Once you’re a YAC, you always come back.
Each September, the newly assembled group of twelve Young Authors Collective (YAC) members are tasked with creating some form of a bio, whether it’s a standard “about me” paragraph, answers to a questionnaire, or some other familiar form.
However, one of the best ways to get to know a writer is to, well, read their writing. As YAC members will tell you, you can really get to know a person through their favorite genre and how they interpret the world through their stories.
So, inspired by Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, in which the protagonist encounters herself at various ages, we have “the bio project.”
The prompt: Write a piece in which you encounter yourself at your current age, in five years from now, and ten years from now. Plus one bonus, random choice from the future or the past. There should be four versions of you. This is the what. The how is up to you: this can be creative non-fiction or fiction; you choose the genre, the style. Let this piece reflect you as a writer: that can be done through fact, through truth, your style, your genre, your voice.
The results: Mind-bending, hilarious, heartbreaking, thoughtful, genre-twisting poetry, short stories, and hybrid prose pieces. By far the most inspired, challenging responses to YAC bios. Truly impressive work. They slayed the assignment–and, in some cases, themselves.
Meet the Young Authors Collective (YAC) members for 2018-19:
The Holy Quadrinity
The thing is, no one ever teaches you how to deal with a situation like this, except, I suppose, yourself. That statement is significantly less profound when you consider the literal reality of the situation. I observe the trinity before me: father, son, and holy spirit. The father is crying over her precalculus textbook, the son is loudly and proudly practicing her times tables, and the holy spirit is just sitting in the corner mocking them both, absolutely drunk off her ass.
I suppose this particular trinity would be better defined as the prodigy, the broken prodigy, and the college dropout. There’s a nice chronology for you.
But then, where does it put me? As the fourth incarnation of this extraordinary downward spiral, I’m supposedly the sum of the other three. The only problem with sums is that I still can’t do simple math.
The prodigy, the last one seen with any scrap of potential, would probably have answers to this that I don’t. I’ve heard children have an innate wisdom, which is lost over time. Of course, I’m not sure I entirely trust the wisdom of someone who’s barely potty trained, no matter how well she can count. I’ve also heard you acquire an innate wisdom as you grow up, although truth be told, the broken prodigy and the college dropout are children, too, just children that have been potty trained a bit longer. (Although when it comes to the dropout, even that last part is questionable).
At what point do I just have to except the fact that none of us know anything, and never did? Is it possible that everyone simply gets stupider with age? Or did I just happen to peak at three years-old? Oh, that poor little girl, so proud of her times tables. Who’s going to break it to her that she’ll forget them all within a year, and have to relearn them when she gets to third grade? Except, that time she won’t be as good, and will proceed to spend the rest of her life forgetting everything anyone ever taught her. Who has the heart to tell her that she’ll never again be as smart as she is right now?
The other two figures turn and stare pointedly at me. I nearly do a double take.
“What, I have to be the one to say it?”
“It was a rhetorical question.”
The dropout shrugs. “Someone’s gotta, like, fucking… keep her from getting her hopes up ‘bout the future.”
The broken prodigy slumps over her book. “Someone’s gotta convince her not to take honors math.”
I survey the both of them, see the long suffering look in their eyes, and consider whether or not to nip potential in the bud. They both look so tired, a kind of tired I remember well, and suddenly I’m tempted to rewrite time. To give myself and my seventeen year-old self and my twenty-one year old-self a life free of impossible personal standards.
All by stomping on the ambitions of a three year-old.
I sigh and walk towards the little girl, who politely stops her counting and waves to me, swishing her body around in her fluffy tulle dress. “Hi!”
How is it possible for someone so small to be so terrifying? “Hi…” I say nervously. “I, uh. Heard you counting by sevens just now. You must be good at math, huh?”
She nods vigorously, pleased with herself. Poor soul. It only secures me in my conviction.
“You want my advice, kid?”
She furrows her brow, but nods. “Okay.”
“Take as many honors courses as you can.” I narrowly dodge the textbook hurled at me from behind, a muffled, drunken voice slurs out, “Ya blew it, asshole!” and the little girl in front of me looks both alarmed and amused. I regret saying it almost instantly, but hell if I don’t stick to my guns.
The thing about downward spirals is that you have to start at the top. So, by setting yourself up for success you’re also inherently setting yourself up for failure. And, yeah, I could insist that failure is a good thing which we can all learn from, but I’m not going to. The thing about failure is that it sucks. It really, really sucks. But it’s also part of the game. So I say to you, broken prodigy, at least you took honors, and I say to you, college dropout, at least you made it to college. And I say to myself, the frazzled, semi-functional adult who spent her whole life realizing she wasn’t a smart as she thought the was: get over it. You got better things to do than feel sorry for yourself.
Me, Myself, I, and a Desired Self
I sits in her room, lights off, music playing. The sun peeks through the half-closed blinds sending light across the clothes-covered floor. I is stuck in her head, thoughts speeding through as if her thoughts were competing in a race. I’s eyes flick across the room, seeing nothing. I’s ears hear the music but turn it into a story. I’s lips mouth words that are unheard to the outside world. This being a common action when I is sad the thoughts and pictures in her head are filtered in a melancholy way. The outside world and reality are shut out and the pretend, almost desired world plays in her head.
As “Paralyzed” by NF plays faintly around her head I walks into a cafe. The walls are mint green matching the checkered tile. Faceless people sit at the tables. I troubles herself with finding a place to sit, looking for one of her own characters. Instead, I sees Myself, but it isn’t a mirror reflection. Myself seems to have a bold haircut and a lightness on her shoulders. Myself’s face is the same but her smile opens wider and it looks real. Her eyes have a more weathered look to them and she holds herself as if she has more experiences. Without another place to sit, I walks over to Myself. I sits without asking and watches Myself. Finally, Myself acknowledges I.
“How are you?” Myself asks, sincerely.
I hesitates, skeptical about Myself’s response, “I’m,” I stutters, “I’m okay, I guess.”
“Don’t worry,” Myself pauses as if she lost track of what she was saying, “I was confused five years ago, too.”
I doesn’t know how to respond, she just looks at Myself, wondering if Myself recognizes her.
The song suddenly changes to “Epiphany” by BTS and the cafe fades into an old book store. Faceless people are scattered around the room looking at books and wandering around. I scans the room with her eyes and spots Me standing with a group of kids around I’s age. I can see that Me is older and wiser, her eyes crinkle at the corners when she smiles. I walks slowly towards Me, her eyes wandering over the books on the shelves. When I reaches the group of kids, Me smiles warmly at her.
“You made it,” Me states, “I was worried you would give up.”
I is taken aback, unsure what Me’s intentions are.
“Don’t worry,” Me reassures I, “It’s worth it, learning and struggling, I mean. Your attempts to find inspiration have led yourself to being an inspiration. You have achieved your goal.”
I is left speechless. Hesitantly, I turns to leave when the song changes to “Answer: Love Myself” by BTS. The scene fades back into I’s room except the lights are on and the floor is clean. The bookshelves are organized and her desk remains clean. I looks around her room and sees another form of herself. This version carries herself more confidently. Her smile is wide and her eyes sparkle. I looks around again, puzzled. This person was her age and the same person but better. This version was Desired. The Desired Self looks up and nods at I.
“I think…,” I trails off, feeling confused.
“What?” Desired Self asks, almost sounding bothered.
At that moment, I makes a decision, “Nevermind. I don’t want to be here,” I finishes, turning from the room.
“Wait,” Desired Self calls. I turns around waiting for Desired Self to continue, “Why are you leaving? What happened?”
“I decided that I don’t want to be like you. I want to be like Me, Myself, and I and that isn’t you,” I states. Suddenly the room fades into what it used to be and I finds herself back in the real world, sitting on the floor and feeling better with the idea of reality.
Yearning Experience and Advice, Right from Self
“It’s the comfort of a dark place,
the fingers one can imagine reaching for one’s legs
through a maze of slain dragons and angel tears.”
“It’s always like, really cold on the basement floor,
freezing wasteland of ice, snow, and pink hair ties.”
“That stops right where the land dips away,
and there is space, followed by time,
and both of them kinda walk up to you,
and ask where you where this morning,
and you say nowhere, because there is nowhere else.”
“There are infinite pages,
my mind dripping ink intolerably slow onto impressable ivory.
The world out loud in sheet music, too frantic for hundreds of fleeting gazes to pierce.”
“Clocks run in rings,
pulling us back
to our own cold faces
Make your twin as perfect as possible, the ticks are eating your only infinity.”
“One second out of a year I see the cold truth of it actually walking away.
I pretend time is forever,
I pretend I am forever,
because I have forever every second.
Until I don’t, and then I just don’t.”
“Oh, the monotony of rain.
It is the same, it is
And it is everything else pitifully endless in its own fragile finitely”
“Time is the construct that lets us believe in changes, in endings, in beginnings,
and the illusion of something in-between.”
“There are walls over there, and then it dips and this just sits here.
Silver, I remember.
Burning hot, glassy spires all frozen at the second they should have reached me.
Just this endless moving.
Not going anywhere,
“I guess it is just kind of, what I have control of? Maybe?
There is this and I can touch my arm,
but who can touch who’s arm and who is doing the noticing?
It like a maze, just goes on and on, and I can say I don’t see an end
But I also can say I won’t ever believe there isn’t one.”
“I don’t know,
I still don’t know if there is a goal to the twisting walls, to the endless.
I want that end though.”
“I always remember July,
its just heat for the sake of heat.
Worlds infinite, cradled in chipped imperfection
grubby with life’s messiness.
She is chewing her nails,
they are stubby,
the skin underneath, red, blistering, calloused.
“Don’t let me down.”
She is playing with her pencil,
It’s matte black, highlighted with red,
I can hear the lead clicking around its metal inside
She has cracked her knuckles to punctuate almost every paragraph,
She does it again.
It’s a hollow sound.
I hate it
“Be lost, it will be good for you.”
She is perfectly still.
Her eyes always on me.
Kinda cold, kinda bored.
Or maybe just different.
Do I want to be that?
“I don’t know.”
I think that might have helped, I have the tapes.”
“No, no, I haven’t listened to them again.
It just a lot you know.
I mean there is nowhere new anymore.
But there is also nowhere new anymore.”
“Yes, I would recommend this.
It’s…..you know useful.”
“Yeah, just as the pamphlet says, ‘know yourself,’”
now i do
I was walking my dog that Friday morning, trying and failing to whistle, because it was just that sort of day where if you were a character in a movie you would whistle, but I can’t whistle. My dog was trying to whistle too, but that wasn’t because she was a character in a movie, it was because she wanted to bark at the rabbits, and I didn’t want her to bark at the rabbits, and she knew that, so we compromised and she was whistling. I can’t help but think I lost out in that deal. Still, I suppose I can bark at the rabbits now, if I wanted to, and she can’t.
She stopped whistling and started barking, and turned from admiring the mountains on the clear Friday morning to yanking her leash–I would have to bring her violation of our sacrosanct agreement to international mediation–when I saw what she was barking at. It was her, or more precisely, a dog that looked exactly like her. I gaped at the dog before realizing she was connected to a leash, and followed that leash up to a hand, which was connected, naturally, to an arm, which was connected, my god, to a body, which was, save me now, exactly like me? I mean, there were my clothes, and while I hadn’t looked in the mirror in a bit, I felt the face was a fair replication of my own. He too had been staring at the mountains, but he lowered his eyes and his and mine met.
I’d like to say that we then proceeded to engage in a symmetrical ballet, miming each other’s movements in perfect sync, gliding alongside like butterflies, but that didn’t happen. Instead, a rabbit darted past my dog, and she jumped, and his dog strained at her leash, and we lost whatever sync we had had.
After we got our respective dogs under control, I hailed him with a nod, and we walked towards each other. He really was precisely like me, I thought.
“Hold up.” I held out my hand. “Where are you from?”
“Here, I suppose. I was just taking my dog out for a walk.”
“So that means you live where I live–”
“And yet we never met before?”
“Unless this is a one off–”
“They’d have to hire twins though–”
“And your name is–”
And we both said “Huh” simultaneously.
We tried to do a secret handshake, but it failed miserably.
What do you say to someone exactly like yourself? More to the point, what do you say to yourself? There’s a principle in communication theory that if both participants have the exact same knowledge, communication is impossible. There’s nothing to exchange, and communication is, under this theory, an exchange. Communication is predicated on differing levels of knowledge, and without that, you can’t make it work.
My doppleganger seemed to realize this too. He raised his hand in a salute.
“See you around.”
And we walked off, both admiring the mountains, with both our dogs barking at rabbits.
I stepped out of the sanctuary, and couldn’t help but to gasp. It has always been stuffy, every shul’s sanctuary has always been stuffy, it isn’t a value judgement. The temperature, too, had dropped ten degrees outside the sanctuary. The door closed behind me, and the pious drone was cut off abruptly. I set off, a jaunty spring in my step, towards an intersection in the corridors.
The air felt thinner, and I was looking around with a quiet–and entirely unearned–sense of satisfaction, when I accidentally ran into someone.
“Sorry,” we said simultaneously. I looked at the poor fellow I had just ran into.
“No, really, it was my fault,” we said, in unison.
“Not at all, it was mine,” we followed. We stopped. I had run into, for lack of better terminology, myself. He seemed, older, perhaps more tired. He had a more rigid posture than me, an almost military air.
“What’s your name?” I asked curiously.
“Jonas Rosenthal. You see, I haven’t been here for a while, ever since the war began in–” he suddenly stopped. He saw my face. “Hold up.” His eyes widened. “Nope, just wait here one minute–” and he took off running, pushing down an old man mumbling to himself and broke into the sunshine. I stared.
“Huh,” I said to myself, and walked off.
I awoke in a cold sweat. Hoping to change my odd feeling, and get thoughts of my mysterious doppelgängers out of my head, I set off on a run. The cold morning air breezed by me as I set out. Then out of the corner of my eyes I saw him.
Huh, I thought, That runner has the same lilting gait as me. And suddenly begin to speed up. I noticed then that the person had. I had an upsetting thought.
“Not today!” I shouted and sped off suddenly. I changed my normal pace, and pushed after him. Luckily to be some years older than me, and had–a peg leg? Even with the leg he was still definitely quick. I broke into a sprint as be rounded onto Cranmer Park, and I tracked right behind him.
I tackled him. As soon as my hands touched him, he collapsed to the ground. I stared into his face: it really was another doppelgänger, older still than the previous one. His hair was in crisp military cut and was graying.
“Alright–I want answers, and I want them now!”
He gasped. “You read a lot of Heinlein, right?”
“What happens when you meet a version of yourself from the past or the future?” I considered it.
“You either explode, create a paradox, or kiss.”
He nodded. “We haven’t exploded yet, by some miracle, but it’s only a matter of time. Clearly the author is doing some hackneyed Christmas Carol thing, with different versions of yourself, but we’re too smart for that. If we meet again, the world may not survive it.”
“Wait,” I said. “What if ’50s sci-fi troops are just that, tropes?”
He looked at me, pityingly. “Where science can’t help us, we must rely on sci-fi. I learned that- you’ll learn that once you join the war.”
And he leapt up and ran off, leaving me running behind him, shouting about “what war, and when?”
All day at school I was jumpy, looking around for aged versions myself. Aged is normally reserved for cheeses, not people, certainly not yourself. I broke out of English when I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I had just entered the bathroom, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around to see a grizzled man, with an eye patch and a peg-leg staring back at me. I gasped. It couldn’t be.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to touch?” I asked.
He chuckled. “We figured out time-travel rules shortly after that guy left. You were going through your paranoid stage then–course, the fact that they really were out to get you then didn’t help.”
I nodded, mutely.
“Anyway, the author’s demanding I leave my moon base one last time, to wrap this ridiculous farce of a story up and give some advice.”
“Moon base?” I perked my ears up.
“It’s not voluntary, I promise you. Anyway, advice. Your life’ll be like, as Charles De Gaulle once said, ‘Successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre.'” And with those words, future me started to fade away.
“Wait!” I called out. “Didn’t he say that about Philippe Pétain? The collaborator? And didn’t he die alone, insane, and imprisoned? And what was that about a moon base?” But he didn’t respond, and I was left shouting at a soap dispenser.
Sentence: Jonas Rosenthal will bet you 2:5 that he will not end up like Philippe Pétain.
Kara is Killed by a Kar (sic).
Figments of city and sun light leak through the shade of the willow tree. Dark, bitter-sweet shade stretching to the horizon that one could walk forever and never find the end. Thirty people bask in the modpodge of light and dark, some crowded around the base of the willow tree while others stretched in the distance, climbing the dangling branches with the expertise that had grown from forever. The place was either grey or white and nothing else, one could stare at the leaves, the ground with no distinct material, the sky and convince themselves it was a color:
Indigo. That was it.
But immediately after certainty is reached it recoils from the touch.
Or is that… red?
“How long do you think it’s been now?” Number Ten asks curiously.
Fifteen sighs, she had been bored of this game before it began. Her fingers ran through Ten’s long dark hair, the movement mimicking a waterfall full of mud. “I really don’t know.” She murmurs and wove sections of her hair into a complex puzzle of twists and turns. Fifteen’s tongue slips from her mouth and hangs in the corner as she concentrates and Thirty’s skeptical eyes were glad she grew out of that habit. Twenty leans her heavy head against the back of the willow tree, she thought the sky looked quite yellow today, but at a second glance she was convinced it was teal, “I feel it has been long, how about the rest of you?”
Fifteen shook her head, “short. It seems Thirty came moments ago.”
“I’ve been here forever.” Thirty corrects her but Fifteen merely shrugged, there was no sense bickering over something that didn’t exist. Thirty lays on the ground, the soft, bendy ground that could not be described by anything on Earth- in life. Fifteen finishes her braid and tells Ten, “I wish my hair was long like yours.”
“No you don’t, long hair is insufferable,” Twenty chimed in and ran a hand through her frazzled and poorly curled locks, “you have such cute hair. It’s the hair length we always wanted it to be at.”
Fifteen nods but she’s not convinced, “I suppose.”
“I think fifteen is prettier than me.” Ten decides after a moment of silence that might have been a second or a hour, and runs off to go flaunt her new braid to the others before Fifteen could protest.
“We become a bit more vain.” Twenty tells her and Thirty nods “as we cared more about friends. Love. I think it was a good thing, mother certainly liked it.” Fifteen straightens her shoulders, “oh yeah? I bet she did.” She tucks what small section of hair that could actually reach behind her ear, “did we become better?” She asks softly.
“I can’t even remember fighting with her, it was so long ago.” Thirty stares into the light that used to envelope her on cold days, the shadows that cradled her to sleep, and wept. A familiar shaking of the shoulders, large tears tumbling down the sides of her face because she didn’t want to sit up. Twenty grimaces and looks off to the side at the view of their menacing void called home, watching Five and Six rest together in the center of nothing. Fifteen puts a hand over Thirty’s forehead as a simple gesture of comfort and looks away too.
They all shared the same hatred of their pain, the spite that boils their core when they look into the mirror to see deep frown wrinkles and blotchy faces. Fourteen wears an ugly purple mark over her inner elbow and everyone older has a sympathetic silver stripe in return. Fifteen has a fluffy rose colored streak over her left shoulder. Ten had blue and purple back marks that never faded on the girls, Thirty and Twenty bearing the curse of all of them, flaunting their disgusting past without a choice. Thirty cried and Twenty sang softly to herself, pretending her own breath was the wind she dearly missed, Fifteen looked at her future and thought, nothing changes.
But they had; Fifteen thought she saw herself, but the mirror was the wrong way to look because in the window walking by was someone changed and molded by time and experiences, passing her by without a second glance.
Fifteen is a wallflower, not ready to dedicate herself to a beat yet, hesitant to take change by the hand and accept the offer of life. Her music is slow and somber, holding back time in a lengthy, dull rhythm.
Twenty was full of love, hope, new ideas and humor. Ready to dance an innocent waltz with adulthood. She tripped over her own feet and veered away from the intended steps just to see where the beat would move her. Three four time was just a suggestion and one she bent to the will of her feet.
Thirty was strong, passionate, wise and curious. Living a life she loved but ready taking on more and more steps. She learned to move her arms in rhythm, to roll her hips and shoulders like waves rising then falling against her body.
Thirty one was a scratched disk, nail marks ripping the music in the pattern of a faltering heart, before coming to a halt that burned silence into the ears of the listener. An overwhelming quiet that mutes every thought.
Thirty one was a shock to everybody. She didn’t react to a thing, like the void they lived in was inside her. Her eyes were grey and skin waxy that seemed to melt the longer she was there. She moved like every bone was gelatin and every joint frozen shut. Dried blood, a definite crimson leaking through thick, maroon that caked her body like a second skin and some splinters of glass still lingered in her skin. It was the first solid color they’d seen in ages, and eager eyes peered upon something solid. Solid blood, body, material. It was enchanting.
“What now?” Fifteen asked.
“Hopefully death.” Ten decided after a forlorned silence.
Don’t drink and drive.
I and Me
This morning, my reflection follows me out of the mirror. It walks with me downstairs, and holds my wrist in Its cold grasp all the way to the bus stop. It watches my bus pull away into the pre-dawn dark. Only when we have long turned the corner and the bus has stopped half a dozen times can I exhale, leaning back in my seat and closing my eyes.
I am on the bus. I see me but also I don’t. I saw myself today a lot–leering from every shop window, every puddle I stomped in on the way here. And on this bus, although there are no mirrors, there is my reflection, right across from me. She won’t make eye contact. Her black boots have flowers painted on over the scuffs, just like mine. A little girl boards, hand-in-hand with her mother. They walk down the aisle, the girl holding onto her mother’s arm. The mother smiles. She is me. The little girl shuts her eyes when I look at her, but I don’t need a full picture of her face to recognise the gap in her teeth, the unruly bangs, the weight in her backpack that is probably four or five books too big for her small frame to carry. She peeks through her fingers and giggles. She is me. An old man boards. He is me.
Only much later, when the lurching of the bus signifies another stop, do I open my eyes. It is looking at me from the reflection of a stranger’s water bottle, forehead slightly more creased and eyes more tired, emptier. Even in Its warped state, Its heavy presence coalesces over the bus. It laughs at a joke. I think I might be the punchline. I shut my eyes again.
I’m more careful not to go looking for It again as I slog through an unfamiliar routine, hoping It’s not watching me from every reflective surface that I deliberately turn my back to. But soon, the afternoon descends on my shoulders and I can’t avoid the trip to the bathroom any longer, looking down into the sink to avoid the mirrors. Another pair of black boots walks to the adjacent sink, identical except the acrylic paint on the tops is different. It doesn’t introduce Itself, but as I turn to go, It stops me.
I turn against my own will, looking into my own eyes, breath stalling for a moment before I can think to restart the movement of my diaphragm. I can’t feel my hands. I ask what It wants with me, why won’t It leave me alone. It looks through me, past me, at me, at me and both It and I feel our throats begin to close up.
“Don’t you think I want to?” It asks. “Do you think I have a choice? I am as tied to you as you are to me.”
I think about embracing It, leaving It, smashing Its head into the tile floor again and again. Instead, I just stare.
“You look older,” I say.
It does. It stands taller, Its cheekbones are more pronounced, It looks hungry. It reaches for me, but when I step away, It lets me go.
I am still on the bus. It is mid-afternoon, or maybe still morning. I ask the bus driver to let me off, and she looks at me with stolen eyes.
“Sure, sweetheart,” she says. “Anything for us.”
I want to ask her what she means by “us” but the little girl is crying and I am crying and I am pulling the bus over to the side of the road and pulling the brake and I am getting off the bus and I am crying and I am holding my own hand and looking at me in concern as foreign sobs break through the barrier of my stubborn brain.
It finds me next in bed, and I feel Its weight pressed against my back.
“I love you,” It says, twining a withered, skeletal arm around my waist. I say nothing and It continues.
“I love you,” It says again, “but not in the way you want me to. I am very old. The trauma of self-transformation has made me ancient, although sometimes you think you recognize me in my eyes, my birthmarks, the slope of my nose.” It stops, waiting for me to speak. It breathes cold air across the back of my neck, and traces a withered finger over my collarbone.
“I don’t care,” I whisper. “I refuse to seek you out–I don’t want your love. You are not a part of me.”
“I used to lie like that,” It exhales, breath shaking, and I think It might be laughing again. “But I can’t remember how anymore. We are damned to the truth, you and I.”
It’s still waiting for me to speak, and the silence is almost painful. I can feel It straining for my words, waiting for an admission of love, or hate, or anything except the apathy which I force into my mind as It presses Itself closer. I know that need for love, a primal ache that I want so badly to assuage, but there is no helping It now, no helping me now, this distorted me that I can’t even recognize in the mirror or breathing softly down my own neck. It is Me and I am It and that doesn’t even matter if I refuse to give It the love It needs
It sighs, all the laughter gone from Its voice. It sounds tired.
“I should have known,” It says. “I could be young and kind and beautiful if I only had the affection you selfishly refuse me. You were never able to give us that love, were you?”
i am home and grabbing a hammer and i am still on that bus and still crying and it’s night now and i am driving the bus and i am crying and i am smashing every mirror in the house and i am asking my reflection why it could never stay in the mirror where it belongs
I close my eyes and I am myself again, once more just a girl alone in her bed, hand to my chest.
Me Through the Ages
The first time I met myself I was 7 years old. I was hugging my mother or she was hugging me, although I can’t remember why (I had probably done something exceptionally stupid or scary, as I am wont to do). My hands grasped her shirt and I shoved my face into her chest and tried to breath deep and said, “You can’t breathe through skin.” She immediately released me and laughed like I had said she’d been hugging me too tight, but that wasn’t what I meant. It was just an experiment, a fact (not the type of experiment where I was wondering if I could, you know, survive in a skin suit, just a sort of general observation–you can’t breathe through skin).
I did not like meeting myself at twelve. Maybe it was my ridiculous habit of drawing penises on everything or my nearly constant arm cast, although, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve matured all that much (and I probably never will). More likely, however, it was my tendency to somehow, oxymoronically, embody detached teen angst. As in, I liked myself and my life, and yet I could write for hours about the hidden (so well hidden, in fact, that it was basically nonexistent) pain in THE DEPTHS OF MY SOUL THAT WAS POISONING MY LIFE. Despite my own intense dislike of this Me, I met myself through my writing when I was twelve, finding an identity behind the angst ridden poetry blackening the page with the my innermost subconscious (note the sarcasm) and filling my nostrils with the beloved scent of fresh ink.
I met myself today and laughed at my own physics puns because understanding is relative and the more you laugh the more you understand. I met myself as I sat transcribing physics problems into neat columns on blank paper to earn extra credit for neatness, enjoying the smell of the rain outside. Even Einstein had to organize his notes, you know (I’m not saying I’m Einstein, just that we’re, you know, two peas in a pod, cut of the same cloth, he’s my twin in the paradox, all that good stuff). It might be said that I, this Me, can not toe the line between self-deprecating and braggart humor. But (ir)regardless of my (not) hilarious ways today, I have met another part of myself, who knows what she loves even if she makes badly timed jokes about it.
The next time I meet myself I will be 22. I will bury my face in textbooks and remind myself how much I love the smell of knowledge, even as I try to choke down a sickeningly salty fork of ramen noodles (I imagine that, not long after meeting myself, I will be unable to stomach them ever again). I will have found a home somewhere far from the home of Me now, but I will love it just as much. Then I will ask myself if I am going have a job, or a family, or if I will travel, or maybe die early. I will ask where the heck am I (are We?) going, man? But I will not answer Me because I love pissing people off, always, and myself is no exception.
The final time I meet myself will be before I die. I will have a new home, in a new place, with a new smell, but I will still carry the voices and scents of the other Mes, from 7 to 22 and everything before and after and in between. We will probably all go to bottomless brunch together (the only type of brunch that’s worth it). We will argue, the urge to draw dicks on papers overruled (through popular vote) by the professionalism instilled in Me from 17 to 69 (when, in honor of middle school Me, I will revert back to immaturity for a year). I But we will all still try to breathe through skin and inhale textbooks, seeking new knowledge and carrying the awkward Me that will be slightly misunderstood even by those she loves the most (but not in the dramatic way Me at 12 insists is true); we will refuse to eat ramen noodles. I won’t be Einstein, but I will make jokes about knowing where I am, not how fast I’m going when I’m pulled over (this becomes more fun when my license has been revoked in my old age- nothing like a bad physics joke to soften the blow of illegal doings). I will have met many Mes and we will have gone to many brunches, and luncheons, and dinner shows, and when I die I will know Myself.
Here I am, 15 years-old, sophomore in high school, trying not to lose my mind. I go to school and hang out with my friends, try to stay awake during classes, also trying not to starve to death because I had a small breakfast.
One absurdly normal day, after I arrived home from school, I dumped my backpack on the floor and collapsed on the couch, neglecting the homework that needed to be completed. After removing my face from the couch cushion, I looked up at the TV and noticed something strange: it was illuminating a bright blue color from the screen. Confused, I stood up and went to take a closer look only to be pulled into it after I reached out my hand to touch it.
After what seemed like forever, I crash-landed in a strange room. After I stood up and brushed myself off, something unusual caught my eye: it was a 20-year-old me. A junior in college is sitting at a desk, looking at a computer screen at 11:45 pm, I walked closer to her, or myself I should say. She had bags under her eyes; I looked at her desk and saw that it was littered with books, composition books, post-its, and hanging on the wall was a calendar, and it had a big red circle around a specific date.
Five long minutes passed, and the 20-year-old me was on the brink of collapsing. I stood behind me and tapped her shoulder, making her head turn.
“Hey, it’s me, Alma. I’m you from five years ago.”
She shook her head, closing her eyes.
“No, I must be going insane …”
She looked up at me again, only to see that I was still standing there.
“Go to sleep; You’ve been working hard, you don’t want to sleep through your exam, do you?”
She shook her head slowly, standing up. I followed her to her room, and she flopped on the bed, immediately falling into a deep slumber.
I ended up traveling through time again, weird right? Anywho, I ended up in a bathroom, which I didn’t recognize. Once I opened the door, I heard the sound of laughter emitting from the lower level. I went down the stairwell and immediately spotted four figures sitting in the family room, watching a movie. There was a mom, her significant other, and two kids.
After a while of watching, the mom stood up and walked to the staircase, soon making eye contact with me. She was the 30-year-old me.
“Who are you?”
She said as she looked at me, confused.
“I’m you, from fifteen years ago, don’t ask why I’m here, I honestly don’t know why myself.”
I told her, she had a shocked look on her face. She then calmed down and patted my head.
“Life may be difficult for you right now but … don’t worry. It gets better, believe me.”
She smiled at me, referring to the people in the other room. I grinned and nodded my head.
After being pulled in to the void, again, I landed on a small creaky bed. I looked around the familiar room and spotted a little seven-year-old girl who seemed terrified.
“Who … W-who are you?”
“Uhh … I’m you, eight years older.”
She looked at me, stunned.
“Okay, I need to tell you something, life gets tough. Trust me, but there are moments that you will look forward to and cherish forever.”
I said with a half hearted smile, and the little me nodded slowly, still stunned about the whole thing.
A few days passed, and I was watching Netflix, laying the couch. I reached for my phone when my fingers brushed against something else, I looked over and saw three Polaroid pictures, I looked at them and saw that they were photos of me throughout the years. The one from college had a big smile on her face; she was holding her report that had a big A+ on it. The photo from 15 years in the future was with her family; they were all smiling. Also, the last one sent me a picture of her entire first-grade class, that bought much warmth to my soul.
I guess there should be a moral to this story, but honestly, I can’t think of anything witty to say so … I’ll try my best.
Even though life has some pretty weird and awful moments, think of the ones that make you smile, just those memories will make your day feel better, even for a little while.
Thanks for taking time out of your day to read this story, I truly appreciate it. 🙂 –-A
The Cardborn Counsel
Smoke and incense dampened the air, dashing the flames of the meticulously placed candles. Serenity had settled my bones and the crystals of pain crawled over them. My skull was but a hollow bowl, devoid of raucous rampant thoughts. My body began to drift away, lost in the soft waters of tranquility; peace of the absolute variety. But my hands remembered themselves, slipping down the smooth lacquer of the cards.
Awake, I promised myself, the word ringing like a silver bell in an empty room. I summoned back my vision, the candles drawing my attention. Their flames wavered in greeting.
Guidance, I called to the void of my mind, pressing my spirit into my hands. My fingers were warm and willing, drifting across the deck of cards. The top card sent a spike of cold through my nail in response, confirming the correspondence. I continued the dance, drawing the card and snapping it to the oaken table.
“Self,” I stated aloud, my voice clear and smooth despite the fact it had been dormant and sitting in my throat for hours now. A section of smoke above the card obscured its name, stationary while its brethren stirred with my breath. It coalesced, packing itself into a floating sphere before it erupted into a lighter cloud. The smoke around it shied away, revealing a figure a mirror of my own. It was colored milky white, constantly shifting as it imitated breathing. Self raised her hands in prayer, and from the grey incense smoke came her weapons; a glistening sword and a swirled wand. Delicate and luxurious rings rang on her fingers, a pentacle of pure silver hanging from her neck. And atop her head rested a crown of jagged iron, pierced with two rubies. And her feet motioned backward, the name of the card finally revealed: Chariot. Self’s ivory lips peeled back, though not a sound spilled from them.
“You need a voice,” I muttered aloud, quickly flipping up another staggered card onto Chariot. A worry stone’s amount peeled off from the cloud, once more obscuring the name before spiraling upwards and landing neatly onto the tongue of Self. She swallowed it like a pill, and before she spoke once more I glanced down at the cards to catch the name; the Two of Swords.
“We are ready to evolve,” Self explained, touching her neck. From under her fingers sprang two ribbons of red and gold, slithering across the smokey flesh. They snapped taut, strangling Self though she did not falter. They stretched back into the shadows, eternally summoning her back. “But the past is a burden. Fears of what will be restrict what could be. We have what we need in our grasp…” She hefted the wand and sword, crossing them before her. “We only need to forge ahead.” The weapons flashed forwards, slicing away the past. The ribbons glistened and hesitated for a moment before drifting away into faint smoke. Self lowered her weapons, leveling her wavering eyes to mine. She nodded, then faded away as well.
Exhaling gently, I muttered a brief thanks.
“Near future,” I called, summoning my voice to my lips once more. The two cards settled to the table, smoke once more rising above the laminate. The form that occurred was practically featureless, save for a sweeping cloak that wavered in the candlelight. The color shifted from an oily black to blood red, a pale skull peering out from the shadow of the hood. Near’s teeth rattled in her jaw as she prepared her words carefully, and I glanced down in horror at the cards that had appeared; Death and the Five of Pentacles, the latter of which was turned in reverse.
“The walls are closing in,” Near hissed as if she were exhaling sharply. “We are losing ourselves in them. To survive, we must collapse between them and not become them. We will retain our souls and weep then and now to heal the damage we have done to ourselves. Seek respite in knowing that once the tears have fallen, we will rebuild and start again. It will be the end and the beginning.” The skull of Near fell forwards, the dark cloak wavering around her. The bones rattled against the table before puffing away into nothingness.
I swallowed uneasily, my fingers trembling above the deck. As much as my heartstrings shuddered, I desired finality, and I was nearing it. I drew two more cards, calling their name.
The figure that collected itself noticeably contained itself with a certain genteel rather than the shifting illusions of Near and Self. A flowing dress rippled from her form, glistening with silver and a pale blue. Atop her head, like Self, was a crown of iron, but the malicious curls and points had lovingly dulled to soft waves. The two rubies had collided into a singular, pleasant red set piece. And in her delicate hands was a glistening chalice, decorated with the very same humble gems. A flutter of hope beat in my stomach as I noted the cards in her name; the Queen of Cups and the Three of Pentacles, upside down. Her eyes curled into grey, solemn illustrations as she spoke.
“We will find peace. Love surrounds us with certainty, for it is your livelihood. We recognize that our past…” The ribbons from Self flickered briefly in the shadows, silently banished as Future shook her head. “Does not define us. It controlled us because we let it, and it is time to let go. Not to forget, but to remember. Remember how it has influenced us, plucking from it what is beneficial, and discarding the rest. Remember the love that keeps us strong and will always do so.” Future’s eyes wavered against her form, closing the conversation between us. Her body hesitated, crystalline mist catching in the light of the candles. In ethereal silence, she vanished.
Wordlessly, I snapped two more cards to the table. Just as before, a figure formed of the smoke, though it was wildly disfigured. It spasmed, pulling itself closer to the earth and to the sky at wild intervals. It wailed in confusion before forming its final figure, though my temples throbbed looking at it. A gnarled finger darted out to my cheek, barely a butterfly’s kiss drawn across the flesh. Deep within its chest it hissed, snatching away its withered bone. A whimper from my own lips answered it, along with the fearful sigh of what seemed to be a child. I ran my hands over my eyes, staring harshly at the form before me. It was, in fact, two figures, one image depicting myself as a young child, the other an illusion of my elderly husk. They each wore the same dark garb, the fabric unnaturally dark and pricked with stars. Galaxies swirled across the smoke, illuminating the child’s bright and strangely wizened eyes. Drawn across the elder’s head was an equally shadowy cloth, obscuring her vision completely, while the same covered the child’s mouth. The names of the cards they represented cried and clawed at my fingers, for I already knew what they claimed; the Eight of Swords and the Seven of Cups.
“We have forged the irons at the gates of our own prison,” Far-Elder croaked, though her voice seemed to reverberate in a softer, trembling tone; Far-Child. “Isolation, the dagger of the mind, is buried in our chest, placed there with our own hand. It slices away our tongues,” she gestured a withered hand to Far-Child, who stared with glassy eyes at the cards lain before me. “And our vision.” She tapped her hollow cheek where the cloth ended. “We have retreated over our enemies’ and allies’ lines into No Man’s Land, where we shall remain for eternity. Our blood sinks to the earth, wicked away from the eyes that gaze upon us. Our voice never heard, vision never seen.”
Hot tears burst from my skull, running over my trembling lips. My heart had drifted to my toes, wringing itself into a sorry puddle of muck. I swallowed another whimper, covering it with a loud sniffle. My eyes closed, sending a fresh flush of tears cascading to the table. Massaging my temples, I sat in silence and sorrow.
My head snapped upwards at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. It was angelic and pure, like a bubbling brook. It wavered with an uncertainty of itself, though glowed with an optimistic glow.
“We have the panacea in our very bones,” Far-Child explained, ripping away the cloth at her mouth. Between her fingers the cloth became rigid, forming a wand of darkened wood and crystal. From the rock came the soft glow of a galaxy swirling on her dress. “Our voice is too powerful to be lost under a twist of the knife. Our vision is too beautiful to be carved away. No Man’s Land is no place for us, nor for anyone. The dreams we hold and carry among ourselves deserve their flight.” The cloth obscuring Far-Elder’s eyes sprang forwards, folding rapidly in the smoke to form wings. The dove crooned, calling its raven sister lying in Far-Child’s hands, before spiraling into the ceiling in a puff of smoke.
“Isolation is not the answer, nor was it ever,” Far explained in two voices, Far-Elder’s silvered eyes catching mine. “Our mind is too beautiful to keep to ourselves.”
A wind caught the candles surrounding the cards, summoning a chilling darkness to the table. The smoke wavered around me, dissolving into the corners of the room. I coughed, wandering blindly to the light switch, but there I hesitated. My chest rose and fell, drawing in the serenity from before. The warm fingers of peace wormed their way into my mind, usually addled with concerns for the path set before me. Wild worries of am I going to make it? and what will I do? pockmarked the trail, obscuring the true beauty that surrounded it.
I smiled, stumbling my way to bed in determination to live and love in the present rather than the future.