At the Beach

We tried to run across the sand, but our heels kept sinking and slipping beneath us. It smelled like sunscreen and dead fish, and the sun was baking me like a cake: cooking the outside first and slowly, steadily warming the inside. I could feel the future sunburn tingling on my shoulders where the skin was hot and stiff. Later I would regret it. For now, I didn’t care.

Our calf muscles thanked us when we finally escaped the long stretch of dry sand that, despite our efforts, was impossible to run across. Next was only the thin band of wet sand separating us and the water. The moisture had packed this sand down, and running was finally possible. We shot off like the Bullet Bill power-up in Mario Kart. The water licked at our heels as we splashed into its shallows, toes disappearing into the sandy waves and arms flailing for balance. As we moved deeper into the water, the cool tingle spread up our legs. My fingertips skimmed the surface. The swirly feeling rushing beneath and between and all around them made me smile. I paused to feel the sand dancing around my toes. I wiggled them deeper into the choreography of swishing, swaying, and twirling that reached into infinity. Here in the shallows, I would be able to see if a horseshoe crab was nearby, but as my feet gradually sunk deeper, all I saw under the sparkling surface of the water was thousands of grains of sand leaping across the top of my feet, their dance uninterrupted.

I stood there watching the sand move with the rhythm of the water until I realized everyone else had kept moving. They were pushing onward as if they had an end goal, as if there was somewhere out there to go other than the vast abyss of water. Suddenly the water’s cool tingle felt more like goosebumps. I followed hesitantly. Never before had I ventured into the ocean deeper than my hips, but if I stopped there, they would call me a baby.

I pushed against the water and started moving once again. The waves tried to hold me back as they shoved past, but I pressed on, determined to catch up to my friends. I inched my feet across the sand—Mom said that would scare away horseshoe crabs. I did not want to step on one of those. Or on a stingray. Now I was on my tippy-toes, and the water lapped around my neck. Higher and higher the water rose until suddenly, a big wave lifted my toes off the sand. My heart lurched, and my throat seized up. I smiled as I spit out a glob of salty saliva.

By now, my friends were only a few yards away. I half bounced, half floated over to them. Every time my toes left the sand, I worried that when they landed, it would not be on the sand but on the back of a horseshoe crab or the spikes of a sea urchin. Sputtering, grinning, and panting, I caught up to the rest, who were treading water to stay afloat. My feet joined theirs, beating against the water that held us up above the crabs. We all smiled. Our bravery at venturing out this far was unacknowledged yet agreed upon. I splashed someone, and she splashed me. It was the start of a victory celebration that did not end until our hair was plastered flat to our heads and our stomachs hurt from laughing.

But accompanied by all of my smiles was the full awareness that I was subject to the water’s will and that thousands of crabs crawled in the dancing sand beneath me.

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Airport Misadentures

I hastily grabbed my two bags, slipped my shoes back on, and stepped out into the sea of people. Whereas the TSA security checkpoint felt quiet and cold like a hospital, the flood of movement lying just past it felt urgent and alive. I heard voices, ranging from quiet conversation to loud calling to laughter; I heard the scuffle and squeak of suit case wheels frantically trying to keep pace with their owners; I heard a loud, clear voice making announcements that no one listened to. In the rush of life and movement, I stopped to breathe it all in, forgetting myself temporarily. But I had places to go, so with a quick glance at the myriad of overhanging signs directing me to Terminal C, off I went.

I was tired, so tired, after a long evening of travel and a weekend full of late nights and laughter, but I wanted to blend in. Mom said I’d be safer that way. I tried to do what everyone else did: walk confidently, listen to music through one earbud, and avoid eye contact. It’s funny how people do that. When a fellow human walks by, they must pause from taking in the surrounding scenery. They feel they must lower their gaze to the ground in front of them, or look at their phone, or avert their eyes to something else, all to avoid the dreaded evils, Awkwardness and Interaction. Since I wanted to blend in, I refrained from both of these. I ignored the clean, vaulted ceilings that soared over the terminal and allowed white sunlight to flood in. I resisted studying the thousands of bodies rushing past me, even those adorned in unique style and bright colors. Until, that is, I reached gate C14, at which point I got a candy bar after a brief scuffle with a vending machine, plopped down into a thinly-cushioned seat, and breathed. The fact that I hadn’t looked at my ticket to confirm I was in the right place flitted through my head, but it was soon gone. I took a deep breath. It was nice to breathe. I wanted to focus on that for now. Keeping up with the crowd was as exhausting as it was exciting. I finally allowed myself to watch this never-ending crowd. As face after face rushed by, I was struck by the overwhelming revelation that I was not just looking into a sea of colorful, lively movement, but rather into lives—thousands of lives—that all happened to intersect in this moment.

I knew what this meant. My brain only had such existential thoughts when it was near exhaustion. Leaning back in the seat, I propped my feet up on my backpack and tore into the crinkling candy bar wrapper. A short man with a cowboy hat and a grey, gravity-defying mustache strolled by, toting a blue suitcase behind him. I wondered what his story was as I bit into the king-size Snickers bar. Instantly I could feel the sugar coating my teeth. At least it would keep me awake until I was on the plane, I thought as I opened the Netflix app on my phone.

Blending in meant resisting the urge to continue staring at the steady stream of people walking by, which meant doing something else to distract me from them all, which meant watching Marvel shows on Netflix. I popped my earbuds in. With that one simple action, all the sounds of the airport faded. No more chatter, sound steps, announcements over the speaker. Nothing except my show’s theme song.

I watched for thirty minutes, completely oblivious to my surroundings. Until, that is, my tired, ever-self-doubting brain started questioning its choice to sit here. I noticed that only one other person was sitting at my gate. Hmm, that seemed strange. The flight was supposed to be leaving pretty soon, I thought. But in my dazed exhaustion, I ignored these thoughts and continued watching the show.

The show ended and still no one was at the gate. Not even a flight attendant. Finally, I decide to check my ticket. That can’t be right, I thought, checking the current time and seeing that the ticket said boarding started half an hour ago. According to the ticket…my flight is scheduled to leave in nine minutes. I sat there, in my slow stupidity, staring at the ticket. I spent several valuable seconds going back and forth from the current time on my phone to the flight time on my ticket. My phone switched from 8:44 to 8:45, and it finally clicked. The gate on the ticket was C24.

I was at the wrong gate.

Eight minutes.

Never in my life has adrenaline pumped into my body so quickly. I jumped out of the chair, banging my knee on the metal arm rest in the process. In one motion, my backpack was on and I was speed walking further into the terminal. Eight minutes. No time to speed walk.

I started running, realizing that I had finally become an airport runner. In the past, I’d always wondered about airport runners. What sort of person found themselves running through the middle of a crowded airport? Was the running really going to help them make their flight? Why did they have to run? What made them late? Now I knew.

I found myself trapped between suitcases and slow-moving tourists, and in the brief moment when I slowed down to maneuver my way out, I noticed my hand was shaking. Thoughts of missing my flight, being in the airport alone all night, and having to confess my stupidity all rushed through my head as I ran past gates.

I saw C24 ahead, and it was empty except for one flight attendant. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t too late. Flustered and out of breath, I jogged up to the lady, who was looking at me expectantly. She held out her hand as I fumbled through my pockets for my ticket. She scanned it, handed it back to me, and I walked in. Seven minutes.

As I walked away, I heard her voice. “Closing the gate now.”

I wanted to cry, shout, and laugh all at once. I’d made it. How was that possible? As I shoved my backpack under the seat in front of me, uncontrollable grin covering my face, I vowed to never watch Netflix in an airport again.

The Lady in the Window (part 2)

She sat in her window every morning, watching. Her frail frame was wrapped in a shawl, and she looked down upon the world wistfully, like she was only an observer, not a participant.

Her stare made me uncomfortable. It was an old stare; who knew how long she had been sitting there, watching the same cars stop at the same light on their way to the same gloomy jobs? It was an informed stare. She knew things. I could feel it. She never looked directly at me; at least, I never caught her at it. But she did. I’m sure she saw me every morning and soon realized I was a new part of the morning routine.

Even more unsettling than her constant gaze was the gaze of everyone else stopped at the intersection. No one noticed her. Not the kids weighted down with backpacks on their way to school, not the guy in the hat waiting to turn left, not the lady in the silver SUV who was brushing her teeth using water in a tin mug. The lady at the window was invisible to these people.

Had they ever noticed her? I wondered as I tapped my foot to match the clicking of my turn signal. Maybe they noticed her long ago, when they were new to this place like me, and by now her presence has become a background regularity that the brain takes for granted and stops noticing. Or maybe they had never seen her.

My brows furrowed slightly at this thought, but the long-awaited light turned green. I thought about it no more.

Snow White and the Apple

The girl hastily pulled back her dark hair with a scrunchie. Sliding on her red tennis shoes as she went, she raced out the door into the front yard. Her little brothers had disappeared, and the only sounds were her breath and the black bird in the neighbor’s tree. Mischievous grin on her face, she called, “Ready or not, here I come!”

She dashed straight into the park across the street—it was always their favorite place to play. They ruled that park. Not a summer day went by that they did not cross the street, squealing with laughter, racing to the swing set, or the monkey bars, or the see saws. They explored the park until it held no more mysteries and played with children until the surrounding neighborhood had no more strangers.

Mulch soft underfoot, the girl ran directly to the monkey bars and leaped up. She slipped. Too much momentum. But she wasn’t in a rush, so she tried two more times. When her pale hands were stringing red from gripping the bars, she gave up, still in no rush to find the boys. As the oldest sibling, she had been the one to discover all the best hiding places: under the slide, in that clump of bushes by the bench, and, most treasured of all, behind the sign that said, “Kingsfield Public Park.” She knew she would find a giggling, grubby little brother in each of the spots; that’s where they hid every time.

But for the sake of the game, she feigned ignorance. All around the playground she circled, taking plenty of time to build up the suspense. She spotted a pair of wiggling toes sticking up from beneath the slide. Smirking, she slowly crept up, planning on scaring her little brother before he knew she was coming. She tip-toed, hardly able to contain her delight, and pushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear as she leaned over.

“Hey.” A hand grabbed her arm, and she screamed.

A woman, hunched over, grinned at her from underneath the hood of a frayed sweatshirt. “Hey is this yours?” The woman held out a hand with long finger nails like claws. In her grip was a brand-new silver iPhone.

By now, the little boy who had been under the slide was standing next to the girl, with mulch sticking to his knees and his jaw hanging open. The two children stood there, enraptured by the glowing apple on the back of the phone.

“I’ll give it to you if you want,” the lady rasped, taking a step back.

The girl looked at her little brother with excitement and the two followed, reaching for the phone. They never noticed the woman’s subtle smirk or the gleam in her eyes, almost like hunger.

The Lady in the Window (part 1)

I climbed into my car around 7:40, still wiping crusty sleep out of my eyes. This would soon become routine, but for now, I was just getting used to a new town and a new job. I started up the car. The music that I’d been listening on my last drive started playing. It was a perfect balance of relaxing and upbeat. My chill music, for when I am stressed, or feeling anxious, or having regrets.

As I backed out of the driveway, I congratulated myself, realizing that I no longer needed a GPS to get to work. After a week of driving the route, it was undoubtedly solidified in my memory.

The drive through my new town was unsightly. It was not a new town at all; I was probably the only newcomer this place had seen in decades. Everything–buildings, roads, skies, surrounding hills–was grey. The whole place looked like a sponge used to mercilessly scrub dirty dishes for months without ever being rinsed. Tired buildings sagged, the disinterested river shuffled under the bridge, and bored teenagers walked to school. They looked about as tired as I felt.

The last light before I reached work turned red, so after a slight huff I stopped. There was something strange about this red light. It was a three-way stop, situated right where the road I was on dead-ended into another. And where the fourth side would be, right in front of me, was not a road but a driveway. I had thought, on my first morning taking this route, How does the owner of that house get out of his driveway? Is there a light for him, one that stops all three sides of traffic just for him to pull onto the road? I’d had time for such thoughts because the other strange thing about this light was its peculiar length. Stopped at this intersection, time seemed to slow down, stop, and stretch. It was at this light that busy workers going through the motions of the day were forced to contemplate. Or at least, I was.

In the vast expanse of time spent idling the car there, I had to think, to really think. Think about this new job, about that apartment I left, about Dad, about George, about the heavy weight of failure that I usually ignored.

And on top of it all, she was there.

I didn’t notice her the first few days. I had been too lost in my thoughts. But then one morning, suddenly jerked out of my musings, I saw her.

She was sitting–always sitting–in the third-floor window of that house right in front of me. She was framed by quaint lace curtains that hung in the window, and the top of her head was covered by a cap night cap from which crept wisps of thin white hair. She was ever seated in a white rocking chair, and her eyes, wrinkled with use, always peered into the intersection below.

Pride on a Monday

Only a few days into this whole “writing consistently” endeavor, I seem to have already hit a roadblock. Perhaps I’ll blame it on today being a Monday.

Monday, according to my brain, is always the best time to look forward into the coming week and calmly panic at the massive load of tasks which I must accomplish in the uncomfortably near future. At the beginning of the week, it is terrifying to look forward and know that, somehow, I will have to finish the pile of responsibilities that looms ahead.

In regards to writing, I know that I have to write a collection of words for the next six days in a row. And then again the next week. And again the week after that. What could I possibly have to say? Perhaps today I can get away with paradoxically rambling about having nothing to say, but tomorrow I will need new words. As someone who values words and tries to avoid wasting them, that is a scary realization.

Or maybe it’s just a pride issue.

Maybe I just fear sounding stupid one day, because I may not say the right thing. As if I wasn’t a human who, like all humans, often makes mistakes, and says the wrong thing, or says the right thing in the wrong way.

If I am prideful enough to think that everything I say could be important, or well-worded, or insightful, then of course writing every day will be terrifying. Not because of the frequency, but because of the impossible standards I have arrogantly tried setting for myself. If, on the other hand, I remember that the goal is simply to become a better writer, suddenly the thought of daily typing up new words is not so intimidating.

I must constantly (or, at least, every Monday) remind myself that I am not as important as I would like to think, that my words do not matter as much as I give them credit for, and that the goal is to improve my writing, not to sound smart, or to inspire anyone, or to win arguments.

And finally, I must remind myself to keep working towards that goal, one Monday at a time.

The Potter

This is the first time I’ve ever shared my poetry with anyone. It is nerve-wracking to put myself out here like this (I’ve been sitting at my computer for 30 minutes debating on whether to hit “Publish” or not), but practice is the only way for it to improve. I am looking forward to the day when posting a poem doesn’t require so much bravery.


In the pottery studio, she works, quietly

hunched over the slippery clay that smells like cold dirt

and will soon, under her gentle touch, be a

masterpiece. Patiently she works, alert

 

and listening to the potters’ gossip around her,

but never interjecting with a thoughtless word

that she may soon regret. She listens

at her wheel, nothing said but everything heard.

 

Lumpy bowls perform pirouettes as these potters’

words patter on, complaining about life.

God, how I hate doctors­. The rest all chime in instant

Agreement—all but the doctor’s patient wife.

 

They think she is shy, too insecure to interject, but

as she guides the clay—up, out, further up, in—

she is wise. She keeps dignified silence and holds

the half-made vase in her clay-caked hands, forming it as it spins.