Published a list of things I like on the wonderful website run by Jessica Gross, writer for New York Times Magazine, Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others.
Read more here.
Published a list of things I like on the wonderful website run by Jessica Gross, writer for New York Times Magazine, Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others.
Read more here.
In this world, there is something more infectious than Ebola and AIDS put together, and most of us are completely oblivious of it. This mystery ailment runs rampant, and causes symptoms of “not caring” and an immense aversion to anything substantive. It is common for sufferers to care nothing about elections or race politics or psychology or international relations or education or sexism, but to still have misguided opinions on the topics. It is also common for them to express very backwards beliefs, be stunted in their ability to empathize with those from diverse backgrounds, and to possess an uncanny love for the Fox News Channel. This ever-evolving, multi-symptom disease is known as Ignorance.
“Ignorance’s onset can be sudden and surprising, or hereditary. Yet still, many consciously, intentionally do not seek prevention or treatment,” said Don Andonier, a doctor who’s seen many cases of this illness and studied it extensively.
He assures me that, despite it’s overwhelming prevalence, Ignorance is very treatable. “Sometimes, the cure is as simple as giving them a stimulating book. Other times, it’s trickier,” said Andonier. “For those cases we have to get creative.”
Andonier went on to describe how he’s sent many to the local university for treatment, and required them to sign up for at least a year’s worth of classes. He also says he requires them to read more than one news source, have discussions with people without going on the defensive, and signs them up for a year’s worth of counseling so they can explore why their gay nephew or their black sister-in-law is so threatening.
His diligent work has made a difference, but more and more, people are refusing treatment. In one of recent study, evidence showed that Ignorance sufferers, once considered pariahs, are now embraced, even worshipped in society.
As one ignorant man told us, “I love that I don’t have to give a f**k about anything, and that I can pass all of the world’s problems on to the future generations, or pretend they don’t exist all together. And people think I’m a “chill guy” for it. It’s helped me achieve what I’ve been striving for most of my life—to be a boring, passive, waste of space kind of guy who’s good with the ladies.”
“Before there were just so many sufferers, and we didn’t have anywhere to send them… they had to be cured,” says Andonier, “and then people began to find ignorance amusing, cool, even valuable in society…that solved that issue. People choose to live with it now, they like being ‘checked out.’”
He didn’t know what brought this change about, though he did have a few strongly worded suggestions that seemed necessary to omit from this news. His many would-be patients are happy about their newfound acceptance and freedom.
When left untreated, it isn’t uncommon for Ignorants to develop accompanying issues. These include an inability to be anything but a cog in the massive corporate wheel, a hatred for art (postmodernism specifically), and bibliophobia, a fear of libraries.
One survivor described her fear of education as “dehabilitating. I look at words longer than four letters and faint. The same happens if I use the correct form of “your” or read more than four lines of Shakespeare. I am terrified of being eloquent and well-educated.”
Like true survivors, this sufferer and many others like her find a silver lining in their very curable, extremely ridiculous, forced stupidity—a life of endless America’s Next Top Model reruns, PBRs and obliviousness. How can we do anything but applaud them for it?
I’ve been in Berkeley going on 3 months now, enough time to get a decent feel for the Bay Area and to compile my own personal list of Hots and Nots.
1. The Mint Mojito Latte (Sweet & Creamy) from Philz Coffee
This is by far my favorite culinary discovery in Berkeley thus far. Sure, the food is pretty good, but this drink gets points for deliciousness and creativity. While it isn’t actually alcoholic (sorry, guys) it captures and blends the flavors of a sweet and creamy latte and a minty mojito perfectly. It comes iced and with actual fresh mint on top, which never ceases to impress me. Delicious.
2. Ze Bohemian Vibes
Now, this category has a lot to do with my host mom/boss, Marisa, and her grasp of aesthetics. She keeps colorful fresh flowers in the kitchen and the bathroom at all times. She has piles of shells, drift wood, sea glass ornately situated on window ledges and in bowls on the porch steps. She regularly uses her clothes line to dry out loads of boho garments and billowing bed sheets. Her dance-y world music often wafts out the open windows into the backyard (where I have my little studio). Her attention to the details of the house make it a homey, comfortable, artsy, vibrant space that I just love being a part of.
East Bay as a whole too is bohemian, but “Start-Up” culture seems to have completely pillaged the free-spirited feel that San Francisco used to be known for (Bohemians of the 60s and 70s wouldn’t be caught dead in the posh Haight nowadays). As a result, the hippy culture has bled into Oakland and Berkeley and these east bay cities are becoming the major cultural hubs instead.
3. Telegraph Ave
Telegraph Ave is enormous–it runs through both Berkeley and Oakland, the carotid artery of the East Bay. To your right, dreadlocked street vendors sell sterling silver rings, gemstone bracelets made to cleanse your chakra, Tibetan singing bowls to enhance your yoga and meditation practice, handmade glass-blown pipes and Bob Marley vinyl. To your left, there is any and every type of hole-in-the-wall eatery you could desire: Burmese, Thai, Tapas, French, Italian, Indian, you name it. Ahead of you, you’ll see college kids in blue and yellow Cal Bear tee-shirts, belly dancers, a singing guitar player busking for spare change, a woman painting with her easel out, and families of every ethnicity and creed. East Bay is a very diverse place, but it’s on Telegraph where all the diversity comes to a head.
4. Bike Culture
Have I mentioned that I’m getting into awesome shape here? I have my car, but I only use it to cart around the kid I nanny and for lengthy trips. Within Berkeley and Oakland, I ride my bike everywhere because, not only are their awesome bike lanes and laws here, but the area is fairly flat (unless of course you venture up towards the Berkeley/Oakland hills, that’s a whole other story.) I ride my bright red road bike all over; to bars, to my friends’ houses, to cafes and restaurants, to yoga class, and now that I zip-tied a milk crate to the back, to Trader Joe’s to get groceries! I’m gettin’ some major thigh muscles because of it.
There is a lot of support for cyclists here too. Berkeley alone has countless bike shops that will fix your bike for dirt cheap. My personal favorite place is Missing Link on Shattuck Ave because they have a box of communal tools that they allow riders to use for no charge, and, more excitingly, because they offer free, indoor, secure bike storage for the entire day. As Berkeley has an astronomically high bike theft rate, I am IN LOVE with this service.
Seattle’s public transportation is total crap compared to the BART and Muni system in the East Bay. BART is like a subway system that goes all the way from south of San Francisco to the northernmost parts of the East Bay. It’s super cheap, relatively fast and a greener option for those who commute from East Bay to The City (or vice versa) for work. But aside from that, the COOLEST people ride BART. Maybe it’s just that I’m a fairly extroverted, open person, but I have met and conversed with so many interesting people while riding. I met a Bio Chemist from France, a traveler from Montreal, a professor at Cal Berkeley, a graduate student from Russia. Everyone gets a little confused when first riding BART, but the community is so welcoming (and made up of lots of transplants and new people learning the culture of the area) that it’s super easy to approach people, befriend them and ask for aid. The times I have felt the most welcome and connected to others here has been while riding the BART. I love it.
1. Live Music=Meh
Granted, I have been spoiled in this department my entire life (growing up with a musician father in Seattle then going to school in Bellingham where live music is alive and well,) but I can safely say most of the live music I’ve seen here has been…meh. (Caveat: I know a ton of super talented musicians in the bay area (you guys know who you are and know I love you!), but they’re just aren’t that many venues for them in Berkeley! One exception being Freight & Salvage, that place is lovely.)
San Francisco has great music, of course, but I’ve been looking for good local indie rock/pop/bluegrass/etc I can ride my bike to. No dice. The one place riding distance away that has live jazz is a bar called “Jupiter” but they’re idea of jazz is weirdly electronic, fusion-y, smooth jazz that I loathe. And despite the fact that this is a college town, there aren’t that many college bands that are locally famous and have a following (Think Blue Scholars at Gonzaga, Pole Cat in Bellingham) so I never know if I should take a gamble on a cover charge. The data I’ve collected so far says, don’t. Maybe I just haven’t found the right places, but I figure if it’s this hard to find good music, that isn’t a good sign…
2. Hella Dudes
There are definitely exceptions to what I’m about to say, but by and large Berkeley guys are bro-y, macho, frat boys that pretend to have some hipster flare. If that makes no sense, picture an L.A. guy who’s ashamed of his SoCal roots and thus puts horn-rimmed glasses on and pretends to listen to Bob Dylan. It’s a hard thing to describe, because it’s a subtlety, and it has to do with my radar for genuineness. As one guy told me candidly outside a bar, “There are a lot fake people in this hood.” It is really true, and really off-putting. I mean, the other night I was 2 beers in and I still remember thinking, “There is not a single person (girl or guy) that I want to get to know here.” That was when I knew it was time to call it a night.
Oh yeah, and as the stereotype says, they use “hella” way too often here. I am really hoping it doesn’t rub off on me.
3. “I work at a Start-Up”
This phrase gets thrown around too much. Mostly because it’s true, there are a ton of Start-Ups in this area (businesses that are just getting off that ground and thus are hiring lots of fresh grads. Usually they’re inventing apps, etc.) but I think it’s also thrown around because there is this whole “glamorous” culture that comes with being part of a Start-Up. Start-ups are usually funded by generous share holders like Google, and thus they have money for a whole slew of amenities that have become the status quo in a start up job. Free meals. Hip office spaces. Happy Hours and Parties. All that coupled with a built-in network of young people to be friends with and a job that could potentially earn you a lot of money. Awesome, sign me up!
But after knowing a few people that work at start-ups, you get to know real quick that the glamour is mostly an illusion. You work crazy long hours, you hardly get respite from coworkers and work talk, and more often than not start-ups fail and leave you in the lurch without a job. Not to mention, the atmosphere in general seems really intense and stressful. Realistically, it’s this intense and stressful way of life, and yet people throw their membership in start-up culture around as if it’s some badge of instant superiority. It’s annoying.
4. The Drought
It never rains here. In the three months since I got here, it’s rained three times. In fact, it’s hardly ever overcast. As a Seattle girl raised on Gortex and polar fleece, this just feels fundamentally wrong.
5. The Parking People Eaters
Um, for the life of you, never leave your meter a minute longer after it runs out, park on the wrong side of the street during street sweeping or god forbid, forget to pay for parking in downtown Berkeley. The parking police must be bored because they are the more thorough than a fine-toothed comb. They’re ruthless too: they will not hesitate to give you a $50 ticket for 5 mins of unpaid parking. More than once I’ve been caught running down the sidewalk in high-heel wedges to stop them from tagging my car. I refuse to let the Parking People Eaters win. I downright REFUSE.
I’m sorry for that place you last lived, if that was living. I hated its tired floral décor and it’s endless wings, strewn with wheel chairs, walkers and nurses’ stations like an obstacle course. I’m sorry that when the man in the open-backed gown reached out his hand, I pulled away. I’m sorry I didn’t play Chopin waltzes on the piano for the bored, haggard women in the cafeteria. I’m sorry that I didn’t start the VHS player for those vacant eyes glued to the fuzzy screen. I’m sorry all those twisted, Cubist faces so haunted me.
I’m sorry the numbers on the clock scrambled, the hands circled counterclockwise, that your favorite velour sweater sets began disappearing, even after my mom carefully scripted your initials on the tags. I’m sorry that to you, the Nigerian nurse who brought your meals was a “spook.” I’m sorry that you took more pills than you could swallow. I’m sorry you had to relieve yourself like a child, strapped into a plush diaper. I’m sorry that your sudden attachment to an old stuffed animal of mine—a plush duck—disgusted me. It’s sweet, mom said. I’m sorry I kept it.
I’m sorry I didn’t hold your hand as you drew a last timid breath through those plastic tubes, hanging like tentacles around your bed. I’m sorry it smelled like urine and that the nonsensical shouts of your neighbor kept you up at night. Until you could do nothing but sleep, that is. I’m sorry that I shouted to your gaunt face in those enunciated staccatos, that I replaced compassion with frustration. I’m sorry I pretended you were already dead but hated that you were dying. I’m sorry you became a burden, an annoyance, a door that wouldn’t stop creaking.
I’m sorry that losing our golden retriever, the summer after you passed, was harder on me. Your death felt more like mercy than pain. I cried all night when he died, but only a few relieved moments when you did. I’m sorry that mom, dad and I sat consoling him when the vet pushed something poisonous into his veins, I’m sorry all three of us laid our hands on his grayed, copper face, his arthritic hips, his straining rib cage. I’m sorry he heard I loved him as his eyes shrunk to glossy slits and his heartbeat slowed. I’m sorry that he is buried and marked in our backyard, but that your ashes are still un-spread in the Sound.
I’ve been having a hard time lately, a state I’ve been fondly referring to as my “quarter-life crisis.” And while I am accustomed to finding solutions if I look hard enough, the more I look to make myself feel better, the more confused and sad I get. But hey, I guess that means I’m going through some sort of growth spurt, and that this discomfort is necessary for me to be a happier, healthier me. But all this thinking and analyzing hasn’t gone to waste: here are 5 bits of wisdom I thought were worth sharing with you.
1) It’s okay to ask for what YOU need. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.
I’ve never been good at this. I put everyone ahead of me and consult my own feelings last. But, I am learning that this is failing to love myself. Which is not selfish., but so so necessary! The other component to this is that I think if I ask for what I need, I will lose the people around me I’ve been trying so hard to keep happy. A part of me knows that, if I do, I do. That’s a hard pill to swallow. But lately, people have really been surprising me. I am learning to trust that the good ones will stick around.
2) Pay attention to your dreams.
I mean this in two ways. Firstly, listen to that little voice deep inside you that is screaming. It’s pushing you towards something, and you should let it have it’s way, even if you have no idea where it’s leading you. Even as I write this, I have a hard time with this one. It’s hard because sometimes your head and your heart say two different things. You’re torn and confused and angry. But I guess, I’ve found solace in the thought that something greater than me is at work. I’m not a religious person, but I am finding more and more that the directions I go are the result of more than coincidence. So trust yourself.
Secondly, I mean your nighttime dreams. Holy cow have they been eventful lately! Trains, bombs, old music teachers, pregnant high school cheerleaders, you name it. They were becoming so vivid and memorable I started to analyze them when I awoke. This is what I’ve discovered: SYMBOLS GALORE! Dreams are really a symbolic representation of your subconscious, and if you listen to them, you can gain some interesting information. While I don’t necessarily think they’re meant to provide an easy solution, they give you little stepping stones for getting there. (I know, how very Jungian of me.)
3) Reach out–you are loved.
When I’m sad or upset, my first instinct is always to hide under my comforter and go it alone. To isolate myself. To spare people the burden. But the more I talk out my problems with friends, the better I understand them. What’s more, is most people want the opportunity to help you. If they care about you, they want you to be happy, so they want to be there for you and help you through hard times. The second part of this is, it may be people you never expected. Hard times tell you who your real friends and family are. That’s become extremely apparent to me lately.
4) There’s always a bright side.
As much pain as I’ve been in lately, I have been trying to hold on to the little bits of sunlight when I can. I’ve bonded more with my mom through this hard time. I understand more fully what love is. I have a new appreciation for the power of art and music. Most importantly, I know that at the end of this growth spurt, I’ll be awakened to a better, happier self (hopefully!). There is a light at the end of the tunnel, just keep your eye on it.
5) Take care of yourself.
You know that old cliche–“you can’t love another until you love yourself.” Believe me, every day I’m finding that to be more and more true. I decided to put something on hold with someone I really care about because I needed to turn my attention to myself for a while. This was a painfully difficult decision for me, one I still question every hour of every day, but I know it’s right for me at this time. I need to get in touch with what makes me healthy and happy, without the distraction of caring for anyone else. So I started drawing more. I started writing more. I started singing more. I stopped drinking almost entirely, and started eating better. I started running regularly. I started going home to see my parents more often. I made girl time more of a priority. I quit my job and applied for one that better suits me. I bought a fish. Each day I spend just taking care of myself, the better I feel. And, come to think of it, I guess that’s the solution I’ve been searching for all along.
Starting in the first grade I had a crush on Isaiah. I wrote his last name instead of mine on my journals, little hearts encasing my 1st-grader scrawl. I tried to win Isaiah’s heart by hitting him in the face with a basketball (my fault, a terrible pass) and by giving him a wrapped Reeses candy and a note that divulged my ardent feelings. And later, well versed in the art of romance, I showed my love for him by stealing a prized school supply from his desk.
One afternoon in Mrs. Francescutti’s class, we all sat at our desks coloring away at a geometry project with crayons. I had been randomly seated next to Isaiah in the most recent seating arrangement, something I held close to my seven-year-old heart as a “sign we were meant to be together forever.” Sometime between the completion of my red hexagon and the beginning of my pink triangle, Isaiah got up to go talk to Jordan, his best friend, leaving his desk empty. A waxy yellow eraser peeked out from the cubby underneath his desk, cozied up next to a black sharpie and a racecar pencil sharpener. My hand lurched forward and grabbed it. I had never stolen anything before, let alone something from someone I knew, but by some sort of twisted logic, I thought people would just assume he lost his eraser and that I had been the heroine who’d miraculously found it—not that I had been the one to steal it in the first place. It was fool proof.
Isaiah came back to his desk, and reached his hand inside, searching for the prized eraser recently purchased from the Dolphin Student Store. Overcome with what I’d done, I stuck it in the desk of my neighbor, Annie, for safe keeping. I planned to wait for him to search all over for it, and then, when he was at his most desperate, be the one who found it on the floor. That was the plan—Cupid’s plan.
Just when I thought everything was going swimmingly, Annie held the eraser in her palm and raised her other hand. “Ms. Francescutti—Alexa stole Isaiah’s eraser and then stuck it in my desk.” Taken aback, I denied it fervently, irreverently, until the suspicious Ms. Francescutti led me by the neck next door, into Ms. Gangnes’s classroom. Ms. Gangnes’s class was in the music room, leaving their classroom (forebodingly) dark. It was as they played Frère Jacques on the glockenspiel down the hall that I experienced the first interrogation of my young life.
Okay, so interrogation may be a bit harsh; Ms. Francesscutti merely questioned me about what had exactly happened (how had the eraser traveled from Isaiah’s desk to Annie’s without their knowledge?), but to my sensitive temperament and guilty conscience she might as well have been water-boarding me. I immediately confessed, “I took it!” as she crouched down to meet me at eye-level. “Why did you take it?” she asked gently, softened by my passionate tears. “I wanted Isaiah to think I’d found it for him.” There it was, the truth, please have mercy!
But Ms. Francescutti didn’t take stealing lightly, and shouldn’t have. She left me in Ms. Gangnes’ dark classroom to let me think about what I’d done. I sat in one of those miniature plastic kid chairs and sobbed. I sobbed for my foiled plan, for getting in trouble, but most of all I sobbed for my unattainable crush.
Little did I know that in the fourth grade, my dreams would be (semi-) realized. We would roller skate together at the class Skating Party. Sure, he would have to be coaxed by my babysitter when the “Couples Skate” light flashed on, but I could’ve cared less: we were skating in circles to NSYNC and his sweaty hand was finally in mine! The sad, love-struck first grader in me beamed.
But past that one fateful night, nothing between Isaiah and I materialized. My crush on him dissipated as I entered the fifth grade and decided, quite maturely, to “focus on myself.” He went on to be one of the best basketball players at our high school when I was on the swim team and playing piano in the jazz band. We ran with different crowds and I hardly ever saw him. But throughout the years, if I ever noticed him walking along the green lockers or sitting in the lunchroom, my stomach would still lurch a little. You never quite forget your first crush.
I remember Meghan was a biter. I’d come home from an afternoon of playing at her house with indentations, like little bridges all over my arms and face. My mom would ask, “Does Meghan bite you?” and I’d only nod back and forth sheepishly, covering the marks with my chubby pink fingers.
I remember one particular play-date with Meghan vividly. After preschool, I crossed the street to her house, hand in hand with my mother. We walked through Meghan’s front yard overgrown with sticker bushes and up the buckling front steps of the soggy porch. My mom rang the doorbell and we waited through the bustling of children and barking dogs for Meghan’s mom, Sandy, to open the door.
“Hi,” she said and without seeming to take a breath, she screamed back to Meghan that I had arrived. Our mothers exchanged pleasantries as I listened for Meghan’s footsteps, fast and light, down the staircase. She arrived flushed and feisty, squirming her way around her mother’s knees and grabbing my hand. “Let’s go upstairs!” she said, and we scampered off together, the matted, dingy rug burning my bare feet.
Her bedroom door, covered in Lisa Frank stickers, was ajar, revealing a flash of flowery walls. Meghan was one of three girls, so it was natural that she and her sisters should have a huge amount of clothes, makeup and dolls strewn about their room. I remember I always felt overwhelmed, being an only child with a sparsely furnished room all to myself, by the shear amount of pink sparkly clutter that obscured the floor.
“I’ll play mommy and you play daddy,” Meghan said, picking up one of her American girl dolls and shoving it into my hands. I complied as I always did with bossy girls, and cradled Felicity like a baby. We spent a minute sitting cross-legged on her floor when she said, “Okay, let’s go home, “ her curt blonde bob bouncing as she jumped up to go downstairs.
Once I’d made it to their den, I saw how she had padded the tiny closet under the stairs with pillows, sleeping bags, and the cushions from their dark green couch. Smiling in pride, she pushed me inside our “house!” and warned me to “be careful of Felicity’s head.“ She followed me in and then shut the door, like the front of a white kitchen cabinet, behind us.
“Okay. Now that we’re home, we can make babies.” I was taken aback. I had very little notion of where babies came from at the age of five, but I suspected that such a goal would be quite unworkable in the present situation. As well, I knew that this mystery was one people didn’t like us kids to talk about. But she insisted, “I know where they come from. I’ll show you.” That she was so adamantly sure of herself, made me adamantly curious.
No sooner had I blinked then she took my arm and bit down, hard. Tears welled up in my eyes and bright red dashes arced up my forearm like a line of fire ants. “There,” she said, “It’ll be a girl.” Then, mouth agape, she went for my other arm. “Ouch!” I whined, using my legs to push away from her. I refused to accept that this was how I came to be born. But maybe it was? Like a snake she lunged at me, insisting that this was what her sister called “sex.”
At last, as she grabbed my long braid in her hands and put it in her mouth, I screamed. Her mother opened the door of the little closet, letting a swatch of light shaped like home plate on a baseball field. I squirmed away, arms dotted with tooth marks and face splotchy with tears. “What happened?” Sandy inquired, touching my head in a gentle way. All I could say was, “home!” as Meghan snarled that I had “no idea how to play daddy!”
Five minutes later the doorbell rang. Behind Meghan’s sticky, scratched front door, stood my mother. Seeing me upset, she knelt and held me close. I buried my face in the locks that curled softly around her temples. Then, with a look of consternation, I lifted up the slippery sleeves of her raincoat, and examined her smooth, perfect arms.
As I get further into my life, I realize how much mine it is. Us humans are born into families, raised in groups, solaced by the comfort of others. But every great test of our abilities or intellect or creativity or strength is done ultimately, on our own. What I mean—you don’t get that amazing job with someone else’s resume, climb Machu Picchu with someone else’s body, or bungee jump off a bridge after overcoming someone else’s fears. In the end, no matter how many people’s footprints are sunk into the mud next to you, it’s your path.
Obviously, my point isn’t to advocate being isolationist and selfish in the greater world—that would be a silly conclusion to make of all this. But we are alone in our world, and that is an important distinction. Our world is our desires, perceptions, struggles, goals. As I get older, I find myself breaking away from socialized norms and trends, congratulating myself for being unique. When this happens, a little piece of my world becomes more distinct, more vivid, more realized.We think we are modeled by everyone else, but really we’re clay in our own hands.
The flip side of all this is the negative connotation we’ve been taught. We are nurtured to think that loneliness goes hand in hand with depression and social anxiety, that not wanting to follow the crowd (both literally and figuratively) means that there is something wrong with you. But being alone, both physically and mentally, is so essential to our development into self-affirmed, self-aware people. It crystallizes our personal world within the universe of others.
I’ve been meditating on this since I woke up to the realization that I’m in the throws of transition. College is coming to a close and the friends I’ve made here are going off in every direction: Bali, Nebraska, California, Costa Rica. We’re graduating and starting our “real lives” as people like to tell me, no longer reassured by the guarantee of returning to each other and to campus the next fall. It’s amazing how many experiences have come and gone like lightning: meeting in the dining hall for giggle-full dinners, quoting Borat religiously, carrying candles around the track for Relay For Life, hiking Oyster Dome, making funny videos and bonding over drunk Uno. I drank in (no pun intended) those experiences as they occurred, and yet still they’ve flashed by, mere specs on the dartboard of my memory. All that’s left of them is a singular, enriched, inspired, thankful me—and that’s something to think about.
Seeking vacation on her polished decks, passengers filled the Costa Concordia to the brim. Using the hand of a crewmember to lift themselves onboard, passengers made their way to their rooms. There were elderly couples dressed head to toe in floral, families carrying tote bags, women clutching sunglasses and cameras. In each compartment, maids had set the pillow mints, folded towels into dogs and placed an All Aboard your Dreams! pamphlet between the terry cloth paws.
Matt, a soft-spoken writer from my fiction class, followed me out of class one day, commenting on the bleak weather. Rainy again, he said, gesturing up to the sky, vast and gray like ocean. Yeah, I kind of like it, I replied. He continued chatting with me as I walked towards my dorm. After a bout of small talk laced with flirtatious curiosity, he asked for my number. I fumbled for my phone (and my composure) as the Evergreens around us swayed in the bluster.
That weekend we walked down to the boardwalk to get coffee. He told me about his love of all things Dada, his desire to become a novelist, his favorite movies. I described the trip to Florence I was hoping to take in the summer and folded him an origami crane out of the biodegradable coffee shop napkin. We sipped, the water mirrored the overcast sky like an endless sheet of steel and he said, This is fun.
The passengers settled in. Several days were spent exploring the ship’s aquamarine pool, gleaming restaurant as well as their evening programs. Last night, there had been tango lessons in The Great Ballroom. The day before, karaoke in The Canteen. And that afternoon there would be a magic show in The Center Room, complete with magician, rabbit, and wand.
When the magic show began, most of the ship sat in front of a red velvet stage, eager. He’d begun sawing one of the hostesses in half, promising he’d put her back together. Jeanie, the hostess, was wheeled out in a something like a coffin, except it was too short: her head and feet stuck out of the ends. Then, the magician, Ricardo, begged for everyone’s attention. Eager kids swarmed around the stage as he sawed, the blade sinking into the box and right—presumably—into her chest.
After our first date, Matt and I spent most of our time together. So much time, in fact, I fell into a habit, a schedule. I’d wake up to a hello text. I’d meet him on campus for lunch. And on weekends we’d drink Old Fashioneds, let our clumsy fingers write on his typewriter and blast Jaymay’s Sea Green, See Blue on repeat. As my lids closed at night, I’d wish this vacation from my old life would never end.
One morning, about a month and half after he’d introduced me as his “girlfriend” to a room full of his friends from the on-campus film club, he didn’t text me good morning. Undeterred, I invited him to a downtown coffee shop for lunch, suggesting we could eat and study together. He met me at Avellino’s, a sweet café with a brightly painted façade, later that afternoon. He seemed quiet. I walked back to the table with the latte I’d ordered, the cup teetering on the saucer and spilling coffee as I walked. It was then that he told me he didn’t think we should try long-distance while he studied abroad in Germany, a precedent he had not only agreed to but desired when we first decided to become a couple. He told me he wasn’t sure he’d come back, wasn’t sure he wanted to. Without me, he could raise his anchors.
The ship’s hostess, Jeanie, was separated to great applause, then the magician proceeded to put her back together. He left the stage promising One more trick! but never returned. Then they felt an immense jolt. A sound like a horse whinny, but louder, was immediately followed by the ship tilting to the port side. People screamed and ran onto deck, leaning over the rails as if taken by a bout of seasickness. Others hurried upstairs from their rooms in a panic. A woman’s voice came over the ship-wide intercom, failing in its efforts to keep steady. There may be a problem.
They learned that the captain had steered them off the computer-programmed course and that they’d hit a rocky outcrop in the shallows of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The impact tore a gash in her hull and left her lying on her starboard side, beached in shallow waters. Panicked, and in over his head, the Captain promptly abandoned ship.
The first thing my grandmother noticed when I was born was my chin. She held me close and stroked my face slightly with her pinky, grazing over the asterisk left in my soft clay. It’s a Peters trait, this dimple-chin.
In one of the earliest photos of my grandmother, she stands in front of a quaint house, hips forward and thumbs stuck in her overall pockets. Her face is full of dimples, two arcs next to her mouth and a star in the center of her chin. Even when she grew elderly and the skin beneath her face sagged down, that dimple was as crisp as the photograph. It aged much as her soul did, stubbornly.
As my dad ages, I see echoes of my grandmother in his face; the thousand ripples around the mouth, the cheeks plush like marshmallows, and of course that deep divot in his chin that, from a distance, is nothing but shadow. Sometimes he strokes it in thought, hunched over the table while filling in a quarter note or dotting an ‘i.’
Despite all the credit my dad’s side has gotten for my unique chin, I can’t un-see a spot on my mom’s chin that sags slightly inwards, like an overripe spot on a peach.
Once, after a trip to see her parents, my mom described spending weeks flooding the floor of their San Luis Obispo mobile home with boxes of old family pictures and memorabilia. With an excited inhale, she describe the delicate process of extracting a certain yellowed picture from its broken frame. Then she took the very picture out of an envelope for me to see. It’s a picture of our family in Italy so old even Grandpa can’t name everyone. I studied it like a crossword puzzle—looking for a familiar combination in all the empty spaces.
In the center of the photo was a elderly woman, apparently my great-great grandmother. She sat round-shouldered in a wooden chair, her hair was tucked back behind a kerchief and her face scrunched in the sunlight. Below her mouth was a dark dot. An imperfection. Then I studied each of the faces around her. Standing next to each other in a line, their chins made a long ellipses.