Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 30: Marcia Aldrich • Mandy Len Catron • Jasmina Kuenzli • Ryan Van Meter • Lynne Grist • Nora-Lyn Veevers • Chelsea Biondolillo • Melissa Faliveno • Natalie Lima • Boyer Rickel

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work by the end of June (at the latest: earlier is better!) via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

June 30: Marcia Aldrich • Mandy Len Catron • Jasmina Kuenzli • Ryan Van Meter • Lynne Grist • Nora-Lyn Veevers • Chelsea Biondolillo • Melissa Faliveno • Natalie Lima • Boyer Rickel



The construction workers arrive. Bainbridge Landing, the euphemistic name for a huge, unsightly blight upon the landscape, is being built right behind where I live on the destroyed ground of what once was a five-acre field of wildness. Last year in a matter of days they knocked down every tree, tore every shrub, every scotch broom, holly, and blackberry cane out of the ground and shook them in the jaws of death until they fell apart and then scooped them up and dumped them on enormous funeral pyres. Every snake, bird, rat, and deer got out and didn’t come back. Now the men start hammering around 6:55, sawing pipes with machines that break your will to live, and running a machine that flattens the earth.
     Up I get, stumble really, to shut the blinds against the longest day of the year.


I do unremarkable things. I try to figure out the title for an essay I am working on and land on either Someone Called Mother or The Enigma Variations, which gives me an excuse to listen to Elgar’s orchestral original.
     I learn the gorilla Koko, who knew American sign language, died in her sleep.
     I learn that a century ago, shepherds castrated lambs with their teeth.
     I learn that Benny, the state’s first wildlife detection dog, is really good at sniffing out illegal elephant ivory but that unfortunately he can’t be everywhere at once.
     I learn that from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2016 there were at least 12 incidents of a large white car driven by a woman over the age of sixty-six striking a storefront on Bainbridge Island, where I live. In the past two weeks, two such incidents occurred, the taking out of the window of a shoe store, Soul Mates. The driver said without irony The car has a mind of its own.
     I am asked in the space of an hour to stand with Jeff Merkley, Patty Murray, Jay Inslee, Derek Kilmer, the ACLU, Oceana, Sierra Club, Women’s March, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Earth Justice.
     To donate today.
     I watch segment No. 45 of Carpool Karaoke with host James Corden and his guest, Paul McCartney, singing “Let It Be” as they drive around Liverpool. I sing along. Tears form.

Late Middle

Richard and I and Omar, our dog, walk along the harbor to the Congregational Church’s community garden, where I share a plot that had been neglected for years. I am revitalizing it. Omar isn’t allowed into the garden and so Richard sits on the bench by the front gate and Omar lies down at his feet. They are surrounded by climbing roses, tall delphiniums, lilies, bachelor buttons, all profuse and unchecked. So unchecked is the growth that tall stalks with bold yellow flowers are growing up through the slots of the rickety bench and through the gate. The evening sun falls on them, lights them up as if they were the subjects of a painting called Late Sun. I open the gate and follow the winding overgrown paths back to my little plot bordered by ever-rising raspberry canes. My plants are starting to sprout and spread, the greens of the parsley and basil as intense as can be against the dark soil. Even the compost pile has red poppies blooming in it, a field of them. I water. I talk to Ed, the guardian of the garden. He tells me it makes him happy to see me tend my garden after so many years when it was just weeds.


I watch The Americans. Episode 3 from Season 6, “Urban Transport Planning.” It is the endgame for The Americans and so much more. While Elizabeth strangles a security guard and Philip meets Oleg at the park, Leonard Cohen sings a love song inspired by the Holocaust:
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love.
Dance me to the end of love.
—Marcia Aldrich

Marcia Aldrich's latest book is Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women, University of Georgia Press. Her latest essay is "The Short Book on Grief," in the May issue of Brevity.


This morning I missed a FedEx delivery for the third time in three days. I’m not sure how much of this missing is my fault and how much is theirs. But I am underslept and I have a job interview tomorrow so I am choosing to blame them entirely.
     When I text my partner Mark, “Guess who fucking came by and didn’t buzz us??” he writes back kindly: “Delivery rage is normal.” I tell him my anger feels out of proportion—it’s just patio furniture—and he assures me that missed deliveries are a condition of modern life; everyone’s angry about them.
     On the bus to work I put in my earphones and turn on my meditation app in hopes of softening the rage. But instead fat tears leak down my face. I am thirty seven, too old to cry on the bus and yet here we are.
     The last time I cried on the bus was when Dumbledore died. It was eight years ago and I had just ended a ten year relationship and the Harry Potter audiobooks saved me from grief for a half an hour every day. That day Dumbledore’s death seemed symbolic of all the losses we must bear, even those that are intentional and necessary. It was a good bus cry, if there is such a thing.
     I guess this morning’s cry is probably symbolic, too, as I truly do not care this much about an aluminum table and six plastic chairs. Maybe I am crying because I’m bitter that modern capitalism can shrink my entire week to three failed deliveries. Or maybe it has nothing to do with FedEx and everything to do with this job interview and the precariousness of adjunct faculty work and the shimmering prospect of a full-time position. Maybe it’s to do with next month’s trip to the fertility clinic. Or maybe the tears are just the inevitable response to watching your government put kids in cages.
     I guess we are all reckoning with our powerlessness every day. Isn’t this why I bought the meditation app? For the sake of maintaining a sliver of bus dignity, I decide not to think about the interdependence of meditation apps and modern capitalism.
     I have lunch with two friends who are kind enough to curse FedEx on my behalf. Then they toss me a few practice interview questions and I am buoyed with gratitude for their good companionship.
     In my office, I grade thirty portfolios, write a final exam, and send what feels like fifty emails but is probably closer to ten. I cross things off my to-do list with firm strokes. I log on to Twitter and, about five seconds later, feel the rage lurking again. I close the website.
     In the classroom the breeze rustles the trees outside and comes in through the windows and raises goosebumps along my arms as I write the words “EXAM FORMAT” on the marker board. The students are restless. It’s the last class and the longest day of the year and all of us want to be somewhere else.
      “I want you guys to succeed on this exam,” I say, feeling the breeze rush in again. “So we have to go over the stuff, but then we can leave early.” They snap to attention at the words “leave early.” I imaging sitting on my unfurnished patio with the dog and a beer as the day fades. I want to bear witness to every last hint of daylight.
     When I thank them for making my Tuesday and Thursday nights so pleasant, my students clap and I turn a little bit red. I tell them I’ll see them at next week’s final. As I say this, I remember the littlest bit of strawberry coconut ice cream in the freezer and life feels totally manageable for the first time all day. I hoist a big stack of research papers into my arms and we all head out into the still-bright evening.
—Mandy Len Catron

Mandy Len Catron is the author of How to Fall in Love with Anyone, a memoir in essays. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Rumpus, and The Walrus, as well as literary journals and anthologies. She lives in Vancouver, BC.


Torn Contact (June 21, 2018)

I’m stuck in traffic on Mopac, and I can’t fucking see. My left eye is a constant stream of weepy tears and discharge, trying to expel the foreign, corrosive object. 
     Which, of course, also happens to be the object that makes me see.
     It’s hard to drive home with a torn contact.
     This is the type of life I’ve been living lately. I’m struggling through Hard Mode on what looks to everyone else like Easy. 
     The thing that is supposed to make me see is making me blind.
     Like now, the car in front of me slams on its brakes, and I almost don’t make it in time. Distracted, the instinct to shift from first to second to neutral and back again, gliding the car forward and stopping, is a beat behind. The music starts, but I’m waiting for the right cue. 
     Hesitating on the tips of my toes, until I miss the beat entirely. Until all my rhythm gets lost in anxiety. 
     “We should have a girl’s night!” The others were sprawled around me in their various states of exhaustion, and it was the least lonely I’ve felt in weeks. 
     “Sounds awesome,” I said.
     But then that twinge went off in my chest. A proximity alarm. 
     Why are you freaking out? I’m standing on a hill, screaming at the black hole that is my anxiety, bracing myself against its sucking force. It’s just a game night. You’re good at games. 
     My eye burns, and my vision blurs.
     Oh right, I think. We put my Life settings on Hard. 

At about the Capital of Texas Highway Exit, I decide I’ve had enough. I rub hard enough for the small, flexible object to leave my eye. 
     This does not help. 
     All I can see are blurred shapes and the grey stretch of road.
     It’s going to be a long way home. 

They’re new here, so they don’t know.
     They don’t know about me. 
     What do you think they’ll do when they find out about you?
     My eye hurts, and there are permanent tear tracks down my cheek. 

The ones who know parade across my vision. The guy who made me sprint to my car and look over my shoulder, who shows up on their Snapchats, who they’d never suspect….
     The friend who already took his side.
     The words I wrote about the friend I fell in love with so absolutely, he still hates me.
     The guy I tried to hook up with in January, even though I broke every tier of girl code to do it.
     I bite my lip and the tears trickle down my cheeks. 
     Why do you think they’d believe you? No one else did.
     The road is filled with blurriness where there should be sharp edges. Where things should be clear-cut. 
     And my workplace is a minefield with triggers set only for me. 

But the music continues to play.
     The road to take its shape.
     I remember the ones who stayed. 
     The words, “I believe you.”
     The soft, “You didn’t deserve this.”
     The fierce, “Since when did you let them take any space that belonged to you?”
     And I’m still driving.
     The blurriness an easy adjustment, my fingers tapping on beat.

—Jasmina Kuenzli

Jasmina Kuenzli is a second-year master's student studying Creative Writing, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and YA Literature.  She can usually be found holding impromptu dance parties in her car, developing her superhero alter-ego, and making unnecessary Harry Potter references. Jasmina would like to thank Brenna and Sarah, who heard these stories first; and Harry Styles, who is sunshine distilled in a human being.  


I woke up eight minutes before my alarm was set to ring, in the room of my adolescence. I had arrived to my parents’ house in Missouri the afternoon before. I made coffee. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among the letters to the editor, a reader suggested to those criticizing the president’s current policy of prosecuting and detaining migrants illegally crossing the country’s border to drive down, pick some up and host them in their own home. I read my horoscope and ate cereal with Lactaid.
     My father and I drove to a military cemetery to see my aunt’s grave. She was buried there only two weeks earlier so her grave was marked with a paper label under plastic on a metal stem stuck in the dirt. A man with a truck was just then installing the engraved white stones of the people who had died in May. Flowers were draped over the some of the plastic markers.
     After, we went to the Missouri Civil War Museum on the same campus. I saw a taxidermy horse and an amputation set, a silk dress and many guns. In an exhibit of The Civil War as depicted in movies, I learned that Margaret Mitchell, novelist of Gone With the Wind, was killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street on her way to the movies. I decided to read “The Red Badge of Courage.” On one of the display cases, there was a sign asking visitors to please pardon the darkness.
     On our way home, my father slowed the car to wait for a squirrel to cross the road. He pointed to clouds that looked like rain.
     Shortly after we got back to their house, my mother returned from shopping. She had bought me a set of blending markers. When we tested them out, the markers wouldn’t blend. She also brought home a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets. I won three dollars on one and six dollars on another.
     We ate leftovers for lunch. I napped for 12 minutes.
     I looked through old stuff in my closet, including a collection of movie ticket stubs I’d saved from my teenaged years. Movies I forgot had ever been made. Raising Cain. Shining Through. The carved face of a hand puppet I made of Napoleon for a book report in sixth grade resembled my father’s. In a panoramic picture of my eighth grade class, I was sitting in the front row all the way to right wearing two watches in a T-shirt with horses on it.
     My husband called from California to say our puppy had chewed up a birthday card I received in the mail from my other aunt.
     My father and I watched Jeopardy! “Who is Margaret Mitchell?” was a correct response in the first round.
     We ate dinner at my parents’ country club. My mother led us on a tour. Their old club burned down a year before and since it had reopened, it was the first time I had been there. My brother, his wife, and two children met us. I held my baby niece until our food came. Her pacifier fell and it rolled the farthest it’s ever rolled, my sister-in-law said.
     At home, we watched several reruns of Family Feud. My father said it seemed that Steve Harvey was always on television. My mother said that some of the answers to the questions were too risqué for the hour the show was generally broadcast. I noticed their dog only lets me pet her when I’m sitting on the sofa in the living room. Later on, I noticed that I especially liked listening to the sound of rain when I am in a bed.
     It took great concentration, I realized, to notice what has been the same for a long time.
     Lying there, waiting to sleep, I remembered a jacket at the museum in the Hollywood Civil War display. It was a costume that had appeared in several movies. It had stripes along the sleeves that indicated the Confederacy, but letters embroidered on its collar that indicated Union. The little printed card pointed out that the typical movie-goer would not have been able to notice this discrepancy while the jacket was in motion.

—Ryan Van Meter

Ryan Van Meter is the author of an essay collection, If You Knew Then What I Know Now. His work has also been selected for anthologies including The Best American Essays. He lives in California where he is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of San Francisco.


I awaken from the best sleep I have had since arriving in Manchester, UK a week ago. I’m visiting my mother’s family who I’ve not seen for 18 years. It’s been a quiet holiday so far as I get to know my lovely cousins who are quickly becoming the sisters I never had. They leave me to myself most of the time, only making occasional suggestions of what I might, perhaps, like to do before my three weeks in England run out. I’m still grieving the loss of my husband a year ago, and I’m not myself yet. Though I’m not exactly sure what my “self” is anymore. They understand, and give me lots of hugs.
     We are going downtown today to visit the George and Dragon, the pub where my parents met at the end of the war. It was April 1945, and my  father was a soldier stationed in England at the time. But the war ended before they could marry and he was sent back to Canada. They wrote one another for over a year until my mom was able to join him and become a Canadian war bride.
     I am excited to see the pub, though I understand it has changed a great deal in 70 years. The house where my mother lived is gone, as is the factory where she inspected Lancashire Bomber parts during the war. The row of shops with a fishmonger, greengrocer, and bakery, have been turned into flats. But I have high hopes for the pub, for at least the building still stands. We shall see.
Cradling my French press coffee with English “double cream”, I step outside into the coolest day so far. Bits of sun poke out from the ever-present clouds, which are threatening  rain as usual. I hope they refrain today, though I’m becoming as phlegmatic about the weather as the Brits and don’t care too much. How different the summer solstice is here compared to home. I swear I can feel the North Atlantic seeping through the ground. My cousins wear shorts and sandals while I huddle in my jeans and fleece. I wish I had brought warmer socks.
     I tour the small garden and admire the lush flowering bushes, which appear to love the cool, damp weather. I worry about my cousin’s tomato plants whose foliage is exploding from their plastic tent. I wonder how they will ever produce fruit with such a meagre ration of daily sunshine. At least the peas and lettuce are happy.
     Large, beautiful, black and white birds called magpies squawk from the rooftops and fences. They are ignored by my cousins, who still talk about the magnificent blue jays they saw in Canada years ago. Familiarity does breed indifference.

As I eat my breakfast of Greek yogurt, berries and granola – identical to my breakfast at home – my cousin reports Trump’s latest: Canadians are buying American shoes, scuffing them up, and smuggling them across the border. I find this hilarious. Canadians have always smuggled American goods over the border—it’s one of our favourite pastimes. Trump often intrudes into conversation here, just as he does in Canada, and my relatives are as appalled by him as I am.
     I go back to reading my Guardian newspaper. An article on the front page says Italy’s interior minister has declared that all non-Italian Roma must be expelled from the country. “Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma,” he says, “because we can’t expel them.” He has often expressed his admiration for Benito Mussolini.
      Fascism on the rise, again.

In the afternoon my cousins and I walk to the tram which is only five minutes away, and in ten minutes we are in downtown Manchester. Since they are retired and over 60, my cousins travel for free. How civilized. I compare all this with Toronto, where transit is expensive, inconvenient, time-consuming, and totally insufficient.
     We alight from the tram and walk to Swan St., where the George and Dragon pub once stood at the centre of a thriving manufacturing district- one of the world’s first and largest. The red sandstone pub was built in 1862, but is now painted black and silver and renamed the Band on the Wall. This had been its nickname since the 1930’s, when the owner built shelves for the musicians high on the wall to leave more floor space for the customers.
     It is 1:00 pm and the pub doesn’t open until 5:00, but we have arranged an early tour with the manager. We knock on the red door, and John takes us inside. He shows us the old woodwork and windows covered by black paint and points out the decorated plaster ceilings and original columns with shelves attached where patrons still rest their drinks. Then he takes us to another room which once housed the oldest cinema in Manchester. Filling one wall is a huge blown-up photograph possibly taken on VE Day. It shows the George and Dragon filled with Allied servicemen from around the world. Above their heads are the shelves, with a dummer and accordionist on one and a piano bolted to the other. I search for my parents in the crowd, but they are not there.
     While John is telling us how the Band on the Wall is an award-winning music venue featuring world music, a West African band knocks on the door. John lets them in, and as they begin setting up, we thank the manager and leave. I have what I came for. This iconic pub still holds the faint echoes of wartime revelry, and I am deeply gratified to have found the place where the first sparks were ignited between my father and mother.
     We walk down the street and stop to eat a 21st century lunch of lentil salad and goat cheese quiche. A chilly wind gusts through the patio and I put up the hood on my down jacket. My cousins remove their coats and bask in the sunshine of the British summer solstice.

—Lynne Grist

Lynne Grist is a retired teacher living and writing in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada



A cup of tea is waiting for me when I opened my eyes. My husband brings my tea every morning (Insert happy faces. And hearts). Dad spoils you, Mom says my daughter. When she visits she brings my tea early in the morning (Insert more hearts than my heart can hold).  A bit of mindful meditation, a bit of hip and leg exercises prescribed by the physiotherapist, a first, soothing, hot swallow of the best a cup of tea will taste all day.


I ran into my friend at the boutique-y bakery in town where I picked up day-old pain au chocolat. We stopped for a cup of coffee together on the sunny deck and shared our outrage over a local celebrity wine-maker who made the front page of the national newspaper for the sexual harassment of many female staff over several years. Some of our friends questioned whether it should have been front-page news. My adult daughters said hash-tag about time.


Our oldest daughter is staying with us this summer while she writes up her doctoral dissertation. She spends most of her time burrowed deep in her subject matter. Today she made the best turkey BLTs ever. We put everything on a tray and took it out to the back deck. The sun warmed our arms, legs, faces. Not a cloud in the sky. None of us wanted to give up our lunch-place in the soothing, warm glow of the first day of summer.


I make potato salad from the French Cooking cook book. The dressing includes white wine and lots of grainy Dijon mustard. I marinate the chopped up green onions in the vinaigrette for about an hour before pouring it over the salted, cooked potatoes.
     On our walk we discover that something, probably the muskrat living in the little creek in the swampy meadow, has dug up all the turtle eggs we watch the mother turtle lay the day before in the gravel on the side of the road. She expelled each egg with laborious determination and furiously paddled it with her hind flipper-leg deep into a tunnel she excavated at the same time.  She seemed oblivious of our hovering, so focused she was on bringing another generation to life.
     The barn swallow babies flew their nest this afternoon. After days of watching seven little, open beaks peek over the edge of the nest in the rafters of the barn in anticipation of food to be dropped in by the vigilant mother, they now got to practice finding their own nourishment. They have survived all attempts at sabotage by the barn cat and the neighbourhood Tom cat that invades our barn at night. We will miss them. They are the promise of summer each spring when they arrive back in our barn.


We join a community of friends at a local farm for a Summer Solstice shared-dinner. The potato salad disappears fast. All the food is delicious and the farmer-couple have barbequed organically raised chickens from their farm. Long tables, some in the sun and some in the shade, are set for us. The aroma from the row of peonies behind our chairs graces our meal. The sun stretches its long limbs gently across our table. The conversation turns inevitably to the celebrity wine-maker. The women at our table—all twenty years younger than me—echo my daughter’s sentiment: hash-tag about f*ing time.

Art Opening. 

We slip out of the dinner and drive into town. My husband had a painting accepted in a juried art show and our daughter meets us there so we can see Dad’s painting on display for the opening reception. I take a photo of Dad beside his self-portrait and text it to our younger daughter who lives on the other side of the country. We join some of our friends for the Art Crawl that a few of the young artists have organized in our little town.
     By the time we find our car, Main Street has closed down and the masses of stars begin their nighttime vigil in the cloudless sky.

—Nora-Lyn Veevers

Nora-Lyn Veevers is a writer and retired school administrator living in beautiful Prince Edward County, Ontario Canada


I wake up to a loud fan and cool air. This is immeasurably better than how I’d gone to sleep, which was to a loud fan and hot, thick air. I do not want to get out of bed, which has become a routine feeling I feel, and so I stay twisted in the sheets as long as possible. M makes us both poached eggs, and that drags me up and out. 
     I make coffee and then savor the seeming decadence of soft egg and cool avocado against the rugged terrain of an English muffin. I am late “to work” which just means that it is after 9 when I wander back down the hall and at the end, instead of taking a left turn to crawl back in bed, I take a right turn into my office. I log on to the PC first, as that is where the work happens, but then I also swivel my chair around to fire up the Mac, as that is where all the distractions happen. 
     There are fourteen steps between the kitchen and my office and I only turn my chair to work or to not-work. For most of the workday I navigate this very small space and try not to feel trapped. Today I have three calls with coworkers, which is the most of any day for the past several weeks and so my voice is almost hoarse by three. Usually, I only see my coworkers in my inbox. But today, I talk with the HR manager for a while about a training initiative. I try, during it, not to exhibit the slavering excitement of an underemployed teacher. I am not a teacher for my day job. I am a regulatory analyst—and though most of my coworkers know I teach on the side, when I can, I am not sure if the HR manager knows. She has no sense of humor and does not empathize with employees as a matter of principle. She takes her job very seriously and I (often) do not. I also talk to the technical writer who took over my writing tasks when I became an analyst. I didn’t want to become an analyst, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to write, and so we commiserate with the limitations of our roles after we discuss an issue that I must figure out and she must document. Finally, I talk with a manager with whom I have an uneasy relationship. Her predecessor was my boss, but our director did not think she had the people skills or technical knowledge to manage me. As a result, she considers me an adversary who knows something she needs to know and who she must learn to dominate. We also both have a lot of tattoos and have dated a lot of shitty men—something we discussed a bit more freely when we were equals.  
     In between work tasks, I spend my time at the other computer scrolling and hustling. The university I’d had a contract with canceled me last semester, which meant a loss of twenty percent of the income I’d projected for the rest of the year. My days are consumed with worry about this. I secured a couple of workshop gigs over the summer (which had been scheduled to be my time to write, but will now be my time to try and dig out of a financial hole), but the rosters aren’t filling, which means I don’t get paid, which means I might not get offered the gig again. So, in between liking and reposting and rabbit-holing, I post about my workshops on my various social media platforms, which are deep in great friends but not broad because I don’t know how to manage such things. I try, despite the worry, despite the doubt in my abilities that empty rosters inspire, to effuse excitement about my workshops. I am a good teacher; my students often stay in touch and take my classes over, but… the longer I go without time to write, I worry, the further and further I get from being the kind of writer that people think has something to tell them. I spend a lot of the day thinkingthinkingthinking about that, too. 
     Just at the point in the day when I normally begin to cry, I instead exchange text messages with a very good friend about our flowers. She sends me pictures of her new shade garden and they are beautiful. I send her pictures of the pots I’ve made up of flowers and vining plants for my new patio, which she commends. We are comforting one another this way. This means that I make no entries today in my journal of reasons-I’m-crying-2018. 
     Around 2:30, I finally get out of my pajamas. I realize for the millionth time today (the millionth time over the past several months), that I am deeply, deeply depressed. But there is nothing to do for it today, so I get dressed and finally brush my teeth and continue reading work emails and looking out my window and walking the 14 steps to the kitchen for coffee or to make a lunch salad and the 14 steps back to type something into a screen. I worry and hope in equally unhelpful measure until the work emails drop off and I’ve inundated my few friends with solicitations.
     In the afternoon, I pick up a sweater finished knitting the other day, and I curl up on the couch and begin the slow, mindful process of weaving in the ends of yarn left from the knitting process. Part of the sweater is made of yarn that I’ve had for many years, and I am comforted by the sense of meaningful process a finished sweater represents. I think about the softness of the wool and the complexity of the colors, about the work that went into dying and spinning the yarn and the work that I put in to the sweater. I push the thoughts that follow, that wonder why I can't put that kind of effort into other, important things, away. It’s a cool day, and so even though it is summer, I wear my new sweater while I run some after-work errands, which is good, because my other preferred choice of outerwear has been a long army-green duster type coat, with a hood and drawstring waist—which bears an uncanny resemblance to the jacket that Melania Trump wore to visit the children’s detention center. Mine doesn’t have any text on the back, but I can’t stand even the possibility of someone thinking it is the same brand. 
     For dinner, M and I decide to go to the food carts a couple of small towns away, and we both pick Lebanese. He gets chicken shawarma and I get a lamb gyro and we share a Greek salad. The flat pitas are warm and soft and the sauces and meat are generously spiced. It is too much food, but the lamb tastes good and being full of anything feels good and so I eat every bite of my wrap.

—Chelsea Biondolillo

Chelsea Biondolillo is the author of the prose chapbooks Ologies and #Lovesong. She has an MFA in nonfiction and environmental studies and currently lives about 30 miles outside of Portland, OR, in the shadow of a mountain, near a river. 


I woke today like I wake most days: at 6:45 to chimes in my phone and traffic on the Pulaski Bridge, to men yelling over power saws and concrete walls going up on all sides. Lately I’ve been waking up tired, like I got less sleep than I did. I haven’t been drinking, or drinking that much anyway, and it still feels strange sometimes to wake without the weight of the previous night on my brain, or thick on my teeth, a sick fruit pit in my stomach. It also means the weariness I feel is just there inside me, that it wasn’t self-inflicted. This is its own kind of misery. 
     I crawl out of bed. My partner makes coffee. The dog and cat cry and pace until they’re fed. I take a shower—never hot enough, never enough pressure—and stand in front of the mirror. My hair is getting too long. I look out the bathroom window at the pigeons on the fire escape. It’s a Thursday, and the weekend will be here soon. I’ll sit on the fire escape and read in the sun. For now, I sit on the edge of my bed in the dark, wearing nothing but underwear, and stare at my closet, coffee cup in hand. The dog and cat circle my feet, rub against my legs. I lean down to scratch them. The dog whines and twists around to get more touch. The cat purrs, then jumps up on the bed. She sits next to me, butts her face against my arm. She looks at me. I scratch her neck and think, Am I giving you everything you need? 
     I check the weather, see that the heat will break today. I stare at my closet some more. I do ten pushups. I pull on some jeans, iron a shirt, brush my teeth, pack my bag and leave. I walk ten blocks to the ferry, through scaffolding and closed streets and construction sites. But the sun’s out and there’s a breeze, and I take the boat to work. It trundles along the East River, from my neighborhood in north Brooklyn down to the seaport. The river is dark and muddy and stinks, but most days I still think it’s beautiful. The hazy Manhattan skyline to the west, the developing Brooklyn waterfront to the east. What was once the Domino Sugar factory now a row of condos. I sit outside on the top deck with a book (Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us) and pass beneath three bridges. They’re the same bridges I pass every day—the Williamsburg, the Manhattan, the Brooklyn. I always look up. They’re a marvel of mechanics, of human invention, exhilarating if you take a second to consider what went into their construction: an amount of vision and labor and exactness of engineering that I can’t even being to imagine. The suspension cables, the towering stone arcs. The dark blue steel of the Manhattan, with just a hint of green. I would like to paint every room in my apartment this color. 
     Lately I’ve been thinking less about construction and more about jumping. I’m not suicidal, at least I don’t think so. I was for a while, a long time ago. But it’s been in the air lately, for me especially since the death of Scott Hutchison, the front man of one of my favorite bands, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit. Scott jumped, or at least we think so, a little over a month ago now, his body discovered on the banks near the Forth Road Bridge. It’s something he predicted might happen a decade ago in “Floating in the Forth,” a song from the 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight. It’s a hopeful song, despite its dark forecast. In it he asks if he might find peace below the roar of the bridge. And he imagines jumping. And fully clothed, I’ll float away / down the Forth into the sea. But by the end of the song, he’s steering himself through choppy waves. I think I’ll save suicide for another day, he sings. And the key is major, and there’s a chorus rising up behind him, and you can see him swimming. 
     And so I imagine him alone on the bridge the night he died. Scott suffered from depression, something he sang about often. And it’s no exaggeration to say that on some of my darker days, even recent ones during this very commute, his words have kept me afloat. Every day since his death I think about him as I pass beneath these bridges, and I imagine him jumping. And I wonder if he could feel the wind against his body as he fell. I wonder if he felt weightless. I wonder if he felt anything at all. I wonder if he’d had anything to drink (something else he struggled with and sang about), and how it might have influenced his decision. And Jesus, I think, haven’t I been there. 
Today I think that bridges are a wonder, but they’re also these historic sites of death. They wear death—past death, and the possibility of it—on their beams and in their cables. And isn’t it funny, how they can hold up so much and at the same time allow for such a letting go. And it scares me, the way I’ve been thinking about the bridges. Not just because I think of what it would feel like to fall, but because I’m reminded of how fragile and fleeting life is, how vulnerable we all are.  
     We dock. I walk along the harbor, look out toward the sea. At the office I drink another cup of coffee. I catch up on email. Scroll through Twitter, read the news. I read about children separated from their families and locked in cages at the border. I think about sending more money, about what else I might do. I feel helpless. I log out of Twitter. 
     I edit our daily news roundup. I proof the weekly newsletter. I edit a section of the magazine on writing conferences and retreats. I want to go to all of them, and know that I won’t. I edit an interview with an author whose first book just came out, who says she struggles to keep a consistent writing practice. I feel relieved at this, like I’m not a total failure as a writer. I finish the edit. 
     I don’t drink enough water. I drink too much water. I go to the bathroom. I go back to my desk. I sit too long, and my ass starts to hurt. I get up, stretch, do ten pushups. I eat a banana, some yogurt with strawberries. I take a vitamin. I drink more coffee. I have a meeting. I go outside for five minutes and sit in the sun. I plan a feature on nonfiction writers whose first books are out this year. I’m invigorated by their work, and feel an urgency to finish my own book. I’m getting close, I think. Maybe I will do a retreat somewhere. Maybe I’ll leave the city and move to the woods, where I can breathe and hike and be surrounded by silence and there are no people and there is no Twitter and there is nothing but me and the trees. 
     I write more emails. I edit a PDF guide for writers looking to promote their books. I wait too long to eat, heat up some leftover beans and rice. I write more emails. I look out my office window. A new high-rise is going up. I tell myself that I need to water my plants. I decide to take tomorrow off. I forget to water my plants.
     I walk to the harbor, take the boat back home. I pass beneath the bridges again. I think about Scott again. I’m not listening to his music now, not every day anymore like I was for a while, which is probably a smart move. I listen to the people around me instead. To the sound of their voices, to the sound of the boat’s engine, to the sound of the water beneath me, of the traffic and the trains rushing along the bridges overhead.
     I stop by the store and pick up some cider. My friend comes over to workshop some essays. I pour her a whiskey, crack open a cider for myself. I bought two, but I tell myself I’ll only drink one. We talk for hours about our work—we’re both writing about our bodies, about gender and sexuality and power—and it’s good to talk about these things. I pour her a second whiskey. The glass sweats in the heat. I take the second can of cider out of the fridge. I hold it in my hand for a few minutes while we talk, feel the cool weight of the metal, think of how nice it might feel to float away a little tonight. I put the can back in the fridge. I think about how lately I’ve felt disconnected from my body, like I’m living outside it rather than inhabiting it. I tell my friend this. She hugs me. She finishes her whiskey and leaves. I close the door behind her. 
     My partner comes home with tacos. We eat and watch Portlandia. It feels good to laugh. I realize I don’t laugh much these days. We talk about our friends who have left the city. We make plans to go see them in the fall. We talk about the weekend: we have a show on Saturday, and it will be good to play music. It’s Pride in New York, and we’ll raise some money for the LGBT Center, which is one small good thing we can do. While I’m alive, Scott Hutchison sang, I’ll make tiny changes to earth. And I hope that I can too. Maybe I’ll march again this year. I’ll be surrounded by my queer friends and we’ll put our bodies in the streets, and that’s something, I think. That’s some small something. 
It’s late, nearing midnight, but I’m not ready to go to bed just yet. The light of the day has finally dissolved, and it’s dark outside. 
     “It’s the solstice,” my partner says. 
     “The longest day of the year,” I say.
     I think about how it will get a little darker now, a little earlier every day. But the heat has broken, and it’s cooled down even more. I can hear the wind in the ash tree outside the window. The dog looks at me. The cat looks at me. 

Melissa Faliveno

Melissa Faliveno is an essayist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, Midwestern Gothic, and others, and received a notable citation in Best American Essays 2016. Originally from Wisconsin, she lives in New York, where she is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine, plays in the band Self Help, and is at work on a collection of essays. 


I'm at the mall today because I need to buy some clothes, because I've reached a sloppy place in my life where I wear the same black dress over and over again, each day with a different shrug on top—sometimes a gray one, other times pink—pretending it’s not the same outfit. But I'm surely not fooling anyone. The dress has two small-but-obvious tears that sit between my breasts and navel, a result of latching onto a saguaro after a night of chasing my dog last winter.
     A lot of people talk crap about malls but I mostly like them. They remind me of my pre-teen years at Hot Topic, scoring band t-shirts and spiked faux-leather bracelets on clearance. My favorite acquisition was a Deftones shirt I bought the summer I turned 14, the same summer my dad knocked up the neighbor. I wore the hell out of that shirt, wore it until the black had faded into a chalky gray. Once, I wore it to a Heimlich concert—my first and only heavy metal concert—and I jumped around in a mosh pit until I had bruises the size of coasters on my arms. I used to be embarrassed of those days, of how foolish I was, but now I miss them a little. 
     I walk into Torrid—a clothing store for plus-size women—and ask the sales associate about any deals going on (that's how they get you). She confirms that everything on clearance is Buy One Get Two Free. This titilates me, as fashionable clothing for big women is often expensive as hell. A few hours ago, I received some good news—a result of some recent hard work on a creative project—so I’m treating myself to some new threads in celebration.
     If you’ve ever been big boned fat, you know that shopping can be a demoralizing experience. And currently I'm the heaviest I've been in years—I only fit into the larger sizes sold in the store—so finding decent pieces on clearance seems improbable. But today there is a lot of stuff in my size, and because my confidence is higher than most days, I grab items in colors and patterns I don't usually wear. Is a zebra print poncho too much? I ask myself. Of course it’s not!
     In the dressing room I realize the zebra print is too much, but everything else fits my body nicely. I slip on a long, floral dress and model it in front of the water-stained mirror. I pose. Then I pull my phone out from my purse and snap a photo of myself. I almost text it to my mom, my way of saying Hi Mami, I’m thinking about you, but I quickly remember that she’s on a trip right now, visiting some family in New York City. She rarely gets to travel, so I leave her be. Instead, I snap photo after photo, really feeling myself in every outfit, at every angle. 
     As I undress, I wonder how many days it has been since I quit drinking. From outside the fitting rooms, the sales associate calls out to me, Natalie, are you still doing okay? 
     Yes, I say. I’m great, I’m just about done.
     I grab my phone and open the nifty app that sends me daily words of encouragement and calculates my time on the wagon: 111 days. 
     After I get dressed and gather the clothes I plan to buy, I snap one last photo of myself, wearing the dress I wear everyday, with the tears on the belly. I can barely see them now.

Natalie Lima

Natalie Lima is a 2016 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and a VONA/Voices alum. She is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona and can be found on Twitter @NatalieLima09.


I Awoke from Violent Dreams

I awoke from violent dreams. Heads smashed with clubs in an alley. A shooter with assault rifle spraying bullets in a department store. Or was it a food court? And yet I’d felt oddly safe. What triggered such dreams on my 67th birthday? I thought of what Gary and I had watched after dinner the night before: Alex Strangelove streaming on Netflix, a sweet, impossibly happy high school coming out story. No clue there.
     A block from the house on the morning walk with Cloe I experienced that queasy lightness when I leave the iPhone by accident at home. On 5th Ave. her leash tanged as usual with Mina’s. Pam and I stood back as our poodles, a red and a black, leaped in circles like puppies. The walks never disappoint. One of the guaranteed pleasures of any day. At the park when I released her, Cloe headed for the homeless man with ponytail who calls me Brother. Then she broke from his petting to attack my ankles, initiating the game of chase she often insists on when we walk on grass.   
     The chain of sonar texting pings began at the Rec Center. First Dann, who cleans my house, urged me to have a second martini before dinner, “given the circumstances,” followed by Jack, a college friend outside Santa Fe who wrote, “Longest day of the year. Most precious too . . .” while I huffed on the stationary bike. Home, when I began a frustrating Feuillard cello bowing exercise, Joan in NY sent a colorful Bitmoji avatar (like something by Alison Bechtel, I thought): a cartoon of herself in her trademark black glasses frames and leopard pants lofted among the clouds by balloons spelling  HAPPY BIRTHDAYAnd so on, ping! . . . ping! at irregular intervals throughout the day. 
     After lunch and a nap with Cloe, I finished reading Soul, a novella by the early 20th-century Russian writer Andre Platonov. Having endured over a hundred pages of the half-dead characters’ relentless suffering—“. . . when you must force your heart to work, when you must keep remembering your heart for it to go on beating . . .”—I choked up at the hero’s epiphany near the end: “Chagataev sensed with surprise it was possible to exist with only animals and voiceless plants as your neighbors, with desert on the horizon, so long as you have a human being in a dwelling nearby.” My surprise was how much I felt for him. He seemed at first, as did all the characters, impossibly strange.
     Nancy, just returned from Ireland, emailed inviting us to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I replied that an early drink would be good—to hear about her trip. Sitting on her couch, I realized how much I enjoyed the intimate conversation we were having, as compared to the noisy parties we often attend with friends. 
     Dinner at my house was a large green salad with leftover chicken Gary had coated in pesto, and potato salad. Something cold for a day that reached 106. As Gary walked to his house through the garden we share, I wondered if what we’d watched after dinner, the disturbing fifth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, would trouble my dreams that night. 

Boyer Rickel

Boyer Rickel is the author of two poetry collections, a memoir-in-essays, and three poetry chapbooks, two of which, Tempo Rubato (Green Linden Press) and Musick’s Hand-maid (Seven Kitchens Press), were published this spring. Recipient of poetry fellowships from the NEA and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, he taught in the Arizona Creative Writing Program for twenty years. 

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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