For All The Fucking Salmon

Adrenaline assuages the hunger, an aching appetite for the thrill of the dance. Sauté, a spright pluck from off the studio floor, legs and feet stretched beneath me. Step, glissade as the impetus builds, invisible energy that gathers within the molecules and particles inside of and all around me; I amazed by the consummation of physics and artistry. Finally, the grand jeté as I am propelled by a creation of spirited momentum that sends me through the air as if I was something altogether different, something other than human. I soar through the studio, fully extending into a split when I am airborne, and land lightly in relevé, arms finished gently in second.

Stop! Cut the music!” Cassandra’s face is taut, arms crossed tightly, not a gentle second.

“What’s wrong?” I match her taut expression. I’m deeply disturbed, like any artist would be, at the interruption of my craft. From the corner of the room, Elisabeth stirs in her barstool to pause the track from Cassandra’s laptop. The sudden withdrawal of the music is haunting as we wait in the silence. Genevieve and Claire and Jenny stare at me from the sidelines. Elisabeth stares at me. Cassandra stares at me. My reflection stares at me.

“I don’t know how many times I have to give you corrections before you apply them,” Cassandra finally fills the silence.

What corrections?” I ask, audibly annoyed.

“You cup your back foot when you take off in the air instead of stretching out those muscles and winging that point. I tell you that every day. I can’t stand it when you do it.”

“I’m sorry. It’s a habit.”

“Yeah, a bad habit. Get a new one.”

“It’s a minuscule detail,” I say under my breath, wiping a band of sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand.

“What did you just say to me, little lady?” The grizzly bear awakens from hibernation, starved for some fucking salmon after its winter-long slumber. 

I smile back at her. I’m no fucking salmon.

It’s…a miniscule…detail…” I emphatically stretch out the lengths of each syllable.

“Oh really? Oh really, miss smart mouth? Well, let me give you some more substantial stage notes then! When you hit your tilt sauté, your supporting foot never degagés into second. The battement sequence? Lazy! You’re distending your neck forward and piking the legs. And Jesus Christ, do I even need to tell you that you’re falling forward out of pirouettes? Pirouettes, for God’s sake! And you’re doing it downstage, front and center, right smack dab in front of the judges! It’s atrocious!” For a moment, I imagine that Cassandra’s eyes will roll into the back of her head and we’ll all be stuck at the studio overnight performing her exorcism.

You are never as good as you think you are,” Cassandra emphatically stretches out the lengths of each syllable.

I cry. Even though I’m not sad. Even though I don’t want to. 

“No. You can’t stand here and cry. I can’t have you stand here and cry.” Cassandra shakes her head. 

“Mom, if you yell at me, I’m gonna cry.” I look right into her eyes, an unfeigned expression of exhaustion and heartbreak.

I stride past her, sucking in tears, and make my way out of the rehearsal studio.

“You can hit the next track, Elisabeth,” I close the door behind me.

* * *

I’m waiting on a bench in the lobby, blankly mesmerized by an inspirational Hobby Lobby poster that reads Make Your Dreams a Reality. Genevieve and Claire and Jenny slide into winter coats and cover their delicate ears with knit hats that run down the sides of their faces. They push past the double doors and disappear into a nightfall backlit by tall lampposts in the parking lot that illuminate the soft flurries of snow that whistle through the wind.

All of the other girls have gone home by now. Only the five young women from the senior competition team stay until the studio closes for the night. Elisabeth is the last to follow out, having some conversation with Cassandra about the piano cover of a Sara Bareilles song that’s ‘truly poignant.’

Elisabeth is a kiss-ass and I hate her. When Elisabeth finally shuts her big fat mouth about truly poignant Sara Bareilles piano covers, she gives Cassandra a brisk side hug and heads for the door.

“Goodnight, Miss Cassandra! Goodnight, Louise!” 

“Goodnight, Elisabeth!” I wave her out with a suspiciously high-pitched farewell and an animated smile across my face.

Cassandra sits next to me on the bench. She sits quietly, blankly mesmerized by the Hobby Lobby poster. Several minutes fall around us, but whistle away in the wind.

“Make your dreams a reality,” Cassandra grabs a moment and holds it before the flurries whisk it away. “You are all of my dreams, Louise.”

The grizzly bear isn’t angered after it’s satisfied, and she’s had a full dinner. Four beautiful fucking salmon – Genevieve and Claire and Jenny and kiss-ass Elisabeth too.

“Elisabeth is a kiss-ass and I hate her.” 

“Yeah. Yeah, Elisabeth is kind of a kiss-ass, isn’t she?” Mom laughs. I laugh too.

We rise from the bench, push past the double doors, and disappear into the nightfall.

* * * 

“I have evaluated each and every one of your solo auditions over the weekend. I have thought long and hard about which one of you should have a solo at the national championship.” Cassandra is pacing back and forth, face taut, arms crossed tightly. We sit on the floor, backs against the wall, Genevieve and Claire and Jenny and Elisabeth and me.

As Cassandra paces, her eyes linger from student to student, but for only a second, no more and no less. She looks over Genevieve, then Claire, then Jenny, then Elisabeth, but Cassandra avoids me altogether, evading the intimacy that exists between a shared second. She is unable to share even a single second between us.

“And I think it should be you, Louise. I think you should represent the studio as our solo entry this year.” Cassandra looks right at me, unbroken, one second, two seconds, five.

Genevieve and Claire and Jenny applaud. Elisabeth frowns softly, but offers a few claps of congratulations. 

“So without further ado, girls, if you’d step out and begin a stretch circle perhaps, I’d like to begin a solo rehearsal with my daughter.” Cassandra never uses that word at the studio, but today marks a special occasion. 

“Come on, Louise. Let’s get started.”

* * *

“When I was conjuring up ideas – ideas for a concept and costuming and choreography – I thought that maybe to win a crown at nationals, we could bring a crown to nationals.” Cassandra smiles at the sound of her voice, prideful of her own creativity. 

“Good thinking,” I say thoughtlessly.

Make Your Dreams a Reality,” Cassandra recites, “Maybe if we act like royalty, we’ll begin to believe that we are. So, I went out and got you something.” She looks to me, wide eyes that wait for a similar reaction. 

“What is it?” I feed her ego.

Cassandra reveals a tiara. 

“I call this piece The Coronation. I think we can tell a beautiful story.” She’s eager to rehearse, and doesn’t hesitate before she sticks and pins the crown into my hair. Her hands move quickly, energized by her inspiration, and she inadvertently sticks and pins some pokes into the sides of my head.

“Just remember, Louise, that a crown for some people, some places, some kingdoms is more than a headpiece. A crown is a symbol. And there are some people, some places, some kingdoms that will try to tear your crown away from you. Louise, you must fight to keep your crown or someone else will take it away.”

* * * 

The spotlight is searing, but I am able to make out five shadows seated at a judging table in front of the stage.

Judges ready?” The box of the auditorium bellows from the speakers, waiting for a thumbs-up from all five judges before beginning the music track.

One thumb for Genevieve.

Two thumbs for Claire.

Three thumbs for Jenny.

Four thumbs for Kiss-Ass.

Five thumbs, and the music wells, a grandiose fanfare that dawns The Coronation.

The spotlight still burns. I am transported to a memory of myself as a little girl, taking a competition stage for the first time. She was hungry for the thrill of the dance, the prospect of a crowning moment, the fanciful coronation of a beautiful queen.

But the spotlight still burns, and with it, something burns away.

Adrenaline no longer assuages the hunger, an appetite that aches for something else, something greater. 


I fumble a foot over a peeling piece of electrical tape on the floor of the stage. 

Step, glissade. 

I nearly nosedive, hurled forward, and catch myself with my hands. 

The grand jeté.

I make the split-second decision to keep going, thinking I can redeem the performance.

But without impetus, invisible energy that gathers within the molecules and particles inside of and all around me, physics and artistry are at odds. They play a ruthless game of tug-o-war, caked in mud and strained by the muscular wear and tear. No one can hold to the rope forever.

My ankle rolls into an Uno! Reverse, and the pain courses up into my leg, my pelvic floor, my churning stomach. I hit the ground with a thud, contorted and mangled, head back as my eyes burn away under the spotlight.

But all of this pain is nothing to the embarrassment of it all, because to everyone here, to five esteemed judges, to troupes of prestigious dancers from across the country, to Genevieve, to Claire, to Jenny, to Elisabeth, to Cassandra, to the ballerina I see every day in the studio mirror, I am flopping and flailing centerstage like a fish out of water – a fucking salmon in the grizzly bear jaws of my mother.

Kids These Days

The auditorium usually swallows itself up in sprightly chatter, but today takes a hard gulp, and chokes, when silence demands its much needed attention. Mr. McKinley has been standing in place, microphone in hand, long before the assembly has actually assembled. Students have filed into neat rows, stowed bags under chairs, muted their cell phones. Never before has a high school seen such rigid organization of rowdy teenagers sandwiched into a singular setting. 

The auditorium stage, normally full of life from the sets and props of an autumn musical, is barren. The gathering has nothing to admire as they sit and wait with mounting apprehension. There is nothing to look at, save Mr. McKinley alone at the podium, microphone in hand, standing among the thickening silence.

Kelsey Sutherland whispers a poorly timed joke from the left side third row, followed by hideous snorts and giggles from Lindsey Whiting and Britt Everly to which a disgruntled Ms. Hale physically hits Kelsey Sutherland, one of her very own students, in the back of the head to shut her up. No one else but Kelsey Sutherland would dare open her mouth at a time like this, and after that interesting exchange, no one else does.

A painful five minutes passes in no hurry.

Then ten, and then fifteen, until finally the auditorium lights disappear into enveloping darkness, dimming and leaving and dying.

Mr. McKinley, a man usually full of sprightly chatter, today takes a hard gulp, and chokes, as he sputters nervous coughs into the speaker system, a pervasive sound of electronic vibrations and hiccups that stings the eardrums of the audience. He takes a pause to himself before trying to speak again, and smiles softly at the crowd in front of him. If you sit close enough, perhaps the first five or six rows, you can watch as water wells in the corners of his sunken, dreary eyes. 

However, once Mr. McKinley does begin to speak, he goes unheard. His words ebb into the background, and all the attention from the crowd of students, and the cliques of faculty members, and even Mr. McKinley, is given to the slide show that greedily devours the spotlight. We are granted only eight seconds of Aditya Khatri before a picture of him fades again, followed by another eight seconds, and another, and another.

Mr. McKinley concludes his dedication, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” settles among the void instead. The music choice, while touching, is trite and underwhelming. Nevertheless, Darci Lee Griffins still pretends to be caught in a chokehold of tears from the far right side wings. A teacher, possibly Mrs. Jennings or Mrs. Gregory from the looks of it, escorts Darci out into the hallway. Passing through wide double doors, Darci’s exit lets the hall’s harsh, artificial lighting escape into the darkened auditorium, a haunting change of atmosphere, until the heavy door swings shut again and chases the bright rays out into the distance.

I watch this interaction, the push-and-pull between the light and the darkness, from my seat in the corner. I wonder if Aditya Khatri was the gentle darkness we corrupted or the shining light we chased away. 

* * *

“I don’t know, Mr. McKinley. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Mr. McKinley looks absolutely frazzled, clutching a stapler from his desk with one hand and hitting it hard with another. Loose staples litter his workspace, and each time the crocodile jaws of the stapler violently snap another staple free, I force myself to hold in a shudder.

“You knew him,” Mr. McKinley finally poses aloud, testing new waters.

“Everyone knew him.”

“No, you knew him.”

“Mr. McKinley, I’m sorry, I really am.”

“What went wrong?” Mr. McKinley pleads for the umpteenth time.

“I don’t know.”

“No, please, what went wrong?”

“I’ve already told you I don’t know.”

“But you have to know something. Please. Anything.”

“There isn’t anything.”

“There’s something.

“There isn’t anything.”

God dammit!” Mr. McKinley erupts in tears. “God dammit, god dammit!”

I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing. I sit. I fold my hands in my lap. I watch Mr. McKinley cry. 

And then, like the light that infiltrates the darkness when you don’t expect it, I cry, too. 

“I only heard it.”

Mr. McKinley looks up from the open palms he’s buried his face in and looks up to meet my face. He gives back a puzzled look, not expecting me to confide in him, not expecting me to be crying, too.

“What?” Mr. McKinley asks so quietly that I can only make out his words by watching his mouth move.

“I didn’t see it. And, I don’t know, maybe if I had seen it, seen it coming I mean… then maybe I- maybe I could have said something or done something…” with every word I drag out from inside me, I lose more and more tears. Mr. McKinley’s puzzled expression changes again, distorted, overwhelmed, exhausted. 

“What didn’t you see?” Mr. McKinley asks.

“I wasn’t inside the stall. I was outside, and I could only see legs knelt upon the ground through the underside of the stall walls. And I kind of know what’s going on. I just expect – ya know – horseplay. Boys will be boys. It’s just rough-housing. I still thought that we were playing around. But they were in there for a long time, shouting at him and laughing at him. Adi would fall to the ground once in a while, after they punched him up a bit. I could see it. I could see through the crack where Adi would fall to his hands and knees. Adi would stay down there until someone picked him up again, grabbing him by his shirt collar and yanking on him hard. And then finally, the climax we’d all be waiting for, Keygan Rice shoves him in the-” I cry harder. I don’t want to say it.

“Keygan Rice takes him by the back of the neck and shoves him in the toilet. And that’s what we’re all expecting, but I didn’t know he’d… I didn’t know he’d…” I don’t want to say it.

“He’d what?” Mr. McKinley asks.

“I didn’t know Keygan had shit in the toilet.” I didn’t want to say it.

There’s a long silence, the silence that demands attention and hushes an assembly of rowdy teenagers when something is grave and serious.

“Then Keygan throws him out into the middle of the bathroom floor. Trey Michaels gets behind Adi and holds his arms behind his back. He’s pulling so hard against Adi that I can see where the bones inside of Adi’s arms are bending backward and working against the resistance. Jason Hayworth pulls a cigarette out his bag, lights it, hands it to Keygan. They’re all laughing their asses off. Crying, even. They can’t stand how funny it is. They won’t stop asking Adi if he’s a dot Indian or a feather Indian. They’re poking a finger at the red dot between his eyebrows. But the fingers weren’t good enough…”

Mr. McKinley’s expression changes again, expectant, terrified, devastated.

“They ask Adi one more time if he’s dot or feather. Keygan can’t wait anymore. He tells Adi that we’re ‘fixin’ to find out’ and smashes the cigarette as hard as he can right where the red dot is. And Adi screams. Adi hadn’t said one thing the whole time, but he screams, and that’s enough for everyone. All that hard work for this. He screams and they’re satisfied.”

“And then what?” Mr. McKinley asks, affixed to each unfolding piece of the story as he learns more and more, on the edge of his fucking seat like an impressionable child by the campfire. The horrendous tales of something sinister and lurking and carnivorous in the wilderness leaves the child unable to divert his attention elsewhere. We spend our lives seeking solace from these stories, running away, hiding.

“Everyone left. Walked out the doors and left him there on the floor. He pulls himself up to the sink and tries to wash his face off. By that point, everyone had left but me. I make eye contact with Adi. I tell him one thing before I go.”


“I don’t even know why I said it. I just felt like I needed to contribute or something. Be a part of the boys.”

“What did you say to Adi?”

Shit-brown and dirty like your people.

* * *

When Mr. McKinley can finally go to bed that night, he lays awake like he’s done for a week now. He remembers the day before it happened, when Aditya came into his office. 

Aditya had told him that some of the junior boys were being rough on him.

Mr. McKinley laughed. 

“That’s why it’s called rough-housing, son. Boys will be boys.”

He ushers Aditya out of the office and closes the door.

Seven days later and Mr. McKinley is restless, tormented each night by the sinister, and the lurking, and the carnivorous. He thinks long and hard about which of these monsters he’s created.

Made in the Shade

Blue corduroy overalls and a white tee shirt that reads GAP across its chest – I am just barely old enough to sit by the pool without supervision from Momma. I perch myself on the edge of the diving board, shaded by leafy branches of elm and birch that extend reaching hands over the patio sidewalk, and the daffodil gardens, and the cool waters of the deep end. I point my toes, rifting ripples into whirlpools, and watch closely as water bubbles white with motion, then dissipates to clear again.

Ruckus from the adults stirs my attention. I peer toward the commotion, following the recognizable voices of my family having an emphatic conversation. The pool sits atop a hill, met at the base with a lush creek bed of climbing ivies and sumacs. The leafy elms and birch make homes with deep roots and stumps here, where they lap up the sweet mudwater to grow big and strong and tall enough to shade uphill pools, and the patio sidewalk, and the daffodil gardens, and the cool waters of the deep end.

From downstream, I can hear our neighbors coming close, another emphatic conversation that melts into one as they meet my family at the creek bed. I become more curious still, deciding to pull my feet in and take a stand on the diving board. I snag my stuffed panda bear companion, whom accompanies my daily travels, and pick him up from the diving board too, so we can both get a better view of the creek down the hill.

I prop my panda on a shoulder and make a silly face at him.

Panda-monium,” I say to him. He doesn’t laugh out loud, but I know he’s holding one in.

My family and our neighbors are now in view of my panda bear and me. Otto, the patriarch of the neighbor’s family, draws a rifle – something I can only name with hindsight. It looks comical to me at that age, a peculiar plaything born out of a fictitious world of sheriffs and bandits at high noon. And there is great irony, because though I may only faintly understand the concept of guns from Saturday morning cartoons, I don’t understand the great distance between children’s programming and the rifles, not animated, that exist in the adult world.

Otto takes a shot and I lose my senses. The sound is pervasive, a thick and heavy infiltration that booms, yet settles. I have never heard a sound so tremendous in volume, let alone a sound capable of moving after it struck its first chord. And a chord is a remarkably accurate description – the sharp strike of the piano with a pressed foot on the damper pedal. The sound is resonant as it collects in my ringing eardrums and I flinch with such vigor that I lose my piggy-backing panda friend and watch with terror as he falls into the cool waters of the deep end. His face stares back at me, bewildered, half-sunken and wet by the pool water that is soaking up his plush fur, and the only thing wilder than my reaction is the reaction of everyone else, or rather, the absence of one.

Not one move is made from my family and the neighbors. The sound was expected, enough foresight to place hands over ears and brace selves for the impact. The crowd disperses, and the moment has passed us as quickly as it introduced itself. The whirlpool dissipates to clear again.

Otto shovels a dead animal into a garbage bag and pulls the orange drawstrings into a tight knot. I watch him carry it back to his garage, open his garbage can, and casually toss the bag inside with the boxes of pizza and bottles of Corona that line the bin and cushion the fall. 

Frederick, the patriarch of our family, treads up the hill to the pool and smiles when he sees me. He doesn’t know I’ve been outside.

“Daddy, what was that?”

“An armadillo.”

“An armadillo?”

“Yeah sport, an armadillo,” he laughs, but I don’t know what’s funny. “Hey – your panda’s in the pool. He’s swimming.”

Daddy walks away, so I don’t ask any more questions, and I know better than to go inside later and pester him about it. I lay down on the diving board, flat on my stomach, and stretch my arms out to retrieve my panda bear. I wring out the water as gently as I can and carry my companion to the other side of the pool deck where lounge chairs soak in the sunlight out from under the reach of the shade trees. 

We sit in the sun, just the two of us, long after the chaos has abated to make sure my panda bear goes to bed warm and dry tonight. Bedtime comes, and still no one has attempted to explain to me why humans do the things they do. Under my covers, I drum up the grotesque image of my panda bear at the bottom of a trash can, helpless and trapped as humans open the lid and turn litter into quicksand. I give my panda bear a tighter squeeze. Momma used to tell me that all dogs go to Heaven, but never did I figure out where the armadillos go.

Danish Princes

Nestled soundly against the soft breast of his mother, a baby boy of rich cream-colored skin with curly tufts of blonde hair and oceanic blue eyes crooned sleepily as his mother swayed back and forth to the rhythm of a slow-moving mobile that hung cartoonish giraffes and zebras and elephants from the ceiling. A few minutes passed until the boy’s eyelids became too heavy for him to stay awake and curiously watch his mother’s face as she hummed gently to herself and to her child. She kissed his forehead, a forehead so small and new that her lips nearly took up its entirety, and laid her son among the plush pillows and stuffed animals that decorated his crib. 

She crept over the many blocks and rattles and plastic colored things that cluttered the big circular rug in the center of the child’s room so that she could pass through the bedroom door with as little disturbance as possible. The hallway outside was dark, only lit by the moon’s blueish hues that filtered in through the slits in the window blinds, and it took her a fumbling moment or two to accustom her sight to the strange sort of lightness that always existed in dark places.  

Every night around this time, she followed a similar routine, humming and swaying with her baby boy until the day’s tasking endeavors of toys and cartoons and naps and pureed apples and carrots finally caught up with him and he grew weary from the busy schedule of a baby. She would then slither through the nightfall that blanketed her home, sink into the enormous sectional in her living room, turn the television on at a volume no higher than four, and fall asleep with one eyeball mindlessly analyzing House Hunters International and one eyeball mindfully glued to a baby monitor. Though her baby did not move, and though there was nothing to watch at all, she had never been more fascinated by any show than she had been by this – the black-and-white image of her son, safe and sound and still.  

* * * 

Love It or List It had put her to sleep by midnight, but a stir within the sleepy house around two in the morning had reached a fisted palm into her dreams and retrieved her, pulling her back out again into the darkness. Startled at first, she eased when she recognized the familiar shape of her husband on the baby monitor, standing over the crib and staring at the sleeping child. Intrigued, she emerged from the cavernous sectional to take a few wobbly steps toward the hallway and into her baby’s room.  

But to her dismay, and to her confusion, when she rested an affectionate hand on her husband’s shoulder, and he turned around to recognize the source of the affection, she found that this was not the familiar shape of her husband, but rather, the similar shape of her husband’s brother. The two spent a brief moment wading in the silence.

“I thought you were Michael,” she spoke softly, tugging her brother-in-law toward the door, away from the crib. 

Her brother-in-law said nothing, but only continued to trace her frame with his eyes.

“Bryan, do you know what time it is?” she asked with more force, a solid sound that broke the hold of the home’s silence yet did not break the hold of the baby’s slumber. 

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Have you been drinking?” 

“No, no, I haven’t. Not this time.” 

“Are you telling the truth?” 

“Goddammit, yes, Charlotte, I’m telling you the truth.” 

“Don’t swear in front of my baby.” 

Your baby?”

She tugged him again, pulling him outside the bedroom door so that they could continue their conversation with less fear of waking the baby. 

“Bryan, what are you doing here?

“I said I’m sorry.”  


“I said I’m sorry, Charlotte, for fuck’s sake, I’ll leave. I’m not hurting anyone.” His intensity was diminished by the whispering, and both realized that arguing amid the earliest hours of the morning was futile and silly. And of course, she was exhausted, gaining more and more apathy every second she could not return to her sectional and doze off to Property Brothers. So, she turned around and made her way back to the living room where she reclaimed her spot on the couch. 

He followed her, as she anticipated he would, but he did not take up a seat on the furniture, instead choosing to stand in the wide door frame between the hallway and the living room. He folded his arms and frowned.

“I had to see him, Charlotte,” he posed as though the living room were full with a committee of some sorts conducted to judge him on a speech or presentation. The sentence came out distorted, breaking pitch, and she could not quite distinguish whether he was telling her something or asking her something.  

The darkness settled, having spent enough time with her eyes open and awake. She finally had the full range of her vision to investigate his curious face, a face that studied her just as curiously as a baby would study his mother as she hummed and swayed beneath the slow-moving mobile that hung cartoonish giraffes and zebras and elephants from the ceiling.  

She continued to investigate his curious face, his cream-colored skin, his curly tufts of blonde hair, his oceanic blue eyes that seemed to be pulling deep, violent tides inward as she observed him. People say that when the tides pull inward, retreating from the shoreline, a tidal wave is collecting beneath the surface – collecting and collecting and collecting until the water finally rises high into the air and collapses onto the coast. 

Spare Parts

This is the part of Katy Perry that you are never gonna ever take away from her.

But how long has it been since Katy Perry has stood alone to brace the torrential downpour, unprotected by her hive of worker bees or billion dollar image or succinct and catchy stage name? Because as it might surprise you, no one names their child Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or Madonna.

That’s showbiz, baby! And what else is showbiz but an escapist’s paradise for idealisms? We have our heads shoved so far up the Kardashian family’s assholes that we might as well stay put and hibernate for the winter.

You might think the opulent and outlandish lives of like 30(?) different Armenian-American women sporting a collection of first names that all begin with the letter ‘K’ living together in a variety of Calabasas palaces is so relatable as you shove microwave popcorn into your mouth on your weathered futon in the middle of central Oklahoma during an E! Network marathon of K.U.W.T.K. on a mundane weekday night, but ultimately that’s all the Kardashians are – opulent and outlandish. In the real world, you don’t relate to them at all. And that’s the attraction, or rather, the distraction.

The media is a holding place for our sense of reality to sit and sputter and idle until the last fumes of our human nature trail out the end pipe and die. We suffocate in the garage, choking on carbon monoxide and the mirage of show business.

Because even though Katy Perry means well, and even though the infamous music video where she shaves off all her hair in a convenient store bathroom is compelling, the music video is, nonetheless, staged, ghost-written, and backed by a mountainous Hollywood budget.

Beneath the elaborately planned, created, executed, and produced performance of a born-again Katy Perry army crawling through muddy ravines sporting her camouflage fatigues and Mulan-inspired haircut, is a hidden ensemble of writers, stylists, agents, actors, visionaries and industry workers who have literally designed this music video to tug at your heart strings and pull at your sense of pathos.

I tried to apply the same empowerment into my own life, but when I took a wrench to my body and unscrewed all the bolts and bits and pieces, I was left with nothing more than a pile of spare parts on the living room floor. I have spent so much time trying to decide which seemingly ordinary part of me is the Part of Me that you are never gonna ever take away from me, but humanity isn’t built in a day nor by hand.

Of course Katy Perry would feel empowered on the set of a potential Billboard chart-topper, but if you’re not a beautiful and illustrious celebrity, can it really be so easy to stare down the faces of your enemies and flash them two confident middle fingers?

I’ve been wondering recently if there would be nothing. If you took a spare part from me, and then another, and then another, and then kept stealing spare parts one by one, would any last part remain?

What if you could take every part of me?

What Goes Up

Life is lined up its sleeves with ambushes, concealed, waiting, lurking, stalking your every move until it can find the worst possible time to raise a hand high in the air and slap you hard across your stupid face. A power move, a reddened cheek that serves as a reminder that you’re merely life’s bitch.

What goes up, though we may believe otherwise despite better judgment, must come down. The sun does not reverse its rise in the morning when we are sleepy and the rain does not cease its freefall on days we’ve forgotten to carry an umbrella. And the reliable, unwavering hand of gravity does not let our wishful thinking continue to soar upward after it has lost its momentum.

I built my hopes high around you. A colossal skyscraper that towered such lofty heights it seemed to wobble from the avenues and sidewalks below. An architectural feat so impressive it rounded off an eighth place to world wonders.

What goes up, though I so dearly believed otherwise despite all my better judgment, must come down. High hopes will deceive you into believing that the mortal hand can construct himself upward from the Earth and into the gates of Heaven itself, latching onto the extended hand of a kneeling angel who would nurse our naivety and kiss our bruises.

There is no bridge to Heaven.

And there is no closure for unattainable dreams.

I built my hopes high around you, until the day my masterpiece came crashing down. I buried myself beneath the rubble, vowing that I would never reach for the skies again. What goes up must come down.

Down I will stay.

A Tale of Two Queens

I have two sisters, one by blood and one by spirit.

God-given, both of them. The wandering hand of something greater that plucks two queens from across a sea of checkered squares and drops them off where they are needed. A divine intervention that guards a lone pawn, stranded in a far-off corner, from the imminent threat of checkmates.

And checkmates are all about kings, fragile and overprotected like that of masculine egos. We work relentlessly to keep the reign intact, regardless of how many players are claimed at the sanguine-stained hands of the journey.

These two queens, one black and one white, have nothing in common but their kings. And like all other queens too, they have been fatefully destined for all of eternity to service the fanciful whims of kings.

My sister by blood has vowed to never marry. She is committed, instead, to an intimate relationship with herself – the only real bond in life that will never and could never be separated. I’ve heard her many times before disdainfully criticize the foundations of a traditional marriage, a specific disgust that only my wonderfully unique sister could have. To wed yourself off to a man. To walk down the aisle, only to be handed over like a business transaction. To be given away like women are nothing more than distressed damsels, or sleeping princesses, or dowdy housewives. To be given away to kings who will always have it all.

“But I’m a Miller,” she’d boast proudly. “That’s my last name and I want to keep it.”

My sister by spirit, however, has pined to be married. She is committed to idealisms, the perfect soulmate, the perfect wedding, the perfect family, the perfect future. But a world of idealisms is not always ideal, often failing to provide what it has so willfully promised. And even now, after years of heartbreaks, in a relationship that is finally ideal, my second sister fears that dreaded last name. Just like my first sister.

It’s a detail that only I could notice about her, a testament to our years of invested  friendship and shared love. I know her better than I know anyone else, and I know when she is hiding behind the trivial to evade a lurking truth.

“I hate it! His last name. It’s silly. It doesn’t sound pretty with mine.”

But that’s the trivial. And this is the truth.

She is afraid that she will love someone so much that she, out of her own volition, will sacrifice her last name, and along with it, her identity.


Both sisters lose.

You can either give yourself away to a king – or – you can spend the duration of your life overcompensating for the world they have created. Because no matter how hard we try, in chess or in life, with kings or with men, we will always be servicing the spacious thrones of royalty.

In chess, and in life, you can keep playing the game long after your queens have been stolen.

Say My Name

I think I’m one hot shit, pretending, as I make an entrance of course, to not notice him. I take a seat at a barstool, strategically cushioned between my crew of badass ladies .

Give it an hour, maybe. That’s plenty of time to see where the night is going. My ladies have dispersed. Making out with ex-boyfriends or taking bathroom selfies with strangers or braving a stand at a karaoke microphone for just one round of Liam Payne’s Strip That Down. 

The girls go by quick at the bars with their crop tops and shorts and headbands. Fratty-Daddies in a college town are plentiful and shameless. But we’re not all there looking for companions, or so we declare in our feminist Tumblrs or introductory psychology research papers.

But some nights, that’s just what happens. One of my badass ladies succumbs to the vodka cranberries and kisses a pre-law major sporting a button-up belted into dark-wash jeans, and it all snowballs downhill from there. Give a welcoming guten tag to the impending avalanche.

That’s not how I want my night to go I declare in my feminist Tumblr or my introductory psychology research paper or my sappy, melodramatic blogging column. But for two strangers, she looks like she’s really digging the one-night-only offer of overcompensating intimacy.

And I’m growing jealous, knowing I could overcompensate for my day-to-day loneliness if I gave intimacy a little faith and chance.

He’s cute enough, especially after a gin and tonic, and I’m stuck here for at least two more hours while my ladies fervently edit instagram pictures and snack on future attorneys.

I want to talk, mostly. Not consummate a fucking marriage. The challenge of “vibing” is difficult, because most (all) drunk males “get the vibe” that you’re putting out and asking for it.

“I’m Luke. You come here often?”

I laugh at my own joke. He likes that.

The rest is a dance. I know what I’m doing. I’ll be in charge of where we go from here, how far we go from here, and when I’m ready to say a big Camp Rock hasta la vista baby. I’m not a bad dancer either, our words a softly moving ballad that pulls a pair closer together on the dance floor. Let’s tango with our conversation, a two-person minimum and maximum. Hold my hips with your compliments and guide my feet with your pickup lines. Be sweet on me just for the night. Let me get all my flirting out of my system before I go back to school and work and sleeping alone.

I want to talk, mostly. But he can kiss me a little. I want that, too.

But kissing turns to more in no time flat. He’s got himself excited, forgetting the public setting he’s in, pulling me closer to him and panting as he kisses up and down my neck.

Inside my head, I remind myself that I’m one hot shit, one badass sugar mama, and most importantly, one classy and esteemed individual with feelings and values and self-worth.

He’s talking a little dirty like I’m going to reach inside his khakis and give him some action in front of the entire Thirsty Thursday crowd. Under the guise of dirty talk myself, I close my eyes and brace myself as he continues nuzzling his face against my neck. If we’re going to get vocal, I’m going to put him up for a test.

“Yeah. Say my name.” I keep my eyes sealed shut.

He, without even the slightest reaction or budge or acknowledgment, sustains the silence, his mouth connected to my skin but not to a brain.

He keeps on kissing me and we both know why.


Incomplete Sentences

He scolded us from day one.

You will never be a writer if you don’t learn how to follow rules.

Some rules stick with me – a nagging parody Twitter post that bullies the difference between “there” and “their” and “they fucking are, you stupid, illiterate bitch” into its thousands of followers.

Grammar and spelling and syntax and structure.

I think English is a beautiful language, complex in its mysterious craftsmanship of randomly assorted letters and parts and meanings and sounds. And English, standing as one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn, is the world’s most rewarding challenge for me.

Its most beautiful aspect is its endless laundry list of rules. I once took a class where we merely studied a six-hundred page book of intense, specific, and nitpicky grammar and formatting rules. Each day, we would discuss and debate the many different scenarios and contexts for capitalization or hyphens or abbreviations.

I could spend my lifetime studying the wildly complicated rules of the English language and still never reach perfection. I am both fascinated and compelled by this sentiment, continually reaching for one more rung in a ladder that never ends.

Writing is a disciplined art, sport-like in its necessity for practice (which makes you-know-what) and delicate in its dance between thoughts and tongues and cramping hands. Though I will never be perfect, I will always improve. That is the satisfaction.

But in all my great, wondrous awe, some rules still don’t stick.

He scolded us from day one.

You will never be a writer if you don’t learn how to follow rules.

But like sentences, I too, wake up some days without clauses or subjects or predicates.

I don’t fragment to break the rules in rebellion, a roguish bad boy style. I don’t fragment to be quirky or weird, an attempt to be noticed and admired. I don’t fragment to support an aforementioned abstraction, an existential metaphor where people are just the words they say and the books they write.

I fragment because, conversely, I am not my words. My words are me. A depiction of who I am that is conversational and languid and full of movement.

I will learn and love and appreciate each and every rule, but every so often I will take one I don’t mind so much and bend it over my knee until it snaps. Pulled by two hands in downward momentum until all of its pieces break and shatter and fall. Incomplete sentences surrounding my feet.


I asked my professor if I could leave class early that day.

I was sick, very sick, and the morning up until then had already given me troubles.

Then again, I am never a morning person, and each day’s initial obstacle of emerging from beneath my soft, pillowy comforter to attempt a few wobbly footsteps among the morning’s faded blue light is always a tremendous test of my will.

He waved me a gentle and concerned farewell. I had almost completely lost my voice and my feeble query croaked from the reddened cords within my throat. 

“I could tell he was struggling,” my professor acknowledged to his teaching assistant as I walked out of the classroom. I don’t know if he knew that I had heard him.

I did not make it out of the building before I reached inside my backpack to grapple for my phone among the clutter. I instinctively dialed my mother, and possibly from the same instinctual nature, began to lose hot, uncontrolled tears from my weak and sleepy eyes. 

She answered my call quickly, unusually quickly. Calling any of my family members during regular business hours was typically a futile effort. Capitalism puts us under the wringer. Sorry about your children, mothers and fathers. You need to mind your cubicle all day long. 

But my mother knew. And a part of me regretted that. I never kept secrets from my mother, and I don’t think I ever could, but my recent confessions to her were of an entirely different nature. 

I wondered if I would ever be old and independent and strong-willed enough to handle my life without help from my mother. She has so many of my burdens on her shoulders that she might as well give Jesus Christ a snack break and take the whole wide world out of his hands. She can carry anything.

A few days prior to that day, I had discovered that my first love was cheating on me.

Boys can’t break my heart, I’ve always said. That’s a waste of time, energy, and effort.

But boys can break your trust.

And they can break your health, too.

My family has a long, frightening list of health issues. Intense cancers at unusually young ages, diabetes and irritable gastrointestinal tendencies, blood pressure fluctuations and mental health disorders. I, in particular, had a bizarre and vastly uncommon bleeding disorder that imposed chronic and heavy nosebleeds, deviated sinus channels, and sometimes internal bleeding.

When I had asked my professor to leave, I had told him I wanted to get tested for the flu or mono. He warned me that a strain of strep was going around town. 

I tried to isolate my symptoms. 

You lost your voice because of strep.

You have a stomach ache because you literally drink your own blood.

Your head is throbbing because you’re scaring yourself too much.

But I isolated to rationalize, to rationalize my deepest and darkest fear of something far more sinister and lurking and fatal than bacterial strains and runny noses and diarrhea.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything wasn’t and couldn’t be so simply and easily isolated. Something inside me churned and wailed. As I sat in class, I writhed under the grip of an internal malfunction, an overall culmination of pains, instead of isolated sicknesses. 

This isn’t right. I have never felt like this.

The birds and bees conversation is hugely different when you’re a young gay male. Parents can’t shake their heightened and deeply-rooted protective proclivity, and do not hesitate to be blunt when they scare you about sex. 

Sex is dangerous. But so are people, untrustworthy, self-fulfilling, sex-addicted people. 

My parents must love me so much that they found it crucial to warn me about holding hands in public or walking home alone at night. Gays get raped and murdered. Always be vigilant.

I dared to do something I had never done before, coming to terms with my desperation as I worked in my morning class in intense bouts of pain. I had always been vigilant about people, but not always vigilant about my health.

I reach for a single laptop key with one, slow cautious finger.

You said you would never do this.

I began to type.

S – y – m –

I picked up the pace, conquering a horrible fear.

Symptoms of HIV.

I think God pulled my eyeballs out of my sockets and Gorilla-glued them to my laptop screen. I read with total mesmerization.

I have it.

I know I have it.

Crying without a voice is a strange sensation, a strange sound, a strange feeling, a strange outreach for a more dramatic reaction that you cannot grasp.

I wanted to scream and cry and shout and sing and dance and yell and wail and burst, but I couldn’t. Instead, my insides burned as I tried to release my frustrations and festering anxieties while my body simultaneously battled this outcry, cruelly withholding my satisfaction.

And of course, when a child cries, a mother cries, too.

For a split second, I had an omnipresent moment, overlooking my own crying physical body as I sat in the driver seat of my car, too afraid to leave the school campus to learn my truth. I found it bizarre, the image of me crying alone in my Jetta while my mother cried alone in her office as we both silently gasped and heaved on opposites ends of a phone call.

“I don’t want you to be disappointed in me,” the words exploded out of my mouth as if they weren’t real. It was the ugliest sentence I had ever said. My voice sounded ridiculous, so much so that I thought it couldn’t have been me who had said it. 

I realized then and there what was making both of us cry so violently. 

If I had been afflicted under the merciless hands of the world’s worst living autoimmune disease, then I would die. But then that would be it. I would die, finally relieved of the pain and the torment and the lifelong battle.

But my mother would live.

The most horrifying thing on our conceivable earth is not to die, but rather, the opposite.

I wasn’t crying for my own worst nightmare.

I was crying for hers. 

I would be gone from our physical world and my mother would have to continue without me, a miserable existence of grief and sorrow.

Days later, I returned to classes. My peers and I had to play a silly game in one of my communication courses where we pulled labels out of a hat and taped them to each other’s foreheads. 

The activity was supposed to teach us about stereotyping and the unconscious, impetuous ways in which we judge others.

I pretended to have fun as I approached my classmates and treated them like they were “poor” or “frail” or “incompetent.”

Minutes passed, the game concluded, and I pulled the taped strand of copy paper off of my forehead.


I thought about screaming at my professor, teaching her a lesson she would never forget about sensitivity and ignorance. 

But I wasn’t angry at her. I was angry at life and its great, cyclic irony.

I wondered what it would be like to be a permanent social pariah, metaphorically displaying unclean written across my forehead with no possible means to rip the tape off.

I gently folded the paper in halves until it was too small to do so again. I tucked it in my back pocket, making sure that I didn’t return the adjective into the hat again.

I tested positive for strep, and for nothing else.