Danielle

Danielle? What’s she doing here? Shouldn’t she be off…painting her girlfriends’ toenails or at the mall getting all the latest clothes…or doing whatever it is girls do? Come to think of it, what do girls do when they’re not at school? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it doesn’t involve being here in the mall elevator with me.
The mall.
Wait just a second.
Oh, man. Oh, man.
The mall. Of course. That is where girls hang out, right? But still, what’s she doing going up to the arcade? Can’t you see the sign that clearly states that this elevator is to be used only by Thornton Winslow?
Well, who am I kidding? There is no sign. And even if there were, would someone with a name like mine actually get to ride the elevator? Alone?
My palms break out in sweat. I can’t do this. I can’t even look in her direction. Her eyes. They’re brown. Just like…oh, good grief, no. Don’t even think about it, Thorton. You can’t afford a meltdown in front of the cutest girl in all of town.
Danielle pulls out her phone and looks at it, then laughs. It sounds like…oh, wait. Didn’t I just say not to go that way? God help me. So I tap my toes. Twiddle my thumbs. Chew a fingernail. She casts me a look. I attempt a half-hearted grin.
Suddenly, the lights flicker off and the elevator comes to a grinding halt. I involuntarily win the Guinness World record for screaming the most like a little girl, and Danielle looks in my direction, bemused. Inwardly, I moan.
Silence. Oh, the blessed silence. I breathe in and out. Once. Twice. Then look around. We appear to be stuck.
“We appear to be stuck,” I croak. Danielle raises an eyebrow at me. She punches buttons. Nothing.
“Maybe I can c—” she mutters.
“Maybe you should try the call button,” I interrupt her helpfully, nodding.
She rolls her eyes. “That,” she says, “is what I was going to say.”
Not trusting myself to say anything, I bob my head rapidly. From what I hear, it appears we will be stuck for at least a half hour. I jerk my head in her direction. A half hour? 30 minutes? 1,800 seconds? With Danielle Coffey?
This can’t be happening. Not to me. It could be anyone else. But no. Of course not. It’s me. Danielle sighs, resigned to fate. It’s easy for her. She’s not stuck with her lifelong crush…well, if 3 years ago counts as anything lifelong.
She’s on her phone again. This can’t go on much longer. I need to do something. Anything. It’s now or never. And if I perish…well, then, she’d better be sorry. Maybe give me a decent burial or something while she’s at it. Whatever.
I take a breath. Remember that once I speak, there’s no going back. And then…
“Uh, hi. My name’s Thorton.”

Advertisements

The Moment Of

I remember the day the police officers showed up at my parents’ house four years ago, their faces and mannerisms composed, practiced. Very clearly, as though it were yesterday, I can evoke the emotions I felt that day when I found out that my older sister—my best friend—had been killed in a car accident. But, you must know, that’s not what sticks out to me now. That’s not what I really remember.
It’s just a few sentences that the male officer said. It’s sort of silly to think about now, but that is what plays over in my head like a broken record during the moment of.
He said, “She would have died instantly. There would’ve been hardly any suffering.”
What a lie. What a big, fat lie.
The moment of is precisely what it sounds like—it’s the moment of my death. Well, if I’m being precise, it’s not just the moment of, but the final moments. But I digress.
I was just eight minutes from getting home. It was my very first day at community college. You would think that Death would have chosen another day for me, wouldn’t you? No. It wouldn’t. So there I was, listening to a playlist with a lot of All Time Low and Fall Out Boy songs, waiting for the light to turn green. When it did, I went forward. No reason to think that anything was wrong, correct?
No reason at all.
Out of the corner of my peripheral vision, I saw a speeding red truck coming for me. It came towards me quickly, so quickly I hardly had time to wrap my mind around the fact that I was going to be in a car accident.
And then . . . collision. Then, the moment of.
The moment of is the longest period of time that I have ever experienced. It seems to last for an eternity within itself as my brain takes in all the information and rapidly computes what is happening. I wish it wouldn’t do so. But, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that things hardly ever happen the way you want them to.
Metal screams, a harsh and abrasive noise that grates at my ears and makes me want to cover them. But I’m still gripping the steering wheel, and there’s no time to move. I hear glass pop and shatter, and feel the splinters drive their way into my body, embedding deep into my skin. I feel as if I am on fire.
One of my final conscious actions is to slam the brake, so I am vaguely aware of the car fishtailing side to side as the tires squeal. It’s far too difficult to take in all the different sounds as my world crashes in on me—both literally and figuratively.
But the one dominating sense is the pain. Oh, the pain. My head bangs against the steering head, and the air bag deflates. But it will not save me. Nothing can save me now. I think there’s a fire, because a sharp, burning sensation suddenly makes itself known to me. It feels as though the skin is melting off my body. As if I’m being roasted alive. Maybe I am. I want to scream, but there isn’t any time.
And as my car careens wildly around, and there’s an explosion, and I am dying, those words keep playing over and over in my head. My death will be almost instantaneous. But not quite. I will suffer—I am suffering; there will be pain—there is pain. Whether it is five seconds or five minutes, it is still pain. And it hurts to know that this is the final pain, that these are the final moments. The moments of, before I am gone. Forever.
No one can know what it’s like to die unless it has happened to them. And none of them live to tell it. Some people make it romantic, others tragic. But do you want to know what the truth is? It’s this: at that very moment, even if you don’t believe in an afterlife, or if you believe in heaven or hell or karma, it doesn’t really matter. Right then, all you want do is live. Like me. All I want to do is live. All my thoughts are a jumbled cacophony of denial, anger, bargaining: No no not me can’t die I don’t want to die please no let me live please no I don’t can’t won’t please no live live please.
But let me make something clear before I go. Right now, I am in my final moment of lucidity, that moment right before I cease to exist on this plane, and I want you to know this: I am not here to frighten or terrify you. I am not even here to make you feel sorry for me. I will be gone shortly, and there will be no more pain. I am here only to tell you my story. Whatever you infer from it is up to you. I will have done my part.
Then the moment of passes, just like that. I exhale my final breath, and all my selfishness, loss, and pain melts away. There is darkness. But I don’t feel anything. I don’t see anything.
But then I do.
The moment of my death is over. The moment of my new life is here. Life without end is about to begin.
And I see the light. That blessed, blessed light.

Restart: A Poem

Before, he
Believed that he was the man.
Had all the pieces,
Anticipated each move. Everything
Was predictable, in control.
His life.

Then, she
Came in suddenly. Like a
Lightning bolt. Flash of light,
Disorientation. The cards blew
Away, and the future became hazy.
Entrance.

After, they
Began a new life. Became
One. He started over, forever changed.
This complex, wonderful phenomenon of
Life was taken one day at a time.
Restart.

An Open Letter to the Patriarchal Paradigm

To the Patriarchal Paradigm:

Throughout the course of history, you’ve lived quite the double-standard life, haven’t you? I’m sure you already know this, but really. What is it with you and your borderline paranoia with the chasteness of women and your insane obsession with “dominating” the female sex? What’s that? Something about asserting your masculinity? Yeah . . . no. I’ve got another word for it: machismo. For goodness’s sakes, you ostensibly achieve masculinity by going around and making so many babies you couldn’t even begin to count, and then you turn around and beat your wives the minute you think they’ve been unfaithful, because heaven help them if they so much as look at another man. Please.

Now, there are many firm believers of the paradigm that I could choose to single out, but let’s stick to one of the epic heroes of Greek literature: Odysseus. Can you say douchebag, much? For being a hero, your friend was actually pretty sleazy and hypocritical by modern standards (see: taking ten years to get back home, being ridiculously cocky and arrogant, sleeping with countless other women, and then finally getting back home and killing all the [unmarried] maids who got it on with the suitors at his house, even though he wasn’t even married to them in the first place). And yes, I know you’re saying that being a hero back then was more about having an extraordinary attribute as opposed to attaining perfection, but come on. When Odysseus gets back home, he pretty much treats the women like. . .well, trash.

See, he’s determined to find out whether or not his wife, Penelope, has been unfaithful, even though he’s the one who’s been having trouble remembering who he’s married to (never mind the fact that he claims to have remained true to his wife in his heart; it would have been nicer if he could’ve remained true in all respects). If she wasn’t faithful, he’d probably have killed her. Note the fate of all the unfaithful maids. If further proof is needed, look at his treatment of his longest servant, Eurydome, and note how harshly he speaks to her in all the scenes they’re together. I could probably go on, but I think this should suffice for now. Perhaps some more modern example is now in order. Let’s jump ahead a few thousand years, shall we?

So we’ve got two extreme ends of the spectrum to look at here. On one hand, women are sexually exploited, stripped of all their humanity and being and transformed into an abstraction, often exemplified in the form of money. There is no longer any beauty or goodness here, only a debased and bestial attitude towards the female sex. The male sex here objectifies—and often fetishizes—every aspect of the female, which in turns lead to the woman becoming hardly any different than that pair of pants in your closet. Sure, there’s no shame here about the female body, but really, patriarchy? This is what where we are? You fail to treat women with the dignity that should be a no-brainer, and this lets young men well on their way to becoming full-fledged patriarchal jerks spout such ludicrousness as, “Well, she really meant yes when she said no” and “Oh, come on, she was just asking for it; what was I supposed to do?” Words cannot convey the anger I feel when someone says that. I suppose because women are practically animals, they can’t tell what’s good for them, and the all-knowing macho men do, giving to them what they ask for. Thus did the people justify their wickedness. Pardon me while I headdesk.

Now, let’s look at the opposite side of the spectrum. There’s objectification going on here, but just not of the same kind. Instead of parading women around like playthings, women find themselves being constantly told that must mask their femininity and remain virtuous and chaste for all eternity. So, what’s wrong with being chaste? Nothing . . . until the concept of chasteness transforms into a blown-out, disproportionate ideal that tells women to cover up everything and make sure to never tempt the opposite sex, lest they wind up like the previous example I gave. So, enter potato sacks.

Not literally, of course, but you pretty much get there. Let’s take a look at what often is and isn’t allowed. Jeans are a big no-no, obviously. Because . . . uh, oh yeah, because they . . . reveal that you have a figure. Right. You know, because apparently it’s a surprise that women have legs, just like most other people on the planet. Therefore, an ankle-length skirt comes in. (While an ankle-length skirt will do, I’m told, it’s much more preferable to wear one that almost touches the floor.) Also, no makeup. At all. It’s unnatural. And since unnatural equals devilish . . . let’s not go there. And about hair? If it ain’t natural, then you’re doing something wrong, girl. Just let it grow out and give it a trim every four years or so, and you’ll be good to go. And above all, what’s quite possibly the most important rule: DO NOT LET THE MEN STARE AT YOU. EVAR.

Look, I know you’re saying that the patriarchal paradigm respects women, which is why you beat the living daylights out of women who fail Femininity 101, but really. I’m all for self-respect and modesty, but there’s a point where it’s simply ridiculous. You focus on the women, and forget the other half of the equation. Some of you men, I’m sure, would lust after a woman in aforementioned potato sack and skirt, and yet somehow . . . it’s still her fault. Reminds me about that picture circulating around on the Internet about a car accident in the last century purportedly caused by two women wearing pants in public for the first time. It’s the women’s fault, right? You know, for wearing . . . pants. Not the bloody driver’s fault, of course; it’s got to be the woman. And what do I say to this? I reject this.

I reject the notion that women must be reduced to an abstraction and be stripped of all their self-respect and dignity in order to ironically gain some twisted form of worth. I reject the notion that women must be taught that the fault lies within in them and that they must go to extreme measures in order to achieve what you, the patriarchal paradigm, labels femininity. (Side note here, but if you get to decide on what masculinity is, shouldn’t it work in reverse?) Instead, I look to equality and an abandonment of the “us vs. them” mentality. This isn’t about men vs. women or masculinity vs. femininity, some hopeless attempt at trying to see who is better. The fact is, there is no us, and there is no them. We all encompass humanity, and seeking to create more division than we already have takes us nowhere. Progress cannot be made until this mentality is adopted. And I really do hope you start to realize that.

Maybe, with time, you will.

With regards,

Josh

The Valley

She lies on the hard dirt floor, eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched tight as the rotting door slams shut. Her face presses into the ground, but it doesn’t matter. She’s already as filthy as can be, both inside and out. Another stain doesn’t matter. Dirt, blood, spit, and worse have been on her body, each like an ugly tattoo, taunting her and ruthlessly reminding her of the situation. Of her lowness, her debased morality, her very being. She is filth.
It’s not like she means to, but a tear leaks out and splashes on the dusty ground. Then another, and another, and another. The dust turns to mud as she vainly tries to choke back the sobs that must be released. It’s the only way of getting the toxin out of her system. It’s all she knows. It’s all she has. For what else is there but this eternal nightmare that goes on and on? Once she’s done with this life, she will be damned to pay for her sins in the eternal lake of fire that is reserved for only those like her.
She turns around and turns her mud-caked face to stare through the cracks in the ceiling at the stars above. For what seems like the millionth time, she fervently makes a wish to be set free, to be emancipated. A full minute passes as she waits . . . and waits . . . and sees that nothing happens. As always.
There really is no way out. Not for her.
She closes her eyes, opens out her mouth, and lets out a long, silent scream.
***
It’s been going on for what feels like forever. Yelling for hours. Glass shattering for several minutes. He hides under his bed in the dark, surrounded by an army of stuffed animals, pillows, and bed sheets. They give him some courage. Not much, but a little bit’s better than nothing, right?
It’d probably help to pray, but he doesn’t know many prayers. They don’t go to church much, except for Easter and Christmas at that big stone church. Episopilan or something. They do the lethargy. Or maybe it was the liturgy.
“Now I lay me down to sleep…”
The cursing grows louder, closer. Pots start flying. More glass breaks, going off like those bombs in the action movies at the theater. The little boy hugs his favorite bear closer. He must be brave.
“I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”
The door to his room swings open, and the long, foreboding shadow of the man he must call Daddy stands in the doorway, framed in the light of the hall. Without realizing it, he wets himself. He stops breathing. After cursing again, his father slams the door shut. He is safe.
“And if I die before I wake…”
Will he die? Will his father kill him? He’s said he will, and more than once. What happens when you die? You get all cold and stiff and sometimes other people cry, but then what? Heaven? Nothing? What happens to all the little boys and girls like him?
He starts sobbing. He doesn’t want to die. All he wants is for his parents to be like the others. That’s all. But if he does die…
“…I pray the Lord my soul to take…”
Then he buries his face in his pillow and starts to scream.
***
As her husband leaves the room, not even bothering to close the door, she sits on the edge of the bed, her head spinning. She stares at the intricate designs in the carpet, but she doesn’t really see them. In fact, she hardly sees anything around her, because her mind is everywhere but here. She’s in her anthropology class in her freshman year, where she first met him. Then she’s at their favorite diner, the one where he asked her to marry him. The wedding, their new life, their togetherness.
All an illusion, all a lie. Shattered into a million ugly shards of broken glass.
A sob catches in her throat. This isn’t the end. They can fix it, get counseling . . . anything. Ten years didn’t get dissolved in ten minutes. It didn’t. This was their marriage, and she’d do whatever it took to get it back together.
That was what she’d been saying for the last several months, and now look where they are. He’s leaving for good, tearing himself away from her and leaving her wounded, stranded, confused.
A failure. That’s what she is. A complete and total failure.
Then she lurches to her feet and runs down the hall, racing past all the photos and mementos of the two of them. It’s still not too late. She can still catch up to him, just watch! Then she’s out on the front porch, but he’s pulling out of the driveway. She yells and bounds down the stairs and into the rain, but he doesn’t stop. Doesn’t look back. Doesn’t care.
And as he drives down the street and turns out of sight, she stands there in the rain, head hanging low. Like a big, ugly stamp, the fact that she’s failed inundates her and seems to sweep her away. All that’s left is her crumpling shell that’s falling forward, screaming, screaming, screaming.
***
Three hours. That’s how long he’s been staring at the cheap bottle of booze in his hand. One hundred and eighty minutes of torture.
Not for the first time, he raises the bottle over his head and prepares to hurl it at the alley wall a few feet away. But, just as each time, he brings the bottle down, his hand shaking, vision swimming . . . and thinks that one more bottle won’t hurt.
Except that’s what he’s been saying for only God knows how many years. He’s been in and out of AA, church groups, and even his family.
His family.
All too vividly, he sees his wife with her radiant smile and long, slender fingers that used to fit perfectly with his. His daughter, who loved him more than anything else, who said she always would.
Now she can’t stand the sight of him. He sickens her. That’s what she’d said, when he’d stopped at her high school a few years ago. At first she denied that she knew him, but then she started screaming and cursing at him to go away and never come back.
So he did.
Again, he raises the bottle and looks at the amber liquid. What does it matter? To continue living in this hell, or to finally enter oblivion? They say alcohol didn’t solve anything, but he’ll use it to fix him up for good. He’ll show them.
By the time he’s done, a comfortable, warm feeling is spreading through his body, and he slumps over, hardly aware of his surroundings. But then, like a beam of sun breaking through the clouds, his family returns again. And he realizes that he’s stepped even further away from ever returning back. Ever.
You’ve failed, an ugly voice whispers in his head, echoing in the recesses of his brain over and over. You’ve failed. Failed. Failed.
The wino claps his hands over his ears and starts scratching at his head in a frenzy, trying to rid himself of the voice that won’t go away. Failure. Failed. Failure. Failed.
He begins to scream.
***
She anxiously tugs at her flimsy miniskirt that doesn’t quite reach her mid-thigh while chewing on her lower lip. Her swollen stomach roils as she approaches the church, feeling every bit like the hypocritical pariah she knows she is. She’s never believed in God, so why is she coming here? Maybe because her family’s disowned her, she’s been kicked out of college, and her douche of a boyfriend dumped her last night, the fact that she’s nine months pregnant notwithstanding. For goodness’s sake, why didn’t she abort the little creep forever ago? Oh yeah, because she thought that this would help him love her more . . . or something.
So now that there’s nowhere else to go, she might as well return to the esoteric God of her childhood. Her heart drums a wild tattoo, and she’s sweating like a marathon runner as she crosses the street and steps onto the sidewalk. From inside, strains of organ music float outwards, accompanied by scores of voices singing in unison. She glances down at herself once more and again bites her lip. There’s nothing else she can do, because she hasn’t been able to shower in two days or get a fresh change of clothes, but that won’t matter. Right?
Two women walk up the sidewalk, talking in affected, ostentatious voices. They’re decked in long, flowery dresses and Sunday hats, but when they turn to look at her and immediately notice no ring on her finger, distaste flickers across their faces. Before they’re even inside, she can hear one of them comment about her audacity for daring to come to a place of worship like that.
Crushed, she slides down on the cracked sidewalk, not bothering to fix her skirt. Not caring about anything. She puts her face in her hands and starts to sob silently, certain that things can’t get any worse.
And then, she feels a strange sensation below her stomach, and she’s suddenly discharging liquid. Her heart rate shoots up immediately, and her breathing comes out in short, quick pants. She’s going into labor. Right here, right now.
And because she doesn’t know what else to do, she opens her mouth and silently begins to scream.
***
Somewhere in the universe is a great, rolling valley that stretches on for miles and miles, completely devoid of all human life.
Almost.
In that place, if someone were to go walking there, he’d eventually know what raw anguish and misery was like. They’d acutely become aware of this thing called pain as the tortured screams of the destitute and lost and the hurt and the suffering echoed on and on in their head like a looping record. And, most likely, instead of helping, they’d turn away and run as fast as they could, ready to put as much physical and emotional distance from the pain as possible.
Their voices go unheard. Their needs go unmet. Their lives remain empty.
They are the ones who need rescuing. They are the ones who need saving. But how many are willing to enter headfirst into the dark valley of pain and bring the lost out into light?
But until someone does, they will keep screaming, borne on by the ceaseless waves of their pain and suffering.

Less than three,
Josh