by Robert Marshall
I would like to say my depression is because of the Amazon. But it’s not because of the Amazon, or maybe it’s in part because of the Amazon. It is, in part, because you don’t call me back. But perhaps you don’t call me back because of the Amazon, because you are depressed because of the Amazon. Or perhaps it’s because you’re depressed for other reasons, perhaps there is someone who hasn’t called you back, someone who is, to you, more important than me, and this has sapped your strength. But of course it’s possible that this person, whose existence I may just be imagining, doesn’t call you because they’re depressed because of the Amazon. I do not, in truth, understand what is happening in the Amazon; I could not, if pressed, explain why or how the forest does—or does not—breathe. Causality is always a story; I believe the one the scientists tell, I have to hold onto something, though really I know nothing about science, nor about the Amazon, nor do I know why you don’t call; I do not understand the zone that’s named your heart. I can make out nothing clearly, there’s just the haze, or maybe it’s smoke.
Robert Marshall is a writer and artist. His novel, A Separate Reality, was released in 2006 by Carroll & Graf and nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His work appeared in Salon, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review Online, among others.
by Gale Acuff
There's no one I love more than Jesus but
Satan maybe, I confess that I like
to sin and I bet that everyone else
does, too, and it can be good clean fun or
damn-near and surely God in His infi
-nite mercy won't send me to Hell be
-cause didn't He give His only begot
-ten Son to die in my place, die for my
sins so when I actually do, die
that is, I actually won't, I'll live
--not only live but dwell--in Heaven for
-ever? Sometimes I think that if Jesus
is Who they say he is then He won't mind
a little transgressing, that's a fancy
word for sin that Miss Hooker used in Sun
-day School but last week and I'm only 10 but
I kind of cornered her after class, that's
a figure of speech, cornered her, not class
I mean but then I've got more to learn be
-fore I die and go to Heaven or Hell
and I'm getting way ahead of myself
but like I say, after class I told her
that everybody sins and she told me
that yes she knows and that's in the Bible
that everyone sins, not that Miss Hooker
knows, and didn't she point that passage out
a couple of weeks ago, All have sinned
and come short of the glory of God and
I said Yes ma'am, I remember, which I
don't and so I guess I lied and lying's
a sin as sure as you're born but if God
sent everyone to Hell for only one
sin then there would be Standing Room Only down
there and I even told Miss Hooker that
but she didn't crack a smile, she takes her
religion seriously but any
-way I told her that even Jesus must
have come pretty close to it, sinning that
is, grazed it at least, because didn't He
worry Mary and Joseph by hanging
out at the temple and confabbing with
the older folks there and astonishing
them with what He knew about the Torah
or whatever it's called, may God
forgive me, and astonishing, now there's
a word and I think it means turn to stone
but anyway didn't Jesus come right
close to sinning by worrying His folks
is what I asked her although it wasn't
really a question but a statement, for
-get I couldn't make a question mark with
anything but my voice on the page of
the air, speaking of figures of speech a
-gain and you could've knocked me over with
a cherub's wing, do cherubs have wings, when
Miss Hooker exploded and I don't mean
merely burst into tears so I had to
help her into her chair, her face was flood
-ed with tears and she couldn't see to see
so I lent her my only handkerchief
and she messed it up pretty good or is
that well or is that bad or is that bad
-ly but when she passed it back to me I
took it and wrapped it in a paper towel
which I'd gotten out of the machine, it's
a dispenser is what it is and stuck
it in my left coat-pocket and I guess
I'd better fish it out of there before
I go back to Sunday School, I wonder
if I've sinned again but anyway then
Miss Hooker smiled but I could tell that she
was embarrassed so I told her One day
we're going to be married, goodbye, see
you next week and I left without taking
any more care of her, what could I do
but come back on another Sunday and
try to help her atone, I don't know if
it's in the Bible somewhere but
maybe a Sunday School teacher losing
it in front of a repeat-third-grade student
is a sin, maybe even one that cuts
both ways, I'm in on it, too, praise the Lord
and like that. By the honeymoon I'll know.
Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in several countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.
by Miranda Holt
They say it’s better to love and lose
Than to never love at all
Even though the love she felt
Was within a heart so small
It will always be unconditional
Forever pure and true
Never be tainted, never be scorned
Never be angry at you
She will never be scarred, never be hurt
Never be broke by the world
She may now be one of God’s angels
But forever, she’s your baby girl.
Miranda Holt is
A ChristianA yogi
A nursery teacher
An unpublished, aspiring writer
A wife and “mother” to a bunny and puppy
A cheese addict
by Paige Foster
yesterday i cried
when my lover left
on a sunny thursday
i replayed scenes
of former loves repeating yes
of course i still love you
the tape always cuts out just
in time to leave room
for that thing with feathers, and
and all its exports are
watching old lovers
with new lives and new homes
talking and crying
from the comfort of my bed
i came across that familiar tightening
of the heart, that mark of kinship with
anna karenina or
that specific and universal thing--
the yes of course i still love you
murmured over a tequila shot
or train tracks
or more likely never spoken
after all, it is not my business
to speak it
Paige is a Californian writer and photographer based in Paris, France. She holds an MA in sociolinguistics from the Sorbonne Nouvelle and has previously been published by One Sentence Poems. When not writing, she enjoys cooking with too much garlic and taking photos of everything she finds beautiful or interesting.
by Nicole Miller
“You remember you’re a girl, right?” Weston laughed as he lounged lazily against the wall. His arms were crossed over his chest in a casual stance with one leg crossed under the other.
“Last time I checked.” Olivine panted as she lifted both hands to her face, rubbing the sweat out of her eyes. They had been at the gym for an hour already and she wasn’t ready to call it quits even if her muscles were demanding that she stop before they imploded. “Why? Scared you’ll be outperformed by a little ol’ girl?”
Weston gave a snort that was made up of half a laugh and half an annoyed bark. “Have you seen my guns? Do you really think you could win against these bad boys?”
Olivine gave a snort that matched Weston’s before saying, “you mean the guns in the safe back at your house or half-deflated blow-up ones you call arms? Both are not intimidating.”
With a little effort, Olivine stood from her spot on the workout mat and stretched out her arms above her head. Even standing, Weston had to look down at Olivine because her head barely reached his collarbone.
“They are not deflated.” While Weston’s eyes narrowed in mock annoyance, he did make sure to flex a little to show off his muscles.
Olivine ignored her friend’s show and moved to pluck the twenty-pound weights from the floor where she had set them earlier. It took effort to continue her workout, but she began to curl the weights toward her body, making her arms burn more.
“And you are going to hurt yourself if you try to keep up with my routine. Just because the weights are less doesn’t mean shit.” Again, Olivine ignored Weston’s words and instead focused on what number curl she had reached.
Six. Seven. Eight.
“Olive, you listening?” Weston asked.
Don’t push yourself Olive. You can’t do that many Olive. Stop trying to be like me Olive.
She had heard all this before, and it wouldn’t be the last time she heard it. “If you remind me, I’m a girl one more time, I will use these to bash your fucking head in.” Olivine’s eyes snapped to the male as she curled both weights toward her body for the twelfth time.
Weston lifted his hands up in surrender, knowing better than to push his friend further than he had already. The playful teasing amongst friends could only go so far before Olivine would do something she might regret like go after Weston with the weights. She never backed down from a fight even if it was clear she would lose. Some said she had a Napoleon complex. She said she was just a girl tired of hearing “you can’t” from others.
“Fine. How about I remind you that if you push yourself now you won’t be able to lift your arms at the dance tomorrow? Speaking of, are you seriously going to wear a tux?” Weston asked as he finally moved from his spot holding up the wall to grab onto a pair of weights for himself. He curled them at the same time Olivine did, not seeming to be bothered by the fact his weights weighed twice the amount of the ones Olivine was struggling with.
Olivine grunted again in response and continued until she hit her desired number of reps. She hadn’t been able to reach forty like she had today with this weight before and she probably shouldn’t have today. Her arms already screamed like pissed off howler monkeys from yesterday’s workout, but she couldn’t have made herself stop at thirty if the world had suddenly caught fire around her. She had work to do on her body.
“Dude. Don’t ignore me,” Weston demanded.
“I’m not going. Tux doesn’t fit,” Olivine finally answered as she dropped the weights onto the bench to give her arms a break.
Weston just continued his own routine, shifting to watch himself in the wall-length mirrors that Olivine had been facing away from. Between his reps Weston asked, “So, get a dress. Isn’t that what girls usually wear? Something that sparkles and shows off cleavage?”
A few more reps and a few exaggerated grunts later and Weston finished, setting his own weights down so he could fall back on the bench next to Olivine. Olivine shot him a glare as he sat. “If I wanted to wear a dress, I would’ve bought one.”
“Then are you seriously missing out on prom because of clothes? If that isn’t a girl problem, I don’t know what is.”
The glare Olivine was giving intensified. If he had been paying attention Weston probably would have died of stab wounds from the daggers shooting out of his friend’s eyes. Instead, his gaze was captured by a few girls who were waving at him. Weston never could pass up seeing girls in sports bras and tight yoga pants.
Olivine probably could have let him sink into that distraction, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Would you wear a dress to prom?”
Weston seemed to think about that. In fact, he made a show of it by stroking his jaw and looking at the closest mirror. “I mean, as good as I would look in a beautiful silky dress, I’m going to say no.”
“So why the hell would I wear something stupid when you wouldn’t?” Olivine draped her arms over her thighs so her hands could clasp between her knees. Moments later and Weston did the same.
“You’re a girl. You can get away with wearing a dress. I can’t. I would be the butt of every damn joke if I did.”
Even though her arms felt like they were made of stone, Olivine launched herself at Weston who moved out of the way as quickly as he could. His long legs got him out of the danger zone in a few strides, putting an exercise machine between them before her hands could hit him or strangle him. It wasn’t clear what Olivine planned. She just wanted him to run away from her.
“Seriously, mad at me for telling the truth?” Weston laughed breathlessly to himself, making Olivine’s teeth clench.
At this point, Olivine was done with the teasing and decided she was going to head home instead of finishing the routine Weston kept saying she couldn’t keep up with. This time she had to listen to the “you can’t” since she was about to strangle the only person she was close with. He might be stupid, but he was still her best friend from fifth grade and he had been by her even when she broke her arm in seventh grade and when she cut her hair off in ninth grade much to her parent’s dismay.
Olivine had to power through putting away the weight, but she managed before she and Weston walked silently to the parking lot. The rusty brown car Olivine owned looked like it had rolled out of a 1970s catalog as it sat between two brand new cars, but the machine still ran, and Olivine didn’t have to make payments on it. Her parents had given it to her on her sixteenth birthday and today, two years later, it still ran like a champ. Although driving it was probably not a smart idea since it had almost 300,000 miles on it. It might be a good car for the drives between the gym and the house, but at some point, it would reach the breaking point. For all Olivine knew, that breaking point could be one more mile. It might be the next meeting with Weston, or it could be on the way to the dance he kept trying to get her to go to that it would give up on her.
“But really Olive, get a dress and come to the dance. Please.” With that said, Weston jogged to the bus stop. Normally, Olivine would have offered to drive him home even with the threat of her car finally realizing its old age, but he had gotten on her nerves today. He was on his own.
Seriously mad at me for telling the truth?
Olive huffed to herself and climbed into the car. Resting her forehead on the steering wheel of her car she had practically fallen into, Olivine thought of every moment that she had heard such a sentence that reminded her of just how messed up she felt inside. No matter how hard she pushed herself, she would never grow as tall as Weston, she would never lift forty-pound weights like they were feathers, and she would never look like Captain America with his exaggerated triangle shape.
She would always look the same. She would always avoid seeing herself in one of the gym mirrors. Hell, she barely looked in the mirror at home because it was always a horrible reflection looking back at her.
The jaw of the woman in the mirror was too round and looked akin to someone rolling a ball of cream playdough on the desk until they got a rough circle. Her hair looked like someone had taken a Halloween wig and placed it on top of that ball of playdough, but without making sure the cut was flattering. Then someone had taken that playdough head and put it on a body that was far too curvy. The hips were too wide and the waist too narrow. The creator of this horrible art project had used toothpicks for arms and legs. No muscle or definition could be found on that body even after months of push-ups, pull-ups, and a few deadlifts. Well, there was a change, but not enough for the greedy Olivine. She wanted “guns” not toothpicks.
It was just all wrong.
Olivine forced her head to lift and began the drive home with arms that were growing less and less cooperative by the second. Ten minutes later and she was home, sitting in the driveway with her head back on the steering wheel like it was the only thing that could possibly hold her head up.
It took another ten minutes before she could get up and coax her arms into letting her inside the house. Both of her parents were still at work since it was only four, leaving Olivine alone in the warm home. She could have invited Weston over to see what she meant by her tux not fitting to show him why she was so devastated.
But that would have meant listening to her parents complain when they got home about Weston coming over while she was home alone again. They would tell her that no respectable young lady would invite an unmarried man into their home unsupervised. No respectable young lady should try on clothes in front of a man because it was simply a travesty.
If only they knew how little Olivine cared about being a respectable young lady. She was old enough to know that she was respectable, but she didn’t like the fact her parents would tag on the young lady part. It was like Olivine couldn’t be respectable unless she was a young lady.
Olivine made her way to her room and gave up on trying to keep her arms up. The moment she was close enough she fell back on the bed, her head hanging over the edge like a ragdoll. The angle of her head put her closet and her tux in her view. The tux was a classic, just the kind Olivine liked. It was black and white and crisp.
Too bad it would never be worn.
Olivine had been told that it wouldn’t fit when she tried it on at the store, but she had been determined to fit into it when she got it on clearance a few months back. She had been told to get the woman’s suit, but those showed off the hourglass figure that Olivine hated. She wanted something that made her taper at the hip instead of the waist and not look like someone had squeezed all the juice out of their juice box.
Annoyed with the view, Olivine started to sit only to get a reminder that it wasn’t only her arms that were sore. Her chest was sore too, but not from the exercise. She had bound her chest before her workout, per her daily habit to get rid of some of her natural figure, but the wrapping had been too tight for that long of a workout. Each time her chest expanded with a breath it felt like she was fighting with a python. Soon she wouldn’t be able to suck in air and she would be consumed by the ace bandage.
As if on cue, the bandage dug harder into her left side, the small bits of Velcro turning on her to make it feel like a million tiny needles were scraping at her ribs.
“Alright, alright,” Olivine whispered to herself as she slowly pulled off her tank. Then she had to work harder than normal to pull off the sports bra that was two times too small before she could slowly unravel herself from the bandage. The moment the bandage was in her hands, Olivine walked to the bathroom to clean herself off the best she could without straining her arms in the shower. She hated taking the bandage off even if it was the most uncomfortable thing she could ever wear. Taking off the bandage was like taking off a part of her body because it almost gave her what she needed.
“I’m a guy.” Olivine blurted out at the dinner table, her gaze on the salad she hadn’t bothered to touch for the last three minutes. She held onto her fork, but the salad didn’t have a leaf out of place. She couldn’t eat until this was out. She had been dreaming of this conversation for three years, but never had the balls to say it until right this second.
Well, maybe not that second. It had been a build-up from her phone call with her doctor at four-thirty after discovering her favorite ace bandage was ripping at its seams. She had spoken to the doctor about coming in for a consultation and he had seemed more than happy to talk to her about her options. Transitioning was a big deal, but the doctor had talked to her like it was a routine conversation. It had seemed normal. That is what had given Olivine the strength to shout out her proclamation partway through dinner.
However, silence met her words. Not that silence was something that Olivine hadn’t expected. Dinner was usually a silent affair and her outburst would have been met with silence regardless of what it was. She could have said she made a left turn down the road like she did every day she went to the gym and she still would have been greeted with silence. The only thing different about this soundless moment was the lack of movement. It was like Olivine had pressed pause on a remote. Had she looked up; Olivine probably wouldn’t have seen a single breath being taken by her parents.
“What did you say?” Her father asked first after several minutes. The man was looking at his plate, much like his daughter, but his fork was stabbing his steak and the knife was halfway through cutting it.
“I called a doctor about transitioning?” Olivine hadn’t intended that to come out as a question, but she couldn’t change it to give her words more power.
“What?” Olivine’s mother said as she glanced between her husband and her daughter.
“I’m not a girl. It’s not who I am. I made an appointment with the doctor next week. I just, you know, thought I would tell you before this got more serious.” Olivine paused and finally poked at a lettuce leaf with the tip of her fork. She needed a moment to make another statement because it was somehow a harder truth to spit out. “And I’m going to change my name to Oliver.”
“Fuck that!” Her father roared at her, his eyes burning holes into the side of his daughter’s face.
“You were born Olivine and you will remain Olivine until you die.”
Finally, his daughter lifted her head and met her father’s burning eyes with as much fire that she could muster. “I was born a beautiful young girl that you named Olivine. I grew up and discovered I was a man that wants to be named Oliver.” There was a small pause before she continued. She had to get this out. “You said I needed to make the most of my life. I’m doing it. I don’t like having boobs and a vagina. They are the worst parts of me. I am something different than this.”
“Enough!” Olivine’s mother placed a hand on her chest and looked past her daughter like she was searching for a puppet master. Someone had to be telling her daughter to say this. It wasn’t Olivine who had come up with this idea and mulled it over for years.
Oh, no. It couldn’t be the respectable young lady saying all this.
“Sorry,” Olivine said without really meaning it. “I know it is crazy to think I’m unhappy with my body, but I’m different. I never liked playing with Barbie dolls and I never liked wearing dresses. I never felt comfortable wearing bras or wearing heels. My clothes look like I am playing dress up for Halloween. None of its right and I am being reminded of that over and over and fucking over.” Olivine stopped to catch her breath. She hadn’t really let herself breathe through her quick rant. How could she pause for something as silly as breath? “I want my tux to fit! I want to be like Weston. I want his arms, legs, abs. I want it so damn bad. You have no idea how bad.”
Oliver’s father slowly stood, so he loomed over the table. “And? Just because you don’t like those things doesn’t mean you should be a man! You are not a man Olivine!”
For a moment, the room was silent as mother and father stared down their child, but that child was not backing down. “You’re right. Not all of them think about changing their body parts, but I do. The difference between them and me is that I hate looking at myself in the mirror. I actively avoid it and it’s all because I never see myself. I always see a messed-up art project.”
Finally, the mother spoke again. Even if it was frail and quiet, it could be heard over her husband’s heavy breathing and her child’s frantic heart. “But you are perfect now.”
Olivine had to close her eyes as she spoke again because she hated the hurt in her mother’s voice, “My body was made wrong. In my head, I hear a male’s voice, I feel a male’s thoughts and his emotions, but outside all I see is a misshapen woman. I love who I am and love that I am strong enough for this, but I want my outside to match my inside. I can’t be this anymore.” Olivine stopped and forced her eyes to open to meet her parents' gazes. “I am doing this with or without your permission. I love you more than anything and I hope you love me too, but nothing will change this. I don’t want to work my ass off and find that I will always look wrong.”
“But you’re our daughter,” Olivine’s mother pleaded again.
“Son. I will be your son. I will be Oliver.” And that is who he was. He had known it for as long as he could remember but had only thought it about in the last several years. This was a horrible, stupid conversation between child and parents. Oliver knew that and he knew it would be hard for them.
After all, there was still fire in his father’s eyes and his mother looked like she was about to faint, but Oliver couldn’t change his mind about this.
Not if his father threw things and sore like the sailor he was because he didn’t understand.
Not if her mother cried for him to stop referring to himself as a man because it was not womanly.
Not if Weston teased him about being a girl one more time because that is how he had always seen her.
Oliver was going to be Oliver and there was nothing they could do to stop him because that is who he was.
Nicole Miller is an undergraduate student at Central Washington University. She is working on finishing the Professional and Creative Writing program that will be paired with a minor in Sociology all while working at Shoreline School District where she plays the role of an Accounting Technician.
by Patty Somlo
Those thin suede shoes my sister, Carol, and I desperately wanted were called Gumdrops. My mother didn’t want to buy the shoes for us because she claimed they wouldn’t last. Her objection might also have been influenced by the fact that the Gumdrops were worthless when it came to support. The soft footwear felt more like slippers than shoes, the rubber sole barely there.
We wanted the shoes that tied like our sneakers, simple and black with rounded toes, because other girls our age were wearing them. We wanted the shoes because having them on our feet was a way to fit in.
My sister once told me a story, the theme of which I realize was shame. She was walking to school one day in those skimpy shoes, and noticed that the material had split apart on the side, where it was impossible not to be noticed. I’m thinking she started to cry then and decided to find her way home, skipping school for the day. As might be apparent, I have forgotten the details. What I distinctly recall is the heartbreaking image of those special shoes giving way.
But now I remember a different aspect of the story. There was a name-brand version of the shoes that cost more, which my mother refused to buy. Instead, my sister and I got the cheap imitations, possibly the reason the shoes came apart.
We were a military family. As such, we moved across the country, or the world, every year or every other year. Most kids struggle to fit in, to be liked, and definitely not to call attention to themselves in some negative way. Being the new kid year after year, is an endless show, in which life becomes a catwalk. The kid keeps donning different outfits, hoping to please an everchanging crowd.
As I got older and my classmates fell into distinctive crowds, distinguished by economic class and grades, looks and athletic ability, and even time spent in juvenile hall, I floated amongst the groups, never fitting comfortably in any one. Because I was smart, loved to read and got good grades, I sometimes hung around with the sons and daughters of the town’s well-off. But since money was often tight and my Air Force dad lived away from us much of the time, I befriended kids whose parents worked with their hands and their offspring were not destined for college.
In order to hang with kids whose style, musical tastes and what they did for fun differed, I needed to be a chameleon, turning into a mirror that reflected back what I saw. I was like the bare mannequin in a display window, waiting to be adorned with the next season’s fashion. Underneath the person I pretended to be, I didn’t know who I was.
Except, I had an idea that the girl I happened to be, beneath the various characters I’d layered on top, was an embarrassment I needed to hide. If asked at the time, I probably wouldn’t have managed to explain what about that girl I found lacking. I might have been able to acknowledge what fueled my desperate need to hide her -- the belief that if I ever let her out, not one single kid in my school or neighborhood would like me.
I went on like this for a long time, in part because I placed myself in situations where that hidden girl didn’t fit. For college, I opted to attend a private university in Washington, D.C., that my parents couldn’t really afford. So, there I was in a dorm surrounded by young women, wealthier than anyone I’d ever known. Down the hall was Andrea, whose father was the head of Columbia Pictures. Next door was Alice, who would become my best friend and roommate the following year. Her father was President of the Bank of Israel, and he and his wife had a house on Long Island, large enough to hold within its walls the last four places my family had lived.
The girls on my dorm floor, including Alice, had so many clothes, they needed to take each season’s outfits home to leave enough room in the closet to hang the current season. Every blouse, skirt and pair of pants I owned barely filled the space I was allotted. So, I cheated. My mother gave me a credit card, which for a brief time let me feel like one of the crowd. Years later, I can still remember one outfit I bought from a small, expensive boutique in Philadelphia. The pants were white, with cuffs. I paired them with a red, slim-fitting belted top that ended just below my thighs. I was thin as a noodle, thanks to lots of skipped meals and sweat-soaked exercise, and believed the outfit made me look like a model.
It never occurred to me that I felt the need to hide myself in order to be liked. I also didn’t realize that aiming my gaze at other people, in order to see myself, wasn’t a good way to be. Since I never questioned the practice I started in childhood, I continued with it, even as an adult.
Then I crashed, and feared I might never climb out of the deep crevasse in which I’d fallen. I knew I needed help. Thankfully, several friends were there to suggest where I might find it.
Nearly a year and a half into once-a-week sessions with a therapist, sitting across from her in a comfortable, pale gray leather chair, something shifted. Or rather, during the previous eighteen months, I had been learning how to dwell within my body. This new and unusual practice began with a ritual at the start of each session. Placing my feet firmly on the floor, back straight, hands resting loosely on my thighs, palms facing up, I would close my eyes and focus attention on my breath. Then I would imagine the breath traveling through my body, first coming into the nostrils, dribbling down the throat into my lungs, falling into my belly, sliding down to my legs, and eventually caressing my feet. During a session, if my therapist asked how I was feeling, a question that for the longest time I struggled to answer, I would close my eyes and start that same practice of breathing mindfully all over again, until I located an emotion, usually stuck in my belly.
About this time, I had a stunning revelation. I was in a relationship with a man who had trouble making time for me in his life. For some reason, I didn’t call the whole thing off. Instead, I kept thinking I could change him.
Alex had no trouble making plans with his sister to ride bikes early on a Saturday morning up Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, where we lived. He easily arranged dates with male acquaintances for squash games at his athletic club. He also set aside times, well in advance, to join his mother for dinner.
When it came to me, Alex couldn’t commit to a movie, a few days away. He preferred to call me at the last minute, just before six on a Friday, to see if I might be available that night.
One Saturday morning after I’d stayed overnight at his flat, he woke me up early. I remembered that he had plans for a post-dawn bike ride with his sister that day. Even though I wasn’t included, I needed to get up, so he could drive me home. I wanted to stay in bed, as I felt tired, but I knew time was short.
My throat felt scratchy and raw when I swallowed, and my body ached.
“I don’t feel very well,” I said, when I emerged from the bathroom.
He didn’t respond. Instead, he raised his right wrist and checked his watch.
“It’s late,” he said. “We’ve gotta get going.”
It didn’t happen then, though I suppose that would have been the right moment. About twenty minutes later, Alex double-parked in front of my apartment building, and I stepped out of the car. For some reason, I waited, before closing the car door, crossing the street, and walking over to my building. Only after I’d punched in the code to the black metal front gate, listened for the buzzer, then pulled the gate open, stepped inside and climbed the six short sets of stairs to the third floor, slid the key into the lock, turned it, walked down the long narrow hall to my bedroom and sat down on the bed, did I realize what I’d been waiting for. I’d been waiting for Alex to express his concern and that he hoped I would feel better. I’d been waiting to hear him say he’d call later, to find out how I was doing or if I needed anything. As it turned out, I waited more than long enough. He didn’t say anything remotely like what I’d been waiting for. All he ended up saying was, “Goodbye.”
In the process of waiting, something changed. I saw him. For the first time, I turned the camera in my mind’s eye towards him, screwed on a close-up lens and focused. That’s when I realized that for the entire six months or so of our relationship, I had let Alex hold the camera. All that time, I kept trying to see the pictures he was taking of me. Now, I’d snatched the camera away from him, and I became the photographer.
With the viewfinder at my eye, I didn’t like the picture I was seeing. Instead of wondering whether Alex liked me, I could see that it didn’t matter. Whatever he might have thought of me, I now realized the man I’d been spending time with was a cold and uncaring guy. Suddenly, I understood that I wanted and needed the opposite sort of man in my life.
The following week, I called Alex and told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. After hanging up the phone, I felt certain I would never be in another relationship with a man like that again.
I’m not sure how it happens that girls are taught to pay more attention to how others see them than the way they see themselves. Or rather, we females gaze at our reflections in the mirror, trying to figure out what others will think of us. There are several good jokes that start out with a wife asking her husband, “Does this make me look fat?” For most women and girls, looking fat, or appearing unattractive, is no laughing matter.
On some level, women, especially those in my generation who came of age in the sixties, were raised to base views of themselves on how other people saw them. We tried to figure out how we were seen and then assumed that’s who we were.
Live long enough and you reach a point when you realize that at least about one or two things, your mother was right. After years of wearing inexpensive but stylish shoes, as well as high heels that pinched my toes together into a point and forced my foot into an unnaturally tall arch, I ended up with terrible feet. All I need do is look at the sorts of shoes I used to love and my toes ache.
For quite a few years now, I have been forced to wear comfortable shoes, no matter how they look. Thankfully, I’m part of a large generation of women who abused their feet, so many soothing shoes are designed to not look as supportive as they feel.
I’ve become an older woman who looks good at a distance. When I go on walks in my neighborhood, I sometimes notice much younger men staring at me as they drive by in their cars. Even though I’m long past the days when what I wear ought to matter, I still love to shop for clothes, and sometimes spend a long time getting ready before going out. After over twenty-five years of being with my husband, Richard, he is accustomed to being consulted about which shoe looks best with my outfit, as I stand with one knee bent, hiding the second choice, while he considers the first.
The habit I adopted as a military child, to turn on my radar in a group and try to figure out what people like and then act as if I like that too, has never gone away. Part of me still feels the need to hide, waiting to see if and when it feels safe to come out. I never had children, so I’ve been able to stay in my cocoon a lot longer than most. I keep waiting to grow up and mature, to get past the need to look right or be right.
I now opt for footwear my mother might have chosen, except she would have balked at the price. The happier my feet feel in a pair of shoes, the more they cost me now.
Not long ago, I went to one of the two stores in my small city that carries comfortable shoes, to search for a pair of sandals. I wanted what seemed to be an oxymoron, summer shoes I could wear with dresses, that had enough support for long walks. Instead of considering shoes on the racks, I explained to the friendly clerk what I wanted. Moments later, she returned from the back, balancing boxes in a precarious stack that reached all the way up to her nose.
One after another, I tried on various choices, striding back and forth across the hard floor to assess comfort, and then checking out how the shoe looked, with yoga pants rolled to my knees. By the fourth pair, I’d fallen in love.
“I think it’s these,” I said to the clerk.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t asked the price of a single one.
Part of me didn’t want to ask, but instead to return to my college days, charging an outfit my mother wouldn’t have let me to buy, if she’d been there. The price wasn’t a concern. I was going to buy the sandals, no matter what they cost.
Still, I needed to take an extra deep breath, once the clerk revealed the damage. In the moment after, I wondered what I would tell my husband about why I’d spent enough to buy four pairs of sandals on only one.
“I’ll take them,” I said.
I smiled, thinking of the sizable rewards I would earn on my credit card from the purchase. And I kept grinning, as I fantasized using the rewards to travel to a city, where I could don a summer dress and those perfect sandals, comfortably walking around and sightseeing, not looking like a frumpy old lady in the process.
Patty Somlo’s books, Hairway to Heaven Stories (Cherry Castle Publishing), The First to Disappear (Spuyten Duyvil) and Even When Trapped Behind Clouds: A Memoir of Quiet Grace (WiDo Publishing), have been Finalists in the International Book, Best Book, National Indie Excellence, American Fiction and Reader Views Literary Awards. Her next book, From Here to There, is forthcoming from Adelaide Books in 2019. www.pattysomlo.com.