A Heart Removed

by Rachelle Larsen

For my first love on our first Valentine’s Day, I crafted a card resembling a human heart. I labeled its different pieces—aorta, atrium, ventricle, valve—not only with their official names, but also with the ways he had taught my heart to flutter. I can’t remember what I wrote, but I remember the way he twisted our fingers together. How our eyes met spontaneously across crowded conversations, our faces flowing into secretive smiles. The way I felt when he said I love you, his voice almost reverent, as if I were his entire world and he were mine.

I loved those early days. I was eighteen and so confident in love, unaware of the risks it carried. I knew love’s flutter but not its possible toll.

Punched walls, smashed cell phones, throbbing flesh—these were rare, but the first time they happened, my love’s eyes bored into me, his hands clutching me, warning me to still myself into a thing like all the others he had broken: a fragile body with a heart that still fluttered, but also fled, ached, and raced. Our relationship became nebulous, undefined, and the day before my twentieth birthday, I was replaced with a newer model—as happens to broken things—and was informed by phone call. My mom said, He made out with a girl from church—her mom called me. Do you know anything about that? I responded, I’m sure there’s more to the story. And there was. When I asked him what had happened, he told me, I love her and she loves me, claiming that he had taken our nebulous relationship as nonexistent, and his words led my fluttering-fleeing-aching-racing heart to cry out until it suddenly quieted six months later, about two years after learning to flutter.

I imagine the pain stopping when he threw my crafted card away, and while I’m grateful for our separation, it means that my heart is in a far-off landfill, moldering into something both fertile and unpalatable. I wonder if it lives. I wonder if I can live without it.

I think of Montezuma who caused thousands of hearts to be placed on the altar of Huizilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. Those hearts were the desire of his gods and had been for centuries: payment for good fortune, the sacrifice for splendor. Most often, conquered enemies were chosen for tribute, their hearts forcibly excised. It didn’t matter that their lives were unwillingly given, because even as symbols of Aztec devotion, the hearts were not metaphoric; when Cortez came to the Americas, Montezuma showed him literal hearts, still red and wet and firm, piled on top of each other on a platter.

I don’t know if Montezuma explained why the Aztecs called themselves “the people of the fifth sun”; in their theology, four worlds preceded ours, destroyed because the people would not pay their debts to the gods. Our fifth world was created when the gods Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl gave their lives to become the Sun and Moon, an ultimate sacrifice that demands ultimate sacrifice. I don’t know if Montezuma clarified that human sacrifice was not just a matter of devotion, but of survival, even if those who were sacrificed couldn’t survive.

I do know how Cortez reacted to the piled hearts. As he plowed his way through the Aztec empire, he entered sacred temples and threw out their gods, replacing them with his own. I imagine the horror of the Aztec people. What are you doing? they might have thought. You’re killing the entire world. They might have looked up, waiting for lighting to strike or storms to descend or floods to rise. And as days passed, and no destruction came, they might have wondered, Have our sacrifices been for nothing?

When my devotion was rendered mute, replaced by another, I waited for my world’s collapse. I waited in heartache, which I had always taken as a metaphor until he said I love her and she loves me, and it felt like my rib cage collapsed in. Another kind of violence, another sunk cost compelling the thought, You broke it, you bought it, thank God to no avail. I ached for days, even months, before the reason for this heartache didn’t make sense and I began to wonder if my heart was bleeding for nothing.

I don’t miss him anymore, or even think about him often, but he taught my heart distance. In my darker moments, I worry that when the ache in my chest disappeared, it wasn’t because my heart came back to me, but rather because it bled out on a platter.

The surgeon and religious leader Russell M. Nelson reversed Montezuma’s offering, taking hearts from platters and putting them in chests—even as a symbol, it’s not metaphoric. When his medical career began, there was no such thing as heart surgery: Never touch the heart, he was told. A touched heart will stop beating. Through painstaking research, he discovered that a heart doesn’t mind being touched, or even held, under proper conditions. Can you imagine it? A heart uncaged, pulsing in your hand. He went on to cut hearts, stitch them, bind them, unblock them, uncage them and cage them again. The instrument he invented—the heart-lung machine, made with metal he melted and glass he blew and a plastic nipple he took from his own baby’s bottle—rendered possible the transplanting of hearts: the taking of a healthy heart and placing it in the chest of someone else’s mortal temple, thereby saving a life.

Heart transplants sound magical to me, almost like necromancy: it takes the heart of one dead, puts it into one dying, and somehow creates new life, though there are restrictions, of course. There must be similarities between the dead and the nearly so: They must be geographically close enough for timely transport. Their blood types should match to decrease the likelihood of rejection. Their hearts should be about the same size, because a heart too big crammed into a ribcage too small can lead to convulsions, comas, and death.

I think about my first love, and how I would lay my head against his chest, listening to his heart. He told me about his parents’ shotgun marriage in high school and their divorce by the time he was two. About his mother taking him to a bar shortly afterward where she met his eventual stepfather, a man who she told that night, If you’re going to rape me, then just do it. My first love talked of Plato’s cave as if it were a literal place, describing its stone and quiet, saying with regret, The light is too bright for me. I remembered his cave often and cherished the moments he said things like loving you feels like the spirit of God, not just for the cheesy moment, but to acknowledge that love is how we feel swept away in what is both good and powerful, and it often takes two before it takes one.

Maybe I should have never given my heart in those early days. There were red flags, as people like to say, as if it’s easy not to love someone based on the checklist they do or do not fill. But I found something beautiful in his striving, however limited by his circumstance, and though it’s ambitious to ask what the suffering was for—as if there was some specific, cosmic meaning—I can’t help but hope that there is a consolation prize for the loss of my heart: that maybe it gave renewed life for him if not for me.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ symbolically placed His heart on humankind and is rumored to have literally died of a cage too small for what was inside it. It can’t be proven, of course, but Dr. C. Truman Davis speculates that when Christ was crucified, excess fluid collected in the pericardium, which squeezed His heart to the point of death. This theory explains why, when the legionnaire stabbed Christ up through the ribs, “there came out blood and water.” The water was the fluid that increased the pressure, slowly constricting, slowly completing the sacrifice of Deity. Yet Christian theology says this crushed-hearted Christ requests “broken hearts and contrite spirits” to deal out healing and redemption. The story of my God is like the story of Aztec creation in this way: gods must sacrifice for their people, and people must sacrifice for their gods, or else creation is foiled. The stability of life requires reciprocity.

When I think of Deity giving me my heart, I worry about not being able to accept it. Jesus Christ is the ultimate organ donor because He can swell His heart bigger and bigger, so big that He dies, so big that He can give it to billions of people, and yet He lives, which is why Christians call Him God: this is both the scandal and miracle of Christianity, and I think to myself, Am I similar enough? Are Christ and I close enough? Does the same blood run through my veins? Is my cage the right size? Those are the requirements of a successful heart transplant. It seems like blasphemy even to compare, but that’s what He invites me to do: to dream that He can bring me a healed and beating heart.

In my brighter moments, I believe He has. I say that I’m distant from my heart, but there are so many times I feel it. Playing games with friends. Walking in sunshine. Climbing rock walls. Listening to other hearts. Responding to their beats with love.

It’s only in romantic love where I see holes, pieces of me moldered away, inscribed with words I can no longer remember. Since my first love, I’ve twisted my fingers with many others, many I love you’s falling sincerely from my lips, but in conversation, my eyes meet eyes a beat too late. I often wait for the tell-tale tilting head in my periphery before shifting my gaze toward one that has already settled on my face. Love is sacrifice is light is synchronized reciprocity, but I resist and feel no flutter.

Like all living hearts, my heart is judged by its precision, pressure, and pace. These attributes can vary from moment to moment, of course, but should follow a specific pattern within a specific allowance. It should open and close cleanly. Blood pressure should be around 120 over 80. When at rest, it should beat at around 60 bpm; when exercising intensely, somewhere around 160 bpm; and when sleeping, as low as 50 bpm. And so my heart does, mostly. I hear it open, shut, open, shut, open, shut. Blood pressure is 110 over 70. It speeds with stimuli and slows with rest.

It functions, but I still worry about its brokenness. Too often, my heart physically hurts from metaphorically crowding beyond its cage. Even when not pained, my heart remembers pain. It races too often, too easily startled by anything from alarms to angry voices, and too long, so long that up to an hour after a surprise, it’s still racing, and the Red Cross won’t let me donate. Are you nervous about giving blood? they ask me.

It’s only now that I think of another aspect of the Aztecs: while human sacrifice was required, blood-letting—voluntary offering of one’s blood without losing one’s life—was also an acceptable form of sacrifice when coming from priests and other devoted worshippers. Death was for those who had no gratitude, or whose heart was not beating to the will of the gods, though I’m sure that there were unfair interpretations of who was devoted. It makes me think that in matters of love, unity requires not my complete destruction, and not a life for a life, but acceptance of a heart, and if my heart beats in fear, then I am missing the point.

But sometimes, I don’t miss the point.

My second flutter, my most recent love: I like you, I told him after hundreds of afternoons together, and a month later he said, I like you too. A month after that, I love you said both ways. He’s someone who was born dead, a blue baby on a metal tray, and when a doctor forced him screaming into life, that taste of death seems to have lingered, because he’s fascinated by extinct civilizations, their intricate human complexities flattened into scribbled tablets. Perhaps this is why he liked me, but in any case, we talked of hearts. I told him my musings, and he was enchanted by the symmetry of stone temples against mortal temples, of plattered hearts and hearts from platters. He offered me libbum, the word for heart in Akkadian, a language that hasn’t been spoken for two thousand years, though I falsely connect it to words like liberty. Its meanings: heart; the seat of will; the seat of emotions, thought, memory; center; iris.

I told him, I guess even two thousand years ago, eyes were the window to the soul. And though the academic in him equivocated—explaining that we can’t possibly know the connotations libbum might entail—I found myself meeting his gaze, those eyes blue as the death that almost kept him, and I felt gratitude for bleeding hearts. If to bleed is to lose blood, then a heart must bleed by necessity, and only once it stops should we worry.

Rachelle is curious about everything, especially people, which explains why she will never leave school. Ever. In her undergrad, she studied piano performance before switching to a major in physics education while minoring in political science. She is currently working on an MFA in creative nonfiction while she teaches high school chemistry and physics. In the future, she hopes to know more things than she knows now, write a book worth publishing, and be of service to others. She may also pursue a PhD which, knowing her, may or may not be entirely unrelated to her prior degrees.

Akitsu Shima

by Brittany Casselman

A disproportionate amount of a dragonfly’s life span takes place underwater. The female dragonfly lays her eggs in the water, and in the next seven days the larvae are born. These larvae spend the next three years in the water, eating insects and fish and occasionally each other, before emerging into the air. Their time in the world is often short—it can range between a few weeks and a year.

I spent a lot of time underwater before I met Joanie.

Joanie was a blonde fireball of a teacher. She taught the service-learning class at my high school—a class I had secretly wanted to take since I was five years old. Joanie believed in every service project her students took on, but more importantly, she believed in every student. She saw the dragonfly inside each larva, and she did everything she could to help it emerge from the water, no matter how long it took. She knew that the best way to help us help the community was to help us see ourselves as powerful.

When I met Joanie, I was a scrawny sophomore who was going through some hard things. I was unbearably shy, had recently lost a lot of friends, and didn’t feel like I had much to offer those around me. I was vulnerable, and I was tired.

Joanie saw me in a way nobody else did. She saw me for my potential. She saw who I could be. Instead of just teaching me to serve others, she served me. With her help, I found solace in service. More than that, I found strength. I grew into the person I needed to be.

Like most dragonflies, Joanie was out in the sky for much too little time.

The first time I heard about Joanie’s cancer was at a holiday party she concocted for the members of the “board” (the students she had asked to carry out the various service projects that the class took on) during my junior year. She asked each of us to bring an item that used to be precious to us but that we didn’t need anymore. We wrapped them up and gave them out. As each person unwrapped their gift, the person who gave it explained its significance.

Joanie gave one of her old headscarves from chemo. She told us her whole story—how she was born with a gene that gave her an 80% chance of getting breast cancer. When her cancer finally came, she fought to make it to remission. She had been cancer-free for almost 17 years. I remember thinking back and realizing that as I was being born, she was fighting the hardest battle of her life.

When the person who got the headscarf opened the package, I looked over and saw that the scarf was covered with dragonflies.

Every August, Japan celebrates their ancestors with the Bon Festival, a weekend festival where it is said that the spirits of ancestors return and visit their families. During that weekend, thousands of dragonflies appear in the sky. This has led to a belief that the ancestors ride on the backs of the dragonflies to visit their families. Dragonflies are a sign that the ancestors are watching over you.

Joanie was the one who told me about the legend. She wasn’t Japanese, but she believed in dragonflies. This belief carried her through the lowest part of her cancer, she told us during that holiday party. To help keep her strength up during chemo, she used to go on walks up the canyon. Sometimes she would feel so weak that she could barely make it up the first hill. There were days she was so exhausted she could barely move, but she went regardless, because that was Joanie.

One day, she was sitting in her yard, trying to find the strength to continue treatment. At the very moment she was considering giving up, a dragonfly landed on her arm. It was then she knew that she was going to make it all the way to remission. In that moment, she said, she could feel her ancestors cheering her on.

Dragonflies are resilient. They were the first winged insects to appear on this planet—the first fossils we have date back 350 million years. They survive in all climes and appear on every continent except Antarctica. The only things they really need to survive are food (generally mosquitos), clean water, and stable oxygen levels. They can make it through almost anything.

The cancer came back my senior year. Joanie looked more tired than usual at first, delegating more to those of us on the board and not attending nearly as many events as she used to. I was so busy coordinating with food banks and collecting donations for our end-of-year service dinner that I barely noticed.

In class a few days later, she announced that she would be taking 2 months off. Her cancer was back, she said, this time in her brain. She kept it light and optimistic, saying that she was going to try a treatment plan less invasive than chemo, that she was going to fight it, and that she would be back. To the board, she was a little more open. She was more than our teacher, and we were more than her students. We were friends, and we were worried about her. The doctors had found five tumors in her brain. Recovery would be rough. But she told us she would fight, and that she trusted us to keep the projects going for her in the meantime. Ann, her aid, would be there to help us. Joanie said that she was excited to hear about the good we would do while she was gone.

Joanie believed in us like she believed in dragonflies. She knew that whatever happened, we would make it through.

Dragonflies are sacred in Japan. Japan actually used to be called Akitsu Shima—Dragonfly Island. They were so prevalent in the lives of the Japanese citizens that they linked dragonflies with their national identity.

The day Joanie passed away, I walked into health class to whispers. I didn’t need to know the details—I heard one student say, “Joanie” and I knew she was gone. When the guidance counselor came to my classroom a few minutes later with a note to excuse me, I took my bag with me. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.

Sitting in a room with the other board members as the guidance counselor told us that Joanie was gone was a feeling of sadness, but also a feeling of sisterhood. We were there to remember Joanie’s memory, and she had brought people together. It almost felt like a disservice to her memory to cry.

That night, my sister walked in on my sobbing into my pillow—loud sobs, the kind that make you gasp for air because you feel like you’re shrinking into yourself. When she asked me if Joanie had died, I couldn’t even stop crying long enough to tell her yes.

Joanie’s funeral was the biggest I’d ever been to. I got there 20 minutes early, sloshing through the snow in black high-heeled shoes, but still had to sit at the very back of the church. The building was almost filled to capacity. I’d never seen people get turned away at a funeral before, but that was the impact that Joanie had.

After the funeral, the board went to Ann’s house for lunch. After soup and salads and stories about Joanie, Ann gave us all jewelry boxes. Inside was a small silver necklace—a dragonfly. “So you can always remember that your ancestors are watching over you,” Ann said, “and so you can always remember that Joanie’s watching over you too.”

I wore that necklace every day for four years. At every special occasion—birthdays, graduation, my first and last days on the mission—it was present. And so was Joanie.

Every time I reach my lowest point, I look for dragonflies. No matter what phase of life I’m in or even what continent I’m on, I always find them. They’re little reminders to me that the ancestors are watching over me. And that the woman who always believed I would become something incredible is cheering me on.

In Japan, they don’t just believe that dragonflies transport the souls of their ancestors. They also believe that, occasionally, the ancestor’s soul takes the form of a dragonfly. When a dragonfly comes into your home in Japan—on Akitsu Shima—you don’t shoo it out. You welcome it into your home, so your ancestor can be with the family one last time. 

 Works Cited

“Dragonflies.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 7 May 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/d/dragonflies-insects/.

“Japanese Art.” The Dragonfly in Japanese Culture, jamiemillerdragonfly.weebly.com/japanese-art.html.

Sedgwick, Icy. “The Dragonfly in Folklore: Good Luck Symbol & Weigher of Souls.” Icy Sedgwick, 13 Aug. 2020, www.icysedgwick.com/dragonfly-folklore/.

Williams, Ruth. “Why Are Dragonflies Important?” Sciencing, Leaf Group Media, 2 Mar. 2019, sciencing.com/dragonflies-important-10068965.html.

Zielinski, Sarah. “14 Fun Facts About Dragonflies.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 5 Oct. 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/14-fun-facts-about-dragonflies-96882693/. 

Brittany Casselman is currently working on an undergraduate degree in communications with a minor in creative writing. She enjoys writing, service, and making dumb jokes, though lately her favorite hobbies include sleep and finding desserts that don’t aggravate her stomach problems.

 

She’s Becoming Self-Aware

by Elena Welch

I would like to tell you about her. Cold watcher, cruel mirror, through whom I see the world seeing me seeing myself—she is something I would like to share.

Her (2013) stars Scarlet Johansson as an AI who forms a romantic and sexual relationship with soft-spoken, self-insert Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The AI is intelligent and assertive and sexy in all the ways that appeal to a bookish, straight man. It is an image of perfection not crafted for a woman by herself, or indeed even by other women. This is a foreign femininity, projected upon this character by the men who wrote her and the men who directed her and the men who praised her perfection through all the loudest venues later on. This AI—Samantha, as the man who wrote her says she names herself—truly cares about Theodore and constantly attempts to please and satisfy him, even though the film suggests that as an AI she is far more powerful than and superior to him.

She (1965) stars Bond girl Ursula Andress as Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Based off an 1887 novel of the same name, the titular character’s power stems from her supernatural beauty, and her fame from her imperious (and imperialist—Ayesha is the only white woman among and the leader of a tribe of British-fantasy “natives”) temper. She earns her subjects’ love with her sensuality and sexuality, and their fear with her feminine jealousy and rage. The iron fist with which Ayesha rules wears impeccable nail polish.

She is beauty. Her is wisdom. I am neither, and she will not let me forget it.

When I sit on a metal bench in the park, she is there. I am utterly drained, slowly but surely pulling myself out of myself. My earbuds are full of the music which I, through trial and error, have learned calms me down. My lap is full of lunch, which I am slowly but methodically eating. My mind is full of tired turmoil; ten minutes before, it had been a frantic whirlpool of irrational thought. Two yellowjackets investigate my food, their cold, sharp feet touching my skin. I do not react. Let them sting me. Let them go. I am no longer in a place to act against them. And she, mute and complicit observer of my mind, is watching me even then.

She was watching me ten minutes before, at the height of my agony. I swore to myself all the way down the stairs, turning the Lord’s name into a hissed litany behind my mask, my dignity falling off behind me like shed clothing as the faces of passersby swiveled to follow me. I crouched in a stall of the women’s bathroom, fully clothed, mask puffing out and plastering in under the force of my shallow, frantic breath, looking for something to make myself bleed. I could not cry. I couldn’t afford to. In the end, I used a pin from my backpack: a sharp prod into my arm to bring my whirling mind back to earth. And she, amused and critical audience of my thoughts, was watching me even then.

She has caused me much pain, but she has never hurt me. She is no imperious Ayesha. She narrates my life story—patient, calm, eloquent, and cruel. She tells me how she perceives me, how others will perceive me, and if I do not like the protagonist she paints me as, then . . . Well. There are two small scabs on the underside of my arm now where the pin went in and out, and I stop making such a scene. She is not some force of superior wisdom and unknowable caring like the AI of Her. I know many things about her, the two greatest of them being that she does not have my best interests at heart, and she is me.

Once on Tumblr I read the phrase, “Womanhood and having a voyeuristic relationship with your own pain,” and I felt I had opened a book of riddles to the back and read the solutions. I am a woman: I identify as one, and, more pertinently, I was socialized to be a woman as I grew up. I sat with my friends as we discussed the importance of being a “pretty crier,” and later that week I half-arose from whatever paroxysm of woe had seized me to turn to the mirror and scrutinize the way my thirteen-year-old face flushed and crumpled with the force of my sobs. She awoke in me that day to smile and shake her head and say, You look like a squashed tomato. But did you really expect that you’d be one of the pretty ones? You? The smart of distress became the slow rot of self-loathing then and there.

That patch of rot deepened and spread throughout my teenage years as I internalized lessons my teachers and peers never thought they were teaching me. “Modest is hottest,” we were told, so I developed a violent discomfort regarding my scarred shoulders, my flat chest, my thighs which met without the faintest trace of a coveted thigh gap. I did not even know a thigh gap was something to be coveted until one day at Girls’ Camp when we were all sprawled in our camp chairs, basketball shirts and DEET-stained T-shirts draped over our bug-bitten bodies. We were utterly comfortable and unselfconscious. One of the older girls, not quite a Youth Camp Leader but old enough to command respect, dropped into the conversation how she would have to go on a diet later this summer to get her thigh gap back. “What’s a thigh gap?” we asked. “It’s when your thighs don’t touch,” the girl said. “Let’s see which of you has one.” I was perceived that day, as I smoothed back the fabric of my basketball shorts to reveal no gap between my legs. Years later, even long after I recognized what a ridiculous beauty standard a thigh gap was, she perceived me from inside my head, looking at my thighs and frowning to herself. She ran my hand down my side, over my neck, prodded my fingers into my cheek and my hips and my belly, and the fat we felt there disgusted us.

I have taught myself always to be aware and ashamed of my body. Back when I still played with Hot Wheels cars, I learned that I would be an Athena or an Aphrodite, a Velma or a Daphne, a smart girl or a hot girl when I grew up. I had already been told I was smart. I was proud of being smart. I didn’t want to lose that. And, what’s more, I had seen how stories treated their Daphnes and Aphrodites. It would be several years before I learned the word “bitchy,” but already I felt that if I could not be an Athena then bitchy is what I would become.

But Athena is painted just as beautiful and poised as Aphrodite. The illustrations of the Goddess Girls books I devoured as a child gave the two the same slender silhouette; despite the books’ cursory descriptions of Athena as a plain and ordinary girl, when shown, both goddesses bear the same cues of beauty. The sparkling eyes, the full lips, the skinny limbs and saucy poses were as standard on Athena as they were on Aphrodite. So now my task was twofold. I had to be as brilliant as Athena, and as beautiful as Athena. I soon feared to see both my gradebook and my mirror as I would fear to see Medusa’s face.

I was young; I was desperate for identity. I see that now. It was through her,  that foreign part of me that I concocted and the stories she told, that I built one around myself. But I did not build it for myself. I made it according to the rules I thought I saw laid out for me, contradictory and mutually exclusive though they were. I built my womanhood to the specifications of everyone who had an opinion, and everyone has an opinion on womanhood. She told and retold my story to me, and I could never get it right. It is impossible to get it right. One person cannot be Athena and Aphrodite and Artemis and Hera, Scarlet Johannsson and Ursula Andress and Susan B. Anthony and Michelle Obama all at once, and certainly not by age fifteen. But she would not accept that for an answer. I would not accept that for an answer.

We live in an age of Überfrauen and Wonder Women. So many women outshine their spotlights, earning advanced degrees while building careers as A-list actresses, carrying children while leading countries. They all seem so effortlessly accomplished. I could not understand why I couldn’t simply be one of them. I couldn’t see why I didn’t fit in their molds. How hard could it be to be an effortlessly kind and vastly intelligent AI, speaking with a flawlessly patient and sexy voice? How hard could it be to be an unquestionably powerful and matchlessly wise queen, moving with a perfectly sculpted body? Why did I fall short of her?

One night, as I loudly suffered the throes of conviction that my rail-thin body was fat, my mother sat me down by the computer and googled Peter Paul Rubens’s The Judgement of Paris. I already knew the story it portrayed. Eris, goddess of strife, had created an infinitely desirable golden apple inscribed, “For the Fairest.” There were only three who could contend for it, and contend for it they did. Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera were each willing to stain Olympus’s white marble with golden ichor to assert their rightful ownership of the apple. Paris, youngest Prince of Troy, was to choose which of the three was truly fairest. The story recounts how each goddess tried to bribe him—Athena with wisdom, Hera with power, and Aphrodite with the most beautiful mortal woman—but in Rubens’s painting, the young and innocent Paris seems to judge the goddesses on their bodies alone. On the color monitor of our old Dell computer, I studied the painting. Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera stood side by side with hardly a stitch of clothing to provide iconography, scarcely a clue to tell me which was which. All three held themselves in sumptuous, stylized poses, their breasts as full and their curves as lavish as any Rubens has framed. All three had soft double chins and dimples of cellulite, and to one of them Paris would present the golden apple of ultimate and unparalleled beauty. “Look at them,” my mother told me. “Look at them. Are they ugly? Are they thin? They are not.” They are not, I thought to myself, eyes flowing down the generous shapes of the goddesses.

Looking back on this flashbulb memory, it occurs to me that this story may not have been the best one to teach a young girl to love herself. Though the goddesses’ bodies may be more generously proportioned than the ones Picou or Regnault give them in their paintings of the same title, they present those bodies for male evaluation nonetheless. Indeed, of all the Judgement of Paris paintings I have seen, it is only Botticelli’s which presents all three goddesses fully clothed. The feminine is foreign to me, a perception of perception, a codex of rules laid out by the men who write books and the men who design clothes and the men who pass laws and the men who pass judgement through all the loudest venues. Rubens’s beautiful, full-bodied goddesses presented themselves for male judgement, for external assignment of worth. They showed themselves because they did not know themselves. I showed myself—my well-covered, well-seen self—because I did not know myself, because I wanted to learn from others what I should make myself into. Sometimes the others were not women. Sometimes the others were not my friends. The others were never myself, but she absorbed their judgement and made it my own. I constructed a foreign femininity, drawing in every narrative I could find and crystallizing them into a truth I refused to let myself disprove.

I was fourteen when my mother googled a Rubens and asked me Are they thin? Are they ugly? It could not have been long since I last heard the top song of the summer, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which assured women that men could still be attracted to larger bodies. These works of art taught me that I did not have to starve my body into a Goddess Girls silhouette to be beautiful. They showed me that there is more than one mold I can fit into to be perceived as valuable. Their messages are far from perfect. But, like walking around a perspective painting, they have shown me that the rules and patterns I once saw as an indelible institution are not so logical and cohesive as I once thought. This realization is a small step, I know. It is just the first step, one which liberated women the world over have long since made. But that does not make it any less important. After all, this is my story, not theirs.

I have worked to disentangle myself from the deep roots of these rules. I have found freedom in distancing myself from the traditional markers of femininity and womanhood by which I once measured myself. My suits and flannels scarcely indicate the hourglass form I once so desperately fretted over showing off. I no longer try to like Jane Eyre or Noah Centineo. I don’t have the first idea what I want my wedding to be like, except for a vague sense that a corn maze might be fun. I do not hate femininity. I do not resent those who embrace it. There are still some elements which I enjoy and which I choose to incorporate into my life. But femininity, which should be worn as a dress, I wore as a straitjacket. What should be used as a staff was to me a measuring stick, one I held against myself from every angle and direction I could think of, searching for reasons to be disappointed.

I no longer measure myself by how neat I’ve made my French braid or how low I’ve coaxed my weight. I still do measure myself. I haven’t lost that. She is as much a part of me as my womanhood. But I have learned that she is not as powerful as She (1965), nor is she as well-intentioned as Her (2013). I have begun to turn my self-awareness in to face her. There is power in perception, in being the one to perceive and explain instead of the one seen and described by another. I was born into a world which told me so many stories about myself, stories I did not write, but which I repeated gladly enough. I am learning to tell my own stories about myself. I am learning to tell my own stories about her.

At the Girls’ Camp after I learned what a thigh gap was, we sat once more around the campfire, reciting the Young Women’s theme at our leaders’ prompting. We listed by rote the things we were supposed to value: faithful, divinely natured, individually worthy, knowledgeable, accountable, doing good works, of integrity, and, of course, virtuous. We knew the list by heart. I do not remember who suggested we add “strength” to the list. I do know we came home from Girls’ Camp with nine values instead of eight. I do know which one we said the loudest, exchanging crooked grins in our Wet n Wild lip gloss every Sunday after. We were young women, writing our own values for ourselves, and it felt good.

Elena Welch is an undergraduate student at BYU. She has previously been published in Cricket Magazine.

Quarter of an Inch

by Angela Griffin

Drill Sergeant Jones hesitates in the doorway, one foot poised over the threshold, boot hovering in the air. Eyes trained on the inhabitants of Second Platoon bay, she deliberately, ever so lightly, lets her boot tap the linoleum floor on our side of the doorway.

“AT EASE!” twenty voices bellow as one, eyes and shoulders freezing in place as DS Jones officially enters the room. Next to me, Guajardo wiggles almost imperceptibly, carefully easing her toes up to the edge of the bunk.

DS Jones stalks down the rows of bunks until she reaches the middle of the room. Then she pauses. “Room, attention!” Heels thud, arms straighten to sides. “About—” I try not to sway, try not to anticipate the command—“Face!

In two counts I pivot to face my bunk, baring the back of my head to the scrutiny of DS Jones. She begins to walk down the row, stopping behind each girl.

“Klamm, you need more gel. None of these flyaways.”

A long pause. “Mendez, did you even try?” The accused begins to defend her bun, but DS Jones cuts her off. “Asbell, your bun isn’t half bad. Take Mendez to the latrine and fix this ratty mess. You have five minutes.” Footsteps pound against the tile, and I hear the door to the latrine swing open.

DS Jones stalks closer. “Guajardo, you need another pin here—”

“Yes, drill sergeant.”

“—And here.”

“Yes, drill sergeant.”

“Go fix it.”

Guajardo scampers off and I straighten, mentally reviewing the effort I put into my hair this morning. Forty minutes today, and at least a third of the bottle of gel. I’d even asked Knight to check and make sure none of the sock bun was peeking through my hair.

“Griffin.” I hold my breath. 

“More gel.” I squeeze my eyes shut. She steps over to Gould.

I used to fantasize about what it would be like to shave my head. I had a companion on my mission who would wow members with the story of how she’d shaved her head on prom night and gone to the dance completely bald.

I wished I could be so bold. Whenever I was frustrated by the unpredictability of my curls, or the summer heat plastered my hair to my neck, I’d consider following her example. I joked about it with friends. I threatened it when I talked to my mom. But the Christmas before I shipped to Basic Training, my brother called my bluff. “I’ll shave my head if you shave yours.” I fumbled for an excuse, trying to justify my fear. But in the end, I couldn’t go through with it. My brother laughed. “That’s what I thought.”

“Drill sergeant, I heard the males are getting their haircuts next week when we get our dress blues from 95th . . .”

DS Jones blinks once and swivels her head to the wall, pretending not to have heard.

“And I was just wondering if—”

“Griffin.” Her eyes snap toward me, eyeliner with wings that would put the seraphim on the ark of the covenant to shame. “You are not getting your hair cut. You’ve made it this far.”

“Well, drill sergeant, if any of the drill sergeants left scissors on the fireguard desk one night, as long as they were still there the next morning, that wouldn’t be a problem, right?”

She takes out her phone and opens some social media app.

“What if I was shaving in the shower and slipped?”

She guffaws slightly, but continues scrolling.

I change tactics. “What if I had lice?”

“Then we’d send you to sick call and don’t—” She fixes me with a stare that could pin a bug to a board, voice icy. “—you go spreading no rumors about lice in our bay.”

I swallow. “Yes, drill sergeant.”

She returns to her phone. “Griffin, why do you want to cut your hair anyway?”

Because no one believes I will. Because I pretend to be bold but never follow through. Because my whole life I’ve been told to speak up and have a voice and not just let others dictate my decisions and this is a way—a small way—for me to prove to myself that I can do brave things. That I can act for myself.

I straighten my shoulders. “To save time in the morning, drill sergeant. I could be cleaning the bay instead of doing my hair.”

For a moment she stares at me, measuring something she must see in my face. I brace myself for push-ups, or at the very least some sarcastic comment on the cleanliness of our bay.

“Go away. We’ll see.”

Once we’ve been issued our gloves and berets—all the parts of our dress blues that don’t need to be tailored—we are sent to the bleachers outside of 95th to wait for the rest of the company. I settle onto the cool, metal bench, clutching the garment bag to my chest for warmth. DS Ramos paces back and forth in front of the bleachers, occasionally calling someone out for bad posture or a crooked patch on a uniform.

The steel doors to the main building open again as another couple of trainees come out. Even with their patrol caps on I can see the white skin on their temples where the barber has buzzed their hair.

Before the doors shut I peer inside. Just down that gray hallway, past the set of double doors and through the second door on the right, there’s a sign hanging above the otherwise drab interior.

Barbershop.

My heart is throbbing so loudly that I’m afraid if I open my mouth, instead of words, all that will come out is a frantic staccato. But the doors are closing, and before my brain can catch up to my mouth I raise my hand and call, “Drill sergeant.”

DS Ramos turns from his conversation with a trainee on the front row. “Griffin. What do you want?”

I swallow hard, but force my voice to be strong. “Drill sergeant, I’d like to get a haircut.”

“Griffin.” He folds his arms over his chest. “If you want a good haircut, wait till Family Day. They don’t do female haircuts here.”

“I know, drill sergeant. I want to shave my head.”

His eyebrows shoot up. “Shave your head. Like the males?” He points to Forester, whose freshly bald head is visible as he switches his patrol cap for his beanie.

I nod. Feel the heat rising to my cheeks. “Yes, drill sergeant.”

DS Ramos stares at me for a moment, then lowers his head. He’s not going to let me do it. He’ll say I don’t need to and we don’t have time, and it was silly of me to even ask again and they’re going to punish me and—

But he’s chuckling. “Sure, Griffin. I’d like to see that.” He beckons me down from the bleachers. “Grab a Battle Buddy. Any other females want to shave their heads?”

No one raises a hand. DS Ramos shrugs. “Alright, let’s go.”

The hum of the clippers is surprisingly relaxing.

The woman won’t turn me around to face the mirror until it’s over, so I must gauge the status of my hair in the eyes of Woodland, who sits across from me in a waiting room chair. She volunteered to be my Battle Buddy—trainees always have to travel in pairs—but she’s not the only other person in the room.

Besides DS Ramos, we picked up two other drill sergeants along the way to the barbershop. DS York was intrigued by the idea of a female wanting to shave her head. He was the one who suggested that we should probably call Senior Drill Sergeant for permission. When I’d heard that, I’d thought for certain she would forbid me from going through with it. But no sooner had DS Ramos hung up the phone than Senior Drill Sergeant herself had walked into the barbershop. She looked me up and down once, rolled her eyes, and then began giving instructions to the woman with the clippers. “Female regulation hair must remain one quarter of an inch long.” She’d turned to me then, eyes boring straight through my skull. “One. Quarter.” I’d nodded. Then proceeded to remove my sock bun.

There’s a faint click as the woman switches the clippers off. Then a pressure on the back of my chair as she spins me around to face the mirror.

Bald. I am completely bald.

Well, one quarter of an inch away from bald. I reach a hand from under the cape to touch the fuzz on the top of my head.

DS Ramos appears behind me in the mirror. “Wow, Griffin. You actually did it.” He sounds genuinely impressed.

“Yes, drill sergeant.” A rush of confidence floods through me. I did.

As I stand up, I realize I am still holding the sock bun in my hand. Grinning as much as I dare in the presence of three drill sergeants, I hold it out to Woodland.

“Want a sock bun?”

Originally from Southern California, Angela Griffin is a senior in her final semester at BYU. After graduating, she hopes to use her education in linguistics, editing, and Japanese to help preserve and revitalize endangered languages around the world. She enjoys spending time outside, reading, playing the piano, and making up impromptu haikus. Her accomplishments include breaking into a Japanese fish market and swimming across a river to dunk her head in a waterfall.

 

Inheritance

by Abby Thatcher

I can’t write about beauty. I’ve written four different opening lines, ones about beauty being a beast, or my hatred of photographs of myself, or the Maybelline counter in Macy’s in eighth grade where my mother took me to become beautiful. The sentences stumble over themselves. I have so much to say, but I feel too much, and the words choke upon entry, tumbling headlong into the white void. I hear my seventh-grade locker partner and the woman in Georgia who both told me I had hair on my neck—haven’t you heard of tweezers?—and my mother’s words each time I call on Zoom: “Abby, you look so pretty. You really are beautiful, you know.” I wonder, if I didn’t look so much like her, would she say it quite so often? There’s a desperate self-assurance about it, as though she is trying to convince herself along with me that our particular genetic cocktail is lovely, gorgeous. Beautiful. After all, I am my mother’s daughter.

She loves to pull out the pictures of her children and line them up along the sideboard and on the rust-colored carpet, her bespectacled offspring staring out from Olan-Mills calico frames. But when I reach into the cardboard box and pull out Polaroids of her as a 10-year-old, 15-year-old, 24-year-old, she grabs for the photograph as if it were a nude. She ducks her face as she shoves the picture away, and I am left with the echoed vision only: my mother wearing glasses, unknowingly graceful in her growing body, a kind of unfinished poetry about her form as she hides from the camera. The photograph is dated 1983, she was 14, and she would have said the same thing her 51-year-old self says now—“I’m not beautiful, no, not me. My sisters always said I stretched out their clothes when I borrowed them, I was called ‘dyke’ on the softball field, I didn’t go on any dates.” It’s always the same, no matter how I coax and plead that No, Mom, you are beautiful. I just want to see you; your face is dear to me because you are.

But the picture remains hated in a box, and even now, my mother shies away from the camera. Is it any wonder I do the same— “I’m not beautiful, no, not me. My friends tell me I can’t borrow their shirts because I stretch them out over the bust, I was called ‘ugly’ and ‘fatso’ in the junior high locker room, I don’t go on any dates”—no matter what my mother says to me?

After all, I am my mother’s daughter.

*****

We took family photos this past summer, decked out in matching white T-shirts and black pleather. My father wanted a family band aesthetic and brought along the electric guitar and a set of drumsticks; we look like the Osmond Von Trapp family singers taking Ogden by storm. My mother’s been showing off the photographs around town to ward members and her jogging partners, and once to Beverly in the post office. I hear, through her, their thoughts about my photograph: “Striking.” I can’t help but hear the void around “striking.” What it is not. Not pretty. Not lovely. Not beautiful. Striking in one sense may be arresting—I looked it up in the OED for comfort then tossed the volume aside—but in the end, arresting isn’t attracting: stopping rather than entering, my face won’t ever open doors. My self-conception verb of choice is “striking.” Striking from the record any positive marks in my compliment ledger with one red-lettered item, striking from my self-regard any positivity to be gained from my mother’s words, striking down any moment of thinking I look good when the world says otherwise. I look away from cameras and hide under layers of makeup and clothes and blankets. It would be easier, I think, if I were asleep.

Beauty is the Dream that beckons. Ugly is the waking up, realizing I’ll never be good enough, thin enough, clear-skinned enough. So, I let my mother lull me off to sleep again, back to the dreamland of the Maybelline counter and mascara, concealer and a Magic Bra. When the makeup artist at the counter takes my picture, I grab for the camera and try to delete the picture, shove it in a cardboard box and hide it—and me—from the world. “I’m not beautiful, no, not me with the made-up face,” I say. After all, I am my mother’s daughter, and the Dream embraces me when all else casts stones.

*****

The Dream whisks me toward the fiction of my own Beauty. It is a Candyland that always remains one roll away, a limited-time offer with limited supply, where some exclusions apply—see reality for details. When I’m reveling in the Dream, I imagine the ground beneath my feet to be a castle in the air. There are those who clamber for a ladder. White hands reach it first, and climb, and climb, and never, hardly ever look down.

If they did, they would see the Dream is built on the backs of bowed bodies. They aren’t bowed because they want to, but because they were forced to somewhere back in time such that now their bodies can’t unbend. Broken-backed, picking up the slack of a line that can’t be found in any family tree of their own. Prosperity, success, generational wealth that gathers like the down upon a feather tick. The tick they must stretch and push and pull into comfort for the white men and women who sleep on its fluffed surface, lost in the Dream.

The Dream is paid for by bowed bodies, Black bodies, brown bodies too. “Sponsored by the working class of America,” the ads for the newest cars and shiny Frigidaire and brand-new clothing should say in rolling script. Instead, they lie. The Dream is a gutter spout, with the rain funneling through a pipeline to the parched ground below. White hands reach in and stop the water greedily before it gets to the bottom. “What can I do?” they say with a shrug of their unstooped shoulders—“I got there first, I need to serve me and my own, it’s not my fault there’s not enough water to go around.” The trickling down of wealth only goes so far, and the ground—with people clambering for water, water, WATER!—is so far away from the source.

The Dream is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps—but what if I can’t afford shoes?—and walking the road less travelled—but what if I can’t afford the toll?—and not letting opportunity pass you by—but what if it never comes round my part of town? The Dream is a college education, and doing better than your parents did before you, and they before them, and all of us getting more and more wealth and beauty and a two-car garage with motorized doors. The Dream is barbeques in the summer and Fourth of July parades with sticky popsicles and apple pie; it is Christmas with white Santa and Thanksgiving with Christian pilgrims. The Dream is the suburbs that form squeaky clean while leaving behind the bathtub rings of white flight neighborhoods in the city. The Dream is Beauty. The Dream is white. The Dream is impossible for all to experience. Some people can’t afford to sleep, so they stay awake while I dream of a life of Beauty, a life of light, a life bought with the wealth I inherited. They burn the day and midnight oil, and I—

I go shopping for the Dream.

*****

My shopping list is extensive. Frigidaire. Tupperware. A new iron. The Curlinator™. VASA Fitness pass. Meal planners with stickers and glitter pens. Frills and bows on pajamas. Blowouts. Blowing money like the wind. How to Be a Good Wife, How to Catch a Good Husband as if he is a Fast-Fish and I am Ahab. KitchenAid mixer with frosting attachment. The latest frosted tips.

Betty Friedan of The Feminine Mystique lives in my home. She lurks in the Frigidaire, hides behind the Tupperware that I bought last week because these promise to keep my food Fresh!™ for longer. My new iron, the one I bought with birthday money and justified by imagining it placed on a shelf in my future suburban home; the Curlinator™ I used this morning for church because surely today is the day that the handsome organ player will look my way, and (I tell myself as I smell the hole in the ozone widening around my singed hair) while my hair may not be the thing he’ll notice, it certainly can’t hurt; the new shirt I bought for myself in the mall because I am an independent woman (thank you, Beyoncé), and I don’t need no man to pretty myself up; the jealousy that hits me outside the store when I see a woman kiss a man by the Cinnabon. I covet amidst the smog of perfume and powdered sugar, heavy cinnamon decadently mocking my paltry love life; I buy a pastry and hide my new shirt under the plastic bench. VASA Fitness will be my salvation, I tell myself, as I buy another cinnamon roll and leave the mall with heavy thighs. I will work myself to someone’s ten, and I’ll meet my ten while lifting in the mirrored corner of the gym.

But another week passes, and I reach for the stickers and glitter pens that bring almost childlike glitz and glamour to my lonely Friday night: I’m meal planning for one in preparation for the eventual (right?) two. At a bridal shower, the bride lifts a baby doll nightie from its papery cradle and coos. It looks so young in her hands, but she’s nineteen, so we tell ourselves it fits and eat cupcakes with pink, crusty sugar. Blowouts for the singed hair—the Curlinator™ stopped working, so I need to treat myself, right? The organ player isn’t going to be attracted to me on his own.

I can’t afford rent now, but if I move into my parents’ house, the money becomes like Monopoly cash in imagined pastel greens and blues. It can blow away in the wind of their superior air conditioning; I’m only waiting for a man, anyway, so I’ll let my money get swept off its feet in the meantime. My great-aunt recommends How to Be a Good Wife, and I tell her my Laurels group read its excerpts at an activity once while we made bridal time capsules of our fantasy’s traits, weight, and projected income bracket. I remember one of the tips is never to buy a cake at the store but to mix it at home with the latest and greatest KitchenAid appliance, so I practice while alone on the weekends. Powdered sugar coats my bitterness, hope, and frosted tips (I hear the organ player likes blondes) in equal measure.

Later, I insist that I buy what I like as I walk quickly past the smiling Pioneer Woman display in the grocery store and head for the electronics in the back. I’m a strong and independent woman who doesn’t need a new frying pan. Instead, I tell myself that I’m buying only for me, valiantly and defiantly alone, and therefore I should treat myself to a new iPhone case (I’m not a “girly-girl” so I shun the pink and go for the more expensive dove gray), a new speaker—the girl on the package looks so cool and entirely herself, listening to her music and dancing for the sheer pleasure of moving her body alone—and a box of ice cream bars because I don’t cater to any man’s taste when it comes to my body. I’ll eat what I want, I’ll do what I want, I’ll buy what I want. This is my running commentary as I shop.

But somehow, at the register as the dollars total higher and my Monopoly money stretches thinner, Betty Friedan speaks anyway. I walk out of the store several twenty-dollar bills lighter; my head hangs unconsciously low because I bought with my gender in mind. I bought to spite man, and The Man gets my last dime and the last laugh. I’m in a Sexual Cell of my own making. I may have spurned the mixer, but I yielded to the New Woman, the one created to sell dove-gray phone cases and speakers and ice cream bars. The billboard may be different, but the number’s still the same. It’s mine; they’ve got it, and they call me all the time.

Betty comes home with me and looks on while I put the ice cream bars away in the Frigidaire behind the new Tupperware. My house is full; my home is empty. I log on to Facebook and see an ad for the latest Facial Mask for the Independent Woman!™ So, I click “See here for the New You.” I am Alice now, spiraling out and down the Internet rabbit hole.

*****

I fall asleep at the computer and find myself in an apartment complex with shiny, plywood-fronted veneers. Like half-rotted teeth, but covered with shiny white caps, the apartment building’s interiors are dark, with rabbit warren hallways and linoleum mirrors. There are worlds tucked away inside the building’s walls, and I wander them. These hidden hutches that I discover hold test-subject bodies and scattered dollar bills. I sense that to live here is to die here, venturing out with made-up faces onto the stage of the world. Happy and smiling representatives of the complex greet me; these living advertisements to happy, beautiful, industrialized existence. Behind their smiles, ulcers lurk. The pressure and the Potemkin palaces are enough to give anyone a complex, and female bodies make sleek missiles when jumping from the fortieth floor. I push for an exit in the dark as I hear the whistle of their bodies shriek past.

But I find only rules. The complex’s code of conduct goes down smooth as lotion on oiled palms, easy enough that a young girl should understand. Here, Beauty is queen and king, the most powerful thing within the world of the complex, and the most important. No one messes with Beauty’s role on top. No one competes with Beauty’s agenda, her daily schedule for the complex’s workings, its comings and goings. I lurk in the shadows, hoping she won’t see me, grasping at straws to build a ladder out.

While looking in the dark, I see lit-up posters lining the walls of the building’s maze: You are not Beautiful. Beauty is THIS, and you are . . . Other. Beauty is as Beauty does, and You Can’t Do It! I am surrounded by this message, watching the required programming on flickering gray screens, reading the magazines that flutter like streamers in air vents. The residents try to get me to repeat the mantra. You are not Beauty. Beauty is not you. You will never be Beauty on your own. They’ve been here a long time, I can tell, so long that they believe it. They say it to each other, to their daughters and mothers and friends. When new residents have the glint of hope in their eyes, acolytes rip them to shreds, like streamers caught in air vents. It is only when each resident believes it (they tell me as I try to run) that the complex starts to work.

I careen through the hallways, which begin to look like the mall I left earlier that day outside my dream. I see the Cinnabon and the smiling couple, my mother and grandmother and sister working on a puzzle in the dark, the junior high locker room with the jeering girls and a crumpled towel. I climb stairs, but the women follow, chanting the mantra. It echoes in the halls. I burst out of a door and I am on the roof, the wind whipping around me. I hear them getting closer, the chant growing louder. They are almost at the door. I turn and approach the ledge.

I am dreaming, I know, and I want to wake up; the Dream has turned sour and my foot skids a little on the edge. The women beat on the door. I attempt to fly away. Female bodies make sleek missiles when jumping from the fortieth floor. I scream toward the ground and wake, panting and shattered.

*****

After my nightmare, I look for light. White, blue, pink, peaches fuzzed with blonde hair that gleams golden in the sun—this sun that shines upon the wicked and the righteous alike, right? This sunlight that illuminates all equally, that blesses me as well as them, as well as her as well as him? Well? Does it?

I search out this sunlight myself. I yearn for its warmth, for the accompanying words-as-manna for my attention-starved soul: “Oh, you look so good! Oh, you look simply lovely. Oh, I wish I could look like you!” I have to contort my body to stay in its light, make it smaller and slimmer because the light is a rarity. The light is life. The light is white and my skin glows when it glances upon me. I wear powders to make it really stick, mascara for my blue eyes—body privilege is mine, I think, as I add plum liner to make them really pop—and bronzer for my white skin—the freckles go in and out of the light’s reach, but most days I can conceal them from the light’s knowledge, and I am as white as the light wants me to be. I take photographs of myself, and I hear what I want to hear: “The light loves you!” And for a moment, artificially aided, it does.

But I’ve got uptown problems, which aren’t really problems at all these days when I feel like other white women get more light than I do, that their skin and hair and eyes and aquiline noses are better and more light and more white. I can diet and dress to the nines and bleach my hair and straighten my teeth; I can cut my body down and bulk it up, implant plastic seeds that will never grow anything but insecurity and dissatisfaction. But I don’t need what the light requires most, what white requires most: skin with less melanin, skin with less protection from the sun. For beauty, as far as skin goes, less seems to be more.

Body privilege is a thing I’ve struggled with always, an enemy for which I’ve only recently found a name. The critical framework for recognizing socioeconomic privilege comes to bear as I look at people born with bodies that fit the norm, that open doors that will remain shut to me. But, just like socioeconomic privilege, I realize there are those who have it worse. Again, I’ve got uptown problems, and I don’t think about the people living so far downtown they’re not ever making their way north. They can’t afford the cab fare; they aren’t allowed on the bus. Black women, Indigenous women, tones of honey, obsidian, onyx, ebony, taupe. They need a skin transplant to ever have a shot at finding the white light, at having the white light love them.

When I think of these women, the colors that are more melanin-rich, more protective against the light and age and weathering but are constantly rated as less—I find it hard not to hate my skin, not to feel the whispers of past cruelties perpetuated by other white-skinned people glutting up on my freckled shoulders and white palms. I cover my skin with long pants and sleeves, with boots that reach toward my knees and coats that stretch to my feet, but even with hardly any skin on display—again, less—my skin finds the light. It burns sometimes, but the light persists. It is white, I am white, and my Black and Indigenous sisters are not. Beauty as defined by the Dream passes them by, no matter how long they may wait at its stop. They haven’t inherited the ticket, and blood runs as thick as the mascara in my wand.

*****

What we inherit, what we carry in these bodies like parasites latched to our spines. The lottery ticket that gets passed along, from mother to daughter, from grandmother to child. I am my grandmother’s too, or I was. My grandmother was betrayed by her body, a genetic inheritance that took rather than gave. The last time I saw her alive, the room stank of decay and Bengay lotion. Peppermint Lysol sprayed by my aunt covered the smell of my grandmother’s body eating itself. It was dark, as my grandmother had always had a penchant for heavy wooden furniture and closed curtains, but I could see the bandages that covered her chest. She had, if rounding down, stage IV breast cancer. Her right breast, which had nourished five children and symbolized her sexual and procreative power as a woman, was no longer there; another mastectomy was scheduled for the next week, but the hushed whispers and that awful smell scried that she would not make the appointment. My aunt cried in the corner, and my father stood by the covered window, trying not to join her in outward signs of grief. My grandmother floated on a morphine-drip raft away from the room, but her body remained on the shore. Breaths were labored, the bandages oozed, and her skeleton tried to poke its way out to the surface of paper-thin skin. I counted the bones in her right hand so I wouldn’t look at the lack of her breast, the asymmetry caused by medical attempts to save her body from itself.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman, with an hourglass figure set off by hugging black velvet dresses and aprons with large bows. When my figure became larger than that of other girls around me, she would tell me I was lovely, classic, and “at least you don’t look like a boy.” She would smile and say, “You’ll thank me one day for giving you these,” gesturing to her large chest and sliding a glance toward my mother’s comparatively spare form. Never mind that my grandmother’s mother died because she wouldn’t give up her left breast, that her sister—my great-aunt—was wasting away at the chemotherapy IV because of this ample gift. I’m getting my first mammogram at twenty-five. Thank you, Carol.

My body has become the point of communication with those beyond the grave. I think of my grandmother when I check my breasts for lumps, my grandfather when I can’t hold a pen steady in my right hand (his Parkinson’s is another family genetic gift I pray I don’t end up possessing). I write letters to my mother every time I count my freckles and whisper a message to my long-dead aunt when I move my loose-limbed knees much as she did when she was alive. I teach myself lessons of fear when my body acts on its own, tingling with pins and needles, and learn lessons of patience when, month after month, I endure the shedding of my blood.

My body resists change as diet after diet yields only hunger, dissatisfaction, and a return of the Lululemon leggings I swore I’d fit into this time. And then I tell myself it doesn’t matter, that narratives of slenderness, shrinking, and being small are ways to reduce my female imprint upon the male world. I eat the food I want, wear baggy clothes for comfort, and grab for a blanket to cover up. I shrink away into these tents I erect to hide my body—to protect what is mine—and somehow, the male world wins: while I feel as large as an elephant, I have become small, quiet, female. The elephant in the feminist room—if I do things for me, the patriarchy still seems to always win—goes unacknowledged. Everyone gives it shifty eyes and heads for the scale. I weigh myself for me—I say as the numbers inch higher—for my health, my awareness. I hide the number on the scale from my roommate with my body when she walks in, but my body is a text that I just know she reads critically, and I shrink further into my sweats.

I don’t remember much of what my grandmother said when she was alive. I didn’t have many conversations with her about her past or her interests. But I hear her when I look at my body, her breasts on my form, her eyes in my face: “At least you don’t look like a boy” when I’m looking for something to redeem my fallen body. She betrays me sometimes, just like her body betrayed her, and her own mother, before. Her voice comes out sharp: “You’ve got to watch you don’t blow up like a house.”

I am my grandmother’s body, and through her fixation upon my growing body while alive, she has achieved a sort of immortality when dead. Perhaps she knew this while lying there dying in that stifling room. Maybe this is why the last thing she said before I left with my father was, “Stand up straight. You’ve got to work with what I gave you.”

*****

And so, I suppose, I can write about beauty, after all. To write about beauty is to write about the ugly parts of my life I try to keep hidden away, unwillingly photographed, in the bottom of a box. It is to admit that there is a part of me—the too-large, all-too-visible, uncontrollable element of myself—that I can’t study into beauty or reason into loveliness. It is to see that I still, even in my personal nightmare, live the Dream denied to others. It is to put on paper what I struggle to handle within my soul, for all its sharp edges and nail-file rawness: that I, no matter how much intelligence I gain or how much kindness I show or how much money I make, will never be beautiful in the way that Instagrammed blonde, thin, lovely women are. No, not me.

The trick, I tell myself, is learning to be okay with that, more than okay, more than “fine.” But I can’t seem to get past the Maybelline counter and that junior high locker room, the demons that make me jump from ledges in my dream and push me to climb up impossible standards in the day. I can’t get past my own face, so I avoid mirrors and Polaroids and videos, car reflections and shiny chrome, computer screens and polarized sunglass shades, photo albums and portrait galleries. Zoom has required a bravery of me that I didn’t expect to expend this year, and the mask has proved to be a panacea for all the anxiety of showing my face on camera. I try to rely on statements scrawled on the surface of my mirror, things like “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” and “A countenance of kindness is the most beautiful thing a woman can possess.” But when I realize my self-ideation has corroded my heart, and that my lack of kindness toward myself has ruined my countenance, I avoid the mirror and its fortune-cookie wisdom once more.

My mother keeps trying to convince herself—and me—that we are beautiful. Maybe this is how it works: she must first see her features on another human being, one she suffered for, such that she loves them all the more, and then she can begin the process of becoming beautiful to herself. Maybe I need to wait until I have a daughter, someone with my eyes and hair and squinty-eyed smile, to then say to myself—through her—“You look so pretty. You really are beautiful, you know.” Maybe then I’ll finally believe it. But probably not.

I am my mother’s daughter, after all. 

Abby Thatcher is an undergraduate English and Interdisciplinary Humanities student. Her interests include early modern English literature, performativity, and queer and race studies. She has published articles in BYU’s “Experience” and “Criterion” journals. She lives in Provo, Utah with her roommates, three houseplants, and her dreams. All, she is happy to report, are thriving.

Peace (Shanti)

by Jamie Marquis

At the end of the hour, I lay in corpse pose, shavasana, on my bright-orange yoga mat. My thoughts swam around and around until they trickled out of my eyes and I realized that I was crying. A familiar pang of grief in my chest seems to accompany me everywhere I go: school, work, home, the gym. Will it ever go away? That grief seems unattached to any particular event in my life. I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m tired of feeling sad for no reason. I’m tired of the emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanies this grief. I’m tired of faking it for everyone around me. I’m tired of faking it for myself. I want to find the cause of my depression because if I can find the root cause, I can begin to find a solution, right? I won’t have to feel sad, alone, or exhausted anymore. I will be able to enjoy the things that I love instead of feeling apathetic toward everything. I will feel like myself again.

***

At the beginning of my yoga class, we stand resolutely, uniformly, in mountain pose—breathing in unison. We are twenty-two strangers, though the others’ faces are becoming familiar to me, evenly spaced across the wood floor of the fitness studio on the upper level of the rec center. The wall to the left is made entirely of glass: one big window into the chaos of the basketball court below. Surrounding us on the upper level are weight machines clanking as muscular dudes and scrawny teens alike finish their sets. Yet here, in semi-darkness, we are safe, we are calm, we are one. The semi-darkness allows us to ignore one another and get in touch with ourselves, our own breath, our own needs, both physical and emotional.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The yoga breath, ujjayi (OOH-jai-ee), resonates at the back of the throat. The inhales should fill your lungs and your belly, the exhales should force it all out. This exhaling is used to release not only air, but pent-up energy that needs a place to go. I am a sigh-er, so ujjayi comes easily to me. It is done with the mouth closed: in through the nose, out through the nose. Ujjayi is noisy—I have heard instructors describe it as the ocean breath or as Darth Vader breathing. It sounds like that guy asleep next to you on an airplane, not quite snoring but breathing loud enough that he might as well be. Ujjayi is an audible breath whose roots should start deep within you.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

We spend the first few minutes of every yoga class breathing slowly and deeply, a welcome change to my regular shallow breathing. The music playing over the speakers starts off calmly at the beginning of class to slow us down so that later we can speed up with purpose—this is power yoga after all. The breath drives the movements to get us into each yoga pose. The breath stabilizes us. The breath brings us back to the core of what it means to be alive.

Breathing is an unlearned action. From the moment a baby comes out of the womb, nurses, doctors, and parents alike wait to hear those first cries: an indication that the baby’s lungs work. Breathing is so fundamental and yet we do it subconsciously. Sure, we can control it if we try, but most of the time our breath controls us. My breath tells me I should run more when I huff and puff after walking up four flights of stairs in the Tanner Building. My breath tells me to never socialize again when I’m anxiously waiting for a date to come pick me up. My breath tells me it’s time for bed when I can’t stop yawning. Every day, my breath controls me. But in yoga, I reclaim ownership.

Each movement in the yoga sequence gets one breath:

Inhale, arms up overhead.

Exhale, forward fold.

Inhale, lift halfway up.

Exhale, forward fold, lower to plank chaturanga.

Inhale, upward dog.

Exhale, downward dog.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale, prepare.

Inhale, step, walk, or jump your feet to your hands.

Exhale, forward fold.

Inhale, lift halfway up.

Exhale, forward fold.

Inhale, come all the way up, arms up overhead.

Exhale, return to standing; mountain pose, samastitihi.

We repeat this sun salutation five times, taking it one breath and one movement at a time. In power yoga, we learn progressions—small steps in order to accomplish more difficult balances and postures. In therapy, I learn coping mechanisms, small things I can do in order to deal with the everyday presence of depression.

Sometimes therapy is relieving, an hour during which my emotions start to make sense. Other times, therapy is really hard, and I leave more emotionally exhausted than I arrived. With the natural light of early August washing over me through my wide bedroom window, I sat rigidly at my desk, barely able to breathe. Every muscle in my body was suddenly tense—this was going to be a tough session. My fear and anxiety came on suddenly, and I don’t remember what hypothetical situation posed to me by my therapist brought it on. This floating head on my computer screen coached me through a kind of mindfulness exercise, a meditation.

I don’t really believe in meditation in the traditional sense, probably because I’m not very good at it. My thoughts are unable to vacate my mind; they tumble over each other constantly like a class of excited preschoolers fighting for the teacher’s attention: “Look at me! Look at me!” “I really want a kitty but my mommy said I can’t have one because my brother is allergic. What does allergic mean?” “My crayon broke.” “When are you going to read to us?”

I tried to focus on my breath.

A shallow inhale.

A short exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

In difficult yoga poses, you are instructed to breathe into different parts of your body. For warrior, virabhadrasana, the breath must travel upward and out of your hands and simultaneously give power to your engaged thighs for a strong base. When you are mastering the pose bird of paradise, svarga dvijasana, you have to breathe into your hamstrings. For a headstand, salamba sirsasana, you send the breath to your core. In this moment of paralyzing fear and anxiety over a hypothetical situation, I employed what I knew about the yoga breath. I breathed into the tense muscles in my arms and back. I sent the breath to my fists. I sent it to my legs and to my core.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

I wasn’t really listening to anything he was saying, another reason I’m bad at meditation; it took all of me just to breathe. Slowly, but surely, I began to relax and let go of that fear and anxiety. My yoga breathing technique had a different name here: expansion—allowing room for emotions to be experienced, letting them exist in the space they needed.

My first therapy session can be described in three words: tears, relief, and diagnosis. For months (maybe even years?) I have felt hollow, apathetic, sad for no particular reason. A sudden disconnection from my closest friends, friends I had known for fifteen years, left me feeling confused and abandoned and utterly miserable. I had just gotten home from a multi-state, week-long road trip with them where we got closer than ever before, where I was the happiest I had been in months, and now they weren’t speaking to me. They were golfing without me, together. They were going on camping trips with people that I also knew. They were planning game nights and movie nights and I was inviting myself.

The tears were flowing before I could even open my mouth and say what brought me to therapy. Years of bottled-up emotion came spilling to the surface, unrestrained. Years of being punished for being unable to control my emotions. “Don’t have another coming-apart,” my dad used to say. I have spent the last twenty-three years of my life learning to suppress my emotions and they finally caught up to me; they had nowhere to go. I hate that my throat and the insides of my ears burn when I try to talk while I’m crying. My voice gets strained and catches on itself. I breathe heavily trying to steady myself. I hate it because I feel like any outward sign of emotion discredits the message being shared.

I cried and talked and cried some more while this stranger, my first therapist, listened. The first thing he said to me after I spilled my guts over Zoom was that I checked almost every box for depression. And I felt relieved to hear that. I wonder if other people are excited when they are diagnosed with a mental illness; I was. What I’m experiencing has a name; my feelings and emotions are valid; what I’m dealing with is being researched and studied. This diagnosis gave me answers as to why I haven’t had an appetite for almost three years, why even though I am doing things that I once loved, they no longer spark joy within me. After that first therapy session, the words of Mr. Rogers dominated my thoughts: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”

Mr. Rogers was right. After months and even years of my unmentionable inner turmoil, I opened up to a trusted ally, a trained professional, and my depression suddenly seemed manageable after just one session. Not gone, but manageable.

Power yoga has been a grounding constant in my life for the last year, a secret coping mechanism for my emotional state that now had a name. My usually-sedentary limbs crave the sensation of gentle extension and near-constant movement. My heart gets excited for an activity that increases its rate without making me feel like I am going to die. My mind yearns for this space where I can process the chaos of life without having to think about it all forthright. My lungs all but scream at me to let them do their job. My eardrums have learned my instructor’s playlist, and they anticipate the change from Post Malone’s “Better Now” to Kesha’s “Praying,” songs and artists that are fairly unorthodox for a yoga class. I have fallen in love with the routine of the class and how, even though we move through the same flow of poses to the same playlist week after week, I am not bored but energized.

I love yoga because it is not about the destination or the end result. It is not about forcing your body into an unnatural posture. Yoga is about listening to your body and making adjustments when needed. It’s about breathing, connecting, lengthening, releasing.

Inhaling.

Exhaling.

Inhaling.

Exhaling.

After only two therapy sessions, we had identified at least one root cause of my depression: a lack of human connection. My friends had unconsciously abandoned me, my parents are on a mission in Australia, my three older sisters are married and my younger sister has her own friends, my roommates have their significant others and in the midst of this global pandemic, I truly have no one.

A few sessions later, I found myself in tears once again (will I ever not cry during therapy?). Yes, we had found one root cause of my depression, but I know there are more hiding deep within me. They are like vampires: never sleeping, hiding from the light, draining me of the very things that bring me life. They are unwilling to be coaxed out of the safety of their dark and cramped hideouts. They love the darkness, they love loneliness. If we can bring them into the light to identify them then we can fix them and then I’ll be healed, right?

***

I kept going to therapy just like I kept going to yoga. The hour is sometimes uncomfortable, and it can be challenging. It is a weekly routine, and yet it requires conscious effort every time. There are still obstacles for me to overcome, mental blocks I can’t hurdle over no matter how hard I try. More often than not, I cry—big fat sobs during therapy, small trickles of release in yoga. My mind wanders and I have to bring it back again and again. I forget that I’m supposed to be breathing, so I refocus on that.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

In yoga, you’re supposed to set an intention at the beginning of your practice. Your intention can be a word, a phrase. Like the breath, it is supposed to guide your practice and recenter you when you get off track. It is supposed to ground you, to sustain you. It is a point of focus, a drishti for the mind.

In therapy, I am asked what I want to talk about during our session. Like my yoga intention, I am never prepared for it. My ever-racing mind is suddenly blank. I still don’t know what is triggering my depression.

***

Weeks of therapy turned into months, and I have overstayed my welcome at CAPS, my university’s counseling and psychological services. I leave with something more valuable to me than a cure: I leave with peace. I leave with tools. I am not healed; I am still depressed. I still have hard days and I know that I’m not done with therapy. But I am at peace with my situation. It seems like as soon as I said out loud, through angry tears, that I needed to find the cause of my depression in order to heal, I was able to recognize something important: I can be depressed and be at peace. I can be striving to get better and recognize that I don’t have to be healed tomorrow. Would I like to be able to run a marathon without a problem? Sure, but for now I am content with my nine-minute mile. Do I wish I could do pushups in a handstand? Of course, who doesn’t want to be able to do that? But right now, I’m just ecstatic that I can hold a handstand for even a few seconds. Do I want to be invariably happy? Absolutely. But am I okay with where I am? Honestly? I think I am.

So I’m not where I want to be. I’m not surrounded by people that I love—we are scattered all over. I don’t have the fulfilling job of my dreams—rather, I am buried in my own schoolwork and papers to grade. I am not perfectly, incandescently happy—I’m sad, but it’s not unmanageable. The fact of the matter is, I am still taking steps to get there. That fact alone brings me peace. I don’t care about the speed or the size of my steps anymore. I care that I’m taking steps. I care that they’re in the right direction.

I care that I go to yoga every week.

I care that I go to therapy.

I care that I am running two or three times per week.

I care that I can recognize when I need human connection.

I care that I know my limits.

I care that I respect and honor myself, my feelings, my emotions, my needs, my wants.

I care that I am self-aware.

And I think that is the greatest progress of all. 

Jamie Marquis is from Lindon, Utah and is an avid yogi who loves doing all things outside. She is the fourth of five daughters and loves her family dearly. She is graduating with her undergraduate degree in Experience Design and Management from the BYU Marriott School of Business in August 2021 and is ecstatic about what the future has to offer. Jamie spends her free time listening to Taylor Swift, reading, hiking, running, doing yoga, playing with her niece and nephew, thinking about the Olympics, and binge-watching TV series.

 

A Glimpse from Bald Peak

by Jim Richards

On a summer morning at Hebgen Lake, Montana, water-skiing came first-always. We got to the lake every morning at eight-thirty, just in time to feel the cold morning breeze surrender to the sun and see the ripples vanish from the lake, leaving it a smooth, blue-green glass. Only this morning the ripples didn’t vanish.

“Well, what do you think, guys?” My dad turned his back to the lake to face us, his hands on his hips.

“It’ll calm down,” Mike said. Mike was sixteen, eight years younger than me, bleach blond, and tan as leather. He fixed his eyes on the lake in serious concentration, as if he could make the ripples on the lake disappear psychokinetically. I stared at him equally as hard, maybe hoping to move something too, inside of him. He was a good-was. But lately he’d taken a dangerously sharp exit off of the straight and narrow onto the rough road of. . . drugs? Immorality? Who knew? Last year he started bawling in the stake president’s office where the whole family was gathered for the setting apart of my sister, Emily, who was leaving on a mission for Spain. We were going around, one by one, expressing our affection for her; when we got to Mike, he burst into tears. Mike, Mr. Non-emotional, Mr. Keep-it-all-inside started bawling, and it wasn’t because Emily was leaving. Unfortunately, his eyes were past crying now; they just stared into the lake, trying o make it smooth, for another rush-of-a-ski ride.

“I don’t know, it looks pretty choppy,” I said to Mike, whose eyes were still locked on the lake. My nine-year-old brother, Eddie, was busy using a yellow, plastic bucket to dig in the sand. He could care less about the lake, the weather, anything. He was nine, and he was happy. Just like Mike used to be.

Dad walked down to the end of the dock, took off his felt cowboy hat, rubbed his bald head, and looked at the mountains, then the clouds, the lake, and back at the mountains; he was playing prophetic weatherman.

“Well, what do you think, Nostradamus?” I yelled, cupping one hand around my mouth.

“Looks like it’s going to be windy for a while,” Dad said, walking back up the dock toward me and Mike.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing!” I said, shaking my head. Mike looked at me and let out a short, breathy laugh. He stepped off the gray dock onto the course sand, slipping his T-shirt off on the way. He was getting big. The muscles in his back looked rock hard as he lay stomach-down on the cool sand, using his shift as a pillow.

“It’ll calm down,” Mike said again.

Actually, he knew that Jenny and Stacy, his fine-fleshed friends, would be coming down to the lake soon from their cabins. For Mike, they were the next best thing to waterskiing. For the girls, Mike was the best thing. And he knew it.

From the dock I could see across the corner of the lake into the marshy meadow of tall grass where a moose meandered.

From the meadow I could see where the pines began, growing thicker and taller as the mountains got higher. From the edge of the forest I could see where the terrain became rocky, steep, and capped with clouds, the highest summit around-Bald Peak.

And from the look on my dad’s face, and his Brigham Young stance, I could see that today he wanted to hike to the top. And so did I.

“Let’s do it, Dad,” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“I’ve always wanted to. Do you think we can make it?” he said, looking at his watch which he wore on the inside of his wrist.

“Well, I’ve been considering it lately, and I think if we ride motorcycles to Lionhead Ridge,” I pointed, “we can hike down the other side and across, to the base of Bald Peak. From there we should be able to climb the south side of the face.”

“‘Well, we’ll figure out how to approach it when we get there,” Dad said starting off toward the motorcycles, “Eddie, come on.” Eddie dropped the bucket, came running across the sand, then stopped next to where Mike was lying in the sun.

“Come on, Mike,” Eddie said. He wouldn’t want to go; I knew it, and Dad knew it. I wished so badly that he would come. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but with each little activity he missed, he separated himself more and more from the family. Thinking “better that he reject me than Eddie,” I spoke up.

“Mike, come with us,” I said. He acted like he hadn’t heard what we’d been talking about.

“What?” he mumbled, without raising his head.

“Hike Bald Peak with us.”

“No . . .” For a minute, I knew he remembered how much fun we’d had on summer hikes in the past-to Coffin Lake, Lionhead Mountain, Sheep Lake-if he would just come he would love it. “No thanks,” he added. Somehow these little ways of distancing himself were more painful than his times of emotional explosions or running away.

The morning was nearing noon, and I had to be to work at Three Bear Restaurant waiting tables at six p.m. I figured three hours up the peak and two hours back down would give me just enough time to shower and drive to the restaurant in West Yellowstone, about ten minutes from our cabin. We needed to hurry and for some brilliant reason we saved time by not preparing a lunch for the hike. We grabbed an almost empty bag of sour cream & onion chips, and a few small bottles of water. I had been in these mountains plenty of times. We would manage.

|                       |                       |

The motorcycle ride to Lionhead Ridge was about twenty minutes for me, thirty for my dad and Eddie. Since I beat them to the ridge, I had some time to listen to myself think-about Mike. What had happened? He used to be so close to everyone in the family, especially me. Now he was only close to his “friends.” We used to laugh together so much, now he would hardly talk to me. Agitated by my thoughts, I listened to the sounds of the mountains instead: a hawk screeching high above the lodgepole pines; tree trunks creaking under the weight of the breeze; grasshoppers whispering like rattlesnakes; sage-hens cooing from the thick brush; and eventually a couple of motorcycles buzzing and echoing up the trail.

We parked our motorcycles behind trees on the hillside where they couldn’t be seen from the trail and started hiking through the woods.

“I think if we cut across, down this side of the ridge, then we will eventually come to the base of Bald Peak where we can hike up,” I said, ducking under a branch.

“We don’t want to go too far down, though. We should stay near the ridge,” Dad said, helping Eddie over a fallen tree. If there is one way my dad and I are alike, it’s this: we’re always right. Well, I’m right, and he thinks he’s right, especially when it comes to the mountains.

“If we stay near the ridge we’ll have to come down eventually anyway to get to the base of the peak.” I angled my path slightly down the mountain.

“But if we don’t stay near the ridge we won’t be able to see where the bottom of the peak is.” He angled his path slightly upwards and Eddie followed behind, picking up rocks and dropping them periodically.

This discussion ended like most between me and my dad, without an agreement. Just me going my way and he going his. We knew we’d end up in the same place. The only difference was that he thought his way was best, and I thought mine was. Actually, both ways turned out to be much more difficult than we had imagined. The mountainside we traversed was steep and there was no trail. We hiked with one leg about a foot uphill from the other, an excruciating task for ankles. Then, when we reached what we thought would be a gradual descent to the base of the mountain we found a series of gullies and steep ravines. For the whole hike we were either going straight down or straight up through thick forest. By the time we got to the base of the mountain we were already terribly tired and way behind schedule.

“Well, we made it . . . to the base,” I said, closing my eyes to keep my sweat from burning them.

“Yeah, should we head back?” my dad said, taking off his sweat-soaked hat.

“Yeah right, we’ve come this far,” I said, shading my eyes to try and locate the peak.

“You’re doing great, Eddie. Can you believe this kid, hiking like this at nine years old?” My dad patted him on the shoulder. Eddie, mimicking, reached and patted my dad on his upper arm. Dad was more patient with Eddie than with any other of his ten kids. Maybe because Eddie was the tenth. He’d had a lot of practice. I don’t think Eddie will ever know the stern and strict love Dad raised me with. Dad was already Eddie’s friend.

When I was nine-years-old, he was only my dad. It wasn’t until I got back from my mission that we became friends, I think. It’s hard to tell with my dad. He keeps things inside, even from Mom. Just like Mike. In a way, I think dad finds in his friendship with Eddie what he missed in Mike. I bet it hurts to be a father, even a good one.

“If we switchback up here,” I pointed, “then we can reach that incline and climb straight up.”

“It’s too steep, we’ll have to switchback at an angle heading for the lower part of the ridge then walk up to the summit.” Dad put his felt cowboy hat back on and motioned Eddie to start out ahead of him. We moved up the mountain steadily on our separate ways for the same destination.

It took us over an hour of switchbacks and bear-crawling up rock slides to finally reach the summit. It was Awesome. From the peak, looking east, we could see the blue entirety of Hebgen Lake, straight ahead, stretched the wide yellow plains where our cabin was; and on the right, we could see the square-mile city of West Yellowstone. I looked at the lake for a long time from this distance, trying to see Mike, which I knew was impossible.

The majestic view from Bald Peak was a natural witness to me of an artistic creator, a testimony of God himself. I felt a powerful reverence, and it made me mad-mad that Mike wasn’t next to me, feeling what I felt. I stood there staring at the lake, inspired and frustrated, as the upward wind chilled my sweaty clothes.

The stale sour cream & onion chips tasted delicious, but didn’t last long. Neither did the water. We had nothing left to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Because of the valleys and steep ravines we knew the hike home would be just as hard as the hike up. It was four o’clock, and I needed to be clean, dressed, and taking someone’s order in two hours. For some reason I thought I could still make it.

“Dad, I think if we hike down the other side of the mountain we can walk along the north ridge-line and make it home faster.” I untied my flannel shirt from my waist and put it on.

“You think so?” If he was about to agree with me, I knew he must be exhausted. “I’ll try anything if we don’t have to go back the way we came.”

My dad stayed mid-way up the mountain while I hiked down the other side to see if it was a possible alternative for a way home. Eddie stayed at the top within Dad’s sight. When I was almost to the very bottom of the backside of the mountain, I realized it would be impossible. I was surrounded by cliffs dropping hundreds of feet into jagged rocks.

“Hey! Are you okay?” my dad shouted. He sounded panicked, like he had shouted several times and I hadn’t heard.

“I’m coming back up!” I shouted twice before he heard me. When I got back up the mountain I bent over with my hands on my knees, struggling to catch my breath. I felt my back and legs cramping up. My tongue was dry as a cat’s paw and my temples pulsed with pain. I had no water, and welcomed the sweat that dripped down my face into the corners of my mouth. I took off my flannel shirt, damp with sweat, and tied it around my waist. My watch read 4:45.

My dad and Eddie had started heading back down the ridge-line and I caught up with them at the top of where we had ascended the face.

“I’m going to have to hurry on ahead, Dad. I have to get to work,” I said between breaths.

“Right. Good luck,” my dad said, without turning around. The fastest way down, I figured, was to sit on my heels and slide on the loose rocks. I did this for forty minutes before I got to the bottom with aching knees and punctured palms from pushing and balancing as I slid down the rocky face. Crossing the first ravine, I realized that the flannel shirt I’d tied around my waist was gone. I didn’t even consider looking back.

The next two hours of my journey were the most grueling of my life. My body’s resources were completely exhausted. My stomach cramped and burned as if it were drying up. I couldn’t make more than ten steps up the steep hillside without stopping. I was in the shadow of the mountain now as the sun got lower, and the mosquitoes came out to feed. I was too tired to brush them away from my neck, my arms, my face. My body no longer sweat, but endured a burning chill like a fever. The evening air and swarms of mosquitoes made me really wish I had not lost my flannel shirt. It was after six, but getting to work was not important, just getting home alive.

Near the top of the last steep hillside, I was resting after every step. Finally, my body refused to go on. I collapsed face-down, dizzy and dehydrated. Lying on my cramped stomach, resting my head on my arm, I could see into a dry creek bed. Buried in the sediment I saw the top of a plastic bottle. I reached for the bottle and uprooted it from the earth. A Pepsi Big-Slam, one liter. Muddy or not, I would drink it. As I twisted the dirty lid I heard the refreshing burst of carbonation, a sharp hiss saying the soda was still good. I put my flaky lips around the muddy mouth of that bottle and drank nonstop till it was gone.

My body must have absorbed the liquid instantly because my stomach felt empty within seconds after the drink. My strength was revived enough to finish the ascent and make it to the motorcycles, where I hopped on, rode home, and made it to work an hour and a half late.

|                       |                       |

In the restaurant I cleared plates and took orders in a daze. I wasn’t there; I was wondering who had dropped that Pepsi and suffered thirst so that I would survive. Maybe some hiker had dropped it out of his pack on Lionhead Ridge last summer, and the spring runoff had washed it down to right where I would need it the next year. I marveled at how miraculously coincidental the whole thing was. It made me wonder if next year a tired hiker might be caught in a storm and find my flannel shirt on the mountainside to keep him warm. As I looked at the hungry tourists eating all around me, I thought about these strange events that make no sense until long after they transpire. It’s like every once in a while God gives us a glimpse from his direction. He lets us look back and says, “See, see the way I weave?”

When I got home from work I wanted to tell Mike what had happened, but he wasn’t home. Dad had made it home, but only after carrying Eddie, vomiting, and suffering early stages of hypothermia and muscle spasms in his legs. I stayed awake for a while, hoping Mike would come home so I could tell him about the hike. Come home Mike, come home, I thought as I fell asleep on the couch. He stayed out all night. I don’t think my dad slept at all. I’m sure my mom didn’t. Mike, what are you thinking? Give me a glimpse, God. Give me another glimpse.

Wednesday Tennis

by Christine Guerra

The courts were reserved—Tuesday nights for the men’s tennis team and Wednesday mornings for the women’s team. After the children had gone to school and the husbands to work, the women would put on short white skirts and gold bracelets. They each drove, one lone head in the minivan, and waited together at the end of the court. They pulled their husbands’ green beer bottles out of the trash and said, “Do you believe them? Glass on the court. What were they thinking?”

“They weren’t thinking.”

“I’ll have a talk with my Harry tonight.”

“If it breaks and gets in the surface, you can never get it out.”

“This is the reason we have a charter.”

“Glass,” Delia said.

They would play until the sun rose above the tree line, till the cool of the morning started to burn off. Not competitive like the men. The men played in the heat. Their shirts would stick, and they would pull them out by the tails to rearrange the beads on their swarthy faces. The men threw away their game balls after a match, considering all the sport to have been smashed out of them by their mighty strokes, but the women pulled the cans of balls out of the trash the next morning, used them for practice, and found they still bounced.

Delia shook her head with the rest of them when they talked about the men. Her husband didn’t play tennis with the neighborhood. He preferred racquetball at the health club. He wouldn’t stand out in the cul-de-sac with the other men on Saturdays, either, and talk about whatever it was those men talked about. Delia didn’t understand this about Paul. The men always looked so friendly. They were older; you could see the shine of their scalps through the wisps of hair. They were stable. When they mowed their lawns, you could tell how far along they were or whether they had done the back first by how much red sunburn showed through their hair. Paul paid a teenager from the next street over to keep the yard. Delia asked him to do it himself, just once, and said she would bring him lemonade when he stopped to change the bag. He told her she could take lemonade to the teenager.

***

            Sonya lived in the stucco house with dormer windows on the corner. She invited Delia to the team. “Come wheeze with the old ladies,” she said. “Lend us some youth.” Sonya came from Norway with her husband and talked as though she had something in her mouth. Delia let the words go into every part of her mouth, especially when she spoke with Sonya, as if she could improve her accent by example. Sonya was an atheist—Delia half-expected her to be a shoplifter or a child abuser.

There was an order to things, Delia thought. Baptists were at the top, the most virtuous. Under them were the Methodists, then Catholics and Jews. Below them, populating the prisons, were the cultists and atheists. Delia had never met anyone in prison. The farthest she’d ever been from the Chatahoochee River was New York City. She had gone there on a theater trip when she was nineteen. It was an ungodly city, a Sodom, a Gomorrah. She hadn’t been mugged, but a waiter padded their bill. To her it was the same. Best to stay in your own pond, she thought. She did not believe in evolution. Fish should stay fish.

Paul had lived in California for a year, before his father repented. That was when Paul was twelve. Paul said that before he met Delia, he had wanted to live in San Francisco, but that Delia had helped him to see what he really wanted. He still thought it was a nice place to visit. Delia was working on that.

***

            The tennis coach was a short Jewish boy who lived in the city and drove a VW Rabbit the color of an under-ripe lemon. “Ladies,” he always said. “Ladies.” He was raised in South Carolina. You could tell. “Ladies, let’s get those racquets up.” He had hair on his arms and very white teeth. He smiled like a toothpaste model. His 1eg muscles were bunched. Sometimes, Delia would catch herself watching him walk, his calves swelling and smoothing.

Sonya would grip her racquet like an ax. The Jewish boy would say, “Ladies, shake hands with the grip,” and she would say, “Glad to meet you.”

Delia kept a paperback Bible on her nightstand. Paul wanted to get her a nicer one, but she said that she would feel bad bending the spine back. When she didn’t feel like reading, she would tell Paul that she had been studying the Word in the afternoon and that she needed time to digest. She believed greatly in the need to digest the Word.

Delia had a bachelor’s degree in biology from the small Baptist college where she met Paul. She had planned on medical school before she met Paul. But when you meet the right one, all your other plans become dispensable. She told Sonya that.

“Two people with one direction,” Delia said.

“It takes work,” Sonya said.

“The Bible says that Jesus will do the work,” Delia said.

Sonya smiled politely. She didn’t believe.

Delia heard the riffled hum of bees.

“I wasn’t accepted to medical school. I wasn’t smart enough.” She held five balls on the flat of her racquet. “I sure don’t know what I would do without Jesus—what I would have done if I didn’t know that Jesus was guiding me.”

“In other places, people don’t believe like you.”

“It’s not believing. It’s just true.”

Sonya drank from a bottle of water that had ice forced through the neck.

***

            Monday mornings, Delia clipped the coupons from the Sunday paper and did the shopping. She liked doing them back to back so that she could remember better what she had clipped. It reminded her of when Paul was still in college and every fifty cents mattered. They went over and over the bills, offering to cut personal luxuries. Paul skipped lunch, without telling her. He insisted that she buy scented candles, since she liked them so much. He would bring them with wildflowers wrapped in the free supermarket newspaper. Now, the house was filled with candles.

She would watch the children on the street and wait for Paul’s car, pushing all the wax to the center of the candle. She thought that she should have lived back when they sealed envelopes with wax drippings. She thought that she would have been very good at that.

She said to Paul, “Maybe I should get a job.”

He said, “Do you need money?”

She said, “I miss working.”

He said, “Do whatever you want.” Delia didn’t mention it again.

***

            Sonya said, “Where did you learn to serve? I can’t do it.”

“Jesus does the work,” Delia said.

“I hope he has more important things to do than that,” another woman said. They laughed, very friendly. Delia decided that the woman must not be a Christian.

Delia said, “I never thought a person could be happy without Jesus.”

“It can be hard to be happy. As hard as serving,” Sonya said.

She swung her racquet short. She didn’t stretch like she should have. The ball bounced in the lane.

The Jewish boy said, “Ladies. Like picking an orange, ladies. “

***

            Tuesdays Delia had lunch with her sister, who lived with a man. The sister swore a lot and made Delia uncomfortable, but at the end of the lunch, she would say, “It is so refreshing to talk to you.” Delia would always bring her a scripture to read, written on a piece of paper, even though she knew that the sister wrapped her gum with it. Delia didn’t really look them up. She copied them off her daily calendar for Christian women.

Thursdays the cleaning lady came, and Delia took the laundry to the cleaners. Fridays she went to the postnatal wing of the hospital and looked at the babies. She would lay her face against the glass and try to read the charts. Paul said, “When the Lord wants us to have children, He’ll send them to us.” He counted days for her. He was tender. She was taking birth control pills, but didn’t tell him.

“Follow through, ladies. Put some power in it, ladies.”

***

            Paul liked to cook. He would bring home special cuts of meat, or ripe vegetables, and make dinner. Delia said it threw off her shopping. She didn’t really like to cook. For lunch, she ate peanut butter sandwiches. She also liked yogurt and chewy granola bars with chocolate chips. She bought the kind of yogurt printed with dinosaurs, because the grown-up yogurt had chunks of fruit in it. She didn’t like chunks.

Sonya had two children, ten and thirteen, and she tutored college students in physics. Sonya had never eaten a peanut butter sandwich in her life. Delia didn’t know that for a fact, but it seemed true. Sonya’s husband looked like he was sixty.

Paul came home and said, “A woman tried to pick me up at the gas station today, can you believe it?”

Delia said, “Didn’t you tell her you were married?”

Paul said, “Sure I did. It’s just funny.”

***

            Delia told her sister, “I don’t know what to do with kids.”

“What? It’s easy. That’s what they invented TV for.” The sister was looking at the waiter, trying to catch his eye.

“What would I feed them?”

“They love peanut butter sandwiches. And macaroni and cheese. And anything that comes in a can. If it gets too tough, give them ice cream. They’ll eat it till they explode.” The man she had lived with before had a son, who was only allowed to visit them once a month. Delia thought that was too generous.

“Why don’t you have any kids?” Delia said.

“Oh,” the sister said, “Because they ruin your sex life. But that wouldn’t bother you as much.”

Delia didn’t answer.

***

            Paul thought they needed a vacation. Time to get away, and relax. Stress could make you sterile, he said. Could make either one of us sterile. He said, imagine us at the beach, with the moonlight and the surf. What a beautiful way to make a baby, he said. We could always tell him where he was made, he said.

Delia said, “Why would you tell a child about where it was conceived? It would warp its mind.”

Delia said she couldn’t go anyway, that she couldn’t leave until the tennis season was over. The others were counting on her, she said.

***

            Delia had trouble praying lately. She felt silly, as though someone watching her would think she was talking to herself. She didn’t sing in the car anymore, either. She never danced alone. She didn’t care for dancing in public, either, unless someone said to her that she danced beautifully. Then she enjoyed it.

***

            Delia said, “Maybe the Lord just doesn’t want us to have children. Maybe we should just give up.”

Paul tried to touch her hand, but she pulled it away.

***

            “Ladies, concentrate. Ladies, be sure to eat lots of carbohydrates before the match. Pastas and breads, ladies. Pastas and breads.”

Delia zipped her racquet into the bag and packed her tennis balls into the can. The lid was missing again.

“I’m bringing cream puffs for after the march.”

“After exercising?”

“We’ve earned some extra calories.”

“Don’t tell Bob. He’s on a no sugar diet.”

“They are worse than the children, really.”

“Yes,” Delia said. “They never want what’s good for them.”

***

            Paul asked if she wanted him to come watch her play. She said yes, but when he was there, he made her nervous. After the first set, she waved him over to the chain-link fence and asked him to leave.

When she got home, he said, “Do you want a divorce?” He stood at the bottom of the stairs. She stood on the third stair. She could see the top of his head, where the hair was just beginning to thin.

She said, “Divorce is a sin in the eyes of God.”

“So is lying,” he said. “You don’t want me. I’m going to a hotel. “

She said, “Wait, we’ll have children. Wait. We can fix this.”

He said, “I don’t understand you.”

She said, “I might be pregnant right now. It might happen tonight. Don’t go.”

He said, “We need help.”

She said, “You’re right. We’ll pray.”

He said, “I don’t think I can right now.”

***

            After dinner, after the news, when the house was dark and cool, Delia watched the moonlight on the wall. In the pine branches, the moon made shapes of light. An old man at first, then a toy soldier. Then it looked like Jesus, bending slightly towards the window.

Purple Armchairs

by Amy Baker

My brother said he saw a band of dogs once that were really skinny and had no hair. They were about a foot tall and had big eyes. He said they were sniffing cars’ tires but quickly trotted away when they saw him. I laughed when he told me, picturing a bunch of lanky, pink-skinned dogs running around. I laughed—until he said that they had a disease.

I had never heard much about Parvo virus before. I thought it had to do with dogs and cats and tapeworms. I wondered if Parvo was the disease the dogs had that made them lose their hair. Someone told me animals die from Parvo. Their dog had it, and it stopped eating.

We had the same dog for nearly fourteen years. She was a gorgeous golden retriever. People used to stop us on the street and tell us how beautiful she was. People think dogs can’t smile, but she could. We would scratch her back and examine her teeth, and come to the conclusion that, “Yep, yep, she’s smiling.” We didn’t treat her like a human, but she thought she was one. She was always healthy and fairly energetic, and then she got a tumor and died. It wasn’t because of the Parvo disease—it was cancer.

The word reminds me of death. Perhaps it is because my dog died of cancer. Perhaps because my dad had cancer, though he didn’t die. I think of a little girl I know cheerfully reading a picture book with her parents on the third floor of a Hollywood hospital, while the invisible cancer grew inside her. She had no hair.

***

            I began to get bruises on my legs in February of 1996 after I went skiing for the third time in my life. I was confidently flying down a blue diamond run at Sundance Ski Resort near Provo, Utah. I heard a groan from behind me and then a “Whooooaaah” and a man barreled into me. My skis flew, and so did I. I finally stopped after thirty feet of sliding. The man who crashed into me was near the bottom of the mountain. I guess he was sorry, though he was too far away to yell it. My legs throbbed as I began the search for my skis. I knew bruises would follow. I just didn’t know they would be massive.

The bruising on my arms was worse than on my legs. I went to a church activity at the park and played grass volleyball one night. Our team won. We laughed and slapped each other high-fives. Later that night, my entire forearms were dark blue and covered with tiny red and blue dots. Playing volleyball had never done that to me. People would gasp at my arms, and I would show them and laugh about it because they looked a lot worse than they felt. I even took a picture of my bruises to send to my family in California.

I thought my family would be surprised too, and laugh, because that is what I did. They didn’t. My mom first asked me if I was eating. She suggested that I go to the doctor when I got home. I flew home to California after finals in April. When I took a shower that night, I noticed huge bruises on the back of my thighs. They were from sitting on the airplane seat.

The next day I went to see a doctor out in North Hollywood. She asked how my year at college had been and then checked my ears with those pointy ear-lookers that have little lights. She asked if anything else was wrong. I showed her my bruises. She looked at them and acted nonchalantly, as if everyone went in there with serious bruising. She told me to have a few blood tests done and to go home. I shrugged, concluding that I needed more iron in my diet, and left the clinic without answers. on the way home I thought of my boyfriend, Matt, who told me that they thought he had leukemia when he was nine. Matt was hospitalized for three weeks. His mom tells of how when she touched his arm it left a bruise in the shape of a handprint. His body had nearly stopped producing platelets, the blood-clotting cells. He had to have a bone marrow test where they stuck a long needle into his lower back to penetrate the spine. The tests came out negative for leukemia. What he did have was idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura—commonly called “ITP.” That’s a very long name for a platelet-destroying pathogen in the body. (Originally, I had thought Matt made the word up!) Doctors don’t know what causes platelet destruction with ITP. (ITP is different from hemophilia—with hemophilia, at any given time your body doesn’t produce enough platelets; with ITP something in your body destroys platelets you have already produced. Both diseases cause severe bruising.)

I had severe bruising. Within three hours of the time I arrived home from the clinic, the phone rang. It was Dr. Baer.

“Guess what,” she said and sighed. “I have news for you.” I sat Indian-style on the blue carpet of my room as my heart beat faster. I leaned forward, as if trying to get closer to the doctor’s voice. “You have something called ITP” she said.

I almost laughed. “You mean idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura?” I said. “My boyfriend had that when he was little.”

All I could think about was how Matt was never going to believe me when I told him this one.

“You are going to have to come in tomorrow and the next day for eight hours of IV in the oncology department.”

Oncology means cancer, I immediately thought. My attention heightened. I felt as though someone had snapped their fingers in front of my face. I grabbed a pen and the nearest piece of paper I could find to write notes.

“Your platelets are being destroyed and we don’t know why. We are expecting to receive tests back soon to find out if a virus is causing this or if we’ll need to do additional tests for leukemia.” I took notes furiously. She said that a normal person has between a 150,000 and 250,000 platelet count. If the platelet count falls below 10,000, internal organs can begin to bleed and there is no way to stop the bleeding—the patient dies. She said my platelet count was 13,000.

I froze. “What’s this IV deal?” I asked. Thoughts of HIV and contracting other diseases from infected blood transfusions saturated my brain. She explained that it was gamma-globulin, a man-made substance that would coat and protect each individual platelet cell. She explained that having the IV treatment tomorrow was crucial to my staying alive. With my platelet count at 13,000, if I bumped into anything the internal bleeding would likely nor stop and I would have to be hospitalized. I made arrangements with her to arrive at the oncology department at 8:00 a.m. the next morning and asked if she could be reached later. I knew my parents would want to talk to her.

***

            Joanne, the nurse, typed my name into the computer and told us we could wait in the treatment room. The first thing I noticed were the room’s big window’s. The walls and floors were white. My mom and I each sat in one of the purple reclining chairs that were against the walls below the windows. Hey purple chairs! I remember thinking. These chairs are the same color as my bruises!

That’s all there was in the room, lounge chairs and small television screens clamped onto the ceiling. The rest of the room was open space. Out the windows, beyond the chaotic city streets that were under construction, I could see the ocean and Santa Monica beach. Catalina Island would have been visible, if it weren’t for the smog.

My eyes shifted from the window when Dr. Sleight emerged from his office. He was tall and bald. He wore a bright blue Hawaiian shirt with gaudy flowers and white pants. I thought the shirt was humorous, though I remember thinking, Are they allowed to wear things like that?

He smiled and shook my mom’s hand, introducing himself. He began to explain the intravenous procedure. He said there was no risk of transferring any diseases during the treatment because the gamma-globulin was man-made. The IV was imperative, he said. He reminded me that my platelet count was 13,000 and if it dropped below 10,000, I would have serious problems. My mom and I still felt apprehensive. Everything had happened too fast. The day before, I had gone to the doctor thinking she was going to tell me to eat more bananas or vitamins. Now I was going to have intravenous treatment. I had never even broken a bone before.

We believed the doctor, though, despite his casual Hawaiian shirt that somehow made him seem less professional. I guess he just had a good sense of humor. He immediately called the lab and asked them to send up the bottles of gamma-globulin. The procedure would take about eight hours that day and eight hours the next. Great, I thought. Sixteen hours in purple reclining chairs with the beach out the window to long for.

The nurse said the IV might make me sick initially. She was right. After eight hours, Joanne removed the needle from my hand with the care of a gentle mother. I winced as the blood poured out. I couldn’t handle the sight or thought of blood and injuries.

My mom drove me home. I was achy and dizzy and almost couldn’t walk. I threw up fourteen times when I got home. My dad and our neighbor, the former bishop, gave me a priesthood blessing that night. I wanted to go to sleep and stop throwing up. I remember feeling that the blessing would give me relief for at least a few hours. It did. I fell asleep.

***

            The next morning I awoke with another eight hours of IV and throwing up to look forward to. Dr. Sleight greeted us in the treatment room with a smile and white pants identical to yesterday’s. He was wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt this time. I wondered how many pairs of white pants he had and how many times he had been to Hawaii.

“Good news, Amy!” he proclaimed. “You have a virus.” My mom and I sat confused as to why that was good news. “With ITP we don’t usually know what is destroying platelets,” he said. “Bur your blood has tested positive for a virus, so we have a better idea of the nature of the beast. You have something called Parvo Virus B- 1 9.” Parvo! That is the dog disease that gives them tapeworms or something. Dogs die from that. They stop eating. I wondered if they lost their hair. My mom must have been thinking the same thing, because she immediately spoke.

“Isn’t that the same disease that dogs and cats get?”

“No!” the doctor said, nearly shouting. He seemed almost offended. “They are completely different! Humans cannot get the Parvo disease that animals get.” My mom turned to me with

a “sorry-I-asked” look. He nodded seriously. “It is not the same disease, and Amy will not die from it.”

The second day of IV treatment went better than the first. I had a severe headache still, but I didn’t throw up. The doctor suggested that I come in tomorrow for a third consecutive day. I would only have a blood test, though, to ensure that the gamma-globulin was working. I then knew where I would be spending my summer—at the hospital.

I began to go to the hospital each week for a blood test to determine my platelet count. If my count was under 50,000, I stayed for eight hours of IV that day and come back for eight hours the next day. I ended up having an IV treatment every third week.

I did not realize at the time how serious it is when platelets are destroyed. During the time that I discovered severe bruises my freshman year at BYU, I made my roommate, Mandy, come with me to donate plasma. (They pay you for your plasma.) The assistants at the plasma center first checked our veins to see if they were big enough. They then told us that they were sorry, but we would have to come back another time. The electricity had gone out.

Mandy and I walked the six blocks home, disappointed not to have gotten paid, but secretly relieved to be getting away from long, sharp needles. What I really should have felt was lucky. If they had stuck a needle in me at that time to remove blood and plasma, I probably would have had to have been hospitalized. I am sure my platelet count was low at the time because my arms and legs were covered with bruises. My body would have had no way to stop bleeding. I could have bled to death.

***

            I didn’t feel sick. I had a virus in my blood, but I didn’t feel different. I got up early and ran two to three miles every day, even on IV treatment days. I lived my normal life, working for my dad’s exchange student company every morning and going out with friends at night. I even went on a four-day backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park in late May, though I probably shouldn’t have. (I didn’t tell my doctor about that one.) The thing that slowed me down was fatigue. I was tired all of the time. I would fall asleep everywhere. At times I lacked the energy to get up, and I would doze off.

My nurse suggested that I not run everyday. She said I needed to allow my body to rest. I had played sports and been active my entire life. I didn’t want to stop running. It seems like such a small thing, but I didn’t think I could live without exercising.

I lived. I was lucky. Some children who regularly received treatment in the purple-chair room of the hospital have already died of cancer, mostly leukemia.

Besides myself, there were nine other “regulars.” They were children who were receiving their treatment at the same time as me. We would smile and say hi, though we didn’t talk much to each other. The only way we knew each other’s medical stories was through observation. There were two boys who always got a mustard-yellow liquid through IV. They were receiving platelets. I wondered if they had hemophilia. I never asked them about their diseases or their lives, nor did they ask me. We just smiled.

I remember one day, when there were only a few people in the room. There was a beeping sound and the nurse gently took the needle out of a little girl’s hand. The nurses loved the children and grew attached to them. One nurse, Joanne, said it tore her heart to work there because children suffered and died a lot of the time. Joanne was a master at IV needle-removing. She could do it with one quick sweep and it didn’t hurt as much as when the other nurses took needles out. Joanne was careful, but the little girl whimpered softly when the needle was removed. She clenched her mother’s arm and tears streamed. The mother stroked her daughter’s hair. Joanne put a soft gauze pad over the puncture wound and smiled.

“Is that your favorite book, Sophia?” The girl nodded, her bottom lip jutting out, and she sniffled. She was reading it the last time I came. The girl s sobs died down when Joanne kissed her forehead. Joanne said it tore her heart to work there, but it must have also fed her soul.

I sat across the room that day with an IV needle in my hand. It was secured with large amounts of tape. I had brought several books to read, but I watched Oprah and Montel Williams talk shows for an hour or so. I seemed to forget about viruses and treatments and leukemia while I watched daughters bring their mothers on the talk shows to get makeovers.

Finally I turned off the television to study Spanish vocabulary words. I was enrolled in Spanish 345 class for fall semester and was nervous that the class would be difficult. My dad gave me the vocab words. He is a high school Spanish teacher.

My IV beeped. Joanne came to push buttons on the digital flow regulator. I asked her how much longer she thought the treatment would take that day. She checked the amount of fluid left in the bottle, looked at her watch, and told me it would be another three to four hours. I smiled and thanked her. I remember, at that moment, wishing I was at the beach.

I am sure all those little children that I saw in the treatment room also wanted to go to the beach instead of the clinic. But they couldn’t. Much of their lives was spent there at the hospital receiving IV fluid or having tests done. Many of them went to the hospital at least twice a week; some went everyday. They did it to stay alive.

Many times I would sit in the purple armchair and count the hours that I had left of IV treatment. I knew that my Parvo virus would go away after it “ran its course” and I would be better. If the virus didn’t leave, removing my spleen would solve the problem. Dr. Sleight didn’t want to do that though, because it would be a major operation and I would have to take pills everyday for the rest of my life. He said he was hopeful that the virus would eventually leave, though it might take two years.

The little children that I shared the treatment room with did not have that comfort. They did not know when they were going to ger better. Many probably never would. Some would not live to see their next Christmas.

One day a girl named Sandra came into the clinic. She was probably about twenty years old. I had seen her previous times, but she never got IV treatment. Most of the time she just sat in the room and waited to see the doctor. One of the nurses paused to look at Sandra on her way to check a boy’s IV flow regulator.

“You got a new wig!” the nurse said. “It looks so good!” Sandra was beaming. I smiled too. It did look good. I didn’t know Sandra wore a wig. I supposed she had lost her hair from chemotherapy.

I sat in the purple armchair and watched the school-age children receive IV while doing their homework. Two brothers always did math together. Their parents never came to the clinic. They probably just dropped them off and picked them up. The process had become a routine, a part of their lives. I thought of their mother asking them later that evening how many math problems they had finished that day at the clinic.

The armchairs were big and comfortable. I remember the feeling of their fibers on my skin and their stale smell, like they’d been taken out of a home’s front room that the family rarely used. You could almost fit two of me in one of the chairs, three of the little kids. I had difficulty falling asleep in them, though. I was afraid I would move around too much in my sleep, and the IV needle would come loose. One day I did fall asleep and the needle slipped. I woke up and the top of my left hand was swollen almost an inch and a half higher than normal. There was a big bubble under my skin. I looked at it and felt like I was going to faint. The nurse hurried over and quickly removed the needle. She said the gamma-globulin fluid had seeped into my tissues, but that the swelling would go down within a few days. I was relieved.

I began to feel more grateful for good health. My body was not completely healthy, but I was glad to be alive. I was able to run and hike and do things that I loved. I could breathe without a respirator, and I could walk. I had forgotten that health and our very lives are such blessings.

***

            Dr. Sleight began to be concerned about what would happen in the fall when school began. I had planned to go back to BYU and was registered for September classes. I was greatly looking forward to it. The question was how I would receive my IV treatments. The closest hospital that accepted our medical insurance was in Denver. One plan was to fly to Colorado every three weeks to receive treatment. My mom suggested that I fly home, though, because I knew the California hospital and staff well. We discussed the subject a bit more and tentatively decided that I would get a blood test to determine my platelet count each week in Provo at the BYU Health Center. I would have the Health Center fax the results to Dr. Sleight. If my platelet count was low enough, I could take some special steroids or fly home for a weekend of IV treatments.

As my mom and I talked one afternoon about plans for the school year, Dr. Sleight went back into his office. He emerged a few minutes later with a lei of artificial flowers around his neck. He was grinning. “How about transferring to BYU-Hawaii?” he said in a salesman voice. “We have a clinic in Hawaii that accepts your insurance!” I laughed. Going to Hawaii sounded like paradise to me. But I shook my head. Everything had been arranged for me to return to Provo. I had paid my tuition and my first month’s rent. My friends were there. I was going back.

I left for Provo two days after an IV treatment on August 24th. My platelet count was high due to the gamma-globulin boost. I said goodbye to my family and then stepped on the plane, wondering if I would be back three weeks later.

***

            I didn’t think much about platelets while at school, though I went to the Health Center each week. At first my count was a high 125,000 from the recent IV in August. Then it began to drop. One week it was 69,000. Dr. Sleight had set the rule that if my platelet count went below 50,000, I would have to fly home. However, after a month my platelet count began to be stable. The lowest it got at school was 65,000. I never flew home. I concluded that the virus had left.

I wonder sometimes at the curiousness of the experience. The electricity went off in the plasma-donating center before I knew I had a virus. The virus gradually went away after I returned to school. I know people prayed for me. Older ladies in my ward’s Relief Society came up to me and said, “Hope you get better sweetie. We’re prayin’ for you.” I appreciated that. My brother wrote to say that his entire missionary district held a special fast for me. They included me in their prayers. I was instantly grateful to them. I think all those people are why the virus left my body and I got better. (Actually, I don’t know if the virus has left. It may still be in my body. My platelet count has gone up, though, and I consider myself better.)

I continued to have my platelet count monitored. I began to go to the BYU Health Center once a month instead of once a week. My count remained steady at 80,000 or higher. I remember the day my count rose about 100,000. I gave the nurse who drew my blood a high five.

One night in Janu ary, my mom called. It was near midnight. “Amy, I have to tell you something,” she said. I sat Indian-style against the wall in my apartment in Provo, Utah. I was in the living room and the lights were off except for one small desk lamp in the corner. “Amy, Joanne called me,” she began. Joanne was the nurse from the oncology department in California. “She said that you can’t fax your platelet count results here anymore.” My curiosity heightened. was the hospital’s fax machine broken? Did I need to start seeing a doctor in Provo instead of Los Angeles? Was I all better? My mom began again. “Amy, I just had to call you really quick and tell you this.” She was silent for a few seconds. “Dr. Sleight is dead.” I gasped. The sound was so loud that my roommates woke up and came into the room.

“What? How did he die?” I asked. Thoughts of diseases ran through my head: AIDS, Parvo, cancer. He had lost all of his hair.

“He was killed in a car accident,” my mom said. I was stunned. I could see Dr. Sleight smiling at us with his bright Hawaiian shirts, suggesting that I transfer schools and go to BYU-Hawaii.

My mom and I spoke a little more and then she had to go. I hung up the phone and was left in shock. My virus had come unexpectedly. I went through a summer of painful and seemingly tedious IV treatments, the last one being two days before I returned to BYU in September. I had not had another treatment since. The virus seemed to have disappeared. And my doctor was now dead—not cancer, not Parvo, but a car accident.

***

            On the third floor of the Kaiser Hospital on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Joanne still tends to the IV’s and needs of bright-eyed children. I know she loves them and their families. Many of the children that were there when I was probably continue to visit the clinic regularly for treatment. They do so to stay alive.

I attend BYU. I have not been to the oncology clinic for a year and a half. The last time I got my platelets checked was four months ago. I have a jogging class and run twelve to eighteen miles a week. I count myself lucky to have good health.

But I remember well the oncology department. I admire our nurse, Joanne. She became a part of our lives. More than once, I remember a little child who died of leukemia, and Joanne had to call and tell their family. I think of the children there. Although I don’t really know them, I feel drawn to go back and visit. I cannot begin to know what it is like to deal with the physical and emotional difficulties of having cancer. But I want to tell the children that I love them. I want to tell them that they inspire me. For two short months, we seemed to share a common understanding because we sat fighting diseases on the threads of purple armchairs.

***

            Sometimes people do not know how to act around those who are different. Before I had a virus, I was never afraid or nervous around people who had illnesses, but I was ever aware of their disease or handicap. I would observe how they acted and performed tasks that I took for granted being able to do. When I spoke with people who had a disease, there was a little cuckoo clock in my brain that, every so often, would come out and say, “Oh remember that he has cancer,” or, “How remarkable that she does all of these things even though she has AIDS.”

What I learned was that the illness is a part of their lives, but it is nor their whole lives. I went to the doctor every week when I had Parvo virus. I had to stop doing some things I normally loved to do. I went to the doctor around the same time each week because I had to. Then I went on with my life.

I think of people with illnesses differently now. I still admire many of them, but my little reminding cuckoo clock is gone. People may have tubes in their noses or have to pull an oxygen tank, but I see them as I see everyone else. I do not think of them as different anymore.

***

            I cannot imagine what it would be like to have cancer. I think of how I sat in a purple armchair next to children with cancer, each of us with an IV needle in our hands. I remember feeling selfish because I had already grown up. I was nineteen. My disease would go away. They were little children, beautiful and full of energy. Many would probably die soon. But they didn’t think about that. They were kids who wanted to play as every child does. Their parents cherished each day.

I think of the day I will return to the clinic. I imagine myself driving through the busy streets of Los Angeles on a warm Friday in June to visit a room full of big windows, purple armchairs, and young children receiving treatments. This time I will no longer feel beckoned by the beach out the window, but by the smiles and silent courage of a stalwart group on the third floor.

Congratulations on Mandela

by Patrick Madden

            Grandma Garcia hated the Negroes. For most bigots I know, racism is a matter of dissociation. They have black friends who, they say, aren’t like other black people, and they keep their attitudes under wraps whenever any real live blacks are present. But not Grandma Garcia; she declared her disdain outright and without provocation. The two years I had lived in Louisiana as a boy had taught me the routine: my neighbors hated the poor thieving blacks who lived in the Broadmoor Apartments in relative squalor, but with an impressive selection of stolen televisions and stereos. Every house within a two-block radius of ours had been robbed in the past couple of years and all my neighbors knew that it was the blacks. So it was understandable that they would harbor animosity, but Grandma Garcia seemed to have no reasons, or felt it unnecessary to explain her feelings.

“Grandma,” said her grandson Jovany loudly and slowly the first time we met her, “these are the missionaries, Madden and Kalu.”

            “I hate the Negroes!” she shouted back in reproach.
            “But Grandma, these are missionaries. They’re from the Church.”
            “What does that matter to me? Get that Negro away from me!”
            She sat rigid in her rocking chair in the half-shade of the laundry yard where her family had put her, probably hoping she’d stay entertained and out of the way. We were struck silent, waiting for Jovany to calm her or explain. She stared at the broken bricks of the back-door frame as if to avoid visual contamination, or to show her disdain. Her eyes were glossed over and clammy. Purple veins bulged from her skeletal hands as she gripped the chair’s armrests in anger. Her lips moved, muttering inaudible complaints, and she furrowed her wrinkles deeper in a demonstrative scowl. Whatever manners she may have learned as a girl were not meant for Negroes, and she was unabashed in her censure.
            From then we kept our visits with the Garcia family brief, usually during the time when their grandmother was sleeping. But every now and then she was sick, or cranky, and got up from her nap to make her demands and nag her grandchildren. She couldn’t smell my companion, but she acted like it. From inside her room she heard his deep, melodious voice and shouted, “Get that Negro out of here!” Eventually, nobody paid attention to her. But it grinded on me. Offense by proxy, that’s what I’d call it now. Kalu didn’t seem to notice.
            One Lazy afternoon Elder Kalu and I were walking near the narrow sycamore-lined road to Santa Bernadina and I was worrying about his ego.
            Continuing my thoughts out loud, I asked him, “How do you deal with it?” He looked up from the road for a second, then quickly sidestepped to shuffle-kick a small rock between my legs.
            “Deal wit’ wat?” Some missionaries couldn’t understand his Nigerian English, but by
then I had enough practice to catch every word.
            “‘With Grandma Garcia’s comments about hating the Negroes.”
            He laughed silently to himself and shook his head. When he looked at me he was smiling.
            “Man,” he drew out the word through his smile, “I don’ care wat she tink about me an I don’ tink about wheda she care fah me.”
            That was that in Elder Kalut mind. He turned his eyes back to the road, searching for a small stone, and when he quickly found one, shot it just under my heel as I stepped. He looked brightly, squinting in the sun as he turned to me and shouted with glee. “Go-o-o-o-ol!” With his laugh the word crescendoed and ebbed as it faded among the trees.
            Aside from Grandma Garcia, Uruguayans are generally very tolerant of blacks. There were never many slaves in the country, and there hasn’t been more than a handful of immigrants to Uruguay from Africa, so that blacks make up a very small percentage of the population. There are no black ghettos and, thus, no natural segregation, and the white Uruguayans excitedly anticipate the only regular congregation of blacks: the Llamadas, a frantic festival of drums and candombe music that kicks off Carnaval in late February.     Ruben Rada, a black jazz/candombe singer and national hero, is affectionately known as “El Negro,” and husbands and wives everywhere sweet talk each other as “mi negrito” or “mi negrita.” I’ve wondered if the reference hails back to the days of slavery when blacks were patronized and oppressed, but even if it does, Uruguayans today don’t know that and they harbor none of the prejudicial overtones of calling each other “little Negroes.”
            So racial tensions run low in Uruguay. Grandma Garcia never explained her reasons for hating blacks, but I suspect it might have stemmed from a bad experience. Or, who knows, she might have been influenced by Nazis who escaped to Uruguay after the war. But other people never showed any prejudice.
            One afternoon Elder Kalu and I were wandering the streets just south of the Garcias’ house and talking with anyone who crossed our path, when we came across a hunched old woman with gray skin and a flowery, silky dress and a scarf which she wore on her head to protect her wiry hair from the sun. She was sweeping the dirt from her front walk into the street and into the atmosphere in great clouds of dust. She looked up curiously when we saluted, but didn’t answer back. “Hello, how are you today?” I repeated.
“Well,” she said slowly, her voice hanging in the air like a question. It wasn’t clear if she
meant “good” or if she meant to continue. We stalled silently for a second, then spoke again.
            “We’re missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Kalu. “My name is Elder Kalu. I’m from Nigeria. He’s Elder Madden, from the United States.” She stared back at him silently, pursing her lips, but she didn’t say anything. “We have a message about Jesus Christ that we share with the people—”
            “Where in the United States?” she interrupted. It took me a second to understand her question.
            “I’m from New Jersey,” I said.
            “I have relatives in New Jersey,” she said, and then smiled contentedly, as if she’d known I would be from New Jersey.
            “Where in New Jersey?” I asked.
            “New Jersey.”
            “But what city?”
            “New Jersey,” she said with an air of finality, like I was the one who didn’t know his
geography.
            “Oh,” I said, not wanting to argue. “It’s very nice there. Have you ever been to visit?”
            “No,” she said sadly. “My husband is black.” She stood unsteadily and looked at me
slowly, waiting for my nod of understanding. But I didn’t understand.
            “Why can’t you go if your husband is black?” I said.
            She sighed and smiled kindly at me, “A few years ago my relatives invited us to go visit them in New Jersey,” she began. “They have good jobs and a big house and a car. They come to Uruguay sometimes and they wear the nicest clothes and they can speak English. They were going to pay for our tickets and let us stay with them. They said we could see New York from their window. We wanted to go, but we couldn’t because my husband is black.” She looked at me again as if I should know why that was an obstacle.
            “Why not? What does it matter if your husband is black?” I wondered if Uruguayan
passports were restricted to whites, or if the U.S. embassy discriminated against blacks for visas.
            “Because in the United States they kill all the black people,” she said calmly, like it was common knowledge.
            “What?” I asked incredulously. “Why do you think they kill all the black people? Who told you that?”
            “Everybody knows it,” she said.
            “But they don’t kill all the black people,” I said. By now I was feeling defensive. “I grew up with black people. I know lots of black people, and they’re just as happy as everybody else. How can you think we kill them?”
            “I didn’t say you killed them,” she said. “But I saw on the television that they were
killing all the black people.”
            I first thought of South Africa, then of documentaries on the slave trade. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. She was obviously mistaken, I reasoned, but my deep-set need to be right and to correct her wrong notions kept me going. “When did you see that?” I asked.
            “Not long ago,” she said. “Right when my relatives invited us to visit.”
            “But what year?” She was getting impatient with my questions, and Elder Kalu looked at me sternly and notched his thumb between his long, bony fingers in the ‘k’ sign. He meant “kill it.” Shut up, man, she’s not listening.
            “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe five years ago.” She scratched her nose with the broom handle.
            “Was it something that happened then? Or was it a documentary?”
            “It was the news,” she said, annoyed. “They were showing it all over the world.”
            “But where was it from?”
            “The United States, I told you already,” she said. Then, “Los Angeles.”
            It clicked. She was talking about the Los Angeles Rodney King trial riots. One black man beaten by police and random riot coverage equals all black people being killed in the entire country. It obviously wasn’t a logical conclusion, but I tried logic on her anyway.
            “You mean the riots in Los Angeles? That was only one city, and they weren’t killing
black people—black people were robbing Korean people. And besides, Los Angeles is across the country from New Jersey.” She didn’t get it. I continued, “‘Would you be afraid here if the Venezuelans started killing black people?” She stared curiously, unable to connect my question to the conversation. “California is as far from New Jersey as Uruguay is from Venezuela. What happened in Los Angeles has nothing to do with New Jersey. Black people are safe in New Jersey.” I suppose I really wanted to convince her to visit her relatives.
            “All I know is what they told me,” she said, picking up her broom and turning to go back to her sweeping. “They kill all the black people in the United States.” She completed her pirouette, pushed open her front gate and slowly shuffled back into the security of her front yard. Behind her we stared for a while, then shrugged at each other and walked away. Kalu punctuated the conversation with his only contribution to the debate: “I tol’ you man.’ No matter how often I’m forced to learn it, I’ve never yet really understood why some people can’t tap into the Fountain of Reason. Nowadays, what with postmodern philosophers and the slippery nature of truth, it’s difficult to assert any such thing as reason, but I’m convinced that it exists. Still, Jesus warned that before we attempt to take the mote out of our brother’s eye, we ought to remove the beam from our own. But I guess deep down I’ve always thought he wasn’t talking to me. I try to be conscientious and civil to others, either in ignoring or in pointing out their mistakes, and I’m convinced that I can always get the right answer through reason. The most painful argument, for me, is the one that is built on the incorrect assumption that nobody can ever be right, or worse, that if I was wrong last time, then now it’s your turn. Here was a woman whose erroneous ideas were so embedded that she blinded herself to a logical counter-explanation. Yet I wonder where she got her ideas in the first place. She seemed so untrusting, and yet who was able to fill her head with the notion that all the blacks were being killed in the
United States? Did she trust her television? And by what thought process could she interpret the snippets she saw of the riots as a large-scale genocide? But she did, and there was no way I could dissuade her.
            It’s a flaw, I suppose, that I felt the need to show her the truth about my country. I grew frustrated with her denials and illogic, as she turned farther from me because of my over-excitement. All things considered, though, people’s misconceptions about the United States were small in comparison with their lack of knowledge about Africa. Their strange notions drove Elder Kalu crazy. And he decided that his mission in Durazro, besides that of winning converts to Mormonism, was to educate the people about Africa.
            It would be too much of an exaggeration to say always, but I can tell you that nearly
every person we ever talked to in Durazno after Elder Kalu had been there for a week had
already heard about him. “Ah, yes. You’re the Africano,” they’d say, and he’d smile. “I’m Elder Kalu, without an accent.” They were always calling him Kaloo and he hated that.
            “I’m from Nigeria, the ones who are going to win the World Cup,” he taunted. Uruguay hadn’t qualified, and the Uruguayan men were heartbroken. Their glory years had ended with Uruguay’s last win in the Mundial in 1950. Still, they were fiercely proud that such a small country had won two World Cups and were equally humbled that their team this year was sitting at home. Then he’d introduce me. “This is Elder Madden from the United States, where they’re playing the Mundial.”
            Anyone else would have caused a big stir with his boasting and ridicule of the most
sacred of Uruguayan traditions. But the people loved Elder Kalu the Nigeriano even before they ever met him. They seemed proud to have him, a real live African, in their little unknown town. Some Church members, who got to know him personally, claimed to have had dreams that he would come to their town. Once he was there, word about him spread quickly. He told me that in every area he’d been in he heard the same story.
            Even the people who didn’t know him noticed. One Sunday afternoon, Richard Cisneros, from across town, bicycled over to drop off a political cartoon from the Sunday paper. It showed Elder Kalu, helmet-on-head and backpack-on-back, watching a soccer game in a bar with an assortment of locals. One of them says, “Wow! Those Africans sure play well!” Another responds, “Look at the Nigerians run!” And above them all, Elder Kalu chides, in ungrammatical Spanish, “Ha ha ha. We’re in the Mundial, and you all are stuck at home!” We never found out who drew the picture.
            He was famous. Though his celebrity didn’t help much with opening doors to teach the gospel, we had many lively doorway conversations about politics and futbol. The common people were excited to have this novelty in their midst and eager to make a good impression. Most common of their show-off comments was, “Congratulations on Mandela!” Nelson Mandela had just been elected President of South Africa. It was a trying time for Elder Kalu’s nerves.
            Depending on his mood, Elder Kalu might ignore the compliment and get down to
business, or, more likely, give a geography lesson. “¿¡Qué Mandela!?” His tone meant “What are you talking about!?”
            “Mandela’s not from my country. South Africa is as far from Nigeria as Venezuela is
from Uruguay. You don’t hear me congratulating you on Venezuela’s president, do you?” They cowered. We were fond of Venezuela as a distant reference point.
            “Africa isn’t all one country. Not all black people are the same. There are more countries in Africa than any other continent. . . .” They were losing interest but smiling sheepishly. Usually by the time he was done they were casting sideways glances at me, shrugging as if to say “I’m sorry.” I usually smiled at them, basking in his didactic tirade and thinking, in a sing-song, “They’re not listening.” Surprisingly, nobody was ever openly offended by his rebukes.
            People were good natured about being taught African geography and seemed to brush off his reproaches as easily as they forgot what he told them. So, after all, I don’t know what effect Elder Kalu had on most of the people we met. They were too high in the clouds, excited to be graced by the presence of an exotic foreigner, to hear our real message—the one about eternal salvation—and they were too ingrained in their simplistic notions about the outside world to broaden their horizons even when a real live African came to teach them. Elder Kalu took it all in stride, his bright smile—the stereotypical see-it-in-the-dark whites against his dark face-was a constant reminder that he was happy being who he was and doing what he was doing. I was happy he was doing it with me.
            When he realized with certain people that he could never change them, he started telling them, “In Africa, we have lions roaming the streets and eating the garbage just like the dogs do here.” They’d become wide eyed. “And we ride on elephants to go to work.” C’mon, they’d say, You’re joking. “No! And for us malaria is just like an ataque de higado
for you all.” The liver attack was painful, but nothing like malaria, they’d say. “It’s true!” and he’d laugh and they’d know he was pulling their leg, or, in Spanish, pulling their hair. Then he’d whisper to me, “You tell dem enough lies and maybeh you wake dem from deir slumber.”
            We spent our days talking, laughing, singing old Catholic hymns as we rode down the street. We told the skeptical people we met that we had both been altar boys at one time and that the Mormons and the Catholics believed almost the same things. When people just wouldn’t listen, Elder Kalu would tell me, “You can’t fight wit’ a bull.” Then we’d leave. When we saw the sad results of drunkenness, abuse, and irresponsible and fighting parents, Kalu said, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” He talked about the members of his tribe, the Igbos, who had mysterious powers to control the weather, and he kept me rapt with accounts of the tribal wars and governmental uprisings in Nigeria during his lifetime.
            One day like any other, as we left the house right on time, according to our prescribed schedule, I mused, like it was a revelation, “There’s nobody here to tell us what to do. We could be doing whatever we want.”
            “Yeah,” he completed my thought, “but we doin’ da right ting anyweh!”
            Though I don’t think it had anything to do with being black, twice in the time I knew him Elder Kalu was called to be a district leader and then a week later “demoted” because another missionary complained and was given the position. Both times it was because Elder Kalu was younger missionwise than another missionary in the district. Usually callings weren’t given on the basis of mission age, but in the two instances involving Elder Kalu, they eventually were. The second time it happened was in Durazno. Once again, I felt offended on his behalf.
            We were sitting on our beds one night in our long underwear and socks with our electric heater boxes blowing in our faces and we were talking. Finally I got up the courage to ask him, “What do you think about Gull and Newton complaining and getting called as district leader over you? That’s twice.”
            He always smiled when I asked him questions he had figured out long ago. He looked up beaming and said simply, “Hey man, we’ all missionaries here.” I understood, and my love of Elder Kalu found a new hold. “Hey man, we’ all missionaries here,” and nothing more. I determined that I would emulate his humility and disinterested service—be a missionary like he was. Shortly after that conversation, we were separated. I went off to remote Carmelo, on the southwestern coast of Uruguay, across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, and Kalu stayed on for another month in Durazno to train a new missionary. I always remembered what he had taught me.
            Because I kept up on the news from Durazno, I was the one who told Elder Kalu when Grandma Garcia finally died. It was the closest to vindictive I ever saw him. “Good,” he said, nodding. I was surprised. He continued, “I hope when she get dere dey put her wit’ all the Negroes dat evah live.” Then he laughed, a great big hearty laugh, and I hoped God would listen to him.