Friday, July 13, 2018

July 13: Kayla Haas • Yelizaveta P. Renfro • Amanda Holmes • Mattison Merritt • Amber Taliancich • Elizabeth Miller • Sarah Haak • Kathryn Clarke • Tain Gregory

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, through July 16th.
—The Editors

July 13: Kayla Haas • Yelizaveta P. Renfro • Amanda Holmes • Mattison Merritt • Amber Taliancich • Elizabeth Miller • Sarah Haak • Kathryn Clarke • Tain Gregory


A Tale of Two Junes

On June 21st, 2018 I was at work.
     Because of the solstice I was at work perhaps double that day. I work in marketing. I used to work in academia but I don’t anymore. On June 21st a man who hurt women is having a sandwich while the waitress dances in his imagination. Meanwhile I am writing about garage tiles and flooring and other boring topics.
     In another June I would be working on my thesis and waiting to see if Title IX would choose this time to protect women. In another June I begin an essay collection about domestic violence and I can’t figure out why it’s so present in my mind. It can’t be the professor that calls women fat, that tugs on their shorts and sucks on their necklaces? It can’t be the man who walks into my office to ask me if we are enemies? It has to be something else, right?
     At my new job men don’t pull on shorts or suck on necklaces. I work on my computer writing “man cave” over and over again and feel thankful about health insurance and HR.
     On this day I feel like I’m going to throw up. This is because four months ago I went off Prozac. I thought leaving academia, leaving Kansas, and lots of therapy solved my problems, but problems are rarely solved. Now I feel like my existence is to only throw up. And once the anxiety is back so is the depression, and so is the PTSD.
     My PTSD was worse in school because of the man who would ask if we were enemies and the man who would say I was evil because I looked too much like his ex-girlfriend and because of the man who would hurt women.
     When men hurt women I get her too, even if they aren’t touching me. That’s because when I was younger a man hurt me, too. He would steal my jewelry and tug on my shorts and touch me when I didn’t want him to.
     His birthday is in June, so every June I have to think about him.
     I don’t want women to be touched when they don’t want to be. My new job is a good place to escape that. Here, I plan emails and blog posts and not whisper networks and self-care routines. Here my boss is a normal boss-man, and there my boss was someone I testified against to Title IX.
     Here my boss asks me how things are going, and there the chair told me to forget anything ever happened as I cry in her office.
     Here I’m not scared. There I was scared.
     Here, in June, I’m receiving a raise. There, in June, I considered dropping out.
     There, on this day in June, a man will never have real consequences to his actions, and he will eat his sandwich with his friends.
     Here, I feel the consequences in every retch my throat produces and I wonder if the other women feel it, too.
     Anyway, on June 21st, I scheduled some emails and left work at 4:30.

—Kayla Haas

Kayla Haas is a fiction writer and an essayist. You can find her work in The Toast, NANO Fiction, The James Franco Review, Gigantic Sequins, and Winter Tangerine.


First task: driving the Phantom of the Opera to debate camp. She is wearing the cape I made her three years ago, when she was going through her magician phase, and the half-mask I made for her from plaster cloth last Halloween, and she is carrying the artificial red rose, tied with a black velvet ribbon, that we got at Michael’s more recently to complete the costume. On the way to debate camp, which is held at the Hebrew high school, 3.2 miles from our house, she recites “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. In the parking lot, I leave Son—Phantom’s little brother—in the minivan while I sign her in at the table out front. A very small Roman emperor wearing a white drape and laurel wreath in his hair along with an even smaller Mario are being checked in by their parents when I leave.
     Since it’s Son’s first day of summer vacation—his school year was extended seven days to make up for snow days—and since it’s the longest day of the year, we drive 4.6 miles to the reservoir to go on a walk. We will walk the trail that lassoes the reservoir—a 3.6 mile loop—and at first I have high hopes. The task seems possible. The last time we were here was in February—we wore snow boots and crunched through the icy crust that had formed on the trail—but today is too hot. I know that as soon as we begin, but the first part of the trail is through shady forest, and the task still seems possible. During the first half of the walk, Son works on learning “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. I feed him lines, and he repeats them back to me. Next week, he is going to debate camp with his sister, and he wants to have his recitations for the daily “speak-off” prepared. He keeps stumbling over the last two lines of the third stanza, so we go over these again and again. Walking through the humid green forest, we keep saying, “The only other sound’s the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake.”
     We occasionally meet people making the loop in the other direction. This is a place people come with their dogs or their kids or their friends to walk. When Son has mastered the poem, we fall into a silence, and my mind begins to churn around the book I’ve written—the book the book I’ve written and rewritten and rewritten and rewritten, but isn’t finished. All the pieces are there—all the pieces and then some—but I don’t know which ones belong or in what order. My mind worries over the pieces and rearranges them and gives up in despair over the enormity of the task. It doesn’t seem possible. Then I think about an essay I’m working on—an essay about stones—but even that eludes me. I decide that writing is hard. I decide that it would be easier, more aesthetically pleasing, more lasting to erect a pile of stones.
     The last 1.4 miles of trail turns out to be in full, relentless sun. The task is no longer possible. Son asks if we can turn around and go back the other way, even though he knows that after passing the halfway mark, after we come around the far tip of the water, it would be further to retrace our steps. We are despondent, despairing. We are at the apex of summer—this day the very peak—and from this pinnacle of heat, this top of the mountain of light, we will start down the slope, the slide into darkness so gradual that it will be August before we notice. We walk because the day is long, the light unending: 15 hours, 13 minutes of daylight in my New England town. The task is not possible. I look ahead to the month of July, which is the month of dread. I dream of winter and darkness, of Frost’s snowy woods. I much prefer the descent into the dark pit of the shortest day. I much prefer cold and darkness.
     But here we are, on a dusty, hot trail, and the boy, who is ten and prone to moodiness, has grown surly and angry. He trails behind me. He does not want to go on. The task is not possible. He is an eager, avid hiker in cool weather. But in the heat, such a task is not possible. I did not mean to teach him my hatred of summer and hot weather, but I have. Or else it’s written in our genes: too many Russian and Eastern European winter people in our line. I have tried to hide my deep hatred for summer, but I can see that Son hates the merciless beating of the sun, the days that are great yawns of harsh light as much as I do. The high today is only in the mid-80s, but there is the humidity, unrelenting. 
     And then a man jogs by us, heading in the other direction, and I look up just long enough to see that he is wearing a shirt celebrating the 90th anniversary of Son’s elementary school—a shirt just like a couple we have stashed away in drawers at home—so he must be someone’s father, maybe even the dad of a classmate of Son’s, but we don’t recognize him. In fact, he seems like some alien lifeform, appearing happy to be running in heat, while we trudge onward in intense grimness. It’s worse, somehow, that we should know him—almost know him—but we don’t know him at all. Seeing him makes the task even more not possible. 
     But it is possible: for there’s the parking lot, the minivan. There’s the AC that we can blast on the 6.4-mile drive home. It is entirely possible; it is done, and we are home. While Son goes to read a book in his room, I get on the computer. Probably I check in on the online writing class I am teaching, though I don’t post anything. Probably I scroll through Facebook, though I have no status update to share. I go through emails. I delete 42 emails—39 of them unread—and I archive 17 emails. I send six emails: two forwards, two replies, two new messages. They are about: the solicitation of gifts for Mr. Ricky, the school custodian who is retiring (forward to Husband—because he is fond of Mr. Ricky), a program for gifted girls (to the Phantom—because maybe she is interested?), a music camp for low brass instruments (response to music teacher—no, we have a conflict and can’t attend this summer), and Friday afternoon’s debate camp event (three total emails, two to Husband to plan logistics; one exchange with the Phantom: “I may or may not be inducted into The Order of Loquacious Knights this week,” she writes, to which I reply, “Have you been very loquacious?” and she writes back: “I don’t know yet.”).
     I watch an episode of CNN’s documentary on the 1960s (which I checked out on DVD via interlibrary loan from East Hartford Public Library), as a sort of research for my book, even though I couldn’t tell you in any straightforward way what JFK and MLK and RFK’s assassinations and the moon landing and Vietnam have to do with my book—except that my book is about all the things that happened before I was born and all the things that happened after I was born, which explains why I am having trouble finishing it. My book is a container for everything that’s happened to me—probably this is why people write multiple books, because they need more than one container—so the key is to figure out which things belong in this particular container. By watching more and more documentaries, I am adding things to the container—I have already watched the 1970s and 1980s—so soon, very soon, on this downward slide toward cold and dark, I will need to begin taking things out of the container and putting them away for later. 
     In the afternoon Son and I drive 4.0 miles to the bakery to have lunch and pick up our first CSA box of the season. We get two Southwest turkey sandwiches, a latte, an orange juice, a loaf of day-old bread, and a chocolate croissant (which we will save for the Phantom). After eating, we drive back home, and I unpack the box, cramming the refrigerator full of produce, and I slip the yellow half-sheet of paper that lists the contents of our box into Husband’s mail pouch in the kitchen, so he will know what I’ve filled the refrigerator with and remember to eat some of it before it goes bad. On this list: arugula, head lettuce (x2), curly kale, radish, Hakurei turnip, cilantro, garlic scapes, strawberries.
     We drive the 3.2 miles to pick up the Phantom from debate camp, only she’s not the Phantom anymore. She is a 13-year-old girl with a pile of cast-off clothing. She is hot and tired but full of news: the speak-off went well, she debated school uniforms, the guest speaker talked about guns. At home, the kids devour the strawberries from the CSA box while I google how to make garlic scape pesto. I can’t make the kind with nuts, due to Daughter’s tree nut allergy, so I find one that uses sunflower seeds. I start a shopping list.
     In the evening—only it doesn’t feel like evening—we walk 0.7 miles to the Russian chess master’s house for Son to play chess. Son doesn’t want to walk. “Why do we have to walk?” he wants to know. “You already took me on a death march today.” I tell him: We walk because it’s summer. We walk because the light goes on and on. “Broad and yellow is the evening light,” I say, because the words come to my mind, from a poem I once loved. It is not a poem about walking in Connecticut humidity. It is not a poem about today at all. It is a poem about two people finding each other after years and years and years of not finding each other. 
     Daughter comes with us but does not complain, because I have not already taken her on a death march today, and because she is clutching a sheaf of papers and is eager to work while her brother plays chess. The Russian chess master is stern and he runs his chess sessions outdoors, in his backyard, at picnic tables. Like old men in the park, playing in the shade of trees, this group of eight or ten boys assembles here every week. And every week, when I drop Son off, I think of my Russian grandfather, and it’s as though he’s here, even though he never set foot on American soil. I was a bad chess player, those summers we spent in Russia—my grandfather beat me every time. My grandfather was named Alexander, and so is my brother, and so is the stern Russian chess master. I think of all of these Alexanders and how well they played chess, and I think of my son, who is not an Alexander, but who also plays chess well and beats me. Seeing him sitting there under the trees at the picnic table, with the stern Russian chess master pacing back and forth, it’s as though they’re both here—my grandfather and my son—even though they missed each other by fifteen years. I think of that chasm of time—when I had neither one of them, when my grandfather had ceased to exist, and my son hadn’t yet come into existence—and I wonder how I lived through those years without them. Did you miss me before I was born? I remember now this question that one of my children asked me years ago, when they were earnest toddlers. 
     But Daughter does not want to linger, misty-eyed, looking at the assemblage of boys playing chess under trees. Daughter wants to walk and recite poems. Daughter wants to practice her recitations for tomorrow, and for all the days of the following week of camp. We walk in the neighborhood, and all around the small college campus near our house, stopping on the bridge to look down at the frogs in the pond and to watch the redwing blackbirds flit in and out of the cattails and to check on the color of the wild mulberries, and all through our walking Daughter is reciting. “We wear the mask that grins and lies,” she says, for tomorrow she will recite Paul Laurence Dunbar. Then she goes over “The Tyger” by William Blake and “Small Variation” by Octavio Paz for next week. Then she speaks, with great gusto, the lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, even though she’s already recited that poem at debate camp earlier in the week. Her voice grows impassioned over her favorite lines: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, / Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.” And then, finally, we turn to our real work: memorizing Cassius’s monologue to Brutus in Julius Caesar. It is to be her crowning achievement, on the last day of camp, but so far, she’s learned just half of the forty-two lines. So I feed her the lines, again and again: “Caesar cried, 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!'” And: “He had a fever when he was in Spain, / And when the fit was on him, I did mark / How he did shake. 'Tis true, this god did shake.”
     Before we reach the end of the monologue, it is time to pick up Son from the Russian chess master, who merely nods at me, and then we walk home. Husband has returned from work, so we share the events of the day, and then we eat fresh produce from the CSA box because it’s too hot to cook, and then the kids read books, and I work on clues for their annual summer treasure hunt, which will happen in two days, and it’s still not dark even when the kids are brushing their teeth with their electric toothbrush. 
     Before bed, there are the nightly rituals. First, I go into Daughter’s room, and we write in our five-year diaries together. Each day, there is room for five small lines of text, so we must be economical with our words. We are on the fourth year—we started this ritual when she was nine—and as long as we’re not rushed, we like to look over the past three years to see what we were doing and thinking on this day. A year ago, my parents were visiting from California and my brother was visiting from Nebraska, and we went duckpin bowling, and Daughter went to a tuba lesson, and we ate shrimp scampi and homemade pasta, and we played bridge. Two years ago, while the kids were writing in writing camp I was writing at Panera. Three years ago, it was Father’s Day, so the kids made waffles and decorated the dining room with their knitting, and I cleaned the bathroom, and Daughter made chicken korma and Son made shortbread, and I went to a writers meeting at my friend’s house. None of the entries give much away; they are mostly a record of events. This happened and then this. But still, there is a sense that there is a point to this project, only we don’t know what it is right now. There is a sense that it is a piling of stones.
     Before leaving Daughter’s room, I give her a magic spell: I rub the top of her hand while I speak magic Russian words to her. She still wants this, even though she’s a teenager, and even though her brother, who is younger, no longer needs magic to sleep. Soon, I will sleep too. I will get in bed, and I will read a chapter of Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (because it’s research for my book), and then I will sleep. There will be the summing up of the devices: they will tell me that the high today was 86, that the sun set at 8:29 p.m.; my Fitbit will report that I walked 19,053 steps—a distance of 9.95 miles—and had 124 active minutes. It will tell me that at 10:46 p.m. I went to sleep. But nowhere on the devices will remain the trace of one of the final moments of the day.
     I go into my Son’s room, to say goodnight, and he already has the light out. He is tired, because we have walked so far. I sit on his bed, and then I see that there is a firefly, glimmering against his window, trapped there between the panes of glass. “Look,” I say, “A firefly,” because just recently he asked me if he could see a firefly someday, and I was surprised that he had never seen one. “It’s so small,” he says, and I wonder if he’s been imaging flying lightbulbs. And then I remember a conversation I had with my friend James—three years ago, during an Alaska summer—about how fireflies were a hallmark of his childhood summers in the South, but not my Southern California childhood summers. I remember saying that I didn’t have a memory of seeing a single firefly as a child. And I remember feeling wistful that we couldn’t share this childhood experience. But then, during the four years I spent in Virginia—after I got married but before the kids were born—the summer nights were so hot and humid it was like being swaddled in damp, warm terrycloth. And fireflies had filled our yard, and even though I was in my late twenties, looking at them made me feel like a child, because I had to look so eagerly for that next flash—when will it come? where will it come? And then I think of “Knoxville: Summer, 1915,” the opening to A Death in the Family by James Agee, which I read back in graduate school, during my Virginia life, and the depth of feeling in his words has stayed with me all these years—even though it’s 103 years and 827 miles away from Agee’s Knoxville. The words put down by a writer who has been dead for sixty-three years are so with me that it’s as though his sounds of the locusts and the garden hoses and the families on quilts on the lawn happened to me—as though these impressions created by his words are more vivid than any pale moment from my own childhood. And I think: this is what writing can do. This is what reading can do. And I think: have I read too many books? Do I live too much in words? What am I missing, looking at a firefly trapped in Son’s window but thinking of other times, held captive in other people’s memories? What does it mean that there are so many layers of thoughts, like veils, between me and this moment? Does this moment come to Son, who by virtue of still being a child is closer to the actual world, like a piercing spark? Does he see it more clearly and more genuinely than I? Is this the moment—one of them—that he will trap in a jar and keep, that he will carry with him as a man? Goodnight, goodnight, my son. And were it not for these words, trapping this day here, holding it tight and pinched and captive, it too would have blinked off into the dark night of the forgotten. 

—Yelizaveta P. Renfro

Yelizaveta P. Renfro is the author of a collection of essays, Xylotheque, and a collection of short stories, A Catalogue of Everything in the World.


Normally on June 21 we have a Midsummer Night's Dream party. Guests comes in fairy wings and ass heads. It’s an outdoor party where people read scenes from Shakespeare’s play. There are sparklers and lights in the trees and the fire flies glitter. Also, June 21 happens to be my birthday.  Last year was the biggest party of all—my son Alex married Australian Katie and people came from across the world. This year we did not have a party. But half way through the day, my daughter Rosalind texted me from Paris.
Are you having a good birthday?
You deserve a marvelous one. I’ve been remembering last year and wishing I was there.
It’s been ok.
     They sang happy birthday in the Bikram yoga studio.
     Then someone brought birthday cookies to the book festival programming committee meeting.
     But later this afternoon, Ilse Nithercott made things rather unpleasant at our book club meeting. On the plus side, Elliot and Molly are taking me out to Northside Social for dinner.
     If you read that back to yourself I think you’ll see that it’s an account of a very successful day so far.
     This is true.
     Everyone was happy and celebrating you because you were hot and sweaty and salty and frizzy looking in the yoga studio, and they admire you…
     Also Elliot gave me headphones so I can do my Sacred Acoustic Meditations in comfort.
     …then free cookies…
     Daddy gave me a dress from Kohls which I will likely never wear.
     …then weird drama.
     …Then headphones and then…
     Oh, and the greyhound we just adopted is an absolute gem.
     …So on top of all that, you have a new alien dog friend!
     AND will shortly go out to dinner.
     Weird Ilse Nithercott has been making life complicated for several months.
     She wants us to raise our hands when we make our comments. Also, to transcribe the
entire discussion.
     Oh, and I hosted the event at Politics and Prose last night.
     120 people for a book called Bad Blood about the Theranos scandal.
     I also have a book review coming out tomorrow.
     Flowers were also sent from Australia from Katie Alex and the Sproglet.
“Dear Ilse Nithercott thank you
For making my life complicated recently. I
enjoy exotic names to an unusual degree and
yours, Ilse Nithercott, is completely in my wheelhouse
of people I usually have unusual drama with. Thank
you also for offering a distraction from the Bad Blood
book and the pain of new names.”
     Now say that five times fast.
     You are right. Thank you, darling.
     It was a very successful birthday.

Amanda Holmes

Amanda Holmes is a bookseller at Politics and Prose, a book club facilitator, and the author of many short stories and book reviews. Her novel, I Know Where I Am When I'm Falling, was published in 2014.


I had a tongue infection for a few days, but today, I considered having my whole mouth removed to stop the pain. I woke up early and groggy from the Benadryl I took the night before in a bed next to one of my friends who has been in my life since second grade. There were four of us in the small AirBnB, Elle and me in the bedroom, Emma and Tara in the living room sleeping on a couch and a deflated air mattress. We took this Colorado vacation to celebrate graduating from college and remaining friends for over a decade. We were going to hike, smoke weed, drink, and say goodbye before we all moved away and started real jobs.
     However, I couldn’t do any of these things because I got a hilariously, ill-timed tongue infection that made my mouth feel like I drank hot coffee too fast and then dumped sriracha directly into the burns. I had dealt with the pain for three days, complaining a bit, but just sucking on ice cubes when my friends told me to shut up and quit ruining the trip. Today though, I felt like I couldn’t breath. We planned a hike for the morning, but I begged Elle to take me to urgent care. My friends made fun of me, but eventually took me to the doctors, still grumpy that I bailed on going out the previous night because my tongue had swelled so much I had a hard time talking.
     I paid $40 for someone to take my pain seriously, but I got some fancy mouthwash out of it. I left the doctors office, mad that I spent half of my weed budget on actual medicine and met my friends at brunch. We drove to the aquarium where we walked through herds of kids, stoned out of our minds in order to have a spiritual experience around fish. My mouth still stung a little, but I was quiet. These three friends cared about me, but they were right, I was ruining the trip. These three friends weren’t here to help me deal with my pain or anyone’s pain. These friendships had been marathons and we took this trip to reward ourselves how much time we had put into them. We had known each other for so long that at this point, there was no use growing or deepening our friendships. We were almost done. Elle had called me last year to tell me that she was starting antidepressants and I never checked in on her after that, it felt too weird to mention it again. Emma had spent two nights in a mental hospital the previous month, but she never brought it up. Tara was my hottest friends so I assumed she didn’t have any problems. All four of us, high in an overpriced aquarium, pretended that our baggage stayed at home and that nothing had changed since second grade apart from getting boobs.
     Today we smoked, talked about boys, ate nachos, posted cute instagrams about how long we had been friends, went on a whiskey distillery tour, got dressed up, and drank together. I enjoyed it, but I had to remind myself to not complain about my tongue, not discuss the fear and uncertainty of college graduation, and not come out to my longest friends because I knew all of this would make them uncomfortable and ruin the illusion of what this trip was all about. After I accepted the mouth pain, drank enough to not be afraid of the future, and set my tinder to ‘interested in men’ I did enjoy the day.

—Mattison Merritt

Mattison is a comedian and writer from Nebraska. She is currently the social media coordinator for Sex Posi-Ed an organization dedicated to educating young people through sex-positive, factual information. Her summer side hustle is selling her dog portrait paintings. You can find her on twitter at @24merrittgold.


I snooze the alarm as many times as I like because I no longer have to share the bed with someone who hates it. I keep my eyes closed despite my dog’s whine, hot breath on my face. The cat licks my hand, bites. I get up and see that the day isn’t so bad. I shouldn’t stay in bed. I want to stay in bed, but I won’t. I know I should get out of the house. The sun will make me feel better, I say to myself. I should point out that I don’t really feel bad, though.
     Everything is going right at this moment.
     I’m free from a marriage that was falling apart long before anything was done about it. A miserable semester of teaching five classes while still working at Starbucks so I can afford to take care of myself after said earned freedom is finally over. I’m dating someone new who makes me smile every day. I just scored a job I’ve been pining after for years.
     Everything is going right at this moment.
     And, yet.
     Coffee will surely help, it always does. Coffee and sun.
     I spray myself down with enough SPF to keep me from burning but hopefully not enough to keep me this pale all summer long. I slip into my bathing suit, hoping it fits since last year, and I’m happy to see it does, but I still have to amp myself up enough to not think about a beach full of people seeing me half naked. Especially since I’ll be going alone. Only a book and sunglasses to protect me.
     It’s the loneliness sinking in, really. It’s not that I never felt alone in my marriage, but at least I wasn’t physically alone. That sentence, itself, is sort of sad and somewhat sums up a deep rooted issue with our relationship that extends far before the day we married. But that’s another story entirely.
     It’s two in the afternoon and I haven’t spoken to another person. I’d tried. Everyone always has something. Usually it’s work. Sometimes it’s other people. Mostly I hear back from them—eventually.
     I’m at the beach and it’s busy but not as busy as I’d thought, considering it’s June and sunny and in the 70s. I scan for a place to perch. I have to be strategic, here. I avoid areas with groups of men, for fear of their gazing or mocking, I’m not sure which. I don’t mind areas with children, especially because areas with children usually means areas with mothers who have bodies of women who have had children, which is awful to admit. I’ve never had children, but I find comfort in knowing our skins have been stretched, though theirs for much nobler reasons than mine. 
     I find a spot I’m happy with and unroll my beach mat. I don’t remember it looking so small, and I worry it won’t be wide enough. Of course it is, but I don’t know this for sure until I’ve so quickly stripped and placed my body against the fabric and feel the few inches left over on each side between my hips and the sand. I’m relieved and determined to relax despite wondering if anyone noticed my stomach as I brought myself down.
     I pick up my book and read and for a moment I forget it all. I forget the strangers around me. I forget the whiplash of changes from the past few months. I forget that despite having people I love in my life, I often feel alone, because I am. For the first time in all my thirty-one years, I live alone. And there are days where this is wonderful and I thrive and I’m so proud of myself, and then there are those when I just want someone around to see when I spill the coffee all over my bed or know that I’ve had a shitty day because they can see it on my face as soon as I walk through the door or to eat all the food I cook when I’m stressed so I’m not stuck with leftovers for days on days.
     The sun is high and warm and the crashing water is calming and I know how whiney this all sounds. Everything is going right at this moment.
     And, yet.

—Amber Taliancich

Amber Taliancich has her MFA in Fiction from the NEOMFA and is the co-founder and Essay Editor for Sidereal Magazine. Her work has been published in Ninth Letter, The Pinch, Gigantic Sequins, Entropy, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at: @ambtali.


I wake at my childhood home in New Jersey. It is not my birthday. Seven and a half hours removed from it, I am happy to have slept a little late. I will be flying, alone, to Utah in the afternoon to meet my husband at the end of his work conference. A long weekend. Land of sandstone. Land of light. To begin the trip rested is a gift.
     I hear soft voices, a giggle. Maggie, our two-year-old, is playing. My mother must have quietly gotten her up earlier. After breakfast, the three of us run errands, then stop at my brother’s house mid-morning to wish him a happy birthday. The solstice celebration is his, this year, with spring’s final hours having been left to me. We will see him later, but we sit and chat for a bit, then head back to my parents’ house so Maggie can settle in for a good nap after an early lunch.
     While she still sleeps, my brother and nieces arrive. The girls wish me a belated happy birthday and jump into the pool. My father comes home early from work to join my mother, brother, and I on the chairs near the pool. We talk. Mostly, we listen to my brother’s stories. Maggie wakes about the time I expect her to, and I let her splash her feet in the water.
     My father has offered to drive me to the airport. He plans on rush-hour traffic and advises that a 3:30 departure from the house will keep me on time for my 6:00 flight. I begin making a sandwich five minutes before we plan to leave, and so we leave late.
     A good deal of stop-and-go traffic and one motion-sickness pill later, we arrive at Philadelphia International Airport. As I lean to open my passenger door, my father slips $40 into my hand and tells me to treat myself. The gesture feels like something from a movie, feels like something he has wanted to do forever.
     I breeze through security. I do not fly often. I like to take my time. TSA lets pass a harried man with no identification except his credit card. I scoot around him as I move toward my gate and find I have arrived early enough to read an email from a friend. Her father’s condition is growing worse. She feels selfish for feeling sad. But sorrows do not demand labels or explanations. I have a few minutes to respond with a line or two, and so I do. Here, there is no later, only late and too late.
     I am nearly last to board the plane. It is too late to claim any overhead space, and I am asked to check my bag. Two others and I have been assigned seats that earlier-boarding passengers were also assigned. We are given new seats, and I begin reading my book almost immediately. I am certain I’ll finish it in a hurry.
     The promise of uninterrupted reading time plays its usual joke on me. I grow distracted around page 80 when the plane jolts, and I close the book. I have stopped reading early enough to be able to waste hours worrying about turbulence, about the environmental impact of the flight, about plummeting to my death and leaving a two-year-old behind. I have stopped reading early enough to daydream about mountains, to not enjoy craning my neck to watch someone else’s bad movie.
     The flight arrives early to Salt Lake City. Chris meets me in a rental car and I fall into his arms, I breathe the dry desert air. Usually, a four-day absence is nothing, but this time it has felt heavy with waiting, maybe because my birthday was the day before, maybe because I woke this morning in my childhood home, which always warps my sense of time.
     We drive to his nondescript hotel, where my flight tension washes off easily in a hot shower. We talk briefly about our plans for the weekend. We think of sandstone, of light. We go to bed. The hour is early, but it feels late.

—Elizabeth Miller

Elizabeth Miller is an English teacher and copy editor in Montgomery County, Maryland. 


My daughter barks out her command before the morning sun turns the sky from grey to blue-—“nurse!” I comply;  she pulls on my tired breast as she nuzzles closer, a twitching bundle who is so much longer than she used to be, but somehow still fits perfectly into the C of my curled up body. My husband left for work hours ago; I imagine him crawling in dark spaces, pulling wire, the arduous task of bringing forth light where there is none. I too have a workplace awaiting my arrival but my occupation is less proletarian, my hours more friendly. Still, I rebel against the quiet yet insistent buzz of the day starting to vibrate in my ears and long to stay home in the grey light, doze, nuzzle, please, let it all wait just a bit longer.
     But it never waits. Full bladders and empty stomachs and mindless urgency pull me from my daughter, push us out of bed, on to our feet. She has my long toes, my knocked-in ankles but her stride is her own, purposeful and sassy.  We are up.
     This morning is like all the others. My child sits naked on the counter, demanding fruit, demanding yogurt, demanding music, not Raffi, the Moana soundtrack, no not that song, that one.  I find the song she wants. Perhaps I am too obliging. I feel a flicker of doubt, a desire to ask my mother for validation or correction. But she is dead, and my memories serve as imperfect guide to what she would say or do now. I remember her bald head bent over, swollen belly pushed up to the kitchen counter, making my cranky, ill-tempered grandmother a 3 course breakfast just because it was asked of her. So there is my answer. I feel more sad than validated.
     Then comes the daily wrestling match, punctuated with screaming and tears. I pull clothing on my toddler, I pin her down to comb her hair. I slap sunscreen on her kicking legs and with a final victorious click I strap her into the jogging stroller, sweat already glistening on my forehead. 5 miles roundtrip to daycare, a modest insurance policy against the liberal guilt of driving so much these days. The pounding of my feet on pavement drowns out the buzzing, my daughter settles in too, and suddenly it is just the hot sun and quick breathing and left and right and left and right. And suddenly I stop with a jolt. Two spiny lizards are entwined on the sidewalk, the male’s throat with a lovely cerulean flush. Spared from the crush of stroller tires, the twisting mass become separate, and the lovers scamper off to a darkened corner among some rocks, to answer their own buzzing destiny.   

—Kathryn Clarke

Katy will sometimes write when she isn't caring for oncology patients, chasing her toddler, hugging her husband, or struggling to rock climb in the mountains of Southern Arizona. 


June 21: NYA day at school

Well, I’m gonna tell you all a story. A story that starts with me, Tain, getting out of bed to my alarm. My alarm wakes me up at 6:10 while blasting Dogsong from the game Undertale. I like to start most days eating Nintendo Super Mario Cereal (aka pure sugar) while watching anime. I think at the time I was watching an anime called K-on. It is a really good slice of life show without cringy people who suck at life. The characters are relatable and likeable, and it is a great show so you should watch it. Anyway, let’s skip ahead to me going to school.Yup, that’s right! SCHOOL! Because of storms and stuff we had to stay in school until the 26th OF JUNE! So that's a bunch of extra days doing basically nothing. But this was a “special” day at school. Cause we were going to have a “field trip” to the gym. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not like we were going to work out or anything. The day at the NYA gym was really fun. They usually put out bouncy houses, and we had pizza and ice cream and it was good last year. Emphasis on last year. This year all of the activities were extremely CHEAP! When my cluster got there, my friends Jimmy, Matt, and Nate and I got off the bus and immediately went in the bouncy house. We said no words to each other. We just went in and started jumping around. But then, we remembered that there was supposed to be laser tag games going on. So the four of us got out of the bouncy house and went to find the laser tag place. “Wait!” I said to the others. “I’m going to find our friends in other clusters so we have a bigger team!” So Matt, Jimmy, and Nate went to find the laser tag arena and I went to find more friends. I had recruited my friends Thea, Lily, and Jack. I had other friends there too, but I found these three first. That’s so like me. If I am given a choice of many random things, I would just choose what is either closest, or easiest for me to do. So the three friends I found and I went to find the laser tag arena. Problem is, there was a sign up sheet we needed to fill out. So the 7 of us signed up, and found other things to do. Matt, Thea and I stuck together and found something else to do. We found a HUGE INFLATABLE SLIDE that was about 20 feet tall. It had a short line too! We found our friends Charlotte and Ella in the line already. We got behind them in the line and started to climb the stairs. Now, I want you to take a brief moment to think what will happen next. Go ahead, look away and think. Welp, here is what happens. THE SLIDE FRICKING FELL OVER! WHAT THE HECK! It started to deflate and fall down. Two kids actually fell out. My friends and I were fine, but I noticed one thing. There was no staff supervising the slide. I mean, we are a bunch of 8th graders on a giant slide that is 20 feet tall. Did the staff here even THINK about supervising it? NOPE! NOT AT ALL! After the slide was reinflated, we all went back for laser tag. Charlotte and Ella said they had already done it. “It is, umm, interesting…” Charlotte told me. I didn’t know what to expect. First of all, this laser tag wasn’t even put together well. It may have gone better if the guy running it wasn't completely CLUELESS! This guy had NO IDEA when the frick he was doing. It took the guy about 10 minutes to remember how to turn the game on. After the guy FINALLY figured out what he was doing, we started the game. However, let me point out a few minor details of this crappy game. Usually in laser tag, the area you shoot at is a BIG OBVIOUS AREA on the chest. But in this game, it was a small hard to see area on the head. WHAT THE HECK! WHO DESIGNED THIS? So we start the game. We start hiding and trying to find other players. I find another person, and I shoot. And nothing happens. NOTHING! In fact, none of the guns are working. And the guy running it is acting like EVERYTHING IS GOING GREAT! So the game didn’t work at all, but at least the slide was back up. The line was a bit longer, but I still waited in it. Matt and Charlotte were with me too. While we were in the line, we were talking about how terrible the laser tag was that we didn’t notice one important thing. There was no staff supervising it. So I go to the top, and no one else is there. Except one stupid person who needs to get off this planet. Now for the sake of this story, I am going to call him Chip. Chip Turkeylegs! If you know me in real life,  you know who I am talking about. Chip has been the number one enemy of my friend group since  6th grade. Also he is really short. That's why we call him Turkeylegs. But this kid is MEAN! He says sexist and racist things about my friends, he does mean things to them too. Luckily now he and his sister (who is just as bad as him) moved to Maine. Now Maine has to suffer. So if you are reading this and you live in Maine, I’m sorry that you must suffer. Anyway, Chip is climbing up the slide like the jerk he is. Maybe the tiny brain in his head didn’t realize this is a SLIDE and you go down and not up. Or maybe he was just being the butt that he is. So as I am going down, I run him over and we both fall down. “TAIN! YOU MOTHER F******* BI***!” He just kept blasting swears. But in my mind, I tuned out his curses and I heard him say, “I’m Chip! Blah blah blah I’m short and angry!” Then he slapped me. Usually, if someone was slapped they would be upset or attack back. But, I smiled a huge smile and ran away. Where did I run you ask? Well, Thea was at the bottom of the slide, so I had a good witness. I grabbed Thea by the arm, and we both ran straight to the principal. We told him what he did, and the principal said he would find Chip and talk to him. Thea went to get some water, and I tried to find Matt and tell him what happened. But instead of Matt, and I ran into Chip. “What did you just do?” He asked in an intimidating voice. Problem was, I wasn’t intimidated at all! “Oh, I just told the principal! Nothing too big!” I said. Then I ran. He was running after me. I wasn’t afraid though. All I did was smile and keep running. I did my great imitation of Br’er Rabbit from Disney World’s Splash Mountain and said, “Ha ha! You can’t catch me Br’er Fox! I’m making my way to the Laughing Place!” He got really mad. I saw the principal come up behind Chip. So I did my best to blend out of the situation by laying down against a wall looking like I was about to fall asleep. The principal tapped Chip on the shoulder, and took him away. I like to assume he was kicked high into the sky by the principal, and landed in a beehive! But most likely he just had to sit out for the rest of the day. Don’t you just love getting dirt on your enemies then getting to watch them get punished? It’s pretty fun! The rest of the NYA day went ok. My friends and I just hung out for the rest of the day without any problems at all. When I got home, I thought about how strange this day was. Then (like usual) I took a nap. THE END.

—Tain Gregory

Tain Gregory is a 14 year old boy who enjoys doing theater programs.


Viva Las Vegas

A couple of years ago, to announce his orders transferred us to Nellis Air Force Base, my husband sent a video of Elvis Presley singing “Viva Las Vegas” in the 1964 eponymously-named musical. I wonder how things would have been different if he’d sent me a video of the Dead Kennedys’ version of the same song, or Engelbert Humperdinck’s, whose name alone would have made me laugh. The Dead Kennedys’ cover might have made me think of Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I used to watch high on acid when it came out in 1998. I was seventeen, high on acid a lot of the time, and always hated it when my friends chose Fear and Loathing because Dr. Gonzo trashing the hotel room and all the vomit horrified me. I had to be careful on acid, to avoid all ugly things.
     ZZ Top also sang “Viva Las Vegas” in 1992. I would have recognized his version from The Big Lebowski and maybe that would have given me a better immediate association of ideas. But you can’t choose your mental phenomena (or if you can I don’t know how), so Elvis Presley singing “Viva Las Vegas” produced an abstract cognitive road map that looked something like Dreamland → drones → John D’Agata → nuclear waste → bombs → bodies in the desert → hedonism → suicide → dead father → suicide → death, and in the two minutes it took me to watch the video and subsequently call my husband to tell him he needed to come home right now, I had already begun to associate Las Vegas with death.
     Maybe that association was there before. Maybe I was always meant to die in the desert. Vegas is the place many people choose as the end of their road, or it’s the place that becomes the end of the road for many people. There’s a correlation there, between exposure to the city, and the city being a place people come to die, but it’s a causality dilemma. Does living in Vegas make you suicidal, or do you come to Vegas because you’re suicidal? Even the best coroner couldn’t be sure.
     My husband and I went to Vegas anyway, of course we did. We had orders. To make any other choice would have meant him being absent without permission and a lot can happen to a person when they go AWOL. Just six months before, for example, a veteran Army Special Forces soldier training with my husband in San Antonio had become disgruntled after the cadre had him out in a field picking flowers while the other Air Force pararescue trainees ran ten miles carrying 100-pound rucksacks on their backs. This kind of humiliation may not have negatively affected all former FBI and CIA operatives, but it affected this one, so much that he went AWOL all the way home to Ohio. Likewise, being then charged with an Article 15 by the same cadre may not have led all people to the Commander’s office, jovial in their dress blues, rows of service ribbons on their chest, with a couple of Glock pistols and 66 rounds of ammunition. He didn’t get as far up the chain as he was aiming those 66 bullets to take him, but when it was all over there were only 60 bullets left. Not all disciplinary action ends in murder-suicide, but sometimes murder-suicide follows disciplinary action. So maybe we went to Vegas to avoid murder-suicide, or maybe exposure to Vegas made us think a lot about the murder-suicide we were exposed to. Either way, the first year there was total shit.
     We moved to Vegas in June of 2016 and exactly one year later in June of 2017, I moved to Ohio for grad school. Maybe I ran away. A friend told me that after living in Ohio, she noticed the state mentioned everywhere. It seems strange but it’s also true. For example, I watched a movie the other day where the owners of a chain of delicatessens (in Ohio) meet a group of strangers at a Michigan wedding. Hijinks ensue. Last week I called customer service to return an ill-fitting jacket I bought when I was in Los Angeles. Where was the office? Ohio. And today, in June of 2018, home for summer break, I’m sitting in the Las Vegas Library, reading about Steven Bellino, the Green Beret who went AWOL to Ohio, hoping against hope to avoid everything that led my husband and I to that first year here, so I can keep it from happening again and save my marriage.
     Oddly enough, they say your chances of suicide are reduced if you live in Vegas and leave the city at least once a year. But, again, your chances go up if you move there or visit on vacation. So, coming to Las Vegas increases your risk of suicide and leaving lowers it, but those who leave are still at a higher risk than they would have been if they’d never come in the first place.
     On June 21st, I pick my husband up from work at 3:30 on the dot. We drive off base, passing heavy security with assault rifles slung around their shoulders, and take Craig Road toward Lamb. We could continue straight, ending up on Allen, where we live now, but instead he turns the car right and drives toward our old house off County Road 215, a beltway wrapped around the city. We pass billboards with blacked out backgrounds and taxis with advertising boards promoting the #VegasStrong fund set up by the Nevada resort industry following the Strip mass shooting.
     In North Las Vegas, where we are now, the 215 abuts Sheep Mountain, a dusty range of hills we affectionately named Dirt Mountain. Our old house is one of the last before the shrub grass and cactus begin, and as we drive by it we both remark on the sense of foreboding we have; how isolated and hushed it is up here. Up here it feels like the edge of the world, or like being underwater all alone. “Maybe we didn’t notice before because we had nothing to compare it to?” my husband says. In the distance, the desert whips up a dust devil. We both watch as it spins and spins. 

—Sarah Haak

Sarah Haak is an essayist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a master’s candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Ohio University, where she serves as an Assistant Editor for Brevity Magazine. She is also a chef. 

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

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