Cerro Alegre

This is a story in 5 scenes, an assignment originally written in Spanish for my creative writing class. When I wrote the first scene, I didn’t know there would be four more to follow, so I had to do a little wriggling to make it work. The most important parameter of the assignment was that it take place in the famously lively, colorful, and popular tourist destination, Cerro Alegre, which is where I happen to live. Since I’m *very clever and creative*, coupled with my circumstances, I ran the other way from writing about the typical sights and sounds that most people associate with this area. Turns out it’s mostly about isolation, though that wasn’t really intended to be a pattern. It’s funny how things just end up that way and then you realize “oh that’s probably on my mind”. The story is as true as it isn’t.

I. Night’s already fallen. The people who passed to and fro below my window all day —the people who are making their vacation on Cerro Alegre, where I am carving a slice of my life— have left to their beds, and I think how they are probably even less at home tonight than I am. They’ve finally ceased complicating the air with their jumbled words, leaving behind a rare evening hush that I drink like hot tea, feeling the wet warmth of silence sooth my throat that aches from speaking words whose imperfection scratch and scrape on their way to meet the world who will never know exactly what I want to say.

I fit perfectly in my bed; there’s no wasted space. I can feel each spring that digs gently, a shallow pressure every four inches from my head to my toes. I could count them if I wanted to, but I don’t. It doesn’t matter because I always go to bed tired, and they do nothing to keep me from sleep at the end of long days, which they all are.

Now it’s the seagulls who fill the sky with sound, and I understand them no better than the tourists— although I wonder more what the birds have to say. One squawk after another, two at a time, and then a whole chorus singing an unpleasant song which resonates like cruel laughter. In the space that lives between wakefulness and dreams their voices change and reality blurs…

II. The chatter shifts from nonsensical squawks to unintelligible speech and the red glow behind my eyelids takes the shape of a sunny day on a crowded, rusty bus navigating twisting streets. Streaks of color wiz by outside rickety windows as an old man in the front seat wipes sweat from his active laugh-lines with a frayed handkerchief from his shirt pocket.

The bus driver finishes recounting the story about his hippy son-in-law from California, and there’s an eruption of fresh laughter. He’s become the butt of many jokes among the old friends who often occupy the first row of seats. They’ve heard so much about the gringo who married the bus driver’s daughter that he’s become an intimate sort of trope. They feel like they know the man themselves.

A woman aged by the sun and wind in an ankle-length orange dress shakes her head at the relatively good-natured resentment in the driver’s voice. Silently, fondly she acknowledges that the father-of-the-bride probably holds some unfair bias against the poor boy. She considers disbelievingly the time that’s passed since she was a newly-wed. The tension between her husband and her father faded, but never, ever disappeared before her father passed. She smiles a little sadly, privately marveling at the small consistencies of an ephemeral world, taking solace.

There’s a comfortable air of familiarity, as if they’ve been riding this very bus up winding hills together for years— which they have, ever since their knees have gotten too weak to climb them. The driver, who knows each of them by name, steers expertly around serpentine corners. Their bodies barely react to the harsh inertia that tosses the tourist gringos behind them like confetti in an indecisive wind.

The bus slows slightly as they round a corner, then screeches to an unexpected halt as a slumped figure in the road obstructs their path.

“Pobrecito” says one of the friends with distant sympathy, a plump woman in maroon with kind eyes, leathery skin, and a face framed by silvery strands who’ve aged faster than the rest.

Most of the passengers stay on the bus and crane their necks, but the front row stand and venture out, one by one. A wispy man even older than they descends heavily from the back of the bus where he sits daily, quietly, usually unnoticed on his solitary commute home to his beloved wife and dog.

He walks slowly forward, hobbling over cobblestone, overtaking the small crowd of concerned on-lookers. He crouches to wrap his arms around the cumbersome shadow and stands with some difficulty. A couple moments he remains still before ambling off, upwards, taking an alley sheathed in shade toward his home. The friends watch his ascent in instinctive reverence, dazing in confused wonderment after him. What was his name? Diego?

The wind picks up again and the friends look around as the windows of the bus rattle, break, and disassemble in the wake of violent gusts, but curiously remain suspended as if the air had turned to oil. Disjointedly the scene falls apart and is rebuilt with more solidity as I blink into abrupt awareness…

III. It’s the window of my bedroom that’s making the real-life noise that cast less real, sonorous shadows, echoing in the walls of my skull while the walls around me threaten to cave in at the violent bequest of insisting winds. I stand up and go to the window, leaving warm covers behind, and find myself captivated by the pinkness of a too-early morning. Some miles away a thick and unforgiving smoke chokes the sky. The air smells like marshmallows roasting on a campfire. I can imagine, I can practically see, fields burning, living trees devolving into fuel for the flames just outside city limits.

I climb out the window and fix myself on the tin roof, inexplicably desperate to be enveloped in open air, to be more a part of the phenomenon I’m viewing from afar.

A siren wails who doesn’t sound like home, who seems to signal something more insidious than the more familiar urgent cries that I know from my life in Tennessee. It strikes me that these sirens have nothing to do with the disaster I’m witnessing at a distance. They indicate a closer, private disaster whose details I should hope to never know.

Uninvited tears forge trails down my cheeks and the chilled wind stings in their wake.

Seagulls seem to scream in panic rather than mirth, a warning that’s probably all in my imagination.

I set back through the window, and seal it securely from the wind.

I climb back in my bed, cocoon in wool covers.

I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for sleep and a more reasonable hour…

IV.   I can tell before I open my eyes again that it’s nearly afternoon. Light pours in from every window. The rooms feels stale and too hot.

I open the door to my little isolated environment and breathe welcome, fresh air for a few moments in the patio that separates me from the main apartment. I take pause before I enter the part of my home that feels quite a lot less like mine, and descend the stairs to face a world outside of my imagination.

I take in distinct airborne flavors, greeted by the dry scent of vanilla and patchouli incense that interact pleasantly with spicy thai aromas who are probably giving flavor to corn, rice, and chicken, swimming together in a bowl I haven’t seen yet. I reach the bottom of the stairs unnoticed. I see my host mom, Cata, cooking to feed her family, which for the moment I am a part of. I feel humbled as I observe her work which looks like a pleasure as she sings with the radio, English and pitch imperfect. She loves The Beatles.

She takes a knife to some iceberg lettuce that makes a crunchy sound that’s as green and wet as it is. Behind her a pot begins to boil, begging for attention. She turns obligingly, opening the fridge to collect half a dozen eggs. Gently she places them in the waiting water who gurgles in anticipation. I can see the marker on the counter which she uses to distinguish otherwise identical cooked eggs (branded with a small red “x”) from raw ones (unmarred) before she will return them to their individual nests within their assigned shelf.

“¡Diego! ¿Has visto el abierto vino?” she calls to her son without lifting her eyes.

I sneak out without listening for a response.

V. I sit on the sidewalk and close my eyes, looking for words to assign to the moments I’ve lived, to contain the ephemeral dreams and inexplicable sensations that threaten to consume me any moment. If I wrap them in words, I can control them. I’m overwhelmed by everything and my mind is as much a prison as it is a refuge.

And no matter where I seek peace, I can’t seem to find it. The exception is within the pages of my journal, and the temporal, leafy space between its emptiness and fullness. It is in moments of expression, not a moment before or after, that I feel the way I imagine the rest of the world to feel, and suddenly I can imagine how they walk about as if they have something to live for.

Maybe it’s like bleeding a patient in the old days before they understood that disease and sickness don’t live in the blood in that sense. But I can see the reasoning. I guess that’s why I’m not a doctor.

Expression is like bleeding. Both are proof of life.

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Kaleidoscope

I’ve been
unwittingly whittled,
strip, strip.
Unyielding shields yielded,
torn, scraped away,
rip.
A diamond-crusted raincoat.
A once-steadfast stay.
An exoskeleton
deflecting unexpected blows.
Dragon scales
refracting light
in shimmering displays
of prismatic rainbows.
Brilliant, but invisible
thankless, but bold
something surrounding me,
keeping me whole.

Destroyed
before I could notice its presence,
Gone
before I could fathom its absence.

 Chipped at endlessly,
chip,
chip,
breaking flakily away,
as defenses lost ground and
insecurities took grip.
Eroding
slowly
Creeping
without cession
Numbing
the slow
but steady
progression
of insistant
exposure,
until I was
naked, wind-whipped, sunburnt
without closure

How did I miss the fixed
drip,
drip,
of my warm, orange, liquid courage
leaking in oily tears
onto asphalt?
Black, hungry, heedless
 it swallowed my oil slick
surrendered from allegorical slit wrists.
Oblivious to my sacrificial rainbow stains,
careless of symbolic,
Heroic remains
of life before grey.

Or maybe not a drip but a
tic,
tic,
Sands slip
through an inevitable hour glass
that won’t flip.
(Flip!)
Won’t right itself to fill its self-made void
or turn back time I didn’t know to miss.
A tangly mess of a brave child
who couldn’t care less

When life couldn’t have been clearer,
It was rainbows and hope.
And her mind wasn’t a mirror.
It was a kaleidoscope.

You’re Spoiled; Stop Being Ashamed

I have some things to say about this “I’m Spoiled; Stop Shaming Me” article that’s going around. I’ll do this by responding to quotes taken directly from it, but here is the link to the full article, which you should always read before you read a response to one:

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/im-spoiled-but-havent-had-everything-handed-to-me

“Stop shaming people like me because we’re lucky to have parents who want to do so much for us… Just because I have parents who want to provide more than emotional support and have different values does not make either of us wrong in any way.”

So listen. Okay, so you were spoiled. And okay, that’s not your fault, and arguably not a fault at all. As you said, people have different parenting styles and philosophies that inform them, and, sure, that’s okay. But your focus on the *desire* behind your parents providing financially for essentially every aspect of your life just demonstrates the privilege and ignorance of privilege that, in my experience/opinion, that particular style of parenting doesn’t highlight very well.

“Yes, my parents make sure I am taken care of until I can provide for myself. They highly value education and social skills.”

Okay, but so do mine? Just because they can’t afford to (and absolutely would not if they could) pay my way through life (even as a young adult) doesn’t mean they don’t value education and social skills. In fact, the opposite could be argued— but, again, that’s a philosophical debate. My point is that just because a family can’t, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could.

Sure, you say you love your parents and are grateful for your their attitude on parenting. As you should be! It is mature to acknowledge that you have something to be grateful for here. However, you fail to mention that your gratitude for the fact that they have the means to accomplish this style. It’s important to realize that it’s not just that they are great people who “highly value education”. Rather, it’s that a series of events, likely not wholly within their control, which lead them to be fortunate enough to be in a position where they are able to make that call without majorly detrimental financial consequences. A lot of people value education, but they also have to eat every day.

“…They don’t want me losing both of these things because of a job. You learn professional social skills at a job, not everyday social skills.”

I’ll go ahead and say this is just incorrect, but I guess you’d have to hold down a job to know that? I mean, it depends on your profession, but if you really think serving tables or working in a team of coworkers doesn’t have anything to do with every day social skills, then…? And who says you have to choose between the two? I’m trying to stay away from shaming here, but that just seems like a ridiculous thing to say to me.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t mind having a parenting style like this one day.”

Uh, yeah, because that would mean you have a *lot* of disposable income, and who doesn’t want that? Obviously most of us would like the opportunity to live without the taxing drain of financial stress, while also providing that benefit for your children. That is some pretty serious wealth you’ve described.

I, personally, am extremely grateful for the way my parents raised me. I could scarcely count the ways, and I am so proud to be their daughter. For me, looking back with a semi-adult-maybe-sortof-mature perspective, it looks like just the right balance where I learned to appreciate what I got *and* what I didn’t. It’s great that you seem to feel the same way. But you have to expect that many people are likely to feel resentful of that. Surely you can imagine why someone would— someone who has had to work since before they were legal adults to help pay rent, or to pay their way through college, or even just to go on that ski trip that all their friends go on without question every year. There are many different levels of privilege.

What might suit you better than bitterness at surly classmates with snide comments about silver spoons would be to find comfort and confidence in the fact that you agree with how you were raised. Maybe expressing that gratitude to them, your peers, might change their view of you, which you seem to care quite a lot about. Asserting that you realize your privilege can make you a lot more relatable to people. Or just stop caring what people think. I know that’s easier said than done; I spend way to much of my time considering how my words and actions sound and look to other people, thinking about the image I’m projecting. Really, we’d probably both be better off just letting things like that go.

You say people shame you, but you have a choice in whether or not you feel shame. Truthfully, though, I have to say that if having so much financial privilege that people sometimes poke fun at you is one of your highest concerns… I’m sorry, but you should maybe check your privilege.

Phantom pleasure firmly squeezes

As ghost fists grasp my slippery reminiscence

Like your gentle mind-hand brushing the glowing eye of my burning memory stove.

Yeah, that’s an Adventure Time reference.

It’s sewn un-seamlessly into the belly of my clumsy,

Vaguely pornographic poem–

a scary thing to put on paper

when I’ve read the wreaths of smoky swirls slung Tuesday into stanzas in an elegant portrayal of

a mind that sometimes

harms and haunts you;

A mind smoldering when it’s not clean on fire singing

Screaming flaming refrains.

Sometimes I think you see yourself as aftermath.

Largely crispy carbon remains the likes of which you’ve seen dug up

somewhere

in the middle of nowhere

You probably even tasted it.

But I hope you see you’re green and leafy, wet and breathing

…though more of a shade loving fern -marked resilient on the care tag at the garden center- than an orchid…

*Next page, New pen*

Lubed with liquor that L word leaves our lips a little more lightly

But lingers on mine well into sobriety.

*Next page, Pencil*

I’ve been trying to finish this poem for months.

Maybe I don’t want to.

 

Drumpf

Frightening incompetence
Paired with
Blind, bold, blaring confidence
(Unwarranted)
Instilled in those 
Who hear their hidden hatreds echoed,
Resonating unapologetically,
Unearthing and affirming once-buried beliefs
Rooted in
Intolerance
Inaccuracy
Insecurity
And ignorance.
Fearful that freedom will change hands
Or color.
A transfer reminiscent of Wall Street
Rather than
A boundless expansion.
Fear is the line dividing
And the force driving
Our country off a cliff