Going up

With her last remaining bit of energy, she flung her body into the closing bus door and squeezed herself on board. Breathless from running down the block, she power-lifted a week’s supply of office snacks and workout gear over the heads of seated passengers and through a sea of shoulders. Navigating around stray umbrellas and abandoned water bottles, she’d eventually find a spot toward the back where she’d assume her well-rehearsed seven-stop power stance.

As the bus PSSSSSShhhhh’d and swayed, she remained in her spot. She remained underwhelmed by the latest batch of tourists soaking in the city for the first time. She remained irritated by the staccato giggles triggered by something inevitably inane on a teen girl’s bejeweled phone. She remained focused on her watch praying that it would tell her it was time to go home, but never getting the answer she wanted.

Half an hour later, the bus pulled up to her office building. The commute was exhausting. The ritual was exhausting.

Her life

was

exhausting.

When the elevator dinged—as it always did—she stepped inside—as she always did—and tried to put on her most believable happy face.

Between the fifteenth and sixteenth floors she tuned in to the elevator music. She didn’t know the name of the symphony, just that it conjured memories of lazy Saturday mornings, cereal variety packs and violent yet comforting cartoons.

Between the thirtieth and thirty-first floors, she tuned in to terrible screeching and broken chains tangling themselves around old, rusted gears. And, as Elevator Crash in D Minor blared through the office building, she was finally able to put on her most believable happy face.

Jet-setter

Holding the phone against her ear with her shoulder, she peeled the top off from a tiny tuna salad can and scooped a heap of the runny glop onto the only one of six pre-packaged butter crackers that hadn’t crumbled into oblivion. 

As she crunched on what was simultaneously the healthiest and most repugnant dinner option available from the hotel commissary, she continued to endure another infamous audible torture session. 

“You haven’t been home in almost a year. A YEAR! Did you know that, Naynay?”

“Mom, you know I hate it when you call me that.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ Naomi. Why do you have to be so uppity about everything? You’re just trying to change the subject. FO-cus on what I am SAY-ing. It has been three hundred and fifty two days since you last came home to see your family. I thought I’d taught you how important it is to keep family first. I just don’t know where I went wrong.”

“Mom, you know I’m busy with work.”

“You’ve been busy at work for ten years, Naomi! SOME people know how to talk balance their life and work. You’re all work, no life! Where are you right now?”

“California.”

“Ooh, glamorous Ms Hollywood. Jet-setting on the West coast.”

Naomi looked around her cheap, nowheresville hotel room as her mother continued stabbing her ear with insults. If her mother could see the bedsheets covered in the previous guests’ hair and bodily fluids, she certainly wouldn’t call it glamorous. But it was still better than going home.

Sirens 

The venue reeked of spilled beer and cigarette ghosts. A middle-aged retired rocker stood tall amidst sea of bobbing heads and bad tattoos and focused on the stage. This was her night. Her show. Her time.

As the speakers blasted and lights shot through the fog, she felt his story move through her. It stroked her hair with the first chord. It held her heart in the chorus. And then it wrapped itself so tightly around her soul that she felt tears running from the corners of her eyes.

When he asked how the city was doing that night, she let out a primal scream. Her shell had begun to crack. And, this time, she was ready to help it shatter.

 

My turn

 

Before the bell even finished ringing, twenty ten-year-olds were already halfway across the football field. The record-breaking heat did nothing to stop their stubby little legs from propelling them over the beer bottles and cigarette butts left behind by the rebellious high school kids. Nothing could stand between them and the one playground installation they all fought over: the ratty old tire swing.

Ms. Autrive couldn’t understand what was so fascinating about this tired toy, but she knew that, like any other recess, she’d have to break up at least two fights between kids who believed it was their turn to go for a spin. So she stayed back behind the crowd of kids and pulled the joint she’d stuck into her bra that morning up to her mouth, sparked it up and took a nice, long drag. Ms. Aurtrive’s turn always came first.

 

Sugary senses

On the table sat a bowl of sugar cubes. In it, she saw the first time she kissed a girl and the last time she let a boy break her heart.

She felt her fishnets snag on the siding as she tried to sneak out of her bedroom window.

She heard Mazzy Star through a cuddly pile of friends giggling at a velvet unicorn painting under the black light.

She smelled cheap pot and expensive, pastel-colored French cigarettes.

She asked him what it made him think about. And, when he said “Coffee?” she decided it was time to break up.

Into the light

Kneeling down in front of her, he held her tiny hands inside of his—a prayer within a prayer—and looked directly into her eyes.

“It’s going to feel scary,” he said. “But it’s going to be okay. I promise.”

She looked over his shoulder at the entrance to the cavern, then back into his eyes. She wanted to trust him. She wanted to believe they’d be safe on the other side. But she couldn’t be certain. And that’s when she started to cry.

“Shhhh. It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” He pulled her fragile body close to his, wrapping his arms around her tightly enough to stop her from trembling. “Daddy’s got you.”

They didn’t have much time left. The longer they stayed outside, the easier it’d be for the monsters to track them. He knew they would smell her fear. And he knew they would feast on it.

He wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and stood up again. He was glad she couldn’t see the pain on his face. They were so close now. So close.

He turned and began walking into the darkness. “We’ll be safe here, my darling,” he said, stroking her long, silky hair. “No one will be able to hurt us here.”

He carried her for miles. For seasons. For years. And, as she grew, he began to shrink under her weight. Eventually, he had to let her go. And for many more years, she walked alongside him in silence. Listening. Watching. Learning.

One day, she saw a light. And, as much as the thought of being alone pained him, he told her she should go. He knew the monsters were waiting for her, but he also knew he’d taught her not to be afraid.

As the years passed and his body weakened, he began to wonder if he’d ever see her again. If she’d made it. If he’d done the right thing. Completely exhausted, he kneeled down on the ground and put his hands on his head.

And then he felt her touch.

She held his tiny hands inside of hers—a prayer within a prayer—and looked directly into his eyes. “It’s going to feel scary,” she said. “But it’s going to be okay. I promise.”

 

Artists unite

The past few days, I’ve come up with excuses not to post anything here. Too overwhelmed. Too busy. Too tired.

Then, last night, I made a new friend: a tattoo artist here in Seattle. While I was under her needle, we shared our fears about the future and tried to figure out how we can fight against the growing ooze of insanity threatening to silence our voices.

Through this unconventional therapy session, it became clear to me that, as artists, it is our duty to help others verbalize and visualize the swirling thoughts that keep us all awake at night.

Now is not the time to freeze up.

Now is the time to fire up our own passions by uniting with others who share them.