Na Leo Lele Creative Writing Contest 2020 Finalists

Congratulations!!

Sarah Santos
Sarah Santos
Brian O’Neill
Brian O’Neill
Stephane Hayes
Stephany Hayes
Ryan Elwin
Ryan Elwin

Poetry

First Place: “Keep Me Alive, Darling” Jonah Inman
Second Place: “To Surf the Drop at Daybreak” by Brian O’Neill
Third Place: “Smile and Stare” by Sarah Santos

Her letter
This horrific trench fades away
My hands leave mud smudges on the envelope

Her words
I read them slowly
She tells me of home

Her pain,
Never knowing, dread
She has no idea about me
How well I know those feelings

But her words keep me alive
She writes of home
Longing grips me
Its claws around my heart
I want to be there
Where pain is nothing like mine
She has no idea about me
Her words, forcefully happy
Keep me alive

Her letter
Gently stored in my chest pocket
A meager understanding of what suffering is

Her words
Written to evoke a smile
Because neither of us can

There’s a battle to fight
Lives to take
Not mine
I have to live for her
Go up that hill
Bullets whizzing past me
I know this might be the end
Death could come for me without warning
But her words keep me alive
They fill my mind
My bones, my blood, my soul
I have to live for her
I have to live to tell her stories
To explain what I’ve been through
I know she’ll never comprehend
She thinks her side of the world is unbearable

Her letter
Stored in my chest pocket alongside my Fear
I rise out of the trench
Blindly follow the men who wear clothes like mine

Her words
Echo in my ears to distract me from
Killing

I have to live for her
Falling
I have to live for her
Darkness

I am thirsty 
with anticipation.
I scamper over the cold,
wet rocks.
I get a chill
through my feet
while a crab
scuttles away.

I am connecting.

It is cold.
It is dark.
There is no one around.
My senses 
are alive.

I paddle out before sunrise
to meet you.

You too are alive today.
Sometimes,
you sleep for months on end.
You are silent.

But today,
I can hear your thunder.
You are talking today.

I am the first one,
to say good morning to you,
As the sun greets the land.

I dive beneath the surface
to inspect what lies below.

I am at peace in your bosom.
I see my father’s face
in a curious turtle.
Far away from land,
I can detach from humanity
and surrender to nature.

I am in awe
of your power.
We are alone for now.

Soon our intimate setting,
it will be ruined.
Ruined by others vying 
for your attention.

Can I 
pretend I am 
the only one
that loves you?

Can you 
give your love
only to me?
Even for just 
a little while?

1) Smiles          

 

Smi-yulllll

 

something tender amidst this, something that makes me long,

                                                                                                   Long, like an ache, like I’m hungry, like I haven’t eaten in days in weeks in months

(I haven’t)

Like my lips are cracked, like my buds and fleshy parts are begging, like I’m lifting up my first morsel 

                   (in months)
                   (you’re the morsel)

Smile, like you’re happy, like you’re content as the horizon line, where everything meets and is tied

Neatly.  I smile, 

Because momentarily, I’m like both the water and the sky.

Smile,

 because this is the game, 
               Do you even know my name?
  


Sometimes i stare,

 Mostly,  This scares.
Sometimes i stare, sometimes you stare, 
Unflinchingly.

I am not scared,
I am not ashamed, 
my lights don’t shy from dark dark night,


your lights don’t dim the sun
                                (Your lights),,,
                                (Your lights)

Sometimes I stare, and never are you scared. 

Sometimes you stare, 

I feel something burgeoning,

something soft like feathers
Like feathers like ribbons that burst from something sharp like a knife, like scales that cut and bleed

(your stare)  


Sometimes I hear, 
whispers that follow me, 

Whispers in tongues, whispers like shadows in a mirror,

Sometimes others stare, 
And I hide
      Hide like my shadow wants to eat me alive. 

But  sometimes, 

Sometimes I don’t hide,

Because not everything is as it seems,

And sometimes, when you stare, you see,


Me
 

Fiction

First Place: “Defying Gravity” by Stehpany Hayes 
Second Place: “The End of an Era” by Sarah Santos
Third Place: “Crickets in the Night” by Stephanie Karlson

 “The gods will always smile on brave women.” -Author Unknown

My parents ran their house with military precision. The rules were clearly defined and carried out. There would be no questioning orders, talking back, or slacking off. Saturday mornings began precisely at seven. Freddy, my older brother, and I would sit at the table, eating Cheerios with milk only, no sugar or sweetener allowed. Mom would be dressed in an oversized shirt and baggy pants, hair tied back; she was ready to get down to business.

"Today we need to clean the toilets, scrub out the tub, vacuum, mop, and sweep. Freddy will be waxing the floor of the garage with dad, while Stephany cleans the bathroom” Mom barked. 

It was normal for them to separate the two of us for chores; I knew my dad preferred to clean with Freddy and my Mom believed a woman’s place was in the house. Saturday morning chores weren't a complete dictatorship. My parents would always clean alongside us, closely supervising our every move, guaranteeing the chores were done properly. Andy, the baby of the family,  was excused from the chores; he lived by a separate set of rules. I'm not sure if my parents were attempting to bond with us or if they just enjoyed the cleaning. Either way, they rarely spoke as we cleaned. I never fully comprehended the Saturday morning ritual because mom cleaned the house every day, and dad spent most of his spare time tidying up the garage. But of course, children should be seen, and not heard, so I never questioned them. Dad took great pride in his garage;  he loved the solitude it offered. He would restore classic cars, organize his tools, and listen to music. I once heard my uncle say, "Your garage is cleaner than your house. I could eat off this floor." A large grin appeared on dad’s face, "Good, cause I am feeding you out here tonight,” he laughed. Seeing my dad and his brothers joking and laughing together always filled me with a happiness that leaked into my soul and brightened up the darkness.             

The rules in our house were clean and cut: eat your vegetables, make your bed, no playing in the front yard, and stay out of the garage. If we did our chores, followed the rules, and kept quiet, the house ran smoothly with few incidents.                      

It was a midsummer day. Freddy, Andy, and I had become bored of playing the same games. We knew that if we went into the house and complained, we would be assigned additional chores. As we shuffled around the backyard, I tried to think up a new game or adventure. The lime green swing-set with its white flowers was built by my father, shortly after moving into our home. In my imagination, it had been a Wild West fort, rocket ship, jungle gym, and a haven when the ground turned into hot lava; I once again turned to it for inspiration. "I have a brilliant idea! Let's have a circus!" I said.                     

"What kind of circus?" Freddy said. 
                                      
 "We can be acrobats, do tricks, and charge admission!" I responded.     
           
"Let's make it scary," Andy said.                                    

The ideas began to spin out of control. What is the scariest thing I can do? Something adventurous and a way to highlight my roller-skating skills.  I looked at my brothers and said,  "I have something even better than a circus. On Monday, after dad goes to work, we will sneak into the garage, and I will jump off the back side of the fireplace, over dad's engine. Freddy, you can gather the neighbor kids and collect their money,"
                                        
"No way! Dad will kill you," Freddy said.  
                              
Andy looked at me like he had just heard the dumbest idea ever.          
        
"Don't be chickens. I can do it! We won't get caught, I promise," I reassured them.                                                              
After some coercing on my part, the boys agreed, and we set our plan in motion.  At nine o'clock on Monday morning, Freddy gathered a handful of neighbor children, Andy collected their money, guided them around the house, and into the side door of the garage. Freddy stood watch and signaled when mom headed into the bathroom with her basket of cleaning supplies. With a thumbs-up, he signaled me, "All is clear."  I ran into my room and quickly changed into my costume. I had been planning the perfect outfit all weekend. Wonder Woman Under-Roo’s would be the highlight of my super costume. My knee-high rainbow socks paired perfectly with my favorite roller skates. The only thing missing was a cape. I snuck down the long hallway, with its brown shag carpet that muffled the sound of my skates. I avoided looking into the bathroom, in the hope that I wouldn’t draw any attention from my mother.                      

As I entered the garage, I gently put my index finger to my lips and whispered, "Ssshhh."            The garage was immaculate. The smooth cement floors had a glossy sheen from a fresh coat of wax. The garage floor was my unicorn, the unattainable dream. I spent hours wishing my dad would allow me to roller-skate on his pristine flooring; it was a skater's paradise. In the far bay sat a 1966 cherry-red, Chevy van that dad had restored by himself. The rims were a gleaming platinum; every inch of the van was waxed to perfection. As I scanned the wall of giant toolboxes, each one painted to match the red of the van, queued up perfectly by size, I was reminded that I was out of place in the garage. I pushed my fears aside, and fancifully skated in a figure eight, showing off my abilities. As I passed the group of kids, I turned and began to skate backward on one leg. My eyes began to fixated on the engine as I tried to size it up. You are my nemesis, the one I must conquer.                                                 
My father had been working on the engine for months. He was almost ready to put it into his current project, a 1965 Chevy Nova. Restoring cars was my dad's favorite past time, next to cleaning. He would spend hours explaining the way an engine worked to my brothers. I admired the beauty in his finished products and enjoyed our family outings to car shows, where he would display his hard work and listen to old hits by Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac. Today wasn’t about my Dad; today was my turn to showcase my talents.                                      
As I approached the thick mortar of the red brick fireplace, I carefully examined the route I would take to the top. The fireplace rose from the ground in a bulky but artful way. The fireplace took up over half of the wall with its magnificence, and its symmetry was appealing to the eye. As I stood back and marveled at the giant, I imagined it was at least thirty feet high. It was only eight feet. Three quarters of the way up, the massive structure took a sharp L-turn and provided a ledge on both sides. I chose to climb to the ledge on the right due to its proximity to the engine below. I turned to Freddy and said, "Give me a boost."                                
He shook his head, "I am not helping you."                              

I could see fear in his eyes; he was terrified of being caught, and the punishment that would follow. I tried to shrug off his fear. I was so close to performing, and I didn't want his feelings of doubt to rub off on me.                                               
"I will help," Andy said as he walked over clasping his fingers together.              

Andy was always small for his age. He was significantly shorter than I. His bones were frail, and his muscles were not yet developed. What Andy lacked in stature, he possessed in bravery and will. I put my foot into his tiny locked fingers and jumped. With a crash, we both tumbled to the floor. There was a loud laugh from the kids and my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Ssshhh," I hissed.        

Freddy then stepped forward, shaking his head and clasping his hands together. His arms were fully extended as he lifted me. I reached up and latched onto the gritty, cold ledge of the fireplace. I struggled to hold on; my arms were fully stretched, and I could feel my body weight tugging at my armpits in agony. I closed my eyes and reached deep into myself, looking for the willpower it would take to pull myself up. As I situated myself on the ledge, I sat quietly, taking a moment to catch my breath. I could feel my scrawny arms shaking. It’s showtime. You can do this! I slowly stood up and prepared myself to perform. 

With a deep breath I exclaimed, "Behold, the magnificent Stephany!"            

I watched as the neighbor kids took a step back in unison. I had their undivided attention; the air was thick with excitement, tension, and awe.                           

"I will now attempt to jump over the engine, spin--not once, but twice-- and land in the splits!"         
                                               
I could see Freddy's big blue eyes grow with amusement, caution, and fear as I steadied myself for the jump. My left skate was pressed firmly against the wall of the house. Hours of roller skating had prepared me for this moment. I had become one with my skates as the front brake pad held me steady. I pushed off with my right skate, swinging my left leg out in front of me. I was flying! Or, not.  A brief second of wind brushed my hair before gravity caught me and the freedom became falling. I came crashing down with a loud bang. My right leg landed flat on top of the engine. As I fell to the floor, the engine came off its blocks, and slammed into the ground with me.  I jumped to my feet, a surge of energy running through me. As I attempted to lift the engine off the floor, my mind began to race. Uh-oh, I need to get this back on the stand!  The engine felt like it weighed a million tons. Geez, these things are heavy! As I tried to rescue the engine, I could hear the kids scrambling to get out the door. I looked up in time to see Freddy as he shut the door behind him. I turned, looked at the damage I had caused, and began to cry. I knew that I was in trouble. My face became hot as the adrenaline and fear caught up to me. Anxiety began to gain control of my body, and I tried to stop crying. That is when I noticed a tiny hand on my waist giving me a slight hug.                                         
"We’re in a lot of trouble this time," Andy said.
                         
"Will you help me pick it up?" I pleaded.  
                             
"It's too heavy, we won't be able to lift it," Andy said.    
                 
"Shit! Dad is going to kill me. Do you think I broke anything?" I asked.  
     
"Steph, we have a bigger problem right now," Andy said as he pointed to my right leg.                                                     
My rainbow sock was no longer bright and vibrant, it had become soaked in brown goo. I pulled the sock away from my skin and could see red blood trickling out of my leg, not only soaking my sock but staining my beloved skate. "Andy, go find Freddy, and hide," I commanded him.                           

I skated around the house and entered the front door. Mom was nowhere in sight. Although my leg didn’t hurt, my body ached with the thought of the engine sitting on the floor of the garage. As I snuck down the hall to my bedroom, I pondered, Does blood stain? Did I get blood on the floor? I laid hidden under my bed, lining up my stuffed animals to block anyone from seeing me. My thoughts went to my brothers. If the boys stay out of sight for the rest of the day, I can avoid mom and delay my punishment until dad gets home. My eyes became heavy, and I began to drift off to sleep.                          

"Stephany! Come out right now!" Her shrill voice pierced through me, jolting me awake.                                                  
I laid as still as possible and did not respond.                       

"Damn it! You are pissing me off. Don't add to your punishment by being insubordinate. Are you trying to make it worse?"                    

I pushed my toys to the side and rolled out from under the bed.  I didn’t realize that I was still bleeding until I saw the red splotch on my fluffy white carpet. This must have been how she found out my hiding spot. My mom looked me over, her face twisted with anger. When she saw my leg she said, "We have to take you to the hospital."                                 
The rigid cold emergency room was filled with the smell of bleach, a smell that reminded me of home. I felt relaxed as the doctor stitched me up. He was an older man with a full head of grey hair. His glasses were seated on his nose, almost too close to his eyes as the lenses pressed against his long black eyelashes. He questioned me about the accident, and when I explained to him, in dramatic detail, the events that led to my injury, I could tell by his smile that he was amused and impressed by my bravery. I watched with excitement as he stitched my leg. The stitches ran from under my kneecap, down my shin, and stopped above my ankle. I might be in trouble but look at this incredible battle wound. I can't wait to show my brothers. I am going to have an awesome scar!                

On the thirty-minute drive home, I focused on the pulsing throb of my injured leg, the headache that appeared out of nowhere, and a twinging pain in my shoulder. I pulled my shirt up by the sleeve and could see a bruise developing. I decided to close my eyes and try to block out the aching in my body. As we pulled into the driveway, my heart began to race. Mom came around the car, opened my door, and held out her hand. She helped me as I hobbled to the front door. The sunlight pierced my eyes, enhancing the pain in my head. Inside, I could see my brothers sitting side-by-side on the orange and brown striped couch, blankly staring into the corner. The brown suede recliner was massive and looked out of place against the delicate yellow curtains. My father was perched in the chair sitting erect with a statuesque posture. The contrast between his dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes scared me.  I could feel his anger penetrate me as I walked towards the couch and took a seat. I stiffened up, choked back a tear, and prepared for my punishment.                                                 
"You will give the money back to those kids." My father's voice was calm, and it shocked me. We collectively nodded our heads.        

"Of all the knuckleheaded, hair-brained schemes you come up with! Do you know how dangerous that stunt you pulled was? You could have been severely hurt. Who knows how much the trip to the hospital is going to cost?"                       

Dad was calm, and I knew he didn’t like crying, so I tried to hold back my tears. I could feel a lump swelling up in my throat. I could hear his voice in my head saying, “I will give you something to cry about.”  I tried to focus on his face and not my emotions. Interestingly, he wasn't yelling, nor was he punishing me, he was just talking.  I had committed the ultimate sin, and yet he appeared more concerned than angry.               

"I'm sorry," I squeaked, as a tear ran down my cheek.                       

Andy squeezed my hand and gave me his half-cocked smirk.                 

"Go to your rooms and think about what you have done," Dad said.                     

As we made our way down the hallway, I felt a mixture of emotions; I wanted to cry, laugh, show my brothers my injuries, and relive my adventure, but I did none of that. I just sulked back into my room, gathered my stuffed animals off the floor, and laid down on my bed. As I stared at the unicorn poster hung on my apple-green walls, I forgot about my injuries and thought about my actions. I had disappointed my Dad and taken my brothers down with me. I would need to find a way to get them out of trouble. 

At dinner that night, we sat around the oak dining table in silence.     In a moment of valor, I spoke out of turn, “Dad, the stunt show was all my idea. The boys tried to talk me out of it. Please don’t punish them.”  

“You are grounded for a month. I am taking away your skates indefinitely. If you live to be eighteen, I will be surprised,” he said.            

Later that night, as I attempted to scrub the blood out of my carpet, I could smell popcorn and hear laughter. A note was slipped under my door. It read:

Dear Steph,
Thank you for getting us out of trouble. Tonight, we get to watch Indiana Jones and eat popcorn. Sorry that you are grounded and can’t watch too. We love you. 
Fred & Andy

PS-Can’t wait to see your scar.

We didn’t usually go to Walls. Nowadays, we are too old. There were too many sunburnt, tankini-clad tourists, too many vaping prepubescent middle schoolers, too much noise. Nowadays, we frequented the Dole Cannery theater and Blair’s sprawling, lush, home– the result of her dad’s shiny new corporate title. 

But today we had to go to Walls. Before this past school year, Waikiki beach was our regimen. Even when things were falling apart by the second, even when Kanaloa dumped me, even when he started dating Melia, even when Rags moved away those few months, even when Anu’s mom got sick, the trips to Walls were constant. And even though we hadn’t come here in the last year, today it felt mandatory. It was the definitive end of an era, of this era of my life–of all our lives.

It was just this morning I had been sitting in my usual second period spot, right next to the AC, shivering because I’d forgotten my jacket yet again. I’d tapped my pencil against my desk, preoccupied with the eternal debate: was A the answer, or was it C? I hadn’t stopped to think that that was my very last final, my very last math class, my very last time sitting in those cold metal and plastic chairs. Writing “May 24th, 2018” on my test felt like carving out my epitaph. 

Life was weird now, for want of a better word. Today had been my last day of high school, it had been all of our last days. The second that final bell rang, we piled into Loa’s minivan, and off we went. 

We were sitting on the beach now, miles away from campus. There was this odd sort of silence that enveloped us, and I had the feeling that everyone was thinking something along the same moody lines as me. Outside of our beach blanket the sun shone in full force. Children played, people laughed, and volleyballs bounced. But here, we shared a melancholy sort of comfort.

I stole a glance at Loa. He was Melia’s now, but every time I looked at him, I could remember when he was mine. We’d go to dinner with my parents. In our free period, we’d curl up in that one alcove and eat Sour Patch Kids and Chex Mix from the vending machine. He liked playing with my hair. After Melia went after him, after he kissed her, I cut my hair off with a pair of safety scissors. It fell to the bathroom floor, forming a silky brown carpet. My mom screamed when she saw it. 

That had been a year ago. My hair had recovered since then. So had I. I now spent my time dutifully ignoring Melia and Loa as they did what he and I had always done. I took my solace in Anu and Rags, the least offensive members of our group.
“I wish it didn’t end, just like this.” I murmured, not realizing I’d said it out loud. I preoccupied myself with sifting the sand quietly through my fingers, my skin prickling with the weight of the silence that followed.

Rags seemed to take pity on me. “Well, it’s not over yet. We’ve yet to actually graduate, and even then we’ve got a whole summer ahead of us.”
“You’re leaving for that medical program the very night of convocation,” said Blair, glowering at him. What Blair felt for Rag could easily be described as love, and was described as love by many, it was quite obvious. Rags preferred to duly ignore this fact. 

Melia’s head rose from where it rested on Loa’s lap, her interest piqued. “No need to be upset, B. We’re not going to have some great summer for the books. None of us like each other much, anyways.”

An awkward silence filled the air as we pondered Melia’s comment. She had said it so casually, slipped it into the scene like it was no big deal, but we all knew there was weight behind those words. Our fading dynamic was something we had unspokenly agreed not to acknowledge.
A rainbow inflatable beach ball wandered into our little encampment, and Melia sat up, grabbing it and bouncing it between her hands. 
“I mean,” she started, “It’s sad I suppose, but we’ve all drifted this year.” Bounce Bounce Bounce “I hadn’t even seen Anu in a week! And things have happened. Like The-Incident-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, last year.” Bounce Bounce Bounce went the rainbow ball.
She said it so casually, like that incident hadn’t resulted in me cutting all of my hair off with safety scissors, like it hadn’t spilt our happy family of six into two divisive units. 
“Mel!”, Loa hissed, glancing nervously at me, as if I might procure another pair of safety scissors this very moment. 
“What?” Melia answered innocently, the rainbow ball bouncing against the ground now. Everyone turned to me. The thoughts raced through my mind–they obviously wanted appeasement. A joke? Reassurance?
But Loa interjected, always my savior.

“You can’t just-” he broke off as a chubby Samoan kid in Spider-Man board shorts ran over to us and pointed astutely at the rainbow ball. Melia tossed it to him. 
“Well, Melia is right, Loa,” Blair said, cocking her head as she considered the situation, “And if you’re worried about Gina, look, she’s fine.” Blair gestured at me. 

I smiled half-heartedly, and Rags winced sympathetically. 
“It’s all right,” I said, trying to counter the awkwardness in a way that would leave Loa not thinking that I was still bothered by the whole… The-Incident-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, “That was forever ago. I almost forgot about it. We’re all going away sooner or later. Mostly sooner.  I’m sure we’re all just glad to be rid of high school.”

“Yeah, right,” Rags snorted. This was met by four  pairs of glaring eyes. 
 “Last day of school, end of an era. We have the chance to honest for the first time in forever,” Rags defended himself, “ So, Melia is obviously insecure about her relationship, her life, whatever, Gina still isn’t over…The-Incident-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named…, and I’ve been ignoring Blair’s crush because she’s a bit too female for my tastes. Surprise! But it’s not really a surprise.”
   
The ensuing pause was, by far, and without question, the worst silence yet. I grabbed another handful of sand, clenching and unclenching it, sifting it, in a desperate grab to focus on something other than my friends-especially Blair. She was gasping like a fish out of water.
    “Well…fuck you.” Blair finally said, drily, as she flipped her braid defiantly over her shoulder. She turned her head, refusing to look at Rags.
    And at first, I had felt...similarly towards our unapologetic friend. But like the waves washed over unsuspecting tourists, I felt myself settle into the feeling that I really couldn’t care less. These people, this life–would be gone in just a few days time. 

   As I marveled at the way Melia’s face bugged out, I caught Loa’s eye. He looked at me. I looked at him. There was a glint of amusement there, in those brown eyes. I felt my mouth betraying me as it curved slowly into a smile. Loa smiled back. What was this predicament we’d gotten ourselves into? It was almost funny…it was funny. I felt the laughter bubbling at my lips, and I let it loose. Loa began to laugh too–a deep, rich sound. 

    Blair glared at us, and so did Melia. Rags looked at a loss for words. Anu, however, was onto the joke. Soon enough, we were all on our hands and knees, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of our situation. Blair, however, couldn’t seem to get past her terrific rejection, and remained stoic.

    I would miss them. The tang of Loa and I’s shared sense of humor was bitter. I know he didn’t joke like this with Mel. But I also knew there were things he could do, things he could be with her that he couldn’t with me. 

    And they did look happy now. Anu sat next to Melia, they talked and laughed. Loa was decidedly quiet now, but he looked content, even in such a terse period of time. He was busy now, fixated on Melia's right palm. I could see his eyes dart as he studied it, absentmindedly toying with her small, delicate fingers.

    It was sickeningly romantic, but that was them.  And at long last, I understood it a little. It stung, it hurt, maybe it always would. I didn’t like Melia and her hoop earrings and mom jeans, and I never would. Honestly, in the deepest corners of my mind, I’d describe it as hatred. But only in those deepest cobwebby corners. 

 Loa as my boyfriend, and the five of us had once been my life; but now I had a new one. It was the end of something that was once great, but in a way it didn’t really matter. It was my life now, and we’d all be gone in a couple of weeks. 


There is something about the songs the crickets sing in the night that so clearly takes me back to my childhood. With the sound of that chirping all my senses come alive. I can close my eyes and so clearly smell the sweet scent of freshly cut alfalfa in the fields. The sweetness of it fills my head. I can feel the cool crisp breeze blowing ever so softly. It brings chills to my skin.
I can see the stars winking so bright through the open window. Getting lost staring into its glimmering vastness. My Papa built this house with his bare hands, before I was born. Yet, somehow it smells of cedar still, as fresh and strong as the day it was built. I often marveled at his craftsmanship; the large beams overhead gave this place so much character. It was as if he strategically placed the knots in the wood of each plank to create such swirling details in the walls. 

My papa was my everything. He was a quiet man, with golden brown hair that fell in waves around his face, stopping in length just below his ears. His eyes often shifted in hues of green and yellow, much like the alfalfa he turned to hay twice a year. Most were scared of my Papa, they found emotion hard to read on his face. But I could always tell when he was happy; he smiled with his eyes. The corners creased and the colors danced. My mother tells me that Papa was a very handsome man before he got kicked in the face by a horse. But I never knew that man’s face. For my Papa always had a large dent in his nose that reached into the space between his eyes. I still found him to be handsome. I s’pose it’s true when they say a young girl’s first crush is her father. I found him to be perfect in every way. 
Being an only child and a girl, I did my best to show my father that I was just as tough and useful as any boy could be. Though my mother often swept back my unruly blonde ringlets tightly with ribbon and my dress was always pressed and covered in ruffles, I always came home covered in dirt with my hair in a mess after helping Papa on the farm. This infuriated my mother and she often scolded my Papa for allowing me to work like a boy and ruin my nice outfits.
“Why Katherine, you’ve gone and ruined another dress!” my mother would fume. I hated wearing dresses. Papa and I secretly laughed together at my mother’s distress over my unlady-like behavior.

My Papa often went hunting, and when I was 13 years old, I begged him to take me with him. Though my mother threw a fit over the notion, she allowed me to go. I had never been so excited to spend the early morning with my Papa. We spent hours sitting in the fields quietly watching, waiting. I began to daydream when my Papa firmly placed his hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him and he raised his finger to his lips. I knew I was not to move and to be very quiet. He slowly raised his rifle and a shot rang out, echoing through the land. I was too short to see over the tall grasses, but I followed closely behind my father as he stood and walked a
distance. As we approached his kill, I felt a wave of despair; a lump caught in my throat, and a couple tears began to stream down my face. Laying before us was a large magnificent grey wolf.
My heart pounded in my chest as I had never seen such a big creature. I knew, though, that that wolf would help us out greatly come winter. 

My papa stored the meat and hung the hide to dry. Turns out, I quite enjoyed that beautiful wolf skin laying over the back of the couch. I often nuzzled my face into the grey and white fur, it was very comforting and warm. Every winter thereafter, I thanked that wolf for its sacrifice. My Papa became very ill a couple years later, and I never understood why, but one morning he just never woke up. That wolf skin became a symbol of my Papa. As did the crisp sweet smell of the alfalfa, mirroring the yellow green hues in my Papa’s eyes. To the chirping songs of the crickets in the night.

Nonfiction

First Place: “Two Dresses” by Sarah Santos
Second Place: “The Day Everything Went Wrong” by Ryan Elwin 
Third Place: “Who Am I Without You?” by Stephany Hayes

There is you, there is me, and there are two dresses. One for a sunny summer day, and another for a fevered winter night. Somewhere in my head, my memory fails me–neurons like faulty plugs, that spark and contort in condition to my sickness. But the fabric of those dresses remembers.

Every touch, every spill, every movement. They glare at me from my closet, begging me to wear them, to forget about a time not long ago. 

A few months ago, they smiled in the store, from their respective racks. So pretty that I couldn’t leave them behind.

Then, every swoop, every ruffle hugged me. Breasts and hips and waist and shoulders. They fell around me–me. Now they eat me when I wear them, they inject their memories into my bloodstream like evil little thorns and eat my brain alive. 

But there isn’t much to eat, so I wear them anyway.  

Part 1

It was the first time I wore it, and I loved it and myself and every waking moment. It was a solitary walk, down that gravel road that wound from my grandparent’s house to the public library. Along the road, everything was carefully propagated: green grass, baby coconut trees with the coconuts nipped off,  a big plumeria tree, and an array of freshly painted “No Trespassing (Violators Will be Prosecuted)” signs. But beyond that,  it was all kiawe trees, red dirt, long-abandoned cars and broken bottles. 

I felt like the road. For now, it was sunny, on this little rock where nothing could go wrong. Beyond here, a hailstorm of everything that I had been running from. 

But for now, I would run towards my backwards little oasis. The truck was sitting in the library parking lot, it was shiny and clean and smelt like boy. Boy smelt like indiscreetly scented body sprays  and deodorants and car fresheners. 

I liked it. 

I’m sure the dress remembers how your eyes, so average in their brown-ness, raked my body like you were searching for a diamond in a haystack. The dress had brown polka-dots, murky like your eyes. I wonder if they (the polka dots, that is) stared right back. 

I remember leaning over the stupid console that divided us, close enough so that my arm brushed your arm and I smirked, right over my shoulder. You grinned, your cheeks were full and round like apples, if apples came in milk chocolate. If your’s were like milk chocolate, my smiling cheeks were like the ugly,diluted white chocolate that made my guts recoil and esophagus twist up. 

So usually, I didn’t smile. But with you, and my LPD (little pink dress) it was okay.

Every time we drove to my mom’s house, I watched you marvel at my cookie-cutter neighborhood. There’s a ghastly house on the corner, the architect made it look like Taco Bell, but you appreciated it. Your neighborhood has dirt roads and potholes bigger than the gaps in my lies and more stray cats than anybody’s business. People made jokes that you and your neighbors ate them.

You saw my whole house. I showed you everything, even the  jacuzzi in my mom’s bathroom. But I did not show you my room. I was okay with the way your eyes raked over my body, but I was not okay with the thought of your eyes taking in my room– the horse figurines and stacks and stacks of books and eccentric outerwear and lacy bras. 

You appreciated my two living rooms, appreciated them enough to yank me onto the green couch downstairs. You cast the McDonald’s you’d bought aside, and pulled me, pulled me until I was straddling you.  Dress ruffles folded,  polka dots converging somewhere above my hips. I was wearing tiny black shorts in the case of this.

When you pulled me towards you,  I could not think. You smelled like boy. I probably smelled like desperation.  

It didn’t matter, you liked my desperation. You liked my body too, your hands were creeping up,  up, up, cupping me like I was a real life goddess. I felt your hair, it prickled me, you had cut it. I felt your lips, your mouth, your skin. Your skin was so, so smooth, smooth like nobody’s business, smooth in the way water was smooth.  

There were beads of sweat, on your temple, gathering into glistening droplets.  Later, when all was said and done and I was roadkill even more so than I had been that summer, my friends would console me by teasing you sweating habits.

“Oh my god,” I mumbled as I pushed you away, “We need to chill.”

You just grinned wolfishly. “Let’s eat.”

So we ate at the bar in the kitchen, and I giggled as we talked, giggled at the Snapchat filters you used.

It was nice, it was easy.

I was nice, I was easy.

That’s why I continued to giggle, as you pushed me onto the brown couch in the upstairs living room. That’s why I smiled and leaned my head back, as you whispered things into my ear. You relished me with attention, my neck was your’s, my collarbones, my stomach flat as a rack, every dip and bend. Your’s.

You hiked my dress up, you stroked my legs. I had just shaved. Shorts off and crumpled on the floor.

Off,  and everything was your’s, I would just watch.

 Watch I did. My eyes were probably extra green, it was sunny that day. I was probably flushed and pale all at once, I probably made noises you liked. I watched  you to catch your eye, but you were focused, I know you just loved the way I looked. 

You didn’t need to watch.

Because somewhere, your phone was out. It watched for you. Beady black camera lens watched like a hawk with its beady bird eyes and predatory mouth, immortalized. It watched me contort, it watched me smile, it watched you win your prize. It heard what I mumbled, it heard the fabric crinkle and cruffle. 

I do not remember the taste of your lips, the touch of your hands, the sound of your voice. I do not remember the moments that were golden, before everything soured and rotted and my feelings spilled forward like maggot-ridden guts. I do not remember what I said,  what I did, if it felt good.

I wonder if the pretty pink dress hanging in my closet holds on to the fibers of your being, the particles of your fingers, your palms, your kisses. I wonder if I will ever forget, even though I often cannot remember.

But I know others will always remember. Because you kept me, trapped in that beady black lens, kept me for everyone to see. 

Part 2

I am pale. My skin is porcelain, I’m the girl that everybody compares to a doll: white skin, rosebud lips, big, big eyes, and dark hair. I am pale, so I avoid wearing white. 

But I make exceptions. 

This dress is ivory, and has a print all over in black. This was the fraternal twin of the other one, you see, I’m a big proponent of the tiny pretty dress. 

Headlights. Bright, bright, in my face, even though the sun was still clinging to the land of the living a few miles westward. 

I was standing there, standing in a different parking lot, yet I was exactly where I was four months ago, when the days were still long and the waves didn’t try to bury you alive. That's the thing about this island.  You always end up back in the same place at some point in time.

And then, like some giant hand had picked me up and plopped me down, I was sitting next to you. Your feet on the pedal, hands on the wheel. Your earrings shone, and you took me in. 

“Are we good?”

“We’re good.”

And it was as simple as that. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t spoken in four months, the last time being  when I got sent to the ER in my drunken stupor, as if my last text to you had not been received with, and I quote: “I don’t really care.” As if I hadn’t told a lowdown, dirty lie about my relationship status,  as if I hadn’t stumbled back into the infantile arms of my ex at the conclusion of summer.

As if everything could be okay again. 

There were boys in the back seat, crammed in, three of them, like loud sardines if loud sardines wore snapbacks. One of them was tugging my dumb ruffly capsleeve, in lieu of an embrace, and I turned. 

I smiled, because I missed the tugger, and because the trio of them were stupid, stupid idiots, but they were full of life and lack of care and kind down to the bone. 

When we got out, you guided me,  your hand so light on the small of my back, the arch of my spine,  that I could slip right through it. You never pushed me, just guided me.  The boys hooted and laughed and did as they do, they slippers clapping, slap slap slap. 

“Babe,” you said. And not much else. You and I never had much in common. Just a mutual loneliness and desire and attraction that apparated from somewhere sunny and bright, or dark and  doomed–who’s to tell?

When you opened the door, your mom began to speak at you quickly, urgently, and I know you probably didn’t catch all of it, you weren’t really completely bilingual. But then her eyebrows raised, and her mouth opened, and she took me in.

“Sarah! You are back from...New York?” Her words clipped at the ends, and she hugged me. My dress was too low cut. But your mom loved me, she didn’t mind. 

There were so many people. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. The chorus went. Asawa, asawa, asawa.

Asawa?

A woman took a selfie with me, she gushed and gushed and stroked my arms. When your mother took a picture of you and I, I bent my knees a little. You noticed. 

Now, it is April. But somewhere those pictures exist, probably on a Facebook group filled with middle-aged Filipino women. The photos float, float through whatever lack of time and space that is gossip and social networking and humanity. They float just like that fucking video.

But of course, the thought of a video had never so much as brushed against the milky corners of my sweet head on that particular winter night. 

Maybe somewhere, deep down, I felt like shit, like the shit that would rise up when the curtain fell. Maybe I knew it was all doomed, no matter how lovely I looked and how sweet my dress was. Deep down, in a place so twisted and overgrown, I knew the sun didn’t shine on this island, on this era, on you.

And so when the adults left, and it was us, I drank. Again, the invisible hand was pushing me, dumping the shots down my throat until I was choking. Buton the inside, I felt clearer than ever. 

We sat on that table, and I eyed the boy that stood directly across from me. He smirked. He  got the joke. I couldn’t drink so obviously in your presence, you were the person that I called when I woke up, groggily, in that ER, 5,000 miles away. 

You didn’t notice until I was so obviously, blatantly drunk that I stumbled into you and buried my head in your lap. 
    
I wonder how I looked to your friends. Who was I? This white girl that you had bragged about for months, your little trophy. Too smart and too pretty for my own good and for your own good, so smart and pretty that I was messed up in ways they couldn’t even imagine. Drunk in the first half hour and bearing the weight of my world on my shoulders, as I collapsed, smiling dully, insipidly, into your crotch. 

The rest is a haze. 

I remember everything in flashbacks and echoes that hit me in my sleep, at work and at school and while driving. They hit me and knock the air from the lungs, and I either wake up gasping or release the air in some cathartic, animalistic scream. 

That is that night. 

“Go to the room! You don’t realize how you look, how drunk you are. Go, go to the room.”

I missed you. I didn’t want to leave, not for a second, because I had to hold onto something, just something. I was crumbling to pieces and lost beyond belief, and you were warm and had been welcoming sometime, at one point, and– Jesus Christ. 

I must’ve looked like an ivory and black splotch on those white sheets. So fucking pristine. So clean. It’s all I can see. Pillows, bed, white, white white sheets. I envied the sheets, so austere in their square-ness, their prompt adherence to the King-sized bed. I, on the other hand, was unraveling. 

When I was awake, I was puking, pulling my runaway stomach and empty head together long enough to amble–yes, amble–into the bathroom. Lonely, I hugged the bowl, and retched. I retched up liquor and bile and whatever else nice girls like me are made of. Sometimes, a boy would come in, smile wryly, pat me on the back, slide the door shut, and make way for the other bathroom. 

In a moment of tenderness, you came in. I remember seeing your legs, your shorts, looking up and seeing those apples of your cheeks. The ones that blushed when I first met you, the ones that smiled at me and lied to me. They were familiar like the sky. 

You kneeled, and you stroked my back. Held my hair back. You had taken a couple more shots, too. 

I don’t remember much, but I remember this:

“Sarah, Sarah. I love you. You’re smart, and you’re going to grow up and be a lawyer. Stop doing this to yourself. Sarah, I love you, Sarah.” 

I don’t remember much, and it’s hardest to remember the next part. It’s hard because such is the effect of alcohol. It’s maybe hard because I’ve built walls in my head and heart and lungs to keep it out, keep that disease of a memory out. I’m not scared of the memory, I built the walls out of necessity, because when all comes rushing back like a swampy bloody tidal wave, I stop breathing. 

It was near two, two in the morning. Time faded in, faded out, tides and clocks and ebbs and flows. I went from the toilet, to the bed, to the toilet, and to the bed. 

I wished better for my favorite dress than to be worn on such a fateful night.

Maybe I looked like a baby doll, spread out with that dreamy, passed-out drunk girl look on my face. With the dark pretty hair and porcelain legs.

When a little boy or a little girl plays with a baby doll, they move its legs, its arms. It can’t move by itself, it’s dead on the inside. 

I was your dolly that night. I couldn’t move, because I was too drunk. A drunk little doll. 

You came in, and you began to talk to me. You laid next to me, and I cuddled up to your side. I missed you.

You said something, I didn’t know what, didn’t care what, did anything matter anymore? 

“Do whatever you want,” I said. I think I was trying to be chipper, trying to convince you that I wasn’t a complete trainwreck. You see, my whole life hinged on you somehow not perceiving me as a disaster. 

But I couldn’t keep lying. 

And thus, you did whatever you want. 

You hands, on my thighs.  Your mouth, on my mouth. It had been there dozens of times, and it was like coming home. Home, if home tasted like hard liquor and regurgitated stomach bile. But you liked me so much, I guess you didn’t mind. 

My dress, my dress, my dress. It didn’t exist, you hiked it up and pulled it down and pushed it to the side. The lacy things under it were thrown off. Or perhaps you left them on.

I was drifting, drifting somewhere between waking and sleeping. I was so tired, so so tired, tired beyond the menial cares of anything that was happening in the realm of the living. But you were living, living so completely.

I hope you enjoyed yourself. 

My trouble is, I remember so many things, and I have forgotten so many things.  But this I remember, clearer than the river that runs past my dad’s house the morning after a stormy night. I do remember it would have gotten much worse, had your friend not walked in.

But had I cared to share, your ass could’ve very well landed in jail.

But I don’t care to share, and so, as if nothing had ever happened, I tucked myself into your arms and let you cuddle any hurt and pain away. Your skin was smooth, smooth like nobody’s business, and your hair prickled me in a way that I liked, entirely.

For five hours, I pretended like you hadn’t wilted and turned into some awful girl-eating plant that scrambled my already-ruined insides, like you were the same boy I met a few short months ago.

And then I woke up, and you woke up. There was a boy in the bed with us, between the white sheets that were dirtied by something that would creep in my thoughts and dreams for months to come. But I found that I didn’t mind that there was an extra body in the bed, he was the tugger and I loved him like a brother. 

But when the boy looked into my eyes, all I could see in his was pity.

And we all fell down.

    My brother Tyler and I decide to go fishing at noon, so we pack up our small silver crab-trapping boat, fill a cooler with all the essentials, and go down to Nawiliwili harbor. Tyler stays behind the wheel, and I launch the boat and tie it off with no problems at all. I pull on the engine cord one time and it starts up instantly. Today is sizing up to be a great day on the water. I undo the dry, crusty black ropes that always smell like salt and give the boat a gentle push with my leg. As I hop on, we start to glide like a puck on ice to the middle of the water in front of the launch ramp. Tyler puts the boat in reverse and the monotonous mutter of the engine suddenly sounds garbled, and within a second it goes silent. Of course, as the younger brother, I am obligated to say, “Oh god, what did you do now?” I must make sure he feels badly even if it was never in his control. We picked up a little speed in the one second that we reversed for. I immediately get to work trying to turn the engine back on. 

The engine sits behind a little grey chair with raspberry streaks detailing the sides. The chair can swivel 360 degrees, although I don’t think it was supposed to when it was made. You would think the swivel would be nice for starting the engine because you could sit down and pull the ripcord; sadly, that is not the case. There is approximately six inches of room between the chair and the engine, which means two things. First, if you are the person that sits in the chair closest to the engine, you have to be okay with not hearing anything the entire time it is on. Second, you have to awkwardly lean over the chair in order to pull the ripcord to start the engine.
I hunch over the chair and grip the ripcord; my knuckles turn white, so I loosen my grip very slightly. Proper grip strength can be key when it comes to turning on an old boat engine. I pull my hand to my chest, clenching the handle, but nothing happens. Three more pulls and a faint mutter is all I get. I squeeze the small round black gas pump, hoping that the engine just needed some more gas. Three more pulls and still nothing. 

Tyler points out that we should’ve used our oars to tie back up while we fixed the engine. He hurriedly puts the oars in the water and rows, but his decision was made too late. The launch dock moves into the distance and we are no longer protected. We are at the wind’s mercy now, blowing slowly and steadily towards the coast guard’s boat. A young man with a bright smile walks out of the coast guard building. He’s dressed in a bright yellow shirt and red shorts. He is grinning like he just won a free car, “Tyler!,” he shouts, “your boat isn’t allowed to be this close to the coast guard launch ramp, dumbass!” Tyler is frantically trying to row, and his strokes become hurried and soft, just grazing the surface of the water without nearly enough force to propel us back to where we came. The coast guard walks along the dock pushing our boat away with a long wooden oar. I realize from their conversation that they were in the same high school class. 

I am still trying to work on the engine, but I’ve exhausted all my ideas for a quick fix. My right arm has lost all power from trying to pull on the cord, so I ask Tyler to switch jobs. I walk on the left and he walks on the right; we take synchronized steps so we don’t tip. My oars are in place and I start rowing. It was about three strokes in when I realized what a terrible thing I had done; my decision to switch jobs with my brother was not made in my best interest. My right arm still felt like a noodle so only my left oar was digging deep enough to move us. We start spinning in circles, and I feel the cold sweat drip down my blazing back. Who had the stupid idea to launch at noon, I think as I start to accept the idea that I will have to jump in and swim the boat back to the launch ramp. Suddenly, the miraculous growl of the engine rings in my ears again. Neither of us is sure what exactly was wrong or how we fixed it, but we decided to ignore the engine problems and get our poles in the water to make up for the lost time. 

Tyler races up the river next to the Menehune fish pond. The deep blue ocean water fades into a dirty green, swamplike color. The smell changes as well, the wind smelt of a salty sea breeze with a hint of gasoline, but as the blue fades to green, it starts smelling like mud after a rainfall.  Our poles are trolling behind the boat, a constant tension keeps them curved like a banana. We make it to the end of the river without so much as a slap on our lures. I begin realing in my line so we can turn around without crossing lines, and a wall of cold slaps my foot. I see the back of the boat is filled with water and I need to bilge it. I click the bilge pump on, but the only noise is the click of the button. I see that a wire was not connected correctly and is sitting in the water, my hand pump directly underneath. I stick my hand in the water and my whole arm feels like it fell asleep, and then got flattened— the electricity moves up to my shoulder before I retrieve my item. If you’ve blown up a bike tire, a hand bilge pump basically works like that, except instead of putting air in, you are moving water out. 

Just as I finish getting the last bit of water out of the back, I hear the unmistakable whizz of a drag going; Tyler slows the boat and I have to steer while we drift and he reels his line in. A green torpedo breaks through the surface, shiny, scaly, and with bright white pointy teeth shaped like icicles. He brings the barracuda on deck and grabs his pliers from the camo fishing-gear backpack we have had as long as I can remember. With his left hand, he holds the line five inches from the lure, and out over the water. The fish spins like a disco ball, his lighter scales shining over the water. With the pliers, he grips the lure and turns his hand like he’s holding a key; normally, the barracuda slip right off the hook and go on with their day. This barracuda decided to tail whip Tyler, and he dropped our pliers into the water. I look at him to scold him and see that his face is filled with worry.
“We can buy new pliers, it’s not that big of a deal,” I say. 

“That’s not the problem,” he says with a heavy sigh, then holds his hand up. Crimson blood drips down his pinky finger; the hook is barbed which means we are not getting it out without our pliers. I search the bag, but all I find is a pair of blue safety scissors with my name on them; I believe they were from 1st grade. I try to cut the hook with my safety scissors, but it just causes more bleeding. The launch ramp is only 10 minutes away, so I tell him to switch seats and I will drive back. Tyler squints his eyes and flares his nostrils as if he just got a whiff of the dumpster at an animal shelter. “You think I’ll let you drive my boat just ‘cause of this little flesh wound?” he asks, although it was not really a question. He races the boat back to the launch ramp. We tied up the boat and found some fishermen with a set of pliers that were happy to cut the hook off his finger. The sun burned my legs quite a bit; I looked like one of those white and pink erasers, and my brother looked like two-thirds of Neapolitan ice cream. Our sense of enjoyment was never lost that day, but a little bit of blood was, and a lot of skin cells. 

Who Am I Without You? By Stephany Hayes

“The depth of your grief will coincide with the depth of your love.”

On May 10th, 2007, I died. Not in the way in which your soul leaves your body and you exit this world for the great beyond. No, that would be too easy; my death was more difficult because a part of me died while the rest continued to live. 
The hardest thing I have ever done was to re-learn the simple task of breathing. I am lucky to have loved someone so amazing that saying goodbye took my breath away. Shouldn't we all be so fortunate? You may be curious to know: how does someone re-learn how to breathe? Well, let me give you an example. When I was ten years old, we moved from the city to the country. Instead of swing sets and playgrounds, we were surrounded by pine trees and creeks. Not knowing anyone and no longer living in a neighborhood where we could easily meet other children, my brothers and I got creative with games. One day we decided to have a race, but not an ordinary race; we were going vertical! With help from a ladder we found in the shed, we were able to reach the lowest branch of the tree where the race would begin.                                                                   
“Ready, set, GO!”                                                                                     
I was in the lead, and my anticipation of reaching the top had taken hold of my entire body. I could feel the adrenaline pumping. And then it happened; the branch I was standing on gave way. As I fell, I managed to hit every-single-branch on the way down. The next thing I remember I was lying on the ground gasping for air. As hard as I tried, I just could not fill my lungs with the much-needed oxygen. Tears were streaming down my face. After a few moments, normal breathing returned to my body as my lungs and the air slowly remembered that they had a purpose. Pain radiated from every limb, mine and the trees.                       
    The news of his death hit me in the same way that I had hit the ground so many years before. With a sudden thud, the air was gone, tears were flowing, and my body did not know how to do its job. While in excruciating pain, I waited for the earth and my body to rejoin the living and function the way they had just moments before. Unfortunately, this was not how the story would play out. Over the years, I have watched the environment around me heal, yet to this day, I find myself needing reminders.
"Breath in."
"Exhale."
"Breath in."
"Exhale." 
Although I have suffered from depression since I was a young child, I honestly never knew pain until I lost someone whom I love unconditionally. Andy, my baby brother, and a man whom I admire greatly, decided to take a journey, one which I could not follow. He took a journey into the unknown. No matter how much I cry, and wish for him to come back, the journey he is on is his and his alone. In life, Andy was my trailblazer and he continues to be one in death. He is continuously forging into the unknown to make a place for me to find peace. He is the ultimate protector of my saddened soul. 
I once read that, "Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood test to send. No people are scurrying in concern. Just a slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer. And, yet like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door." – Author Unknown. Being a child with depression, I sought out understanding. I found laughter, peace, and compassion in my brothers. They offered me a unique perspective on life; tools that have essentially helped me to survive. Freddy, my older brother by just thirteen months, found solitude in silence. He showed me how to sit in silence and be content, a gift I still rely on. Andy, the youngest in our family, was the opposite. He lived a life of adventure; he was a real dream chaser. Nothing was too big or too small; everything in this world was worth investigating. While Freddy and I never spoke unless spoken to, Andy questioned everything! Andy always exhibited qualities that I admired yet felt I was lacking. He challenged theories, questioned authority, and made noise when he saw injustice. He was my best friend from childhood through adulthood. He was my biggest supporter and a man that I looked to for guidance. 
    Grief can manifest itself into many forms; symptoms of grief are as individual as a fingerprint. Whatever journey grief takes you on will be unknown, until it is your turn. Something strange happened to my body when my heart broke and I took grief by the hand. It felt like I  was suddenly snatched off the street, bound and chained by the unlikely suspect: myself.           
My capture had trapped me in a dark, damp, and brutally lonely basement. I was surrounded by dripping, cold, dew-laden walls. Black mold invaded my heart and began to make a nest. The air was dense with moisture and fog, much like an October morning in the Pacific Northwest. The damp darkness wrapped itself around me, as tight as a strait jacket. Inside that dank basement, my body was slowly being submerged into concrete blocks, preventing me from the simplest tasks. All physical movement would take an enormous amount of effort. I felt exhausted and yet unable to sleep because my mind was continuously questioning, Why him? How do I go on living?                        
Soon after my self induced abduction, I began looking without seeing. With great intent, I would try to focus, and yet I was unable to see. Behind my eyes, nothing. It was as if I was in a trance; a magician had hypnotized me and then forgotten the secret word to unlock me from my prison.                                                                                                            
As my senses were under attack, I lost the ability to taste. I had no desire to eat, and when I did, everything tasted like disappointment. Every few days, I would force something down my throat, but the dark and damp basement in which I was residing would punish me. My organs would cramp up, and I would be left with severe diarrhea. I kept myself alive by drinking soda; its tingling bubbles and sweetness would glide down my throat, and it would bring back the nostalgia of sharing my first Coca-Cola with Andy. It was one of the few happy memories that I could grasp, even if for just a moment. As quickly as my mind's eye saw the happy memory, I would snap back and drag myself into the murky pit.                                                                                     
     Grief is a fickle beast. She can overwhelm you when you least expect it. She will leave you paralyzed with fear and override all logic. Grief has a way of changing us. She takes moments of insecurity and magnifies them until you forget how confident you are. Grief and I are on a first-name basis, but she is not my friend. I do not fear death; I embrace it with open arms. I do, however, fear the scar that my death will leave behind on those that I love, a scar that is much like the one I carry today. My scar is a scar of love, and it is a constant reminder of the piece of me that has already embraced death with open arms.                                                                                                                                      
After years of therapy, community service, and grief groups I was finally in place to fully rejoin the living. To honor Andy's memory, I decided that I would have to stop living with one foot on earth and the other stretched out to the unknown. His voice called to me, ”It is time to once again believe in yourself.” 
When  grief begins to pull me back into the darkness, I hear his voice again, "You can do this. Enjoy every moment. I am waiting for you on the other side."                     
My once dark world has become a place of wonder and light. As I expand my horizons and investigate this world, I feel as though I am seeing it through the eyes of my baby brother. Andy's guidance has continued to lead me, inspire me, and bring joy to my soul as I seek to find who I am without him.