Dont’ Look Back

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     Everything seemed business as usual. Honking throughout congested roadways. Nine to fivers eager to get back to abandoned office buildings and fill empty desks. The highways lined with big rigs, exhausting charcoal colored smoke from horned antennas. No more silence. Quite the opposite to the norm we adopted these last nine months. It took me a good ten minutes to move the car from park to reverse out of the driveway. There was a subtle awkwardness in everything I did, moments of rehabilitation to remembering what once was. The sky was clear. The air was fresh with the scent of the morning dew, yet something was different. Around this time of year the leaves had already fallen and the earth returned to it’s dormant state. There were lush green trees and patches of assorted flower beds surrounding various parts of the city. In between these forms of artificial life stood steel poles ranging up to 200ft. They spiked through the skyline like spider legs from extraterrestrial beings. These were not your average cell towers. I took the usual scenic route to the office and could see a number of them stationed throughout the parks, convention center, museum district, and other venues readily available to the public. They seemed to be strategically placed like some sort of active sentinels from the future. Losing my focus, I almost ran a red light. A group of joggers heading towards the park, some shouting expletives and one banging her fist on my hood, crossed. A cluster of nannies and small children followed.The further I drove along the more spurts I saw of people returning to their daily routines. It was as if no one had noticed the changes that had taken place. From what I could see it didn’t seem to bother any of them.

     The thought of returning to how things were, or would be, didn’t scare me one bit. I figured the reset couldn’t do any more harm than good. I circled the parking garage for the eleventh time before finding a makeshift spot on the top floor. The fifteen minute ordeal only transitioned into me joining the cue outside of the elevator that lead into the building lobby. So much for getting to work on time. I still had about five minutes to spare. You could fit about ten people on average in each of the elevator cars. After counting up to my place in the line, I managed to squeeze past the elevator doors with the group ahead of mine. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. The idea of social distancing was a thing of the past. I was up close and personal enough to smell the aftershave of the gentleman in front of me. My throat itched and the corners of my eyes watered as I fought back trying to clear it in that moment. Pointing my mouth and nose in opposite directions, I made the most unwelcoming facial expressions. I let out an almost silent cough into my jacket before an elderly woman in the back mustered up a bless you. Everyone looked up from their phones and immediately put a halt to whatever it was that they were doing. I couldn’t see the dirty looks but there was a sense of hostility that made you feel it. I would’ve done the same I guess, it was still early. There was an expedited vaccine out, but it was still unclear who all had access to it. One by one the elevator cleared out until there were only two us that remained. In the past I enjoyed the luxury of being on the penthouse floor, but now it seemed like a curse. I never had a problem with confined spaces but today my breathing dragged on a bit longer than usual. The panoramic view on our floor had once brought a sense of peace, now it was a birds eye view to an unanticipated future. The towers stood all over the city. Panels of silver nodes sprouted out like limbs on the end of their mechanical branches.

     I had a minute left as I sat at my desk. Around this time I’d have a cup of coffee in the break room. There was banter and small talk, I had no interest in, manning the entrance. I learned how to play the piano. We landscaped our front and backyard. I built a shed for my wife. The exchange of stories and ‘survival of the pandemic’ were no different from the headlines on the five o’ clock news. I wouldn’t have shown up if it wasn’t for the briefing with the top heads. My boss, being one of them, reached out on occasion and told me about the meeting weeks ago. He wouldn’t be there. I had to walk past his office in order to get mine. There were folders on his desk, piled high, and sheets of paper scattered in disarray. It was just as he had left it, a mess. I opened my company email, which I checked daily, and there were no new messages. The alert from the calendar flashed with a ten minute reminder to the upcoming meeting. It was the only thing I had scheduled throughout the remainder of the year. My anxiety from the multitude of notifications I’d receive, and fear of not checking messages as they came in, became nonexistent. At one point I began resenting this new found liberation. It was all for the good I guess, even if the changes stopped there. I turned off the monitor and followed behind the rest of those waiting to hear their fate. Even in the midst of uncertainty, we were all in this together.

Never Say Never

               I had a feeling it was coming to an end, but not like this. Closing my eyes shut out the pain, but I could feel the blood seeping through. He got me good. Losing sensation in my hand, I opened my fist and pulled out the syringe. The act of it felt so foreign. Something I routinely did lifetimes ago, was something I promised to never do again. My fingers blossomed back, the tips stone in color and ice cold. The gauze had turned bright red, still taut around the center where the opening was the worse. The blade carved through several layers of flesh, barely touching the bone.  He drew a nice line from the outside of my wrist to an inch above my elbow. I didn’t notice the amount of sun spots on my arm until now. They were now scarred blotches of leather, stained by flakes of dried blood. I can’t believe it had already been twenty-four hours. At least the pain would be gone for now, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Robbie.

            It’s hard to believe a year ago I didn’t give a damn about anyone. After ma’s passing, my sister stopped answering my calls. It was as if she had buried me along with our mother. I tried reaching out to her during the few times I got sober, no luck. Back then I had gotten better at jumping the turnstiles in the trains. I’d finish a morning of feeding pigeons in Central park, then roam around the fancier parts of the city. One day I chose Soho. Robbie overheard my conversation walking down W. Broadway and chimed in as I turned on Canal. It was the first time anyone had ever interacted with me as I thought out loud. He pointed at a bodega up the street and said he needed a maintenance guy. When I asked what happened to the last one, he shrugged and said that his visa ran out. He had an accent himself but you could tell he had been in the city a long time. It was nothing more than running light errands, keeping the shop clean, and helping stock deliveries. I guess he thought it was something I could do. I looked down at the tattered soles on my shoes. He didn’t seem to notice the frayed holes that had turned into air condition vents at my feet. I told him I’d ask around and kept it moving.

               I started making what seemed like permanent changes on my own then.  I had fewer run ins with the authorities and I had quit the drugs cold turkey. I had my fair share of rumbles but it wasn’t about being a tough guy. It wasn’t everyday we got noticed for being human, or even a hero. Figured I’d do some soul searching if I had any chance of making it off the streets.

              About two weeks after that encounter I found myself along the same path, in the realms of the same thought process. This time I remembered  the conversation. He agreed that God gave us free will. Robbie was just a few steps behind me. “Why don’t you come in tomorrow?” he asked, “You look like a handy guy.” He stood right at my shoulders, and reminded me of my grandmaster in junior high. I shrugged not wanting to make any promises. I proceeded to wave my salute but before I could, he shouted, “See you tomorrow!”

           A year later I’m tackling some kid who robs his store. The punk couldn’t have been a day past nineteen. I contemplated taking his life with that bullet. My prints were all over his gun anyway. It wasn’t my decision to make. There were shards of broken glass everywhere. Robbie’s blood leaked from behind the counter towards the entry way. We grappled a bit before I was able  to free the gun from his hands, flinging it about a foot away. I held a tight grip even though he had managed to pull out a blade and knife me. Kicking him to the floor, I pinned him down as I reached for the gun. I fired a single shot to his arm before he could run away. The place was a crime scene. I ran behind the counter but it was too late. There was a puddle of blood surrounding Robbie’s lifeless body. Time was running out for me too. The least I could do was dial 9-1-1 before the cops came. I took one final look at the place and limped out the bodega.

            The Hudson was beautiful than normal tonight. You could see the moons reflection sitting along the pier. Depending on the day it was also a great place to watch the sunrise. I’d be moving into my place in a week if Robbie was still here. We were meant to finalize everything today. The longer I sat here, the more comfortable I became with my decision. I drew back the syringe one final time, doubling the amount. Battery Park was a rare quiet for the city, but just the quiet I needed right now. The water had even grown still, sending out a sense of comfort. This wasn’t the ending we had hoped for. I knew I had made the right choice, only this time Robbie wouldn’t agree.

Final Paper Draft

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Family Feud

Roberta had just completed her third yoga retreat of the year. Now she could cross Bali off of her “Places to see before 90” list. The retired great grandmother to seven granddaughters, four grandsons, and three great grand daughters, promised to never stop working, which included working on her inner self. The last time she had seen the inside of an office was over two and a half decades ago, about the same time she had given up meat. The one-year anniversary of Franks passing was fast approaching, and she needed to make it special for the both of them. There was nothing that could scare her, she had seen it all. Serving as a nurse during Vietnam brought back flashbacks she didn’t want to revisit and a big reason she decided to become a secretary after those horrific years. The only thing she had really hoped to do was jump out of a plane on her 90th birthday. She would still have a few years before that. Until then she would just sit on her yoga mat with the corners of her lips turned up, and her hands pressed together in prayer under her chin. Her black nail polish was the only spot of darkness in contrast to her tie dye leggings and neon yellow shirt. Her outside was just as vibrant as her inside, the first person in her hot yoga class, and the last to leave. Roberta knew that laughter was the best medicine. As often as she could, or remembered, she’d dress up in a shark costume and show up to the kid’s school for their birthdays when they were younger. As they got older, she started showing up to their jobs, keeping in line with tradition. This was what retirement was all about she thought, having fun.

She took a seat at the vanity and angled the picture frame towards her. It was a black and white photo taken of Frank in his dress blues and white barracks cover. He was eighteen when he had enlisted and twenty-one when he met Roberta. The morning ritual was hard in the beginning, but as time subsided she found the joy in it. He had always liked when she got ready in front of him, even having her complete a little twirl when she was done. Things were far better with Frank and although nothing was the same, she had learned to keep her spirit alive for the both of them. She twisted her dreads up into a messy bun, with some of the locks dangling by the side of her face. “Now I know what you’re thinking honey,” she said, eyeing the photo over the red plastic frames sitting on the bone of her nose. The smoky white roots blended into a platinum blonde donut. “I have an appointment with Lisa next week.” She completed her look by smearing a creamy rouge across pouty lips and blowing a kiss to the photo. She knew plenty of widows who had let themselves go. She had once told Frank that she would let the house fall to pieces before she did. There was so much to do now that she was back and she didn’t know how or where to start.

The roof still needed fixing, the tree in the yard needed to be cut down, the grass had grown wild, and the toilet in the guest bathroom still wouldn’t flush without sounding like marbles had been running through its pipes. Now her eldest grandson, Francis III, insisted she sale the house and move to Baltimore and stay with him and his wife, stating it wasn’t safe for a lady her age to be living all alone. While she loved him very much, she hated the idea but told him she’d consider it. Her youngest daughter, Catherine, was only a thirty-minute drive away but she was just as clueless when it came to such things. She had never owned a home and had never been married, but she knew how to keep a place in order and make you whatever you wanted to eat.

“Mama!” a wheezy voice came from the front of the house, followed by a slammed door.

Roberta got up from the vanity and began making her way towards the corridor.

“Hey Baby,” she said, poking her head out the doorway. It was Catherine. When Frank was alive she would always show up unannounced. Now, even with the spare key, she’d ring Roberta to prevent the onset of a heart attack for the both of them.

“You didn’t hear me calling you?” she asked, bags in hand. Catherine approached the kitchen out of breath with sweat running from her hairline down the sides of her cheeks. She dropped the bags at her feet and took a seat at the dining table.

“You did?” Roberta put her hand on her hip before planting a kiss on the top of her daughter’s head. “I didn’t hear my phone ringing.” She reached for the phone that was sitting on top of the kitchen counter. “Ohhh,” she stretched out her bottom lip, “I must’ve left it on silent again.”

“Figures,” Catherine rolled her eyes, “hand me a glass of water please.” Still breathing heavy she took off the blush pink cardigan that had apparent wet stains in the underarms. “With ice,” Catherine said before Roberta could even give her the option.

“I told you room temperature is better for you.” Roberta shook her head as she opened the icebox.

“Mama I’m hot.” Catherine began fanning herself with the weekly circular she grabbed from the kitchen table. “And Dr. Morrison said I lost five pounds since the last time he saw me.”

“That’s good news,” Roberta said, handing her the glass. “What did you bring me?”

Roberta began sifting through the bags and brought out a foil pan that was still warm. “Smells good,” she sniffed at the air.

“Well you ain’t let me finish telling you what else Dr. Morrison said,” Catherine now tilting her head at her mother while chewing on a piece of ice.

Roberta, with her back towards her daughter, placed the pan on top of the stove and tried lifting the lid to get a peek.

Catherine began tapping the emptied glass on the dining table, with slight agitation.

“Mama it’s eggplant lasagna and I have breast cancer.”

 

 

 

Portraying Character Exercise

Her early twenties were fast approaching its end. Now visible forms of adulthood were slowly rearing its head. Student loans had gone into collections while the only way to have a roof over her head was to share an apartment with someone who had already acquired a lease. Between juggling part time work and commission based pay, making ends meet was a stretch. Even in the worst of times she adjusted. At one point in her life she knew what it was like to have plenty and now she knew what it was like to have just the opposite.

She sat at the edge of her bed, crouching towards the open laptop. Her brown eyes wide, like she had just consumed several cups of coffee, fixed on the screen as she scrolled through the postings she had just listed. Her hair was a wiry mesh, like she had woken without combing it. Her slender fingers patting against the keyboard, making some minor adjustments to the title of a posting. Biting the side of her bottom lip she wrote, “Spacious one bedroom on tree-lined block, five-minute walk to Subway.” Parting her lips, she gave a satisfying smile, showing the top half of her whitened teeth.

She tapped her foot against the floor and leaned her head to both sides as she often did when several thoughts appeared all at once. It was the middle of the month and like every past month, it was prime time to secure new clients. Now the only thing she needed to do differently this month was close a deal. The market was good but clients had no loyalty. Even if you showed the apartment ten times a day there was always something better that they were looking for. Either way she was determined to do better than last month.

“Hello,” Veronica said. Reaching for a pen on the nightstand and the notepad lying underneath it. “Yes, it’s still available,” she paused. “When can you see it?” Balancing the phone against the right side of her face and shoulder, she began to jot down what the person was saying. Nodding her head as if she could see them, she continued to write. “I do have two others in the neighborhood that may interest you as well,” her brows raised in delight. It was her first phone call of the day and only twenty minutes since she had posted. “Okay, so I have you down for Wednesday at six o’ clock.” She smiled. “Great, see you then.”

Winner

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You don’t have to put anyone down to prove that you have it all.

You don’t have to make someone feel small in order to make yourself happy.

The true winner is the one who has nothing to prove and can prove their point by not trying to make one.

If you are truly happy, rubbing it in someone’s face is just a pure indication that you really aren’t.

I hope you find what you are looking for, and in the end find true happiness within yourself, not from anyone else.

Handle With Care

fragile

Breathe enough air,

sufficient for care until the walls run dry.

Try again, expand and vent, until the fear subsides.

I’ll do it brave, I’ll do it afraid.

Drowning as I go against the tide.

Put up a fight, not for pride.

How I miss the simpler times.

Meet me there, and we’ll share

happier moments we find.

I’ve been lost, mediate what it costs.

Not taking a break, finish whatever we start.

Love is patient, love is kind.

Gentle heart, gentler mind.

Healing

 

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The only real love I ever felt was from God, there were no strings attached. He didn’t

want anything from me, just to trust Him.

My faith went up and down like a yo-yo. One day I’m all in, the next I was out. I had trust issues with people, and that spilled over into my relationship with God.

I doubt myself. As a Christian I feel like we aren’t given the opportunity to relish in our pain, because it denies what we believe in. We are suppose to cast our cares on Him and give our burdens to God. When we give it to God it’s not ours to worry about anymore. Well if I worry about things that I gave to God did I really give it to Him? It’s hard to let go to what you are attached to. I will never understand this, but I pray that He will heal my hurt. The hurt doesn’t go away over night, but all wounds heal, don’t they?

Something borrowed.

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Streaks of golden vanilla rays seeped through rippled cloud strips, masking the powdered blue sky.

Fate was an invisible extension cord that travelled miles across state lines, keeping its distance, but never to leave her.

Her only comfort was knowing that we couldn’t take anything from this world once we left it.
Maybe God’s way of reminding us of having no attachments.
Now it was time to return what she had borrowed.

Goodbye

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Crazy enough to manifest a dream so far fetched that only you and I could see.

Painted in forever, so in the end, meant to be.

Call me nuts but hope still lives inside of me.

To a day we’d grow old, hand in hand, lips to cheek.

Forehead to heart, just buried in your arms.

A comfort I’m not willing to leave, no false alarms.

Looking at what else I could just change about myself.

If I’m not perfect enough for you, I don’t want anyone else.

Praying heavy, so may take awhile to reach the skies.

A vision of what you can’t see, right before your eyes.

And if I lied, then, I apologize.

Hurting you to hurt myself, masochist in disguise.

On the outside looking in, to a place that’s been replaced.

Current position on the bench, and all I can do is wait.

Waiting until you’re happily married, I’d get it.

Full house, six kids, I’d bet it.

Your love, I’m forever indebted.

No goodbyes for now, just see you later.

Clearly It Was Me

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Sorry to disappoint you with my measure of mistakes.

I admit my faults, swallow my pride and openly take blame.

Too much time spent back and forth arguing our case.

I wave my flag, surrendered hands, to clear this toxic space.

Will I ever change? How can I make things right?

A simple request unanswered buried under drunken delight.

When the hummingbird hums and the canary sings.

Why can’t we as humans live, instead of only existing?

Wisdom comes to those who seek and surely they will find.

To plan ahead amidst circumstances can ease a troubled mind.

So this day I raise my head and shout out my decree.

Forgive me for my offense to you, clearly it was me.

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