I stood up from the couch and walked out the door. There were teardrops falling from my forearm onto the ground. Cries blended in with the city sirens and car horns. I couldn't believe I had just stolen a baby.
The best hugs I ever got
were after I almost killed myself
What do I do now?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, but she had lousy posture so her back was in immense pain. Exasperated with the world, she sat alone and was pretty sure there was a splinter in her thigh. This wall isn’t even made of wood, she thought to herself. She hopped off the aluminum wall and went over to watch the other kids play in the sandbox.
Humpty’s parents – Cameron and Nicole – were not happy people. They thought it would be quite entertaining to name their daughter Humpty despite their last name being Dumpty. “It would be hilarious,” Nicole Dumpty said while giving birth. Cameron Dumpty was holding her hand while using his free hand to gather skittles for his mouth. The doctor was trying hard to concentrate and insisted Nicole should stop talking and focus on her breathing. “But just imagine,” said Nicole with a big grin. She had the pain tolerance of a brick wall.
Humpty did not inherit those pain tolerance genes. She received genes that made her irritable to any noise, made her back hunch over, and made her left leg three whole inches longer than her right.
Humpty Dumpty had a horrible childhood, and it wasn’t even over. She was a nine-year-old girl filled with rage.
“Why the hell did you name me Humpty,” she asked one time.
“Don’t say hell in this household,” replied Nicole.
“I need a five-letter word that rhymes with Triscuit,” said Cameron.
Humpty would often take long walks just to get out of the house. Admiring the falling leaves of the swaying oak trees, this was her chance to blow off some steam. Her friend Amber said this was abnormal behavior for a nine-year-old. Humpty told her to “screw off” and hasn’t heard from her since.
Humpty watched the boys build sandcastles at recess. If I kick them over, they’re gonna cry, she thought.
"Why are you smiling at us,” asked one of the boys. He was oblivious to the gum someone put in his hair.
"I have more power than you know,” said Humpty.
The boy didn’t reply to that. He had an unbelievable amount of sand in his butt.
Humpty went back to the aluminum wall to eat a snack she had stolen from a nearby deli. It was a bunch of salami in a plastic container, but she thought it was pepperoni.
Humpty enjoyed sitting on the wall during recess because she had a view of every stupid event taking place. Two girls on the seesaw calling each other fat. The swing set boys seeing how far they could spit. Ronald Jernigan dry humping the slide because he hit puberty in preschool. Nobody knew what to do with that kid.
Humpty sat up in her room one night when the Deli manager called her mother. Nicole threw open Humpty’s door despite the sign that said, “I’m writing a suicide note, don’t come in.”
Nicole stomped her foot, which was a peculiar habit she developed over the years. She used to be a dancer.
“You’re always stomping,” said Humpty without looking up from her pocket dictionary.
“The Deli man called.”
“Who’s the Deli man?”
“YOU KNOW WHO THE DELI MAN IS.” The last time Nicole yelled like that was when nobody showed up at her wedding.
Humpty got up and started making her bed. She always made her bed when she needed to think. But Nicole was persistent. She wasn’t going to leave the room solely because she was proud of her daughter for making her bed. Nicole was still angry. That rage gene had to come from somewhere.
“I didn’t raise you to steal salamis.”
“It was pepperoni.”
“Deli Man said salami.”
They argued about that detail for seven minutes. By minute six, Cameron zoomed into the room.
“We’re out of salami,” he said casually.
“Well, that’s because a salami thief is living under our roof.”
When she heard this, Humpty looked up to see that the ceiling was leaking. Some sort of liquid was dousing her lonesome pillow. Humpty had a satin pillowcase so that sleeping wouldn’t mess up her hair, but she didn’t own a hairbrush, so her hair was always tangled anyway.
“I’m banishing you,” said Nicole.
“I’m going to buy salami,” said Cameron.
Cameron stumbled out of the room. Nicole explained that Humpty would be banished from her bedroom and would move to the living room because “that’s what it’s for.”
After moving her bed into the living room, Humpty lay down. Her bed was 1 foot by 1 foot, so it was not an arduous move. Both legs hung off her bed every night, especially the one that is three inches longer. Humpty didn’t mind her legs hanging off her bed. She was too focused on minding everything else.
Amber knocked on the door. It startled Humpty so much that she had a great fall.
Humpty threw herself back onto her feet and stared into the peephole, hoping she would watch Amber have a heart attack right then and there. She loved watching things through that tiny window. One night, she set up a projector outside and watched the movie Pollyanna through the peephole.
Nicole had fallen asleep out of pure exhaustion, and she lay on the floor in Humpty’s room. She couldn’t hear Amber’s knocking. She couldn’t hear much at all, really. She was a deep sleeper and deaf in her left ear.
Getting impatient, Amber attempted to open the door in case it was unlocked. Amber and Humpty were both surprised to see the door open. Neither one knew what to do in a situation like this.
Amber asked if Humpty wanted to come over to her house and make whipped cream on the rocks. This was a tempting offer for Humpty, but a girl filled with rage doesn’t give in to temptation easily.
“I don’t want your rocks,” said Humpty. “You haven’t talked to me in 2 weeks.”
“You told me to screw off,” said Amber. “So I did and now I’m back.”
Cameron drove up to the driveway and walked to the door with eight grocery bags filled with salami. He also got a pack of trail mix. He was thinking about going on a hike.
“Hey you cool kids,” he said with confidence.
They stared at him. There was a rumble in Humpty’s stomach that sounded like a blender trying to mash peanut butter and honey. She should have stolen more salami.
“Welp. It’s nap time.” Cameron was nervous around his daughter sometimes. He felt uncomfortable around all women including his wife. He tried to say vagina one time and fainted.
“I am grieving, and I want a friend to cry on,” said Amber.
“A friend’s shoulder,” said Humpty.
“You want a friend’s shoulder to cry on.”
“I don’t need more shoulders. I have two.”
“Okay.” But Humpty wasn’t okay. She was never okay.
It took great restraint to stop herself from slugging Amber in the jaw. She was so not okay.
She started talking quickly in Spanish to distract her from the fact that she was not okay. It reminded her of the time when she was just eight years old and failed a Spanish test.
“You will never be Hispanic,” said Señor Joe.
“Maybe because I’m not Hispanic,” replied Humpty.
“I want to stay friends because your parents are rich, so I think one day you might take me on a vacation.” Amber’s mouth remained open after she said this, and she started to drool a little.
“My parents aren’t rich. We can barely afford salami.” Amber could feel the truth of this statement and realized the Dumptys were not rich at all. Who knows where she heard that rumor.
Amber lingered a moment because the sun was in the position to make exciting shadow puppets on the concrete driveway. She had a faint memory of Humpty and her making shadow puppets with eggs they had stolen from the deli. Amber had a smile that turned into a frown when she remembered how Humpty would crack the eggs on her head and then complain about being hungry. Amber no longer wanted Humpty as a friend. She decided she was putting too much effort into this friendship and wished she spent more time kayaking or learning to knit.
Amber walked away.
Humpty let out a sigh of relief. She had bronchitis, so the sigh sounded more like a vacuum cleaner sucking up popcorn.
“I wish I could be more honest,” said Humpty to a mosquito on her arm. “I wish I could say: Amber, I don’t like you. I don’t like anyone. Everyone is annoying, and I want to be alone. I don’t want to catch up and talk about how 1st-grade summer camp was. I know how it was. It was the best summer of your life. You were in love with Jude, but he didn’t want to kiss you because he said you smelled like stale cashews, and that made you cry. No one cares. Don’t talk to me. Don’t anyone talk to me.”
The mosquito flew away.
Humpty Dumpty walked back to her wall and threw an egg at it. The yolk splattered and drooled down slowly.
“I wish I could say that.”
"Say this three times fast: Sheila’s a whore, Sheila’s a whore, Sheila’s a whore."
That’s what I said.
I said it three times.
I said it fast.
Sheila didn’t deserve those crude remarks. In fact, she was the most loyal companion I ever had. She knows I’m just jealous of her career writing tongue twisters. She sells seashells by the seashore was her first big break. I never liked that one personally, but that’s the one most people still talk about. There are not enough homophones in that one. And the premise is dry. I’ve never been even slightly interested in beach life. I’ve gone a few times, and I always get sunburnt. And I definitely don’t collect seashells. I thought they were called sand shells anyways.
So we were fighting, and I said my tongue twister three times fast, and she got quiet all of a sudden. She looked me dead in the eyes, but that look was like a living dragon breathing fire down my neck. When she stares at me in silence with that look of a warrior, I know I’ve done something wrong. When I do something right, she high-fives me and buys me candy.
We were arguing about the jingle her dishwasher makes. I said it sounds like a Christmas song; Sheila said it sounds like the ice cream truck. Whenever we get into arguments of these sorts, we remain calm. This afternoon was different. I probably lost my temper because it was an abnormally humid day, and the humidity effortlessly moved inside the apartment. More likely it was due to my extreme jealousy.
She ended her silence by telling me she was ashamed, not that I called her a whore, but that I used a short tongue twister that must be said three times fast. She always hated those: Which witch is which, six sticky skeletons, fresh fried fish.
“You’re a hack,” she told me. She thought the three times fast tongue twisters were cheap and easy to come up with. Her colleague became famous before Sheila because of those, so I think she might be jealous, too. She secretly tried to publish a three times fast tongue twister under a pseudonym, but she had no success. Her tongue twister was “squiggly squiggles” and her editor told her there were “too many squiggles, not enough umpf.”
After the fight, Sheila left me. I’m not sure why. The jealousy had something to do with it perhaps. She mentioned one time how she would rather be with anybody else, but I’m pretty sure she was sleep talking.
I started going through the things she left behind. There was a big blue binder of old writings in the attic. Scribbles on notebooks. Large cardboard cutouts that said things like I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen. That one was from her diary but would have made her a great deal of cash I’m sure. The previous diary entry read I’m deeply depressed, and I’m starting to think my job is meaningless.
Sheila and I had been together two full days, so I needed some time to sulk. I’m sure she’s doing well. I’m sure I’ll be okay, too. You get a job, find someone to complain about it, then find someone else who listens better. I guess that’s life.
My skin is starting to peel
I do not tan
I do not get sunburnt
I am a banana
I just finished reading I Am Malala and the only thing I can remember is that she likes playing Connect Four.
I am a huge fan of Connect Four. I win most the time, and I am eager to challenge Malala to a game one day. She’ll look at me with a mischievous smile and say, “check mate,” but she won’t notice that I actually have the winning move, so I’ll say, “The sun is setting,” as I connect my fourth token.
She’ll look up at me and ask why I said that, and I’ll explain that the token falling into place sort of look like a setting sun.
She’ll tell me “that’s not funny” and I’ll say “I never said it was. You’re distracting from my victory.”
She’s a good sport so we’ll clean up together and grab some lunch.
As I imagined this scenario, I started to question my reading comprehension skills. I had just finished an incredible book about Malala’s journey in Swat Valley and how she overcame intense oppression and bullets from the Taliban. And all I could think about was Connect Four.
I thought really hard and tried to remember what else had happened in this amazing book. Again, I started thinking about Connect Four, but I caught myself, and patted myself on the back for being so aware.
I thought about Malala in the hospital and remembered how she asked for fried chicken. What kind of dipping sauce did she use I thought aloud. My roommate who heard me, said “what?” but was clearly busy with something else and didn’t want to hear my answer. I went to my room, still thinking about the sauce.
Eventually I remembered other parts of the book, but I realize that the things that pop into my head the quickest are the details. But when I thought about this more, I continue to circle back to Connect Four. Maybe that’s the lesson I thought, this time to myself. Maybe focusing on Connect Four is the key to life. Take a deep breath, zoom out, and know that we are all humans who either have or have not played Connect Four.
In Fall 2019, I interned at the Vatican. I was taking classes at Middlebury College in Vermont, so going to the Vatican twice a week was not easy. All expenses were paid, but the wear and tear from the travel was unappreciated. When I met with my guidance counselor junior year, she told me it was pathetic that I had not interned anywhere yet. When asked what I wanted to do, I said, “I don’t know, but probably not a normal internship.” She had a glimmer in her eye. But it wasn’t a good glimmer. It wasn’t an excited friend glimmer, who was about to blow your surprise birthday party. No. It was the glimmer that said: I have a connection to the pope.
Being a geology major, I never met anyone really exciting at networking events. Usually it was a bunch of old, white guys talking to themselves about their rock collections. Networking events always felt gross anyways. I didn’t need a networking event to land the internship I got. Turns out, my counselor was a classmate of the pope in the sixth grade in Buenos Aires. They stayed in touch, and he had been wanting an intern ever since his papacy began.
The first few days I worked at the Vatican, I mainly did paperwork and any sort of chore work. Organizing files, getting the pope coffee, things of that nature. On the third week, the pope finally expressed some interest in me. “What’s your name?” I remember him asking. He invited me to mass, but I told him I was Jewish and preferred to not attend.
Week seven was probably the most stressed I ever was at the Vatican. My girlfriend had dumped me that Monday morning at our favorite diner. I had to get the pancakes to-go. Then on Tuesday, I bombed my Geology 101 midterm and did desomorphine for the first time. Wednesday I flew to the Vatican where the Pope was all in a fuss about his dishes not being cleaned, and I don’t know if it was the desomorphine still in my blood or the constant jet lag or just sheer stupidity, but I dropped and shattered five of his plates. He was fuming, but apparently had to forgive me and whatever.
Thursday, I was back in Vermont and found out that my now ex-girlfriend had died. She apparently surprised her best friend who was going skydiving. She snuck onto the plane and managed to fall out of the plane, plummeting to the earth. I flew back to the Vatican Friday morning, and Saturday, I attended my ex’s funeral. I’ve always hated surprise parties.
By week 12, I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. The flight to the Vatican from Vermont is about twelve hours. I was doing that four times a week. My body was breaking down. The dining hall at Middlebury was awful, but the food at the Vatican was even worse. Wednesdays and Fridays all I had was bread and wine. Fridays they had sourdough, which was nice.
My health was deteriorating mentally, too. My school had suggested I see a therapist, but the only person they could find was in Cincinnati, so I had to fly to Ohio every Sunday for a forty-five minute session.
Yesterday was my last day at the Vatican. I went to shake the Pope’s hand, but I reached too far and grabbed his wrist. The pope mumbled, “Yikes,” and then he rustled my hair. I left a thank you note on the ottoman, but it was not sincere. He gave me a few communion wafers to take home with me.
This spring semester I will not be interning. I am waiting tables at my favorite diner. We get free pancakes everyday. And I am never speaking to my guidance counselor again.
Walloping willows wistfully wail
Hot wind exhaled
My summer gaze is frozen
I need to do the dishes
Absence makes the heart grow fonder – you’re lonely
Born with a silver spoon in your mouth – seek medical treatment immediately
Off the record – when you want the reporter to know who you slept with, buy you’re not ready for the whole world to know
Here goes nuthin’ – something is most definitely about to happen, and it is not going to be good
Bring home the bacon – what you tell your mother when she asks, “What should I pick up from the grocery store?”
Beat around the bush – when your father beats you with a belt, but he does it behind a bush so the neighbors can’t see, but it’s a tiny bush and you’re in the front yard so they can for sure see
Fluffer puffer – not a phrase, but I'd like it to be
I take the first bite
Taste buds scream and shout
More salty than I remember
This is not a ham sandwich
“I look just like Buddy Holly”
Say this at the end of a job interview when they say, “Anything else?”
“I’m me. Me be. God damn. I am”
Pull this one out in any philosophy class.
“I guess you’re as real as me. Maybe I can’t live with that. Maybe I need fantasy.”
Say this when your partner wants to move in with you, and you want to break up.
“If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.”
When someone questions your outfit.
“I took you to Best Buy.”
An aside to your kids when you start trying to get them to remember the good times you had as a family as CPS pulls up.
“I will learn by studying the lessons in my dreams”
Say this to the world if you’re a middle school dropout.
“I’m falling in love. What was your name?”
When you’re a terrible barista at Starbucks, and a customer is trying to pay, but you’re still daydreaming.
“You take your car to work, I'll take my board. And when you're out of fuel, I'm still afloat."
If you’re a surfer trying to impress a businessman.
“This bottle of Stevens awakens ancient feelings”
I hope you never have to say that one.
“Excuse the bitching, I shouldn't complain”
When you’re about to start complaining.
“On an island in the sun”
When somebody angrily asks you, “Where’s my money?”
“I'm a troublemaker, never been a faker, doing things my own way”
When you get arrested
“I got my hash pipe”
When you’re running out the door and your mom asks, “have everything you need?”
Deep down I know I love you
But where exactly is “deep down”
Is it out of reach
Is it miles away
Is it beneath the earth
Or inside my human body
It’s why I get the shivers
It’s how I get an urge to dance
Because my feelings deep down try to escape
And I keep them locked up.
I keep them tied down,
Out of sight
Like buried treasure,
It’s always forgotten
Never found again
But it still exists
Maybe knowing that it’s there
Maybe that is enough
Maybe that’s what they mean when they say
“you don’t have to see to believe”
You put up your Christmas tree
Made of plastic
To honor the religion
you don’t believe
But maybe it’s just as real
As the feelings I have for you
That I store away
Wheatley High School and Yates High School are two of the most famous predominantly black schools in Texas. Graduates of Wheatley include Sid Williams, Barbara Jordan, and Mickey Leland. Graduates of Yates include Debbie Allen, Rickie Winslow, and George Floyd. While these schools have been around since the 1920’s, few people know the history behind the names of these two schools.
Wheatley is named in remembrance of the poet and former slave, Phillis Wheatley. While that is the name we know her for today, she was renamed Phillis because The Phillis was the name of the slave ship which transported her to America. She was stripped of her old name, heritage, and history. She was given the name Wheatley because it was the surname of the slave owners who purchased her.
In 1773, Phillis Wheatley accomplished something that had never been done before: she became the first African slave, the first person of African descent, and the third ever colonial American woman to have her work published. Her first book published was her book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects. She was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America.
Wheatley was born in West Africa in 1753 and died in 1784. During the peak of her writing career, she wrote a well-received poem praising the appointment of George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army. However, she believed that slavery was the issue that inhibited the colonists from being real heroes.
Wheatley would use theological description to move church members to decisive action. For example, these powerful lines in her poetic eulogy to General David Wooster rebuke patriots who confess Christianity yet oppress her people:
But how presumptuous shall we hope to find
Divine acceptance with the Almighty mind
While yet o deed ungenerous they disgrace
And hold in bondage Afric: blameless race
Let virtue reign and then accord our prayers
Be victory ours and generous freedom theirs.
And in a letter “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” she writes about the utmost importance of freedom:
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
There is reason the word “freedom” is capitalized. In this poem she also explores the immense pain she was forced to deal with when being taken from her family. She does all she can with her words to get the reader to try and see her world. She is a poet who is seldom remembered, and now may be a time as good as ever to revisit these forgotten artists.
Yates High School is named after a man named John Henry “Jack” Yates. Reverend Jack Yates was also given the surname of his slave owners. Yates was an emancipated slave, who was allowed to come to Texas in the 1860’s with his wife, who was enslaved on a nearby plantation.
Once freed, Yates moved to Houston where he worked as a wagon driver. While enslaved, he still managed to learn to read and write, and soon after moving to Houston, he was ordained and became the first regular pastor of Antioch Baptist Church. The first services took place in a makeshift shelter off of Buffalo Bayou before they were able to purchase a more traditional church building.
Yates was a legendary community leader who helped establish Emancipation Park in the third ward. He also established the Houston Academy for Negroes in the 1880’s so that more black people in Houston could receive an education. Years after his death, his Houston family home has been restored and moved to Sam Houston park where it stands today.
From 2013-2017 I attended St. John’s High School in Houston, and it wasn’t until my friend and former classmate Julian Peavy told me about these two Houston schools last week that I had any idea of their existence. People often complain about the decisiveness in our country, but it is built into the way we grow up. I lived in the same house in Houston, Texas for the first 18 years of my life, and not once had I met a single person from these two prestigious high schools.
We are raised in a bubble, and for most of us, we never leave that bubble for our entire lives. And traveling or moving across states does not mean you leave the bubble. When I moved to New York, I attended a private university that although may be more diverse than my private school in Houston, it is still easy to find myself running around in groups of like-minded people from similar backgrounds. It’s unlikely to find a NYU student from Houston’s third ward.
I also want to point out that there is not much information readily available on these two important schools (Wheatley and Yates), which further shows that we do not pay much attention to important members of history who are not white.
So as the headlines of recent news may wake people up to be more aware of understanding what inclusivity and equality actually means, I believe that it is important to do more than just educate ourselves. And no, that does not mean go to predominantly black neighborhoods near you and pat yourself on the back if you shake a black man’s hand. But I do think it means listening to those who have had their voice squandered, and helping them take action that the world needs. Opening people’s eyes to the flaws ingrained in society as well as making efforts to change them. There’s much more we can all do than merely listening, talking, and writing (writing this alone probably isn't doing much at all). But it’s a start. Since it’s only a start, let’s not look for the end. Let’s look for progress.
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He sniffs the monkey bars with two big nostrils
Molecules travel to their new home
James’ nose is cozy and safe
Until allergy season rolls around
Left hand grasps, right hand grasps
One monkey bar conquered
Left hand stretches out to reach another
Miss, whiff, tumble and fall
Poor James, now lies on the ground
Face in dirt, he breathes it in
Like momma’s apple pie crumble
Raindrops fall on his bare back
I should have worn a shirt today
A flood, a deluge, takes James away
He floats above the playground
He may be wet, but now is king
James, the king of the playground
The water spits him upward
James lands on the roof
The storm melts away
Seeping into the surface
I'm not coy, I'm a boy
He repeats anxiously to the sun
He’s not coy, he’s a boy
He’s king of the playground
He's having fun
feel no different than March
they just feel tardy,
They hit you hard
until you fall down
It’s now an April bath
No rubber ducks to float by toes
one wonders how to float alone
listen to the toes
hear what they say
now, we’re not alone
My toes and I see different worlds
Toe is friends with ants, I am friends with Todd
Toe embraces being plunged under water
I, my friend, do not
Toe is free, open to explore
under its nail is a soft soul
I am closed, scared to see
what the world is like below
Toe can break
and be repaired
back to exploring once again
I can break
frozen in bed
fearing my repair
too scared to move
the stillness aches
I’ll never search my world again
let me see
how brave the toe can be
And once May comes
I can only hope
that like the toe
Somebody, let me cry
Before my body bursts
Before I lose the chance
Somebody, let me cry
To give me some release
To allow me to dance
Somebody, get to know me
Before I start to doubt
Before I grow too old
Somebody, get to know me
To give me reason to speak
To give me someone to hold
Somebody, read my lips
Before they even move
Before my soul turns gray
Somebody, read my lips
To bring me to peace
To let me see today
Somebody, tell your story
Before I wander off
Before I tell my own
Somebody, tell your story
To help me understand
To help us both feel known
Somebody, explain it all
Before the crisis comes
Before my mind shuts down
Somebody, explain it all
To give me any comfort
To erase my permanent frown
Somebody, take my hand
Before I take the pills
Before I take my life
Somebody, take my hand
To squeeze away the doubts
To touch my sweat and end this strife
Somebody, please, look me in the eyes
Before I fade away
Before I’m no longer here
Somebody, please, look me in the eyes
I need you
To free a lonesome tear
Somebody, let me cry
Before the time has past
Before it gets too hard
Somebody, let me cry
To love and accept this life
Even when it’s hard
I saw your brother die
I heard your mother scream
I stood and stayed still
I was eating cookie dough ice cream
I never liked my neighbor
When he spit on me, I hated him more
He still wants to shake my hand
I still want to call him a whore
Now when I walk
I pretend I’m on the phone
I wear a mask for the spit
I hope he dies alone
It’s been quite hard
To be home and eat Chips Ahoy
And I keep getting spam emails
From the Dallas Cowboys
I don’t know what they want
I don’t live in Dallas
So I delete the emails
And pour more wine into my chalice
Is this a time to reflect?
Or is this a time to get fat?
It’s a time to get drunk daily
It’s a time to yell at my cat
In solitude I have learned
That 3 naps a day is fine
But take out the trash and do the dishes?
That is where I draw the line
People call me and say hello
They ask how I am, I say that I’m fine
But little do they know
I’m lying on the floor with my chalice of wine
No. I’m not an alcoholic
Please, do not be a jerk
I’m just a growing boy
And my habits are just a fun quirk
People are being productive
Well, honestly so am I
I’ve drank through every hangover
And now I'm getting high
Now's the time to learn a language
Now's the time to learn guitar
But really there’s no time like the present
To eat some shrooms and then pee on a car
It's better than spending my time
Glued to my phone, head down
Instead, I’m snorting some good stuff
And for some reason I'm wearing a wedding gown
Its 9AM and it's time for bed
But in quarantine, the party never stops
Yes, I may have lost all my friends
But now no one’s around to call the cops
1. Ask people if they have a guitar pick.
Ask politely, but use a tone that implies, “This isn’t the first time I’ve asked for one of these.”
2. Make a comment whenever any song is playing in the background. Say something like, “This song changed music forever.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re at a bar, a grocery store, or a funeral. You hear a song, you comment.
3. If you’re in a car with someone listening to the radio, tap your fingers enough to be noticed.
Even if you’re not pretending to be a drummer, every musician needs to have good rhythm.
4. Constantly mention how disappointed you are with today’s music.
Doesn’t matter the context. You just wish you were at Woodstock. Let it be known.
5. Complain about Spotify not paying enough.
Even though you don’t know how much Spotify pays artists, just get angry that it’s simply not enough.
6. Complain about SoundCloud’s upload limits.
How is the world going to hear all three hundred songs your band has recorded? (Note: If someone asks to hear a song of yours, be prepared.)
7. Complain about your “bandmates.”
Every band has an occasional feud. Let it be known that your new song hasn’t been getting the respect it deserves, and you might even go solo.
8. Do drugs to “inspire” you.
Cocaine, maybe. Probably not heroin, you don’t want to die. You know what, don’t do drugs. There’s plenty of good bands who didn’t use drugs, I think.
9. Whistle a lot.
Tell people that when you’re in a band, you’re practicing 24/7.
10. Maybe just learn an instrument and take it from there.
You can “fake it till you make it,” but you might as well just try actually joining a band.
Jesus walked on water
But was he quick?
Or did he take his time
Kissing every drip
Tej Funderburke was the dumbest person I ever met. He had the best of intentions, but he often ended his days eating cereal out of his sneakers.
“Carpe Diem!” he yelled at me. Dead Poets Society was his favorite movie, but he never got to the part where the kid shot himself.
“You don’t even know what that means,” I said. We were sitting in the schoolyard in our hometown of Fayetteville, Wisconsin. He was singing the Canadian National Anthem. He liked Wayne Gretzky and Jim Carrey. “Why can’t you just be a normal person for once?”
“You can’t learn anything if you’re like everybody else,” he said. He was walking on his hands and chewing a Kit Kat wrapper.
I pulled out my notebook to copy down his Trig homework, while he tried to get me to listen to his explanation as to why he has no hair on his left leg. Something about a fire.
It wasn’t until we were fifteen years old that I started to hate everything about him. I can think of a specific day when I decided I would never care about him again. I was walking home from school alone. All I could think about was his horrific student council speech. He ran entirely on the grounds that he was going to name every building in the school after me. He was going to make the entire school pledge allegiance to me each morning. Every week, there would be a casual Wednesday just for me. Nothing he said had anything to do with anything. It never did. And it pissed me off because he made everybody look at me when he was the moronic one. As I walked home in disgust, the last thing I wanted to see was Tej’s face. But as I turned the corner, his dark brown eyes were staring at mine. His clumpy brown hair barely let his eyes show. We’d been friends for too long. I wished the big oak tree that stood outside our school would topple over and squash him.
“Let’s take this beautiful moment in,” he said. Then he sneezed on my face.
“I’m gonna murder you and your family,” I wished I’d said. But instead I sat down on the sidewalk and cried.
“The snot and tears combination is a terrible look on you.” I hated him, but he had a keen sense of fashion. I was sick of being his friend, but there was no one else to talk to. I thought I’d never get to see the day he’d shut up.
Sophomore year of high school sucked for the both of us. I had my heart broken after falling in love for the first time. I still think she’s the best. She ended things, and I’m happy she moved on, but I’m depressed that I haven’t. Sometimes I think it wasn’t even love, I just hated myself. Now my tattoo on my chin that says Ariana looks ridiculous.
On the first Monday of every month, Carl Marx, the school bully, would beat up Tej. Everyone would watch. Carl Marx was from Texas, and that was all he ever talked about. I remember seeing him pound Tej to pieces as he yelled, “Remember the Alamo! I said, remember the Alamo!”
I got concussed during wrestling practice when I thought about Ariana. I couldn’t focus on the sport, so I ran out of the gym in tears, and I accidentally hit my head on a stop sign. I suppose the sign was effective.
Tej walked into Mr. Turk’s class every morning dancing and loudly singing, so he was forced to take all his tests facing the corner wall while sitting on the floor. People called it Tej’s corner.
I tried out for the baseball team, but I threw my bat running to first, and it hit Coach Mercado’s son in the face, so I was immediately asked to leave.
Tej auditioned for a play with a monologue he wrote about his thoughts on sex, and people stopped talking to him after that.
It wasn’t our best year.
The year ended with us getting confirmed in the Catholic church. The year also ended with us deciding to never go to a Catholic mass again. I couldn’t stand my own parents, so I was extra thankful I would no longer be kneeling next to Mr. and Mrs. Funderburke. And I wouldn’t have to give them an awkward hug before eating an incredibly bland cracker. If they were Fritos, maybe I’d still be Catholic. We moved on with our lives. And while I turned to studying the purpose of cocaine, Tej turned to studying the purpose of other religions.
There was a Tuesday night that summer that further damaged our relationship. We were sitting in Carl Marx’s driveway because he has one of those fancy driveways where it’s made of super soft grass. It’s a waste of grass to just drive on it, so we make the most of it. Tej told me he had this great idea to start selling popsicles without the stick because “People like food you can eat with your hands.” Idiot. He would take a bite out of each popsicle because he claimed it made it easier to take out the popsicle stick. This upset me. It upset me how stupid Tej could be. The second time he went to the side of school to sell his half-eaten popsicles, he also made lemonade so that he could get away with calling it a lemonade stand. He said this was good for tax purposes. I used this is an opportunity to take one of his cups, piss in it, and then put it with the other cups of lemonade without Tej noticing. My therapist would later tell me that I have trouble expressing anger and frustration.
After an infuriated stranger drank my urine, the customer threw some punches at Tej. He no longer sold popsicles, and nobody ever apologized.
Junior year of high school, I was out of control. I learned that drinking was a good way to make pretend friends, and going to parties was an exciting way to discover that everyone I knew including myself had nothing important in their lives. The only kid I never saw at parties was Jason Kaboni. He would always stay home alone to play piano. He would also raise his hand in class just to burp and fart at the same time. He’s still the only kid I respect from that school.
William Butler’s party the day after Thanksgiving was going to be the biggest thing ever. It’s all I heard anyone talk about the whole month of November. People just talked about drinking and cocaine and condoms all the time. Our school didn’t have any sort of sex-ed program, so unfortunately Jordan Dryfus convinced me that in order for them to be most effective, you were supposed to eat the condom before sex. I snuck one in my plate of pasta at dinner to make it go down easier. It didn’t help. This led to an embarrassing hospital visit.
When the day came, and people were no longer feeling thankful, but rather a peculiar combination of lazy and horny, William Butler’s house was ready. William was not. It was one of those nice two-story houses, and William assumed he could easily block off the entire top floor, but that failed miserably. Upstairs, Martha Thompson and Guy Wallace were doing it in Mr. and Mrs. Butler’s bed. I know because I was snorting coke alone in the adjacent bathroom.
Tej wasn’t much of a partier, but he went to this one. To Tej, every party was a Halloween party. He liked dressing up and getting free candy. He dressed up as Charlie Brown because even in high school, The Peanuts were “one of my favorite pieces of cinema.” I never got into The Peanuts, but I definitely did treat him like Charlie Brown sometimes. Tej thought it would be funny to knock on the doors of rooms where people were doing it and yell, “trick or treat!” This kept him entertained the whole night, but no one else laughed. He was committed though; I’ll give him that. Had a candy basket and everything.
After I stumbled down the stairs, I somehow managed to get Carolina Strausberg’s tongue to explore my mouth. I remember sneezing mid-kiss and being pissed because I thought Tej’s allergies must be contagious. Carolina was too drunk to notice, so that didn’t stop us. Vomiting into her mouth definitely did stop us. She pinned me to a wall, and I couldn’t help but feel the beer and mashed potatoes start to surface. Sneezing can be hot, but vomit’s a bit much.
She dropped me to the ground and looked at me in disgust. I was pretty cool.
“I love you,” I said.
“You smell like a butt.”
Carolina never talked to me again all throughout high school, and she sure had nothing to say when I asked her to prom that year. Minutes later as I lay in a ditch, face in my own vomit, Tej was there to ruin the night. He stared at me while eating a Kit Kat and said, “Parties are so much fun.” He helped me up and brought me home, but not before stopping by a few neighbors to trick or treat and get some candy.
The rest of junior year everybody was watching me. I always wanted to be doing something interesting. I overheard Carolina telling her best friend Katherine that I was weak, so one day when I knew she was within eyesight, I punched a hole in the wall. I broke my hand, but at least she knew I wasn’t weak.
Tej started winning chess club tournaments and would be really weird while doing it. Later, Tej would tell me I should stop calling him weird because “You call anything you don’t understand weird. Nothing’s weird. Just understand it.” During chess matches, he would cheer himself on very loudly as if he were an outsider. “Attaway Tej, you’re gonna beat this sucker so hard, he’ll think you’re Chris Brown.” I will say, he was always successful in scaring his opponents.
Junior prom was when I really wanted to pummel Tej. After getting rejected from three girls, I decided it was probably best to stay home. But without my knowledge, Tej signed me up as his guest. He’d already paid the money, so I felt obligated. I’ve never felt more suicidal in my life. I can still play the laughs in my head that I heard that night. I’m not sure if I would rather have killed Tej or myself, but one of us needed to go. We walked to prom, which was weird enough, but then we had to take a picture together at the entrance because apparently the whole world needed to think we were a couple. It seemed like incest. My cousin Marsha has slept with multiple cousins, and I would’ve rather gone to prom with her than Tej. He grabbed me by the hand to run to the dance floor. He was beaming. I think I peed myself. I took a required acting class freshman year, but I couldn’t even begin to pretend like I was having a good time. Seeing a group of kids drinking alcohol out of Carl Marx’s bucket hat, thinking they were discreet, I knew what I wanted. Three hours later I was hanging from a ceiling fan.
“What’s that kid doing up there,” someone shouted out.
“I wish I had a father,” another kid said.
Tej talked to the maintenance staff and helped get me down with a ladder. As he carried me out, I decided I hadn’t made a big enough scene that night, so I shouted at nobody and everybody.
“I hate you! Everything about you! You dumb! Eat my ass! Do it! I’ll give you a spork and just dig in! Take a bite! I have mustard!”
Nobody at school ever spoke to me again. Except for Tej.
Senior year Tej and I grew apart. Mainly because I wanted him to stop ruining my life, and mainly because he decided to stop being annoying in an attempt to respect that. We didn’t really have the money for college, but we had no experience working, so at some point we realized we needed to come together and figure out how to live decently. Tej had many ideas.
“We could be those balloon blower-uppers. Stand on the street, make balloons. Kids like that.”
Nobody likes that. “You can’t even blow a bubble with gum, how’re you gonna blow up a balloon?”
Wrestling practice was embarrassing enough, but I couldn’t fathom blowing up balloons, looking like a fool.
A new smoothie place had opened up a couple blocks away from school, so I agreed I would go with him to interview. I stole a suit from a store, and Tej looked like he had just gotten out of bed. His mop of hair covered his eyebrows. They let us interview together but told us we weren’t a packaged deal. Tej said, “We are.” I said, “We’re not.” We then argued about that for three minutes, which was an ideal way to start an interview.
“Have you ever made a smoothie before?” the interviewer asked. He looked like he hadn’t laughed with a friend in a decade. It felt pathetic. He had a name-tag that said “Juicy,” and when I asked him about it, he said his real name was Jerome, but his boss likes fun nicknames. This seemed inappropriate.
“I make smoothies every single day,” I said, as Tej at the same time said, “No.” I stared at him and refrained from breaking his nose.
“What kind of work experience do you have?”
Tej started talking about his lemonade stand as I lost my mind. I sat there, staring at him, and I couldn’t pin point why, but all the times he pissed me off were flooding my brain. As he went on about his stickless popsicles, I realized he was the only one here with a future. When we were five years old, he would build Legos and I’d tear them down, and he’d build something new. I’ve always been screwed.
“And you?” the interviewer asked. “Any work experience?” My eyes stayed on Tej until he turned to meet them.
“I hope you die,” I said, before flipping his chair and spitting on him. I walked towards the door, but I wasn’t ready to leave. I jogged back as Tej sat on the floor, and I started beating him. The interviewer tried to break us up, but he clearly had never been in a fight. I crushed him. Every muscle I had, every ounce of strength I owned, I left it all out there. That’s what Tej would always tell me when we parted ways to go to school or when I had a wrestling match. “Leave it all out there,” he’d say. And that’s what I did. That night, I opened the door to see an ice pack on the welcome mat. There was a note that said, “for your hand.”
A couple of years passed after high school graduation, and I still had no job. Tej’s senior quote was:
“You lose some, you win some, but sometimes it’s best when you tie!”
My quote was:
“I can predict the past, you know.”
I hadn’t seen Tej since the Juice Juice Caboose interview because I decided to live with my uncle, 50 miles north of Fayetteville. I organized his stuff, and it calmed me down. I didn’t get angry. But when I opened my uncle’s freezer and saw a stash of cherry red popsicles, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend. Brother Tej. I wanted him dead, but I also daydreamed about him running Juice Juice Caboose or being a beloved balloon animal maker or whatever weird thing he wanted to do. I wanted him to do it. I missed him. I miss everything. Even the bad moments in my life I miss just because they’re gone now. But Tej wasn’t bad. I stepped outside onto the driveway and called. Our phone call went like this:
“Say hello when you pick up the phone.”
“So I know that you picked up the phone.”
“You know I’m here for you. You don’t need me to say some standard greeting just to say –“
“Nevermind. Just forget I said anything.”
“I have a pretty good memory–
“Tej, I don’t care. Listen-
“I remember that time I slept over and you kicked me in the shin because I woke you up when I went to the bathroom, and when I didn’t flinch or say anything you got more mad and kicked me again.”
“What does this have to do with anything.”
“How are you?” He really wanted to know.
“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I don’t think we--
“Why are you fine? I feel you’re not fine, and I want to know what you are. You’re never fine when you go this long without talking to me.”
“You’re my brother.” I missed him.
“Yes, I’m your brother.”
I paused for a moment because my stomach started turning and twisting and my eyes were getting wet and my face scrunched up.
“I hate you,” I said, and I hung up the phone. I really seized the moment, I thought.
That was the last thing I said to Tej. He went into a coma after he hitchhiked to visit his sick cousin in Iowa. He didn’t have much money, but he made sure he would see her. The driver was drunk and led the car into an oak tree. It crushed him.
I wish I would’ve been more like him.
Dear Papa & Tita,
It’s not too late to be happy. It’s not too late to be vulnerable. It’s not too late to find peace in your life.
You don’t have to take your overflowing resentment to the grave. You can, and you may even want to,
but just know that you don’t have to.
When you look back at your days in Cuba, try to remember the good times, too. You used to tell us
stories of the beautiful beach and the waves that hit it. Now, you tell us about the boyfriend that you
should have married while your husband sits next to you. You can’t change the past, but I hope you can
I know you are struggling these days, but you do not need to hide it. Your family wants you to be okay.
We know how much you care about us no matter how you are feeling. When you and I sat across the
table at lunch in Houston, we talked for hours about life as we scarfed down our salads. You really
wanted to hear me, and you were interested in what I had to say. Not everybody’s grandmother cares
like you do.
When I was younger and visited you and Papa at your Louisiana home, I went outside with my cousin and we
rode Razor scooters for hours until we got lost in the middle of Baton Rouge. You weren’t upset at all.
You were glad we were okay.
Making everybody happy is a tough job, and honestly, you are pretty good at it. You invite the whole
extended family over during the holidays and bring in a surprise Mariachi band just because you want to. And
of course, you become good friends with the band members. Trying to make everyone around you
happy is a wonderful thing about you, but sometimes you need to make sure you look after yourself,
too. Remember that your family wants to help.
It’s okay to cry. I think I have your genes. I know it feels automatic to hold in every ounce of emotion.
But that’s a burden, and I can feel it weighing you down. I can’t lift it off you. But you can set it down
yourself, wherever, whenever you’d like.
Cry about your past that you never mention. Cry about the good. About the things you have that you
thought you never would. Cry because you’re proud of your grandchildren. No matter what we do, you
congratulate us just for living our lives. You can congratulate yourself, too.
I don’t know many people who were a win away from going to the Olympics as a wrestler. And I’m more
impressed that you continue to play in a softball league with people less than half your age. You take
care of your physical health much better than most people, no matter the age. But it’s okay to have a
scoop of ice cream every now and then.
Not many people retire in their late 80’s. Honestly not many people even live during those years. The
fact that both of you were continuing to work hard and travel the world up until a few months ago is
remarkable. You have affected many people and continue to give back to your family and your
community. And you care about recycling more than any politician ever will.
If you feel there’s no one to talk to, think again. Talk to each other. You haven’t done that in quite some
time. You can cry together. That’s okay. Your relationship is not perfect. It never was. But you have
stayed with each other for over 50 years. Eat some ice cream and give each other a hug. You’ve lived a