrects the wheel. The dog is taking up more space than anyone and I try to push him over but it’s no use and I go back to listening to Sydney.

Chad and Stacy are still pressed hard together for no reason and Sydney turns full around in the front seat. I pull out a joint and light it and hand it to her as Fraggle drops the gear and starts the drive up the mountain. We aren’t going to be able to go much further in the car but there’s a place to pull over and park after the first bend. Sydney hits the joint and blows the smoke in Stacy’s face. Stacy looks away from Chad and when she sees the look Sydney’s giving her, she tries to scoot away from him, pulls her hands out of his lap and starts straightening her hair and clothes.

“Yeah, sis,” Stacy says. “Three things.” Chad starts to reach for the joint but Sydney doesn’t even glance at him and hands it to Fraggle instead. He billows smoke against the dashboard as he rounds the bend, finds the cut and shuts off the car. The radio dies when he opens the door but Sydney’s volume doesn’t change. Fraggle gets out with the bottle and takes a long slug, opens the back door for Jupiter to jump out. The dog doesn’t move, even when I start pushing on him.

“He can lash out,” Sydney yells. “He can run. Or he can freeze.” She gets out and leans back down into the car, face to face in the backseat with Chad. “Come on, Jupiter,” she says, and the drop in volume and tone make it clear she wasn’t just yelling over the radio. She glares at Chad from inches away as the giant dog jumps down into the dirt on the other side. He immediately hikes a leg and pisses on the tire. I wait for him to get done before I get out.

Fraggle has already started up the road with the joint so I light another one and climb out of the car.

“That’s not even true, Syd,” I say. “There’s all kinds of shit he can do.” She doesn’t say anything, just pulls her head out of the backseat and scowls at me over the roof, so I keep talking. “He could pull out a weapon.” She keeps glaring, and I go on. “He could fall down and have a seizure. Hell, he could even,” I say, and she cuts me off.

“Are you done?” she growls and steps out of the way so Chad and Stacy can finally get out. They stretch in the sun and Sydney slams the door and walks over to me, reaching for the joint. I hit it again and blow the smoke in her face. “It was anecdotal, you fucking assmonkey,” she says and punches me in the arm. I don’t fight or fly or freeze, I just start laughing and hand her the joint as Jupiter follows us up the road, all of us lagging behind Fraggle and the bottle.

***

Nike Missile Site LA-94 sits on top of a mountain off Sand Canyon Road in the LA National Forest. By the time we get up there Jupiter is panting full out like he might quit and lay down any minute, but as soon as he sees the concrete pad he trots right over and starts drinking from the puddle of water pooled in the corner on the far side.

“When’s the last time it rained, you reckon,” I say, and Sydney stops on the path and calls the dog.

“Jupe, that’s probably radioactive,” she says, “get over here,” and the dog comes panting back across the pad. His tail wags when Sydney starts to move again. She scratches his giant head and he falls in behind her. “Some kids died up here, you know,” she says to me as I fumble around in my pocket for another joint. I find a bent one and spend a second getting it straight before I light it. “Well, back there on the road,” she says. “Prom night.”

“They did not,” I say, and hand her the joint. Chad and Stacy are over by the radar station, leaning up against the wall. They’re starting to get handsy again and even though Sydney’s squinting into the sun she rolls her eyes hard enough for me to see.

“They damn sure did,” she says. “They went to my high school. They were headed up here to smoke pot or make out or whatever kids do after prom. I think they were drunk,” she says, and looks away from Stacy, finds Fraggle out at the edge of the cliff, drinking hard from the upturned bottle. We start to make our way over to him, passing the joint back and forth while she tells me about the ghost that haunts the road we came up, how her hair is flying out on all sides, her face a ruin of made up flesh. How she moves up and down the road trying to find help for her friends. “She doesn’t walk,” Sydney says, “she just floats above the ground and lunges at you with outstretched arms.”

“Tell me you don’t believe this shit,” I say, and Sydney starts to laugh.

“Do you believe there used to be nukes right here under our feet? You better believe I fucking believe it.”

I look over my shoulder for a girl in a floating prom dress, but she’s not there, just some dude coming up over the edge of the hill, carrying a canvas bag. Sydney and Jupiter lope up to Fraggle, standing there in his bare feet, every vein of them tattooed with India ink. She takes the bottle from him and turns it up, finishes it off in one smooth gulp.

“Jesus,” Fraggle says. “I couldn’t of poured it out in the sink that fast.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a flask as I hurry over. The sky stretches out in front of us forever, and I wish I wasn’t out of breath.

“You better call your sister,” I say as Jupiter watches me pant, and Sydney turns around. She looks behind me and sees the guy with the bag, takes a few steps back toward the radar station.

“Stacy. Get over here,” she yells, and Stacy pushes Chad away and starts to straighten her hair and clothes. “Right now, Stacy,” Sydney shouts, and Chad finally notices the man who has joined us on the mountain. They leave the building and come lurching across the concrete pad at a trot.

The guy doesn’t pay any attention to us, just walks over to the edge of the cliff on the opposite side. He’s wearing spandex pants and he kneels and puts the bag on the ground. Once he has it open, he starts digging around inside. Sydney looks ready to charge him and knock his ass off the side of the mountain, but all he’s pulling out is a bunch of long poles and an even bigger bunch of fabric.

“Is this guy pitching a fucking tent up here?” Fraggle says, as we watch the guy start putting it all together. He hands me the flask and I take a long pull.

“I’m pitching a tent up here, if you know what I’m saying,” Chad says, and Sydney turns around and punches him in the stomach. His face turns red and you can almost see the steam shoot out his ears as he doubles over and freezes.

“That’s too flat to be a tent,” I say, handing the flask back to Fraggle. “Shaped all wrong, too.”

“Well what is it then,” Sydney says as Stacy moves to comfort Chad. He shrugs her off and steps back, sulking, reaching for the flask. Fraggle twists the cap on and puts it back in his pocket.

“You guys are assholes,” Chad says.

“That’s right,” Sydney says. “Keep your fucking hands off my sister.”

“Guys,” Stacy says. “Look.” Everyone stops and looks at her, follows her outstretched hand. “It’s a fucking hang-glider,” she says, pointing.

The guy steps into it and starts getting his hands set as the group of us goes stock still. We wait there a moment with the silence fraught around us, the city too far away to hear. He takes a couple of steps forward and launches himself like a missile off the mountain.

“Holy shit,” Fraggle yells, and all of us go running over to the other side of the cliff. Jupiter jumps and barks, and Sydney has to grab his collar to make sure the giant dog doesn’t go tumbling over the edge. “A fucking hang-glider,” Fraggle says, and pulls out the flask and hands it to Chad. I dig around for the last joint and we get it going, fearless, staring after the man as he sails ever smaller through the Santa Clarita sky.

Don’t Lift a Finger

By Tawny Powell

Mark was a drunk, though he wouldn’t admit it.

Instead, he said, “I don’t really drink,” which I know means he can’t because he already told me he’s a writer.

He carried a water bottle full of tobacco spit, discreetly, as if to carry shame like a cheap umbrella, halfway hidden under his arm but still needing it anyway. At least that’s what everything else about him said.

So he’s a writer. A “famous” one. God bless his heart.

I wouldn’t know. I don’t follow anyone famous but Beyonce, but he spoke Needy like a language he’d denied himself. Which might be to say Mark denied himself things like booze on any given night or any real sense of accomplishment. Or himself.

Supposedly, Mark was the last to interview Hunter S. Thompson before he blew a bullet through his skull. Said he’d been asked to interview him specifically because their writing styles were so similar.

Mark, edgy, resourceful, his legs taking up the entire aisle of the bus, as if he needed that much space, plenty of weight to throw around but not much to hold onto.

If he wanted your time, consider that a gift because he didn’t like most people.

Besides, he’s “famous.”

Outside the old school bus window, I get lost in the lush green jungle. Hungry and thirsty for the freedom of nature, I’m so at peace with ‘getting away.’

My ex would be here if I had my way, next to me on this dark green seat, devouring the other Conch Fritter I picked up at the bus station in Belize City. I never invited him. Too afraid he’d say, ‘No’ and of the empty despair that would follow that kind of rejection. From him.

It’s my birthday, anyway. No need to messy this trip with what isn’t.

Mark asks if I want to get a drink later, as if that was something I might actually say ‘no’ to on my birthday. I know this because I had already said, “I can’t wait to get a drink when we get there!” Mark takes the easy way out with women. Perhaps I am a little too available. Perhaps he, too, is fearful of rejection.

Either way, he never called. I got plenty of drinks anyway. At the bar. On the walk back to my hut. In a tent. In the backyard. Of the nature lodge where I stayed.

The tent belonged to the owner’s cousin:  a late 30’s gentleman whose wife recently left him and took the kids. He was devastated. And handsome. He kept a tall bottle of rum and tequila in his 1-person pup tent home. He even fetched me a fresh coconut as a chaser. I played popular, emotional American R&B music from my cell phone over the WiFi.

He never tried to kiss me.

An awkward thing happened when we arrived to Hopkins Village via taxi. Myself, Mark and this guy named Will, who seemed pretty cool but didn’t say a whole lot, shared a cab literally from the side of the highway in Belize to the center of Hopkins Village.

Mark said that someone had made his reservation for him and that he was staying at the guest house just across the street from Will. Sounds convenient enough, I thought. But after dropping both of them off and carting out their luggage, the taxi driver took a slow U-turn toward the direction of my lodge, and out walks Mark from the hotel where he supposedly had a reservation.

He mumbled something like, “they’re not being very nice ‘cuz they won’t let me to leave my bags there while I go to the gift shop to get my reservation info” and … I dunno Mark.

Kinda sounds like bullshit to me. But like a kind Belizean, our taxi driver dragged Mark’s enormous, “it’s really heavy” backpack back into the trunk of the Isuzu Rodeo, again, and gave Mark a ride to the gift shop, where he left him to sort out his business.

Seems like Mark gets a lot of free things out of the kindness of strangers. Or by exasperating them.

In hindsight, my solo-travelin-ass is glad that Mark didn’t see where the taxi dropped me off and had no idea where I was staying. Something really tells me:  be grateful for that.

And I lied earlier.
He did call. Two days late, like any good drunk.

I had already left Hopkins Village. It was cute but quite boring. My highlight was a motorcycle ride from this tiny restaurant back to the nature lodge, by this adorable but way-too-young-for-me cruise ship singer.

I told Mark I was leaving on Thursday. He must’ve forgotten that too.  But he did call.

I was half a country away at that point and totally disinterested in a phone conversation with a man I barely knew who talked way too much about himself for my taste. He gave me the excuse via text that he must’ve “butt dialed” me “on accident.” Of course, followed by, “though not that I wouldn’t want to talk…”

I am not sure what made Mark think I was desperate. Maybe the way I longingly gazed at the Belizean countryside, instead of him. Or maybe because I was alone. He really wasn’t cute though, not even in the pathetic, self-deprecating but I-want-to-help-you-see-the-value-in-yourself-because-you’re-an-artist kind of way.

He wanted praise and compliments – that he would never actually accept – because no one’s opinion mattered more to Mark than his own. Though he wouldn’t dare admit that or give himself any credit.

Mark is the worst kind of person to date.
Or even befriend.
If you meet a Mark, don’t fuck him.
He won’t call you back.
And not because he doesn’t want to. Because he does.
He just doesn’t believe he deserves you.
Don’t fuck Mark.
It’s an empty hole of dread and remorse, like Mark is to himself.

Maybe he is just like Hunter S. 
1 interview away from a headshot.
And not the celebrity kind. Or, the celebrity kind.
Either way, I think you know what I mean.

Don’t expect him to call.
Or even lift a finger.
He won’t.

No need to messy your life with what isn’t and will never be.

Trouble and The Good Girl

By Lena Kotler-Wallace

I was born a Good Girl. In sweet, pinafored dresses, hair tied neatly with a ribbon, hanging down straight and shining to the small of my back – because I brushed it every night 100 times like someone from somewhere once said to. I was precocious, but not in that obnoxious way, so as not to challenge the adults around me. Like a good Southern child my “pleases and thank yous” were always followed by a “ma’am” or “sir” strung out with a charming drawl that hinted at more of the kind of genteel South, sweet teas sipped on porches, than it did of the banjo-playing, cousin-screwing hillbilly variety.

I was a Good Girl, and good girls got praise. They got love. They got fathers who paraded them proudly in front of friends to recite their multiplication tables or mothers who hugged them tightly as they stood tall, a perfect doll-like trophy. Good girls got parents who told stories hinting not so subtly that their daughter was not just pretty but SMART.

Good girls did not get the terrifying father who slammed doors while their hand was still in the frame, or who left them sprawled out on the floor, his handprint welling upon their cheek when they corrected his math.

Good girls did not get that glaring look from their mothers. The ones that let them know that with a single childlike misstep such as forgetting to clean their room or making a B on that quiz, they could be too much for the Good Girl persona to bear.

That look and those words inevitably let me know I had suddenly slipped from being The Good Girl to (capital T) Trouble.

I learned very early on that I did not want to be Trouble.

As a child growing up in one of those houses that the neighborhood kids were told they couldn’t play at as their parents pretended they couldn’t hear the horror show going on behind closed curtains, I learned bad things happened because you deserved them, and, if only I had been a Good Girl, then daddy wouldn’t hit, and mommy wouldn’t say those mean things that honestly left wounds much deeper than any punch my dad could throw.

I avoided trouble like it was my sacred mission. The Holy Grail of Good, however, proved to be a difficult thing to achieve. Turns out living in a fear-filled, abusive household tends to give a person some mental health issues, and things like depression and bipolar disorder are not something that Good Girls contract.

I soon learned that Good Girls also only come in sizes like thin or straight. They are only that 1990s kind of liberal that’s really just a Republican in a blue power suit. They are not radicalized. They are not queer. They don’t fucking curse. They are not any of those things that can’t politely be put on the family Christmas card.

Good girls are silent trophies you put up on a shelf. They aren’t me.

Now, staring down the barrel of 35, those people who taught me to fear trouble are all dead and buried. The monsters in the dark are gone, and I can finally face the truth that chasing the phantom of the Good Girl won’t protect me. That actually it never did.

And maybe that’s okay.

Being silent. Being good. Well, it’s no longer an option.

Because life can’t be lived in perfection. The very act of living and existing in our world means that at one point or another you will be too much for someone, not enough for someone else.

You will be too smart.

You will not be in the right body.

You will be tired, and you will say the wrong thing.

You won’t be tired at all, and you will still say the wrong thing.

No matter what you do. No matter how carefully you try to pass in our fucked-up world, you will somehow not fit in that straight cis/het mold of the Good. The day will come when it is your turn to be trouble, and that is not something we should be scared of.

We can’t.

I can’t.

Not just because I deserve that kind of unconditional existence. I do. But so do those three kids who now call me Mom, who are looking to me for love.

And I’m going to love the ever-living shit out of them. I will love them when they bring home A’s, and I will love them when they forget to do their homework entirely. I will love them when their rooms look like a hazmat team is needed, and I will love them through all of the messiness of life. They will know that they are safe and celebrated, and, no matter how much trouble they may be, they will know this is not a home that worships at the altar of The Good Girl.

This is a house that makes trouble.