The following pieces of writing are from Elizabeth Hanly’s course: Creative Non-Fiction.
By: Diana Vazquez
Listen carefully, ma cherié. I have a story for you.
Long, long time ago, after the second world war, I was a young girl, juste comme toi. I had a bike. It was my best friend. I lived in an apartment building, in which all the young people were friends. We had known each other since we had moved in, as kids chasing each other in the streets.
After the war and we had a little bit of money to spend, we went out to dance. We went from floor to floor of our building, gathering friends along the way to head out. Whenever we went out in groups, we just took the métro to the clubs in a big group. One night we walked to L’Orange.
There it was. A neon orange glow amongst the black sky. It smelled like dew and alcohol, a stench that made me turn away. I didn’t go to drink.
I went to dance.
Our faces were illuminated by the orange light as we waited to go into the club. Cigarette smoke framed the entrance. The band vibrated inside the masonry walls. There was a bar at the end on the club, in which an auburn light showcased all the liquor and wine. Again, clouds of smoke rose to the ceiling and were immediately dispersed by the movement on the dance floor. There were couples throwing each other from side to side like two tornadoes on par. Some couples were holding each other tight as their feet did the talking. Some tangled around each other like two velvet knots.
All my friends could dance, even the boys. Not like now, I bet your boyfriends can’t dance. I was a tremendous dancer. Cha-cha, swing, mambo…
Alors, there was the most delicious man staring at me from the bar. His posture was that of a brick house but, inside he appeared soft like the touch of a fleece jacket in the winter. My friends had gone over to get some drinks. They exchanged a couple of words with him and walked back to our table. “He is an Américaine soldier. He’s been watching you dance. He wants to dance with you.”
An Americaine? He was going to have to come over and tell me himself.
Alors, he did.
His name was Charles. He didn’t direct a word to me. One would say he was more interested in my friends than me. I finally grew fed up with it and got up from the table when I felt his hands wrap around my hand.
This poor man didn’t know his left foot from his right foot. He didn’t have any sense of agility or direction. Americans may know a lot about wars and cars but, they certainly cannot dance for their lives. Charles couldn’t feel the rhythm and we’d clash when we moved because of his lack of coordination. He was a hopeless mess.
I always said I would never, ever, marry a man that couldn’t dance.
Yet, there we were and here I am.
Now I am in America. My Charlie died. My only remaining son moved with his wife to Tampa. I can’t dance or ride my bike. Not because I don’t want to, my body just can’t. In Paris, I biked everywhere, no need for car. In America, everything is car, car, car. Without my bike, I don’t know what to do.
THE TIME MY BOARD BROKE
By: Astor Pineda
Brrt brrt. I recognized those vibrations. They were specific, for her. I looked at my phone screen, “They’re leaving in fifteen minutes, you can come after that.”
My heartbeat was racing, Serguey looked at me and immediately could tell exactly what she had texted me. “So when are you gonna ride out?”
“Probably in like, ten,” I responded.
Knots began forming in my stomach, I always feel nervous whenever I do things like this. Always hiding and sneaking away from her parents. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling in the world but it didn’t bother me too much. I had grown accustomed to hiding from them.
I checked the time. Six minutes had passed. I started to pack my things into my black Jansport, picked up my orange nickel board and made my way to the exit in Serguey’s backyard. As the back gate creaked open Serguey told me “Be safe.”
I smiled and replied, “Of course papo.” Then I made my way to her house.
The ride to my girlfriend’s house wasn’t a long one, just skate down 88th and make a left at the third stoplight. I’ve done it many times before, it was simple.
As the wind gently blew past my ears I noticed the sky, it was crimson with splashes of purple as the sun began to set. The grass dancing the merengue as the wind blew it back and forth. I kicked and kicked, noticing just how empty the streets were. After a few minutes, I decided to move onto the street looking back to see if any cars were within eyeshot. Nothing. Riding on the street was always better than the sidewalk, it didn’t have those annoying cracks every half a foot that slowed you down.
Riding on the smooth black tarmac roads was therapeutic, weaving in and out of the lanes while squatting down and lightly pressing my hand against the floor. As I propelled myself harder and harder, I noticed that the light had turned green; a hoard of cars were coming right at me. I didn’t panic, I mean what were they going to do? Hit me? I moved towards the sidewalk and popped an ollie to clear the small jump. Positioning my feet near the tail of the board, popping it up, and sliding my right foot across the deck to obtain that perfect air. I knew all of the steps, but something different happened this time. As my foot slid across the deck my shoelace got caught in between the trucks and the wheels.
The nose of my board crashed against the curb and I slipped off and slammed onto the sidewalk. Groaning in embarrassment, I checked to make sure that I wasn’t bleeding. I was fine, just a couple of scratches but nothing too major.
A few moments passed when it hit me, “My board!”
It had rolled back into the street littered with cars, each one strong enough to destroy my small and fragile board. I sprung to my feet and looked at it rolling slowly and smoothly away from me. I had just put in new bearings.
The cars were too close now, I couldn’t jump in the middle of the street and save the day, I’d put myself in danger. But that board was such a major part of my life, I didn’t want to see it destroyed. I couldn’t do anything, with my feet glued to the cement, all I could do was watch the board nonchalantly cruise through the intersection.
The board successfully evaded one car and the optimism set in, “It’ll be ok, nothing is going to happen…”
In the blink of an eye it happened.
A car came in speeding, going as fast as light or so it seemed. As soon as it came in contact with my board, the weight of the car was too much for it to bear. It started to bend, and bend, then in a split second, crack.
My heart had shattered, broken to pieces, staring at my board fly in the air like a ragdoll. I watched chunks of my board fly through the air, zipping past my broken, defeated face. Time slowed as I fixed my gaze on the two halves of my deck. One half of the deck landed next to me, tumbling and rolling on the dirt before finally making a stop at my tattered shoes, the other half in the median.
I was speechless. I wanted to scream and yell but my voice had gone. Sadly, I waited for the traffic to subside. Then I slowly walked over to the median where the lower half laid on the dried out grass. I picked it up not wanting to believe what had just occurred.
Staring at the two pieces in my hand. I tried to connect the two ends back together like puzzle pieces, but they simply fell apart again.
I put the board down and tried to ride it like rollerblades. I told myself, “It still works, it isn’t broken, I can still ride.” Trying to figure out a way to get on and move frustrated me, I couldn’t do anything. I yelled in anger staring at the broken board, not caring if the neighbors heard my shouts of pain.
The lovely crimson sky had turned grey and the pink hibiscuses looked dull.
As I arrived at my girlfriend’s doorstep I threw the board on the patch of grass in front of her house and rang the doorbell. She opened the door and I calmly walked to her bedroom. I laid on the bed facing the wall with somber eyes. I had snapped inside, broken in two and unable to be put back together.
“Is something wrong baby?” She asked.
“My board died and so did I.”
The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous. As such, the names in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy.
“Hailey, wake up!” The sound of my best friend Megan screaming in my ear was enough to do the trick. I jolted upright and noticed the streetlight pouring into my window. I turn over and see my alarm blaring 3 am in big red block letters. Megan grabs the back of my shirt and turns me to face her.
“Do you smell that?” She points toward the door and sniffs the air. I start to inhale and immediately freeze.
Black smoke was seeping through the door’s edges, filling the room with haze that lingered in the air- blocking our vision and clogging our senses. I jumped out of bed and ran to the door, with Megan following behind. The smoke poured in thick as the door opened, revealing the horrible scent of burning food and plastic.
Megan grabbed my hand and pulled me to the kitchen. The hallway seemed to lengthen with each step and the smoke scorched our lungs with each inhale. We turned the corner and stepped into the kitchen, and there she was. My mother was lying face down on the tile floor in front of the white stove that was engulfed in flames. Megan pointed to the bottle of Captain Morgan laying inches from her hands.
“I didn’t even notice that she was drinking tonight.” She turned to me, face red and full of disappointment.
“Just try to get her away from the stove.” I spit the words out, my breath as hot as the air around me.
Megan grabbed her hands and legs and tried to drag her away from the fire while I grabbed anything in my reach to stop the flames. It was no use. The fire was growing taller and taller, nearing the ceiling as black ash covered the white paint. I heard something move inside the oven.
“We have to go, this shit is going to explode! Wake her up, I have to go get Brandon!” I screamed behind me as I ran down the hall to my mother’s bedroom where my baby brother laid sleeping on the bed. I picked him up and smothered him in the blankets from the bed, trying to protect his tiny ears and nose. I ran down the hallway and turned into the living room, choking as my lungs gasped for air. I threw open the front door and rushed next door to my grandpa’s, banging on the door leaving my little brother in a pile of blankets where my grandpa will see him.
I rush back into the smoke and find Megan by her side, “She won’t wake up, I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry.”
Her hand slowly started to raise and I understood. She propelled her arm forward, her built up adrenaline encouraged her momentum. Her palm landed hard on my mom’s face. SLAP!
My mom grabbed her cheek as the blood rushed to her head, and she jolted awake. Dazed she looked up at me and then at the fire she caused. Although still drunk, she seemed to go into survival mode and ran out the front door, stumbling the whole way. We followed behind and fell onto the porch, pulling the front door shut behind us.
“Where’s Brandon?” My mother seemed to remember that she had two children, and only I was accounted for. I pointed behind her, to my grandfather standing barefoot on his porch holding my little brother, who was angrily glaring her way.
The sirens wailing in the distance got closer and closing before finally pulling into my driveway. The firemen jumped out and ran inside to stop the flames while the police started to ask questions. I turned, waiting for my mom to explain what she had done.
She smiled at the policeman and pushed her hair behind her ear, laughing as the lie oozed from her lips, “Sorry officer, my daughter and her friend tried cooking while I was asleep and somehow caught the whole kitchen on fire.”
By: Sophia Tirado
I had discarded my childhood innocence early on.
“Sophia?” those boys would say to anyone who asked. Ugly boys, all teeth to wide for their mouths and egos too big for their bodies. “No one talks to her. No one’s friends with her.” And they would laugh.
The few friends I had stopping sitting next to me at lunch, starting sitting with those other girls with snake’s tongues and devil eyes. “She’s weird. No one likes her.” They would exchange numbers on their Motorolas, invite each other to countless unknowable parties, and they would laugh.
The laughter. Ringing in my ears, grating like a spoon scraped too harshly against the porcelain of a bowl. These children were like Play-Doh, easy to control; all it takes it one popular kid to say something about one new girl.
Brian, his name was. He decided the new girl was an outsider. A menace. He told everyone to stay away and that was what they did.
The teachers all knew. They looked away as no one would sit next to me during class, as no one would play with me during recess, as no one would pair up with me for a project. And yet, they did nothing.
Years passed, new people started to arrive in our gifted program. New friends, I thought. But Brian and his cronies quickly informed them of my status here in the class. And soon enough, they joined the other crowd.
Years passed, and I was alone. Others might have been targeted as well, but even they wouldn’t be friends with me. It didn’t matter.
Years passed, and I waited.
It was rainy today. So rainy that we had to spend recess indoors.
Mrs. Mesana was out. Said she needed to talk to the other gifted teachers about homework or tests or something. So, the other kids frolicked and climbed on desks and shrieked as they talked. I sat by myself, in a corner close to the classroom door.
I heard laughter. But it wasn’t the good kind.
“Hey!” That voice, like nails. “Everyone! Pay attention!”
And everyone gathered around him, like he was a messiah. I dared to look.
Brian was sitting on a desk on the other side of the room, holding up a piece of paper in his hand. There was something written on it, but it only took up half the page. He smiled like maybe a spider might when it contemplates its prey. “If you sign this letter, you agree that Anthony—” he pointed to a small boy, sitting in the back of the room. He then made a shrinking gesture with his hand, “—is a weak stupid-face has a small you-know-what!”
And the class exploded with laughter. Almost every single one of those kids. Kids who were lauded as sweet little angels by all the adults they knew.
Anthony had come into the program in 3rdgrade. He and I weren’t really friends, even though he tried to be mine in the 4thgrade when he started getting bullied. But I remember the way he bandwagoned with Brian and the rest of them the year before. I always remembered.
And one by one, they started up their mocking song and passed around the paper and a pen no doubt stolen from Mrs. Mesana’s desk.
Brian tried to get a kid named Ganesh to sign it. Ganesh was a good kid. He would not.
“I’ll just leave it here, then,” Brian laughed, “In case you change your mind.”
And he walked away, to go hang out with Matthew and Camilo and the rest of his stupid friends. The others gathered in clumps around them, jeering at Anthony. Leaving me to my own devices.
And there was the letter, lying unguarded next to Ganesh.
“Hey,” I said to him, “could I borrow that?”
He looked at me funny. I didn’t care. “Sure.”
The letter was vulgar, to say the least. Sentence after sentence of profanity after profanity. The words had the same foul feeling as a little kid might have when they’re tearing off the wings of a butterfly.
Children are such vile little monsters. I can’t wait until I grow up so can stop being around them, and stop being one. I can’t wait until I grow up so I can finally be free.
I smiled like a spider might when she contemplates her prey wrapped up tight in her silk as I silently pocketed the letter.
Mrs. Mesana came back a little bit after. She taught her class, I paid attention. She was the second to last class of the day.
Sooner rather than later, it was time for Mrs. Figeroa’s science class. The class lined up. I saw Brian out of the corner of my eye, talking to Ganesh.
“Where’s the letter now?” he asked. My heart was in my throat.
“I— I gave it to Ahmed,” he replied. “He’s going to sign it next class and give it back to you.”
A good boy Ganesh definetly was.
I stayed behind; waited until everyone was gone. I walked up to the teacher, “Mrs. Mesana?”
“I want to report a bully,” I said, taking the letter out of my pocket. “I saw Brian handing this around to people, and they would sign it if they agreed with what it said.”
Mrs. Mesana opened it with her liver-spotted hands. Her dark eyes ran over the text, widening with every word she read. “You said Brian wrote this?”
“I’ll get the other teachers immediately,” she started for the door, and I followed; I needed to get to Mrs. Figeroa’s class. “Thank you.”
I sat down in my usual spot in science class. The feeling in my heart was something deep and bubbling, like a pot of boiling water. My fingers shook from the excitement. My lips could hardly contain the smirk that spit my face in two.
“Why are you smiling?” A boy named Gabriel ask. Gabriel has always been kind to me. He did not sign the letter.
“You’ll see,” was all I said.
A few minutes after that, Mrs. Campanioni the reading teacher and Mrs. Mesana came through the door. Mrs. Campi, usually a jolly woman, was red-faced and furious. She held the letter in her hands.
I turned to look at Brian. He looked pale, like a ghost. He looked a like a scared little baby looking for his mommy. I wouldn’t forget that face.
“Brian Lozano and the following people,” she read out the list who had signed the letter, “come with us immediately.”
“What seems to be the issue?” Mrs. Figueroa asked.
“This letter was circulating during recess. It is the nastiest thing I have ever read,” Mrs. Campi said. “Do you kids understand how serious this is? This is bullying!”
Yeah. Yeah it was, wasn’t it?
Mrs. Fig extended a willowy arm, opened the letter, read it. Her face, usually placid, became wide and astonished.
“You are all going to the office right now.” Mrs. Mesana said.
No one moved. No one said a word.
“Right now. All of you who signed the letter.”
And just like that, a line was formed, and the three teachers left the classroom. Me and the other five kids who remained had only a few seconds alone before a security guard came to watch over us.
Gabriel looked to me. “What did you do?”
I only smiled and kept working on my worksheet.
The next day, I came to class but no one was there except for the five that didn’t go to the office.
During lunch was when I saw my classmates again: wearing yellow rubber gloves, holding spray bottles, and waiting with the rolling trash bins for us to arrive.
“Here Matthew,” I said giving him my empty juice box as he passed by. “Throw this away for me.”
And he had no choice but to do it. I laughed as he scowled and put it in the garbage, and I laughed as he rolled away to the next table.
“Hey, so I heard all the people who signed it got five days indoor suspension,” Gabriel said to me during computer class. “And I heard that Brian got expelled.”
Expelled? This was better than I could have imagined. My face lit up, smiling in unbridled joy, “Really?”
“Yeah. I heard from Andy that the letter was so terrible and had so many bad words that the principal not only gave him a referral, but expelled him too! I heard his mom is putting him in Shenandoah Middle.”
There it was again: my laughter. Laughter well-deserved.
“Good for you, Sophie,” he said.
When Mrs. Mesana came to pick the six of us up to walk in line to her class, she pulled me aside.
“Sophia,” she said, “Eso no fue bueno, lo que tú hicistes. Revenge isn’t good a thing.”
I couldn’t say anything back at her, even though I wanted to. I simply nodded and got back in line.
In my head, I was thinking: How dareshe say that to me. She ignored all the times I was mistreated, shunned, bullied. She and the rest of those teachers didn’t lift a finger. And then she has the gall to come up to me and say things like “revenge isn’t a good thing?”
Revenge felt good. It felt better than anything else I’ve ever felt. It felt good to see all those people that tormented me for as long as I’d been in this school cleaning up after me. It felt good to see all the scowls, all the tears. It felt good to sit in a nearly-empty classroom, knowing it was like that because of me. It felt good to know that Brian would have a permanent referral on his record, that his parents probably grounded him, and that he was going to a school where he would be the new kid. Maybe someone bigger and stronger than him would bully him, and then he’d get a taste of his own medicine.
But most of all, it felt good to give evil people what they deserve.
My dad always tells me that it’s good to forgive one another and that God forgives all his children, but I’m not God.
I’m me. I never forgive and I never forget.
By: Jessica Irarragorri
Running speed: 7.0
Walking speed: 2.8
And press start to begin.
Left foot, right foot. Its speeding up, I start walking at 2.8 miles while a remix of “happier” by marshmallow plays on the headphones. I play the music louder. Louder until I cannot hear myself think.
Speed will increase in 3, 2, 1.
Now running. Running at a treadmill as if I was running from my problems. Left foot, right foot, my legs are barely catching up when all the thoughts come up. Guess the music wasn’t loud enough. My heart feels heavy, heavy like hurting. What’s wrong? Keep running. Keep running. 40 more seconds.
And the weight of the world falls on my heart. I cannot come to admit what is wrong. 20 more seconds of running. And then I say it, I finally admit it, I’m not okay. I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy for a while. But what is happy, if you ask anyone is a generic construct. But how do I explain to a sane person what I feel? Thoughts go ballistic. Self-conscious about the way the voices come and attack, not knowing how to shut them up. My feet cannot keep up. I haven’t been happy.
Changing speed in 3, 2, 1.
Back to 2.8 on the treadmill. Walk it off Jess.
Happier replays on the headphones, I cut it off and look for “Mockingbird” by Eminem the walking interval is coming to an end, a minute sure does go by faster than you think.
Time to start running…
I feel my heart coming out my chest. Off course Jessica, you’re running. Then the thoughts creep in. How I have to admit what my new reality is, being all bubbly to those that see me while still having a sad heart. Pleasing all those around me while trying to figure out what to do with myself. But it is okay, I can wait. I always wait.
I feel like I don’t know how to be. I don’t feel like the happy-go-luck Jess anymore. I feel like I’m pretending now. I feel like I’m drowning in my own head. But whatever, I’m no one special so who cares about it. I am slowly dying off and I hate how I feel. I hate how I cannot control it.
You do have those that say to talk to them, but I cannot. Somehow it feels selfish. But I’m not selfish. Or I try not to be, the thoughts are speeding up, faster than the treadmill now. But am I selfish? I missed my sister’s wedding for a trip.
I cannot control the speed; my ankle wants to give out. I push harder, only 10 more seconds of the running interval, 6, 5, 4 and then BOOM.
My back hits the wall, I got thrown off the treadmill. I gasp for air. I struggle.
“Are you okay?”
Within seconds, staff gather around me. I nod with a smile and politely excuse myself. Walking towards the locker room, drops begin to form. I go to the bathroom and let out a small cry for help. Who will listen? I start grabbing at a roll from my belly under my Superman shirt, grabbing and tugging, just to feel something else. Breathe Jess. I tug harder. I feel my nails digging into my skin. How can I not? I don’t cut myself, but I do speed down the road. I don’t take pills, but I do hurt myself, one way or another. Hell, I hide in small spaces to feel tight. To feel tight to match the compression and the tightness of my heart. To feel small and like I can get away. It is safe to admit I am not okay.
I know I am not okay, but will anybody else ever figure it out? Will I ever just be able to stop hiding in my closet. Will I ever just stop screaming in my car and hitting the steering wheel with bare hands.
I wash my face, grab my keys and water bottle. Say my night greetings to the front desk individual with a smile.