Category Archives: Writing

Part III: Peaks and Valleys

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I and Part II or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

*   *   *   *   *

If you’ve seen any of my Instagram posts from Europe, then you’ll know what my biggest crush was on the whole trip. (Hint: croissants were a close second.)

(I’m skipping over a huge chunk of our trip, from Paris, France, to Bavaria, Germany, some 500+ miles we did NOT do in one day. Everywhere we visited, we experienced beauty and kindness. But there was something inexplicable about the Alps: what the view did to me, stirred in me, and I can’t wait anymore to tell you all about my bae.)

We toured Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was intended to be his “summer palace,” built on top of the ruins of a much older castle, perched in the most perfect spot between mountain peaks. What we learned of King Ludwig II’s life was enigmatic and sad, and his deep appreciation for the arts and sciences was evident throughout the castle. Our entry tickets included a very informative audio tour through several rooms open to the public, but I am not a history buff (#dead #oldnews #letsmoveon) and I’m pretty sure you can wikipedia all that if you want.

(In contrast, my history buff husband read EVERY. SINGLE. PLACARD. at Mozart’s birthplace. You guys. Mozart spent less time there as a child than my husband did as a visitor.)

I have always been a mountain girl, infatuated with and inspired by them, love at first sight. Something magical happened, as we were driving away from the rolling golden French countryside and back into and across Germany. A pit stop in the Black Forest in Triberg, Germany, for lunch and window shopping gave me a hint of what was in store. But even the steep mountain village of Triberg couldn’t prepare me for the deep-down soul-stir just waiting to happen.

I probably slept on the way to Bavaria, so things escalated quickly. We went from: “Cool mountains, bro,” to: “Take me, I’m yours!” as if the Alps had dropped from the sky, catching me off-guard.

I sent this very text to several friends: “The Alps: I’ve been swooning for two days straight now.”

I wrote pages in my journal during our two days in and around the Alps. I sent lengthy emails and posted instablogs. The view of those majestic (that doesn’t seem adequate enough) mountain peaks quite literally (and I’m using that word properly) made me weak in the knees, to the point where I didn’t want to move on.

The one evening we stayed in Salzburg, Austria, we booked a hotel in the mountains (The Gersberg Alm – all the heart-eyed emojis for this place) overlooking the city, and it was all I could do not to quietly hide in the closet until everyone else left and forgot I was still there.

I daydreamed about walking off into the mountains and staying there, maybe raising Alpine mountain goats, or selling pastries on the roadside, or renting bikes to American tourists. The Alps moved me, in a way that none of the other lovely, interesting, quaint, exciting cities we visited had.

When we visited Sacré-Cœur and Notre-Dame in Paris, I was predictably awestruck. Cathedrals are designed to dwarf her visitors; we are made to feel very small and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and divinity. And it worked. It was humbling, not just the size of these magnificent buildings, but the rich, long history of the saints who came before, etched and carved and painted on every surface.

But if the cathedrals made me aware of God’s divine grandness, the Alps reminded me of His intricate nearness. Every mile we drove between destinations was picture-perfect, a love letter from a creative God to the earth we stand on.

And I think that’s why that piece of the earth resonated so deeply with me. There, at the foot of those mountains, is where I experienced God’s love so clearly and closely. I did nothing to articulate it, or understand it, or even explain it (like I’m trying to do now, go me!).

I just sat in complete awe and let the mountaintop experience own me.

On the morning we left, headed back to where we started, I stood in the mountains, on the edge of Salzburg, and promised myself I would be back. I promised myself I would remember and recall – often – just how I felt taking in the view, letting the earth I could see in all its beauty seep into my bones.

I would remember and recall – though not often enough – the tenderness of a God who writes love stories with mountain peaks.

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Part II: Arches and Spires

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

*   *   *   *   *

After crossing a few time zones (six to be exact), we were understandably pretty exhausted for the first couple of days. As soon as we got in the car, I would promptly fall asleep (don’t worry, guys, I wasn’t driving). So when we left Champs-Élysées to head to Sacré-Cœur Basilica less than 5 miles away (plus another 20+ minutes of trying to navigate the narrow, hectic streets of Paris in an 8-passenger van), I was snoring/drooling on my little airplane pillow while we (my dad) made the short but scenic drive up Montmarte, the highest hill in Paris.

I woke up/wiped the drool from my cheek just as we came around the final curve to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris rising from the hillside. Yes. It was as dramatic as it sounds. It was the stuff sonnets are made of.

A Sequence of Events: I woke. I wiped drool. I looked up. I gasped and breathed aloud something like, “Oh, my heavens.”

When I was in college, I wrote a thesis on mathematical induction in ancient architecture. (It was riveting, PROMISE). I included a few paragraphs about cathedrals focusing on the innate geometry of their arches. (Yeah, are you still with me?)

Here’s what I learned in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches have to be meticulously calculated, or else the roof will cave in. Here’s what I did not learn in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches will floor you, steal your breath, send shivers down your spine.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been in many American cathedrals and other beautiful, sacred places. But the sheer magnitude and divinity of Sacré-Cœur was nothing, not a thing, like I had seen before.

And then, after we had toured her glorious sanctuary, we walked out and saw the entire city of Paris laid out beneath us. We got lucky – it was sunset and it was breathtaking. I stood on the top step of Sacré-Cœur dumbfounded, and I wanted to stretch out my arms from one end of Paris to the other and literally hug that beautiful, twinkling City of Light. I was starstruck.

The next day we had another glorious cathedral on our agenda: Notre-Dame de Paris, built sky-high on an island in the middle of the River Seine. We got there a few minutes before noon mass began, waiting in line just as the bells began to toll the hour. Notre-Dame has earned every bit of her fame and praise, with the stunning stained glass windows, the intricately sculpted façades, the fascinating chimera (un/fortunately none voiced by Jason Alexander), the thousands of years built and lived and worshipped within her walls.

Within Notre-Dame, they have learned to cater more toward the tourist, offering interesting tidbits on previous popes (and one who’s interred there I think? I don’t know, the placard was in French), the history behind the famous Rose Window, and what is kept in the cathedral treasury. I ALMOST stole from the Roman Catholic Church when I breezed into the Treasury, unaware there’s an entrance fee. Within the Treasury is the (alleged) Crown of Thorns and a sliver of wood from (allegedly) the cross upon which Jesus died.

This might surprise like, no one, but I love actual, physical touchstones. I still have the extra party favors from our wedding. I’ve kept the hospital bracelets from both my children’s births. I’ve kept every journal I’ve ever written in (SHOCKER).

So knowing these relics exist, soaked with meaning, kept behind locked glass cases and a stern Frenchwoman collecting Euros – regardless of whether or not they are the ACTUAL Crown of Thorns or fragments of the Cross of Crucifixion – awakens that too-often-dormant awe of Jesus Christ: who we as the Church believe He is, and what we as the Church believe He did.

From Sacré-Cœur and her view of Paris to Notre-Dame and her ancient religious history, touring these two awe-inspiring cathedrals were downright worship services, as meaningful and enriching as any sermon I’ve heard. Even though I’m not Catholic, the belief system I hold so dear descended from the Roman Catholic Church, and from the teachings of the apostles and saints, and from the very life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is certainly no small, brief thing. And standing on the steps of Sacré-Cœur or before the high altar of Notre-Dame helped drive even my faith deeper.

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Part I: Jet Lag

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip that we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. Sorry/you’re welcome.

*   *   *   *   *

I’m sitting at my dining room table, before anyone else has woken up, drinking coffee out of a mug I bought at Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. The mug is hand-shaped, hand-stamped, fired locally, available only (only!) for purchase in the gift shop of King Ludwig II’s summer palace. It has Ludwig’s lions and shield on it, his coat of arms, glazed Bavarian blue with a swipe of shiny gold paint to signify his royalty.

It is my favorite souvenir from the whole trip.

I drink out of this mug every day because it reminds me how I felt when we were in Europe, driving through hundreds of miles of French and German and Austrian countryside. It reminds me, a little anyway, how I felt when we first caught glimpses of the hillside vineyards on the banks of the Mosul River, and the Palace in Versailles with her sprawling gardens, and the Eiffel Tower overlooking the River Seine, and the famous glass pyramid of the Louvre, and the Mona Lisa IN REAL LIFE with her sly smile commanding crowds, and the Arc de Triomphe planted dead center of a busy, bustling, trendy shopping avenue, and Sacré-Cœur and the view that gave me shivers, and Notre Dame – THE Notre Dame with the arches and the spires and the bell tolls and the Sanctuary! Sanctuary! – and the climbing, dense mountains of the Black Forest, and Neuschwanstein castle nestled on the most picturesque mountain peak, and the very same instrument where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sat and composed nearly half a dozen of his operas, and Maribel Lake with her mirrored beauty, and the Alps – oh, my heart be still, those Alps.

It reminds me, to a degree, of the pure gratitude I had while traveling in countries so different from ours, through quintessential European villages with ancient buildings older than these United States.

Every city and town and village and tourist destination we visited was breathtakingly beautiful / historically mind-blowing / understandably fascinating / can’t-wait-to-go-back. And I could fill pages describing every last thing. (And I did, actually, in a red composition notebook I’ve read and re-read, trying to capture again and with the same gasp of surprise or flutter of my heart, any given moment of awe or gratitude or marvel or wonder. It’s not quite the same, but you knew that already.)

The timing of our trip worked perfectly; we got home to America and then to Tennessee just in time to get ready for an early bedtime, waking up late the next morning refreshed and back in the Eastern Standard timezone. My body and sleep cycle recovered easily; but my mind and my heart and the way my soul woke up are still somewhere in the mountains between Germany and Austria, or the golden fields stretching across the French countryside, or maybe on the stone steps of Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris overlooking the City of Light.

It’s a kind of jet lag I don’t suspect I’ll get over soon.

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The Others

I’m still processing the election results. I’m still in mourning. I hear the calls for unity and graciousness in defeat and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting the good fight. And I promise you I will get there.

But for now I am bone-weary, on the literal verge of tears or nausea – or both – every second of the day. Anything could tip the balance; everything will. A text or several from my dearly beloveds checking in on me and on each other; a corporate lamenting with acquaintances the shock of it all; a wordless, heavy-sighed hug.

The best way for me to digest this is to write. I need to shout into the void why this particular election and outcome felt deeply personal, and deeply wounding. I want you to understand.

I am a woman of color. And let me be very clear in qualifying those labels: I am a woman, but a dual-income middle class one. A real-life, SUV-driving, church-volunteering soccer mom, raised in a loving, secure home with plenty to eat, drink, and wear. My husband and I work hard at decent jobs every day to earn our livelihood; we live responsibly, ethically, charitably, BUT we both received a leg up from the word go, standing on the shoulders of our hard-working, white-collar, college-educated parents.

I was taught by my parents that my femaleness was not a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome; it was merely biology.

And my color has always been a source of cultural pride and ancient rooted heritage. Outside the walls of my home, I was a person of a different ethnicity, but one that was more a curiosity than a danger, one less threatening and less threatened. As a woman of color, I somehow ended up with a corner-store privilege other women and people of color only hope for.

But here is where I need you to hear me. If not to understand, then at least to know. To acknowledge my story, even if you don’t care to buy it.

Growing up in Alabama, I learned pretty quickly all about my Otherness. Every year each school had to take a census based on gender, age, ethnicity, even household income. And every year I checked a box literally labeled, “Other.” I was not White; I was not Black. For years, those were the only choices I was given before having to label myself, “Other.” It was a small thing but damaging nonetheless, particularly to a young girl just trying to fit in somewhere.

As an Asian, I was called many things, out of ignorance or jest or both. A very short list of the more creative nicknames about my brown skin, given to me by my white friends: Kiwi; Wheat Bread; Ethnic Kim. One classmate in fifth grade refused to call me anything other than Connie Chung. She wasn’t the only famous woman of color I was compared to, not because I mirrored their success or talent, but solely based on my approximate resemblance to them. There was also Kristi Yamaguchi, Margaret Cho, Mulan. Not one of these women are Filipina.

One particularly heartbreaking reminder of my Otherness came when a boy I went on a blind date with turned down a second one because I wasn’t white and his mom would flip out. His hard pass didn’t break my heart; his racism did. Surely he was just not interested, but to use racism as a valid reason in this century?

Ever since junior high, my loud, outgoing personality attracted this same wry observation more times than I can count: aren’t you Asian women supposed to be quiet/meek/submissive?

To this person of color the lesson was clear: I don’t behave the way I should; alternately, lighten up, it’s just a joke.

My father taught me from an early age to work hard and right and bold, to fight for every inch, and to deserve every inch I won. Not just because hard work is something to be admired, but because there are plenty of people who can’t wait to watch us fail. Because there is very little room for error when you’re a minority.

As a person of color navigating a very white south, I learned to laugh at the jokes and to make some myself, to thicken my brown skin, to stay alert to and aware of my Otherness, lest I forget I don’t really belong here.

As a woman, I have fought the same battles nearly every woman in this country has fought, regardless of color or station or class. I have never been sexually assaulted (thank you, Jesus), but I have been sexually harassed. I have been catcalled. I have been pressured or guilted into catering to a man’s will, physical or otherwise; I have been dismissed or name-called when I would not. I was told, presumably complimented, by a male coworker, when I was eight months pregnant (and married), he would still definitely, “hit that.” I have been told, as a young girl figuring out what exactly to do with my body, “modest is hottest,” and to not be a “stumbling block” for my “brothers in Christ.” That my femininity and virginity were my greatest attributes, my most honorable offerings to the world of men.

Hear this: this is a daily reality for women everywhere. Every woman knows what it feels like for a man to determine her worth, every woman knows what it feels like to lose a piece of herself, her spot, her value at the rough hands of male privilege.

Hillary Clinton’s emotional concession speech is a speech we women know well. It’s the same speech we have given ourselves and our daughters time and time again, loss after heart-wrenching loss. Her speech was all of us taking it on the chin while knowing our work and worth was not quite enough, may never quite be enough, played out on the grandest stage.

Outside the warm walls of my home and family, I was taught this world is not built to be kind to women, and every battle will be hard-fought and barely-won, in constant danger of slipping from our fingers if we so much as breathe too heavily.

To this woman the lesson was clear: I don’t own my own inconvenient body; alternately, who am I to want to take up equal space in this world?

This week my country scrutinized a more qualified, more experienced career politician who just happened to be a woman, and gave her job to a man whose entire career and campaign were built on exploiting and bullying the marginalized, the minority, the perceived weak. My country saw a politician whose missteps overshadowed the good, hard work she had accomplished and found her less electable than a man with no political experience and buckets of gross misjudgment, the very embodiment of white male privilege who spoke and behaved from that privileged place irresponsibly, condescendingly, hatefully toward women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled…in other words, toward us the Others.

Half – HALF – of my voting neighbors and fellow Americans weighed their options and decided this man was preferable to that woman. A flawed woman blamed for everything from her appearance to her husband’s infidelity, but a woman more qualified, more compassionate, more experienced, more proven.

To this Other the lesson is clear: today, in 2016, we are not meant to feel safe in our own skin.

Alternately?

We will always be the Others.

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The Day I Tore

Prologue:
I was born into a soccer-loving family. I grew up on the soccer fields, first as a spectator at my brother’s games, and then as a player: small and clumsy but fast and fearless.

It took a few years – I was not naturally gifted like my brother – but I started making the cuts. First, in sixth grade onto our YMCA’s first-year premier team, then in seventh grade as one of three girls on the coed junior high team, then in eighth grade on a travel team that won tournaments across the southeast. (The coach of that team was the highest-ranked coach in the state and moved on to coaching a professional indoor team the following season.)

By my senior year in high school, I was selected as one of three female All-State student-athletes representing my school in the sport of soccer. (There was a banquet and everything.)

My soccer-related injuries in all those years were: numerous face balls, a broken toe or two, sore ankles and knees, and six tight stitches just below my knee from running into a metal bench on a water break. (A cute senior on the boys’ soccer team wrapped my leg in his white tee-shirt to staunch the bleeding. Someone should probably make a rom-com about this.)

I worked hard to become the player I wanted to be, a fast right midfielder with the full 90 minutes of endurance in me and a strong kick to set up goal after goal. Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.

I love and have loved this game my whole life.

Chapter One and Only:
I picked the game back up in my twenties, joining an adult league with some co-workers, mostly to get back into shape and fall back in love with the game. A few weeks into the season I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, so I quit.

Nearly seven years later, I joined the same league again, different team, higher age bracket, worse shape, but still crazy about the game. I had grown antsy on the sidelines all over again watching my kids play, wishing I could be out there running the midfield and setting up the offense.

My first game in almost a decade went all right, all things considered – for the first twenty minutes. By then I was ready for an inhaler (I don’t have asthma), and to just go home and cry myself to loser sleep (even though my team had won).

The second game, however, went a little differently.

My endurance was still a joke, but the strategy of the game was starting to come back to me. I still had my speed (for an EXPLOSIVE ten seconds or so), and I knew where to play to space and managed to get a few decent touches in. (Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.)

About thirty minutes into the first half, one of our strikers dropped the ball back to me. It looked like it had a weird spin on it, so I backed off to let it bounce. I was wide open, and a quick glance up the field showed lots of open space for our front guys to make a fast break, if only I could get a good kick past their defense.

So I stepped off the pass to line up my kick. I was near the sideline, so when I stepped backward on my left leg and heard a loud pop, I thought I had accidentally stepped on some ice near someone’s water bottle or cooler. Cleats on crushed ice, that was the sound I heard in my head and that still makes my skin crawl.

For a split second, I turned around to apologize or excuse myself, but then immediately felt the fire racing up my left leg. I fell to the ground, wondering what the H just happened. I couldn’t process it. Did I pull something? Did I step on something? Did my ankle guard crack somehow? What was that popping sound?

Turns out it was me, the popping sound loud enough that nearby players heard it, wondering if I had stepped on a rock or somehow knocked my cleats together. It was a sudden pain, an intensity I had never, ever felt before, like someone had lit me on fire from the bottom of my heel to the top of my calf. Two teammates had to carry me off the field, and I nearly burst into tears when someone tried to pull off my cleat.

They finally got my cleat and my sock and my shin guard off, and I remember apologizing profusely because I hadn’t gotten a pedicure in MONTHS. Someone stuck my foot in a cooler full of ice, someone else’s sweet kid offered me his seat and ran to fill my water bottle back up, everyone was kind and attentive and assured me when I apologized over and over in embarrassment.

By the end of the game, I still couldn’t bear any weight on my left foot, but the pain had subsided. Teammates, opponents, neighbors, my husband and kiddos – it was a collective effort to get me to the car and then home, certain ice and rest and painkillers would do the trick.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the doctor that I found out my Achilles’ tendon had ruptured in two, and the sickening pop that still nauseates me every time I think about it is precisely what that sounds like, and the fire shooting up my leg was the tendon ends unraveling as they came apart. (You’re welcome.)

There were some speculations, of course, sideline diagnostics, some WebMD site-trolling, but I figured it didn’t hurt badly enough or long enough to be anything serious. And I wasn’t playing NEARLY hard enough to tear something. PUH-LEASE. This is weekend soccer with a bunch of over-30-year-olds.

GUYS. Did you know weekend athletes over the age of 30 are EXACTLY the people who will tear their Achilles’ tendon?

Epilogue, In Pictures:

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Youthful Innocence


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Wizened Reality


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Friends Tell It Like It Is


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FAT FOOT


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It Has A Name

The Beginning.
(Of a 10ish-week road to recovery, a road that probably doesn’t lead back to the soccer fields any time soon.)

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A Song for the Redeemed, Part 2

Disclaimers: My real-life friends get on to me for refusing to talk about my writing in person. My husband doesn’t even know what this story is about because I refuse to tell him what I’m writing. My patient, patient editors have not signed off on this piece yet because I feel bad bugging them to read my junk. Everything and everyone you are about to read about are figments of my imagination. For Part 1, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Ciana couldn’t tell you what it was exactly that drew her into their tight circle. She should have just kept walking.

But she had never seen him before, and his voice carried through the air and his eyes flashed with intelligence and conviction, and it didn’t hurt that he was beautiful. Scientifically speaking, Ciana corrected herself, as science has theorized that beauty is just symmetry, which is just nature’s way of attracting.

And Ciana — by nature’s design — could not help but appreciate the symmetry of his face.

She drifted closer, catching the cusps of his words and the way his deep voice enveloped each one. Closer still, and she heard the slightest rasp as his timbre rose, sandpaper smoothing over each syllable. One more step and she was on the fringe of this circle, and he noticed her, finally, though his speech remained seamless.

Ciana wanted to unseat him as thoroughly as he had her, but did not know how.

So she listened to him speak. She swallowed his every word. And when he bowed his head, and his circle of friends or followers imitated him, she boldly stared.

And then he looked up and lifted his hands and the crowd dispersed and his eyes never left hers.

“Hello,” he said, an invitation.

Ciana fell apart when that one word hit her in the very center of her chest, so she turned quickly and away.

But she had listened and had swallowed his every word.

###

“Hello.”

It was the same word, spoken the same way, and it froze the blood in Ciana’s veins.

Carefully, she looked up from her textbook and into the symmetrically fashioned eyes of the man she had run away from last week.

Was it just last week?

Every afternoon Ciana had crossed that particular lawn on her way to class she had looked for him, and every afternoon when she did not find him, it felt like its own small eternity.

Without breaking eye contact, he sat across the table from her. Ciana couldn’t have looked away if she had tried.

“I was hoping to run into you again,” he said, and the ice inside her skin slowly began to melt. “I’m Ben.” He reached a hand across the space between them, and she shook it quickly, uncertainly.

“I’m Ciana.”

Ben smiled, then glanced at the textbook before her. His smile faltered at the unfamiliar symbols lining the open page.

“What in God’s name is that?” He leaned to get a closer look, but Ciana instinctively sat back, increasing the distance between them. She tucked the book beneath her binder to hide it from further scrutiny. Ciana wished she could do the same.

“Set-theoretic topology.” A blush bit into her scalp. She folded up her notes and dropped her things back into her bag.

“That looks…fascinating,” Ben said. “So are you done then? Do you have time to grab a cup of coffee with me?”

Ciana hesitated. Ben smiled wide, the symmetry shattered by a dimple in one cheek, nearly camouflaged by the dusty brown scruff coating the hills and lines of his jaw. Ciana wondered if this half-grown beard was intent or laziness. Whatever it was, it hid that dimple like a secret, and Ciana always found intrigue in the secrets.

“I have an hour before my next class.” The words tripped out of her mouth before she had a chance to reconsider.

And in that hour, Ciana learned that Ben drank his coffee black and bitter. That he absentmindedly rolled the plastic stirrer between two fingers as he listened with purpose. That the rest of him sat in stillness and ease while Ciana tapped out a rhythm against the table corner, dug her fingernails into the rim of her styrofoam cup, and crossed her legs at the knee, the ankle, and sometimes in between.

“Thanks for the coffee, but I’ve got to go,” she said one hour later. As she stood, the level of reluctance to leave rose with her.

“It was great talking with you,” Ben said, following her. He pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket. “Can I call you sometime?”

The flood of reluctance whooshed out of the bottom of her feet, replaced by a lightness.

And Ciana, a girl who fumbles with social graces and tastes the depths of her own darkness, gave her phone number to Ben, a boy who fiddles with straws and consumes the blackness with nothing sweet to temper it.

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A Song for the Redeemed, Part 1

Disclaimers: I started before today. I totally broke the rules of NaNoWriMo. I still plan on writing 50,000 words in thirty days even though I gave myself a head start. Everything you are about to read is fiction.  I take my writing more seriously than I take myself. I didn’t run the entire 25 minutes this morning because my daughter pooped in her pants.

*     *     *     *     *

She had survived.

If there was anything anyone could say with any sense of certainty about Ciana Reese, it was that she had survived.

And no one could take that away from her.

No one, that is, but Ciana.

And that was what she was afraid of.

Who knows how long it took for those scars on her wrist to heal? She had pressed harder and harder, deeper and longer, until she had blacked out. And in that blackness, she never really knew how far she had gone or how far she had left to go.

Though the skin eventually scabbed over, thin layers knitting themselves back together from the inside out, Ciana couldn’t say how many days it had taken for the dead and broken cells to be replaced. Sometime between when it happened and when she first noticed the white lines plagiarizing her blue veins, her body closed itself up, and without her permission.

Ciana hadn’t tried again. Not because she was afraid of the pain. In fact, the pain had been the most welcome part. The pain was the proof of this nineteen-year-old theorem.

Ciana hadn’t tried again because Ciana was afraid to fail.

“What do you think you are doing?”

There was no shock in her mother’s voice, only boredom, so Ciana didn’t even bother to look up.

“What. Are. You. Doing?”

Every syllable was punctuated with the truth that, though she asked, she could not have cared less.

“I’m giving myself a tattoo,” Ciana said, matching her tone. She felt her mother’s eyes on her, wondering if it was worth it. If she was worth it.

“If it gets infected, I am not taking you to the doctor,” was her mother’s reply.

“Yup,” was Ciana’s.

She had seen a prison documentary once, about how inmates sometimes gave themselves primitive tattoos using ink pens and a needle. Or maybe it was in a movie, or on the Internet. Either way, it was working.

A drop of blood bubbled to the surface, vivacious and proud. It was a tragedy to wipe it away, but that was the only way to get the ink beneath the skin.

Ciana’s spine popped when she finally sat up straight to survey her work. The two white lines running vertical along her wrist were no longer scars but accents highlighting one simple word, a mantra of sorts.

BE.

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