When the World Bends

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

Content warning: suicide. —ed.

By Amber Wong

Before the big splash, Elizabeth and I eased our sculling shells into the water and breathed deep the cool morning air. Fifty-four degrees, no wind: perfect Seattle weather for a Fourth of July row. Perfect timing, too. We’d be on the water at six-thirty and back before eight, so we’d beat the rush of pleasure boats—and their butt-soaking wakes—as they crowded into Lake Union for the night’s premier event, the 2017 Seafair Summer Fourth fireworks show. Up at Gas Works Park, where grassy mounds hid tons of hazardous waste that few Seattleites knew about, people would already be spreading out blankets, ready to wait out the day.

Overhead, high clouds began to blur and fade, turning blue skies even bluer, while freeway traffic rumbled across the Interstate-5 Ship Canal Bridge. Just beyond our dock, the narrow bend of water linking the lake to the bay smoothed out like a fan, rippling lightly at the edges. Conditions couldn’t be better, I thought, as I settled into a shell barely wider than my hips. My fingers tripped lightly along the dock edge as I readied to launch.

“To the Cut?” Elizabeth called out above the traffic din, and I nodded. The Montlake Cut, a crucial navigation link between the fresh water of Lake Washington and the salt water of Puget Sound, is the gateway to the University of Washington’s crew training course. Along the way we’d pass under two drawbridges that carried car, bike, and pedestrian traffic.

As I slid into the shadow of the Montlake Bridge, I felt my chest tighten. I stared at the stern of my boat, refusing to watch the parade of feet and undercarriages undulating overhead. My shoulders tensed when something—water? bird poop?—dripped on my cap. But I kept my hands loose. The moment I emerged back into sunlight, my lungs reopened. I gulped at the fresh rush of air.

Even after eight years, rowing under bridges still spooked me. I could almost ignore the steady drone of tires across the University Bridge’s steel deck grate, but not the teeth-clenching ka-chunk ka-CHUNK under the Montlake Bridge. The irregular thump of tires hitting uneven bridge joints, amplified by the concrete walls of the Montlake Cut, thundered in my head like a runaway train. But Elizabeth and I had an understanding. Over the years she’d talked me through enough rough water that I trusted her implicitly. In her encouraging banter—Relax your grip, I’ll never let you fall in—I heard a deadly serious promise.

Legs pumping, I pressed hard, pausing briefly to enjoy the blue heron standing, in perfect profile, on a rock outcrop. Overhead, our resident bald eagle—his light and dark plumage unmistakably outlined against blue sky—circled slowly, fishing for his next meal. When I reached the mouth of the lake, I lifted my oars and glided next to Elizabeth. We spun our boats and reached for our water bottles.

“Mountain’s not out today,” she announced, nodding to the south. Mount Rainier sat cloaked in clouds. A typical day.

Water traffic was picking up as we headed west back to the boathouse. As we approached the Montlake Cut, two motorboats overtook us, kicking up a wake. “Slow down,” we yelled, and in a rare bit of courtesy, they did. Emerging from the Montlake Cut, we skimmed past a cluster of rowers awaiting instructions from their coach. When we cruised into home stretch, we pulled to out of the boat lane and angled our boats south toward the dock. Under the roar of the bridge, we watched for east-west cross-traffic and waited for our turn to sprint the last forty feet across the waterway.

Elizabeth went first. Dashing south between a westbound motorboat and an eastbound eight-person shell, she approached the dock, then slowed to let another woman in a single scull and a standing paddleboarder cross in front of her. I watched over my shoulder, waiting for my opening.

Suddenly, just off the corner of the dock, I saw a huge splash. Heard a deep WHUMP. Waves burst from that point like an underwater depth charge, rebounding off the dock, colliding in a wild interference pattern. Barely five feet away, the sculler and paddleboarder struggled to keep from capsizing. Elizabeth, caught in the erratic water, quickly braced her oars.

What was that? I scanned the shoreline for clues. It was too big and too loud to be a coxswain, who by tradition gets tossed off the dock by teammates after a race. Even a hefty dog would never plunge that deep. As a dark, motionless blob slowly broke the water surface, I bit my lip to keep from gagging. Here was a person, prone and still, and the only place they could have come from was the Ship Canal Bridge, 182 feet overhead.

Disbelief paralyzed me. A suicide jumper? Here? Amidst the fractured waves I strained to see signs of life while my thoughts bounced like a rain squall on granite. They’re blocking my way to the dock! Can I slip by and not try to help? But if I take my hands off my oars I’ll flip over. Without a life jacket I could drown! Must I risk myself for a stranger who is trying to commit suicide? What’s my responsibility here?

Frantic shouts cut the terrible silence. “What was that? Some fireworks?”

“A cherry bomb? Who threw it!?”

“Oh my god, it’s a person! Who knows CPR?”

“I do,” said Elizabeth. “But…”

“Jump in and do CPR!”

A coaching launch zoomed by. I took a few strokes closer and saw no movement, then lost courage and gave the blob a wide berth. The launch slowed and stopped, drifting in the water for what seemed like minutes. Suddenly it made a tight U-turn and roared in close. Had the rowing coach seen something fall? Had she quickly deduced the horror of what had happened? Alone, on her knees, she leaned down to drag the limp body aboard but couldn’t get enough leverage. Still she held on, struggling to keep the person’s head above water.

From way too close a megaphone voice boomed, “Get out of the way!” I looked up in alarm as a crew team and its coach rounded the corner and bore down on us. Couldn’t they see the coaching launch? I couldn’t flag them down so I yelled for them to stop. They didn’t. I wasn’t lined up with the dock, but I took a big stroke so they wouldn’t hit me broadside. Someone on the dock reached out, grabbed my oar, and reeled me in. I cursed at the coach as he raced by.

Sirens wailed from both shores and from mid-channel, growing louder and louder, finally converging on this spot. Blue police lights flashed on the far shore, red fire truck lights on ours. Medics came running to our dock as a speeding Seattle Harbor Patrol boat cut its siren and pulled alongside the rescue launch. Within a minute the Harbor Patrol moved the body to the dock on the opposite side. Three—or was it four or five?—Seattle police officers stood ready. We crowded the edge of our dock but by then the rescue was shielded from view. Behind us, unsuspecting rowers carried their shells out of the boathouse and slid them into the water. The world had bent in a handful of minutes.

What else could we do? Nothing made sense. In a fog we wiped down our boats, put away our oars. As Elizabeth and I left the boathouse fifteen minutes later, another rower approached with an update.

“He’s alive. His eyes were open and he was breathing.”

Elizabeth and I sighed in relief. But I hated myself for my gut instinct for wondering, for how long?

“He was swinging a hatchet on the I-5 freeway. Drivers yelled at him to stop. He lost control of the hatchet. It dropped just before he did.”

•••

At sixteen I was an Explorer Scout, a division of the Boy Scouts. In 1972, Explorer troops were supposed to be all-male, but my friends and I exploited a loophole to start a co-ed troop of Medical Explorers. We scheduled lots of lectures and field trips because several dads, including mine, were doctors with connections. We even got to volunteer in our hospital’s emergency room. During one evening shift, I pressed fist-sized wads of sterile gauze on a motorcyclist’s leg as he lay moaning on a hallway gurney, then watched a doctor pull glass out of a screaming kid’s foot. I peeked around nurses and doctors as a silent Code Blue was whisked in and pumped for an hour before being wheeled to the morgue.

When the hospital pathologist invited us to watch an autopsy, I thought, oh, just another activity. But when I asked Dad to sign my permission slip, he shook his head.

His eyes were steel. He growled, “I don’t recommend it. That’s not something you want to see. Not at your age.” I was still hopeful, thinking, that’s not a flat denial. As if he’d read my mind, he continued, “I’m warning you for your own good!” His tone dropped ominously. “Because once you see it, you can never unsee it.”

•••

Two hours later, Elizabeth texted me. Feels a little surreal, huh?

I was home drinking coffee, eating a bagel, deciding whether to try to remember or try to forget. Turns out that’s a false choice.

I texted back. Yes. How are you doing?

Feels odd to just go on with your day. Concerned for the person of course. But it was a really close call for all of us. Need to just sit a bit.

Exactly. I’m still sitting.

Alone in my sunlit kitchen, I set down my coffee and choked back the sour in my throat. Elizabeth’s comment put me on edge. Right after the awful splash, my thoughts had flown to the jumper: How can I help? Will he survive? But in the silence of home I focused on me and my tribe, the rowers on the water. In one blind moment we could have been killed. We were open and unprotected. Any heavy mass from 182 feet—an errant chunk of concrete, a thrown backpack or garbage bag, a one-hundred-sixty pound person—would crush like a cannonball. The aftermath would have been gruesome as a bomb explosion. A war zone. I’d never seen one, but my husband and stepson had. Never would they unsee the horror.

I sipped the last of my cold coffee, tried to still the ache in my chest. Repeating the salient, immutable fact—none of us got hurt!—I walked to the kitchen window, away from mental carnage that didn’t exist. Below, the yard was drenched in shades of green. Beyond my neighbors’ rooftops I saw a glimmer of Lake Washington.

I imagined the view from the Ship Canal bridge deck: the 182-foot drop, the flatness of the water, and the vast three-dimensional space between. Images could get distorted, narrowed, especially through desperation’s lens. With boats large and small, from barges to sculls, did we move like targets in a video game? Factor in wind speed—after all, I’m a civil engineer—and the open water below the Ship Canal Bridge could constrict to a pinpoint. If the jumper intended to avoid us, he chose the slimmest margin of error. If not, that same margin of error was our salvation.

Would knowing the jumper’s intent have sharpened or blunted the horror?

Each day we live with incalculable risk. Animate and inanimate objects fall from the sky. Meteorites fall. People fall. No one really noticed, but hatchets fall too.

•••

“So did he die?”

Sitting around the kitchen table a day later with my mah-jongg group, four women I’d known well over twenty-five years, I lifted my glass of wine and felt a gnawing unease. Everyone’s first question was always about the jumper. Why did his presumed death garner so much sympathy? If he’d survived, would the tragedy seem more equal, both of us escaping death by inches? How does his willful jumping—and my sheer vulnerability—factor into the equation?

I gritted my teeth and shook my head. “I don’t know.” I’d searched the news but turned up nothing, so there’d be no resolution. As their voices grew louder, each person positing the jumper’s fate, I signaled “timeout” and interrupted. “The Seattle Times’s policy is not to write about suicide jumpers. Unless a lot of people witnessed it, that is.”

“Did a lot of people witness it?”

Tersely, “I don’t know.” Why did it matter? I had.

“How long was he in the water?”

“Ten minutes?” Why this unnecessary detail? My temples pounded in frustration.

“So how close was he?”

Finally. Like a fever breaking, a welcome relief—someone acknowledged my trauma, my anxiety over the random fragility of life. As I gestured across the length of the table, my voice turned unnaturally shrill. “About ten feet. He was so close! If he’d hit us, he could’ve killed us!”

There was a moment’s silence, followed by a quick chorus of retorts. Clearly my words hadn’t had the intended effect. Instead, I felt like I was being scolded.

“Whoa, you sound angry!

“It’s wrong to blame him. Of course he wasn’t aiming at you.”

“Think of his horrendous mental pain! It must have been overwhelming!”

What I heard was this: What’s your problem? Don’t you have a heart?

•••

Four days later, Elizabeth and I eased our shells into the water. Earlier that morning I’d debated with myself—Get back on that horse! Or not…—but the weather promised to be perfect, a promise that Seattleites are unable to resist. I was kneeling on the dock securing my oar riggers when a motion high above caught my eye. My head jerked up. Elizabeth saw my reaction and glanced up too. On the bottom deck of the I-5 Bridge, a cherry picker bucket was slowly lowering two men just below the bridge deck. I sighed in relief. In their hard hats and orange vests, I pegged them as state highway inspectors, likely testing for loose concrete. The bucket stopped with a light bounce. I tilted my head, visually measuring their relation to the water. They were about ten feet south and twenty feet below the spot on the upper deck where the person must have jumped. I stared a little too long.

Elizabeth knew exactly what I was thinking. If they fell, would they hit us? With a forced laugh she said, “Well if it’s your time, it’s your time then.” I could hear the thinness in her voice.

I frowned. I didn’t want Fate to be so lazy. Nervously I snipped, “Nah, I think they’re okay.” As soon as I spoke I was sorry. Why was I so rattled? Was I truly afraid they’d hit us? Was I ashamed to be caught thinking only of myself?

Or was something submerged now coming to boil? Was I reacting to the suicide jumper, how furious I was at him for terrifying me, yet how constrained I felt about expressing that anger? Four days of talking to my husband and close friends hadn’t helped—their comments felt way off the mark, strangely off-putting. So because I was alive, physically unhurt, I was expected to stifle my rage, ignore my feelings, and cluck sympathetically about his plight? How much empathy could I muster? Was it better for me to think of him more like a falling chunk of concrete—an object with no agency—than a suicide bomber who launches himself with intent to kill? Must I absolve him at all? Even if he wasn’t trying to kill us, the fact remained: he terrorized us. I felt like screaming, “There’s more than one victim here!”

Could I never unsee that concussive splash just ten feet from where I was kneeling?

I rose to kick off my shoes and heard the gentle lap of water. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I looked out beyond the dock to the west. There, at the wind-induced open water line between chop and calm, was a sharp demarcation drawn by the form of the land, the bend of the water, and the face of the wind. A warning: do not cross this line. So we’d go east then. I scanned the familiar scene across the channel: the white ferry, the concrete bridge supports belted with graffiti, the row of boats comfortably tucked in their berths. Ivar’s outdoor dining deck, its red and blue table umbrellas snugged down for the night, its dock empty now. All as it should be.

Absently I pulled on my cap and threaded my ponytail through the hole in the back. I stretched my arms wide, felt the air fill my lungs with cool deliciousness. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get to look for our eagle again. I grabbed my oar handles, centered myself down on my seat. As I pushed off the dock, an involuntary glance—up at the men in the bucket, and from there, to the upper bridge deck. The railing was empty. But from now on I would never stop looking.

“Annual inspection for bridge cracks?” I started at the unexpected sound of Elizabeth’s voice right beside me, her boat so close that our oars almost touched. I couldn’t mistake the drollness in her tone.

As her words slowly registered I began to laugh. She’d caught me looking up at the bridge again, searching for ghosts. Nested within her seemingly benign engineering question was a deeper concern: Are you okay?

Until that moment, I hadn’t quite realized how not okay I was. My feelings sat like a jumbled weight on my chest. Like Elizabeth, I’d always prided myself on my ability to stay calm and reason things out, yet these days I felt so roiled, so defeated. Silently I ranted, Why can’t I just get over this?

But with that laugh, that loosened eddy of air, the atmosphere suddenly changed. My internal smog cleared enough so I could see that she was troubled too. In our exclusive club of rowers-who-barely-missed-being-hit-by-a-suicide-jumper, we were virtually the only ones who could reassure each other, You’re not crazy, I was there, too. We had much to discuss. I would soon talk her through her fixation on the hatchet’s trajectory—I heard it splash, did it land right behind me? It wouldn’t fall blade first, would it? I’d feel her first flash of anger when she thought someone was throwing fireworks, trying to scare us. She’d wade with me through my swamp of guilt. Together we would reshape the story into something we could understand, something we could only arrive at after dissecting every detail and every “what if,” hailing our luck again and again, until the day lost its power to haunt us.

•••

AMBER WONG is an environmental engineer in Seattle who writes about culture, identity, and her firsthand knowledge about risks posed by hazardous waste sites. Recent work has been published in Lunch Ticket (Summer/Fall 2017 featured essayist), Slippery Elm, and Metaphorical Fruit, and her short piece, “How I Learned to Write,” won the Writer’s Connection essay contest. Amber earned an MFA from Lesley University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University. She is working on a memoir.

Pin It

How I Came to Believe in The Ally I Can’t See

By Adam B/Flickr

By Eze Paul Ihenetu

He burst through the door of my bedroom, pulling me from blissful sleep. Startled, shirtless, harried, and vulnerable—I still thought of myself as new to New York—I turned to face my intruder. The shirtless man with the scar above his left eye was my roommate of the past five months. His face was as animated as it had ever been. “Hey, Eze,” he said. “You need to get up. Some crazy shit is happening right now!”

Daniel was prone to embellishment and hyperbole. So, I assumed that the “crazy shit” he was hyped about would eventually become much ado about nothing.

I was in no mood to begin the day. Cursing him underneath my breath, I turned away from my roommate. Daniel, still hyper and insistent, would remain undaunted. He parked himself at the foot of my bed and yelled down at me. “Why are you going back to fucking sleep right now? Get up man! The towers are burning down! The fucking towers are burning!”

I was a recent transplant—I’d arrived in the spring of 2001—and still somewhat impaired by exhaustion. I didn’t understand what Daniel meant when he said that the towers were burning down. Daniel, a Brooklyn native, was standing in the common room in front of the television, completely rapt by what was being broadcast on the screen. The tops of two buildings were engulfed by massive flames, and thick, black smoke was snaking its way toward the sky. I thought that he might have been enraptured by a television movie, that is until a banner flashed across the bottom of the television screen that read: Breaking news: World Trade Center Disaster. And then came the video of the two airplanes hurling themselves into the façades of the World Trade Center buildings, followed by reporting from a catatonic news anchor. This was definitely not a movie.

The two of us ran up the hallway stairs until we reached the roof of our East Williamsburg apartment complex. The sky was a clear blue except for the area above lower Manhattan, which had been blanketed with the fearsome black smoke. As we watched the billowing smoke clouds spread more of their pernicious hate across the sky, Daniel posed the question that was like a blinking light inside of my brain: “Is the world ending?”

•••

The September 11th attacks would not prove to be the end of everything, though it did presage the end of something precious that I was unable to put into words.

The world would go on for Daniel, for me, and for everyone else that remained alive in the new world. Daniel was still thinking about securing a license to drive trucks while concocting more nefarious schemes to make money. I’d accepted a job as an actor with a traveling theatre troupe a few days before the attacks had taken place and had received assurances from the theatre director that the show would go on. I thought it was serendipitous timing that I’d been offered the theatre tour a few days before the terrorists attacked the city. For the air that I had been breathing in the wake of the attacks was a miasma of rage, charred metal, and burning bodies, an extremely toxic mixture that was affecting my psychological health. Spending an extended time away from New York City, where breathing in the noxious mixture was a regular thing became necessary.

I exited the city a few weeks after September 11th, one of five passengers of a cream colored van and trailer, relieved and grateful to be leaving a city that was still twisted from the wounds that had been inflicted upon it by terrible men. I was eager for the adventures that lay ahead on the open road, though somewhat peeved that Daniel insisted that I continue to pay rent even though I would not be living in the apartment for the next two months. I hoped things would improve for the city while I was gone.

•••

I returned to our apartment building on December 15th, feeling shrunken and skinny after having walked a few blocks in the bitter cold. The cold was made worse by my worried mind. Repeated attempts to contact Daniel a few hours before had proven unsuccessful.

I scanned the windows of my apartment for signs of activity. There was nothing. No lights. No music. Nothing. It was night, but it was still early, and for there to be no sign of life inside at this time was unusual. I knocked three times on the metal door. No answer. I knocked again, harder this time. Still no answer. Freezing and frustrated, I took a few steps backwards, looked up and screamed his name: “Daniel!”

“Hey,” said a voice, startling me.

I wheeled around to meet the voice. A burly and bearded man, an employee of the adjoining bread factory, was walking toward me. “Are you looking for the guy who lived on the second floor? Daniel?”

Lived? Did he say lived?

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I am.”

“He doesn’t live there anymore and you can’t go in there,” the bread factory worker told me. “Dude got murdered a few days ago. The place is a crime scene.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

“Yep.”

And in that instant, a once inviting home morphed into a sinister structure. I backed away from the apartment slowly and quietly, so as not to disturb the demons that were at rest inside.

•••

On the subway, I thought, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Though exhausted after three months of traveling and powering through shows with my theatre group, I should have been able to bask in the glow of a monumental accomplishment: I had established myself as a paid New York City actor. But I’d returned to a building complex that had been locked and sealed by the New York City police, a place that was no longer my home.

Where can I go?

It was the question that I had to ask myself after hours of riding the subway train, hunched over in my seat, still reeling from the news of my roommate’s untimely demise—I was reeling for myself as much as I was for my roommate. Besides the clothes that I was wearing, the suitcase that rested on my shins contained everything in this world that I could call mine at the moment. And it was a very small suitcase. Compounding the shock at my roommate’s unexpected passing was the explanation for why Daniel was no longer alive: murder.

•••

I called the police station a week after I’d found lodging at an upper Manhattan hostel facility. My reasons for calling the flatfoots were not quite so honorable, though. Reaching out to the police—something that I hoped that I never have to do—had not been a byproduct of my suspicions of what happened with my roommate, although I did have an inkling as to why he’d been murdered in cold blood.

What I needed was access to the apartment so that I could retrieve the property that I’d left behind. My computer, headshots, and some of the other things that remained in the apartment were essential components of my nascent acting career.

The cop on the other end of the line seemed to perk up at hearing my reason for calling and said, “Why don’t you come on down to the precinct so that we can talk about a few things? After we talk some, we’ll go to the apartment and pick up your belongings.”

After hanging up, perspiration attached my clothes to my body, blood drained from my face, and my stomach felt hollow—my normal reaction to fear. With that call to the police precinct, I’d enmeshed myself in an open murder case, a real big ball of shit turds! And for what? A couple hundred two-year-old head shots, an obsolete computer, and some other things that were replaceable? I was so hesitant to enter any kind of police station because I believed that it was the place where my current vulnerabilities—young and black, homeless, and alone—would be amplified.

Unable to quell my combustible emotions, I took a walk down Broadway, taking in the cool air to clear my head of poisonous thoughts. When the cloud containing these thoughts cleared after a mile or so of walking, I set my mind on visiting the station house the next day.

•••

After entering the police station, the realization hit me that I was probably within the vicinity of a few human cages.

I was received by two detectives. One of them was a white male, middle aged and balding, dressed in a short white short-sleeve shirt and black tie, a grizzled veteran of the Brooklyn police department. The other was younger, black and better looking, had all of his hair, and sported a slight mustache.

I sat facing the older detective, who proceeded with his harrowing rendition of what had taken place in my apartment while I was on the road.

On a cold night in December, two men rang the doorbell to the apartment building in which Daniel and I had lived, announcing their presence. Daniel made his way to the window overlooking the avenue below, looked down to the street, and recognized the faces of his eventual killers. And so, thinking that he was safe because he knew his assailants, he had permitted the visitors entry into the apartment building. As soon as the killers crossed the threshold of the apartment building, they stopped for a few moments to collect themselves in the dark, then covered their faces with black ski masks. The assailants sprinted up the stairs that led to the apartment, shoved their way through the door with guns drawn, bound and gagged the new residents who were visiting from the apartment one floor up, and then proceeded to torture Daniel while making demands for the money that he owed for drug sales. When it became clear that Daniel would not be able to meet their demands, the assailants forced him down on his knees, shot him twice in the head, and ended his life. He was only twenty-seven years old when he was killed, a baby boy cut down in the prime of his existence.

I was quite shaken. Both the detectives were able to easily ascertain that, and they gave me some time and space to process everything that I’d just heard.

Although I’d lived in that apartment with Daniel for five short months, I knew that he’d been involved in questionable activities involving drugs and drug dealers. Some of the dealers would spend some late nights over at the apartment, laughing and inhaling smoke from gargantuan blunt cigarettes while conducting business in the common room, keeping me awake as I attempted to sleep in the adjoining bedroom.

The most frequent visitor was a guy named Jesus, a temperamental, rotund man of impressive height who wore glasses and sprouted a thin beard on his face. His body type and temperament had been diametrically opposed to that of Daniel, who had been skinny, balding, clean shaven, slight, shifty, and calm while alive. Daniel and Jesus mostly got along despite their many dissimilarities, except for those times when Jesus felt that he’d been “disrespected” by Daniel.

A particular instance came to my mind. Jesus and I were alone in the common room—the only time he and I were alone in my apartment. He fumed as he recounted the story of how Daniel, while being taxied around Brooklyn by Jesus, shed crumbs from a pastry that he’d been eating in Jesus’s car. Jesus remembered Daniel breaking into laughter after he’d chided him for his offense. And then Jesus’s face went beet red as he said, “It’s the ultimate sign of disrespect. Dropping crumbs in another man’s car, right? You wouldn’t like it if someone dropped crumbs in your car and then laughed if you asked that person to clean that shit up?”

“Of course, you’re right,” I said. “I wouldn’t want anyone shedding crumbs in my car and then laughing about it.” I inhaled a breath, for I had transported myself back to the memory of when I returned home from job hunting one afternoon and caught Daniel rifling through the contents of my duffel bag. I was a brand new tenant at the time, and not in the mood for another apartment search, so I shrugged off this disturbing discovery, taking Daniel at his word that he just wanted to make sure that he could trust me, the new guy. “But I don’t know. Maybe he just doesn’t understand that what he did was offensive. Or maybe he thought that since you guys are friends that you would let things slide a bit.”

Then came the explosion. “No, fuck that! I fucking asked him, and he should have taken me seriously. I ain’t got to take that kind of shit from him!”

“You’re right,” I said, waving my hands in surrender. “He should’ve known better.”

The detective seemed to be zeroing in on Jesus as a prime suspect for Daniel’s murder. I was more than eager to answer any and all of the questions that led to the hardening of the detective’s suspicions about the guy. Jesus’s professed trade was that of a professional bounty hunter. Bounty hunters use guns to accomplish their work, and I assumed that Jesus owned a significant stash of weapons. I also knew that if the detectives suspected that Jesus was involved in the murder of my roommate, then I could also be in immediate danger. And I would definitely feel safer if the police were able to capture the man who could potentially commit an act of violence against me. So, I cooperated with the police in every way possible.

But you know how the cops can be. Suspicion of others runs in their blood, even in the case of an individual—a person who was not in town at the time of the murder—who had voluntarily agreed to come down to the station to aid their investigation. The grizzled veteran wanted to know more about the drug sales, which were things that I hardly knew anything about.

He raised an eyebrow at my insistence that I had no knowledge of any actual transactions taking place and said, “A murder at your apartment. Lots of visitors coming over at all hours of the night, and you don’t know anything about any deals that might have went down at your place?”

Fear spread through me, increasing my blood pressure and the intensity of my subsequent breaths. I could hear my pulse pounding on the inside of my ears. My intuition began to whisper. “They’re going to try to keep you in here. Be careful what you say!”

I’d been away from my childhood home for only seven months, and in that time, I’d had to wrestle with the reality of a terrorist attack, the murder of a roommate, and the subsequent bout with homelessness that followed that murder. There was no way I was going to be able to accommodate having to spend a significant amount of time in a police station where cops and criminals roamed, thousands of miles away from home and family, and in a city that I barely knew. I was going to have to smack the nose of the dog that was clamping its jaws. “Look. I don’t know anything about any drugs deals. I have never sold drugs and I never will. You need to find Jesus. He is the one you need to talk to about all of this!”

And when he became resigned to the fact that my story was not likely to change, the bulldog would eventually release his hold on me.

•••

The younger detective took my back to my apartment and allowed me to enter. My heart broke upon first glance at what the apartment had become, the scene of a horrific and terrible crime.

Before it had been defiled and ransacked, this unit had the look of a warehouse that had been converted into a makeshift art studio; an impressionist painting encompassed the entirety of the living room wall. Daniel and I had lived harmoniously with two young actresses in happier days.

Daniel was the native New Yorker, the man with all of these connections to all of the cool and interesting people. These people often graced the apartment with their presence when parties great and rambunctious, small and intimate, were held. He’d even allowed me to tend bar at one of his house parties, even though I knew nothing of bartending. The actresses—both of whom had moved out of the apartment before the murder—and I were grateful to have been within Daniel’s orbit.

But Daniel was gone now, an unfortunate casualty of a world that is often very cruel and unforgiving, and life was moving on without him. His apartment looked as if a tornado had ripped through it, and Daniel’s dried blood was smeared along the wall behind his desk. I swallowed the urge to hurl at the sight of the blood and continued ahead, wading through the wreckage in the search for my things. The detective’s pattern of movement through the apartment would match my own.

When we arrived in what had once been my bedroom, the detective informed me of Daniel’s older brother, who lived in a more affluent area of the Brooklyn borough. “He has kept your computer for you,” the detective said. “You should go and talk to him.”

He wrote the number of the brother on the back of his card and handed to me. I let out an audible sigh. I was going to have to talk with Daniel’s older brother now? That was certain to be another unpleasant, although necessary, thing that I was going to have to do.

•••

As I approached the L train station with what possessions I was able to grab in hand, I heard a voice from behind calling my name. Heart pounding, I twisted my head around to meet the call and saw that the black detective was jogging in my direction, carrying photographs in his right hand. My headshots! “You forgot these,” he said handing the photos me. “Good luck to you.”

“Thank you,” I said, grateful for the gesture.

It was then that the anxiety and fear began give way to an incipient faith. There was a reason why I had been spared the fate that had befallen my unfortunate roommate. The serendipitous timing of the theatre tour spoke to something larger at work in my favor: I had an ally of the invisible kind, protecting me.

So I was going to be all right, just like the city of New York was going to be. We would both persevere. I’d just have to get through meeting with Daniel’s brother before I could begin to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. It wasn’t fair I had to start again from the bottom, but I was young, energetic, ambitious, and too brave and sure of myself to travel back home with my tail between my legs. Surviving at the hostel for the next few weeks before I embarked on my next tour of the United States of America wouldn’t be too difficult. And after touring, I would return to New York City with the wind beneath my sails, ready for the next stage of my journey.

•••

EZE IHENETU is a hospital worker and freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado. Once a teacher and an actor, Eze is confident that writing will be the last stop on his long professional journey. He is currently working on a memoir about his time as an elementary school teacher. You can reach him on twitter at @Eihenetu.

Read more FGP essays by Eze Ihenetu.

Oppa Hit Me

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Sylvia Kim

It’s the summer of 2007.

My body’s immersed in the warm bath water. But instead of feeling relaxed, I’m in pain. The pain throbs across my body, eats up my mind, but mostly, pierces through my heart.

I replay the images from last night in my mind—flashes I desperately want to forget.

The rage in his eyes, so unfamiliar. As if I were staring into the eyes of a stranger and not the eyes of my brother. My brother—a pastor, my role model, the spiritual leader of an entire congregation. My brother who has known me and, although imperfect, has loved me my whole life.

Lips curled in fury, his face unrecognizable. And then the chokehold. Flying across the room. Hitting the wall. Feeling my body land in an unnaturally distorted position.

Looking up from down below, everything was out of focus. Upside down.

When he came to me while I was still on the ground, I knew right then and there that nothing would ever be the same again.

I was right. Things have never been the same.

•••

In Korean, “Oppa” means “older brother” from a girl’s perspective. The perspective of a little sister.

These days, “Oppa” is commonly used as a flirtatious term popularized by k-pop and Korean dramas.

But when I was growing up, “Oppa” was a serious term of respect. I was never allowed to call my brother by his given name.

Oppa and I learned to grow up fast as children of first-generation Korean store-owner immigrants. After a successful stint as convenience store owners, my parents would often leave us at night to go work at their clothing factory—a new business venture they were exploring. Oppa would go through my bedtime routine, put me to sleep. He would guard the phone at home. Three rings, a pause, another ring. That was the code my mother taught us so that we would know when to pick up the phone.

Left at home, too often by ourselves, we had a love-hate relationship; we fought viciously, made up, fought again and made up.

We couldn’t live with one another but couldn’t live without each other.

My childhood memories are entangled with images of his face, his expressions, his mannerisms, his lectures, his embraces.

Growing up, he was the closest person to me in my life.

•••

There were signs, of course.

His flashes of rage. The holes in the wall from his punches. We placed calendars over each hole and excused every outburst as teenage angst.

When Oppa went to high school, he struggled with his weight and consequently, his self-confidence.

Although I had my own personal angst, something about him, his vulnerability, his sensitivity made me feel protective.

Likewise, Oppa personified all the tell-tale behaviors of an over-protective older brother.

There were years of miscommunication and distance.

By the time Oppa went to college, we had re-kindled our friendship. By the time I went to college, we were so close that he gave me The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and told me that he would always be there for me.

He was the one I turned to over and over again with each dramatic incident of my teenage years, for each critical decision I made in my years as a young adult.

He was truly my Giving Tree, and the most influential person in my life.

•••

In the summer of 2007, I was visiting California to meet my boyfriend’s parents. We were planning to get married.

I had been visiting California since Oppa attended Fuller Theological Seminary. Oppa was now the Pastor of an English-speaking ministry at a local Korean American Church. My boyfriend attended that same church.

That morning, Oppa and I had a big fight. He was complaining I wasn’t spending enough time with him, that I was spending too much time with my boyfriend.

He’d become so angry, hurtful, since I had started dating my boyfriend.

I came home early that evening. I was staying with Oppa and my sister-in-law in their two-bedroom apartment. The fight from the morning seemed inconsequential. I was ready to make up.

But that night, something snapped.

I saw true rage in Oppa’s eyes. Was it really because of my boyfriend and Oppa’s over-protective stance as an older brother? Was it because I was about to launch my legal career and Oppa had always wanted to go into law but hadn’t? Was it because my parents already loved my boyfriend and were considering him as their son when Oppa had always struggled with self-acceptance as the eldest son of a traditional Korean family?

Is there ever a reason or justification?

This time, there is no making up.

•••

I’ve always prided myself on being an advocate. I consider myself a woman of action. I protest. I march. I fight.

I’ve always loved arguing, the heat of debate. In law school, I specialized in criminal litigation and international human rights—always one of the few Asians in my classes.

I’ve always been told how “non-Asian” I am; how I break the stereotype of a submissive, quiet, well-mannered Asian woman. I am loud. Confident.

Never would I have imagined myself to be so submissive…so Korean…so silenced.

I’ll never forget the panicked look of my sister-in-law as she forced the phone out of my hand when I was trying to call the police. I’ll never forget the sound of my weeping parents begging me not to call the police. Instead they told me to roll an egg on my bruises to make them go away faster.

I underestimated the power of my subconscious need to obey, to comply, to help my parents in sweeping this messy incident under the rug. The driving force to save our family’s reputation was also clouded by my internal voices of justification. This was my brother, after all. He loved me; I loved him. Surely this was not something I could send him to jail for, ruin his entire career, ruin our entire family. I felt forced to do nothing.

Me, an English-speaking lawyer-to-be with a background in advocacy and activism.

I’ll never forget the self-loathing and shame I felt as I retreated within myself, my voice silenced. Oh, the hypocrisy. And I called myself a lawyer? An advocate?

To this day, my father claims that what happened that night was not a big deal. So an Oppa hit his dongsaeng, little sister. He’s always wondering why I’m being over-dramatic. We were family. We loved one another. Why couldn’t I just get over it and move on?

So, I did nothing. I moved on.

•••

That night, my boyfriend picked me up and took me to a nearby hotel. He held me as I sobbed. He gently placed ice packs and eggs on my bruises.

He also went, the very next day, to hear my brother preach.

He, too, is Korean.

•••

I did nothing. In 2007 nor in all the following years.

But there were moments of clarity, of progress.

When I found out I was giving birth to a little boy, I cried. I was anguished that I should give birth to a little boy that could become a man who could potentially hit another woman. But I found strength in my husband, a good man, in knowing that we could raise our son differently.

Within a year after my son was born, I joined the Board of Directors for a specialized clinic for women experiencing violence. In my application to join the board, I shared, for the first time, openly about what my brother had done to me.

It was cathartic. Empowering.

I now have a daughter. And with the dismal statistics of women experiencing domestic violence in North America today, I want her to know that she can have a voice. She needs to have a voice. I need to raise her so that she, unlike me, will not be silenced.

•••

I get out of the bath water, unsure of what to do next.

I look in the mirror. I don’t even recognize her—such uncertainty in her eyes. That can’t be me.

When I look up close, at the bruises, she’s even more unrecognizable. I take out my makeup bag. I cover up my bruises. I put a smile on my face. I meet my boyfriend’s parents.

A year later, we get married.

•••

I won’t go into the details of my depression and journey of spiritual healing and revival after the summer of 2007.

I won’t go into the decade-old disappointment towards my brother and my beloved well-intentioned parents who have never acknowledged the criminality of what Oppa did to me.

It wasn’t until recently that I finally found the strength to publicly share my story.

Surprisingly, this strength came in the form of an unexpected phone call from a police investigator conducting a background check for my brother who had applied, of all things, to become a police officer.

As I shared my story, ten years later, to this random police officer, I did feel a refreshing sense of vindication. Oppa should have never become an ordained pastor, an American citizen, a Navy Chaplain. He should have received court-mandated counseling. I should have received a restraining order.

Then he wouldn’t have dared to threaten me again. Which he did, five years later, causing me to cut him off completely.

And my parents, first-generation immigrants. To this day, condoning my brother, asking me to be the bigger person, to think of the family’s reputation. To this day, asking me how they can choose between Oppa and me.

They don’t realize that by choosing to protect my brother, they gave up their daughter. The broken trust and abandonment I felt in my deepest moments of pain have never left me.

I know what I experienced is nothing compared to the unspoken tragedies of domestic and family violence in too many households across North America. But that’s why I need to tell my story. This story.

I loved my Oppa. I love my parents. But Oppa hit me.

•••

SYLVIA KIM is a lawyer and human rights advocate currently residing in Southern California. Although it took her much too long to publicly share this story, she hopes this will encourage other women, particularly from cultures where domestic and family violence is highly stigmatized, to share their stories as well. Sylvia is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and usually writes on international human rights issues, racial justice, and politics.

Life and Death and Dark

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Carly Bergey

Is it weird to anyone else that so many of the processes of our body occur in the dark? In my mind’s eye, I’m watching things happen the way they would in an educational film in high school science. Everything: digestion, oxygen exchange, salivation, ejaculation, menstruation.

I mean picture it: a woman releases an egg, it travels down the fallopian tube, if no sperm find it, it dies and passes through the body with the rest of the uterine lining. If it’s fertilized, that egg changes, grows, and moves into the uterus and usually embeds in the right spot. Now imagine that in the dark. How the hell does this happen?

Hormones. Temperature. Luck. All regulated by biochemistry and stuff I can’t see at all. Why do I care? Is it because I’m logical and scientific? Is it because I run a little anxious?

The corpus lutem is a little watchmen that waits for any sign of a fertilized egg implanted in your body. It’s the part of the ovary that the egg bursts out of. It waits in the dark for a wave of heat—estrogen—to signal that the uterus should hold on to its lining if you are pregnant. You know the rest: the mystery of life and really if you think about it, death. Something happens and cells thrive or something happens and cells die and it all happens inside us.

It’s embarrassing how hard I tried to have a baby. How badly I waited. I thought I would be laid back and spontaneous. Finally, we can just have sex and not worry. Like Sally Albright, I thought we’d bang on the kitchen floor whenever we wanted but the truth is, it really is a cold, hard, Mexican ceramic tile and super uncomfortable. I really did take the fun out of it.

In every month, you spend three weeks waiting to find out. Waiting to ovulate, waiting to find out if you are pregnant and waiting to start again.

I had months and months of starting over. I wasn’t medically outside of normal limits. We were told that getting pregnant within a year of trying is normal. I absolutely break for people who endure this for years.

After six months and eight cycles, I woke up in the middle of the night. I felt like I was riding the tiniest tidal wave of heat. I felt a vibration—like a buzzing, happening in me. I sat wide awake in the dark and smiled. This was unusual enough, chemical enough, that I absolutely knew I was pregnant.

I was right. The next day, a few days before my period was due, I took a pregnancy test and yep, two lines, that little heat wave was the start of a baby.

I rode other waves too. Like the nausea wave. That is no joke. I texted my Dad who had recently stopped chemotherapy for what we had just learned was terminal throat cancer. We joked about puking first thing in the morning, how much we puked, how gross it is, all the different weird words for it: Puke, barf, vomit and his favorite an onomatopoeic RAAAAAALPH.

But at my first OB appointment I found out, I would be starting over again. My baby had no heartbeat.

It’s a thousand tiny deaths … all those steps from there to here. Cell death. Death of what you thought would happen. The death of your father.

When they showed me the tiny form on the screen, all I could think was that it was dark inside my womb. I didn’t want my baby in there alone and unseen when they turned the monitor off.

The body works along, without our consent whether living or dying.

I endured a few very hard weeks hoping for a natural miscarriage and, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I scheduled a D&C.

I found myself really curious about how the D&C procedure is performed. I asked the doctor to explain the approach in detail to me. Why does a physician go in blind when they remove the fetal tissue? Wouldn’t it help to have the procedure guided by ultrasound? Why do you do it in the dark? Why can’t you see?

When I asked the OB these questions, a lady I had never met but had already spoken to on the phone, she seemed offended and sort of scuffed when responding. “Um, I’ve done this before. We don’t use an ultrasound because we don’t. We know how to do it.”

Is it so much work to educate a patient about your methods, about the risks? I pressed on. “How are your outcomes? What are the risks?”

Again, annoyed and terse. “They’re good. There is a small risk of puncturing your uterus and therefore of bleeding, of hysterectomy, and, of course, even death.”

“So I could wake up without the ability to have children?”

“It’s possible, but what else are you going to do?”

She actually said that to me.

The first nurse couldn’t get an IV in. Another nurse came in and got it. She offered her condolences to me. The office was plastered with pink and red hearts. Fresh roses sat proudly at the nurses station. It was Valentine’s Day, after all. My husband offered a thankful nod and the nurse left. He held my hand and waited with me, assuring me it would be okay. He was an ocean of calm.

A small-framed man walked in, the anesthesiologist. We pulled his chair close to mine and started with this:

“My wife has sat where you are sitting five times. We joke that we have two only-children because there are nine years between our first and second living children.” He had kind eyes and a friendly energetic voice. “I’m going to talk you through the risks of anesthesia. The procedure involves sedation, no intubation or ventilation but there is a risk, less than a lightning strike, that I would need to intubate you, okay? It’s safer to do this than to drive home. You could have a bad reaction to the medication but again, these are old meds, very well studied and I am an excellent doctor.” He went through a few other risks, including the tiniest risk of death, which he said was like suffering two lightning strikes in the same day and told me I’d wake up a little groggy.

He consistently addressed me before addressing my husband. He put his hands on mine and said he was so sorry I was suffering and he wished me well, hoping that I would fare better than his wife. As he was leaving the room he turned and said “After this, you can start over and try again.”

I wrote him a thank you note later. That man is why I let them wheel me into the room, let the somewhat rude OB scrape the baby out of my body without even looking.

He was right. I did get another chance to start over. Two months later, they peeked again and saw a strong heartbeat and a tidal wave of heat with their machines. I was ten weeks along when Dad passed away in the dark of morning. And the mystery of that baby growing in the dark accompanied the grief, the way the sun rises even if you didn’t sleep great. I had a daughter that December, she has my Dad’s curls.

I got to try again two years later and have a son. We named him after my dad. He was born as fast as a lightning strike into a unlit hallway of the birth center. The midwives turned on the lights later and we all laughed at the trail of blood I left from the lobby to the spot he emerged. “That looked a lot better in the dark,” the midwife said. That was true. When I play the video of his birth in my head, I see nothing. I don’t need to see it. I had gone through enough life and death by then to trust what I can’t see.

I feel the power of his body moving through me. The weight of him leaving me, the people bustling around me, I hear myself yelling out, I hear splashes of liquid hit the floor. A nurse tells me to squat, which I ignore and deliver him standing up. I don’t even see him yet, he is just pressed against my abdomen screaming. I hold him to my belly. I feel his squishy shoulders, his tiny frame. At that point, we didn’t know it was a boy. I did have to move out of the dark hallway to confirm that.

•••

CARLY BERGEY is a Speech-Language Pathologist, singer, and writer currently crafting a memoir about her work as a voice therapist. Her creative and academic writing has been published in Intima, Pulse, the ASHA leader, ENT Secrets and CHEST. She lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with her family.

The Consequence of Losing My Damned Mind

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Eze Ihenetu

I knew that he’d emphasized our similarity so that he could disarm me.

“We are both Igbo,” he’d said, through a forced smile.

My thought response: So what.

Despite our shared heritage, he and I were still adversarial strangers because he had gone back on his word. This “brother” of mine was one of the people responsible for my extended confinement to the psychiatric ward. I was not in the mood to extend any form of good will.

I positioned my wheelchair so that I was directly in front of him, and I slowly looked upward until my eyes met his. Arrogance wafted off of him like the heat from my rusted bedroom radiator.

I made ready to make my demand.

“What did I do to make you think that I should spend more time in this place?”

I waited for his answer, radiating irrational anger. I was still under acute influence of my disease, and I was still in denial of this truth.

I lost my patience when he failed to respond, which precipitated the relinquishment of my remaining composure. I bellowed up at him, “You told me that I would only have to stay here for a period of two days. That is what you said to me, right? Now you are telling me that I will have to stay here for two weeks! Two weeks?! Why are you unable to keep your word?!”

He pursed his lips. Then he folded his arms without speaking a word. Was that going to be the extent of his response to my question?

I slammed my right hand down on the wheel of my chair and said, “Promises were made to me and I should expect that you would make sure that these promises will be kept!”

I knew that arguing with the doctor was probably useless, but I needed to say my piece. One of the only positive offshoots of my disease was that I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. I was standing up for myself in a way that I never had before. Why had I suddenly become so outspoken and brave? Because I was more than certain that I was in mortal danger.

The doctor looked as if he was staring down at a cockroach. He made ready to squash the unpleasant thing that was waiting him to answer.

“Your condition has been deemed more severe than we first thought. And we need more time to observe you,” he said. His accent was thick, more pronounced than the one my father spoke with.

“But I don’t want to have to stay here any longer. I’ve already spent two weeks at this hospital. I need to go.”

“You have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a very serious psychological condition. We have to treat you and see how you respond. You will be released when we are confident that you are showing progress.”

My heart sank.

While still within the psychiatrist’s purview, I conducted a quick reconnaissance of the dreary, monochrome, and cramped ward. It was divided into two corridors, with the nursing station acting as the point of demarcation. A half dozen uniformed police officers roamed the two corridors and manned the exits. Any attempts to cross the established border that linked the two sides would be dissuaded by the officer who acted as the border’s sentry. The police officers were obviously there to assist the clinical staff with maintaining some semblance of order, but seeing so many armed members of law enforcement cobbled together in such a constrained location rankled my nerves.

The hospital’s inmates walked among these officers, most of whom had spent almost the entirety of their lives existing on society’s edges; a portion of them had spent some time in the New York City prison system. There was a charge that ran through this place. And it could be ignited by anyone here, and at any time.

Prison stints and extended stays in hospitals had not been a part of my past. Why transfer me to this place? If the hospital would have performed some research they would have discovered that I was a graduate of the Boston University School of Business, a trained professional actor, and came from a good family. Every member of my family had either graduated from college or was planning on matriculating into a university. I knew that I didn’t belong in this place, but the gatekeepers who held the keys to freedom obviously thought differently.

“Whatever,” I said, shaking my head.

Now he was looking at me as if he was ashamed. I wanted to dig my fingernails into his sand-colored face and add a few more divots to the hundreds that had already ruined it. I steered my wheelchair away from the doctor in a huff instead, making sure to hold my breath as I passed by the open door of the room that stank of urine and cigarettes.

•••

When it was time for sleep, I lay awake on my hospital bed instead, my diagnosis bouncing around my head.

To his credit, the psychiatrist had tried to take away some of the sting of this life-long sentence when putting forth his diagnosis, saying that I was susceptible to periods of mood instability and mania, and that I was not the only one who was suffering from that particular disease. That explanation was lost on me though, for all I could focus on was the word “schizoaffective” and all of the horrific images that my mind was associating with the term.

Momma had always said that I was the special man in her life. I’d thought that I was special too, believing at one time that I was gifted with a special insight into the whims of others. The psychiatrist had taken the wind out of that sail by handing down the life sentence. If I were to believe the doctor’s words, then it would mean that my extra-sensitive perspicacity was a stain instead of a gift. This fact alone had a shattering effect on my confidence. The diagnosis, in addition to the fact that I was the only person on the unit who was sporting a cast around a recently repaired broken leg, made me feel very vulnerable. When the pain from this realization became too much I stopped resisting the pill, and downed the twenty milligram Zyprexa for the first time.

•••

I awoke later than usual the next day, unable to raise my head from the pillow. I attempted to move my limbs but was unable to because it felt as if the muscles and bones had been filleted from the inside of my skin. My mind was covered in a fog. After a few minutes I was on the verge of tears, thinking that I was going through the first stages of my death.

By early afternoon I realized that I’d overreacted in the morning. My condition was improving slightly with the passage of each subsequent hour. By late afternoon I was sure that I was going to live, though I would remain mired in a Zyprexa-induced stupor for the rest of the day. I went to bed on an empty stomach in the early evening—I’d been too tired to eat anything during that day—vowing never again to ingest another Zyprexa pill before closing my heavy eyelids.

I was myself again the next morning, although still a bit groggy from the day before. My roommate, who stood at an imposing six feet three inches and weighed two hundred fifty pounds, was still soundly asleep in his bed. He had been a docile fellow during the time I’d known him, a fact for which I was extremely grateful.

I exhaled a breath before I sat up and swung my legs from the bed onto the hospital floor, an action that required an inordinate amount of exertion. I encircled the circumference of my wrist with my hand and gasped in surprise—my wrist was replete with bony protrusions. Distraught from my extreme weight loss, I slid down from my bed until my butt hit the floor, then got down on all fours and started some push-ups. I maxed out after ten repetitions and stayed on the floor for few minutes, exhaling deeply. After catching my breath, I pushed myself off from the floor and got to my feet and used my good leg to hop on over to the foot of my bed, where my wheelchair was waiting for me. The light from the corridor was spilling into the open doorway. I steered the wheelchair towards it.

•••

Mental illness is defined by its abnormalities and vicissitudes; the functioning of the mind and body is thrown into complete disarray. One clinician’s proffered reason for this instability was an ongoing “disconnection” between brain cells. His words felt abrasive and accusatory. It was “you” are this and “you” are that. I bristled at the explanation. He had basically asserted that I was the only one responsible for my condition. He’d made no mention nor alluded to other factors that may have been contributed to my behavioral inconsistencies.

When allowed to thrive, the mental illness makes it almost impossible for the afflicted person to establish and adhere to a routine. The people who ran the psych ward made establishing a routine a vital component of the patient’s recovery. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served at the same times every single day—my favorite times of the day. Psychotropic medications were distributed at the same time in the mornings and evenings. There was an activity room where the groups were held, although I preferred to watch movies on cable instead of talking about my issues.

•••

Fearful that I could add even more time to my original sentence, I set out to be the good patient, going out of my way to prove that I was quiet, affable, and well behaved. I adhered to all of the standardized rules that had been set, except for the ingestion of the psychotropic medications. I’d hide the pills below the base of my tongue before making sure they met their ultimate fate at the end of each evening: circling down the drain of the bathroom sink.

I was the only patient who roamed around that wing of the hospital in a wheelchair. So I strove to avoid getting into any type of confrontation with the other denizens of this crazy place. My leg always drew attention to me though—the entire bottom half of it was encircled by a neon green cast. The others couldn’t help but be curious about what happened.

When the other patients asked what had happened to my leg I responded to their questions with most of the truth, one that was in direct contradiction to the story that I’d relayed to my care team. I’d told my care team that I’d tried to kill myself because I thought it was what they wanted to hear, and because I was trying to escape being branded with a more severe diagnosis.

Killing myself hadn’t been an option because I was afraid of the consequences. Although I wasn’t a devout Catholic, I was cognizant of the fact that taking my life would result in my being transported to hell for an eternity. And for a man who had been walking along the path that God had created for him, suicide was not a viable option.

•••

What were the actual events that had led to my hospitalization?

I’d locked myself in my room during the last few days of December, 2003, my brain on fire with delusions of persecution and conspiracy. I would try to douse the fire by spending time alone in the darkness, removed from everything and everyone. But the conflagration in my mind would only become more incensed.

My bedroom became a dark cave. The air in the room became stale, but I was content to breathe it in. During those two days I hardly shifted positions while supine in my disheveled bed, staring up into the darkness, while the paranoia, anger, and sadness gripped me. My bedroom, a shambolic mess, was the embodiment of disorganized thoughts.

Mom, Dad, and other family members kept on calling. Their calls brought short stints of reprieve from the loneliness and isolation and provided me with a temporary reminder of who I was. I wouldn’t return their phone calls though. I’d ignore my roommate’s entreaties about my health and eschewed the phone calls of the friends I’d made. I suspected everyone that I knew was working for my enemies.

After I decided that it would become untenable for me to remain in my room for perpetuity, I devised a plan—it was emblematic of my desperation. I jumped up from the bed to dress and gather everything that I could carry, then entwined three sets of sheets together, creating a makeshift rope. I tied one end of the rope to the radiator, parted the curtains, and opened the window. I adjusted my eyes to the sun and threw the makeshift rope through the open window.

I looked down the length of the sheet as it swung to and fro and against the brick wall of the four story apartment building. There were three stories separating me from the concrete floor below, the makeshift rope spanning the length of about two of those stories. No problem. I would scale down the first twenty feet of rope before attempting to jump the last ten.

I was still three stories above the ground when the rope snapped, leaving me to fall the rest of the way. When I crashed down on the cement street that had been made harder and colder by the sub-freezing temperatures, the wind escaped from my lungs. I couldn’t make a sound, but my entire body was screaming from the pain.

When I regained my wind from the fall and the wracking pain had morphed into dull and persistent throbbing, I took inventory of my current situation. The paraphernalia that I’d been hauling on my back was strewn all across the alley way, but my body seemed to be intact at first glance.

My mind was still feverish, and I desperately needed to get away. I thought I could miraculously walk away from this catastrophic fall; I started the process of gathering my things together when I noticed that my right leg was bent back awkwardly. There was also a rip in my jeans, from which escaped the calcified bone of my knee. Blood was upwelling through the hole that had been made by the exposed knee bone, and spilling down the sides of my jeans.

I burst out crying at the sight of my new deformity before desperately flagging down a startled passerby.

“Can you please help me?” I said, sobbing. “Please, please help me.”

•••

I told the story of how I arrived at the facility in Daniel’s room. Daniel, a bearded and excitable young man who had spent a significant amount of time in hospitals, rolled his eyes after I had completed my tale of woe.

“Come on, man,” he said. “That’s nothing. One time I got fucked up so bad that I had to spend four months in a hospital bed.”

Geoffrey, a large man with two missing front teeth, was sitting next to me. Like my roommate, he was a gentle and calm; a smile came easily to him. His wide grin and kindness were gifts of welcome respite from a continuous flood of despair. If you were to run into Geoffrey on the street, you would never have guessed that he was a schizophrenic who had spent six years in a real New York City prison facility.

•••

Geoffrey was with me when my father arrived for his visitation. Dad’s wide eyes revealed his absolute shock at my appearance: I’d sustained a nasty shiner in addition to the broken leg and weight loss. His reaction upon first seeing me in the hospital distressed me, though it wasn’t a surprise. Nothing could have prepared him for the sight of his first-born being confined to a wheelchair, body broken and spirit twisted by demons both real and imagined.

My father’s visit proved to be my saving grace. His presence provided a temporary uplift for my spirit and acted as a precipitating event. A few of the ward’s employees had developed a fondness for me during my confinement; their eyes practically lit up at the sight of the family reunion. The hospital staff knew that my father—dressed in a plaid jacket and carrying a briefcase—would act as my responsible guardian, which placated their concerns about my well-being when I was eventually released from the hospital. There was an up-swelling of hope within me that felt foreign, which contributed to the ward feeling a lot less dreary and depressing on that day.

Dad’s visit had the opposite effect on Geoffrey, though. We were hanging together, watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie—the best of the five—in the activity room when he let out a sigh and said, “That’s cool that your dad came out all this way to see you. My family lives right here in the city and ain’t none of them came out to see me.” I could only respond to my friend Geoffrey with silence because I was too absorbed in my thoughts and situation to really consider what he was saying.

•••

A week and a half had passed without my having been involved in some major incident on the floor, another fact for which I was extremely grateful. And I was actually starting to get used to life on the ward. I had settled into the prescribed ward routines and had made a few friends/acquaintances. With only a few days remaining until my release, I was thinking that I might escape this place without accruing any additional scars.

And then my roommate lost his shit one night.

He took offense to something that was said by a visiting nurse, cursed her out, and then spat at her face from a supine position on his bed. One of the officers on duty rushed to the aid of the nurse who’d just been assaulted. I was thankful that the roommate seemed to calm as the dreadlocked and bulky cop firmly established himself at the nurse’s right flank. As I watched the situation quickly unfold, I felt as if I’d experienced whiplash. What would possess a usually docile and gentle man to assault someone in a manner that was vile, and in a place where immediate repercussions would be meted out?

The incident with my roommate, the loss of my job and girlfriend, and other things weighed on my mind when I went before the clinical team/parole board to discuss my progress as a patient. My fellow Igbo man had been given a seat at table. His inclusion in that group would have made me clam up a few days ago. I became a puddle a tears and snot on that day, though, oblivious to the judgments and affirmations of the people who watched me in that room.

•••

It wasn’t until I was given access to my clothes and phone again that I became truly secure in the fact that I was finally leaving the hospital that had been my home for the past month. I found Geoffrey in his room so that I could say goodbye. When I reached up to shake his hand, he said, “I don’t ever want to hear that you have come back to this place.”

I responded firmly. “I promise that I won’t.”

•••

Thirteen years have passed since I left the hospital. I remain a healthy, contributing member of society, who seems to have discovered the perfect formula for managing a chronic precondition—lower doses of psychotropic medicines are an important part of this formula. I’ve secured a master’s degree in health administration, and I’m up for a promotion with the employer with whom I have enjoyed my longest tenure. Those dark days from thirteen years ago have faded to the rearview of my life’s journey, but I still think about Geoffrey every single day.

I hope that he has been able to carve out a life for himself, though I am not optimistic that he has. He and I may have been two mentally ill individuals who’d gotten to know each other for two weeks in the same psychiatric ward, but I was blessed with certain advantages that would make it easier for me to regain the life that I’d nearly lost. Education, a loving family, and the absence of a criminal record all worked in my favor. Geoffrey would have to make his way in the world absent of the advantages that I had. And given the fact that he was a black man, which is a state of being that diminishes one’s prospects for success in society even when you are educated and healthy, his situation is very precarious.

I wish that there were some way to find out that he is all right.

•••

EZE IHENETU is a hospital worker and freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado. Once a teacher and an actor, Eze is confident that writing will be the last stop on his long professional journey. He is currently working on a memoir about his time as an elementary school teacher. You can reach him on twitter at @Eihenetu.

Going to Ground

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Sarah Einstein

Like a good citizen, I call my senators at least once a week these days, but their aides are brusque. They tell me that Alexander and Corker support the President’s education agenda/healthcare reform/immigration order or whatever I’m outraged about on that day. In the first few weeks, they’d thank me for my call. Now they simply say, “Your objection is noted,” and hang up as quickly as they can. Once, as if caught off guard, one said, “Are you sure you live in Tennessee?”

I carry my passport with me everywhere these days.

I’ve begun to sort that which is precious and from that which is not. I make a small pile of the things I’d pack in the night, a larger one of the stuff I would leave. Everyone is insisting we’re just one Reichstag Fire away from fascism. On the news, I watch a steady stream of black people murdered by the state for their blackness, and I think it’s more likely that we’ve already had the Anschluss.

When I travel, I wear an inherited diamond I feel silly wearing at home. I remember being told when I was younger that a Jewish woman should always have enough jewelry on her body to bribe her way over a border. At the time it seemed quaint. Now it seems key. For the moment, the diamond ring’s still on my finger. I wonder if there will come a day I’ll need to sew it into the hem of my coat.

Over coffee, my friend Meredith talks about joining the resistance in a way that suggests we’re headed for a war she thinks we can win. I talk about going to ground, about building false walls for hiding people waiting for fake passports and safe transport. We scare ourselves and then laugh at ourselves, but even after the laughing we are still scared.

Meredith wasn’t always Meredith, and there is a passel of bills in our state legislature designed to make it impossible for her to be Meredith now. I tell her I will hide her in my hidden rooms, if it comes to that. She says she won’t be hidden, but she might move to Atlanta.

My coffee these days is chamomile tea. I’m jittery enough as it is.

If we flee, we will go to my husband’s family in Austria. The irony of this is not lost on me; there are Nazis in the family albums. They assure us that we’ll be safe there, should it come to that, and I believe them. They’ve clearly learned lessons that we have not.

My husband has stopped talking about becoming an American citizen and started talking about being an anchor relative.

My friend Jessica is spending all her vacation time in Israel this year, establishing the Right of Return. I’ve stopped questioning the politics of this; refugees go where they can.

This Hanukah, I will give my niece and nephews passports if they don’t already have them. If they do, I will give them whatever they ask for. I’ve lifted my moratorium on war toys. Maybe they should know how to handle a gun.

My closest disabled friends and I swap lists of medications and start to horde the things one or some of us need against the day we lose access to them. We read up on actual expiration versus labeled expiration dates. We refill prescriptions before we need to, just in case.

I have six boxes of Plan B in my closet, even though I’m long past child-bearing years. On campus, I spread rumors about a shadowy network of old women who will help younger women with travel and money for abortions if they can’t get the healthcare they need in their home towns. I call all my old woman friends and build the network. I keep their names and numbers in handwritten lists and hide them away.

I refuse to let my husband put a “Stop Trump” bumper sticker on our car. “That’s just foolish,” I say. I let him keep the Cthulu fish. For now.

A young woman cries in my office, afraid that if she comes out to her parents they will disown her; she’s still dependent on them. I tell her that she doesn’t have to come out to them now, or ever, if she doesn’t feel safe doing so. She looks shocked. It breaks my heart to have been the first to suggest the safety of the closet to her; I wonder what she is coming out of, if it had never occurred to her to remain in.

I’ve stopped going to protests and started going to meetings for which there are no flyers or Facebook event notices. To find them, you have to know someone who already has. We talk there of things I won’t write here. At first, we turned off our phones. Now, we leave them at home.

And yet still, like a good citizen, I call my senators at least once a week. Their aides are brusque. In the first few weeks, they’d thank me for my call. Now they hang up as quickly as they can. I haven’t yet given up on the dream of America, but I’m making contingency plans.

•••

SARAH EINSTEIN teaches Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Sun, Ninth Letter, Still, and others journals, and been awarded a Pushcart and a Best of the Net. She is the author of Mot: A Memoir (Univerity of Georgia Press, 2015) and Remnants of Passion (Shebooks, 2014).

Surface

Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
Photo By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Liz Lasiter

I found out I was pregnant while I was completing my training at a bourgeoisie swim school in the Presidio, a wealthy residential neighborhood in San Francisco. I was in my early twenties, fierce with rejections from graduate programs, and sleeping with men that weren’t my boyfriend.

After my final interview at the swim school, I walked back to my car with stacks of training homework, a complimentary tee-shirt, and a tight black one piece. I could feel the reality of my body, quickly taking on its new purpose despite my denial. My period: late. My infidelity: coming to the surface. There was a deep longing in my abdomen, a glow on my face. My body knew what it was doing and it didn’t care if I caught up.

During my lunch breaks at the swim school, I was always feeding myself like a starving animal. Salt and bread. Sour cream. Sauerkraut. Sourdough. On my way to the pool I’d stop and get myself Greek food, hummus and tahini cascading over the steering wheel. Sauce on the front of my complementary work shirt and in the seams of my front seat. I had an insatiable hunger. No matter how hard I tried, I could never be satisfied.

Why should I indulge myself? I’d ask myself during these moments of ferocious feeding. Guilty at the grandiose amounts of food. When I took a pregnancy test in the Walgreens bathroom near my house, I immediately decided I didn’t want to have it. I wanted an abortion. I was too hungry and restless to have a baby. I was too unsure of my relationships with men and relationship with myself. Despite my upcoming abortion, I decided to finish up the month of training at the swim school.

Each day I’d thread my ankles and thighs through the slick black suit, one leg at a time. I’d touch the acne on my face. My breasts felt raw and vulnerable under the spandex. My hair always smelled like chlorine, which caused me to retch in the bathroom next to happy whales painted on the walls and step stools for toddlers to reach the sink. The weight of my body was an anchor in the water.

During the lessons when I had to teach the kids to dive into the deep end, sometimes I just felt like sinking. In newborn swim training, they’d place plastic baby dolls in our arms. Treat them like they’re real, they’d say. Their plastic hands were reaching out to touch our faces, their backs curved in a perpetual cradle. In a circle, we would practice our songs, hand positions, and methods for dipping infant heads under the water without getting any in their noses. They told us babies are born natural swimmers. They told us babies learn to be scared of water as they get older.

Softly, I would take my doll through the water. I’d watch it while the waves bounced off of plastic hair rivets. The smell of plastic and chlorine on my skin was so overwhelming, it made me hungry and sick at the same time. It reminded me of being at the Little Rock public pool, where I’d swim for hours and devour anything I could get my hands on after I was through. Microwavable pizza. Half cooked hot dogs. When we were finished with the dolls, we placed them back in their coordinating bins.

During my first lesson away from an experienced instructor, I held the newborn, chubby arms afloat as the babies would try and paddle their malleable legs to the soft lullaby in my voice. I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Sea Star”, matching my tired eyes to their curious ones. Their gazes were intoxicating. One parent would be in the pool as the other took photographs. I’d cup the back of their patchy haired heads and gently ooze them under water. In a second they’d emerge, delicate eyelashes sprinkled with pool water. Then I’d lead the fresh-faced infant back to the dad in the navy swimming trunks where he’d plant wet kisses on baby cheeks, cooing congratulatory words.

I was a stranger, a pregnant stranger, holding their baby just above the surface of the water. Would they have trusted the instructor in her sleek black swimsuit if they knew of insecurities of motherly instincts or lack thereof? Would they have judged her in the same way she was judging herself?

I couldn’t help but think of my own mother during this time. The instance she saw me take my floaties off at the public pool in Little Rock, eventually jumping in after I sunk to the bottom.

I took my instructor’s manual with me to my procedure. I held it over my face while a priest called me a murderer. It rolled off his tongue the same way cheater had when spoken by my ex-boyfriend. The priest’s clothes smelled like frankincense, and I remember it burning in the cathedral when I was young. Father Henry, the father I would see daily at my church school, had the same potent, peppery smell on his clothes.

My mentor at Planned Parenthood had a six year old child in my swim program. We just want to get him to the green ribbon, she said directly after the procedure was over. My voice trembled when I responded to my mentor. Her name was Sophie. She held my hand tightly when I’d welp in pain, sick from my stomach contracting. She rubbed my hair and put a heating pad on my back. She didn’t call me a murderer or a cheater. She was a woman, a person, who understood.

Tell him he has to move with his breath, I said as I threaded my ankles and thighs back into my underwear, one leg at a time. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was going to quit once I got home. Sophie led me to a chocolate brown recliner. My weeps sounded like whispers. I felt lonely. I felt relieved. The curtains separated me from the other girls. I could hear them breathing slowly in between sips of water.

Back in the waiting room, I sat in another section for my antibiotics. When Sophie handed me my brown paper bag, I could hear the music as doors opened and closed. Familiar hymnals were playing at full volume out of an old portable stereo. Songs I knew by heart. We had to sing at my Catholic grade school. Somewhere deep inside of me I still knew all the lyrics, which prompted only admiration for what it is to know beautiful words, but also frustrated for making me feel I had to be a certain kind of woman when I was only a girl. A woman who only wore dresses in church and never thought about sex. A woman who can’t know anything bigger than her unless she does those things. A woman who should feel bad about her decisions and mistakes.

The surface outside was glowing under the Mission District sunlight. The man who had harassed me earlier leapt from his chair to yell into my ear. He followed me the entire way down the sidewalk, shoving pamphlets of how to heal, how not to go to hell, how it’s not too late for me. I threw the pamphlets in the trash.

In the distance I could hear the hymnal was at its chorus again. I thought about how it wasn’t too late for me. I thought about how I could still be a mother when it felt right. I thought about how I could still be spiritual even though I wasn’t religious. I thought about how kind strangers can be despite others who want to make me feel as bad as they do. I thought about the way water works to carry people onward to new beginnings and how this time I wasn’t going to let myself sink.

•••

LIZ LASITER was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. She moved to the Bay Area in 2011 to complete her Bachelor’s in Philosophy. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary’s College of California. She currently works and resides in San Francisco.

The Men Who Won the Presidency

By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Laura Fuller

 

Gentlemen of the city, what surprises you?

That there is suffering here, or that I know it?

—Annie Dillard

I’m from Iowa, but I lived in New York because I was in graduate school. I didn’t love my day job, but I loved and respected my boss. The company rented space in an office building near Penn Station, ten or fifteen floors accessible only by elevator.

After work one summer evening, I got on the elevator at the third floor, even though it was quite full. A group of nearly a dozen men from another business offered jovially to step aside for a lady. The oldest man closely resembled KFC’s Colonel. The majority were middle-aged men who looked ahead from under their shiny, tanned foreheads. With them rode a small handful of young men, maybe college or even high school student interns. Maybe it was Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Watch and learn, sons.

All of the men were white. All wore work-casual attire.

There was a feeling of levity in the air of this tightly closed space. Maybe it was Friday. I seem to remember something about golf.

When I stepped onto the elevator, they laughed, miming exaggerated gallantry and pretending to be my escorts to the ground level, rather than a crowd of strange men in a small space. I laughed along, even as the man standing behind me took the joke to some planet where it felt fun and funny for him to put his hands on my shoulders. He gave me a very real, very unwanted massage as a joke in the series of Jokes About Men as Protective Escorts and Not Predators. The punch line here was something like Relax— you’re safe here.

I kept laughing as I wriggled free, but I did not turn around.

The doors opened on the second floor, and jocularity spilled forth onto one of my coworkers, who waited for the elevator with his bike. My wide eyes registered his surprise. He seemed confused: What great fun was happening, and how did it involve me? He didn’t join us.

The doors closed again, and I began to realize what had happened, that I wanted to tell the man behind me that it’s wrong to give a woman a backrub when she hasn’t asked for one. But before I could speak, the men had flooded past me, off the elevator and out onto the sidewalk.

I stood a stupefied moment, then walked swiftly toward the door to catch them. But they were already gone—across the street or dispersed in all directions. They looked like everyone else on the sidewalks.

I walked downtown without a destination, and my horror grew: everyone in the elevator saw what happened, and no one stopped it. I couldn’t report the guy if I didn’t know who he was. Anyway, it was my fault. It couldn’t have been wrong if I’d laughed with him. Maybe I had asked for a backrub.

In the days that followed, I told a coworker who told my boss—a man. After reviewing the security tape, my boss took me to breakfast and asked me, in all seriousness, whether I’d feel better if the man who gave me a backrub in an elevator lost his job.

I talked it over with a friend who was my superior in the workplace. She couldn’t believe I would even consider taking this guy’s job. This stuff is dumb, she conceded, but it happens, and I should put it behind me. He probably had a wife and kids. Don’t ruin his life.

I let him go unpunished.

•••

A few months later, my partner and I traveled to the Midwest for the wedding of one of his old friends. It was fall, and I wore a fabulous midnight blue dress with a ruffle and puffy sleeves. I wore some equally fabulous hose—pearly and translucent with thin, black, vertical stripes.

After some dancing, we headed to the bar for a refill. My partner chatted with the pastor who’d married the couple. While I awaited my drink, I overheard the pastor congratulating my date on my “naughty-girl stockings.”

I wished that my partner had told him off, but instead he moved me away from the bar before I could douse this man of God with his own drink. I was deeply embarrassed. I wanted to speak up to the pastor or his wife, but my date stopped me, and his face was pained with that decision. This man was a minister, and I was the bride’s distant friend’s plus-one. What would people think? There was no need to make a scene.

When I later found the pastor on Facebook, I drafted and deleted message after message. I wanted to tell him, “I know what you said about me. I know what you say when you are not speaking to a congregation. I know how you really are.”

I wanted to tell the newly married couple about him, but my partner and close friends advised against it. I would cheapen the newlyweds’ vows, sully their wedding memories, and help myself not at all. I stayed quiet.

•••

Before the elevator and the wedding reception, I went to a clinic on the Upper West Side. I’d been in the neighborhood numerous times for work or to visit the American Folk Art Museum, and it had never occurred to me, not once, that I might be in danger there. Drivers, pedestrians, tourists, businesspeople, hot dog vendors, and wealthy New Yorkers everywhere—too many witnesses.

Buzzed in through the clinic’s locked door, I followed the nurse to the exam room with artless walls and rude fluorescent light. She pointed to a table covered with a white paper sheet and said that I could either remove all of my clothing from the waist down, or remove just my shoes and underwear and pull up my skirt. Either way, I was to cover my legs with a paper blanket and sit down. The doctor would be with me shortly.

I tucked my underwear into my purse and sat on the table with my skirt puffed at my elbows.

I turned when I heard the door open. A short man wearing navy blue scrubs entered the room, followed by a nurse. The doctor had dishwater hair, blue eyes. He shook my hand—I noticed his bandaged thumb—and we exchanged smiles. He confirmed my name and that I’d come to the clinic for IUD insertion.

The doctor asked how I was doing, and I told him I was a little nervous.

I expected to hear, There’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, he said, “Who are you having sex with?”

He asked how long I’d been with my boyfriend, and I made up a figure. “About four months?”

His voice was hard. “Are you sure?”

“About which part?”

“Well, you know why I’m asking, don’t you.”

I didn’t. “Because this is a long-term solution?”

“Well, yeah. And four months isn’t very long.” His face suggested that he shouldn’t need to explain this.

He asked, “Do you know what happens if you get an STD with one of these things?” Before I could answer, he said, “You’re screwed.”

I nodded.

“You’re screwed.

I looked down at my hands clasped in my lap, thumbs twiddling, then gripped the sides of the table. I was half naked and covered with a big paper towel. I rubbed my feet together. The paper crinkled.

He went on: “I mean, you catch gonorrhea or chlamydia and you’re infertile. You’re completely screwed. So I’ll ask you again: Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” and my voice was annoyingly timid. I cleared my throat, “I’ve known him a long time, like, from before we were dating … and even before that, I wouldn’t, I’ve never been … in a non-monogamous, I just, I’m not worried about that.”

The doctor turned away from me as I spoke. I was still stammering when he cut me off, “Okay, if you have any reason—any reason—to believe your monogamy has been compromised, that you’ve been exposed to an STD, you come in here immediately. Do you understand me?”

I was taller than him from where I sat on the table, but I felt as if I were looking up at him.

“I’m going to do this for you anyway,” he conceded. “I’m going to do it because you’re affluent.”

A pause.

“You’re affluent, and you look smart. You don’t look like some sixteen-year-old on the street who just wants an IUD because she’s bored of taking the Pill.” He mocked this hypothetical girl and meant to compliment me for being unlike her, for having insurance.

He sat down on a wheeled stool and gestured for me to put my feet up, but he was still talking to me. I spread my legs from the knees down, not wanting to expose myself while he seemed, for some reason, angry. I sat propped up on my hands, with my knees stuck together but my feet apart, heels in stirrups.

He put on latex gloves. The nurse handed him a blue kit full of scissors and other shiny, sharp tools. He pointed to a small black lamp next to him, positioned it to shine light between my legs, and said, “We had a woman used to work in here, black as this lamp, five-foot-nine, thin, just beautiful. I mean this woman was put on this earth to make babies because it would make us all a more beautiful race—heh-heh—but you know what? Her reproductive organs are worthless. Like sacks of pus inside her body. You know why?”

I answered the question to prove I had read the brochure: “Because she had an IUD and it got infected?”

“Yep. Sacks of pus, just worthless.” He shook his head to reiterate the tragedy of the beautiful, infertile woman, then noticed that I was still upright. His face conveyed annoyance.

“All right now, lay back.” He tapped my knees and instructed me to let them fall to the sides and relax.

“Scoot forward. Yeah—to the edge of the table. Now we’re doing the Mirena, right? Not the copper kind?”

I said yes. I could only see the top of his head.

“Good,” he said, “The other kind sucks.” He laughed like we shared the joke. “But you know who loves it? Hispanics, the Mexican-American women. They come in here asking for it by name.” He said women who speak Spanish prefer the copper IUDs, which, I’d read, were perfectly effective and lasted ten years to Mirena’s five, because they were a “knock-off brand.” He trailed off into a chuckle and I felt compelled to do the same, seeking safety in the muscle memory of a doctor’s orders routine, even though this did not feel familiar.

I turned my head to the right to see the nurse, herself Latina, arranging tools on the counter, facing the wall. I failed to stand up to the doctor seated between my knees.

“Okay, you’re going to feel a cold mist. That’s an antiseptic,” he warned, and his voice was suddenly gentle. “And then a bit of a pinch and pressure. That’s a local anesthetic. It’ll make the rest a lot more comfortable.”

While he warned me, I worked to believe that I’d been misreading him. Really, he must mean well. He was a doctor.

The antiseptic spray was cold.

He asked me where I was from, and when I said Iowa he threw his head back in laughter. “Oh! So you’re out here chasing your dreams, are you? Did you follow your dreams to New York City?”

There was a sudden pressure from inside of me, and a pinprick. “That’s the anesthetic,” he said.

Rather than defending my home state, I added that I lived abroad last year. I wanted to impress him with Dubai. (A dull push from inside my abdomen. Odd pressures, something moving inside me.)

When prompted, I coughed, and he slipped something into me, fast.

“But Dubai sucks, doesn’t it?”

I heard myself say that I would not like to live there again, a true statement that, in this light and this air, sounded like betrayal. I said I was glad to come home, that it felt better to live where food grows naturally. He approved of my explanation: “You’re funny.” I hadn’t made a joke.

He said Dubai seemed like a worse version of Las Vegas to him. “I’ve known a lot of people who have moved to Vegas, and you know what they always do?”

He waited, forcing me to ask him, “No, what?”

“They come crawling back.”

He shoved his stool backwards from the table, smiling triumphant. “Would you believe that’s it?” He removed his gloves. I sat up immediately.

The doctor boasted, “Now what was that, like three minutes?”

I blinked.

“I had an attending physician in med school who took twenty minutes to put in an IUD, and it hurt, you know?”

Blink.

“Yeah, but that didn’t hurt, right?”

Silence.

“Right. You wanna know the secret? You numb ’em up. It’s that local anesthetic. You numb up the cervix and you can—” He saw horror spread across my face. “I can do whatever I want.”

He went on to tell me warning signs to look out for after the procedure. “But right now?” he said. “It’s beautiful.” He laughed like he’d won a game.

He shook my hand again, and I said slowly and clearly, “Thank you.” I looked in his eyes. I meant it.

•••

Some days later, I printed paperwork from the state of New York to report this doctor. But I didn’t send it. Instead, I felt tremendous guilt and shame, internalized all fault for the things he’d said to me, thought briefly about killing myself, and found a therapist.

He can do whatever he wants.

•••

I am a smart woman with a good life. I have a good job and kind friends, a supportive partner and a safe home. I am in good health. I enjoy privileges I did nothing to earn.

Nonetheless, my life would be better if I had not been assaulted in my workplace, abused while seeking medical care, or reduced to a sexual object by a man who teaches morality.

My neighborhood in Brooklyn was full of people of many races and social classes. There were small children in strollers. High schoolers stood self-consciously in circles. Drunken men hung around outside the liquor store. There were many languages in the air. Cops walked the beat. From my bed I heard loud parties and midnight basketball games. I even heard a gunshot once. I was surrounded by things I’d been taught to distrust and fear. Nothing bad ever happened to me there.

The only men who have abused me are men I was taught to trust without question. They are men who know no consequences, men whose inner goodness is implied by their career choices, their age, their affluence, their skin color.

Time and again, these are the men who have caused me to think that perhaps I was not good or smart or worth my own life. Although I was allowed to speak up about their missteps, and people may have even listened to me if I’d done so, social pressure made me think better of making a fuss.

If the businessman’s employer or the church or the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct had issued some reprimand for these men, traditional wisdom told me, I would undo their lives of otherwise perfect service: These men do not deserve a second chance; they deserve a never-ending first chance.

My silence came from the supposition that these men were as good as it gets. If these men were not our businessmen, our doctors, our pastors, we might just have to do without commerce, without care, without God.

I now understand my decision to over-pretend at normalcy, to thank the doctor, to keep quiet: It seems this doctor has been elected president. So has the pastor. So has the businessman.

Years ago, Donald Trump said into a microphone that he cannot resist kissing women he thinks are beautiful, and that he can do this without the women’s permission because he is famous. He can “grab them by the pussy.” He can do anything he wants.

When asked about these statements in a debate, Trump shrugged off all criticism. “Don’t tell me about words,” he said.

Americans hold dear a sweet trope about childhood: When you grow up, you can be anything you want. You can be a farmer or an actor or a teacher. You can be a doctor. You can be a pastor. You can be a businessman. You can be the president. It’s hopeful.

Trump heard this promise and thought he understood, but he needs someone to tell him about words. When he was promised you can be anything you want, it seems young Donald heard you can do anything you want.

•••

This essay used to be confident and indignant. It used to declare, if you want to be the president, you must do service for the people you wish to govern and treat them with respect. It is best not to do things that amount to sexual assault and brag about these activities. If you do that—let me tell you about these words—you cannot be the president.

I was wrong. This man is the president. Each day we awake to the new horrors his reign has brought, and we punch as if blindfolded. More crises will come, but I do not know just what these will be.

I do know that to speak of men’s abuses of power is more important today than it was before the election.

I know that my silence about such abuses means harm to those whose identities render them mute to the ears of those in power. Even when I am not the direct beneficiary of my own actions, I am responsible for the world around me. We share everything.

I know my own family, people who would never identify as racists or sexists, voted for Trump nevertheless. I try to hold up the fact of Trump’s election and get a good look at it. I know it’s gravely important that we work to understand. For unknown reasons, this is most difficult in the mornings.

•••

I’ve made the strange decision to throw myself at gardening. I planted bulbs in my rented front yard despite the fear that many would be dug up by squirrels or eaten by rabbits before they could bloom in the spring. I set paperwhites in the windows all around my house, inspired by their ability to bloom without soil, to bloom especially when I needed them most, as snow flew outside and the whole world seemed dead. In the darkest days of winter, I bought a houseplant that is a carnivore. This plant nurtures itself by eating its pests. I found its hunger beautiful, and I hung it in my kitchen.

•••

Despite bruised hope and disillusionment, the end of this essay remains:

My great-great-grandmother sent a song down through the generations. In a mock-operatic voice, the women of my family have used this song to goad our brothers and husbands: “Let the women do the work, do the work, and the men lie around, around, around.”

Yes, let’s.

•••

LAURA FULLER is an Iowan and a pie enthusiast. She lives in Wisconsin, where she teaches English and writes essays. Her work has appeared in Misadventures and various other publications and has been featured in performance at Lincoln Center. She holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from The New School in New York.

Courage, Lovelies

By Jennifer Niesslein

Well, hell.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been making your phone calls, being kinder to strangers in public, and shutting down people who don’t show you respect. (It’s really not the week to mansplain to me. Ask a couple guys on Facebook.) I’m not running a new essay today because I know you have other things on your minds.

My own mind keeps coming back to courage and fear, and the inequalities in the U.S. that gives too many people extra helpings of fear—and will require the courage of all of us to change it.

I believe in the power of truthful story-telling. Today, I want to revisit some of the essays that had an impact on me.

“A Tape Doesn’t Change a Goddamned Thing” by Karrie Higgins

“Neighborhood Watch” By Beatrice M. Hogg

“Shelter Girl” by Chareen Ibraheem

“Go That Way Very Fast. If Something Gets in Your Way, Turn” by Erica S. Brath

“Transference” by J. J. Mulligan

“Stranger Interlude” by Terry Barr

And a love story, because why not? “How Gender Works” by Alex Myers

•••

JENNIFER NIESSLEIN is the editor of Full Grown People. Her latest work, on joy (!) and why we write, is at Creative Nonfiction.

The Pink Room

woman parts
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

Content warning: rape —ed.

By Reema Zaman

New York, 2007. My hand pulls at the plastic ring attaching me to the subway rail. My wrist grows sore with each tug as the train lurches, burping noisily, without rhythm or apology. It couldn’t be more disinterested in us, this mass of bodies, compacted and caught, willingly. My palm and fingers slide along the grimy ring, the plastic soiled by countless hands, each leaving their oily imprint. I curse myself for forgetting my gloves, necessary not for warmth but for cleanliness and peace of mind. I’m from Bangladesh, and I loathe the cold. But as much as I dread winter, I welcome the layered protection of the season’s attire.

The man standing behind me pushes his crotch against my lower back. I’m grateful for my thick coat. Among all the clubs, predators have the most inclusive membership. They come in all forms: businessmen, lawyers, students, electricians, construction workers, old, young, white, black, brown, and everything in between. This one burrows his hard nub into me. The pressure makes me recede far as possible, which is scant given our cramped quarters. He knows this. He revels in this, sucking it like juice spilt from a ripe bite. I turn to glare at him. He feigns nonchalance.

The doors open. A mouthful of us spit onto the platform. We scurry, spread, each person in a different stage of gritty swift. It’s rare to find a born-and-raised New Yorker. Most of us have come here with a fervent purpose, arriving on the wings of a wish. We plunge into the flow, weave our narrative with each other’s, and move as one pulsing organism.

I emerge from underground. The crisp evening envelops me in a gulp. I don’t need to check my bearings. My pace matches the quickest foot. A few loiter, drag their feet, second-guess their direction. Not us, the urgent ones.

I make it home, now in my fifth sublet, and on the good nights (and tonight counts as a good night, as the man on the subway decided not to follow me and is now of the past), I exhale with relief. Another day closed, and thankfully, safely. I hang my coat.

The months fly like pages thumbed by an uncaring examiner. Then, one mundane Monday, I stumble into an old colleague. An actor like myself. A friend.

“What a great surprise!” he says. “We have so much to catch up on. Dinner? Friday?”

“Sure,” I reply.

We met a few years ago in the summer between my sophomore and junior year, while working at Williamstown, a renowned theater festival. He was a bit older than me, in graduate school at Brown. We became quick, close friends the way everyone does in a community of artists.

In the performance arts, we cultivate closeness through specific practices. For weeks or months, we do exercises crafted to foster trust and loyalty. We divulge achingly personal stories. We spend long hours rehearsing, suspended from reality, in the studio, onstage, and on the road. Therefore, by the time we perform, the audience believes we are family, siblings, lovers, or best friends. It’s our job to communicate intimacy. Once two artists have worked together, we’re allied for life. We’re part of a larger, loving tribe, generations deep. It is understood that we don’t dishonor this.

Now, years later, he and I have run into each other in the city, the way most of us do and will. We caught sight of one another in the waiting room of a studio, the way most of us do and will. We hug with the easy affection all actors who have worked together do and will.

Dinner is wonderful. He’s wearing a button-down shirt and jeans. I’m wearing a short sundress and ballet flats. We share stories and laugh. My apartment is around the corner. I invite him up for tea. We talk and feel the attraction. He kisses me. I kiss him back. It’s all delightfully harmless.

It’s getting late. I walk him to the front door, adjacent to my bedroom.

“Good night. Thanks for a great time.”

He wants more.

He kisses me again, harder. He pushes me against the wall, my five-foot-four, one-hundred-five pounds feeling pitiful to his five-foot-eleven, one-hundred-eighty pounds.

“You have to leave now.” I keep my voice light but persuasive. He tries to push me onto the bed, forcefully, not remotely playfully. I hold my ground.

“No. You have to go.”

“No,” he says, grinning, his teeth glowing in the darkness. “I’m not going anywhere.”

The air has thickened like blood clotting. Dread curls around the edges of the room, like the scent of rain before the sky slits open. He comes towards me. I back away. I breathe slowly through my nose to calm my lungs and pace my heart. My mind sifts through every case study and self-defense lesson I’ve memorized over the years. I bolster myself with tactics, ready to use them: Place one hand on each side of his head, poke hard into his eyes with my thumbs. Knee him in the groin. Bite, kick, scream. Urinate. The shock and disgust might unsettle him, letting me run.

He grabs me again. I steel my body against his. I try to take his hands off me, twisting my arms and torso the way I was taught to do with assaulters. My teeth and hands tingle, eager to bite, to claw, to obey my orders.

But.

The vile truth, as bitter as bile: He is much too strong.

I fight with all my might, flaying like a fish caught on a hook. He keeps his hold on me, and the tussle flings us onto the bed. My left cheek is pressed against his shoulder and turned towards the wall.

My room is pink. I painted it this way, pink with a daisy-yellow trim. Growing up, I always wanted a pink room. There’s a Benjamin Moore a block down from my acting agent’s office. The day I signed with him, I gave myself a pink room. I’ve been trying to create something soft for myself within the black and gray bruise that is New York.

Life is surprising. Just as crayons fail to taste like their names, paint on a wall will be much brighter than paint in a can. I envisioned a light, blush pink but ended up with pink as vivid as flesh, sliced open.

Now, I’m inside a mouth.

Lining the flesh-pink walls are stacks of books, arranged in a way I think is pretty. My bedframe is lovely too, black wrought-iron in a delicate pattern of leaves and flowers, much like the tattoo on my ribcage, tucked into the small spot between my breasts. I chose that area for its sweet privacy, believing no one would see it unless invited. I found the bedframe on Craigslist. It didn’t come with a bedspring so I balance it on plywood boards.

I haven’t stopped fighting. I am still trying to wiggle out from beneath him. He’s pinned my wrists above my head, first with both his hands and then, only one hand to hold my wrists down. With the other hand he’s undone his jeans and hiked up my dress. Now, he knees apart my legs, and enters. As he jams in, I order myself to imagine what I’m feeling is an inanimate instrument, like those in a gynecologist’s office which, at twenty-three, I’ve been to only thrice. Now, he grunts, and grunts, his upper lip, forehead, palms, and torso growing clammy with sweat, saturating the room with his scent, musky, male, yet acutely his own. Cracking like lightning, the wooden boards beneath my mattress break from our combined weight and exertion. The mattress tilts down like a split bone. It juts into the air at an awkward angle, shaking with each thrust. The broken boards scratch my flesh-pink walls.

“You’re just too beautiful,” he hisses between groans. Astonishing, the power of the human word. Through a meager handful of sound and suggestion, I feel guilt for being myself and fury for having it used against me. I wish to be anyone but myself, to be anything but attractive, to disappear and remain hidden, indefinitely. I wish these things and hate him for it.

I’ve looked left, right, down, so now, I look into him. His sounds, scent, and desire have filled the room full of him, yet he’s completely left. His pupils have dilated so deeply, his entire eyes look black, dulled of light, dead of any humanity. I’m still repeating, “You have to go, you have to go, you have to go,” though I don’t know whom I’m referring to anymore, him or myself. I’d be grateful for either one of us to vanish. I switch to saying loudly, “No, no, no!” spitting the words like seeds that won’t take.

Here we are. This. Is. Happening.

The horrifying certainty hits me like raw steak slamming a chopping board. Maybe because he too believes this is a secured success, his hold on my wrists slackens. His moment of sloth is all I need. I slip my wrists out from his hand, press the heels of my palms on his shoulders and push with all my might.

No,” I yell. The sudden volume and physical force are enough to shock him backwards. He comes at the same time he falls. If this weren’t rape, if I weren’t terrified, if my voice weren’t hoarse from being ignored, I’d be embarrassed for him.

I scoot back until I’m against the headboard, hugging my legs to my chest. My throat is chapped. I taste blood. I must’ve bitten my tongue. It’ll hurt tomorrow. He puts on his clothes, swiftly, silently. I say it once more:

Leave.”

He does. After his sentence—“You’re just too beautiful”—he hasn’t said a word.

I don’t call anyone for help. I sit in the dark for fifteen minutes, listing my options and weighing the costs of each. To negotiate any legal retribution for rape is a brutal ordeal. I’m here on my OPT visa, my agents will sponsor my next visa, and if I accrue enough professional credits, I can obtain a green card. I devote every minute and penny to the next meal, audition, job, and rent check.

I’m working so hard to live here. I’m concerned that if I press charges against him, the legal process will be even more grueling than if I were a citizen. The fine print of my immigrant status claims I’m not to be treated any differently than an American woman but often the fine print fails to inform reality. Similarly, the minutiae behind immigration include nothing to suggest pressing charges against a rapist would compromise my status here, or when I file for a green card. But all it takes for is for my case to land in the hands of that one immigration officer who finds pleasure in turning the innocuous into injury.

I cannot harm my chances at staying here. I love America beyond words. I haven’t a place in Bangladesh. But here, I’m allowed to pursue the life I want, to be a voice for those without one. The irony is acutely painful. I won’t press charges. I have to be quiet now to be a voice for others later. The hardest fact to reconcile is that my silence allows him the wicked freedom to do this to other women. This thought of hypothetical others brands me with guilt.

What now.

Get him off you.

I take a shower. Scrolling down and along the walls like the stock exchange are statistics and stories I’ve learned and lived as a girl and student. What a twisted joke. I feel the inertia of tears build and with them, my heartbeat, sounding like the decisive march of soldiers, resolute and incoming. So immense grows my panic that it drowns the sound of water and sucks in my breath. I begin to choke.

Stop.

Breathe.

I breathe. This is anger and self-pity, two faces of fear. Fear, another luxury I cannot afford.

My story. He is but one page. One character. It doesn’t occur to me for a second to feel small, dirty, or somehow damaged. This wasn’t sex; this was assault. He is neither a man nor all men combined; he is one predator. He is a scab and Momma taught me not to pick scabs. Especially if they are human.

Under my makeshift waterfall, I speak these words. They bloom then distill into one sentence: Only I author my life.

I step out of the water.

Now the wrecked bed. I return the wooden slats to their precarious balance, angling them on the thin lip of metal, making sure they don’t succumb to gravity. I lift the mattress. I smile, not from the strength of my arms but from the lack of trembling in my hands.

I sleep.

The next day I have an audition for Gossip Girl. Gossip Girl is presently the most coveted job for women my age. More often than not, I’m asked to read for the exotic vixen. I don the requisite tight black dress and five-inch heels and negotiate my mouth around the vapid script. No one in their right mind will believe me in these roles.

“Be less intelligent,” says the casting director.

I’m certain there are brilliant actresses who can achieve such feats. But I’m a mediocre pretender. Some things I cannot act.

I take the subway to my hostessing job, clock in a few hours. I mute my brain, play pretty, let everyone believe what they need to believe. Afterwards, I babysit for a family I met a few weeks ago. The Mama is a Broadway star and Daddy a tennis icon. He is as steadfast in person as he is on court. She sears through life, blazing with the audacious confidence of an enduring flame. The family resembles idyllic American characters I have read about, never believing they might actually exist. The first time I enter their apartment, a wondrous warmth spreads through me like ink spilling into water. So this is what it feels like. Home.

I balance the baby on my hip and look into her eyes, blue as the skies in sonnets. We are safe in one another. All she wants is for me to be present. I fill with a love so authentic it arrests my breath.

Mama and Daddy return home, I to my pink room. Another day arrives, followed by another. The days form into months, months into years. I don’t hear from him but I will run into him. I will run into him over the years because we are both actors, and our world is tiny, and because life has a harsh, wise way of doing what she does. She will give us things as provocation to die quicker, or, grow. I will read about him in the Times. I will see him at auditions. One time, I will sit across from him on the subway.

“How are you?” I’ll ask, looking him in the eye. In response, he’ll move through every shade of pale and burn. He will sputter and shake. I will refuse to break eye contact. I will smile. I will wonder, Have you become more than your past self?

Is that possible? For all our sake, I have to believe it is.

Over time, I will meet an uncanny number of men like him. With each person, I grow better at sensing the volatility beneath the sheen. I feel it like incoming rain: he holds the dormant capability to inflict pain. Tally the encounters and I run out of fingers and toes.

The idiom Everything happens for a reason, has never sat well with me. One cannot blurt Everything happens for a reason to a person who’s just lost a loved one, been raped, or been diagnosed with cancer.

I assign my experiences their reasons.

I choose to believe the reason for this one evening wasn’t to lose my faith in men, life, or my instincts. The purpose behind this night was it proved my resilience. My beauty and youth will fade. People and money will come and go. But my ferocious passion to live is mine evermore.

Startling. Realizing this lights something within me. For the first time in my life, I like myself.

My father visits the city for a conference. Time has softened him like butter left on a table. He says the city terrifies him. The pace, scale, crowds, remarks. A terrain dotted with magic unlike anywhere else, but otherwise cacophonic, putrid, and obstinately gray.

“Don’t you get scared?” he asks.

“Sometimes.”

Life is masterful at being fearsome. But listen and receive, the landscape will provide every wisdom. Like the days, each train arrives only to make way for the next. I stand on the platform with my fellow travelers. The doors open. I step into the maw.

•••

REEMA ZAMAN is from Bangladesh and was raised in Hawaii and Thailand. She holds a BA in Women’s Studies, a BS in Theater, and a minor in Religion from Skidmore College. She worked as an actress and model in New York for a decade. Now, she writes memoir and personal essays, residing in Oregon. She is represented by Lisa DiMona of Writers House and Reema’s first memoir, I Am Yours, is presently being circulated to different publishers. She also writes for Dear Reema, where she responds to letters sent in by readers. Her work has been published in The Huffington PostShape, and Nailed. Reema is the creator of You Are the Voice, a talk on resilience, self-ownership, and empowerment that she performs in colleges and other venues nationwide. This piece, The Pink Room, is an excerpt from her memoir I Am Yours. For more, www.reemazaman.com.