CNF: “Don’t Talk to Her, She’s Black”

 

 

When I was fifteen I knew I needed to get a job. I wanted to make my own money and buy things my parents weren’t willing to pay for, mainly books or journals to write in. So, in the spirit of this, I walked down to Hyvee to get a job and there, because of my overall optimism and appearance of genuine happiness (and the fact that the job had “A Smile in Every Aisle” as their slogan), I was hired on the spot.

I loved the job as a sacker, despite its location. I grew up in Missouri, on a block that was ghetto-adjacent, as we called it. One with middle class houses with their high shrubs and middle class cars. On any given day people are walking up and down, kicking up leaves as they do their shady business between the downtrodden and gentrified blocks of the south side. In Kansas City, Missouri you might find it’s a smorgasbord of races, cultures, and relationships. However, just a hop – skip- and a jump across the state border (about ten minutes from my house) is Kansas. That’s the street where you’ll find Hyvee.

Just across the way, you might find yourself being called nigger, being followed closely – and openly – around a store, or being spat on. You’ll be referred to as “that black girl” and watch your grocery line dwindle when the only white girl clocks in. 

I knew this about Kansas City, Kansas, when I got hired at Hyvee, however, I thought the grocery store was close enough to home to still be considered a safe space. It wasn’t. I can’t chronicle how many times I’d been racially attacked with verbal insults while working there but I can tell you of the first time I really knew that it didn’t matter where you were, and how young and innocent you looked, the racists will find you. That first day started more exciting than any other but by the end I was defeated, reduced to tears, and confused. 

 

***

It was my 16th birthday and I was officially, and legally, allowed to become a cashier, instead of a stocker or sacker, and I was excited. I was filled with happiness because I could stay at the front and when it was time for me to go home I could sign out without having to finish a checklist first. Such are the worries of a teen.

I had waited so long for this and I’d demanded they put me on the schedule “Day One”. I waited behind my register, having completed all training weeks before, ecstatically tapping my fingers against the screen. A woman came up, five or six items in her cart, with a little boy about three years old sitting in the basket. The boy bounced, with his hands on the handle, as they stopped before my register and I punched in my code, smiling in return. 

“It’s my birthday,” the boy told me proudly, puffing up his tiny chest. I grinned and leaned over the counter. Meeting his eye and giving a quick wink.

“It’s my birthday, too,” I whisper to him like it’s our little secret. He squirmed until he could get his legs under him and stood in the cart, putting his hands against the back of the register and leaned toward me conspiratorially. 

“Are you old?” I laugh hard and carefree, in the way only a teen can, and shake my head. I ring up the items and smile down at him, then tell him my age. His mother is standing there smiling softly.

As I punched at the buttons to finish the transaction a man came up behind her. I looked up with a ready smile until I saw the seething anger on his face. Eyebrows drawn together, white lips tight with cheeks turning red. As if she could sense his presence, the woman took a step to the side, away from me. She seemed to shrink in on herself, her shoulders coming up, almost touching her ears. I looked between the two but neither spoke to me. I leaned forward stretching to grab at the item he had purposefully put as far from me as possible – as I was at the Express register, I didn’t have a rotating belt to help move products toward me. 

“Don’t talk to her,” he spat out between tight lips, “she’s black.” 

I straightened so quickly my elbow hit the side of the register. My mouth snapped shut and blinked hard to keep the tears that immediately filled my eyes from falling. I looked at the man questioningly, at his hard eyes and his snarling lips. He stared back at me, daring, just daring me to say something. 

I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was frozen in place. I watched as he used the tip of his finger to push the item, a pack of gum, closer to me. Then he looked down at the boy in the cart, who mirrored his mother. His tiny body shriveled to a far corner, around the bags I’d swung over the counter, legs pulled up, small eyes averted, his own lip quivering.

I looked at the woman but she didn’t look at me. She stared down at her feet, having stepped out of the way, again, so he could pay with a card, her hands clasped together over her belly in submission. I wanted to speak, wanted to deny my blackness. I wanted to tell him I was ok, that I was a “good person” who liked books and music, but I couldn’t. I was afraid of what he might do. Would I lose my job? Would he claim I insulted him?

So I was silent and I swiped the gum and put it back on the counter, away from me. So that he could grab it with the least proximity possible.  

I looked at the boy again who peeked up at me from beneath long lowered lashes, his arms still crossed at the elbows, his hands grasping at his shoulders for comfort. He looked just as confused as I, sad, terrified by tone, but I knew he truly didn’t understand. Then my chest tightened. I hurt for this little boy who would grow up with a racist father, a mother with no backbone or no voice to speak, I supposed, and fostered hate in his heart nurtured by the man meant to teach him about the world. 

I felt sorry for him but, to be honest, I felt more sorry for myself.

My Angel of Death


A soft ssssnick woke me from my slumber and my eyes opened. There was silence and then the scraping of metal against metal. Gears moved, shifting, and turning like pieces of a puzzle coming to rest in place.

Slowly, I moved from the comfort of my covering and watched the door with apprehension. With a whoosh of air, it opened and swung back against the cream wall. With a kick of her foot, my angel pushed the wood back and appeared in the doorway.

She was back-lit by the lamp post outside, my angel was. Her head glowed like an effervescent halo, or maybe it was the way the light shot through the fluffy curls that hung around her head in strings. As she moved they were twisting in on themselves like medusa’s pets, coils pulled up in a high bun, some dripping down onto her shoulders. 

My angel was wider than I remembered. I’d only watched her since I moved to this new apartment and I’ve never seen her quite so…lumpy? No matter, I’ll take her however she comes. I watch, awestruck, as she struggles across the threshold. I want to help her, to reach out and take her in all of my arms and tell her how much I missed her. I want to remind her of all the times I kept her company, watching as she moved about. Day to night, back and forth, going along her daily routine.

I wanted to kiss her on her forehead, and wipe away any trace of the fear she might have upon seeing me in her apartment uninvited. For I am uninvited. But, I think, after all I’ve done for her, for them (my mind sours at the thought of the other two, as it’s only my angel I care about but I digress) I have just as much right to darken this door as they do. 

No, not lumpy. She’s just as plump as before. However, once she cleared the door she shed her skin like a snake. One after the other, skin became bags that became visible in the dim light and dropped to her feet. Reaching up, stretching her soft body until it could go no further, she tugged on the tiny metal string hanging from the fan. It clicks and light floods the room. I don’t need to block my eyes, as I’m watching through filtered lenses, but I close them anyway. 

When I open them again she’s gone. He’s there. He sheds his skin bags as well, though they are more hefty and heavier than hers, and then puts the tiny one down. The tiny replica of them sleeps in her plastic cage that keeps her safe and I feel jealousy stir in me. My angel dotes on her, always carrying and rocking and singing her sweet songs. I’d think there’s no way my angel could love me the way she loves her replica.

As I watch them come back and forth dropping their many skins before me, I keep an eye on the tiny one. It is my duty to keep her safe, though my angel would never know my esteemed position. The replica mews and reminds me of my angel again. Her tiny eyes flutter beneath their lids and my green eye fades away. She, like my angel, is beautiful. I see remnants in her. The purse of her lips, the slant to her sleeping eyes, the puffiness of her cheeks. I will not harm this one, I think. Had I been closer I could touch that tiny replica, hug her close with downy arms. But I am not, and she is sleeping and so I wait, patiently, until my angel returns. 

And there she is again, sweat moistening her brow as she lifts more skin through the door. Again, I want to help in any way I can, but I know I must stay out of sight. I’ve no fear of him, papa bear – the clear glass named him, for I heard he’d never harm me. What, with his soft heart and inability to kill. It’’s my angel I truly fear because this connection between us is not yet strong enough. 

She’s talked to me on several occasions unbeknownst to my presence, muttering softly beneath her breath, staring off into space, daydreaming about a blessed life. I would give it to her, if I could, but I cannot. I am the thing of nightmares, the cause of fear and pain and destruction. I wear this like a badge of honor, only except when it comes to my angel. 

I listen and wait, watching through several lenses as the door is shut, with a finality, and all three seem to sigh with relief. The comfort of home, security of being in control, untouchable by the dangers of the world on the other side of the doors. 

She laughs, a melodic sound. As she walks about the apartment tears sprinkle like liquid diamonds falling from her eyes. She motions here and there and there and says something unintelligible to him, and he nods, smiling in return. Then she’s waving her hands through the air again, pointedly, like dance moves to inaudible music.

As she gets closer to my hiding spot I shrink in on myself, afraid her radiance might blind me, or that I might be seen. She’s waving her hands again and I realize it’s not a dance. She’s determined, her mouth set, her eyes darting back and forth,  and back and forth, looking and searching, perhaps for me. 

“You know what they say,” she says, her voice clear as she gets closer. “Wherever there are cobwebs, there is a…SPIDER!” she yells out the last word as my hiding place is discovered. I am betrayed by my angel. I burst free from my confines. Desperation fills me as she slaps, slaps, slaps, left and right and then left again with her dainty hands. Angel’s hands. 

I race away, my surplus of legs no match for her size and agility. She smacks down right on my head and I’m immobile. I feel a shuttering in me, a fluttering like the replica’s eyes. One of my legs has detached and lies twitching an inch away. The other seven remain but are of no use to me. As the hand comes down again I hear him say “did you get it?” and I can do nothing but surrender. 

I have lived a good life. Found solace in the blessed angel no one believed existed. I have watched her day in and day out. I’ve stood sentry from my corner. I have been privy to her thoughts and I am grateful. Ever am I grateful to give my life so that she may live fearless and in peace.

Short Fiction: Ferrywoman of Souls

The Ferrywoman of Souls

 

Mid-afternoon, with a soft breeze and a light blue sky, is the perfect time to die. The soul seeps from the pores in a melodic lilt and rises toward the heavens and hovers just above its host. The body, having lost its connection with the physical world, loses its luster. Skin darkening, temperature falling, limbs grow hard over the passage of time. And the world goes on. The trees continue to breathe, branches swaying and leaves rustling. It’s a glorious moment, one you’d love to stay in forever, if you could.

Then I come and fuck things up. Fifteen feet away I stand on the edge of the curb, the balls of my feet balancing on the cement, my heels in the air. I look down and hesitate. The grass is bright green, well taken care of. I know what I’ll see the second I move and I close my eyes. I take a deep breath in and blow it out slowly. I step forward and an audible crunch comes from beneath my feet. I look down at the grass. It’s black, shriveled and hardened into the shape of my foot.

Almost all plants die when I touch them. It’s my thing. It’s the courtesy of being death’s best friend, employee, in my case, bringing the stink of the underworld with you. It trailing behind you like a poor sick puppy. It sounds so dramatic and, I guess, in a way it is. Bringer of death. Ferrywoman of souls. The strength of thousands of flesh eating demons. Alright, that last part is too much. For the most part, it’s probably just me. I’m a Reaper; a Grimm Reaper. And that is why I fill my apartment with succulents. Those fuckers are hard to kill. Cactus, Fantactus.

I step again and death to the ground spreads beneath me. Taking another deep breath, I lift my head and continue forward. The house is bright and happy. Eggshell white, pastel pink on the shutters, a pastel yellow front door with a large ruby red knocker, window flower beds with a dozen flowers and small perfectly trimmed hedges that surround the property. I almost feel bad for what I need to do but I don’t. It’s decreed. It’s for the best. It’s destiny and you just can’t change destiny. You can’t change your appointment.

When it’s your appointment time I feel a burn in my skin. It hums and vibrates until I pay heed. To make matters worse, I’ll be in the middle of showering, to get the stink of decay from beneath the epidermis, and then a gold glow will rise from my flesh. I’ll roll my eyes, because death never comes at the right time, then I swipe a hand down my forearm, where a built in map lays. It’s not like your normal map. It doesn’t show streets or lines or hills or lakes. It looks like a tree and shows energy, spirits, souls due to fade. It shows that nearby someone’s appointment is any day now. Another life passing by, going from here to the next place, never to be lived again. Then here I come, from Wherever, ready to take your hand in mine. Ready to reap.

I follow the hedges around to the back of the house, leaving a trail of dead grass behind me. Luckily, if I leave the area quick enough the grass will return to its former glory in no time. The body of an older woman, late fifties and grey hair, lay in the midst of a beautiful garden. I stood there for a moment to breathe in the beauty before I destroyed it. Tall, manicured, rose bushes lined the walk, don’t get too close to either side or you’ll get pricked. Grey stones lined the path with stubborn grass snaking between like puzzle lines.

A stone white love seat is mirrored on the first path. A vine overtakes one, not in the unkempt way, but intentionally. Curling up, up, up and over the seat and onto the arms and disappearing over the back to the hedges behind. The green looks soft, like spongy moss and I ache to sit on it. I don’t because I know it’ll crunch beneath my weight and I’d leave my deathly shadow behind. On the second path, a crowd of sunflowers gather beside stalks of tulips, making a painting of vertical and horizontal colors with green stretching between. Above the trees wave and I can’t tell if they are planted or natural, the garden was planted around them. It’s loud with nature and I take a deep breath in to immerse myself in the scent of life and listen. Bees buzzed and everything did what everything does.

I stepped gracefully onto the gravel path, narrowly missing a small collection of poinsettias, and tiptoed to the body. She looked almost peaceful. Her eyes gazing up at the clouds, mouth smiling on the left and slightly drooping on the right. One hand was twisted in a knarl of swollen knuckles. Beneath a frilly gardener’s smock she wore a pair of dark wash jeans, to guard from grassy stains, and a billowy yellow top. It flutters in the wind, movement against still.

Flipping my wrist to remove the long heavy cloak, I reached out with virgin hands. My fingers tingle from the tips to my inner wrist. The golden tree map begins to fade into my skin with my proximity to the awaiting soul. I lightly touched a palm to her ankle and close my eyes. Drinking in the left over power from her life source, I drew her soul to me before her last breaths left her lips. A glow follows the trail of my hand, taking the rest of the warmth with it. Her skin pales against the vibrant grass. For it’s the soul that holds all life and not the body.

Sometimes my job is easy, the souls rise to the surface on their own. Other times they linger, or get stuck, and I have to do the dirty work. She resisted, a positive, hopeful energy flowed through her bones, clinging onto the last shred of life. I gathered more power into my body and making a lasso in my mind, I gently tugged on the soul. The last hooks release and it withdrew from the body. There she was, standing before me, facing the garden she’s spent so long cultivating. It’s a beautiful backdrop for her ghostly figure.

“So that’s how I go?” she asked. Her body shimmered as the wind picked up. “A heart attack?” I rise and cover myself, virgin skin still pure. She was already dead, I could do no more damage, but I was so used to protecting others from my curse that it was second nature.

“I’m afraid so,” I say. I step toward her and look around. “Your garden is beautiful.”

“Yes,” she replies confidently. “You’re killing it.” She motioned down to my feet where not only was I trampling flowers but they were turning black and shriveling in rapid succession. It was an ode to the life I once led, to the life she once led, and I took the message as it came and stepped back quickly. My heels hover in the air as I tiptoe on to the small stone triangles of the walk.

“I’m sorry, it’s the…”

“The Reaper thing?” she finished for me. “Everything becomes so clear when you’re dead. I knew you would be there, you know. I could feel you calling me. I actually think I saw you last week when I was at the market. I was buying tomatoes and in my peripheral I could see this darkness. It hung around until I closed my eyes but when I opened them again it was still there.” She paused and looked at me. “At first, I thought it was just my eyesight going bad. That happens when you’re old. Things begin to fade away, things you once took for granted. Then I knew it was you. I knew you would come for me.”

I nod and she sighs. She did see me last week. I’m often drawn to those who are so close to death. My tree hummed but it didn’t glow, when I was near her, and it didn’t pulse with her location and date. Not her appointment yet. Sometimes they don’t always die, near death experiences do actually happen. That’s destiny as well. They still feel me though, see me. In her case, no such luck.

“I told my daughter about you, you know. She said you were just a figment of my imagination.” I don’t speak, this is common. They want to chat before they go. They want to know why; how, where, and what can they tell their family they’ve left behind. I placate them, there’s nothing I can say or do to make any of this better and I don’t try. I just listen.

We stand in silence and take in the garden. I wait for her to speak but she is waiting for me and so still we stand. A bird swoops down to the feeder and peck, peck, pecks until it’s found the prize and then off it goes, back into the sky and freedom.

“What did you say back?” I finally speak and reach out to her from beneath my cloak, with my gloved hand. She knows what to do. She puts her hand in mine, lets a finger brush over the thick leather, and lets me pull her toward the gravel path. I can feel her soul brushing against mine, know that this is how it goes. I take a piece of them and every time they take a piece of me.

“I told her I loved her. That I would always be with her. She cried. She asked me for his name. Her name. Whoever the doctor is that gave me the bad news. But there was no doctor, no paper to say this was coming, no tests with positive results. Just my intuition and a dark shadow on the corner of my mind at the market. The market. I loved that place, the comings and goings. The different cultures with their different spices. I only got into trying new things a year ago. Isn’t that funny?” she pauses and sighs and I think she’s going to make us still again so I don’t reply.

“Wait, you were at the market! Can other people see you?” She stops and I know what she’s doing. She’s stalling, I don’t mind. I’m also already dead, I have all the time in the world.

“Yes, but not when I’m doing this. When I’m doing this I’m virtually invisible to the living world. Can’t have others seeing the souls being ferried. They’d freak. Humans are not so…”

“Humans? Are you not human? You look human to me. Do you do this often?” her voice rose as she continued. I squeezed her hand, comforting.

“Listen, Anne. Can I call you Anne? I know you want to stay. You have your daughter and your garden and your market and so much to live for but I’m sorry. It’s come to an end. Your husband is waiting for you, should you want to go to him, some people don’t and hey, that’s neither here nor there, you know what I mean.” I rambled as I tugged on her hand again and led her to the curb where I’d appeared when I was pulled to the place.

“I know. I’m sorry. You’re right. My Gus is waiting for me, should he want to see me, of course.” I nod and chuckle along with her and with my mind’s eye – open the portal.

There’s no floating up to heaven when they actually go. No movie moment where the soul is a Casper-ish ghost that floats up, up, and up and touches the clouds and there’s a bright light that abducts them like aliens. And beautiful music fills the air and a choir of cherubs sings home going hymns. We open a portal to the afterlife and in they go. To the Inbetween, the place where they wait until their afterlife fate is decided. I think. I was there once but that is a story for another time.

The place they go on the other side of the portal is different than the Darkness. It feels lighter, more like a relaxing waiting room, and not a scary place where all things are dead and unferried souls walk around with their heads drooped. We’d reap those souls, if we could figure out how to keep our bodies alive in there. Nothing breathes, in the Darkness. Nothing grows. Nothing, and I mean nothing, emits light. The souls brush past you like cobwebs, and should you have enough energy to snag a soul and pull them through to the real world, you’re more likely to come out in a place you don’t want to. Like a jail cell, the middle of the ocean, or on the wrong end of a knife.

Only the Yanaris are bold enough to Reap souls from the Darkness. The Yanaris are reapers like me and unlike me. They have been doing this so long they’ve lost all sense of their souls. Their humanity. They reap without question and live without life. For them, there is no down time between appointments. They don’t need it, they reap unconsciously and are empty. So many reaped souls chipping away that there was nothing left of themselves to give. I hope I never become one of the Yanaris although I knew each of them had, one time or another, said the same thing. It is our destiny. Though that is also another story for another time.

“I’ll see you, Anne. May your soul rest in peace.” She smirks at my quip and I smirk back.

She turns to me and sighs again. I love her sighs. They are deep and final. They punctuate her life and I can tell she had been a thinking woman. She steps backward through the portal. I don’t try to look into it, seeing what I could see. In the beginning, when I was new to this, I’d crowd in behind them, trying to get a glimpse of hope and peace. Now I know it doesn’t belong to me and I stay in my place. She fades.

As it closes, I watch her eyes tear and brighten. That could be an indicator that maybe Gus is there with open arms. Anne will walk into them and they will stand there, souls reunited, hearts touching. She will lay her head on his shoulder as she always did way back when and he will close his arms around the soft curves of her back. They will sway back and forth, back and forth, like the eddies of time and nothing else will come between them. Not that I know. Once they go to the other side, they don’t come back and I don’t join them there. I never will. I’ve done my job and now I must move on.

Goodbye March 2020! 13 Books Read!

 

2020 Books Read So Far: 40/120

Heya,

Although, I was determined to keep writing as a priority, despite what’s going on with the world, I also wanted to make sure reading was as well. In March, I read 13 books. It helped me stay sane, reading did. I switched back and forth between physical, e-book, and audiobooks (thank gosh for Overdrive).

I was also able to mix genres. I loved romance and thriller and adventure and even the Spanish! I was really excited about The Wife Between Us. It really knocked me off my feet. I was looking forward to this one because it had been recommended to me by several people. I’m also a part of a few book groups on Facebook and it seemed quite popular.

Another book that I really enjoyed was Final Girls by Riley Sager. I actually listened to this one while driving to Louisiana (it took me almost 24 hours straight – just me and baby Naomi. Trying to find places to pump, stopping to take her out so she can stretch, trying to find food despite almost everything being closed, etc). It was unexpected for me because I had been listening to something lighter and then BAM, murder.

I also read Educated by Tara Westover. I really enjoyed this one. I found myself constantly rolling my eyes because of the bullshit other people tried to get the author to believe or say (feminist, “the lord says…”, and even the use of the n-word). Educated was a one of my nonfiction textbooks for Spring semester. I enjoyed this class, as well as the professor, and should’ve known it would be one of my favorites. I am also a nonfiction writer myself so I took notes of tone, pacing, and humor for my own stories.

Honestly, I believe that I also read a few more books than those listed here. Sometimes, I’m more excited to just open a new book than I am to write a blog post, post on social media, or mark it as ‘read’ on Goodreads. Luckily, e-books through Overdrive (and Kindle) can be automatically marked as ‘read’ on GR. Other forms are not so lucky and then there’s a ton of running around to figure out which books I completed, am still reading, or DNF (did/do not finish).

Don’t forget! If you have any suggestions let me know! I’d love to look into anything that you might be enjoying at the moment.

My favorite genres: thriller, mystery, romance, adventure/puzzles, fantasy/science fiction, nonfiction

Good Readdance,
Jade

 

CNF: Blades

With a small pink razor, stolen from another foster kid, I shave at the sporadic hair on my legs. I hear her voice, my adoptive mother’s, in my head with each down sweep of the blades, “if you shave your legs the hair will grow back thicker. Then you’ll have to keep shaving and shaving. Forever.”
I don’t care. Even at eight years old I want to be like everyone else, baby smooth skin that’s soft to touch. The way it used to be. I want to wear dresses and shorts without feeling the prickly spikes of embarrassment move against flowy material. I curve my hand slightly but it’s just enough for the blade to nick my skin.
Sucking in a quick breath at the sharp sting, I watch as a bead of blood wells to the surface. It slips down and taints my skin. I watch it still and I get an idea. It blooms in me like a rose. Its petals vibrant. I push on the nick and pause to watch more blood follow the path of the razor, down toward my ankle where it pools in the divot near my heel. I know what to do. I’ve heard about it from one of the girls that slept in the basement rooms of our foster home. She talked about a friend who found a way out. Of pain. Of fear. Of abandonment. Because, even this age, I know exactly what that word means.
I know what the word feels like. The way it wraps around your throat, each letter like fingers tightening as they mold to the contours of your flesh. I know what it sounds like. Rain pattering against window panes as you’re left behind. Watching the cars drive by, wondering if you’ll be remembered or if they will go on with ‘family’ day without you. I know what it looks like. The way it swirls in the air, red in the color of betrayal. It’s a word you’ll feel long after you’ve healed from it. If you ever truly heal.
***
I’m back in the bathroom a few days later and I’m ready. I’ve set myself up by announcing that I haven’t yet showered. My adoptive mother tells me she knows, without looking up from whatever is more important. She says that she can smell the ‘fonk’ on me. “You’re the first one to notice your own stink,” she’s told me so many times. This time, I wonder if it’s just another lie she tells.
I look in the mirror, a reflection that I can see only by standing on the toilet, and I nod. Then I’m smiling like a loon. Here we go. Climbing down, I grab the razor from the lip of the sink and dig my tiny fingers between the plastic sides. With much force, it cracks, but the part with the blades held fixed.
“I can’t even get this right,” I say in a low whisper. The hot tears come fast, welling and falling before I can blink them away. I’m grabbing and pulling and the sharp edge is slicing at the pads of my fingers. I feel the pain but am determined. I might even like the pain. The way with each slice brings up a paper thin flap of flesh.
Sitting on the toilet lid, I pull up my knees and yank until finally the blades are free. They are wet with sticky blood and I almost yell triumphantly. Dropping the rest of the razor to the floor, I bite the fleshy inside of my cheek, sit two blades on the windowsill and take the third in between my fingers. It’s a precious jewel that I cradle fondly, for a few seconds.
Then I’m cutting. Down and down, until I break through the skin and the lean meat of my small wrist. It’s hot, the area of incision, and I wait for the blood. It slips over my skin and drips onto my knee. It’s fascinating and I sit transfixed under the spell.
Next to the first line I make another, pushing until the skin is broken and then I’m frowning. It doesn’t hurt as bad. The initial shock – gone. Switching to my non-dominant hand, I slice into my right wrist and there the adrenaline is again. It fills me and I close my eyes. I roll back my shoulders and stand a little straighter. I’m in control. This is my body. No one can tell me what to do with my own flesh. They can’t take my limbs from me and I will do whatever I want with them. I am defiant, as everyone always tells me, and I’ve taken it in stride.
With the second cut I go deeper, longer than the other three, and I feel a jolt in my hand. A tingle that spears through each finger, then circles up to my elbow and round my shoulder. The shock of it sparks fear and I drop the blade to my feet, where it narrowly misses the bathroom carpet. I sigh in relief as it settles against the tile with barely a sound. A whimper escapes as the pain grows and I’m watching the blood fall quicker from this fourth cut. I scramble to gather toilet paper to the wrist, and it spins off the roll, spilling in white sheets onto the floor. My left wrist has caught up. It’s dripping profusely and I jump up to stand over the sink.
I didn’t want to end it today, I think. I just wanted to practice. I just wanted to see if I could. If it was easy. My chest is tightening, breaths a quick staccato against the silence of the bathroom. ‘She had a panic attack and…’ I remember one of my teachers saying, after I nearly passed out a few months ago, and I stand up straight. I hold my breath, hoping to stop the rising sense of relinquishment. Then I’m counting; One, Two, Three, Four. The blood has slowed, I see. I flick on the faucet and run both stained wrists under the cool water. It stings and I’m sucking in another breath.
I hear someone calling my name. Dinner! I’d completely forgotten. I’m turning the water on full blast now, hoping to wash away my sins. The water irritates the cuts and blood flows again. A vicious cycle. I feel stupid. Useless. Like the waste of space that I am. We have dinner every night. How could I forget that?
Finally, I cut the water to the faucet and then gingerly sidestep to the shower and cut the water there, too, and then I’m wrapping my wrists in wads of toilet paper. I quickly grab the blades from the sill and the one from the floor and wrap them too. I stick them in the small pocket of my jeans and the towel that is in the color assigned to me. Wrapping my wrists, doubly now, I make a quick exit into the adjacent bedroom. My name is called again and I yell that I’m putting my clothes on.
In my room, I change and put on a cropped jean jacket. It’s long sleeved and the material snags on the wadded toilet paper on my wrists. I slide the buttons closed and look at myself in the mirror. My eyes are wide and I know I look feral. There’s a thin line of wayward blood across my check and I’m wiping. Wiping, and wiping and scrubbing it away. I’m scrubbing and then I’m hitting. I’m smacking a small hand against my check for being so stupid. Then I know I must end it. Just not today.

***
At the dinner table, I sit with my hands in my lap, mock respect. My adoptive mother is going on about how it’s ‘just so rude’ for me to make everyone else wait while I lollygag. I know she’s thinking about why does she always have to punish me. And how I can’t be ‘more important than everyone else’.
“That’s not how the world works,” she says and continues on her diatribe of things Jade doesn’t know about the world. I do this so often, always so late, all the time. I know that when she winds down another punishment is in order. I fidget in my seat while thinking of what it might be.
Would it be 12 licks with daddy’s thick leather belt? Mom saying “this hurts me more than it hurts you” followed by “as soon as you stop jumping around and stay still I can finish”? Would it be hours sitting in front of the fire place? A punishment tailor made for me because I had books in my room. And “Go to your room right now and think about what you’ve done” wasn’t a punishment but a reading vacation and one I savored every moment I could. Would it be one thousand admonishments where I’d admit how stubborn I am, write out my crimes and promise to do better? Hands cramping with every “I’ll never waste everyone’s time by thinking I am more important than them again. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize.” Would I be banned from the library for 2 months? The worst punishment of all because the house of books was my only safe space, the only place I truly felt happy, the only place where I can cleanse myself of all the anger and the fear and immerse myself into another life.
More punishments went through my mind as I made myself smaller and smaller in my chair. I get it, at least, I think I do. I’m not important and shouldn’t make myself out to be. “You can’t be something you’re not’ was another of her admonishments. I nod and she corrects me ‘use your words’. I look up and she’s staring right at me. Everyone is.
My brother’s sitting right next to me and yet we feel so far apart. He is the only biological sibling that I have that still seems to love me and I can feel him slipping away. Everyday he tells me how I was ‘found in a trashcan’ and if I slip up one more time he’ll take me back. Next to him is the new girl who’s name I often forget. She smirks at me because she’s a hell raiser, at least that’s what my adoptive mom calls her when she’s on the phone with her prayer group. On the other side of the table, next to Mother, is my adoptive father. He’s my favorite person in the world but I can tell by the look in his eyes that he won’t save me and he won’t stop her rant. He never does. He’ll let her go on and on until my nods are not enough to placate her. I lower my eyes to my lap, submissive, and see a bit of toilet paper peeking from my jacket sleeve.
Can they see what I’ve done? I shove my hands further into my lap and depress the urge to wince as the cuts in my wrists grind against the now sticky toilet paper.
“Hello?” she says to me, sarcastically drawing out the O, and I’m looking around. My brother is smirking at me from across the table and I jump. He’s holding a plate of warm garlic rolls in my direction. I can see butter melting in the slits topping each one. Gingerly, I lift my arm to take the plate, and a roll, before passing it on. She has a screwed look, the one where her lips go to one side and her eyes narrow. I can see it from the corner of my eye and I think any minute. Any minute now and she’ll ask what’s wrong and that’ll be the worst.
I’m a horrible liar, I know. I fidget in my seat and then dig into my food that she’s already plated due to my tardiness. It satisfies her and she instead of dishing out one of her infamous punishments she begins her rounds of the table, everyone having their turn in the spotlight. “How was your day? What did you do? Did you learn anything?”
I take a deep breath around a bite of thick mashed potatoes and relax. ‘One day but not today,’ I think. I sit and listen as everyone tries to find something interesting to say and pretend they did. When it comes around to me I think of my wrists. I think of something I might say.
“I slit my wrists today. I didn’t want to kill myself, only see if it would be easy – should I want to. It hurt. It hurt so bad that it felt good. I still want to kill myself, one day. But for now I just want to revel in the pain that sears through my body. It makes me think of everything that has ever been done to me, will ever be done to me, and how this is different. It’s me, saying what goes. Saying WHEN,” Instead, I shrug and continue eating, slowly chewing so I don’t look like a chow. I remember to use my words and my fork hovers.
“I finished reading my new book,” I say.
“I thought you just got that book yesterday,” she says between bites of fried chicken.
“I did. And I finished it. It was fantastic. It was about…”
“So that’s what you were doing in your room. Didn’t I tell you not to spend all day up there reading? Those people aren’t real. How will you ever learn anything about making a human connection, about god’s creatures, about the true meaning of life, if you just have your nose stuck in a book? All…” I stopped listening. This is what she did.
I was selfish, embarrassed, angry, reserved, I liked books over people. Hell, I liked bacon over people. But it wasn’t until that day, sitting there listening to her explain how books will never make me happy, that I realize books can make me happy. Books can make me positive, optimistic, and light. They can teach me about human connection, about god’s creatures, about the true meaning of life. They can show me a full way to live.
As she goes on, I day dream of meeting a man who will love me for me and about creating a family that I can take care of and show what it means to truly be supportive – like in the romance novels. I think of the thrillers that keep me on the edge of my seat, what’s going to happen next? Who killed who? Why did they kill? Why do humans kill? I think of the adventurous books. How archeology opens you up to the world of old and teaches you that life’s a puzzle to discover. I think of the horror novels when bad things happen to good people and even though they die in the end a lesson has been learned.
I nod and look attentive and she gains her second wind. As she starts up again, telling me how I’m not the daughter she hoped for, I think of stories filled with dragons and vampires that are living and find love despite their soulless nature. I day dream and I wish and I hope and pray and think and decipher and enthusiastically appeal to the witches of fate and then, instead of the blades I used just twenty minutes ago to mar my body, I think of a different outlet. A different way to escape.
I’ll become…a scholar.

10 Years Late to University: I don’t Belong Here But I Belong Here

 
My first semester at UCF I cried on my way to campus.

It was 7:30am, the road was clear – as it always is at dawn – and so the drive from West Orlando was quick. I was so excited, the night before, that I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate, barely hydrated, and spent most of the day with the jitters. I’d always loved school, loved learning, loved brainstorming with my fellow students, and this was my time.

But I was also terrified. It had been 10 years, then a brief stint at Valencia College – via the Direct Connect program – since I had been at University. Before, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go back to school, to do what I loved. It was finally here. There was so much fear surrounding the ideal of being an older college student. At nearly 28, it might not seem like I am so removed from the fresh-out-of-high school teens that are enrolling now but I am. We are in two completely different generations.

I’m a Millennial. For some reason, older people forget just how old Millennials actually are. They forget that we played outside as children, most of us didn’t have the internet when we were kids, and we got dirty. They forget that we, too, had catalogues where we picked out our favorite toys hoping our parents would order them for us. They forget that we had CD players and Walkman. They forget that most of us didn’t have these fancy smartphones or our necks breaking to watch TV on iPads all day. We didn’t get those cheapie pay-as-you-go Nokia’s until we were sophomores in high school (barely). Even then you had to get a job because your mom wasn’t going to pay for the by-text fees and waiting until after 9pm, when everything was free, was too long to make plans with your friends. We weren’t using Instagram, or Facebook or spending all day on Twitter. I had Myspace and only when I snuck to get on when my mother wasn’t looking.

So, it’s different. I’m late. I’m behind the curve. I have aspirations but am quickly realizing that there are 20-year olds going for these internships I would be applying for at 30. I’m a part of a writing group with a recent UCF MFA alum, who is in her early 20s, who currently living my life – had I gone straight through like I was “supposed” to.

I want to be strong. I want to feel like I’m not too late but I’m a Millennial. I’m a part of the “graduate high school, straight to college, graduate in 4 years and into a good job by 21 then a family, and a house,” group. We are pressured to do everything so quickly. No traveling, no taking years off, no breathers, no doing “what you love”. If our lives don’t fit into that timeline we’re stuck.

That’s how I ended up here. I was pressured, by my family, into going for a degree I didn’t want because “writers don’t make any money” and “don’t you want to get a real job” or even “is that even a career”? That didn’t work out – does it ever? So here I am. 10 years later. On the cusp of 30 and crying in my car in my first week at UCF. Wiping my tears with Chik-Fil-A napkins from yesterday’s excited-to-be-on-track run. Picking myself back up. Building my confidence as a writer. Gleaning as much as I can before this opportunity is over, in case it doesn’t work out. Again.

I’m also crying because I’m a full-time student and at the same time I’m a new mother.

These first days at UCF will be the first time I am away from my four-month-old daughter, Naomi, for more than four hours. I’m terrified to be so far from her. If anything happens, I’m on the East side of town and must rush through highways, construction, and rush hour to get to her. Can I get there in time? Am I a good mother?

I’ve been told that I’m supposed to forget about myself. Lose myself. I am a Mother now. That’s how they say it. A Mother with a capital M and in bold. Mother. Does me being on campus – finally shedding the pressures of a toxic adoptive family, putting aside stereotypes about strong black women who endure it all and multitasking relationship, baby, writing, and keeping my house in order – mean that I’m not giving my daughter the attention that she deserves? Should I even be doing this? I grip the steering wheel tight and hesitate before I turn off the car. Maybe I should just go home right now. She probably needs me. Even though her father is absolutely amazing, supportive, loving, kind, and spent the last four months learning about parenting just as I have – I’m sure he’ll need help.

I turn off the car. No. I’m here for a reason. I have to do this. I made a commitment to myself and to my guy. He supports me while I am in school. Supports my dreams and my end goal. I made a commitment to the Universe. It deserves my writing. It deserves my voice. I made a commitment to the young, black foster kids who are abused and unloved. They deserve to know it’s possible to survive through it all and come out loving your life. I also made a commitment to my daughter. I want to show her that it’s never too late to do what you love. Because it’s not. Right?

No seriously, I’m asking.

I check my face in my rear-view mirror and dissolve into more tears. I look a mess. My makeup is all over the place. I never wear makeup but today I must. I’m a college student. University student with pious eyes. Everyone is young, pretty, with tight bodies – that didn’t just have babies – and long luscious hair – that isn’t falling out because of postpartum shedding. They move across campus on trim legs in droves, scattering like roaches the moment the clock marks the hour. I watch them from my swinging hammock strung up on Memory Mall, because I get to campus early, and stay very late, to avoid rush hour. Their laughter is a joyous noise unbroken by the ups and downs of life and the monotony of an unsatisfying day job. They cut through the foot traffic on their tiny skateboards (one of which I have but haven’t used because my unfit body can’t figure out how to turn corners). I sit and watch them as they shove their mouths with campus food because they’re not watching their weight as tight as they are watching their budget.

So I don’t belong here but I do. I pay my fees in late nights of homework. I hand make journals for handwritten notes in classes where I sit in the front row. After the baby is down for the night, I stay up late to write, like I am now at 2:30am, to make sure my priorities are in check. To make sure that I said I wanted to be a writer and therefore I am.

While pumping breast milk, I scratch out feedback for in-class workshops and shake my wrists to deal with the lasting effects of carpal tunnel from my pregnancy. While the food is cooking on the stove, I get in a few pages of the many required reading texts and yell “Hey! Don’t eat that” to Naomi who’s found a way to knock a rented textbook off the table and is using the spine to soothe her teething. I pick it up and put it on the counter and then later have to pay the difference because I accidentally burn a page or two.

I hold my daughter across my lap, the bottle of milk I just pumped clutched in her tiny hands, while I type out the answers to busy-work weekly discussion posts. I definitely paid after I was double-fisting open bottles of breast milk, had a squirming baby on my lap, and she kicked them and the spilled milk destroyed my MAC. I paid in the way my shins hurt going from bedrest while pregnant to walking miles everyday either on campus or on the treadmill to get my stamina back. I pay in the way I clean up my apartment every night, picking up toys and textbooks, sticky yogurt melts stuck to the carpet and highlighters, baby socks and post-it notes.

While on campus I utilize the “Nursing Room” in the Student Union in between classes so I can make sure my milk supply doesn’t dwindle. I spend the first month of school pouring the milk down the drain before the fog of mommy-brain lifts and I remember that I can bring a cooler bag with ice packs to keep the milk fresh.

I do a lap of the fitness center with my backpack, my pump bag, and my cooler before realizing that I don’t belong in this place of young energy and sickening innocence. I get a gym membership at a 24 Hour Fitness near my home because – while I belong on campus – I don’t belong in the campus gym. I feel that my insecurities won’t die there, in the presence of adults my age, only thrive.

So; I love that word – So. It leads from one thing to another. I say it so often. And, hilariously, there it is again.

So, I don’t belong here but I do. And I’m here to stay. Well, at least, until graduation. Then I’m done. My dreams are being achieved; I’m hitting my goals with every turned-in homework assignment that’s accompanied by baby puff snack stains. I’m not letting anyone tell me no, or make me go home. Even myself. I have made a commitment and although there have been many days weeping, arguing, and baby bouncing, I am happy to call myself a Knight.

 

Goodbye February 2020! 7 Books Read!

Heya!

I wanted to share my February reads with you! These are the books I was able to finish. It’s been a busy month. I haven’t been able to get through some that I wanted to, I also was able to finish others in less than a day. You know how it goes, sometimes you choose a book because you think it will be beneficial to your writing or your business, or personal growth, but once you actually start reading it you wonder if you just aren’t ready for it at that time (which happens) or if the book really is…EH.

That was a lot in one sentence but you know exactly what I mean. I didn’t have a specific GOAL in mind, numbers or lists wise, but I knew that I wanted to make sure I made reading a priority. Despite all that’s happening with school, my little baby, my guy, and trying to eat and cook healthier meals that cross cultural bounds. Sounds cool but really…I just want to make some new shit because I’m tired of the stuff I always make.

This is great for Overdrive though, because I can listen to audio books while I cook – if I’m not watching cooking shows, and that helps me get into the narrative more. Anyway, here are the books that I finished!

 

Here are the books that I either was unable to get to this month or that I found a bit EH starting off. As you can see I’ve added three books by African American authors, in the spirit of Black History Month, and yet I wasn’t able to get to them. I still have them though – the physical copy, EBook, or audio book – and I do plan to get to them this month (March)!


If you have any books you would like to suggest or have read any of these let me know in the comments! I’d love to chat with you about them. Be on the look out for new reviews!

This makes 20/120 books read for 2020 from January and February!

 

 

Good Readdance,
Jade

CNF: The Making of a Home

When I was seven I had a hard time keeping my markers to myself.

Everything about this new foster home was different than the other places I’d been. When you step out of the car, you are met with the arch admired only by weddings and those who want to show their best clamoring vines. It stretches over the main path and allows only the skinniest to get by without a scratch. Up the cement walkway and knocking on a bright red door came next. It opens and a fork in the layout shows an immaculate living room to the left. 

It’s a blue room, a color for royals and steamed throw pillows, that elongates the house with a mediocre fireplace and small shining figurines lining a brick mantel. A small den sits in the corner of the room. To the right, a dining room holds a large wooden table, a minimum of five chairs and a large china cabinet. Yes, filled with china no foster kid wants to break. Be wary of this room, it gets even the most obedient children in trouble. It’s dressed in a swirling rug of red, browns, and yellows. Splitting the rooms, a steep skyward staircase leads to three rooms, a master bed and bath, and two smaller bedrooms with a connecting bathroom to the right. 

Back at the fork, going through the dining room will lead you to a small ranch style kitchen with it’s small window sink, fridge equipped with lock to keep out wandering hands, and a sun room (built five years in the future) that leads to the back yard. Going halfway through the kitchen, you could turn left and meet the rest of the house. A living room, where the foster kids can gingerly play video games and a out-of-tune piano, a small half bathroom, and a set of stairs leading down, down, down, to two more bedrooms, a living room for the older kids, a large pantry and laundry room, and home of the spikets. You know, those spiders that look like crickets that jump as high as your waist if you startle them. 

It was too perfect. Too together. Everything needed to be dusted and cleaned and vacuumed and I, not a clean or dusted or vacuumed tiny person, knew I wouldn’t fit there. So I did what every foster kid wants to do.

I made a place for myself.

I took my markers and I drew on the walls. I drew on the pillows. I drew on the pristine glass tables and the thick windows. I drew on the stairs and I drew on the railings. I drew on the ceiling, above my bunk bed, and I drew on the floor by the bottom bunk. I drew in the bathroom and I drew in the kitchen. I drew on the wall outside by that thorny rose bush. I drew on the stones that go round to the backyard. I drew on the wooden fence that falls apart every few years. I drew on the base of a bush near the corner of the yard and a big tree that took up the front. I drew on the leaves of the flowers near the window sills. I drew on the linoleum of the kitchen floor and the tile that lined the back-splash. I drew on the curtains and I drew on the carpet. I drew on a plate that I hid in the china cabinet for four years. I drew on the mail in the mail drawer and the metal where the mail dropped. I drew on it all.

And then I was settled. Nothing was perfect and neither was I. 

 

Book Review: The More of Less by Joshua Becker

To be clear, this book is [NOT] a memoir about my own journey in minimalism. Although I share some of my own story along the way to illustrate what I am saying and hopefully provide inspiration, the book isn’t about me. It’s about you. It’s about the joys of owning less. It’s about how to implement minimalism in a way that transforms your life for the better.

Heya,

When I first started this adventure into Minimalism, I knew one of the first things I would do is read books about the topic. I wanted to get first hand accounts from others who have become hoarders, or semi-hoarders, like me. Joshua Becker is one of the authors that I discovered while doing research.

less

I really liked The More of Less. It chronicles the time when Becker first discovered minimalism, via a neighbor, and the almost immediate change it made in his life. He goes on to give great advice on how to become a minimalist, inspiration from his own experiences, and ways to let minimalism set you free from the confines of clutter. Sounds woowoo, but he does it in a very tasteful way.

minimalismempty

“Minimalism…it may conjure up images of sterility, of asceticism, of bare white walls, of grim frugality, or of someone sitting on the floor because he doesn’t have any furniture. How boring and colorless! Who would want that?”

In one chapter, he lists all the misconceptions of minimalism, and what normal people – who haven’t done the research – decide what living with less means. A Cult. A Fad. A misguided attempt to feel sorry for all the things they bought on their over-extended credit cards. He talks about the different ways to combat these thoughts and how to discover for yourself what it truly means.

There’s a humorous tone to the novel that allowed me to feel that this whole ‘minimalism’ thing doesn’t need to be stuffy or stuck up or serious or devoid of emotion and color. (One chapter’s title is The Battle of the Jell-O Molds) It can be jovial and exciting and tiring but yet exhilarating. That last one I felt, myself, when I went through my first de-cluttering session. I’d taken all the boxes of books out, for donation, and my table was completely clear. I could see the white! There’s was a feeling of euphoria as I noticed that it looked so together. So…adult-ish.

Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

At the end of the book, Joshua Becker includes his chapter notes on minimalism. From there you can get the names of authors, books, articles, and bible versus that have inspired him in his journey.

 

I would definitely recommend this to all newbie minimalists who are looking for guidance on starting out. If you’ve already read this book and want to discuss it, leave a comment below. I’m always down to chat with you guys!

 

Joshua Becker Creator of BecomingMinimalist.com

 

 

Good Readdance,
Jade

P.S. Yes, I hope to start writing book reviews again! Follow the blog to get more updates.

You’re an Adult. JUST SAY NO!

Heya,

One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn as an adult is to Just Say No. I’m no push over but I often find myself saying yes to things I don’t want to do.

Things Asked To Do:

  • Go out on the town/Club
  • Babysit
  • Meet for coffee/Hang out
  • Listen to solicitor’s spiel- At&t comes knocking, the Dish guy at that table in Walmart, the person who waves a pamphlet at you on the street
  • Sex – your partner wants to or you’ve set a date (yes, people schedule sex…don’t judge!), you go out to dinner with a new beau
  • Specialized Parties: Baby shower, birthday, weddings, etc.
  • Adding coworkers to social media sites…just say NO lol
  • Drugs….say no. And no MEANS no

I forget and end up saying yes to so many things. Then I’m standing there, listening to whatever it is they’re pushing, and wondering how long I need to fake smile. As an introvert, I am drained after a long day of “peopling”, as I call it. I love to hang out and go places with friends but I also love to do things on my own with no pressure.

ALONE NOT LONELY

When I say yes to things, I always have to make sure I drive myself. No carpooling for me! I like to be able to leave when I want and say no to the ‘after party’ if I choose to. I didn’t know to do this my first round in college and spent so much time wishing I could go home or feeling like people would be angry with me. Also, I spent a lot of time as the ‘designated driver’ when I didn’t want to be. NOT because I wanted to drink but because I didn’t want to have to stay. It was a mess. Now I know better. I always tell people that I love to be Alone, Not Lonely. I want to have a best friend who I can go out with but I also want to curl up with a book for 10 hours. Without being interrupted.

I also need to learn to say NO to solicitors. I don’t know why I always felt obligated to listen. I think another part of it is that I get so embarrassed when people ask me things. I’ll be shopping peacefully and someone will step into my space and say ‘do you have internet service?’ and I would stick around long enough to hear a few lines and struggle to wiggle my way out. Now, I just say “no, thank you,” or “I already have internet.”

I’m also working on keeping “I’m sorry” out of my vocabulary when it’s unnecessary. The not too distant me might’ve said “I’m really sorry but I have internet and…”. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I shouldn’t feel sorry for taking time for myself. I shouldn’t be apologetic because I don’t want ads pushed on me. I shouldn’t feel obligated when people want to invite me to things I don’t feel comfortable doing.

I’m an adult. I CAN SAY NO without fear. So can you.

Good Readdance,
Jade

P.S. YES, you CAN say no to family. Especially if the situation will hurt you or trigger you. Don’t go. Don’t feel obligate.d Take care of you.