The following pieces of writing are from Elizabeth Hanly’s course: Creative Non-Fiction.
The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous. As such, the names in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy.
I never seem to remember the details. I don’t remember exactly what happens, I don’t remember what leads up to it.
When I was four, I remember walking into my parents’ bedroom and seeing my dad laying on the queen-sized bed, in the fetal position. I went and stood in front of him, the top of my head just level with his. I didn’t understand why he was crying. Dads are not supposed to cry.
“Daddy, Mommy says dinner is ready.”
“I don’t want to see her,” he said, in his then-broken English.
The rest is fuzzy.
When I was six, I remember the words she yelled to me and my brother, just two small children. She had been fighting with him all day long, and we knew how she got when they fought. So, Andres and I ran to his room and shut the door. We held each other, and hoped it would all stop soon. We heard her footsteps approach.
Tears ran down her face and the veins in her neck bulged. “Fuck both of you!” she yelled.
I did not know what it meant, but I knew it was a bad word. My brother covered his ears with his hands. Later, my dad came in and told us she didn’t mean it, that she was just angry.
“Your mommy loves you,” he said.
The rest is fuzzy.
When I was ten, I remember sitting in the back of the car as I watched them fight. They stood outside in the parking lot, faces blood red with rage. I don’t remember why they were arguing, but I remember that Andres wasn’t with me this time.
Suddenly, my dad’s hand came up and struck my mom in the face. That had never happened before. I started to cry. They both were frozen in their stance. When they heard me cry, they looked over and my mom ran to the car. She sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine. Through a cracked voice and tears running down her cheek she just kept repeating: It was my fault Gabriella, it was my fault Gabriella, your Papa is not a bad man…”
The rest is fuzzy.
When I was 13, I was playing video games with Andres in his room. We had heard them start to fight, and we fled to his room, not wanting to get involved and knowing his room was our favorite safe space. They got louder and louder and louder and louder, and soon it was all we could hear. I crept out of Andres’ room and peaked into my parents’ bedroom. My dad was restraining her, bear hugging her on the bed, arms wrapped all around her. She was struggling with all of her strength to break free.
“YOU WILL CALM DOWN BEFORE I LET YOU GO. YOU WILL NOT HURT THEM ANYMORE,” he said.
His face was determined. I didn’t hear Andres’ come up behind me but suddenly he was pulling me away.
“You don’t need to see this shit,” he mumbled.
A driving test wasn’t for another week, but he got in the car and drove us to get Dairy Queen anyway. I remember ordering cookie dough.
The rest is fuzzy.
When I was 16, I drove myself to Baptist hospital. It was Friday night, and I was dressed to go out. I just needed to make a quick stop. I gave my name to the attendant in the psych department, and his computer printed out the little visitor sticker.
“All Baker Act patients are in the visiting room down the hall to the left. Visiting hours end at 9,” he said very matter-of-factly.
I gave him a curt nod.
I spotted my dad through one of the door windows, looking hollow in the white hospital gown. I entered the room, surrounded by other awkward encounters. He gave me a brief hug, and we sat down across from each other. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and I remember wishing that Andres was here too.
My dad interrupted my thoughts. “None of what she said was true Gabriella. I never said I wanted to kill myself. She put me in here as punishment.”
Last Wednesday, she had gotten a call from him at 2 am, and then shortly after she called the police. I remember the sirens wailing next to my bedroom window. I never knew what to believe anymore. I remember wishing I was in there instead of him. When I got to the party later that night, I remember accepting a drink even though I knew I had to drive home.
The rest is fuzzy.
I never seem to remember the details, but I guess they don’t matter.
By: Alejandro Arzola
I never got to see the sun that day.
It was a lazy day in bed for me that Saturday last Summer. I woke up just to go back to sleep, and when I finally got up at around two in the afternoon, I still had my café con leche, my morning ritual drink that always awaited me on the kitchen counter. I wasted the rest of my daylight hours playing video games until the hours grew closer to the shindig. One of my brothers was picking me up that night to take me over, only a few minutes away from my house was our destination.
He arrived in his car blasting our favorite electronic music, pumping ourselves up for the night that would never be. Locking my front door, I hurried to the car, committing the final phone-keys-wallet check. I stopped almost arm’s distance away from the car and ran back into the house. I had forgotten my Epi-Pen.
If my mom called me that night to check on me she would have ripped me a new one for not having at least three with me. With that, we were finally on our way.
That summer was an active one, always getting together with the boys for some last-minute weekend move. An hour before the festivities started, we arrive and are met by waves of brothers walking in and out of the house. It’s a beautiful machine with all the rigs and cogs rotating with each other in order to perform one main function. It’s amazing what a group of young fraternity men can accomplish when they are all devoted to a Saturday night.
In came a brother handing out a congratulatory and first beer of the night, a dark Brown IPA. This was the kind of beer that tastes bitter, but you finish out of respect for yourself; it’s only one beer. That beer would be my first and last that night. Little did I know, there was a silent clock no one could see starting its countdown. 15 minutes.
I found myself walking around the house aimlessly, trying to understand how I could have gotten so intoxicated from just one beer. I was sweating up a storm and breathing a little hard, probably from the constant movement. My face began to take on a red tone, along with the inner parts of my arms. 12 minutes.
I could not stop biting my upper lip and my eyes became just as irritated. I was beginning to scratch at the front of my neck, passing the hives up and down that were forming. That beer had to have had like 30% alcohol or something. 9 minutes.
I step outside to talk to some brothers I had not seen since the summer had started. It was always great to catch up with the guys, you never really see them all during the year like you would others. 6 minutes.
Nothing would come through, not even spit. In the middle of a breath, my throat shut. No words came out of my mouth and no oxygen went in. I reversed the breath and could gain back just enough life. 3 minutes.
Stabbing myself without warning probably was not the best idea, but it was all I could think of once I stopped breathing. That bought me some time for paramedics to arrive. How could I be so stupid? What the hell did I have that has me feeling like this? I didn’t kiss anyone, it was too early for that, I hadn’t shared a drink with anyone, I don’t see what it could have been.
The ambulance was called and was set to arrive in about 7 minutes. I’ve stared at the sky and watched the clouds pass, seen the breeze blow through the trees, witnessed the stars twinkle in the night sky, but time has never passed so significantly until that very moment. What could I do? What was there to think about? I was dying, simple as that. With every breath in, what came out did not match up. Intervals in those breaths became shorter, until I began to hyperventilate. 7 minutes until the ambulance came.
The sky was not black that night. It had a color to it, too faint to recognize, but something was there besides the Sun’s afterglow. Maybe that was just my blank stare. I couldn’t hear my friends around me. I couldn’t feel their warm hands on my quaking chest. All I could hear were the leaves rolling on the road with the wind. A cold hand of air slowly gripping around my throat. 3 minutes…
Place yourself at the bottom of a decently deep pool. Now begin making your way back to the top. You press off the floor with your feet, but the top doesn’t get any closer. You start kicking and clawing at the water in your way, only moving inches at a time towards the surface. To see the surface, visibly identify, realize you’re losing breathe, and barely reaching the frontier of air and water even when you can see it a mere few feet away from you, it hurts.
The ambulance lights started highlighting the black sky and the clock’s wheezing synced in tune to the sirens. 1 minute.
THE TALL BOY
By: Cinthya Gomez
Passing through the never-ending hallway leading us to the cafeteria, I talked to Lis about the latest drama. The cafeteria was packed, but we found the only empty table and it was right in front of a group of cute boys. Perfect.
That’s when I laid eyes on him.
There were about ten boys in that table. But he stood up to get his food precisely at the same second I was looking his direction. My goodness, he was tall! He was wearing a white V-neck and black jeans. Granted, that’s the typical college boy outfit. But with those long legs of his, there no comparison.
“Uh, what are you looking at?” Lis asked.
That’s when I realized my mouth was slightly open, I was so focused on him that words did not seem to form in my mouth.
So she followed the direction of my eyes and said, “Ew, that ugly guy?”
I was so offended. How dare she say that beautiful creation of god was ugly. I mean, did she not see how tall he was?
“Lis, shut up. Look how cute he is, just walking over there.”
She disagreed and continued blabbing on about her ex-boyfriend. I watched him walk away from the cafeteria, and subsequently, my life. Because this school is so big that I will probably never see a guy that tall again.
But I saw the same guy with the long legs every single day in the cafeteria at 12:00 PM sharp. I didn’t even know his name but he was all I could think about in class. And lunch time used to be my favorite time of the day because I love food, but I didn’t even care about eating anymore. I just needed to see him, and for him to finally see me.
“Oh my god, he’s sitting with our friend Danny, we should go say hi!”
“Lis no, I didn’t even put mascara on today, I can’t…”
“Girl, you look fine this is your only chance LET’S GO!”
She took my hand and dragged me to their table. We both said hi to Danny, our friend from high school. Then I turned to look at Mr. Long Legs, who had stood up to greet us.
“Andrew, nice to meet you,” he said while bending his head politely to give me a kiss on the cheek. I had to stand on my tippy toes to be able to receive his gentle kiss on the cheek, and I loved it. This was a Hispanic tradition, so I didn’t think much of it.
Danny asked us if we wanted to sit with them, and without a doubt we accepted his offer. It started off with small talk about our majors and school stuff.
I had one questionin mind. But I knew I couldn’t just randomly ask, because I’ll seem like a weirdo. So I went with the flow, making eye contact with Andrew everytime he spoke. Until Danny was telling a story about the way Andrew drives. Apparently he has to drive with the seat all the way back because his knees touched the wheel.
So I went for it.
“Wow, so how tall are you?” I asked with my elbow on the table, propping up my chin.
“6 foot 3,” he said proudly.
My attraction towards him increased by a thousand. Those numbers repeated in my head, everytime making my heart beat faster and faster.
I kept my composure, and smiled at him, trying to make it the least awkward smile possible. Because I was trying to hold myself back from jumping on top of him. I guess I like tall boys…
By: Genevieve Ardila
When I opened the heavy door to walk outside, he was standing right there. Lately, he’s always been right there. Since my best friend’s pool party, he’s been right there, in my messages and in my walks to class. I smiled and watched him stuff his hands into his oversized hoodie.
He walked over just to brush past me and sit on the table to my left. I acted blind to his presence most of the time, too shy to do anything about it and busy ignoring my friend’s constant nudges and raised eyebrows. I sat down next to him but on the opposite corner of the seat, rummaging through my bookbag since I couldn’t think of anything cool to say.
“You’re really going to do homework right now? School just ended like ten minutes ago.”
He pulled the bag away from me and in doing so moved closer. I was basically one buttcheek off the seat by now.
“Well it’s better than doing nothing,” I replied. “My phone’s almost dead.”
“Then let’s do something, let’s get food.”
I don’t know what possessed me, but I managed to say nonchalantly, “Sure.”
The street’s stoplight was still yellow when he started walking. “I don’t like crossing streets until it’s red,” I pouted once we reached the other side of the sidewalk.
“Well it sounds to me like you’re just a scaredy cat.”
Insulted, I blurted, “I am not!”
I could already read the situation; he was going to tell me to prove it. I wasn’t even close to ready for that.
Panicked, I changed the subject quickly asking if we could go to Publix instead of Subway. He looked confused but agreed, and we walked the rest of the way with small talk and slight blushes.
He bought me a bag of plantain chips and shrimp tempura, and I couldn’t be happier; I was craving them since lunchtime. We sat in a table by the deli, and he watched me struggle to open the bag.
“This would feel better if you were eating something too,” I joked.
“I’m not hungry,” he replied.
He’s never hungry, not when he bought me and my friend food last week and not now. I took out some homework and pretended to be reading it while I munched on the bright yellow chips. He was fidgeting with his phone every so often looking up at me, and I refused to look back.
Then, slowly he reached for my free hand, the one that wasn’t grabbing chips. He held my thumb between his fingers softly pulling the rest of my fingers along.
I felt my face growing hot. I laughed softly out of anxiousness and began stuffing even more chips in my mouth. I was intensely focused on staring at the crumpled yellow bag and not at his brown eyes. Those stupid brown eyes that reminded me of freshly turned earth after rain. My favorite type of weather.
My thoughts were interrupted when suddenly, he leaned in, his lips touching mine. I couldn’t kiss back, I had a mouthful of chips filling my mouth. I was frozen, not knowing what to do. My jaw clenched involuntarily and the crunch of those banana chips was so loud I felt the whole grocery could hear.
He hears it too, opens his eyes and pulls away hurriedly, I was shocked to see that his face was redder than mine felt like it was.
We both laughed, looking down at our laps. After what felt like an eternity, I swallowed and said, “You caught me off guard, dude.”
“I was too nervous to look before I did anything,” he mumbled, and I realized my hand was still in his.
I met his eyes. “Well, next time make sure I don’t have food in my mouth.”
“Got it,” he smiled. “Next time.”
EXTREMELY AND UNNECESSARILY LONG HANDS
By: Rachel Rangel Paradela
“Anita, you need to wear that green Roots sweater with the black Roots sweatpants one day. I swear it’s the comfiest outfit in the world. And with Converse, don’t forget the Converse,” I type in all capitals and send this message to my best friend.
“Rachel… you have to be kidding,” she answered immediately. “That’s exactly what I’m wearing to school today.”
I burst out laughing; she must be joking.
But two minutes later, I am dropped off and running to meet her in the courtyard. Standing facing each other was like looking in a mirror, we seemed like fools because twin day was eight weeks ago, and Anita and I were wearing the exact same outfit. People walked by and laughed, thinking it was stupid and why would we plan to wear the same thing, but I didn’t care, and neither did she. To me, to us, this was hilarious.
We spent the rest of the day discussing some ways that we could be related. That science had failed and somehow Anita and I were actually sisters. We ignored the fact that her skin, hair and eyes were all much darker than mine. That she was from Sri Lanka, and I from Cuba. That she had skinny features and I did not.
And instead, we focused on everything that made us feel related. How we both had extremely and unnecessarily long hands that we complained about all the time. Those hands had survived two different kinds of hell, in two opposite countries, yet they were hands that shared too many similarities. How we agreed on almost everything, from best music, to the “must watch” shows, to the cutest boys and the yummiest foods. Except spicy foods which she loved, and I could not stand. For the rest of the day, this was all we talked about.
For five years, we were inseparable. Unlike most girls our age, we never argued and always had the best time together. She was the person I could share complete silence with for hours and not feel uncomfortable. The one I would call when things were hard at home and her words were the only ones that could save me.
At the same time, I was the one that knew all her secrets. The one who couldn’t understand her insecurities because they were all things I admired so much about her but still knew what to say to calm her down. Anita was not my first friend, but she was the first and only person that ever felt like family I had chosen.
I have the phone of the boy I love in my hands. My fingers are uncontrollably shaking as my mind works to put together the words I am reading from his screen. My chest is a heavy weight sinking me down to the ground. My body feels like I am about to drown.
“I love you baby, today was amazing, and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow,” he said to her words I thought he had only said to me.
“I love you too,” she said. Anita said these words back to him.
His phone slips through my fingers and hits the ground. I can’t bring myself to look up, so I stare down at my extremely and unnecessarily long hands, naked and alone and thinking of the hell they are about to go through.