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AJ Aug 2014
I don't remember what he looks like.

I am told that I carry much of him in myself, with my blonde hair that curls around my shoulders, foreign green eyes, and a smile that could never belong to my mother. These are all his traits. Everywhere I go I carry a piece of him inside of myself, in everything from my complexion to my complexities.

My DNA is 50% monsters in the closet.

I wonder if that's why I always have an urge to punch the mirror.

I barely remember his name.

I am told that when his mother asked my name, she cried. She cried as she was told that there would be no evidence of him there.

I wonder if my mother knew even then.

I don't remember the day he left.

I was too young to understand why this goodbye would be any different than the others.

I am told that my mild mannered brother, all toothy grins and silly jokes, curled his hands into two identical fists and growled, "I am more to her than he will ever be"

I wonder if he ever resented me for forcing him to become a man at 14 years old.

I remember a doll.

A soft rag doll with yellow yarn curls and dimples, nearly identical to my own.

I am told that he gave it to me.

I wonder if he noticed the resemblance.

I wonder if he ever noticed me at all.

I remember a phone call.

The way my mother's hands shook. and her words followed suit.

I was told that he wanted to see me, nearly ten years after he left.

I wanted to tell him that once you've ripped someone's still beating heart out of their chest and devoured it whole, it was bad table manners to ask for seconds.

I wonder if my rejection even bothered him.

I don't remember a father.

I don't think I ever had one.
AJ Aug 2014
We flood into the auditorium like a frenzied herd of animals, pushing at the gates. We crowd each other, everyone frantically stumbling into seats. My anxiety isn't nearly as binding as one would think it would be and my mind goes into a state of total strategy.

2 minutes to get to the girl upstairs

I map out battle plans, trying to see if it would even be possible to reach my best friend on the third floor. Only four floor above me, and yet this is the farthest from her I've felt in years.

1 minute to get the library

My dreams of being a hero to the girl I have loved since the second grade plummet, just like my heart, and my leg bounces nervously. Libraries have always been safe. Libraries have always been home. But not even books can help me this time.

30 minutes to get to the sanctuary

Home is so far away that it isn't even an option I should allow myself to consider. I consider my grandmother at home alone, and I wonder if she's thinking of me. I wonder if she is even aware that her granddaughter is holed up behind auditorium walls, daydreaming about escape plans instead of cute boys. Trying to pass on comfort, instead of passing notes.

1 minute to get to the makeup room

I know this part of the school better than anywhere else. The theatre is sacred, and I have dedicated my life to the stories on the stage. The makeup room is where my friends share everything from stories to eyeliner to hairbrushes to kisses. It is a room built for anxiety, and pre-show jitters. I wonder if it would calm the nerves I have now.

30 seconds to get to the wood room

It's interesting that the rooms that have been my safe places for years, could truly be my safe havens as I wait for attack. The room hidden under the stage is dusty, and full of dismantled sets and large, clunky monitors. I would if those monitors would let me see the action, like watching a film from the safety of your home, watching reality from the safety of four concrete walls.

15 seconds to get to the scene shop

It's the safest place in the school. I have spent a lifetime in there, washing paint off of hands. I wonder if I could ever look at that mess sink the same way, if I had to use it to clean blood off instead. I consider the way this day has changed all of these rooms forever. Will I ever wipe down a makeup room counter without imagining hiding beneath it? Will I ever check out a book without imagining using it for a shield? Will I ever see my best friend's face without imaging myself jumping in front of a bullet? This day, no matter the outcome, has invaded my most sacred spaces, and turned this school into an battle ground. I pray that it will not turn the school into a graveyard.

A muffled voice lets out a sigh on the teacher's radio. The herd stands back up, and we return to our lives. Everyone is safe. My mind shuts off the timer, stops counting the seconds, erases the maps.

The space between me and the world doesn't seem quite as important anymore.
AJ Jun 2014
I have started this letter one hundred times. I have referred to you as my friend, my "cousin", my love. No term seems more right than brother, as you have grown with me, and we have lived our parallel lives. I have known you since the day I was born, and I will know you until the day I die. I have long since memorized each freckle on your face, each vein in your hand, each scar on your hip. I am saying this in the hopes that you will understand why it hurt so much when you looked me in the eye and told me to calm down.

As we skipped rocks in the river that runs past my house, you complained to me about the cousin with the crazy feminist ideals. I laughed it off, and tried to reason with you, trying to teach my dear brother a valuable lesson. That's when you stared at me, with those gorgeous, piercing eyes, and you said, "I know women think they don't have rights, but like...just calm down, okay?"

Not okay. It will never be okay. It can't be okay until boys like you stop ignoring our pain. Stop writing off our suffering as hormones and gossip. Stop telling us that our feelings are invalid.

You have always said that I was your little sister. As children, you were the first to teach me how to throw a punch, so I could take care of myself. You were the first to grab me by the hand and whisper, "I will never let anything happen to you."

If you wanted to protect me, if you wanted to love me, if you wanted me to have what you have, you would not ignore the hardships of myself and my sisters. You would not tell me I'm making it up. You would not tell me to calm down. You would not stop until everything really was okay.

I wonder how much you actually know about feminism, and how much you actually know about me. Once I thought you had memorized each piece I have given you, the way I have memorized every curve in your body, and every corner of your brain. I suppose, looking back, you never were the best listener.

The day before you came to me, angry about the unfairness of your parents. I would never say to you, "I know you think it's not fair but like...just calm down, okay?" When you came to me about your anxiety, I would never say, "I know you think it's hard, but like...just calm down, okay?" I would never ignore your words, would never patronize your pain, would never tell you to calm down.

Something inside of me has been broken ever since that day. The day that I realized that my big brother wasn't always the good guy. Some days, he's the villain. Most days, he's part of the problem.

I will always love you. You have been with me since my first breathe, and I'll be ****** if you're not there for my last. I will always listen, always hold you, always love you, always be here for you. But the one thing I refuse to do is dilute my anger for you. I will not sugarcoat my oppression, will not sweep away my sadness. I will not calm down.

And maybe, with you by my side, we could make things be okay.
AJ Jun 2014
There's something exhilarating about watching the hero of an action movie soar across the silver screen, thrusting fists into the face of some grotesque, mustached villain. Every time I see a thriller, I am at the edge of my seat, bubbling with excitement.

When the security guard came sprinting into the lunch room shouting, "This is a lockdown." I didn't feel anything even remotely close to excitement. I didn't want to skip through the commercials, didn't want to turn the page. I wanted to close the book, to pause the movie, to curl up in the safety of my own skin and never leave.

It was nothing like the movies. There was no hunky hero waiting in the wings to save us. There were only teachers on the edge of a breakdown, as they slowly realized that they were responsible for the two hundred lives they had just herded into the auditorium.

The villain was invisible. He was a crackle on the radio, a shadow in the corner, a ghost hanging in the forefront of everyone's mind. There wasn't a clear cut solution, no Bruce Wayne to bust in and kick some ***. Just terrified kids, and the teachers who were so much more human than I had ever seen them.

The girl next to me's hands shook in her lap, her voice carrying a note of panic that I'm sure matched my own. My knuckles turned white as I gripped my phone like a lifeline, trying to send words of love through the airwaves to my everything, who was cowering in a corner of the algebra classroom three stories up.

In the movies, goodbyes are always a performance. They are dramatic and gut wrenching. They are sobs into the sky, and screams into the night. What the movies don't prepare you for is the idea that your goodbye could be an eight letter text message, or a whisper no one would ever hear. As I waited for a reply, I wondered what would happen if this was the end. Maybe I'd hear her name on the radio that the teacher was holding, read from a list of casualties from another teen drama. Maybe I'd come home to find her name plastered across tv screens, my best friend's face synonymous with a caricature of tragedy.

If they made a Lifetime movie about this, I wonder who would play her, what glamorous Hollywood actress would dissect her personality and attempt to transform into a pale ghost of the girl I've known since childhood. I wondered how much money she would make for wearing a dead girl's skin.

Somehow, "school shooting" has become a marketable phrase and sold to me with a perfect soundtrack and a dramatic title. I wonder how much money I have given to the same people who wouldn't hesitate to turn my tragedy into a blockbuster for all to see, as they fill fiction with the faces of the nonfictional dead.

The voice on the radio signaled the all clear. The girl next to me breathed the deepest sigh of relief I have ever heard. My best friend sent back a text much longer than eight letters. A happy ending, I suppose. But as I walked out of that auditorium, something shattered inside of me. I will never hear a gunshot without imagining it coming from behind my best friend, never watch the news without wondering why it wasn't us, never see a bullet without feeling it pierce my mind.

I haven't been to a single action movie since.

I've already lived one.
AJ Apr 2014
We never say, "I love you."
The words always get stuck somewhere between our hearts and our tongues. Forcing us to swallow our affection, and replace the phrases that seem so hard to say with words that are much easier to get out.

Instead of "I miss you." we say "*******."
The distance makes us distraught, as we toss knives at the one person we never want to push away.

Instead of "I trust you." we ask each other to check our phones, because there's nothing on there I don't want her to see.

Instead of "I need you." we look at colleges together.
The idea of leaving each other is so implausible that we spend our time designing our future apartment. Each draft has one shared detail- a wooden bunk bed, so we can fall asleep to the sound of the other's breathing, the reassurance that we  will never have to be alone. The reassurance that I will never have to live without my other half.

We never say, "I love you."
We do not need to.
We say it with every sarcastic comment, every inside joke, shared memory, favorite song, every inhale, and every exhale.

I miss you.
I trust you.
I need you.

We never say, "I love you."
Either that, or we never stop saying it.
AJ Apr 2014
6:00 AM

I wake to the sound of my grandmother's voice announcing the morning long before the first rooster crows to the open countryside. The sun is still in hiding as I dress in the dark, already dreading the day's events. Shuffling through the empty house, as I attempt to force my frizzy hair into some kind of order, before giving up and slinging a backpack over my shoulder as I walk out the door.

6:45 AM

I stumble on the bus, still half asleep, as the havoc of the the night before has kept me from ever allowing my body a reprieve. Constantly moving, yet I still somehow manage to gain weight. I drop into a seat, my ever growing thighs pushing together as I lean against the cold glass of the ***** window, not daring to look out upon what my world has become.

7:30 AM

I amble my way up expansive staircases and through crowded hallways to my locker, tucked away in a tight corner next to the English office, where I find a semicircle of people waiting for me. We mumble our morning greetings then part ways in our minds long before our bodies move in opposite directions.

7:40 AM

The late bell rings, and I ease into a seat near the front of the class as one of my three good teachers begins to animatedly shout about expressing ourselves and setting our minds free and I'm always tempted to ask her how exactly I'm supposed to do that trapped between the four walls of this mighty mind numbing institution. Because even though this school may have been built like a castle, anyone whose read "Rapunzel" knows that a castle is just a prison where they hide away women.

8:25 AM

I leave one of the few decent classes of the day and enter the chaos of the hall where people are screaming and running and kissing one another, human interactions that I never seem to be a part of. I sleepwalk through the dull drone of teacher's voices, as they rant on about the importance of my "education."

10:00 AM

I reach my fourth class, the day is nearly half over, and I try as hard as I can to listen to the women at the front of the class as she expands logarithms on the page, but the numbers fog up my mind and cloud my vision. I start to feel dizzy, like if I see another equation I might faint. So instead I pull out a notebook that's nearly falling apart, and let the thoughts fall from my mind, making much more sense on the page as I scribble my feelings in a desperate attempt to be poetic.

10:50 AM

The moment I step foot into the cool auditorium it seems to get a little easier to breathe. The corner of the school I have carved out for myself as a home has opened up to me for midday drama class, and I smile at the sight of half-painted scenery littering the stage. But still I wonder how my creativity is supposed to flow between these walls, and how I'm supposed to allow my spirit to be lifted when every single scene we play out has been one hundred percent scripted.

12:30 PM

Finally, lunch arrives and I rush to the courtyard, hoping to soak up the social freedom of these forty five minutes as my friend and I ramble about things that matter and things that don't and I never remember any of the conversations but they're still important because they're the only things that make me feel sane.

1:20 PM

I find myself in the third floor chemistry classroom where I will sit for the next hour and a half wondering how I could make my death look like an accident from an untested chemical or crazy bunsen burner reaction.

2:45 PM

The school day draws to a close, but still I stay in the building where my dreams have come to die, slaving away in a poorly lit auditorium, giving my life and soul to the theatre. Not for a chance to be on stage, but to be behind the scenes, weaving together a musical with the smallest of roles, and it doesn't seem to matter how insignificant my job is, because it takes a lot of small people to tell a good story.

5:30 PM

I exit the sanctuary of the theatre and walk to my mother's car. I choke as the cigarette smoke fills my lungs, while we talk about both nothing and everything. I find that this is the best conversation I'll have all day.

6:30 PM

I'm called upstairs for dinner, my grandmother insisting we all eat together while we scramble for polite conversation topics. My angry political disputes and uncensored ideals of the future are not welcome here, so I keep my mouth shut, tugging at strategically placed articles of clothing made to hide the few secrets my body has managed to keep.

9:30 PM

After hours of pointless false conversation and staring at a flickering screen, I jump into the shower, loving the blissful in between state it provides.

10:00 PM

I go to bed, but not to sleep, my phone hidden under the sheets, sending secret messages to my friend across the universe, like whispers in the dark. When I finally shut my eyes, all the insecurities crawl into my mind like little insects of anxiety. My throat closes up and I can't breathe. I feel as though I have been tied down, and I thrash around the bed until I tire myself out and slowly succumb to sleep.

12:00 AM

I dream.

6:00 AM

I am ripped out of the one pure moment in my 24 hour cycle, ****** awake by the sharp sound of my grandmother's voice shouting the time. I get up to repeat this never ending monotony of my everyday life.
AJ Apr 2014
i'm suffocating, gasping for air, as i sink into the quicksand,
i desperately try to grasp at her arm, hands flailing as i pray to get a hold of any part of her,
but she is too far away to save me in time,
as i drop into the abyss i cannot breathe, i cannot scream, i open my mouth in terror but find sand consuming my lungs, filling up my body until i become one with the earth

i can feel the end approaching in my bones as i allow the panic to dominate my mind,
my body curling into a ball, squirming underground,
my brain screams at me to give up the fight and i know for sure that soon the sand will bury me completely and solidify my skeleton into the soil,
returning to which i arrived,
giving my soul back to the earth, the cycle complete

i've resigned myself to my imminent death when i feel a pair of strong hands wrapping around my wrists, pulling me out of the dirt where i had lay six feet under,
she rips me out of my misery and the sand pours out of my mouth as she cleanses my soul, her presence allows me to breathe the cool morning air once more, no longer choking on my own despair
i cry my gratitude into her shoulder and in her arms is where i can finally start to feel whole
i lay my head on her chest and our hearts beat as one
her voice soothes my fear addled mine, anxiety melting away

she stands strong beside my shaking body, the only person to ever grab my hand, and pull me right out of a panic attack
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