My Honey

August 31, 1938

Dear Honey, My Honey,

I would have wrote you sooner, but I didn’t get your letter until yesterday; although it has been down  the post office since Saturday. I was glad to get your letter and still happier after I read it. It was very interesting to know that I am tied down; if you will consider yourself tied down, so will I. You know, we better be careful or soon, if you’ll let me know in your next letter, we will be going steady.

To change the subject, Monday we went out in a motor boat and went fishing. When I got home, Eddie was here to greet us. He came out with Harry at about four o’clock. We’ve been having a lot of fun with Eddie. Tuesday we went out in the same boat and went dragging for killies (bait fish). Eddie came along; he’s staying for the week. He’s a bum though, he stole my bed; now he bunks in with Otz [Arthur].

So, with nothing else to write about I’ll close as:

Steady Ha and your Honey, Love,

Harold

xxxxx    P.S. I miss you a whole lot.

My regards to all. So long.

Tied down, not unlike the boat at the end of the dock, bobbing up and down in the shiny black water. The boat wasn’t captive, it wasn’t a prisoner of the dock. Rather, it was exactly where it was supposed to be. The boat was safe against the wood pilings, buffered with a couple of buoys so as to not scratch the surface. 

When Harold was a boy he learned that in order to properly tie a boat to a dock, it was important to leave enough slack for the tides. Just enough rope to let the boat drift along the water, move with the changing sea levels, and still remain close to home. If the rope was too tight, and the water came too high, the bow would be pulled under, and the boat would sink. Harold was the boat at the end of the dock, and Loretta knew exactly the right way to keep him feeling close and safe.

“No gal’s gonna tie me down,” Arthur said to Harold, matter of factly. 

“What about Jeanne?” Harold nodded his head towards Arthur and raised his eyebrows.

“She hasn’t tied me down, I just don’t want to leave. That’s my choice.” Arthur played a defensive tone back at his brother, although Harold knew he wasn’t being serious. He laughed at how matter of fact Arthur tried to be sometimes. 

“Alright, alright,” he said. “Do you think I should marry her before I enlist?” Harold turned his attention more seriously towards Arthur. He valued his other half’s opinions more than anything. 

“What if you croak in training?” As he said this, Arthur slid himself down in his lawn chair enough to reach Harold’s with the tip of his foot and gave a light shove. Arthur chuckled then said, earnestly, “Why rush love, Ha?” 

“Profound for once, Otz,” Harold replied. He did want to marry Loretta sooner than later, but Arthur was right – something Harold didn’t often admit. 

The sun was beginning to set on the brothers’ last night at the summer home. September showed itself with a breeze that took the humidity with it as it crossed the yard, over the water and past beyond where they could see. The fire Harold started crackled low and deliberate, not ready to extinguish; Harold didn’t want it to end either, if he was being honest with himself. He wanted to linger a while longer with the fresh feeling of being tied down and what felt like the final summer of his youth. He didn’t fear change, but Harold was no stranger to uncertainty of what was beyond the summer house, and Queens, and seeing Loretta whenever he wanted. 

“So when we get home, are we heading straight down to our respective enlisting offices? I’ve been thinking of saving a little nest egg before shipping off anywhere.” Harold prodded at the fire a little, trying to push some life back into it.  

“That’s a good question,” Arthur began, “and a good idea too, I suppose. Who knows when the next war will be.” 

They finished the rest of their evening in mostly silence until the fire in front of them all but went out. Harold doused it and followed Arthur back into the house. The bags they brought sat neat along the wall next to the door, ready to leave. Arthur finished cleaning whatever was left in the sink and Harold began to rummage around the fridge for a late night sandwich. He pulled out leftover lunch meat, potato bread, mayonnaise, and cheese. Arthur turned around and watched him take out a plate and a butter knife from the drawer.

“Are you pulling my leg? I just finished the last of the dishes.”

“I’ll make you a sandwich too if you want.”

“Well alright then,” he said. He twisted his mouth around as if he was trying to decide if he really wanted a sandwich. Of course he did. “But don’t bother with a plate. I’ll just eat it over the sink.” 

Harold laughed and nodded, and got out some more potato bread. They ate in silence in the kitchen, Harold at the table and Arthur hovering over the sink. The yellow light above them hummed like the bugs did outside, and the brothers were at peace. It was these simple, quiet moments, Harold thought, that were the most important. When he and his brother could just get away from the loud, crowded bustling of Queens – of working in the city – and enjoy the hum of the bugs.

Arthur finished his sandwich and said, “Do you think we’ll look the same when we’re old men?” 

“No, you’ll be uglier,” Harold said. He let go of one, deep belly laugh before getting up to return his plate to the sink. 

“How do you figure?” Arthur began, “we look the same now.”

“Yeah but you’re older so you’ll probably have more wrinkles than me by that point, Otz.”  

“I’m not older by much!” 

“Yeah, well, you liked to tell everyone you were the older brother when we were kids, so you’re older and you’ll have more wrinkles than me.”  

“Oh yeah? Well you can clean your own plate then.” Arthur’s cheeks matched the color of his hair and Harold stood at the sink laughing at his brother while he cleaned the plate and butter knife. 

“At least we’re both good-looking now,” he said.

Arthur’s demeanor quickly changed and he stuck out his chest, flexing his arms. “That’s right,” he said with a grunt, “two of the toughest-looking fellas in Jamaica.” 

“Alright, now, put them away,” Harold said as he placed the dishes in the drainboard. He carefully hung the dishrag back over the top of the faucet and dried his hands before folding the towel and placing it next to the sink. 

“Tomorrow’s back to reality,” he sighed. “Back to finding a job and figuring out when we’re going to training.” 

“It’ll work out, baby brother,” Arthur said with a wink. 

Summer

July 25, 1938

Dearest Ha,

Received your letter, about time. Don’t faint when you see the postage on this letter but I’m here at last, Lake Ronkonkoma. If I weren’t sure of going till Saturday night. Lil Bretz and Schulman, Jeanne, Evelyn, Lil’s sister-in-law, Irene, and myself are here. Boy! Am I happy now except for – 

Well, I’m glad to hear you are all well, anyhow. I guess I still miss you, alright! Alright! I do. My! But you write nice letters. You’ll have to write more letters  often. Hmmm! Annamae delivered your message. Thanks a lot. I was rather disappointed at not going out to your place. But this was the only week the girls could go out. As for being lonesome, I guess I am. Now, I get some satisfaction with the others as they’re away from their honeys also, but not as long as I have been away from you.

Annamae told me of the terrible storms you had out there. My goodness, if I was there I’d be six feet under today. (Boy! I bet you’re sorry I wasn’t there.) So far, we’ve had swell weather here. Perhaps we will be out to your place this coming Sunday – I hope so. Gosh! I’ll forget what you look like (God forbid, not that). How could I ever forget that face? Ahem! Well, Honey, hoping you’ll write soon as I’m anxious to hear from you again, I’ll close.

Yours truly, 

swoon!     xxxxx Love with kisses

Loretta (chubby)

P.S. Ha, answer as soon as you can so I can have the pleasure of reading (ahem!) your letter while at the lake.

Address:

Loretta Reilly

To Helen Hunt

Lake Ronkonkoma

Long Island

In Seaford, Harold was eager to have Loretta as his girlfriend – his steady girl – and the summer of 1938 seemed like the perfect time to act. He found himself sitting outside by a fire, his brother – his best friend – close by – thinking about just how swell everything felt in that moment. The water was calm that day, and even though it was the end of August the setting sun felt just as hot as it had been in July. It was the summer that would never end. 

“Do ya think we’ll always have summers like this, Ha?” Artie leaned far back into his seat and stretched his legs out in front of him by the fire. “You think we’ll always be able to feel so free?”

“I’d say so, Otz.” Harold took a sip of his beer. He leaned over the side of his chair to grab another piece of wood to throw onto the fire. “Someday.”

“You and Loretta Reilly are getting pretty serious,” Artie said with a smirk. He shook his beer can at Harold, spilling a little on the grass.

“Sounds like it’s your beer talking. But yes, I love that girl. Truly. She speaks her mind, she’s courageous, and those legs!” Harold exhaled, enamored.
“Don’t make me jealous now or I’ll start to impersonate you.” Harold laughed as Artie did a melodramatic impression of a boy in love.

“You won’t want to impersonate me when I’m in the Army, saving lives, and you’ll be on a boat somewhere.” 

“You’re right,” Artie agreed, “I’d rather be on a boat than in the mud somewhere.”

“I’m thinking planes, actually.” Harold looked up at the sky. Empty except for the stars. 

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Big engines, and the freedom of it all.” 

“That does sound nice, brother. Me, free on the water and you, free in the skies.” Artie was solemn for a moment, rare for him. He looked into the bonfire and finished the last of his beer. 

“Well,” Harold began, “we’ve got a long day of not doing a whole lot of anything tomorrow. I’m off to bed. You boys put the fire out, would ya?” Harold dumped the remainder of his beer out next to his chair and took the empty can with him as he walked up to the cottage. 

He was made aware of the sunburn on his shoulders as it held him in a tight embrace with the creeping chill of a summer night. He thought of Loretta, and how school was about to start for her again. She was going to be sixteen in a couple of weeks. He planned to make her his girl and celebrate – somewhere nice, nicer than the dozens of movie dates and ice cream shop visits. He’d saved some money up working in the sewers of Manhattan just for the occasion. Harold then thought of Arthur outside, warming himself by the fire. He thought about how they knew they were both destined to be military men, and although it would be an excellent journey, they would be the farthest apart they’d ever been. 

Budding Love

The tall, narrow homes and straight brick buildings of Jamaica, Queens stood in neatened order like soldiers at attention. Each structure was uniform on the outside, save for little window boxes, a chain link fence, or the occasional vegetable garden. Inside the homes of Jamaica were varied with families bustling about, doing what daily tasks could be done in the Depression. Children ran barefoot, played hide and seek, or searched for an open space to play stickball. The Reilly family was one brood with five children – there were six, but the youngest passed away when he was very small. The Reilly children were known for having a mother on the police force – something not common. They were also known for swiping potatoes from the kitchen when their mother was at work and roasting them in back alleys and eating them plain. 

Only a few houses down from the Reilly’s, in an identical structure, was the Schwerdt family. The mother and father, both German immigrants who left before the first World War, raised a family of ten children, the youngest two being identical twins. The twin boys had bright red hair and bright blue eyes and their own mother was unable to tell them apart. Their father, John, was a brewer – and at one point a milkman – but in the economic downturn of the United States, his skills as a brewer were in great demand from the general working class. His wife, a homemaker, spent her days making and repairing clothes and raising ten children. 

This tangle of youths, generally unsupervised – especially in the summer months – made the most of their time by adventuring outside and exploring what there was to do for free in the Great Depression. They ran around in dirtied clothes, equal parts oblivious and affected by the poverty that haunted most families in the 1930s, not just the children of immigrants. 

One of the German twins, Harold, made his way to the playground at the end of the block. Oftentimes it was crowded with other children, but on this particular evening there seemed to be only a smattering of playmates. The sun sank behind the brick horizon that New York made as he reached a swing set occupied by one other.

“Hello,” the young girl said as he sat down on a swing, leaving one between them. “I like your hair.”

Harold felt himself blush. She was very pretty, maybe fourteen years old to his sixteen. 

“Thank you. I’m Harold. What’s your name?”

“Loretta,” she replied. The children sat in a comfortable silence, peppered by the squeak of swing chains, the scuff of dust below their feet, and the occasional honk of traffic. They learned their homes were very close, and Loretta believed she saw Harold a week earlier, down by an ice cream shop.

“Oh, that was probably Arthur, my identical twin. Y’know our own mother can’t tell us apart?” 

Loretta laughed. “Wow, identical twins. You must do everything together.” 

“Well, most things. He’s more of a prankster. My mother says I’m too serious for my age.” 

In the distance, towards the low glow of the setting sun, “Dinner!” was called. Loretta stirred a moment before hopping off her swing. 

“That’s my mother. It was nice meeting you.” 

“Maybe you can find me by the ice cream shop one day, and I’ll buy you a cone,” Harold said. He stood to tip his head to Loretta, and from the opposite direction of the block he heard, “Abendessen!” 

Loretta wrinkled her eyebrows. Harold shrugged a little and chuckled, a little embarrassed.  

“German. It means dinner.

“Oh,you speak German?”

“No, not really,” he admitted. “Our parents prefer us to speak English. But when my siblings and I are out and we hear someone hollering German, we know it’s our mother.”

“That is very clever,” Loretta laughed, “and ice cream sounds lovely.”

The two agreed to meet again at the playground towards the end of that week and before he left Harold took Loretta’s hand in his to shake.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Loretta Reilly.”

“Likewise, Harold Schwerdt.” She pronounced his name Schwartz but he didn’t dare correct her. Harold believed, at sixteen, that he found love at first sight.

July 13, 1938

Dearest Harold,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. I was surprised you wrote so soon. Well, since your first topic was about the weather, I’ll be a copycat. At eight o’clock, Monday morning I was awakened by a large crash of thunder. What a storm it sent everyone out of their beds. It rained off and on all day, so I stayed in. Tuesday, I got up at ten thirty and it was so warm, I sat around and listened to the radio all day. Tuesday night Evelyn, Lil, and I went to see Albie. He has a heavy cold. Today, I got up at ten thirty and helped around the house, then to the playground. I stayed there about an hour then came home. Tonight, I went to a meeting, then to Nachlin’s. Later, Harry took several of us including Lil, Betty, Gert, Ed W., Eppie, and myself to the night baseball game on Hillside Ave. I go in at 11:30 and boy! Did I get a balling-out.

Now, I must ask you how is everyone, if they look as well as they did Sunday. They are swell. Oh! Pardon me. How are you? As far as missing you, I do (not). Hoping to see you soon I’ll close. 

Affectionately yours,

Your Honey (I hope)

Loretta (chubby in your eyes)

P.S. “The Old Gag.” Excuse pencil and paper writing –

Also, give regards to the family. 

(the perfume is my sister’s) xxx

NYE

New Year’s Eve was mangled 

in heaps of bodies heaving back and forth

like an angry sea – 

We beat the rain

but were stopped by the cover charge.

Everyone pushed around in such a way

where some were trying to make it to the new year first – 

And others wanted to hide in bathrooms 

and corners 

and alleyways

and under lovers.

Abandon your purses under bars,

lose your identity so the spirits of the new era 

don’t recognize you and you can start 

with a new name,

a new mission.

Drowning in liquor and kisses from strangers 

we spill into the streets of Queens 

with her 24-hour fruit stands 

and public indecency.

We wake up with our IDs tucked neatly in our pockets –

Hungover – 

In places foreign to us.

But we are as we were only hours before 

when we had more time 

and less headaches.

Keep your eye on the Doughnut

I rang the doorbell three times before a nurse let me in the building, only to meet me in the hallway and tell me I was the first to know, and that my grandfather just died. What immediately followed was something I experienced when I watched my mother – his daughter – die seven years ago: tunnel vision, loss of breath, silent and uncontrolled sobs. My aunt arrived not two minutes after. We said our goodbyes to Harold in his bed, finally at rest and home with Nan, with my mom, with my family dog who died only four months ago in September. He was reunited with his identical twin, Arthur, who died in 1943 on a PT while Harold sat in prison camp in Krems, Austria.

I feel like I’ve become a professional at death and grief; the state of being dead is not what scares me, though. I am not afraid to kiss a recently-departed loved one on the hand or forehead one last time. The process of dying – the suffering, the pain, the uncertainty of whether or not that person will be around for three more days, or two – is what eats at me. Since January 9th my soul has felt heavy while my life has felt emptier. I will miss Thursday morning physical therapy appointments, grocery shopping, holding hands in the car, and singing old songs. I will miss him there in my life. It is something that I know I will get through, but I am not quite sure how yet.

I don’t even really know how to explain my grandpa when people ask. After newspaper interviews and his eulogy I still conclude that that he was – simply put – a good guy, because if I spent the amount of time I wanted to talking about him a whole year would pass before I was done. He died just a week shy of his 99th birthday, born before sliced bread and lived long enough to build the World Trade Centers, watch them fall on television, and watch Tower One be rebuilt. Harold lived long, but he lived. He lived enough for three lifetimes, and I was lucky enough to hear his stories and to commit them to memory – those moments of invaluable tales of war and love and sayings that I will write down and give life to until the day I myself am dead.

He always told my brother, cousin, and me, “As you ramble through life, Brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.” As silly of a quote as it sounds, I finally understood what he meant. Harold wanted us to keep our eyes on the good, not the bad; on love and forgiveness, not hate and grudges; on the sweet stuff, not the void. He was infectiously positive and kind until the day he died, and I always found it difficult to understand especially when our visits were peppered with war stories that – when told – would take him far away, back to 1943 and prison camp. His liberation from camp seemed like his only victory, but even in his stories, there was something positive to shed light on.

One tale in particular – and the one I shared at his wake when delivering his eulogy – has become affectionately known as the “egg story.” In March of 1945, as the war was coming to a foreseeable end, and Russian troops were closing in on Stalag XVII-B in Austria, Harold, along with about a thousand other soldiers, were forced to march along the Danube River with Berlin as the goal, in one of the harshest winters on record in Europe. He spent two years with meals that included hot water, black coffee, boiled cabbage, and sometimes nothing at all. He watched bunk mates’ faces and bodies ravaged by malnutrition, bed bugs, sores, and disease. And still, he along with many others were seen “fit enough” to march, maybe to Berlin, most likely to their deaths. The end of the war was certainly near, but the end of their lives was also looming overhead.

Harold told me one day in June of 2018 that as the men marched through fields and farmland they would pull vegetables out of the ground and eat them without washing them, simply for nutrition. They operated mostly in groups of three – one man to collect firewood, one to guard the food, one to find the food. Harold was the food finder. He would pull carrots, potatoes – anything he could find – to share with his two companions. He told me of older German women who would hide bread in the bosoms of their aprons and break off small pieces to throw at the feet of the soldiers, who scrounged and ate quickly as to not anger the SS that flanked them with guns and vicious dogs. Even in that time of horror and uncertainty, he still encountered kindness and humanity of strangers; he had hope to continue on marching. He had the belief that he would hold his wife again, his childhood sweetheart who he married on June 1, 1943, only to be captured July 30th that same year.

In his search for food, Harold came across what he described to me as “a German-speaking, Polish slave-girl.” She was on a patch of farmland that had animals as well as vegetables. He approached her and put a hand in his pocket, producing a sewing needle that he held onto from a British Red Cross care package he received earlier during his imprisonment when he had scurvy. He extended to her the needle, and told her in broken German, “Ich habe eine nadel,” which translates to, “I have a needle.” The young girl accepted the needle and handed him an egg, the first egg he held in over two years. Harold joyously returned with the egg to his two companions and split it between the three of them, a meal he described to me as “the best meal I had in two years.”

Pain and suffering is relative to each person and situation, this is a given. But tears poured down my face to see how such a simple act, and such a simple meal could bring out hope and humanity in a man who otherwise was stripped of everything. He lost his bomber jacket, teeth, weight, and yet he was so grateful and rejoiced in the tiniest of victories – the egg. He could have easily kept it to himself, but chose to share it with two men he might never see again. He ate that egg as if he knew it wouldn’t be the last time he’d taste one, and I can personally vouch that Harold had an egg almost everyday for the duration of my 28 years. The war and the suffering bore a giant hole in Harold’s future, yet he kept his eye on my grandmother, on freedom, on the doughnut.

Not a Victim

I recently had the pleasure of being part of an event with Equilibrium Booking that benefited an organization called VIBS, or Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk. Local bands, vendors, and artists such as myself came together in order to provide an environment that was not only fun, but safe and free of judgment. We were able to raise money, have raffles, network, and enjoy each other’s company and express ourselves without barriers. Each vendor table – each musician – was their own entity; each person a color that, when put together, created an incredible, bright piece of art on an otherwise very rainy January evening.

It was serendipitous that we held our event on the same day as the annual Women’s March; I even had a friend who attended the march in New York City come to our “As We Are” show. Both floors of the venue were beaming with talent and the food truck outside encouraged many of us to brave the freezing rain for snacks in between sets. I was fixated on the stage as powerful front-women threw their bodies and voices around without any reservations, each one in her own bubble of expression, each one at the helm of her own existence. I watched artists paint and read astrology and laugh without a care in the world. All the mingling and association was liberating in a world where this type of environment is generally approached with caution.

The bittersweet aspect to our As We Are campaign is that it was designed to create awareness and provide a healthy environment for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse, as well as domestic violence. It is a hard truth that in our world, men and women are ruthlessly subjected to both mental and physical tortures by people that they – more often than not – trust. They are made to be strangers within their own bodies, they are twisted by the manipulations of a less-than human who takes pleasure in and gains their power from holding innocent people under thumb.

Due to the lightheartedness of the event, I did not speak to the crowd, understandably eager to hear the next band, to dance, and to have fun. When I brought the idea of this event to Jackie and Guistina of EQ, though, all I had in mind was the idea of helping others feel less alone, after being subjected to sexual assault myself and feeling like I didn’t know who I was for quite some time.

My first off-campus freshman party ended in me fighting a man off of me on a cold February night while he tried to keep me pinned to the hood of a car and rip my sweatshirt over my head to obstruct my vision. Yes, I willingly kissed him. Why? Because I was a college freshman. Yes, I did tell him that I didn’t want to have sex with him. Yes, I did tell him I wouldn’t get into a car with him. Yes, I was frozen inside of my own skin trying to rationalize why this man I didn’t know was treating my body with the same comfort and acquaintance as I had with myself. I wondered why he thought his hand belonged in my pants without thinking he needed to ask my permission. I wondered why I couldn’t move.

My survival of sexual assault happened when I snapped. When he tried to pull my sweatshirt over my head and – I swear – the anger of my dead grandmothers, my rugby team, my ten-plus years of jiu jitsu threw him as far away from me as possible with enough explosiveness to scare him and make him throw his hands up – his white flag. I found my friend, got a ride home, and found more friends to cry to and to try and understand what just happened to me. Was I wrong? Was I going to be alright? I survived. I was breathing; my heart was just about jumping out of my chest. My friends would believe me, right?

No one tells you that the easiest part of surviving sexual assault is the actual act of surviving it. No one prepares you for the mental and emotional trauma. No one warns you of the friends who sympathize with your assailant because you “looked like a whore” or you were being a tease. No one prepares you for the loss of self that oftentimes follows a horrible event like this, where suddenly you don’t even know what you like anymore because you know your own body far less than you originally thought.

And then I found myself, almost ten years to the day, standing among 100 or so people, each in a happy aura of expression and acceptance. People ran around in bliss, and no one was required to outwardly say they were a victim, or a survivor – just there for support and love. In that space, among art, friends, my boyfriend, and a good beer, I realized how good I am at surviving, how much I wish that for anyone subjected to assault or violence from a stranger or otherwise to feel proud of survival. I want those people to thrive and live how they deserve. I am grateful to EQ Booking, to the bands, to the environment, and to organizations like VIBS who understand it doesn’t stop with just surviving, but it’s possible to be yourself again – and even better.

I Wish I was in Hell

“Well, since no one is answering my prayers…”

 

    Otis stood before the Peace Fountain in Manhattan. He looked over the sculpture; it really was a beautiful piece of work. If there was one thing mortals had going for them, it was art. He always found himself to be a supporter of the humanities and human expression in the form of creation, as opposed to the alternative – and seemingly favorite option – destruction.

When he first arrived to Earth by order of Satan, Otis was better known as Botis, an Earl of Hell. He was powerful, could see all things past and present, and carried the ability to reconcile friends and foes. At the start of the First War between Sumer and Elam, he was dispatched to watch over the destruction and chaos and death to ensure mankind would not eliminate themselves before Christ even showed up, no less before the Second Coming. He existed before time, after time, and in time. Botis didn’t alter fates, but sometimes found himself tipping the scales every once in a while when things got hairy, only to make them hairier. When Satan expressed his desire to have Nero, Botis took it upon himself to cause the eruption of Vesuvius in an attempt to take out the ruler, who happened to be on vacation in the neighboring city of Baiae at the time. Hell wanted him, and Botis felt it a civic duty to Hell to get him. Instead of taking down Nero however, Botis botched his job and took out thousands of lives – innocent and sinners alike. He acknowledged his failings, albeit without remorse as a demon would be, and Botis opted to sit back and wait for Karma to find Nero – and she did, when he committed suicide after being found guilty during his trials.

Botis often found himself getting messy in earthly situations despite his power in Hell, and he spent millenia trying to hone his force. Eventually, he took a passive approach to the chaos, to the time, and settled in as a civilian. He altered his appearances to maintain inconspicuousness, but never lost his gap teeth. As a viper in his true form, Botis found himself in the shape of a human with odd hair or hats to mask his horns, and always those damn gap teeth. It wasn’t as big of a deal prior to modern cosmetic dentistry, but recently he found himself overly conscious of his physical standing-out. As a touch, his scales often hid under his clothes. It’s not that he couldn’t become the full form of man, but he didn’t want to lose himself completely.

 

Botis peered up again at the peace fountain. Saint John got to reside amongst all the soft-looking woodland animals. Satan was portrayed as a creepy head underneath the fountain with crab claws. Why do we always get put with the shellfish? Bears are almost always mean; why don’t we get bears? He read the plaque, “‘…dedicated to the children of the Earth…’They don’t care anymore.” His eyes continued upwards again to the figure on the top. “Saint John was never that buff.”

Botis fingered around in his pants pocket only to find a hole and, on the other side, his scaly leg.

“Shit.”

He promptly switched sides to the other pocket as his chest cavity tightened a little. He thought to himself how he used to laugh at the idea of fear, and how he’s been on this planet way too long. Suddenly he found what he was looking for. “Thank, Satan.” Botis pulled a coin out of his pocket that originated in Lydia. It was one of the oldest known coins in the world, and he was going to use it as a direct line to talk to one of his colleagues. He turned his back, recited an incantation in Aramaic, and flipped the coin over his right shoulder into the fountain.

    A shadow was cast over the fountain of Saint John and Botis. Both began to float in space and time, a familiar ground for the demon. He saw flashes of stars and clouds and began to feel the familiar burning of his home; how he missed the fires of Hell. Space and time stopped as he shed his tattered jeans and acid punk look to reveal his true form. He came to a stop at the gates, and as they opened Botis was greeted by a less than welcoming face.

“How many of those forsaken coins do you have left? For the love of Baal…” Malik stood threateningly between the entrance of Hell and Botis. He looked down at him, tired of seeing his face so regularly over the past hundred years.

“What do you want, Botis? Or should I say, Otis?” He chuckled and it roared through the entrance of the Great Hall to the underworld.

Botis tightened his tail in a knot behind him to control his anger, “I need to get out of Earth. I need to talk to someone. No one will let me talk to Satan but, fuck, I gotta get away. I’ll even talk to Belphegor at this rate.” The angel of Hell merely scoffed at the demon’s urgent request, then sighed.

“You know why you’re there, Botis. You need to do something in your job description. Why don’t you actually use your powers? What? Afraid of causing another Vesuvius?” Botis’ eyes narrowed, and Malik took it as a cue to continue badgering him. “You oversaw the times of war and times of peace. You’re supposed to know past and future. You need to prove yourself again. Look, I’m not letting you in, because I know I won’t get you back out and I don’t feel like doing a demon hunt on your tail. Go back, figure it out.” At that point, Malik almost pitied him. Botis,, obviously defeated, turned to slither back into time and space. He knew he wouldn’t get past an angel of Hell such as Malik. As he reached the edge of space and time he paused and coiled his head around to sneer at Malik once more. “You know, Malik, you’re not even mentioned in the Bible.”

    There was a flash of light and Botis was once again standing in Manhattan before the peace fountain. Although still cold for New York, the season was attempting to roll over into Spring. He pulled at the lapels of his winter coat and cursed the snow that lingered under the fountain. Botis had to think of something, and it had to be good.

   

    He strolled past one of the president’s office buildings, Secret Service lingering among the bustling public. It was always easy to pick them out; they were overly alert. One thing Botis liked about Manhattan was that the public – locals – didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything except where they were going and how they were going to get there. He could always pick them out, because they more often than not were equipped with backpacks and headphones. They kept their heads down, hands in their pockets, and they marched along all on little personal missions. He smiled and thought how adorably flawed they were. Sometimes, Botis found himself reading their minds as they trudged past him. More often than not, they were thinking of exploration, being loved, or how to make a difference. Sure, he’d come across the occasional serial killer, but it was Earth – the melting pot of weird minds. Botis felt bad for the humans if he thought long enough about how they were all gonna die anyway, so why try to make a difference? He could see time and space. He knew past and future. They, however, only had the day in front of them – if they were lucky.

    When Botis arrived back to his apartment in the Bowery it was already night. Sure, he could have teleported himself home, but he often enjoyed the two-hour walk – reading people, blending in. He certainly didn’t miss being picked out of a crowd in Hell. Generally that meant trouble. When Botis caused Vesuvius, he got it from both sides and was grateful to be on Earth with the lava when it all happened; he threw off a lot of fates for one person that he failed to kill. Death, Karma – Heaven and Hell – all wanted a piece of him.

“Alright, now, you’re the demon. You’re the viper. You know past and present. You can bring together enemies and friends. In fact, you’ve got plenty of friends… you’ve got plenty of enemies too but hey, balance.” Botis stroked his viper chin while his cat, Gilgamesh, chuffed quietly for attention as he rubbed his face against Botis’ scales. Botis looked down fondly at Gilgamesh, the slayer of monsters and builder of walls, “I’ve gone soft, haven’t I?”

    He sat down and turned on the news. Tension. Fear. A terrible president. All the ingredients for an all-out nuclear war sat before him at the click of a remote. Of course, he lost the remote – most likely stolen by Gilgamesh – so he flicked his finger back and forth, looking for inspiration. Well, I can’t kill anyone again; they’re doing well enough already. He concluded that night that something outrageous was to be done. Some M. Night Shyamalan, plot twist ending to get him the fuck off Earth; he was ready to telecommute his work of the mortals, and had been for at least he last two millennia. Suddenly, it hit him, the seer, the reconciler.

 

    Tensions around the world continued to boil and bubble as weeks went on, and Botis waited for his time to come. He scavenged his apartment for another Lydian coin and packed in preparation to escape the planet.

He looked down to his friend at his feet, “Gilgamesh, I hope you’re ready.” The killer of monsters and builder of walls let out a soft, “mew,” and sat in one of Botis’ empty boxes. “Alright, good.”

    One April morning, Botis watched the sun come up, red and deep. It reminded him of home. Botis was ready to teleport himself to the Peace Fountain and stare Saint John in his beautiful face one last time. He clutched the coin again in his pocket to make sure he didn’t put it in the one that had a hole in it. Once the sun hit noon, Botis calmly placed his apartment keys on the kitchen counter, gathered Gilgamesh, and a small box of things that he collected over the years. He thought to himself how he would miss Earth, maybe, but the time had come. He watched in the bathroom mirror as his viper face took human form for the last time in order to get him out of his apartment building and onto the street. As he opened the door, ready to depart, his neighbor stopped him in a panic.

“Otis! Hey, man. Taking your cat to the vet? Did you see what’s happening right now?” Botis stopped. He smiled a gap tooth smile at his neighbor. He knew he was getting out of Earth.

“No, tell me.” His viper eyes lowered cooly.

“North Korea and South Korea signed a peace treaty today! How crazy is that?”

 

I am Grateful

Recently, I encountered a piece of writing – about 70 pages – that I scribbled out in 2012, eleven months after the loss of my mother. It encompassed the dark, secluded, depressed state that I was in for so long after she died, and I read it for the first time since I wrote it. When I wrote this particular novella (I guess), I did so out of anger. I took my insomnia, my fleeting thoughts, my questions, my hate and confusion, and poured them out of me like hot lava over the course of about two weeks. I remember, when I finished this piece, not feeling angry any longer, which is exactly why it stayed a mere 70 pages or so. It hurt me to read it. It rubbed back over all of the emotional scars that I spent the past five years allowing to heal while I tried to figure out how to trudge through the hell that was the death of my mom. The writings were so raw and painful to recognize – to see it as myself, as I was. I cried throughout the Intro (released onto my blog before this post itself). I cried for the girl who I was and for the amount of hurt and loneliness she experienced. The entries lashed out at the world around her; at neighbors, at family. They were paranoid, twisted, irrational ideas, but they were natural and real for someone who feels like they have everything ripped from them at once.

It’s certainly difficult for anyone to lose a parent, no matter what way, or at what age. Loss as I have observed simply within my own family is perceived, absorbed, and handled, dealt with or otherwise, differently by each person. It is a relative experience, felt on a varying scale. I do not share my stories – my loss, struggles, and personal insight – with the idea that how I coped is the right way, or how I survived is the only way to do so. However, I share the stories I write with the hope and intention that someday, somewhere, someone will read what I went through and actually feel like they aren’t alone. In the end we are all looking to feel like we belong, and I know for myself, the hardest time to feel like you’re part of something is when you’re torn apart.

I am grateful. I am grateful to have a passion for writing. I am grateful for the small community of individuals I know who tell me that the things I write about helped them get through something. I love when someone tells me I made them laugh, and I have a mildly sadistic joy inside when someone tells me I made them cry. I love telling stories, and other people’s stories, and I am grateful I can tell them. I lost fear of judgment for writing and being read because, in the end, my writing is my feelings and no one can feel those feelings except for me. The goal now is to have others respect those feelings, or relate to them in some way. If someone feels less alone, then I feel I’m doing something right.

The First Summer I Remember

My childhood was spent in a cape house on Goose Creek in Southold. I lived under the barnacle-covered dock, in the trees, on the sandbars, and in a boat cabin. I was a sailor, a pirate, and an explorer. My imagination was my reality, where time did not exist – it was home. The neighborhood children would roam the quiet side streets, barefoot and wild, picking stones from their toes and walking across each other’s yards. Sometimes we would converge for nighttime games, other nights were spent in solitude in a confessional with nature. Our bodies smelled of salt and fire as our memories struggled to hold on in between the cracks of our skin. We showered outside under the oak trees and dried in the sun, laid out in our bathing suits, only to return to the creek hours later.

One day, I left my creek, my home, salt clinging to my neck as I closed the gate doors one last time. Chipped white paint and rusted hinges, caressed year after year by salted air, clung to the sleeve of my shirt saying, “Don’t go yet.” I shut the flood lights and stared over the dock and saw myself on the water’s edge. I saw my mother, her spirit left behind to guard the kingdom. I wanted to mourn, but instead felt myself smile. I felt warm. Decades under that same summer sky, endless memories, yet in that moment, I recalled my first.

I was two years old, with knotted gypsy hair and doe eyes that were guarded by long eyelashes and the nape of my mother’s neck. My skin was coated in salt and oils from the Mother creek and my mother’s hands. The first smell I ever remembered was coconut. My brother played as I sat in the grass of an infinite lawn. Cool green blades dusted me off while the sun left marks on my face. My eyes grew heavy. I crawled to my mother who lay in a chair, palms to the sun. Her legs were thin and long and rough, and smelled of coconuts. I wedged myself between her legs and rested my head on the belly that once held me, and sleep took me.

**************

We were salty children. We were raised at the shore, feet soaked in brine; our mother taught us to trust the minnows that cleaned our toes while we squirmed and giggled. We built empires of sand and dried reeds that housed defiant crabs. We were the crabs. The water’s edge was our kingdom.

The creek was the cure-all. If we were cut, bruised, or sad, Nana would send us “into the drink” to marinade and heal. “It’s good for you,” she’d happily insist, although she never joined us. We would disappear under the dark water and come back up like bufflehead ducks while she watched from land. Loons would perch on dock pilings around us, contrasted black against the summer sun, water-soaked wings outstretched in patience. I saw Nana once dip into the creek, old and regal, as she appeared to wash the years off her soul, only to come back old and regal – and pure. She became sick, and the creek called, but she never did go back in. We missed her on the summer days to follow, when the sun faded and the humidity broke as if God himself took the cover off us. We sat on the shore, examined our scarred feet that lay infinitely beyond us, leathery from the sun; the sand seemed to grow over our bodies and made our skin our own homes.

At night we rested on the dock and watched the moon jellies glide underneath the water’s surface like Hades’ souls, aimless and uncontrolled. The delicate blue lights of the jellyfish mirrored the stars that hung above us, closer than usual over our creek. They illuminated our eyes, and we lay still on the dock as to not wake up Time. He sat behind the treeline for us, and he always came back around with a torch and baked the salt into our shoulders, left his mark on our faces and put knots in our hair.

 

Good morning, Mom

20160105_072602 I woke up at 4 AM like a shot. The February wind beat on my window, and I could feel the cold at the back of my neck, which prompted me to sink further under my blankets. It rained the night before, the temperature dropped and the unforgiving Long Island winter called to remind me that, even after five years, I still wake up missing my mom. My eyes slowly adjusted to the room, the moon lit one corner, and my dog stirred while I turned over on my side and checked the weather to see sunny and cold, a favorite of mine. A yin and yang of sensation that I always looked forward to; a balance of beauty and bitterness.

Sunrise wasn’t for another three hours, and now that my mind was on, I threw on my clothes and made coffee. The winter woke me up more than my drink. There was something that comforted me about a dark house, lit up only by the sound of wind and my own thoughts. I thought of my mother the night before, I thought of the pain, and the memory of her face the day she died. It did not look like her. She wasn’t smiling, her hair wasn’t done, she was gaunt and tired and done with this world – her light gone off to somewhere else. I couldn’t remember it actually leaving, I just remembered the day it was no longer there. I remembered the long painful journey, endless days, and her last breaths and how bittersweet of a release they were to her and I – how I felt the silence between us, the devastation of death coupled with the final acquittal of her soul. It was 5:30. I looked down at my dog, who looked up at me, ready for command of the day. I fitted him his sweater, and headed for Montauk.

With my insides wrapped up in hot coffee, and my shih tzu wrapped up in blankets, we embarked through the darkness, destination eastward. The moon dropped beyond the pines as the stars showed themselves, if only for a moment, as the sun prepared to make its debut. I took comfort knowing that I would reach it once I reached the end. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had no need to rush. I belonged to the schedule of no one, I only belonged to that morning’s sunrise. Everything was cold and baron and quiet, except for the wind, which breathed through empty trees and stirred litter and leaves over quiet weekday streets. My dog rested his head on the cup holder and slept, unaware of my mission, unaware of my impassioned memories.

****************

Montauk was empty. The wind was violent and unforgiving as it raged across the baron parking lot and the outside temperature read negative six. I shouldn’t, I thought. This is a terrible idea – I’m the only one here. I could see the morning glow beyond the lighthouse, the water crashing against the jetty rocks, coated in ice and mist. There was a fog in the far distance and a tower of clouds with a halo of pink and orange, gulls flew defiantly against the bitter February wind. I left my dog in the car with the heat on and made my way down the steps towards the beach. As I came around brush cover, a gust of wind caught the inside of my hood and shocked my senses as my whole body went cold. I pushed my way towards the water’s edge, cursing the wind and the gulls and the drive and then, without warning, my anger was silenced as I looked beyond the cloud cover at the sudden manifestation that was the sun.

I watched it rise so bold and gently up higher and higher into the morning sky, warming my spirit while the wind battered my face. It climbed over the mist and quieted the last breaths of night. My mind was stilled. I couldn’t remember the evening or when my world became light; it just was. I stood stoically against the wind as the closest thing to my mother’s love illuminated the horizon and bid me “good morning.”