From Schools to Suffering: A Story of Intergenerational Trauma in the Native American Community

Sophia Wessel

ENGL 111 Best Paper Contest Winner, 2020

“Kill the Indian, save the man,” stated Captain Richard H. Pratt in 1892 at George Mason University (Bear 8).  Pratt developed a concept to implant white Christian values into indigenous peoples at the expense of their own culture and values.  He began with an experiment on the Native Americans at an Apache prison where he subjected them to authoritarian militaristic procedures (Lonetree 5).  While some prisoners were traumatized to the point of suicide, most of the prisoners left the prison able to survive in white America.  This experiment became the basis for Native American boarding schools where young children had their families, culture, language, and names stripped away from them.

 Roger D. Herring, a psychologist and well known author, notes the immense diversity of Native Americans encompasses 252 languages and 280 tribes, and with them hundreds of different cultures.  While each Native tribe has their own cultural values, the tribes majorly agree on; coherence with nature and others, current time orientation, narrative and hypothetical instruction, respect, anonymity, and unity (Herring 1).  These values are vastly different from the capitalistic white America values which include: competitiveness, individualism, punctuality, justice, logic, and power (Kohut 14).  These various values clashed with the Native Americans’ cultural values when they began schooling.  Generations of children across various tribes of Native Americans were forced from their homes into the custody of the federal government and their coveted boarding schools.

One former student of the Native American boarding schools, Leo Lajimodiere, shared his story in “A Healing Journey” by Denise Lajimodiere.  Leo Lajimodiere was placed into the care of a fellow tribal family after his mother passed away when he was two.  In his household, where he remained until he was nine years old, he spoke only Cree, his Native language.  While his foster family were able to raise Lagimodiere with the support of rations provided by the government, when the government threatened to take their rations away they were forced to surrender Lajimodiere.

 Lajimodiere was placed onto a train with five other Native American children from his tribe, including his older sister, who he was separated from upon arrival at the school.  When he tried to communicate with his sister on the train he recalls “the white matron traveling with us would slap me, shouting something at me I had no way of understanding” (Lajimodiere 6).  Upon arrival at Chemawa Industrial School, Lajimodiere’s hair was cut deloused with kerosene, a type of gasoline.  His living arrangements included a crowded dorm room where there were two children per bed.  He recounts children dying in their sleep and stated that, “They died of loneliness” (Lajimodiere 6).

Lajimodiere recalled a time he was punished for gossiping that two staff members liked each other.  The gauntlet was determined to be the suitable punishment for his actions.  The gauntlet was a type of whipping where one  fellow student would restrain the offender’s hands while another student would restrain the offender’s feet.  The remaining students would then line up and whip the offender as hard as they could, if they were caught whipping gently they would have to replace the offender and receive the punishment.  Lajidomiere passed out from the pain of the gauntlet punishment and woke up in the school’s infirmary, where he spent two weeks sleeping on his stomach while his back healed. Lajidomiere was fortunate to survive.  He recalls another student who had died from the gauntlet punishment due to his kidneys rupturing.  The commonness of Lajidomiere’s experiences at the Chemawa Industrial School is devastating among the Native American community.

Lagidomiere experienced the purpose of these schools, which was to convert the Native Americans from their “savage” ways into the capitalistic culture of white America.  According to President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Peace Policy” of 1889, sending the Native American children to a boarding school was more economically beneficial than using military force to control them (Pember 25).  The government would force the parents of the children to send them to school with the threat of losing their reparations.  As the government had previously forced the Native Americans off of their land and sentenced them to live in destitute land where there were few animals to hunt and poor soil, they lived off of what the government could provide.  By threatening to take away reparations, they necessitated the Native Americans to surrender their children in order to prevent starvation.  Even through facing possible starvation, the Hopi Indians in Arizona continued to resist sending their children to the boarding school by hiding them.  While multiple tribes chose to hide their children over surrendering them to the boarding schools, most conceded at the mention of starvation, however, the Hopi Indians continued to resist and 19 of their men became imprisoned at Alcatraz (Lonetree 8).  While the government advocated for voluntary enrollment of Native American children, this clearly was not the case.

The Native American children were forced into an unfamiliar culture.  The children were trained in a European American style.  They were combated with learning English, being stipulated into European American gender roles, and learning European American history, religion, and cultural values (Schacht 5).  Not only was their academic knowledge reconstructed upon arrival at the boarding schools, but their upbringing was as well.  The children also were forced to heed to the European American style of child-rearing, which had a significant reliance on punishment (Schacht 5).

When an entire generation of Native children were forced into militaristic boarding schools at ages as young as five years old, the “parenting” these children endured remained as the parenting style these children understood.  There are three separate forms of parenting; authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.  The authoritarian parenting style values obedience and uses punishment when children do not perform up to the parent’s expectations.  A Japanese study published in 2013 found that, “…Both maternal and paternal authoritarian parenting styles worsened respondents’ later mental health, including symptomatic problems, risk to self and others, life functioning, and psychological well being” (Uji 2).  While authoritarian parenting is common in most cultures, Native Americans traditionally raise their children using praise, which relates more closely to permissive parenting.  When the children would do good things, such as helping with a fire or watching their elders, the children would be praised through stating that their child is a good child because of what they did, encouraging good behavior opposed to punishment for negative behaviors (BigFoot 310).  This dramatic shift in parenting style conflicted with Native American cultural beliefs regarding families, believing that all children have “good seeds” in them, those seeds just need to be nurtured. 

The mindset of fear and authoritarianism carried with the children past their times at the schools.  Historical trauma is a term often used  by scholars when describing the psychological effects on a group of people after a traumatic event attacking their culture but not directly impacting the individual.  Historical trauma, “highlights the idea that the accumulation of collective stressors and trauma that began in the past may contribute to increased risk for negative health and social outcomes,” among descendents of initial trauma survivors (Bombay 2).  Miriam Schacht, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin with a PhD in Native American literature, states “Upon release from the schools, survivors reported a legacy of alcohol and drug abuse problems, feelings of hopelessness, dependency, isolation, low self- esteem, suicide behaviours, prostitution, gambling, homelessness, sexual abuse, and violence” (Schacht 5).

William Wright, a Pattwin Indian and a former student of Stewart Indian school voiced his concerns at the mention of child-rearing.  Wright said in an interview, “You grow up with discipline, but when you grow up and you have families, then what happens? If you’re my daughter and you leave your dress out, I’ll knock you through that wall. Why? Because I’m taught discipline” (Schacht 1).  Wright’s mindset is a common mindset of former students of the Native American boarding schools, and when they continue this mindset towards their children, their children will have a similar mindset and pass it down to their children and their children’s children.

Another source of trauma for the students at the Native American boarding schools was the shame associated with Native American culture.  The curriculum at the schools indoctrinated a subspecies mindset in the Native Americans in comparison to European Americans (Pember 26).  This instilled a sense of shame associated with the Native American culture into the students.  As the students were navigating the European American culture, they were often beaten for displaying any “Indian tendencies” (Pember 25).  This included speaking their Native languages.  If the students were caught speaking anything in Native American tongue, their mouths would be washed out with lyre soap (Pember 25).  While some students retained fluency in their first language at the conclusion of their individual stays at the institutions, the former students continued to associate shame and humiliation with their language and culture, which prevented them from passing the knowledge to their own children resulting in a complete loss of language in many Native American tribes (Schacht 5).

After leaving the boarding schools, many Native Americans brought back with them a memento of their stay at the boarding schools, a number tattoo (Dawley 30).  Upon arrival at the schools, the children were given a new European name and a number was tattooed on their left wrists to assist with identifying the students.  While this helped to keep track of the Native American children who often forgot their European name upon first arrival at the schools, their skin was permanently marked with this identification tool for the rest of their lives.

The Native American schools were different from all other public schools, and the Native Americans were not permitted to go to any other schools.  While the traditional public schools taught “white collar” skills such as arithmetic and grammar, the Native American schools taught “blue collar” skills, such as carpentry and housekeeping (Bear 11-12).  This emphasizes the government’s goal of integrating the Native Americans into society for their own advantages, in order to build a coherent Protestant society while preventing Native Americans from surpassing their white counterparts.

Not only were the lessons in the boarding school constructed to make low level workers or the Native Americans, but the schools were devised to remove any remains of Native American culture from the children.  The children were taken at young ages, some being admitted to the school as young as five years old (Pember 25).  Most children came to the schools knowing little to no English and were forbidden from speaking their native languages, making communication virtually impossible.  If the children were caught speaking in their native language they would be beaten or their mouths would be washed out with lyre, soap, or both (Pember 25).  The schools would take everything from the children, from cultural artifacts such as beading, to cutting their hair, to giving them a new English name and a number opposed to their birth name.  The number given to the children was often tattooed into their wrist to assist with identifying the children (Dawley 30).  The children faced emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse within the boarding schools by both the faculty of the schools and their peers.  Perpetually, the children who faced the sexual abuse would not speak of it for they felt as though they were isolated and as though no other individuals faced similar incidents.  However, all forms of abuse were exceptionally frequent within these institutions.

Along with the abuse the students face, it was not uncommon for them to die while at the schools. In one Native American boarding school, Hampton, one out of every eleven students died in the first 10 years the school was open (Schacht 6). Students frequently passed away from preventable diseases and starvation due to the lack of funding the schools received (Pember 1). While the schools became better funded after the tragedy of many Native American deaths, it does not rectify the lives that were lost.

Children were forced to perform hard labor in order to survive. Most of the Native American schools had dairy farms or agricultural farms that the students were expected to maintain in order to be fed. Even after the introduction of child labor laws in 1938, the children at the Native American schools retained their same duties.

Leo Lagimodiere learned carpentry from the boarding school he attended and used those skills to support himself and his future family. This however, came at no small cost. Upon return from the boarding school, Lagimodiere spoke only English and was accustomed to the rigid schedule of the boarding schools. No longer conforming with the tribe, Lagimodiere was sent back to boarding school, after which he enlisted in World War II. After the trauma that Lagimodiere went through, he drowned his sorrows in alcohol and became an abusive alcoholic. Lagiomodiere would beat his wife and children, of stating “I want to be a man, not a fucking Indian” (Lagimodiere 8). The despair Lagimodiere experienced his entire life was passed onto his children where his daughter, Denise, describes her suffering as “unresolved grieving” (Lagimodiere 1).

The Native American community has been continuously discriminated against since 1492 when Europeans came to America.  Throughout history Europeans have pushed the indeginous people out of their land forcing them to locate further West until they reached the Pacific Ocean. Native Americans were then sentenced to barren land that the European Americans had no use for.  Even after the Native Americans were separated from the European Americans, the European Americans wanted to exploit the Native Americans to enhance their society by forcing them into boarding schools.  Now, Native Americans are discriminated against with higher rates of children placed into the care of Child Protective Services (CPS), higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and higher rates of poverty than European Americans as a result of the historical trauma they faced as a culture (Conan 7).

“Parental authority is hardly known or exercised among the Indians in this agency,” stated John S. Ward, a United States Indian Agent, in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior in 1886 (Bear 13).  This remains a common view point of some non-Native Americans due to the differences in Native American child rearing. Native Americans tend to believe that a community raises a child and Native Americans often rely on assistance from their tribes to raise their children. 

While sometimes, Native Americans have their children taken from them under claims of neglect, most often the reason for it is due to the small amounts of toys and food Native Americans keep in their households.  Often, for enjoyment and nourishment, Native Americans commune and play together in tribal buildings (Conan 7). Native Americans have the resources to raise their families, they simply do not keep them within their households. Nonetheless, people are not normally taught Native American culture nor about their child-rearing traditions, so social workers, who believe that they are helping the Native American children by removing them from supposed neglectful environments, are harming them by taking them from safe, healthy, loving homes (Graman 1). This mirrors the Native American boarding school. While previously, Native American children would be taken from their homes as a means of “education,” now they are taken from their homes as a means of “safety.” This is not to say that there are no Native American children in neglectful homes, simply that the cultural practices of Native Americans gives the illusion of neglect.

To illustrate the mass numbers of Native Americans in foster care; Native Americans account for 1% of the population of Idaho, yet account for 6.6% of the children in foster care. In Washington, Native Americans make up 2% of the population while 8.4% of the children in foster care are Native American (Graman 1). Due to the correlations between the Native American boarding schools and the American foster care system, legislatures introduced the Indian Welfare Act.

The purpose of the Indian Welfare act was to prevent the government from dismantling the tribe by stating the children who are removed from Native American homes must be placed with a relative or other member of the tribe (Conan 4).  However, a 2005 government accountability report stated that 32 states were failing to abide by the rules of the Indian Welfare act (Conan 2). This is especially common in poorer states, where the Federal government reimburses costs spent on foster care at a higher rateb (Conan 4). Foster care boasts the economy in these less wealthy states as it provides jobs for its citizens, which encourages more children to be taken out of their homes.

While foster care is a troubling issue that Native Americans continue to face, other points of concern include the poverty rates among Native American communities. According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) 14.3% of the U.S. population’s income is below the poverty level while 27.0% of American Indians’ and Alaskan Natives’ incomes are below the poverty level (Macartney 1).  There is a strong correlation between Native Americans who live on the reservations and Native Americans who live in poverty (Asante-Muhammad 2).

Not only are Native Americans more likely to live in poverty, but they are also more likely to commit suicide.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14.0 people for every 100,000 commit suicide. The suicide rate for female Native Americans was 20.7 people for every 100,000 in 2017, while male Native Americans had a suicide rate of 58.1 for every 100,000 (Curtin 1). The pain and suffering that Native Americans faced as a community carried with their descendants leaving them with a lower quality of life.

The boarding schools, designed to remove Native American culture from Native Americans, were extremely effective. Their intention was to strip Native Americans of their culture and force them to conform to European American society. Now, Native Americans are left without their cultural identity. Burden by the generational trauma passed down from their ancestors, Native Americans struggle with higher rates of suicide, poverty, and abuse compared to Americans as a collective. Native also face discrimination due to cultural biases when in regards to employment, Child Protective Services, and the justice system.

The lack of cultural awareness of United States citizens regarding Native Americans is a shortcoming of the United States education system. It is necessary for secondary level students to be taught the cultural genocide that the United States committed against Native Americans so that future generations of United States citizens understand the devastation that Native Americans continue to face.

Works Cited

“American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many.” Morning Edition, narrated by Charla Bear, National Public Radio, 12 May 2008.

Asante-Muhammad, Dedrick, et al. “Racial Wealth Snapshot: American Indians/Native Americans.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 18 Nov. 2019.

BigFoot, Delores and Beverly Funderburk. “Honoring Children, Making Relatives: The Cultural Translation of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for American Indian and Alaska Native Families.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 43, no. 4, Informa UK Limited, Oct. 2011, pp. 309–18, doi:10.1080/02791072.2011.628924.

Bombay, Amy, et al. “The Intergenerational Effects of Indian Residential Schools: Implications for the Concept of Historical Trauma.” Transcultural Psychiatry, 24 September 2013, pp. 1-5. Sagepub, doi: 10.1177/1363461513503380.

Curtin, Sally, et al. “Suicide Rates for Females and Males by Race and Ethnicity: United States, 1999 and 2017.” June 2019, National Center for Health Statistics. .

Dawley, Martina. “Indian Boarding School Tattoos among Female American Indian Students (1960s -1970s): Phoenix Indian School, Santa Rosa Boarding School, Fort Wingate Boarding School.” 2009. University of Arizona. file:///C:/Users/swessel1/Downloads/Indian%20Tattoo%20article%20(1).pdf

Herring, Roger. “Understanding Native-American Values: Process and Content Concerns For Counselors.” Counseling & Values, vol. 34, no. 2,  January 1990, DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-007X.1990.tb00918.x

“Improving Foster Care for Native American Kids.” Talk of Nation, narrated by Neal Conan, National Public Radio. 31 Oct. 2011.

 Kohut, Andrew, et al. “The American-Western European Values Gap.” Pew Research Center,

Lagimodiere, Denise. “A Healing Journey.” Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 27, no. 2, fall 2012, pp. 5-19, University of Minnesota Press,

Lonetree, Amy. American Indian Boarding Schools: An Exploration of Global Ethnic & Cultural Cleansing.  University of California, 2011.  

Macartney, Suzanne, et al. “Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race & Hispanic Groups: 2007-2011.” 31 July 2018, US Census Bureau.

Pember, Mary Annette. “A Painful Remembrance.” Diverse, fall 2007, pp. 25-27. Diverse Education,

Schacht, Miriam. “Games of Silence: Indian Boarding Schools in Louise Erdrich’s Novels.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 27, no. 2, summer 2015, pp. 1-3,

Uji, Sakamoto. “The Impact of Authoritative, Authoritarian, and Permissive Parenting Styles on Children’s Later Mental Health in Japan: Focusing on Parent and Child Gender.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, Springer Science and Business Media LLC, Feb. 2014, pp. 293–302, doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9740-3.


Mackenzie Dick

Romany people do not collect things. It is not this old blanket that I need to keep, I tell myself as I sit and debate, examining the worn and tattered flowers on the fabric. It is not any of these possessions I’ve so professionally stuffed in every shelf and cupboard of my house. It is neither that old blanket, the train set, the boxes and boxes and boxes of decorations in my  garage, the paintings, the tea set on my shelf, or the old dishes. None of these things can be what I need right now. 

I sit, leaning over a box marked in fat black marker “donate”. I ponder that word, what it means to me. What it used to mean to her. She used to tell me that when I had extra I should build a longer table, not a taller wall. I debate with myself which of these I am doing now. Am I building a longer table by donating these things, these meaningless things, or am I building a wall; protecting myself from the pain now associated with all of these things? Walling the things out of my mind. Forgetting these things. No, not the things, the memories, I remind myself. 

Those cold mornings in the fall and winter that I spent wrapped in this blanket that she gave me on the floor of my mother’s bathroom, soaking up the heat from her shower, because we could not afford to heat the whole house. She always knew how to help without interfering too much, a skill I have not inherited with my family yet.  The train set that never made it out of the box for her classroom, but had to be used in mine.The one thing we had in common, our one shared passion. Our one similarity, the reminder that I may one day be as good a woman as she was. The decorations I helped put up that last christmas before my grandfather died. That cold afternoon spent arguing with my short temper and what I swore was the worst tree stand and the sharpest ornament hooks on planet earth. Her comment that they did things better in the 50’s. The ones that she decided I should take after that with the note on the ornament box from her mother, the last time we were all happy in that house. The half done paintings that hang everywhere, the ones my family said to toss. The ones where time stands still and the work is forever unfinished, the artist’s hand forever stilled. The tea set from her mother, the story she told about her mother’s only selfish act. Another reminder of another great woman I would be lucky to take after. The midnight cereal dates with these bowls with my grandfather when neither of us could sleep. When we would meet  in the dim farmhouse kitchen, trying so hard not to hit the windchime that hung from the kitchen lantern so as not to wake her. The kindness in his gesture when he’d give the leftover milk to the cats. That lantern that isn’t there now. Neither are the windchimes. Nor the cats. I remind myself that that place doesn’t exist anymore, but it does. Like her, it’s not gone yet, just not the same place now. Cancer is nasty like that. 

All of these things that don’t offer me comfort right now that my mother says eventually will. I sit and debate putting each thing in that box, closing them off from my mind entirely, and wonder if my mother’s  “eventually” is the same one that was said when these paintings were put away; that “eventually” never came. Decisions, like this box, plague my mind now. Am I putting these things in the box out of anger that she didn’t make these choices herself? That she left such a mess in my home and my family without actually leaving at all? Am I angry that she didn’t leave yet or that she is leaving at all? Maybe those questions belong in the box instead of these useless things. Maybe that’s how I’m meant to build a longer table for her. 

The Log Slide

Faith Cole

Everyone knows that running down hills is a very foolish thing to do. This hill even had a sign. My sister Vi and I walk up to it. We glance quickly over words — “caution, 300 vertical feet, drop-offs you can’t see” — and my favorite phrase: “going down only takes a few seconds, while coming up may take an hour or more”. We had made it to the Grand Marais Log Slide. 

Just over the next sand dune, we would be able to see where loggers used to slide huge, stripped trees down this perilous drop and into the pristine waters of Lake Superior. (Don’t worry, my youngest sister had thought it was where you slid down the hill in hollowed out logs, too.) Vi and I had fallen behind the rest of the family, and so, following the sign’s directions, we walked through the last little bit of sandy woods to the very peak of the hill. The skyline burst into view without warning. The sand flowed over the edge like a Saharan giant plunging down into an endless oasis. Staring out over the drop, breathless, mouth gaping, fingertips tingling, everything seeming stripped away by the intensity of the view — I looked almost straight down to the line where the sand kissed  the water below. Most of the troupe had already conquered the journey and were  splashing in the water below. They were  willing me down to meet them, even though every instinct told me to stay rooted to the spot. 

The moment of indecision lasts only that, a moment. The only thing to fear is fear itself, right? I started  off just ahead of Vi, waving at her to follow. The hill (at the top) was like a giant sand box. The start was just level enough that, with a little speed, I could jump forward and then let gravity take me down the slope. It felt like walking on the moon — something I, of course, had  a great deal of experience doing. Adrenaline and dopamine started flooding into my brain. Suddenly, the “this is getting really dangerous” hormone (you know, the one teenagers seem to lack almost as much as good social skills) shut off completely. Each leap down the steep slope made me feel more and more like a Marvel superhero bounding across rooftops. I was also vaguely aware that I was experiencing something that inevitably comes with free fall — acceleration. Each leap became more and more thrilling. With an extra burst of exuberance, I jumped down the slope, looking a fraction of a second too late at a large rock now rushing up towards me. I twisted my body in what could only be described as a pure feat of dodge-ball and martial arts muscle memory and rolled over my shoulder into the sand — just past the brutal, potentially bone-shattering obstacle. There was no time for rejoicing however, because once I started rolling, oh baby, there was no stopping me. 

Doing my best impression of a sock in a tumble dryer (a tumble dryer filled with sand and newly discovered baseball sized rocks), I careened down the slide. I realized at about roll number three, when I was just at “protect the face from the rocks” level of grace, that there was a drop coming up, and I couldn’t see how far down it went. But that wasn’t the worst of it. There was a person sitting at the edge of the cliff, back turned to me, right in my path. “AAAHHHHH”, was all I was able to shout out in warning before I flew into the air — just above the unfortunately placed traveler’s head — and over the side of the drop. Just like falling in a dream, that’s what the next few moments were like, before I, no, my open mouth got reacquainted with an ex that it would rather just be done with at this point, the sand. Oh yes, this hill had a few more rolls in store for me. Finally, from a slight leveling on part of the slope and a solid land on my backside, I came to a stop. 

Laughter immediately erupted from my lips. It was more than just nervous laughter to replace reassuring words I couldn’t find for everyone watching at the bottom. It was a hearty, deep-felt expression of joy. I was alive! 

Picking myself up, I finished the last 100 feet or so of the descent with an only somewhat tempered zeal. Plunging into pleasantly chilly Lake Superior washed away both the sand and the residual fluttering of my heart. The others greeted me with recreations of their reactions to my less than graceful plummet down the hill. I laughed at their good-natured teasing. I had done it though. Falling a third of the way still counts, right? Of course it does, nobody ever said you had to go down in a way that didn’t threaten your bodily safety. I don’t know if I actually could have died, but it sure felt like it during that fall. I was oddly alright with that. Enthusiasm comes with a price tag, but what I had just purchased was the thrill of being alive.

For James

London Nightengate

Content Warning: Cancer, Death, Discrimination (Transgender)

One—two—three. One—two—three. One—two—three. Darcy told himself in his mind, counting to the beat of an imaginary metronome. Breathe in for one beat, hold for two, and release for three. In through his nose and out through his mouth. He slowly turned his eyes from the trees to his hand, slowly and shakily lifting it from his stomach. 

His vision blurred as he struggled to keep his breathing calm, the tight grip of panic beginning to close around his chest once more. Blood covered his hands, soaked through his clothes. Applying pressure once more, he tried to get his bearings. He sat outside of a red car that was smashed to bits, the front end crumpled up against a tree, windshield shattered. 

The bleeding was from a large shard of glass during the accident. Taking his phone out of his pocket he tried to see if he had service…the phone was completely crushed. Tears welled in his eyes. “What am I going to do?” He said out loud. He hadn’t been this scared since his 21st birthday, when he came out to his family and friends.

How had he gotten the courage then? How did he overcome his fear? That’s right…he thought, looking back on the memory.

“Happy birthday!” His mother had said, coming around the corner with a cake, everyone gathered around the table. Back then, he wasn’t Darcy, he was Elizabeth. “Anything my darling girl would like to say?” She asked.

He hadn’t told anyone who he was. “Um…yeah…there is, actually,” he told her.

“Go on baby,” she told him.

“Um…I’m…I’m transgender…I identify as a man, not a woman,” he said, heart hammering in his chest. “And my name isn’t Elizabeth, I’d like to be called Darcy from here on out,” he said.

A look of shock crossed over his mother’s face; it was mirrored in a lot of others too. The energy of the room felt hostile, he heard a few people mutter ugly words under their breath, thinking he hadn’t heard them. The shock in his mother’s eyes quickly turned into anger. Darcy could tell where this was going, rising to his feet he left before his mother could say anything hurtful. When he reached the front door, he heard his mother calling out to him as Elizabeth, shouting obscenities. As he began walking down the driveway towards his car in the cold winter air, breath billowing out in plumes he felt someone grab his arm. “Wait!” A familiar voice said. Turning, Darcy saw it was his best friend, James. “Wait, don’t go yet,” he said.

“You too?” Darcy asked.

“No, no, let me speak, please. Darcy, isn’t it? Nice to meet you, I’m James,” he said, extending a hand.

Darcy blinked in surprise, taking James’s hand. “Yeah, Darcy, why are you introducing yourself like this?” He asked.

“Because mate, I get to finally meet the real you. Probably not much different from Elizabeth, but I figure it’s a start,” he said.

“A start for what?” Darcy asked.

“To helping you figure out who you are, Darcy. You need someone, I saw the way they looked at you. If they truly love you they would accept you, not start looking at you like you’re an alien,” he explained. “What do ya say we go out tomorrow, hit the town? Just you an’ I, none of those other blokes,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, let’s do that,” Darcy said, his face becoming bright, a large smile on his lips, blue eyes lighting up. 

The next day James had taken him to a hair salon. “First things first, let’s get ya a haircut,” James told him. “Any kind you want.”

Darcy looked through a catalogue the stylist gave him, asking James on his opinion when he saw one he liked. “That one, it’s perfect,” he said, pointing to one of the styles. Darcy looked at it, he nodded his head, showing it to the stylist. 

After she was done, she turned Darcy towards the mirror, his dark hair all around him on the floor, when he opened his eyes he felt them begin to water. He hadn’t begun his physical transition yet with hormones, but just this change made him feel overjoyed. “I love it!” He exclaimed, James’s mouth beaming into a magnificent smile. 

Afterwards he took him to the mall. “Now to get you a new outfit, I don’t care how expensive it is, if you like it, I’m gettin’ it for ya mate,” he said. “Afterwards, we’ll do some good ol’ fashioned thrifting as well.” 

That day, James had spent hours with Darcy trying on clothes, mixing, and matching. Eventually they walked out with two whole outfits from the mall and quite a few things from various thrift stores. Because of James, Darcy had the courage to begin his hormones, eventually get his surgeries for a full transition. James had given him the courage to be himself and get through any fear or uncertainty. He had been understanding whenever Darcy became upset about his situation, had taken care of him after surgeries, had been there during them. Darcy still remembers the time he awoke from one of his surgeries to find James sitting beside his bed with a balloon that said it’s a boy! A large plush bear in his arms. A look of worry quickly turning to relief. 

If James were here with Darcy currently, he would be telling him to head towards the road, find help. He had crashed his car after it slid on some ice, tumbling down a steep hill and into the forest where it smashed into a tree. Lifting his hand once more, Darcy saw the bleeding from his wound had stopped. Slowly he pushed himself up, his body protesting, bruised with some broken bones most likely. 

Moving in the direction of the road the cold slowly began to creep up on Darcy as time passed. His injuries were slowing him down, his head pounded, and the world dipped and spun around him, blurred. When he came to the hill he collapsed, he couldn’t keep going.

“I’m sorry…” He whispered, tears springing to his eyes, thinking of James again. “I couldn’t keep my promise…”

It had been a few years after he transitioned. James and he had been at a bar, hanging out. Some guys they went to high school with had entered, spotting James and Darcy they approached the counter. “Hey, didn’t recognize ya, Elizabeth,” one of them said. 

“Sorry, it’s Darcy now,” he said.

“She can’t be serious,” the other guy said.

“Hey, Darcy is a he, if you can’t respect that then leave,” James said, turning towards them.

“You sure about that? Last I knew she didn’t have the right equipment,” the guy said.

“That’s none of your business,” Darcy told him. “Come on James, they won’t leave, so we might as well,” he said.

“Don’t leave, I said last we knew,” the guy, Dan said. 

Darcy made for the exit, only for Dan to grope him, James reacted instantly, shoving him away from Darcy. “Keep your hands off of him!” James shouted. 

Dan punched James, and from there the situation turned into a full-on brawl between them. Dan suddenly pulled out a pocketknife, slicing James’s face who clutched his cheek. As Mark left, Dan made a move to try to stab James, Darcy kicked him between the legs, sending him to his knees, James headbutting him. “I suggest you keep your hands off of Darcy,” James told Dan as the barkeep escorted them out.

They headed back to James’s apartment. “You didn’t have to do that, we could have just left,” Darcy told him, cleaning the cut on his cheek. 

“It’s not right for anyone to grab someone like that, you shouldn’t have to put up with harassment just because you’re different,” James said, wincing as the rubbing alcohol burned the cut. 

“You’re lucky I’m an ER nurse, or I’d be taking you to the hospital, and you’d be stuck with paying the bill,” he told him.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else as my nurse,” he said with a smile. “I couldn’t really afford the bill anyway…I’m already paying a lot of medical bills…” he said, his gaze growing distant.

“What do you mean?” Darcy asked, confused.

“I have cancer, Darcy, I was going to tell you tonight, in a much better way,” he said.

“You can’t be serious, how bad is it?” Darcy asked.

“The doctors say that in optimistic outlooks, I have another three years, but the most likely scenario is a year,” he said, voice breaking.

“No, no, you can’t…James…no…” Darcy said, tears welling, beginning to spill over. James reached up and brushed them away, his own eyes looked watery.

“I’m afraid so Darcy, which is why I have to ask something of you,” he said. His voice shook.

“Ask me,” he said.

“Do all the things we said we were going to do together. See the northern lights, climb a mountain, swim in the turquoise waters around Barbados, go to Spain, all of it. I want you to kick life in the balls as hard as you did Dan tonight, suck the marrow from it’s bones for both of us,” he said, the tears had begun falling from James’s dark eyes as he spoke. 

“We still have time, we can do it together, the sky-diving, see a joust, as much as possible,” Darcy said.

“No, we can’t. I can’t, Darcy,” he whispered, his eyes spoke depths about his sadness. 

After only six months James had been hospitalized. Darcy was there night and day. One day, he sat on James’s bed beside him. “Darcy, thank you for being my best friend,” James said, taking his hand in his. Darcy turned towards him, kissing him on the cheek.

“Thank you for helping me find myself, I couldn’t have done any of what I’ve accomplished without you, James,” he said, his breathing was shaky, a lump in his throat as he leaned his forehead against James’s forehead.

“I know, I want you to know, that I’ll be watching over you, your very own guardian angel. Heavens know you need one,” he said with a lopsided grin. “Remember, live your life to the fullest, for me, never give up on yourself,” he said. Darcy nodded his head, staring into James’s eyes as their tears continued to fall.

Not long after the heart monitor flatlined, Darcy sobbed as he kissed James’s forehead, resting his against it again as a sharp pain pierced his heart. Everything after James died had been a blur as nurses rushed in, he found himself eventually at his funeral, and then in his apartment, remembering all the times they had together.

“I won’t give up, I haven’t lived up to my promise yet,” Darcy told himself as he grabbed onto a tree, using it to pull himself up. He made a promise to James, he intended to keep it. Go to Peru, Egypt, China, Chile, travel the world and do everything he could in James’s memory. 

Eventually Darcy reached the road, collapsing as headlights headed towards him. The world faded to black as someone crouched over him. “He’s alive!” She called to someone. “Call an ambulance! Hey, you, stay with me,” she said, resting a hand on his cheek. “I think he has a concussion…” she said. He found his eyes closing, he made it to the road, he was being helped. He could rest, he didn’t have to worry about letting James down.

When he came to again, red lights flashed as he was loaded into an ambulance. All he could think about was that last moment with James. Even in death, it seemed James still gave Darcy the strength he needed to keep pushing on.

He was going to do everything they talked about doing.

He was going to live for them both. For James.

The Apologists

Jennifer Gauvreau

Winner of the 2021 LSSU Short Story Prize

John couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t believe in Option A. He believed in it like he believed in the oxygen passing through his lungs. The belief was a quiet smouldering fire, not calling attention to itself, but remaining alite even in the darkest of times. It was a comfort, and as he grew older, it became more and more important to him. John wasn’t the type of person who would bring up Option A unprovoked, but when the situation arose naturally (and somehow, it often did seem to arise naturally), he was always eager to discuss it. It was hard for him to empathize with folks who believed in anything other than Option A. How did they not see what he saw, and feel what he felt? It was bizarre to him, and even a little upsetting.

Cindy hadn’t given much serious thought to the Options until she was in university. Her family rarely discussed them at all, putting them far off in their minds. On the scattered occasions when they did discuss the Options, it was from the perspective of an outsider, trying to guess at the inner workings without spending the effort required to understand. This laissez faire attitude would have continued to her dying breath, had she not taken the formidable step of furthering her education of her own volition. After countless hours of independent reading, studying, and discussing the Options with her classmates, Cindy was surprised to find that she did in fact believe in Option B. This was a stunning and indelible revelation to her, and significantly changed the course of her life.

Growing up, John’s world revolved around the Options, specifically Option A. His mother had been a teacher who specialized in Option A, traveling and giving impassioned talks on the subject to avid believers and skeptics alike. He admired his mother above all others and wished to one day follow in her footsteps. Unfortunately, John’s academic skills were not nearly as strong as his mother’s and following a brief stint in college, John had no choice but to take up work in a local factory. As he toiled away in his repetitive daily tasks, he spoke to anyone who would listen to him about the unchanging, faithful security of Option A. Eventually this off the cuff teaching turned into a real passion for John, and when the factory closed, he decided it was time to pursue his true ambitions. Being unqualified to teach in any legitimate capacity, John dreamed up a way to teach about Option A on his own terms– he would open a museum. After many months of planning, fund raising, and making important social connections, John was pleasantly surprised to find himself poised to open his museum to Option A within a year of his leaving the factory.

Upon discovering her passion for Option B, Cindy was overcome with an urgent desire to share what she knew with children. She felt that her family and primary schools had done her a great disservice, never pushing her to understand the Options as a younger child, and she wondered how much further along in her studies she would be had she begun that much sooner. Option B was exciting, never remaining exactly the same for long, and beckoning thinkers and mental engineers. Cindy was a captivating entertainer, and loved to make people laugh. It was a natural progression for her to become a travelling performer, delighting audiences of all ages with her knowledge and passion for Option B. Before long, Cindy was a well known woman, and people all around the world connected with her, encouraging her to continue in her work. She was criticized by the followers of Option A, but paid them little mind. To Cindy, they were the spreaders of misinformation. With Option A’ers in charge, the country would surely fall to ruin.

While he expected some pushback from the supporters of Option B, John was fully dedicated to his mission. In his museum he could showcase all of his important research about Option A in such a way that would be compelling to children and also educational for adults. He used his modest knowledge of Option B to set up exhibits and entertaining shows that would cater to the preferences of the believers of Option B, and also to those who had not really taken a stance one way or another. The museum brought John into the public eye, and he was even met with harsh criticism from the very people he had hoped to connect with. This was confusing to John, and he considered what he might do to quell their worries and prove that he was interested in discussion, and not out to attract blind followers. He had proof to support his beliefs, and he simply wanted to be heard.

A few months following the opening of John’s museum, after thoughtfully holding her tongue for a time, Cindy felt it was necessary to offer an opinion about it. She took to social media, penning her concerns in language that would appeal not only to her fans, but also to academics and politicians. In her post, Cindy outlined in no uncertain terms the folly of raising a generation of thinkers in the dogma of Option A. She felt that John’s museum was in fact doing harm to the future leaders of the world, and that the extrapolated fallout would be a society which was weaker as a whole. While this subject was gravely serious to Cindy, her sense of humour and wit gave the broadcast enough levity to resonate with the masses. Much to her delight, Cindy’s brief but pointed commentary quickly went viral.

That same day, John’s phone went berserk with calls, messages, and comments– everyone wanted to know what he thought of the harsh comments Cindy had made. He was determined to respond quickly, passionately, but with a level head. In a vlog posted just days later, John was quick to dispute all of Cindy’s points, and thought he did quite a good job of it. At the close of his video, John extended an invitation to Cindy to participate in a debate about the Options which was to take place at his museum. Not long after his video was posted, the Associated Press picked up the story. He suddenly had the attention of the nation, and vowed to himself that he would not squander it. John did not expect to get a positive response to his invitation, and was surprised when Cindy agreed to debate live on stage at the museum. A date was set, and the apologists had a month to prepare.

Cindy’s preparation for the debate was all-consuming for the entirety of that month. She conferrened with experts from around the globe, who not only bolstered her own belief in Option B, but provided her with additional logical evidence that she could easily explain to any child or layman in the audience. Cindy felt very confident that any thinking man or woman would come away from watching the upcoming debate believing that the only cogent Option was in fact Option B. She did her best to predict the so-called evidence that would be presented by John, and came up with counters for every potential argument she could think of. While she prepared, Cindy was barraged with messages of support from disciples of Option B. Having the support of what was undeniably the vast majority of interested parties was a source of confidence for Cindy. This confidence was of course a mixed blessing, as it mingled with a dangerous pride as well.

John’s preparations were much less involved. He had known that Option A was the only true possibility his entire life, and knew he could rely on his lifetime of study. He felt confident that debating inside his museum would bring legitimacy to his position, and spent much of his preparation time sprucing up the place. He vigorously promoted the upcoming event, and used it as an opportunity to raise awareness of his museum on a national level.  

The night before the debate, Cindy made a guest appearance at the university that was near the museum.  Following her presentation, she asked some students congregated in the library what they thought about the Options, and if they were coming to the debate. Most of the students said that they were not going to attend, and that they were disinterested in the museum. Nearly all of the students she spoke with were believers in Option B, although they did not think about it all that much. They told Cindy that focus on the Options felt like a waste of time when term papers were due, and parties were happening. Cindy fell asleep wondering if she might be wasting her time, but woke up the next morning with fresh purpose. The Options were important, and this debate was going to give her an opportunity to demonstrate that fact. Cindy was increasingly sure that Option A was doing more harm than good, especially to young learners.

John spent the night before the debate practicing feverishly with his wife. She eventually grew irritated and flustered by John’s mental distress and told him that if he wasn’t ready now, he never would be. Left to his own thoughts, John lamented squandering most of his preparation time, and he suddenly felt like he had made a mistake. Why had he invited one of his loudest critics into his home space? His doubt turned to nervous fear as the night grew darker, and as his wife drifted off to sleep he briefly considered calling the whole thing off. It wasn’t that he doubted his position. Option A was clearly, clearly, the true Option. He knew that his arguments were sound, and based on the most credible of sources. Even though he was sure, in his heart of hearts there was in fact a seed of doubt. This doubt was not formed enough to even be put to words, but lingered in the corner of his mind nonetheless. The popular opinion was that he was flat out wrong about the Options, and this constant discouragement was at times difficult to bear. His nerves stayed with him the next morning, but were instantly brushed off the moment he arrived at the museum. As the leader of the institution, he was in the habit of exhibiting confidence at every opportunity, and this habit was a source of strength for him on this important day.

From backstage, Cindy watched the audience slowly filter into the auditorium of the museum. She had taken a guided tour of the place a few hours before, squinting through the flashes of the many cameras following the tour group’s path throughout the establishment. Cindy was quite pleased with the amount of media attention the debate was drawing, but also worried that she was lending her own credibility to John and his misguided Option A associates. As she watched the modestly dressed attendees taking their seats, she realized that while she held the more popular belief worldwide, in this room – John’s room – she was vastly outnumbered. This wasn’t a surprise to Cindy, but the extent to which it rattled her nerves was indeed surprising. She reminded herself that she was armed with the truth, and that this was an opportunity to speak to an audience that had likely never engaged in earnest thought regarding the possibility that Option B might be viable. She hoped to at the very least bring this unusual audience to a place where they might question the origins of their faith in Option A. Cindy reviewed her opening statement as the time to begin drew nearer, but the review wasn’t necessary. She was ready.

John paced backstage as he waited for his cue to walk on stage. His mind was in a thousand places as he worried about the details of hosting, the importance of this discussion, and the points he wanted to make sure he got to in the debate. He felt that the stakes were higher for him than they were for Cindy, and wondered just how many people he could bring into the fold of Option A with this event. This was debate, not dialectic– there would be no winner, and there was little chance that hearts and minds would be changed this night. Was it all for nothing? John’s familiarity with the precepts of Option B brought little comfort, as he knew that his opponent was the better entertainer and speaker. He was going to have to outperform and out-fact her, and this was a daunting task to say the least.

Throughout the debate, Cindy’s assistant was pleased to witness the undeniable success of Cindy’s rhetorical repartee. The talking points they had painstakingly chosen, refined and polished came across clean, professional, and seemed to give a figurative whiff of formalin.  The assistant was not surprised that Cindy kept her cool throughout the debate, never visibly sweating, even under the hot stage lights. This was of course largely attributed to Cindy’s career in show business, and the practice and preparation went a long way. Compared to her opponent, Cindy looked steady as a surgeon– never wavering, faltering, or showing any signs of discomfort in the scrutinous gaze of the audience below. The assistant fleetingly wondered if Cindy was listening to John at all, or if she was simply listening for the key phrases and words they had planned rebuttals for. John was holding his own, but the assistant did not suspect that Cindy was seeing it.

In the audience, a wealthy donor to the museum had a very keen eye on the room at large. The donor had been absolutely nonplussed at the idea that John would hold such a debate in the establishment, and in private conversation had warned him that the event could lead to a decline in attendance in the months to follow. He was pleasantly surprised though, as he sat through the two hour spectacle. The room was quietly, politely, but undeniably energized by the conversation taking place before them. John was decreeing Option A with a brilliant combination of exemplary representation of its tenets and a non-stop entertaining air of persiflage. The balance in John’s performance won over the donor, and he came to believe that the debate had been a good idea after all.


At the close of the debate, Cindy was sure that she had done a better job than John had. She had answered every question, proved every point, and even made the somewhat uneasy crowd laugh a few times– each of these were important to Cindy. Immediately after the debate, a throng of media spokesmen were eagerly awaiting comment from Cindy. They were accompanied by a modest collection of protesters representing Options C and D who felt that they had been thoughtlessly and unjustly left out of the conversation altogether. They carried signs and shouted about their protest, but not loud enough to be picked up by the microphones and cameras aimed straight at Cindy. She gave a very brief statement about how she felt she had done quite well – wholly ignoring the protesters – and quickly sought out privacy to collect her thoughts properly. Later in her hotel, she made a conscious decision to neglect the many messages she had received offering congratulations and condemnations, depending on the affiliation of the corresponder. The debate had been exhausting and truly eye-opening. Believers in Option A were absolutely participating in willful ignorance, and it was profoundly disturbing to Cindy. She worried most for the children who were being raised with the Option A worldview, and marveled at just how much this Option had set humanity back in the past, and continued to do so in the present.

Meanwhile, John was equally sure that he had done the better job. He had leaned into his undoubtable familiarity with the facts of Option A, breathing deeply as one does at the scent of old books. The audience had been very receptive to his message, and had asked truly thoughtful questions that led him to demonstrate the awesome power of Option A. His nerves turned to boldness when his opening statement received a raucous round of applause, and he was momentarily misty-eyed at the onset of such support. As he parried and jabbed through the debate, he believed more and more in his cause and in his proof, and so did the audience. It was a cathartic experience for him, and he came out of the debate certain that it had not been a mistake to engage in this discourse, despite his earlier worries. He felt that there was a decent chance that he had reached a good number of people outside of the auditorium through online viewership, and expected to see attendance at his museum to rise in the coming weeks. As he waited inside for Cindy to finish her comments to the press, John looked on at the protesters and wondered if they would have found truth in Option A had they just listened to him.

I Am

Natalie Nowak

I am not
a replacement
for what you had
but lost

I am
a copy of your past
meant to please you
in the present

a meal
to pick apart
and throw away
what you don’t like

I am
than that

I am
an amalgamation
of my own beliefs
and experiences

I am
an artist
who paints feelings
in a way that
no one else does

of my own need
for love
and understanding

Mother Night

Elizabeth Lipscomb

Sphere of fire,
Give way to the moon!
Now gasp in wonder as the night birds croon.
For beauty of dark
Is far softer than light and her features
She is Night.

Onyx veil,
Descend on the earth!
Allow a weary day to be rebirthed.
Diurnal creatures
Lay their heads to rest and the nocturnal
Leave their nests.

Open arms
Welcome her children.
To a shadow world, new life she’s given!
The Midnight Mistress –
With tender, starry-eyed gaze – looks over,
“Dance my babes!”

They frolic,
Leap, and be merry!
Don’t you see? This hour is not so scary.
So come and cast off
The worries of light and be a child of
Our love,
Mother Night.


Faith Cole

The spine of my physics textbook cracks
as I open this cold-blooded companion
that I love to hate. 

The Atomic Structure of Matter 
titles the chapter 
that I have been assigned 
and am now resigned to reading. 

Restless, I try to make myself contented
on the pale pink couch. 
Waves of frustration roll and find voice in deep sighs.
Why do I need to read this? 
What’s the purpose? 

protons, electrons, and neutrons–
make up everything. 
What else do I need to know? 

The stale facts of the obvious 
stick to the roof of my brain, 
sucking out enthusiasm. 

I scan the page, 
my fluorescent highlighter in hand, 
ready to strike 
at anything daring enough to leap out at me.

Zooming out to a high, philosophical viewpoint
leaves me disconcerted and intrigued. 
I know that atoms make up nature but 
do I know the nature of those atoms? 

Conservation of mass dictates that 
atoms are ageless. 
Whatever they actually are 
can never be destroyed, only recycled. 

Something that has existed 
from the very creation 
of the universe 
lives in me. 

Mixing and swirling around, atoms are passed from one use to another. 
The breath that I breathe, 
after a few years, will be evenly blended into the atmosphere 
and what was part of me 
will be part of supplying another’s breath. 

Exhaling, as I read 
that there are as many atoms in that breath as there as breathfuls of air in our world, seems only appropriate. 

As I consider what I thought I knew, I bow my head, humbled 
to realize these building blocks of all I know — of you and me — 
are incomprehensibly small.

Scaling the idea that 
you are as many times larger 
than an atom 
than the average star is larger 
than you 
leaves me breathless and awestruck. 

Smiling, I look up 
and imagine us 
between the atoms and the stars. 

Source: Hewitt, P. G. (2015). Conceptual physics (12th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

A Poem Lost

Karalyn Jobe
Winner of the 2021 Stellanova Osborn Poetry Prize

Every poem written is a poem lost.
My joints, a ticking time bomb,
Counting ever closer to their final arch.

I know I’m young, but I ache like I’m ancient.
If I use my hands now, I just know
The arthritis will win before I’m even forty.

In bed, when my other senses are asleep,
My fingers creak and groan with pain
As I ghost-type words a real page will never meet.

I’m aware now, like I never was before
That every single word I write today
Is one I won’t be able to write when I’m older.

It seems like my mobility is waning every day,
So I can’t imagine the pain that I’ll be feeling
When I’m forty five years old and

Twenty five years deep in a career where
Typing is the most important skill I’ll ever have.
What will I do, then, when I have to retire

Fifteen years sooner than I should,
With hardly half the savings a retired person ought to have,
And I can write no longer?

Who will I be when these fragile, crackling fingers
Can’t even hold a pencil anymore?
The written word has always been my identity.

The question that has plagued me every day,
Every waking hour of my life:
Which sad existence is a better fit for me,

To leave stories untold and hidden in my memories
To save my wretched hands, or to write my heart empty knowing
That every poem written is a poem lost?


Savannah Champagne

I want to reach out and cup your face,
Brush my lips against yours,
But there’s a thousand miles between us
Of ocean and fear,
So I’ll stay quiet
And lovesick from afar.

I didn’t even question it,
And maybe that was my first mistake.
Something should have clicked
And told me that this intensity was too much,
But no one ever told me
That falling in love with your friends isn’t supposed to happen.

So I’ll just sit here,
And maybe one day
I can say this out loud:

I’ve fallen in love
With a storm of a boy,
And all I can do is hope that I don’t drown.
I’ve fallen in love
With a storm of a boy,
And all I can do is hope that one day I can again reach the ground.

The Rage

Katie Davis

The screaming, blaming, throwing, hitting, it always seemed to come out of nowhere. Some days we were happy; some days we could barely be under the same roof. It was always my fault. Somehow everything that happened: things breaking, chores undone, house unclean, unsaid tasks ignored.

I never knew why, but Mom was always angry, I knew that. I started to draw my own conclusions the older I got: there was —resentment, I stood for her failed marriage, she always wanted a perfect kid, I reminded her of herself and him, and oh how she hated herself and him. The anger always came at night—after a long day’s work, after my laziness—sometimes she was only angry, and my mom disappeared into the rage.

So much of my childhood was lost to the fire that consumed my mother in these moments, so much I’ve willed myself to forget—if I clung to these moments I would resent her the same way she always resented me; I won’t allow that for myself; I can’t resent both parents. If I resented both of them, I would be too much of an artist cliché. My life has been a senseless mural, splashes of color from different things, but most of these, moments of rage, a streak of black, like that painter tried to cover whatever mistake was there. 

The first moment of the rage that isn’t a black streak was when I was almost 3 years old, my infant sister can’t be placed in this moment, I like to pretend the one-month-old was sleeping soundly on the second floor, while I cowered in the bathroom downstairs, tucked between the toilet and the bathtub. “I’m leaving. You can deal with this on your own.” The words echoed inside me, my first recognizable moment of fear, glowing buttons of a phone blurred through the tears, shaky fingers dialing 911, a fear of what would happen to the baby if the fingers hit call. What power would a two-year-old have to protect the baby if mom was gone too? The police would separate-us. Dad was already gone. Protect, protect,wait. The waiting felt like forever, the tears never stopped falling, the hands never stopped shaking, the baby–miraculously–must have never stopped sleeping. Eventually Mom had to have come back home. 

The streaks of black become thicker after that, no real memories of my sister growing up, of my grandma before she passed, of my father when-when he came to see us of my friends, of myself. The streaks are thick and heavy on my life. Only glimpses of things exist for most of it. A shaky hand holding a knife for protection, taunted to use it. A shaky voice yelling they’ll call CPS, taunted they won’t be believed. A shaky teenager pumping with teenage anger, pulled by-my hair underneath the Christmas tree. All of the shaking was mine, but I don’t remember the spark to the rage, or the resolution. It’s always what the rage does or says that sticks, never what I did to cause it, never what I did to run from it. 

Another moment exists with clarity, the longest one besides the time she threatened to leave me with a newborn. My mom loomed over me on the porch, her tongue hurling senseless insults, her screams cutting through my heart-, hand clenching an unseen plate, legs shaking with rage, face turning red, blaming me once again. 

The orange plate exploded in front of me, exposing their unpainted ceramic insides—it was like a new world created by malice-laced action, the whites of the inside- danced like the stars against the dark evening ground, and I stood there while another plate exploded, this one white. The second one created more stars, while the waters of their new worlds seemed to pour down my cheeks. The shaky breaths I drew would be their winds, the dirt from the sidewalk they lay on their ground, the flinching their earthquakes, the screams from the rage their thunder. Only our porch light was on, it was a populated street, the neighbors always prying, but when a teenager had plates pitched at them as a fear tactic, not a single eye or ear could see what occurred. 

Instead it was me, alone, who had to face the rage. I had to stand there, my cheek burning in the shape of her hand, the familiar prayer that it would bruise just once—then I wouldn’t have to tell people, they would just see and help. It becomes black again, I must have been allowed inside, it must have not bruised.  My heart aches every time I think of my moments with the rage, even when survival instinct is activated, when all I could dream about was my own death to free me. But I couldn’t leave. At risk of something happening to the sweet little one-year-old that was always tucked away somewhere. At risk of the rage hunting me down. I had to stay, make sure the baby grew up safely, make sure I grew up. Now here I am, my mural finally in color again. There isn’t anything coated in black anymore. I exist in a way that is continually making sure I’m not another home to the rage. Make sure I don’t sling hurtful things at people I care about thoughtlessly. Keeping my anger inside — handling it, seeing if it’s real or just a misplaced emotion. It’s hard, but I won’t subject anyone else to the rage. 

From Formosa to Taiwan

An Examination of the 2-28 Incident and Its Impact on Nationalist Chinese Governance in Taiwan During the White Terror (1947-1987)

Andrew Quon

In the realm of modern geopolitics, Taiwan’s position on the global stage is a contentious topic of discussion. To much of the West, Taiwan is an example of a successful modern Asian democracy. Behind the modern, progressive society seen today, however, lays a dark history that, while relatively unbeknownst to most in the West, plays a significant role in the island’s divisive partisan politics (Smith 145).

The end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 saw China’s Qing dynasty surrender the island of Taiwan, at the time known by the colonial name Formosa, to Japan (Shackleton 1). For the following five decades, Formosa remained a Japanese protectorate. The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 at the end of the Second World War saw the island returned to China. By this point, however, the Qing dynasty had collapsed, and China was in the midst of a civil war between the Republic of China, ruled by the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), and the Communists. The KMT, which was widely considered the legitimate government of China at the time, assumed control of Taiwan in late 1945. In the years following, tensions grew between the KMT government and Taiwanese populace and on February 28, 1947, a confrontation between KMT officials and a Taiwanese cigarette vendor ignited two weeks of violent rioting across the island. The KMT responded by declaring martial law and suppressed the riots using overwhelming military force (United States Office of Public Affairs 926-927). While the exact death toll of the February 28, 1947 massacre, more commonly known as the 2-28 Incident, is a subject of debate, some Taiwanese government inquiries into the event estimated between 18,000 and 28,000 deaths. Some independent studies, however, have estimated the death toll to be closer to 100,000 (Minns & Tierney 105). The 2-28 Incident ushered in a five-decade long period of political repression and military rule over Taiwan known as the White Terror. The White Terror, named after the KMT’s fanatical anti-communist views and totalitarian style of governance, saw the incarceration of over 140,000 Taiwanese and the execution of over 4,000 alleged political dissidents (Jacobs 35). 

Until recently, the 2-28 incident had been a forbidden topic of discussion in Taiwan. The relatively unexplored nature of the events surrounding the 2-28 Incident and subsequent White Terror have left many questions unanswered: What factors were responsible for the February 28, 1947 uprisings in Taiwan? To what extent was the KMT government justified in its actions against alleged communist subversion in Taiwan during the White Terror? How did the 2-28 Incident and its ensuing crackdown shape KMT governance of Taiwan during the White Terror from 1947 to 1987? While modern historians such as Craig A. Smith and Bruce Jacobs concur that the Nationalist police state pervasive through much of the 20th century was instrumental in forming the foundations of modern democratic Taiwan, the relationship between the 2-28 Incident and the development of the KMT state during the White Terror is rarely explored in depth. This paper will attempt to connect the two events by exploring how the politics and ethnic divide in post-war Taiwan that led to the outbreak of the 2-28 Incident helped lay the foundation for the following four decades of authoritarian rule during the White Terror.

The end of the Second World War marked a new beginning for Taiwan. After centuries of colonialism under the administration of both China’s Qing dynasty and Imperial Japan, the Taiwanese people sought the opportunity to be united with China as an equal to their mainland counterparts. The Nationalists and their “Three Principles” (nationalism, democracy and socialism) were immensely popular among the Taiwanese population and the KMT governors were warmly welcomed during the initial takeover in late 1945 (Stuart para 2). These initial feelings were short-lived, however, as widespread corruption, mistrust in the Taiwanese for their role in the Second World War and incompetent KMT leadership in the immediate post-war era divided Taiwanese society along ethnic lines.

In the five decades of Japanese colonial rule, Taiwan saw a period of significant economic and industrial development. Unlike other imperial powers of the time, Japan often encouraged the industrialization of its colonial assets. By 1945, Taiwan had a fully functioning, industrialized capitalist economy that was far more advanced than any seen in mainland China. This made the reintegration of Taiwan of significant importance to the KMT as the island’s economic and industrial capabilities could be used in the war against the Communists on the mainland. According to modern sociologists, the KMT under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek operated as a Leninist state (Ho 163-164). As is the case in most Leninist economic systems, the KMT relied heavily on state-centric economic planning and strict government control of the distribution of resources. Whilst the island’s economy was already to an extent centralized due to Japanese militarization during the Second World War, the system implemented by the KMT was far more authoritarian in nature with major political and economic repercussions (Ho 163-164).

Despite initial Taiwanese hopes that reintegration with China meant being treated as equals with their mainland counterparts, the KMT had very different views towards the indigenous population. During the Second World War, Taiwan’s industrial base was used to supply the Japanese military with munitions and weapons to wage war in China. Taiwan’s role in aiding Japanese military expansion seeded a high degree of mistrust in the mainland Chinese towards the Taiwanese. To the KMT, the reintegration of Taiwan was not a reunification with fellow countrymen but rather an occupation of enemy territories. Within the first few months of the takeover, much of Taiwan’s economic resources were seized by the KMT government under the pretext of confiscating “the enemy’s properties”. By 1946, over 1,259 units of economic assets in the financial, transportation, basic utilities and manufacturing sectors were seized by the KMT. As many prominent members of the Taiwanese political and economic elite earned their position through collaboration with the prior Japanese government, they became the primary targets of KMT nationalization programs (Ho 166). 

The KMT’s distrust of the Taiwanese was further reflected in the workforce of KMT centralized enterprises. The KMT filled managerial positions across the island with KMT loyalists from mainland China on the basis of their “revolutionary patriotism” (Ho 163). Taiwanese workers in KMT state-managed enterprises were often laid off in favor of employing mainland Chinese immigrants. Such racially motivated discrimination caused unemployment amongst the indigenous Taiwanese to swell. According to estimates from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the number of employed Taiwanese in Taiwan’s industrial sector plummeted from over 50,000 in 1945 to just 5,000 in 1947 (Stuart para 4). The return of the 170,000 Taiwanese soldiers serving in the Japanese military after demobilization only served to further exacerbate unemployment on the island (Phillips 279-280). To make matters worse, mainland Chinese workers were paid up to 60% more than their Taiwanese counterparts when performing the same jobs (Ho 167). These discriminatory hiring practices created significant discontent amongst the Taiwanese populace in the years leading up to the 2-28 Incident and remained a prominent point of contention in Taiwan until democratization in the late 1980s. 

The highly centralized nature of the KMT regime and its clear animosity towards the indigenous Taiwanese set a dangerous precedent. In years prior to the 2-28 Incident, there were many documented instances of corruption and abuse of power from KMT government officials against the local Taiwanese. Chinese government officials often used their positions in government or connections to seize control of property belonging to local Taiwanese. As one Taiwanese observed, this was often accomplished by capitalizing on the anti-Japanese fervor of the post-war era: “When a Chinese with some influence wanted a particular property, he had only to accuse a Formosan of being a collaborationist during the past fifty years of Japanese sovereignty.” (Phillips 283). The KMT military and law enforcement in Taiwan were equally corrupt. According to a former UNRRA officer stationed in Taiwan during the initial KMT takeover, some Nationalist military police would arrest and ransom the family members of wealthy Taiwanese under the pretext of Japanese collaboration (Shackleton 5-6). The chloroforming and gang-rape of Taiwanese women by KMT soldiers was also common (Shackleton 5); acting as a form of vengeance for Japanese atrocities committed in mainland China during the Second World War such as the Rape of Nanking.

With rampant corruption and racial discrimination, the government became increasingly dysfunctional. The centralized monopoly control of the movement of goods caused shortages of essential goods. Internal squabbles between government officials saw the rapid spread of nepotism and the continued neglect of the wellbeing of the populace (Ho 166). To many Taiwanese, the KMT government, rather than giving them the proper decolonization and reintegration with the mainland they sought, was simply a continuation of colonial rule albeit one that was by far more disorganized, chaotic and incompetent (Phillips 276-277). Displeased with KMT rule, Taiwanese nationalist sentiments soared in popularity in the immediate post-war era and ultimately materialized into violent revolts in February 1947.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2-28 Incident, the KMT government motioned to consolidate its power on the island. Chiang, in a public announcement shortly after the 2-28 Incident, blamed the violence and chaos of the 2-28 incident on Communists and “Japanized renegades” (Kerr 435). This accusation, however, did not seem to corroborate with available evidence at the time. In a memorandum from the American Ambassador to China, John Leighton Stuart, to the Generalissimo dated shortly after the 2-28 Incident, Stuart noted that the Japanese “rigorously excluded all communist influence and activity” and had “filled the [Taiwanese] people with fear and distrust of communist doctrines.” (Stuart para 2) Stuart highlighted that the Taiwanese were, in fact, very supportive of the Generalissimo for his strong anti-communist stance during the initial takeover in 1945 (Stuart para 2). The absence of any major communist infiltration is further supported by US Foreign Service Staff Officer and Vice-Consul in Taiwan, George H. Kerr, who dismissed the threat of an organized communist movement on the island noting that there were less than fifty known Communists in Taiwan at the time (Kerr 435). 

The claim that “Japanized renegades” were responsible for the 2-28 Incident could also be criticized as most Taiwanese harbored resentment towards the previous Japanese government who treated them as second-class citizens (Shih & Chen 90). It should be noted, however, that much of the educated upper-class of the time used Japanese as their main language of communication and were educated in Japanese universities. The large number of former soldiers in the Taiwanese population who served in the Japanese military during the Second World War may have also been a cause for suspicion. Many of these servicemen were, however, drafted into service out of necessity towards the end of the Second World War rather than volunteering out of loyalty to the Japanese (Phillips 279-280).

Chiang’s accusations against communist and Japanese sympathizers, while they may have been unfounded, did serve a purpose. One of the major reasons the initial riots of the 2-28 Incident were able to become as widespread as they were was partly due to the leadership of educated Taiwanese nationalists. Taiwanese nationalism was not a new concept at the time. During the 1930s, prominent members of Taiwanese society campaigned for greater autonomy from Japan until the outbreak of the Second World War saw the suppression of political discourse in Taiwan. Many of these same activists resurfaced after 1945 as relations between the KMT and the indigenous Taiwanese deteriorated (Phillips 279). Utilizing the false claims of Japanese and communist subversion, the KMT created a pretext to arrest thousands of Taiwanese nationalists in the educated upper-classes. According to Kerr, in the aftermath of the 2-28 Incident, anyone critical of the government was labelled as a “Communist” and was “sentenced to long prison terms or disposed of with a bullet.” (Kerr 435). This method of control allowed the KMT to eliminate its political opponents and seize additional economic assets to feed Taiwan’s state-centric economy. This practice gained traction throughout the early years of the White Terror where the loss of mainland China to the Communists and subsequent KMT exile to Taiwan spurred paranoid fears of an imminent communist takeover.

In 1949, the KMT was forced to retreat to Taiwan as the Nationalist war effort collapsed and the Communists under Mao Zedong became triumphant on the mainland. With the loss of mainland China to Communism, the KTM leadership feared Taiwanese nationalists would take advantage of the government’s weakened state to ignite a popular uprising similar to the 2-28 Incident. Fears of imminent revolution prompted the KMT to take drastic measures to strengthen their authority in Taiwan. This shift in mentality marked the beginning of the White Terror.

The loss of mainland China to communist forces and subsequent exile to Taiwan prompted the KMT regime to find means by which it could consolidate its power on the island (Chen 192). When protests began in late February 1947, the KMT initially permitted the public demonstrations and sought to negotiate a political compromise with the Taiwanese elite in order to appease the populace. Unfortunately, it was the KMT’s initial leniency towards the protesters that allowed the riots to become as widespread as they were during the 2-28 Incident with military intervention acting as a desperate last resort (Hou 49-50). With the rapidly deteriorating situation on the Chinese mainland, the KMT could not afford to repeat such a cataclysmic error. Despite warnings from American advisors that maintaining the martial law declared during the 2-28 Incident may deepen the divide between state and people, the KMT ignored the suggestion (Stuart para 126). By maintaining the imposed martial law, the KMT was successfully able to limit the ability of the Taiwanese to express their displeasure with the regime and allow the KMT military to better suppress organized dissident movements. This efficient means of control became especially crucial as KMT military capabilities became increasingly limited in manpower and resources following their defeat on the Chinese mainland in 1949. 

To further consolidate their hold on the Taiwanese populace, the KMT made effective use of terror tactics. The KMT often paraded arrested dissidents through city streets before conducting mass public executions along major river banks across the island. The public executions assumed a theatrical character; utilizing the sounds of coordinated gun fire and imagery of blood-soaked rivers filled with bodies to strike fear into potential critics of the regime. Furthermore, the KMT took special care to arrest political dissidents in the middle of the night or in the countryside away from potential observers. The mysterious disappearances of friends and family in the night helped reinforce the omnipotent power of the central government and instilled fear among the Taiwanese population (Chen 192). The widespread use of terror tactics during the White Terror contributed immensely to the effective suppression of Taiwanese nationalist movements throughout the latter half of the 20th century. 

While the coordinated use of terror tactics and martial law did act as effective tools in controlling the population in the early years of the White Terror, the KMT recognized that it required a more long-term solution to effectively subdue an increasingly antagonistic Taiwanese populace. Prior to the mass immigration of mainland Chinese in the late 1940s, Taiwan’s population was primarily made up of two ethnic groups: the Hakkas and the Hoklos. While both groups were descended from early colonists from mainland China, over time they developed their own unique languages and customs. Taiwan’s colonial history would ultimately help shape a unique, collective Taiwanese cultural identity that separated them from their mainland counterparts. By the onset of the White Terror, many Taiwanese rejected their Chinese ancestral origins entirely (Shih & Chen 93-95). This cultural identity served as a crucial unifying factor for Taiwanese nationalist movements.

Recognizing the threat posed by Taiwanese nationalism, the KMT sought to erase the Taiwanese cultural identity and remold Taiwanese society to resemble that of Nationalist China. For much of the 20th century, the KMT state promoted the idea of one day launching a counterattack against the Communists to reestablish Nationalist rule in mainland China. While this plan ultimately never came to fruition, the KMT groomed Taiwanese society to remain in a perpetual state of readiness for much of the 20th century. In 1953, the KMT made Mandarin Chinese the primary language taught in schools and the use of indigenous Taiwanese dialects was considered a disciplinary offence (Minns & Tierney 108). The KMT justified the suppression of local dialects and promotion of Mandarin in academic settings as an essential tool to prepare Taiwan’s youth to one day govern a reconquered China. To promote the use of Mandarin on a wider scale, the KMT associated the use of Mandarin as a means of demonstrating loyalty to the state and declared the use of Taiwanese dialects as unpatriotic (Sandel 529). By 1964, the use of Taiwanese languages in legal settings was outlawed; claiming that Mandarin Chinese was a far more “graceful” language than the “vulgar” Taiwanese dialects. In the 1970s, when the popular consumption of television became commonplace, the KMT instituted language requirements that required all television programming to be in Mandarin (Minns & Tierney 108). Linguistic laws that suppressed indigenous dialects remained commonplace in Taiwan throughout the duration of the White Terror and were not repealed until the democratization of Taiwan in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Sandel 530).

KMT assimilation programs were not limited to the suppression of language. Throughout the White Terror, the KMT glorified Chinese culture and history to forge a Chinese identity among the Taiwanese. The KMT claimed the role as the legitimate government of China whose duty it was to preserve “the precious heritage of a five-thousand-year-old civilization” from the “unChinese” Communists who were dedicated to the eradication of Chinese culture (Minns & Tierney 108-109). By glorifying the rich cultural history of China, the KMT attempted to highlight the alleged “cultural superiority” of the mainland Chinese and attack the “backwardness” of Taiwanese culture (Minns & Tierney 108-109). The Taiwanese education system was also altered to reflect Chinese “cultural superiority”. For instance, the teaching of Chinese history was emphasized in schools whilst the teaching of Taiwanese colonial history was suppressed. Street names in major Taiwanese cities were changed to be named after locations in mainland China and the practice of Confucianism, an ideology rooted in China’s imperial past, was widely encouraged by the state (Minns & Tierney 108-109). These methods of cultural assimilation during the White Terror proved effective in remolding the cultural identity of the Taiwanese people and prevented further popular uprisings for the remainder of the 20th century. 

The rise of Taiwanese nationalism stemming from popular discontent with KMT governance in the immediate post-war era was the primary driving force behind outbreak of violence in February 1947. While there was little evidence to support their position, the KMT accused “Communists” and “Japanized radicals” as being responsible for the 2-28 Incident to justify the suppression of their political rivals. The defeat of the KMT at the hands of communist forces in mainland China in 1949 combined with the rise of Taiwanese nationalism prompted the KMT to assume a totalitarian style of governance during the White Terror. A systematic program of cultural genocide was conducted throughout the White Terror to remold the Taiwanese identity and foster loyalty to the KMT state. The significance of the 2-28 Incident and White Terror cannot be underestimated. In the divisive world of Taiwanese politics, the 2-28 Incident is often used as by modern Taiwanese nationalists as a symbol of mainland Chinese oppression against the Taiwanese people (Smith 145). The repercussions of the 2-28 Incident and White Terror are also significant from a global perspective. Given the authoritarian nature of the KMT state during the White Terror, the continued support of Nationalist China through much of the 20th century from Western democracies raises an interesting moral dilemma. To the American political theorist Robert A. Scalapino, this dilemma raised an interesting question: “[How can democracies such as the United States] fulfill the awesome responsibilities of being a global power, entrusted with the defense of many societies, and at the same time, remain faithful to the principles that constitute our own political-ethical creed?” (Kerr xiii) Can the support for a despotic government in an effort to defend the ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy ever be justified? Even though modern Taiwan has shaped itself into a progressive democracy, the island’s authoritarian past has had tremendous socio-political implications that permeate beyond its borders and holds many important lessons for future generations.

Works Cited

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Hou, Kuang-hao. “A Tragic Ethnic Conflict in Post-war Taiwan: Reviewing the 228 Uprising Through the IMEP Model as the Primary Analytical Framework.” East Asia, vol. 32, no. 1, 2015, pp. 43-65. doi: 10.1007/s12140-014-9222-2.

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Sandel, Todd L. “Linguistic capital in Taiwan: The KMT’s Mandarin Language Policy and Its Perceived Impact on Language Practices of Bilingual Mandarin and Tai-gi Speakers.” Language in Society, vol. 32, no. 3, 2003, pp. 523-551. doi: 10.1017/S0047404503324030.

Shackleton, Allan J. Formosa Calling: An Eyewitness Account of the February 28th, 1947 Incident. Taiwan Publishing Company/Taiwan Communiqué, 1998. The Taiwan Library Online,

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United States, Department of State, Office of Public Affairs. United States Relations with China. Hathi Trust Digital Library, August 1949,;view=1up;seq=1.

Steps of Delusion

Chase Meehan

Winter is a damned thing.  There is no dry state in such a time.  That’s all I can think about while they guided me into this little one candle hut.  Over and over again they repeat the word “Spion!…Spion!” and hit me, all the while I say “no” with the little energy I retain.  What’s the use of fighting such conviction? How will I convince them to eradicate the image of a German in another country’s uniform?  My body shivers as the candle’s warmth grants me some wicked joke of hope. How I wish that this hut was the wick of the candle’s flame.  

 I am ripped from my now beloved interrogation chair and taken outside.  While standing and blindfolded, I am tied to a post that can only bare one outcome.  I would think most would struggle in such a moment as this, but a sense of calm arises that seems to slow my sense of time.  My eyes close as I picture Alstadt. I drift off thinking of a tune that used to play outside a shop just two doors down from my home.  My fingers dance the notes as if they are playing an instrument not quite invented. The voices of the soldiers begin to drone out as I am there again, on the doorstep, watching cars and trams pass before me.  A smile places its presence upon my face bestowing a feeling of happiness unknown until this moment, as if I am going to that treasured stoop soon.

Just then, I notice some looseness in the rope around my right wrist.  The cold begins to dissipate from my body as a new sense of purpose lingers over me.  With a slight shake of the arm, and some interrogation from the fingers from my left hand, my right wrist becomes unrestrained.  A fool would give away such an opportunity like this with frantic movement, so I calm myself as I remember the walk towards the hut, past the post that almost captured my fate.  I recall a slight deviation in the woods to my right… must be something like fifteen meters, before a slight defilade. I must act. “What a cold night” is the last thing I hear the soldiers say as I take action and start running towards my intended escape route.  Blindly at first, I dash to the right of the pole, and the opposite of the voices before unfastening my blindfold. Bullets and screams chase after me as my one newly free eye catches the beginning of the change in elevation, all while my feet already know its presence.  The quick tumble down the small hill provides some much needed cover as my pursuers take aim from afar.  

Running is a simple chore in a time like this.  A chore I must say I have never completed with such efficiency before.  Conceilling my dastardly route is the protective fingers of the Ardennes.  Its stubbornness has shown through many a war, and now it acts as a backdrop that will mask my escape.  After much time, I reach a clearing. On its edge I stop and examine my future movements. The clearing is one of natural creations: some small outlying trees surround the perimeter, while the center is guarded by the poorly timed full moon.  Before deciding my next move, I listen closely for my pursuers.  

After some deliberation, what could have been a full ten seconds of silence, I began my push around the right side of the clearing.  This route contains some heavier shrubbery which would make my progress slow, but would conceal my further withdrawal if my ears had deceived me.  A small hut lie ahead with a small candle burning in the window. My hands began to feel warm as if they were huddled around the little ball of flame.  This warmth quickly leaves my body as the flame is extinguished. A hunger begins to consume me. This hunger is not one of nourishment, but one of desires.  A hunger of holding a rifle. A hunger of getting back to my lines. What is there left in a life such momentarily stricken as mine, but to take action against those who wish to keep it that way?  The sense of vengeance takes aim as I am further motivated to join the ranks of my own.  

At last, a road appears before me some hundred meters away.  I see lights that momentarily blind, as if waking from an unconscious state.  The heels of boots hitting cobblestone begin to ring out from behind it, beating in such unity as to provide an amplification of the rubber on stone collision.  The unity provides another clue. The soldiers of our ranks are of professionalism, yes; but more so are they the embodiments of tired souls. Their marches rarely fit the description of unity in these late days.  We march with scattered intentions, scattered thoughts, unified by one mutual feeling: exhaustion. These soldiers must be from the same origins of those I have just escaped.

The road does pose as a guide through this rough entanglement I now call a friend.  I use this to my advantage and decide to travel behind the convoy of marching soldiers, for one does not march in such orderly fashion away from a fight.  As I near what I believe to be the front lines, I began to hear voices; frantic voices that are muffled in a sense to obscure their travel to any distance beyond the intended recipients.  From here, my approach must be slow. One of great calculations.  

The location of the voices becomes apparent as I near yet another clearing.  This space is riddled with craters and remnants of past altercations in which many must have lost dearly.  The landscape of which is illuminated by the ever persistent moon. Spotting a small communications trench in the center in front of me, I weigh the futility of the opportunity.  The trench is covered by newly uprooted oaks, some of which display the vast power of the artillery from both combatants. It appears as if this route of escape is clear underneath, but the other side is out of sight.  How much open terrain is left before I vanish from the glow of the natural flare? 

The question could not be deliberated anymore as the voices appear closer.  Making a dash for the trench, I keep my body low and my eyes prevalent. The snow amplifies my movements as every step brings about a crunch that is ever more present.  Stealth is no longer an option as my frantic state drives me to run harder and harder to the protection of the devastated landscape. As I near its entrance, shouts from behind me ring out with confusion.  These shouts are different: foreign by origin, but aim at sincerity. This sincerity suggests for my well being, sincerity for questioning the choices that are about to be made.

Hesitating only briefly, I notice that the other side of the trench previously obscured from my vision is protected by some low lying tree shrapnel.  My run must now turn into a knee over elbow crawl as I make this final plunge for security. Keeping my body low to the ground to avoid the jagged edges of my salvation, I hear what seems to be the amplification of my heartbeat against the ground.  Its reverberation makes its way to my ear consuming all that enters it. My heart races as if being stirred by a final frenzy of fuel. A ridge lies before me that will allow me to slither back into the protective hug of the trees. As the shrubbery recedes, my crawl transforms into a hysterical run that aches for protection from the moon’s light.  As my foot enters the shade, a voice from the front issues the command to fire. With a rush of confusion and winter’s cold touch, my vision becomes dark and my wrists feel the irritation of rope. The snow beneath where I stand tied becomes stained with the color of delusion.

The Packhorse Librarian

Jewelynn Gonzalez

The weight of a hundred pounds kept Abby’s eyelids tightly shut. Pain gripped her neck, wrists, and ankles at each movement; she raised her arms to her face, pulling at the raw flesh on her ankles. As if on reflex she threw her arms down, relieving the pain at her feet, only to cause the flesh on her neck to tear. Feeling the warm drip of blood start to trickle, she tediously bunched her body, sitting hunched over. Her body’s protests and fits of aching muscles, impaling themselves with millions of tiny needles, was enough to temporarily keep her from moving. Whoosh, whoosh, head spinning, she curled her body further and further, fighting, struggling. Abby finally managed to bring her hands to her face, and coarsely woven fabric met her fingers. She curled her body further; she lifted the tied fabric over her head.

Abby’s eyes opened but soon shut. She could see the bright yellows and oranges of the setting sun even with her eyes closed as if the colors were burned into the underside of her eyelids. Slowly and ever so cautiously, Abby’s brown eyes fluttered open a second time, taking in the lush greens and browns of the forest around her. Straining her neck in every direction Abby closed her eyes, listening, waiting for any sound indicating someone’s presence. Abby heard the birds chirping their sweet songs of serenity, squirrels and chipmunks chasing and chittering, stomping and shuffling through the fallen leaves littering the forest floor. Taking a deep breath, the smell of moss and earth flooded her senses. On the breeze,  she heard the faint sound of flowing water. Looking around she could make out a moss blanketed hill scattered with rocks through the trees.

Flopping to her side Abby found a stick to chew on, to avoid biting her tongue, as she squirmed and wiggled through the dirt and leaves tediously inching her way forward. Tears started streaming down her face as she rubbed her burned ankles to bleeding; the collar of her blouse started to soak with a mixture of blood and sweat; her neck burned as if the rope around it had caught fire.

A twig snapped from behind, freezing her in her tracks. A rhythmic pounding echoed through her ears, her chest tightened, and her eyebrows rose, widening her eyes. The taste of wood entered her mouth as her jaw clenched, sinking her teeth further into the stick. Originating from behind her, a shuffling of leaves and another stick snapping echoed through the trees. With every inch of her body aching and her left thigh spasming, sparks of pain shot through the sole of her foot; Abby turned around to face the disturbance. She flinched at the noise made from the debris around her, until she was looking into the innocent brown eyes of a deer. In a flurry of terror and excitement, the deer ran, willing its muscles to move far and fast. Within moments the deer was out of sight and relief overwhelmed Abby, giving her the courage to keep moving.

Gritting through the struggle and pain, Abby finally made it to the hill, no longer feeling the sparks of pain in her foot. Fumbling over rocks with her fingers, Abby struggled to try to find a sharp edge of a rock until finally finding one. Edging closer to her chosen rock, Abby got to work; thrashing her body this way and that pulling on the rope as the spun fibers began to strain and weaken against the weather-sharpened edge. The rock broke through and a piercing pain shocked Abby’s shoulder as the rope broke apart, slamming her body into the rock’s cool surface. Instinctively reaching up to massage her shoulder. Abby pulled on the rope still attached to her feet and bashed her knees on the rock. Blood trickled down Abby’s leg tickling the purpling skin as it dripped.

The relief in her neck and back was enough to give Abby the strength and energy to readjust, tugging on her ankles with every move. Dirt forced its way deep into the open flesh; pain flooded her senses as she thrashed and writhed about cutting at the bond between her feet and hands until at last the familiar sound of rope breaking, the fibers ripping as the rope is rubbed against the rock. Abby’s muscles relaxed in relief as her back stretched to its full length. Now having acquired a technique, Abby cut the rest of the rope, freeing her body from all restraints. Looking up at the canopy of greens and oranges Abby lay there, giving her aching muscles rest while she tried to figure out how she got into this mess.


“Abby, you must be careful; there are many bandits out there who will take what they want when they want. This delivery is of the utmost importance.” A short European woman clothed in a brown woolen dress covered by a deep burgundy apron had stood before her. Seeing Abby’s worried face, she added, “Don’t worry, Shakespeare knows the way.”

She raised a hand to caress the soft buckskin colored horse, whose coat shone in the early morning light. The woman stepped forward and encased Abby in an embrace before Abby jumped into the saddle and Shakespeare took off running.

With nothing to do except hang on while Shakespeare led the way, bounding across the open prairies of the Kentucky countryside, Abby was alone with nothing to occupy herself with but her mind. Mind spinning, body jostling this way and that as Shakespeare bound toward the Appalachian Mountains, Abby rode on, thinking about the duties put upon her by the President of the United States. President Franklin Roosevelt thought that providing books to the people during the Great Depression would educate them enough to work and raise America like a mighty phoenix from the ashes. Abby was one of many packhorse librarians, spreading education throughout Kentucky. A heavy feeling crept up to sit upon Abby’s shoulders until she was distracted by the fast-approaching forest, freeing her from her doubts.

Upon entering the forest Abby could feel her defenses breaking at the sight of rich green and the scent of the sweet earth. Shakespeare slowed his pace to a walk and Abby pulled out a book, feeling the pages flip and fumble between her slender, work-worn hands. Taken away by the story unfurling between her fingers, Abby failed to notice the person who followed her until it was too late.


Mustering enough strength, Abby planted her feet on the ground. A deep exhale, she placed her hands on the cool rock face before mentally counting to three, then heaved herself into a standing position. Eagerly looking around, searching for something to help her, Abby’s eyes landed on a fallen tree branch, dried and twig-less. Grabbing the stick, she used it as an oversized cane and hobbled over to where she was stranded. To her surprise the saddlebags were there, filled with the books. Seeing the saddlebags on the ground she realized she had completely forgotten about Shakespeare, a feeling of both dread and relief sunk to the pit of her stomach as she realized it was just a roadside robbery and she had gotten in the way. 

Acknowledging the setting sun, Abby went to retrieve her survival gear, struggling and limping only to find them stolen. Using the knowledge she’d acquired from reading books, Abby got to work, and relied on the oak branch to get around. Once finished gathering everything she would need, Abby then made a lean-to; it was well after dark when the fire finally sparked to life. It didn’t take long before the dancing flames and sizzling sparks lulled Abby to a deep and peaceful slumber.

She awoke the next morning to the chirping and singing of birds, their songs a relaxing alarm. Abby moved and found her muscles no longer in excruciating pain, rather a dull ache. Abby rose and buried the ashes with dirt. Fearful of the wilderness and its secrets, Abby emptied her pack and filled it with mushrooms, berries, and any other edible findings before she walked to the hill that helped set her free. Abby crested the top of the hill and looked down to find a creek scattered with round rocks; the brown, black-streaked, sandy bottom could be seen through the clear water.


Abby sat on a soft-cushioned chair in an elegantly decorated room of the White House.

“My love, is there anything you would like to say to our new packhorse librarian before she endures her first round of drop-offs?” the deep and confident voice of Mr. President Franklin Roosevelt echoed through her head, giving her momentary comfort in her now primitive state, before Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice floated gracefully to her ears.

“A woman is like a tea bag–you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Good luck, my dear.”

With a smile Mrs. Roosevelt rose from across the room to give Abby a farewell hug.


As she walked back to the bags, Abby ditched her thoughts of tucking tail and heading home; she started to shove books into her backpack and managed to fit them and her harvests with the opening unlatched. Abby wobbled at the initial weight, swaying as she moved, Abby followed the horse prints; after all, the library horses were very dedicated and would rather die than not fulfill their task. Abby was at least going to get closer to her drop-offs. 

A Writer’s Awakening

Jewelynn Gonzalez

a form
of magic,
where at your touch,
and the flip of a page,
you are taken away
to a place of wild wonders,
where your imagination roams.
You find the magic mesmerizing,
intricately woven by the writer.
As a wanderer, you seek no escape,
wanting more, you flip through the pages.
This, my dear, is a spell enjoyed
by you so much, you want to
cast a spell of your own.
You just need to write
and weave
a story
of your

Thank God and Blame Women

Leah Mockridge
I am no disciple,
I am the deity of misplaced desire.
Men often mistake my ego for exaltation.
My body is no place for expiation even as
hands press into my flesh.
Call it their providence.
Call it a gift from           

Dirtied hands delve into my holy water,
hoping that somehow, I could save them from sin.
I am their temple of temporary absolution.
The notion that women like me are just bread to be broken 
     for communion.
Indoctrination from years forced to my knees in divine retribution
     with expectation that I will break before the hymen.
The idea that virginity is just an apple waiting to be plucked 
     by some unworthy Adam.
I pray they don’t confuse me for an open chapel,
my blood for wine undrank, my body for bread unbroken.
I am no sacred place for stained men to seek asylum. 


This isn’t a confession of some cumbersome contrition;
in fact, I revel like red devils in the night.
Purgatory is just a name for the space between my thighs.
Penitence is what men prefer after impious action.
This isn’t faith, it’s fetish--
I am a sacrificial altar for masochists masquerading as messiahs.
Palms up they pray in demeaning doxology.
This is a covenant of crucifixes and false prophets,
filled with gnashing teeth and unhinged jaws,
hungry for whatever holiness I’m willing to impart. 

 Take all that I am worth and call it retribution.
              Take all that I have and call it tithing. 

This temple filled with false idols and forked red tongues that cry out,
“Repent, repent, repent!”
The serpent reincarnate is hidden in the anointed.
He whispers to Adam: 

                    Thank God,
                              and blame women. 

Dies Unus

Dylan Wyatt

Waking up from a beautiful dream is more painful
than repeated stings from fifty angry wasps,
when that glorious dream is briefly a reality.

Waking up alone to an eight a.m. alarm is as difficult
as breaking free of iron chains welded tight, 
when two once slept wrapped in each other’s arms.

Waking up sometimes requires an amount of strength
that might not seem physically possible to muster,
when the silence of sleep is more pleasing than living.

Waking up shatters the perfect illusion of a dream
draped in shiny linens of molasses-sweet lies,
when feelings of happiness rely on memories.

Waking up is the first step taken on the journey leading
towards a sense of happiness and peace of mind,
when life feels like a nightmare and reality too depressing.

Becoming Myself

Dylan Wyatt

As a boy, I dreamed of being a Hero, silver longsword in hand.
To prove myself, I fought armor-clad knights for honor. 
In faraway lands, I slayed fire-breathing dragons for riches.
In times of war, I charged into corpse-ridden fields for fame.

As a teen, I admired the rogueish Scoundrel, trained in cunning. 
To prove myself, I stole nobles’ precious gems for profit.
In faraway lands, I spread damning, falsified lies for power.
In times of war, I concealed my true identity for protection.

As a young man, I discovered a Princess’s love, empowering the soul.
To prove myself, I bought bouquets of exotic flowers.
In faraway lands, I planned exciting adventures.
In times of war, I focused my energy on surviving.

As a man, I learned dreams become real. 
As a man, I learned past mistakes don’t define me.
As a man, I learned the power of love.

What I once was made me who I am.

When the Days Change

Dylan Wyatt

The first day of spring always comes out of nowhere. It awakens a dormant part of me. It reminds me of childhood joy. After months of cold winter days, dreary skies full of gray clouds, cars covered in a sheen of frost, the sudden warmth and sunny sky delivers a shock to my system. Out of the blue, with little premonition beforehand, one day just feels different.

The first day of spring. I am not necessarily referring to the day marked on calendars, underneath a picture of a breathtaking landscape or beagle puppies playing on a farm. The position of the earth, moon, and stars predestines that day. The idea of spring can’t be decided. It appears in the moment. Everyone experiences it a little differently, at a different time, for a different reason. Even after years of cycling the seasons, that first feeling of spring still returns to me every year, like a dog after it escapes and rambles around a little, like waking up on a Saturday morning, giving me renewed strength and hope, reminding me of fond memories of days gone by, blinked away, and lost to time.

When I think of a spring day—fluffy clouds floating in a sky of blue like stars stitched on Old Glory—tall oak trees swaying in the cooling breeze—dandelion puffs flying by in the air—I remember being a little kid and playing baseball in the backyard with my dad. 

When I turned eight, my dad bought me a Rawlings mitt from the local sporting goods store. While other parents saved money by going to Walmart or a garage sale, my dad insisted on paying the extra money for a brand new, higher quality piece of equipment. It was one of the few instances my frugally-minded father opted for the more expensive item. He took baseball seriously. It was more than a game. It was his life.

Growing up, my dad spent all his free time playing ball, set state records in Little League, and dreamed of playing in the Major Leagues. He was talented enough to make it. As a kid, I idolized him. He was Superman. He was Sherlock Holmes. He was George Washington. I aspired to be half the man he was.

As soon as he put that first glove on my hand in the store, I dreamed of following in the family tradition. I imagined making diving catches. I fantasized about slowly rounding the bases while the opposing pitcher looked down at the ground, disappointed in himself, and the other players waited for me to reach home plate. When I went home that night, I told my dad, “I’m not taking this off, ever.” I left it on all day, and when I woke up the next morning, it was still on my hand.

The next day, I waited patiently for my dad to come home from work. All I wanted to do was play catch, break-in my new glove, and start my journey to becoming just like my dad. All day, my mom said he would probably be too tired when he got home. He walked in the door wearing a sweat-drenched t-shirt; his face looked worn and tired from a long, labored day. I asked anyway, expecting to be turned down. He looked at me with his droopy, bloodshot eyes and said, to my gawking surprise, “Sure, buddy. Grab your glove.”

A few weeks later, I stepped foot on a baseball diamond for the first time. My heart was pounding in my chest. It was a blisteringly warm April day. The air smelled crisper than usual, saturated with humidity. The grass sparkled with dew in the early morning light. In the bright blue sky, the sun already beamed down with ferocious intensity. We walked to the batter’s box, my dad carrying my equipment bag on his shoulder. I already had my glove on.

When we got to home plate, he looked at me and said, “We’re going to practice ground balls. Go out to the baseline and I’ll hit it to you.” I jogged out to the dusty, brown dirt between first and second base. My legs wobbled uncontrollably with excitement and nervousness. I had been daydreaming about this moment for weeks, but now, standing there, waiting for a ball to come my way, I had no idea what was going to happen. The ball could bounce over my outstretched hand; I might make the catch but throw the ball in the ground. I worried about embarrassing myself, but as soon as I looked at the big, wide smile on my dad’s face as he spun a ball around in his hand, all my fears vanished.

Every year, when I walk outside for the first taste of fresh air on a day in March or April, I wait to see if those old familiar feelings return. I let the air sit in my senses for a little while, searching for the right smells and tastes. I look up at the sky to see if the clouds have lost their dark gloom. I sit down on the grass and wait for childhood memories to flood my mind. Only then do I know with certainty that Spring has arrived.

Milk Stains on the Bathroom Ceiling

Rachel Tallon

for Jonas

I hadn’t been sitting down for more than five minutes before the bare skin of my legs became suctioned to the grey leather seat by the gathering sweat.  The cool wind blowing in from the open windows ripped blonde hair from my ponytail and whipped it around my face, doing little to keep my legs cool. I grabbed the AUX cord lying on the center console and plugged it into my bare iPhone.  The white and purple marbled case broke last week when I dropped it getting out of my car after work. After a few failed song choices, I tossed my phone into my lap and clicked the worn-down scan button for the radio.

“Hey, are you ok?”

Jonas quickly scanned over my face before returning his attention to the road construction surrounding us that was winding to a close as the sun began to set.   The car behind us blared its horn. I pursed my lips and stuck my middle finger out the window. The forty-something-year-old man with feathering blonde hair took his hand off the horn long enough to return the favor.  Jonas laughed, causing kinky, light auburn hair to become loose from the bun on top of his head. His rosy cheeks and scattered freckles were much more visible now than when he wore his hair down (which was a rare occurrence).  We were driving around downtown in his scruffy Toyota Camry to kill some time before dinner with his sister and brother-in-law. While I loved his sister like she was my own, sometimes I couldn’t handle her. She knew Jonas hated being a third wheel and always made it clear to him that he was one.  I tagged along so we could gag as the couple played three periods of full-contact tonsil hockey.

I winced as I slowly peeled my legs away from the car seat, leaving a layer or two of skin stuck to the stained leather.  A quiet curse slipped out between my lips, causing Jonas to send another nervous glance in my direction. As the car drove over a section of particularly bumpy road, my stomach stretched and tore like fondant going through a roller.  I put a hand over my belly button to calm the tension and thought of all the damage I’d done to my body lately.


“I know when you’re lying to me.”

My knees curled so my feet could fit onto the seat with the rest of my body, and wrapped my arms around my legs to keep them there.  Jonas was right, and I wasn’t in the mood to put on an act to prove him wrong. The car rolled to a soft stop behind another line of vehicles and Jonas clicked off the radio.  He remained quiet, trying to get me to speak, but I knew what he was doing. If he stayed quiet long enough, I would talk. That’s how it had always been. And, damn it, it was going to work.

“I…Auntie Flow…she’s…I’m late.”

The words stumbled out like amateur clowns falling out of a miniature car for the first time.  My stomach tugged apart harder this time, and I pressed down harder to keep it together. The fingers of my other hand found themselves wrapped around the ‘oh shit’ handle hanging above the door.  Jonas remained quiet long enough for an awkward silence to settle over us. The streetlight turned green, but instead of going straight towards the restaurant, he turned right onto Mackinaw Street.  I gave him a confused look.

“Did you wrap it?”

The saliva in my mouth suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a jumbo-sized cotton ball.  I had just started the pill. This could be some weird side effect – I’ve heard it makes your periods less frequent.  I’ve heard they also make your hair fall out and make you gain fifteen pounds and make your boobs hurt and make you think you’re safe when you’re really not because nothing is one hundred percent effective except abstinence.  I hadn’t finished the pack either. I didn’t have a reason to keep taking them. I was spotting three weeks ago from the pills and ruined three cute pairs of underwear in the process. I threw the pack in the bottom of my purse and forgot about them.  Now, those small pink tablets stared at me like polka dots of silent judgment and I couldn’t see how something so small could stop something so big. I hated everything about those stupid little killers because they were an excuse to not use a condom.

Jonas took my silence as the only answer he needed.  I think he thought I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t use a condom.  That I was embarrassed I didn’t insist on it. That I wanted to try having sex without one.  In reality, I couldn’t remember.

“We’re going to buy a test.”


It wasn’t the first time this had happened.  It wasn’t the last time either. It was just the time that messed with my head the most.  There was nothing special about it, nothing that made it stand out from every other time. But it felt different.  I think it was the moment it struck me that what was happening wasn’t right.

We were in my dorm room.  In my room. On my bed. My safe place.  And he was on top of me. His body between my legs.  The way his hips forced down against mine hurt. His hand on my chest.  The way his hand kneaded my chest like unruly dough hurt more. His lips on mine.  The way his lips pushed – forceful and unforgiving – hurt the most.

He was my first – for so many things.  First real kiss, first real boyfriend, first…time.  And I was ok with all of that. I was ready for all of that.  I was ready to make out with a man and hold his hand in public and show him off to all my friends.  Look at this everyone!  I got a man! A man!  I was ready to think about spending a while with someone.  Not marriage, God no, but a long-term relationship? Hell yeah.  I wanted this. I told myself that.  I want this.

His hand dove into my hair and yanked it back.  I gave a soft whimper as my head was forced back against the pillow.  He pushed harder against my lips – how was that even possible – and pressed down even more against my hips so I couldn’t move them.  I felt my heartbeat pick up. Heard it thundering in my ears. I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe.


His hand in my shorts.  His hands pulling my shorts down.  His fingers shoving my underwear back.  I most certainly did not want this.


I jerked away from his mouth.  I grabbed his hand and ripped it away.  He barely moved. He didn’t move. He was close.  Too close. My heart was thundering still, the sound filling my ears.  My breaths were quick in-and-outs, like I was playing beach volleyball by myself against a team of Olympian stars.  I couldn’t get enough space, couldn’t get enough air, couldn’t get enough to speak. 

“What, babe?”  His voice was solid as he brushed a hand through his blonde hair.  He stared down at me. I opened my mouth to talk, but I couldn’t yet, so I pressed a quick peck to his lips to soften them.  He locked his lips against mine, holding me still for a moment, before I broke away again. His wrist slipped out of my hand and trickled down to my underwear.  He played with the fabric for a moment before I blurted. 

“Can we…not do that?”

He paused.  His rounded features tensing into a firm glare.  A look I think he’d perfected for the exact moment I asked that question.  I squirmed and dropped my gaze to his chest. His bare chest, since he’d taken his shirt off moments in.  Or did I do that? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. His shirt was off and so was mine and everything was too bare.

“Why not?”

I knew this question was coming.  He always asked, but never in a way to figure out why I didn’t want it.  No, he was asking why he couldn’t have it. I saw it behind his eyes. The way they stared at me with disappointment.  The way he sighed made it sound like he was annoyed. That he was frustrated he couldn’t have what he wanted. I wasn’t ready to give the answer I wanted to give.  The one I should give. You’re rough.  I don’t like it.  It hurts. I don’t want to.  

“Cause…I don’t want to…right now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”  I just don’t want to.  Why did something have to be wrong?  Why couldn’t I just not want to in the same way I want to?  I want to cause I want to. I don’t cause I don’t. What’s the difference?  Sometimes I just wanted to kiss or cuddle or kiss and cuddle. Why did something have to be wrong because I didn’t want sex?  I don’t want this.  I don’t want it rough and hard.  It hurts. 

“Then why not?”

The way he looked at me still makes my stomach strain.  Like he didn’t understand I didn’t want sex, that I didn’t want his hands on my body, that I wanted a moment to breathe.  That I signed my body away to him to have any time he wanted when I had sex with him for the first time. He gave another frustrated sigh and moved off the bed.  My heart continued to thunder in my ears – banging away like hockey fans clanging pots together and drumming on metal pans.

I didn’t want to make him mad.  It scared me. Made my stomach churn with nervous energy like the first time you step into a canoe and you wobble as you try to get your balance.  His face would tighten like a towel twisted until it curled into a fabric snake. He would stop talking sweet-nothings and start snapping things about how it was annoying and frustrating to lead him on like that.  He’d snap about how, really, I led him on by kissing him when he walked in the door, and how he just wanted to come home and have some alone time with me, and how I shouldn’t kiss him if I didn’t want to have sex with him (because doing so was leading him on).

It reminded me of how Dad would yell at Mom when they used to get into arguments.  How he would scowl and grumble as he came into the house smelling like someone had opened six cans of beer and let them sit right underneath my nose.  The arguments were about work and school and housework and family and money and everything a child shouldn’t have to worry about, so I was sent to my room.  Sometimes I didn’t listen. Sometimes I watched the arguments happen and saw the milk and the dishes and the insults being thrown. But I always saw the aftermath.  Crooked pictures. Milk stains on the bathroom ceiling. Trails of tears. I didn’t want to clean up spilt milk again, so I tried my best to keep Richard from getting mad.

So, I tried asking him to be gentle instead.  It was weeks ago when I had driven to his house for a weekend visit.  We were making out on his bed at his parent’s house and he’d pushed me so hard into the mattress I felt the springs dig into my back.  I paused, pulling away for a breath of air that wasn’t his, and asked him then to be more gentle. That I liked it that way. I liked it when he touched me softly.  He made a face like he’d just sucked on a lemon for the first time in his life. I felt my cheeks flame as he pulled away. Was that how this worked? It had to be rough?  Was I going to lose him?

People don’t break up for this reason…do they?  Mom drilled it into my head that I deserved a man who would treat me right.  A man who would bring me flowers and take me on dates and tells me I’m beautiful and loves my family and my family loves him.  Or maybe it was all the Hallmark movies we watched together. Sometimes, Richard brings me cheap flowers that wilt quickly or sprout mold after a few days.  We went on dates every once in a while. Once, he called his mom in the middle of dinner to tell her how good his food was. It was a burger with glazed donuts instead of the traditional sesame bun.  He tells me I’m pretty when I’m changing my clothes. He’s taken my brother shooting and has promised to fulfill his lifelong dream of duck hunting. My brother thinks he’s amazingly cool and, by extension, thinks I’m cool now too.  I can’t give up all this happiness for something that only happened a couple times, right?

“I…we can.”

He asked if I was sure as he began to slide down his boxers.  When did his pants come off?  He was asking to make sure I was alright.  To make sure this is what I wanted. And I did, right?  I wanted this. I told myself that. I want this. He came closer to the bed.  He pressed a soft kiss to my cheek and repeated the question. I closed my eyes and pushed down a ball of words.  He wouldn’t hurt me. He was going to listen. He was going to be soft.


He motioned towards my underwear with his hand and raised an eyebrow that said, “Then why aren’t you already naked?”


My hands were trembling with nervous energy after sprinting out of the store.  We’d only been inside for five minutes, but the whole trip felt like a lifetime.  Jonas already had us back on the road again. I couldn’t go back to my apartment to take the test.  It felt sinful, like it would taint the place even more than it already had been. Instead, we were driving towards a park in hopes that one of the restrooms there were open.  Classy.

“Son of a bitch.”

Jonas hit the horn with the heel of his hand.  The light was green, had been for about twenty seconds, and the driver in front of us hadn’t even taken his foot off the brake pedal yet.  The streetlamps were poking their light inside the car just enough for me to see Jonas’ crinkled brow and crow’s feet. He was odd like that.  The crow’s feet didn’t appear until he worried about something. Like an exam or a girl or someone close being hurt. I kept my hands wrapped tightly around a white plastic bag that was so thin you could read the box inside.  DIGITAL Pregnancy Test!  Only Test with Smart Countdown to Result!  Results 5 Days Sooner!  It was like that ornery old cashier was still glaring at me through her chunky eye make-up and badly dyed hair.  I’ve never felt more worthless than the way she looked at me. Like I was worth less than the total cost of the tests ($26.76 for three, because they were on sale).

My stomach was pulling again.  This time it was ripping a part of me away.  This wasn’t me. I wasn’t the type of girl who got into this situation – taking a drug store pregnancy test.  I graduated high school third in my class. I was the goody-two-shoes who wouldn’t dare touch a drop of alcohol.  I was a virgin until four months ago! This wasn’t me!

“Delilah.  Breathe.”

This wasn’t me.

This wasn’t me.  I didn’t do this.  I didn’t get into situations that could hurt me.  That could ruin me. That could take what I’ve made of myself and break it into a thousand little pieces.

“You’re going to be alright.  You’ll be fine.”

I needed to figure out what I was going to do.  I’d stress myself into lunacy if I didn’t create a plan.  My plan was to erase this whole thing from memory as soon as possible.  Pregnant or not pregnant, I was not having a baby at nineteen. I couldn’t do that to my grandmother.  I couldn’t do that to my mother. I couldn’t do that to me. If I wasn’t pregnant, this would be easy. I could toss the extra tests and throw out the used pee stick and forget Jonas and I ever spent an evening driving around town looking for a public park restroom to use.  If I was pregnant, there was only one thing I could do.

“Delilah?  Are you breathing?”

There was only one thing I could do, but getting an abortion wasn’t me.  I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take a life. I knew the horror stories. Girls walking into clinics with pillowcases over their heads.  Random strangers begging, pleading,screaming at those same girls to stop what they’re doing. To stop thinking about their lives and focus on the bundle of cells multiplying in their bodies.  But at the same time, it was me. This was my life. I had worked so hard to build what little I had. Even though the foundation was crumbling, this was still my life!  I–


He ripped me from my thoughts and pulled me back down to reality.  Back into his car that was littered with trash he swore was from me.  Back into my body that was curled up in the passenger’s seat. Back into the present.


Jonas pulled off the road into an empty gravel parking lot.  The lone streetlamp rested on top of a wooden pole that was roughly weathered.  Chunks of wood were pried out by forceful wind and unforgiving rain. To our left was a public fish cleaning station.  Iron grates replaced the windows around the large, stained basin for fish. The one-person bathroom was large (almost bigger than the freshman dorm rooms) and was in the building as well.  I had been here once before last spring when I went fishing with my older brother during his visit.

“Is this ok?”

I didn’t answer him.  Sprinkles of rain began to fall from the sky as we stepped out of the car.  It was like the weather knew how to set the mood so we didn’t have to worry about emotions ourselves.  I made Jonas come into the bathroom with me even though I knew he’d be uncomfortable. I don’t think I would have done it if I was alone.

“Are you going to tell Richard?” Jonas asked, “even if you aren’t?”


The word blurted out before I had time to think it through.  I’d gotten him out of my life and there was no excuse large enough to bring him back in.  If I was pregnant, I was going to figure it out on my own and I would be telling as few people as possible.  If I wasn’t, this secret was going to live and die with Jonas. It’d be erased from my memory the moment the test was negative because everything would be over then.

Jonas nodded his head, then handed me a pregnancy test from the box and read the directions.  Neither of us had done this before, but I had seen it done several times in TV shows and movies.  After pulling my pants and underwear down and sitting on the toilet, I removed the blue plastic cap off the test.  The now-visible end looked like a stiff piece of paper, like a cross between a piece of cardboard and a tissue. I wondered if it’d flop over like a flimsy tissue when it got wet.  Jonas began rambling about a bitchy text he got from his sister for missing dinner with them while I took the test.

This pregnancy test was digital.  Meaning, the results popped up on a little screen like the ones on cheap techy McDonald’s toys.  There was an empty bar that would fill with four blocks. Once the bar was full, the results would be given as either Pregnant or Not Pregnant across the screen.  As I pulled my clothes back up, the first block was blinking into its place.  At least we knew the tests worked and weren’t garbage. As I washed my hands, the second block began blinking into place.  The first block was filled with solid black. By the time we made it back to the car, the third block was blinking and the second had been completely filled in.

The last block on the timer appeared, but the results didn’t pop up right away.  I closed my eyes and pushed my hand into my stomach.