Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living a Life Like Babushka

A couple Christmases ago my mom and brother got me a Pandora bracelet. It is something I will cherish everyday for the rest of my life . . . it is filled with beads that they picked to represent me and beads I picked to represent people and things I love. One day I was on the website looking at all the beads offered and I came across an enamel one called "Baby Babushka." I wasn't sure what this meant, so naturally, I Googled it. A lot of results came up and I clicked on one that was a story explaining the meaning of the babushka; I'm still unsure as to whether or not what I clicked on is accurate, but for the purpose of this post, I hope it is.

It essentially is a Russian story told to young children about an elderly woman who lived on her own. On a cold, winter night she heard the tinkling of bells and a knock on her door. She opened it to find three elegantly dressed men atop camels; they were traveling to see a child they had received news of being born, but had lost track of their path in the weather. They asked her for directions of sorts and then encouraged her to join them. She said no, but the next morning she woke to remembering the three men and wondering about that newborn child. It is said that she can still be seen traveling through town with a basket filled with gifts for the young child and continuously searching the faces of young children to see if they are the young King those men were in search of.

I think about that charm and this story a lot and I choose to interpret it this way: Babushka spends her days and nights searching for the face of our King, for the face and presence of our Jesus. Story-tellers claim this is a sad story, but I'm not so sure I am in agreeance.

What if, as children of Christ, we spent each day narrowly seeking His face, His presence in our life? Isn't that what we are called to do? The only sadness in Babushka's story is that it is never established whether she finds that face she so desperately seeks.

In this vein of thought I begin to wonder what I could be spending my time, each day, seeking to receive out of this world, instead of spending my time searching for trivial, earthly things?

Instead of attempting to make eye contact with good looking guys that pass me by, trying to get that AHA moment of knowing he's who I've been waiting for, why don't I attempt to make eye contact with everyone and share a smile to brighten their day?

Instead of, in anger, trying to see how much times I can use the word 'fuck' in a sentence, why don't I try to come up with an alternate word and see how many times I can replace that word with something less harsh, in my times of anger?

Instead of crying or allowing myself to get in a pit of self destruction over a disagreement, an unanswered phone call, a hateful remark from someone I love, why don't I actively give praise for having someone to disagree with, for having a phone to make calls on, for having loved ones still surrounding me?

Instead of whining about having to go out in the cold to drive to work, why don't I appreciate the fact that I have, not one, but two jobs and a vehicle to get me there?

Instead of complaining about school starting back up after a nice, long break, why don't I realize the incredible fortune I've been given by being born in a country that not only allows, but encourages, the female sex to attend universities and get an education?

Reading this story about Babushka and her tireless search for the King serves as a reminder of what I need to daily be seeking out of this life: My Jesus. I need to seek His presence in my life, His forgiveness in my actions, His game book for my life.
And not only seeking Jesus, but seeking the grace He bestows upon me, without a second thought. Why am I not looking to share that grace with the people around me? Why am I not looking for people who need a smile to pick up their day? Why am I not seeking a life that is so much more than the one I am living now?

Everyday when I wake up, I need to be lifting up thanks for another day, I need to be searching for the plethora of reasons I have to be thankful, never ending cycle of reasons I have to be happy, the incredible resources I have at my hands to allow for a future filled with promise.

Babushka's tale may be sad because we never find out if she finds that baby King, but her story is inspiring because never do we read that she ceases the search party. Each day I will try to live like that Babushka- seeking the face of Jesus, searching for people to lift up, giving thanks for the life I have, the people I love, and the opportunities afforded to me. I want to be that little Babushka searching for a higher power, always moving forward, ever searching for the truest forms of living.

So, Babushka reminds me to never be comfortable standing in one place. She reminds me to always be searching for more.

What's your more? What does Babushka inspire you to move towards?

-Stephi D.

Monday, January 30, 2012

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Much to my mom's dismay, one of my favorite movies is The Sound of Music. When I think of this movie one of the first scenes that comes to mind is "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" so in honor of The Sound of Music here are some of my favorite things (and people):

-My family. All of them, from all over.
-Books. Especially when they are well worn, incredibly scribbled in, and overly highlighted.
-Milk. In large glasses- sometimes with ice, sometimes without, but always with something sweet.
-Pens. In various bright colors
-My mommy. She's the first, the last, the always.
-Laughter. From the blondes I get to see every week, from my dad when I say something funny, from people I don't even know.
-Tears. Specifically during worship at church. Nothing makes me feel closer to Jesus than singing for Him and having tears roll down my face at the beauty of the words and the music.
-My daddy. For giving me my eyes . . . and my temper.
-Jodi Picoult novels. And John Green. And Sarah Dessen. And Emily Giffin. And the list really could go on forever.
-Soft pillows. That feel cold in the middle of the night.
-Painted nails. My usual colors are black, red, and hot pink.
-Chuck Taylors. With funky shoelaces.
-The Beauty and the Beast. Well, almost any Disney movie, in fact. That Walt, he was totally brill.
-John Krasinski. In all his gorgeous, nerdy ways.
-Photographs. In color, black and white, or sepia.
-Big Bang Theory. Two words, people: Jim Parsons.
-Summer dresses.
-Big purses.
-Dining out.
-Ben and Jerry's Karamel Sutra.
-Cinnamon ice cream. Taste EXPLOSION, folks.
-Journals. Filled with pictures, anecdotes, and prayers.
-My great grandmother's ring.
-Perfume. Clinique Happy to be specific.
-Meryl Streep.
-An Indian summer.
-Snail mail.
-Unexpected texts or phone calls.
-Friendships that last a lifetime.
-Notes. Folded in those paper football triangles.
-Inside jokes.
-My brother. Also known as the greatest guy in existence.
-My dreams.  Because one day, they will be reality.
-My future husband. Because I know he's going to be incredible.
-Homemade caramels. So soft and chewy.
-Kissing. All kinds.
-Post-Its. They are so handy and they make me feel important.
-Wine. White wine.
-My Pandora bracelet. It's a daily scrapbook on my wrist.
-Naps. They are better than sleeping at night.
-Making lists. Clearly :)

I know there are many more, but I just wanted to type some of them out . . . to remind myself of all the amazing things and people I have to be thankful for. I hope you can all take the time to remember your favorite things and that you can all take the time to enjoy those favorites, too.

What are some of your favorite things?

-Stephi D.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Roadmaps of the Heart

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." -Steve Jobs

I firmly believe it is a fact of life that, at some point or another, everyone faces a crossroads in which they have to decide whether or not we will follow the crowd's footprints or carve out our own. No matter our age, our position in life, or our literal location, we are subjected to opinions that both coincide and strongly differ from our own, we are surrounded by people who dress similar to us and those who are breaking boundaries, breaking fashion 'rules,' and, maybe, breaking the law, by what they do, or don't, put on their backs.

I have been fortunate in being raised in a home in which I am encouraged to make my own decisions, bad and good ones, alike. My parents never set me up for failure, but when I was doing something they knew would likely not end well, they did not forbid it, they simply said, "you'll have to understand the repercussions of this decision if it doesn't end the way you'd like." And I did- over and over and over and over again. But because my parents wanted me to make informed, intelligent decisions, I did learn lessons and I made bad decisions, too.

Another fact of life that I firmly believe in is that girls can be vicious. I am including myself in this category- I know I have thrown words like daggers and not looked back to see the damage. While I know I've hurt others with my actions, I have been hurt by others actions as well. When I think about females and the ways in which we condemn each other, I think about so many girls out in the world that are coming to crossroads this very second, having to make decisions about whether they will sleep with their boyfriend because their best friends are doing it, whether they will partake in that joint or beer at a party because everyone else at the party is doing it, whether or not they will buy those jeans that cost enough to buy an entire outfit because all the "cool" kids at school are wearing them. I realize that these are concerns that are considered 'normal' by teenage standards, but that does not make them any less disheartening.

I was not one of those girls that gave away my body easily . . . by today's standards, I held onto it for a rather long time. Please understand I am not judging or pointing my finger at anyone who lost their virginity before 18- this is, was, and will forever be, your choice; my only hope is that you don't regret your decision. I waited until I was 18, and it was still earlier than my best intentions, because I was supposed to wait until marriage. It is not something I regret, but I am also fully aware that it is a moment I will never get back, and it was a moment with a boy that will never be mine forever.

I've never smoked weed and I didn't drink much at all before I was 21. Again- if you  partied in high school- right on! And if you have, or do, smoke weed- I'm not judging you . . . But up until quite recently, my life has been predominated by fear and that has hindered some experiences.

I have never, nor will I probably ever, spend much more than 40 dollars on jeans . . . and even that is difficult for me. But I did, and do, wear name brand clothing, but I also thoroughly enjoy a shopping trip to Wal Mart!
My point to all of this is that I have been a part of "peer pressure" and I have been to  many a crossroads in my life and I know there are plenty more coming. I just hope that as I come to each one in the future, I will be arriving wiser and more prepared.

Here's what I know about me, that probably sets me apart a little from society's "expectations":
-I will wear Chuck Taylors or TOMS with just about anything. If I can get away with wearing Chucks with an otherwise dressy outfit, I will . . . Because I prefer comfort! Mark my words- on my wedding day, there will be no heels- there will be TOMS.
-I do not care about matching. I wear brown and black together, I mix patterns, and I try to throw a scarf on with just about any outfit. I guess this is where my hippie roots are coming out.
-I prefer my hair to look like a mess. I am not about the overly polished, straighted, perfected look that so many of my amazingly gorgeous friends carry off effortlessly. If I look like there is a wind advisory in effect or that I just rolled out of bed I have accomplished my hair goals for the day.
-I am 24 and am not insanely crazy about being single. I'm not going to say much more on this other than I am also not a proponent of one night stands, either . . . because I enjoy not having crabs.
-I am a very liberal thinker being raised in a conservative area. I am okay with people having their beliefs and thoughts and their freedoms to express them, I just happen to believe that homosexuals deserve rights to marriage, women deserve rights to their body, interracial relationships are acceptable and beautiful, and that people should make sure their hands are clean before they start pointing fingers. And it is my right to have those thoughts, as well.
-I am not of the opinion to "try everything once." There are just some things that are not worth trying- call me unadventurous- I will smile and say thank you.

There are many more . . . because I am weird- bottom line. But that's okay because as I get older and learn more about myself I know that I am a smart girl, a strong thinker, a lone dancer to that proverbial drum.

As years pass and experiences that belong in adulthood are being fulfilled in adolescence, I worry about the future generations and what they are leaving themselves to look forward to. I wish girls weren't so catty and mean, I wish boys would realize it's okay to be told no and accept it, and I wish marketing didn't allow youth to think that if they aren't in name brand clothing, if they aren't shopping at particular stores, if their skin isn't parallel to that of some model who is airbrushed, then they are not worthy, acceptable, or beautiful. Because they are, you are. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made- we're supposed to carve our own paths, make our own style, dance to our own music and we should be celebrating the different tunes, celebrating the different walks, celebrating the different directions.

The world would be impossibly boring if we all wore the same clothes, said the same things, walked the same roads.

So, what are you going to do to create your own music? Where are you going to let your heart tell you to go?

-Stephi D.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Washed by the Water

I was talking to my Aunt Lucia the other day about baptisms and confirmations and I was reminded of the day I was baptized after taking confirmation classes at Fletcher United Methodist Church.

I was in 6th grade, I believe, and had taken weeks of Confirmation classes with Pastor Chivington. They were with fellow students at Miami East and we each got to pick a mentor to help us through it; my mentor was Gayle Beard- a very good family friend. The Sunday had finally come- we had all passed our "tests" and were going to be baptized and accepted into the church in front of the congregation filled with our loved ones. As I look back on this event, I realize that, at some point, I had not been paying attention in class as I completely missed the part where we were going to be fully submerged into a tank of water as part of the Baptism process . . .

As we lined up behind a sort of screen, so that only Pastor David and the one being baptized could be seen, I watched the first person be "dunked" into baptism and church membership; my mom still talks about how, through the quiet of the congregation, everyone could hear me say, "Oh my!"
When it came to be my turn I stood in the water and let Pastor David lower me into the water, but once it started closing over my face, I started to try to come back up. As you can probably guess, I provided a great amount of humor to the congregation as I just about submerged Pastor Chivington in water with all my kicking and clawing.

As I was thinking about this, though, I realized how closely this resembles the tumultuous relationship with God I have today; I believe in God, I know He is present in every sunrise, every sunset, every breath I take in and then release, but I have a very bad tendency of allowing everything else to take over my time and my life instead of letting God consume my existence. I have a very bad tendency of occasionally giving Him the glory when things go right, but sprinting straight to Him every time something goes wrong. I do not attend church every Sunday and I have a tendency to make sure He knows when I am angry with Him. As someone who has accepted Jesus into my heart and life I find the greatest difficulty to simply read His word, give Him the glory, and lead by example. Why do I find this so difficult?

I feel as if my relationship with Christ is very much like that Baptism water- He is the water and He wants me to be bathed by Him- and I let Him, until I just don't . . . then the flailing begins, the kicking and swinging starts and it all boils down to one simple thing: control. I do not like not having control. My mom is always telling me: "lay it at His feet, Soph . . . it's so simple. Leave it there and walk away." Guys, nothing, and I mean nothing is more difficult for me than this. And NOTHING makes me feel more at peace than when I am able to do this. I am a walking contradiction, folks . . . what up?!

I feel like this has turned into a lot of rambling so I will attempt to narrow it down here: I am in no way, shape, or form perfect. I am pretty far left of perfect. And I believe in God- every bad thing that has ever happened in my life has been recovered ten fold by the blessings He rains down, but I have a lot of trouble giving Him the wheel to my life, the keys to my heart, the control over my journey. In the society that we live in I maintain that it is a difficult path to walk, when you're walking with Jesus, but I have realized that there really isn't any other path I want to be on. It has occurred to me that perhaps I face the adversities I face and walk this line of being unsure so often because He is up there waiting for me to talk to Him before I try to fix it on my own. He wants me to want Him in my life. That's pretty huge, right? The Maker of the universe wants MY attention, MY love, MY appreciation. He is just sitting there waiting for me to hand Him my heart and say "work it out." And my whole life I have let control get the first seat instead of Him.

So here's what I plan to do: I am going to immerse myself in His word, I am going to learn to be quiet and listen for His plans, and I am going to let Him know what I want out of my life, after I'm done listening, because He cares and He wants to know! There is nothing greater than having someone who is always on my side, who loves me through every screw up, every curse word, every bad mistake, who waits every night to hear about my day- whether it's just been two hours or two months since I told Him last- He's there waiting . . . knowing that I will come around eventually, and this time I plan on sticking it out.

Here I am, guys, arms and legs spiraling in water . . . Pray that I can be still and just let it wash over me.

-Stephi D.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Let Your Heartlines Lead You Home

"Just keep following the heart lines on your hand . . ." -Florence and the Machine

I just got the new Florence and the Machine CD "Ceremonials" and if you haven't heard of  this group, look them up, and if you have heard of them, but don't have this CD, go buy it. Anyway- I've been thinking about this line on and off all day . . . I've heard the lines on our hands referred to as lines that psychics use to tell our future . . . I've heard them called 'love lines' . . . but I've never heard of them being called 'heartlines.' I really like it though. And I like the idea of following them . . . so then I started considering where my heart lines would lead me if I were to follow . . . and I decided they would lead me home.

Nine years ago tomorrow my family will have lost a son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin, and a friend. Nick had an unquenchable zest for life and he truly lived every day like it was his last. He was an exceptional football player, enjoyed having fun . . . legal and otherwise, and had an uncanny way of annoying the piss out of you and making you gasp for breath from laughter at the same time. He was beautiful- he had a beautiful spirit and a beautiful face.

Anyone who has lost someone knows the undeniable and deafening silence that overtakes family holidays, birthdays that used to be celebrated, and any place or activity that that person used to fulfill. Losing Nick was similar to going deaf for a while- nothing was as bright, as loud, as fun as when he used to be around.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of Nick, or mention Nick, or smile because I remember something funny he said or did. The number 40 will never be looked at, for me, without thinking about him on the football field . . . the number 40  will always belong to my family, be a part of our history, forever be correlated to being a Duff.

9 years ago today I was going about a weekend night as usual business not realizing the entire universe as I knew it was going to be hurtled against a wall and shattered. But here's the beautiful thing about your world being broken: you learn to appreciate the people who weren't taken to soon, you learn that the idea of "that will never happen to me" is complete bullshit, you learn that, even if you think it's sappy or clingy or silly, saying 'I love you' to the people you love is, in fact, never sappy or clingy or silly . . . because they deserve to hear it and you need to say it.
9 years ago tomorrow I looked around at the broken faces of my family and realized we are incredible. We have faced adversity, suffered through losses, and have been put to difficult tests- but 9 years later we are here, together, and living our lives- not just existing. We live them and grow and move forward, but never at the cost of forgetting the electric existence of Nicholas Drake.

I love my family; I loved them before that day so many years ago, but today I know them better than I ever would've imagined, I've been a part of amazingly momentous occasions for two beautiful cousins, and I actually take the time to contact my family outside of get togethers and holiday events. And come 4 months from now I will be holding another addition to my loud, big, gorgeous family and I know Nick will be smiling down on his lovely sister as she brings a new baby into the love that has come to define being a Duff.

My family has always been important to me, but now they are essential to me. I would simply be existing in this place, if not for my family.

I know that tomorrow I will wake up, and I will probably feel heavy in my heart, but I will also wake up and know that I've got an ornery spirit watching every step I take, a beautiful boy keeping his hands on my beloved family, an incredible eye watching over this life of mine. And I know that my heart lines might lead me down paths that end in pain, my heart lines might lead me in directions that make me question myself, but my heart lines will always lead me back home. And, as you may know, home is where the heart is . . . and it's certainly where all the people who loved me first will always be.

I love you, Nick . . . and I miss you every day.

-Stephi D.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When I Grow Up . . .

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" How many times do we get asked this as children? And then once we are no longer "children" we get asked "What do you want to study?" when we are headed off to college.
If I were a numbers person I would likely try to find a statistic on the number of people who fully change majors at least once while they are in college . . . I'm willing to bet it is a fair amount of students, but I will leave this to my lovelies that are numbers people . . . you know who you are! I did not fully switch, but I strongly considered changing my Sophomore year at Wright State, but today I can assure you all that I am very happy with my decision to stick with Creative Writing.

So, when I was a kiddo and got asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" for many years my answer was a therapist. I don't even know what exactly about this profession called to me, but for a long time that was what I was going to be. At my high school graduation party my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, came with a small gift and an envelope that she asked me to open in front of her; it was a picture she asked each of us to draw in her class of what we wanted to be when we grew up. My picture was a desk and chair with a name plate on it that said 'Dr. Stephani Duff'- I can assure you all that my artistic abilities then are at about the level they are now- non existent! But this gift gave me a chuckle anyway . . . I feel like I was setting the sights a little high by choosing therapy . . . but I guess that kind of makes sense.
I am not too proud to admit that when asked that question at other times in my youth (because I'm really old now) some answers went like this: a singer, a Broadway singer, a ballerina, and I'm sure, hilariously enough, Ariel. (Do not judge me, people . . . I desperately wanted to be a red headed mermaid- it's a perfectly reasonable desire, mmmkay?)

Once I hit high school and took my first creative writing class my sophomore year, my wishes and dreams altered a little bit- partly because I was realizing with each passing year how deliciously sucktacious I was at Math . . . and anything that wasn't English, for that matter, and partly because I truly looked forward to creative writing everyday and it occurred to me that if I shall get paid to do something, I shall probably, ya know, like it.

As I entered my freshman year at Wright State I declared English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and was solid in that belief up until sophomore year; I began to question my goals and whether I was talented enough to accomplish anything within those goals so I began the process of switching to education with an emphasis in reading recovery. After epically failing at Praxis exams and wasting stupid amounts of money to take them, I decided that perhaps my boy, the late JC, was attempting to let me know I was making a mistake. Turns out, surprise-surprise, He was right. I stuck with Creative Writing and feel very sound within my decision.

The point of this post is not to discuss my goals alone, so . . . onto the point!

The other day I was talking to my Aunt Rita and she has decided to take some classes because she's "still trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up" and it made me laugh, not because she is, for all intents and purposes, grown, but because life is so wonderful that no matter what age we are, we can still ask this question and come up with different answers. We live in a world and in a country that allows us to recreate our future steps when we see fit, we are allowed to reinvent ourselves as we see fit, we are allowed to have multiple degrees, become a student while working in the professional world, we are allowed to be whomever we want to be.
I remember when I was in junior high and still rode the bus, one of my girlfriends was talking about what she wanted to do when she grew up and her answers were fantastic and went something like this: "a teacher, a nurse, a wedding planner . . . I mean I can do all that, ya know? Why not, right?" And of course then, and now, I'm all "RIGHT!"

So, ask me what I want to be when I grow up . . . go on, then!


When I grow up I want to be a writer that releases books that readers will run headlong into, with a fevered desperation, I want to be a leader of a non profit, or two, I want to be a daughter that my parents are proud of, a sister that my brother still calls for advice, conversation, or to say 'love you, Sneff,' a friend that never wavers in her loyalty.

When I grow up I want to be one of those bad ass chicks that can rock Chuck Taylor's no matter her age and still looks kinda kick ass with all her tats.

When I grow up I want be someone that visits another city or country annually, I want to be bilingual, I want to be someone who has walls and walls and walls covered in photographs.

 When I grow up I want to be someone with lists of goals to fulfill, someone who is never stagnant, in her career(s) or relationships, someone who is always chasing, sprinting, grabbing at passion and heat to fill her life with.

When I grow up I want to be a woman who has relationships with friends from her youth filled with long dinners overflowing with wine and conversation, I want to be a woman who still talks to those gorgeous blondes she used to take care of in college, I want to be a woman who smiles more than scowls.

When I grow up I want to be a better eater, an avid speed walker, an iced/hot tea junkie.

When I grow up I want to be happily married to the man of my dreams, happily parenting a precious child of my own, and maybe one I've adopted, happily spoiling the beautiful babies of my beautiful brother.

When I grow up I want to be a homeowner, I want to be a porch swing sitter, I want to be a library dweller, I want to be Belle- on her ladder sashaying from book lined shelf to book lined shelf.

When I grow up I want to be successful, I want to be an inspiration, I want to be a lover, I want to be loved in return, I want to be extraordinary, I want to be true to my heart.

When I grow up I want to be happy.

So whether you want to be a teacher, a doctor, a ballerina, or a mom- know that you can do any of these things, but especially understand you can do all of these things. I would encourage everyone, including myself, to never be done creating who you are- never be done setting the world on fire.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Go!

-Stephi D.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Poetry Begins as a Lump in the Throat

I have always loved books, but when I was younger, the type of writing I always took part in was poetry. Most of it was nonsensical, but it was all real and from my heart. Once I took my first creative writing class in high school my sights shifted in the writing world, but this quarter they have leveled out quite nicely. I am taking both a fiction and a poetry writing seminar and I have never really felt more inspired than reading words that have been read for centuries and practicing the art of creating characters that will somehow touch people's lives.

I'm not going to say much more; I just want to share some of the pieces I've written and shared in my poetry seminar . . . I hope they are enjoyed- or at least appreciated.


Pitter-patter of socks on hard wood
Exasperated giggles from tickle wars
Cold fingers reaching to warm themselves in yours
Disney Channel and Wizards of Waverly Place
Short hugs and quick ‘I love you’s’
Sparkling, intoxicating eyes of blue
Snuggly moments and nap time woes
Concert dreams and Disney Princess rooms
Blue bedspreads and teen pop tunes
Days of Mac-n-cheese and PB&J
Hours of ‘when’s mom coming home?’
And minutes of temper tantrums thrown
Memories made and tears of laughter making me cry
This is a nanny’s lullaby.

Tree of Life
Branches so delicate we wait to hear the crack of despair 
Hands joined tightly as we let loose our hair
This is the gathering place of our souls
Under  the clouds darkened like coals.
Some may call us a bramble of witches,
but there are no brews here, no bodies laced with stitches.
We bathe ourselves in white
We dance and sway for the night-
Girls bound in chains of lace
Girls trapped within a serving face.
Feet tapping like the dropping rain
Across the threshold and barriers of pain-
They mold us and form us to be a new wife
We scramble and scurry for that lone tree of  life.

The Hospital's Symphony
And the heart beats slow- 
The lub-lub, lub-lub, lub-lub,
A rhythmic dance.
And the machinery plays-
Beep-beep- tssss- beep-beep- tssss,
A cacophonous symphony.
And the pen scratches lightly-
Brash and rumple- tisssssk and ZIP!
A prescriptive, melancholy beat.
And the cries of a heart-
Phlegm snick-snorted, scratch of a tissue on a raw nose
A funeral march before it’s time.

A Crucified Promise
At that cross is where I proved my love-
A love you simply can't fathom, earth-bound as you are.
I know your every move long before you think to extend a muscle-
I had the iris of your eye, the curve of your nose memorized long before a mom and a dad ever met.
At that cross is where I proved my love-
A love you deem a luxury, yet are always attempting to outrun,
But I know your directions before your feet begin the ceaseless process of pacing-
I know the rhythm of your soul before you are intercepted by the beat.
At that cross is where I proved my love-
A love you and many more cannot fathom,
But I was made for patience-
And you were meant to be a creature of question,
So I will be still and I will be here- or there- in your heart.
At that cross is where I proved my love-
A love you will ultimately follow-
Because it will lead you back.

I am a woman:
            Of thick hips and curves,
            Of sweet, soft canvas.

I’ve been a girl:
            Momma told me to always smile.
            I just never showed my teeth.

I’ve been a target:
            Under the harsh words of adolescent fire.
            I made a stand- at the desperate age of 24.

I’ve been a daughter:
            From the history of men of the outcry,
            I carried my head upraised and kept my feet delicate.
            I crafted a passage of my own.

I’ve been a sister:
            The boy child brought me great distress- now pure elation.
            They hear the whispers in the twilight, they see the survey of interpretation.

I am a woman:
            FiancĂ©e of wanderlust  and champion for the silent,
            Discovering the spaces I harmonize well – well within my own temple.

It was Robert Frost who said, “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering" and it really is just so spot on . . .
So, what do you want to discover today?

-Stephi D.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ink is the New Black

Tattoos. How do you feel about them? Hate them? Love them? Whatever about them? Well I love them- much to the chagrin of my grandmother; when I got my first tattoo she informed me I was out of the will, but thankfully my brother and my cousin V saved me from being the sole "outted" member of the family from that . . . sacred will. I'm not exactly sure what is even in the will that I am no longer getting, but all the same- I'm not getting it.

Let me clarify by saying that I am not a tattoo lover that has skulls or random pieces of ink all over my body- every piece I have is important to me, has meaning, and stands for something great that happened in my life. See, here's my take on tattoos- life is hard . . . it's beautiful, but it's hard. And I'd be willing to bet that every single one of us heads to meet our prize with more than a couple of scars . . . whether they be visible or internal. So my tattoos are reminders of scars that I bear, wounds that I've had to mend, and experiences I don't want to ever chance forgetting.

Here are the stories of my tattoos:

I got inked for the first time when I was eighteen; it is on my left wrist and is a Celtic symbol for eternity. My baby brother has the same symbol on his ribcage. Before we got this we had discussed getting something together for a long time. We knew we wanted it to mean something along the lines of eternity or unity, but we wanted it to be something we both agreed on. It basically looks like a spiral 'S' turned on its side and the inside of the front of the 'S' has a full circled curl in it. I knew I wanted it on my wrist and I chose my left as it is nearest to my heart. The story with my brother and I is interesting because before I was 15 I simply tolerated Z. But at 15 my universe was severely shaken and I realized that I needed to grow up and get over myself. Since then my brother has become my best friend- Z is the first guy I call when something goes wrong, he's one of the first people I call when something goes right, and we don't leave each other without saying 'I love you.' I actually enjoy being with Zack now; we go out together on the weekends, we see movies together, we sit down and talk to each other. When we had thrown around the idea of a tattoo we knew it needed to be eternity because we are each other's eternity. No matter where I go, who I marry, what I do- Zack is going to be one of the first calls I make, some of the first faces I frame on walls, and the only boy (to this date) that has ever loved me no matter what I do, what I say, or how I fuck up. I wanted a tattoo with my brother that meant eternity because he'll always be my brother- no matter who's dad he ends up being, who's husband he becomes, or what address he calls home- he'll be that little boy who bought me a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal with some extra money he had that day at the mall, he'll be that football player that superseded all other football players, in my heart and mind, on the field, he'll be the man that drops what he's doing to come pick me up, defend me no matter who he may piss off, and love me no matter how much of a mess I become. When I think about eternity Zack always comes to mind.

My second tattoo is on my right wrist and I got it when I was 22. I had broken up with a guy and it was a very difficult situation- I was not handling my new found freedom well and had basically allowed myself to be in a long term funk that I'm sure was thoroughly irritating to everyone around me. Mom had talked me into attending church with her for the first time in a long time and this was the verse the message was focused on: That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:10. I immediately took out my pen and underlined this in my Bible. Never in my life had I heard God speak to me so clearly than when I sat in that chair at church and read this to myself. He was talking to me, He wanted my attention, He never stopped watching me and listening to me, even when I did a complete about face to Him. After leaving church that day I knew I needed this on my body somewhere because it was what caught my attention, it was what woke me up, it was, honestly, what brought me back to life. Now that I have it, anytime I feel weak or like the world is on my shoulders, I look at my wrist, I read that verse, and I know that He is absolutely not giving me anything I can't walk out of with my head held high. If He's not challenging me or catching my attention then I'm simply not giving Him the time He deserves.

My third tattoo is on my forearm right below the crook of my elbow. I got it in Colorado with my cousin Veronica the night before she graduated from college. V has other tattoos and we had always talked about getting ink together, but as she lives in Colorado and I am in Ohio, it never worked out . . . until she invited me out for her graduation. I said yes, under one condition, that we get tattooed together. Our tattoo is 'Hephzibah' in Hebrew. Hephzibah is Biblically translated to mean "my delight is in her" and is what God used when he referred to His church and His people. It represents that pure, untethered love God has for his people. This tattoo is teal with a purple outline and has a wooden cross next to it. It serves as a reminder of the incredible love He has for me, no matter what, the amazing relationship I have, the incredibly similarities I have, the unconditional love I have for a woman who I literally am lucky to see once every two years, and it also serves to remind me of the first trip I ever took alone, after many, many years of deep, painful anxiety.

I am currently in process of saving for two more tattoos, but I'm not sharing them just yet . . . they're still under construction. Clearly, though, I really enjoy tattoos. And maybe you don't- perhaps some of you think it's a desecration to the temple my body is supposed to be for Christ; and I respect your opinions . . . I just don't agree with them. I am a writer so ink is a detrimental part of any career I forge, it is a detrimental part of any story I share, book I write, character I give birth to- so why not share some of my story on my actual canvas? Plus, I like the way that it looks on my skin, too.

We all have scars, we all have pain and lessons learned, we all have moments in our life that we hope we never forget. Some may not like tattoos, but I think they are art and my pieces of art serve as constant reminders of who I was, who I am, and who I might become.

We all have scars . . . I just want mine to remind me of what I've become- in spite of the pain.

So, whether you like tattoos, dislike tattoos, or love tattoos- I will maintain that ink is the new black.

-Stephi D.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

An Island of Exes

So the other day I was thinking about situations that can be both awkward and painful and I instantly remembered the various times I've seen an ex boy friend out in public and had to decide whether I would duck and run the other direction or, ya know, act like an adult and acknowledge their existence. Here are a couple stories:

The day I was driving to a girlfriend's house and drove by the church in which my ex boyfriend was getting married in . . . that day . . . at the moment I was driving by: I was heading to a friend's house and was driving past St. Pats Church in Troy; as I drove by there was a wedding party exiting the church. I was rubber necking and thought to myself, "oh my gosh, what an amazing day to get married, wait! is that Mark?!?!" Oh yea, guys- it was Mark. A high school boyfriend who was a very serious relationship and I was witnessing him walking down the church steps hand in hand with his beautiful, skinny, blonde wife. As I pulled over I instantly had a scenario flash before my eyes: As I'm driving by the church, and upon realizing it was Mark's wedding I was seeing exit the church, I would run into a tree, parked car, or a moving car. Cut to my car's horn beeping incessantly and the entire wedding party coming over to see if that poor driver is okay . . . only to find out it was me- Mark's ex girlfriend- whom the new bride detests . . . she would then scream STALKER at the top of her lungs and probably try to jump me in her shiny, white dress.
This did not happen- there was no wreckage in the vehicular sense, but I most likely had to talk myself off a ledge of deep hyperventilation and perpetual ramblings.

The first day I see my most recent ex boyfriend since he called to tell me he was going to be a dad and I was informed he is now engaged: This is really recent; Monday I was walking to the elevator on campus to go to a class when I look up and see very lanky legs poking out of gym shorts and a nearly shaved head bent down looking over a cell phone. I immediately did the song and dance of 'take the steps and ignore him or say hi and ride the elevator?' I decided to say hello, "Hey, Bake." He turned around, enveloped me in a large hug and immediately starting talking like we were old friends. I assumed our short reunion would end after I exited the elevator at the 2nd floor, but alas, he followed me to my classroom. As I thrive on making myself feel as awkward as possible, I asked about his pregnant wife to be. He was friendly, I did not have a panic attack, and it ended without anyone being seriously harmed.

Here is my point to all this rambling: Ex boyfriends are this island . . . unto themselves- that you eventually heal yourself of, but never truly rid yourself of.
Mark (wedding guy) is an awesome guy. We still hang out from time to time and talk on the phone occasionally, too. He still makes me laugh, I still enjoy kicking it with him, and he is someone I consider a friend. But let me be clear- I slept with this boy- so that always complicates things. He will never fully leave my life, because I shared things with him you can't just take back. I'm not in love with Mark, but I will always love him. He'll always be that guy- that I crossed lines with and thought it would be forever. When Mark and I talk or hang out, there is just something- am I making sense? There will always be flirting, there will always be history, there will always be that night, that date, that first kiss between us. I don't have to tell any of you that things like these never go away.

Justin (father/husband to be) was my longest relationship. We had our entire lives planned out. We used to talk frequently, but now we don't- because his life is changing and she deserves more than a guy who still contacts his ex. This is not to say I am not friendly with Justin when I see him- I am. Because even more than with Mark, I planned a life with Justin- it just never became an actuality. Similar to Mark, I am not in love with Justin, but I truly do love him and want the best for him. However, there will never be a point in my life in which I will be comfy and cozy about sitting down with Baker and talking about his jovial existence with his new girl.

Exes are an island- and they have secrets. Justin and Mark know my pet peeves, they know where I want a guy to put his hands when he kisses me on the mouth, they know what flowers I love, and what the correct words and actions are to make me soften during a fight. Justin and Mark know what makes me cry, what makes me laugh, and where I'm the most ticklish. So not only are they islands with secrets, they hold power. They know more about me than my future husband, at this point, but what is so painful about that is that while they know my secrets and passions and weaknesses, and my future beloved doesn't, they are busy making new secrets and passions and weaknesses with new girls. They are creating a history with someone who is not me and I am currently creating a future with myself.

Thinking about this and reading back over these paragraphs makes me, initially, very, very sad. I look pretty lonely compared to these two guys who once shared in my life. But before I go into full on pity party this is what I try to remind myself of:

Mark is a single dad . . . so I'd much rather just be single.

 Justin is 21 and pregnant . . . so I'd much rather be 24 and not.

 Mark and Justin weren't who He picked for me . . . So, thank you, beautiful boys, for loving   me when I was a pain in the ass, kissing me when I cried, taking me to high school proms,  and educating me on who I don't want to be with for the rest of my life.

Exes are islands and I don't mind an occasional visit, but I also don't enjoy a 24 hour sunburn- because that's what seeing/talking/running into these boys on a regular basis would be like; painful and blistering and making my skin turn various shades of red and crimson. I do not need to see you to be reminded of all the late nights we had, the long kisses we shared, or the hours upon hours we spent on the phone, but actually seeing you reminds me of these moments much more than I care for. I don't want to see you and remember all the ways I loved you and promised to take care of you because, although I truly did believe I would keep these promises, it's just all irrelevent now.

I would just prefer to think of these  boys and myself in this way: I loved you once, with every ounce of my body, and I made promises I never knew I'd end up breaking, but here we are, not together- and that's okay. Because, Mark- you have a look a like who wants to see you everynight before he closes his eyes; Justin-  you have a woman who is the future mother of your children to sleep next to each night; and me? I've got "500 years, 500,000 miles" to reach he who is my destination. And until I look into his eyes and know, until M meets his new wife, until J becomes a daddy- we are all okay. . . because we've helped each other get here.

So, remember your exes- mourn your exes- and thank your exes for what they've taught you . . . Then send them back so you can heal.

-Stephi D.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Birth of Character

So I am currently taking a Fiction Seminar and a Poetry Seminar on campus and one thing that is continually coming up in my writing and in others is the use of characterization. There are many factors that are imperative to a story, but characters are at the top of the list. What I love about characters is how they develop: what they look like, what they sound like, who their friends are. . . you get the idea. But my most favorite thing about characters is bringing them to life for my readers. Making someone who doesn't technically exist, come off the page and be alive for the reader.

This is an exercise I had to do for a Beginning Short Story class my Junior year. . . it's one of my favorites and I keep coming back to her, because I want to know her story. . . she just hasn't shown me yet.

I am hustling down the street as dark thunder clouds loom over me. I can smell rain, you know that stench that fill the air of earthworms protruding from their nestled mud-filled homes in the ground. As I look up to check for car; look left, then right; I spot her from across the bustling, noisy street corner.

She is looking down at her feet with a dark green, over sized men's raincoat on. The hoot is up, but I see her shiny, exquisite locks of coal black hair hug her cheeks. Her face, as she looked up and quickly makes eye contact contact with me, is oval, with high, delicate cheek bones. She has fiercely green eyes, but what steals my breath from from throat, more than anything else, are the tracks of her mascara stained tears racing down her face.

"Do you need help?" I find myself wanting to yell over to her, but I am speechless, captivated, mesmerized.

As I take a step to move across the street, a bus rolls to a loud, screeching stop where the mysterious woman stands. I freeze in my hurried steps as she climbs aboard the safety of a bus with high backed seats and rough, gray carpeting.

She walks, eyes to the floor, stops, shuffles some more, then takes a seat in the very last spot. As the bus lets on other passengers I move so that I am facing the great back window that holds this stranger in its warmth.

I look up and find her staring back at me. In awe I realize, more than her looks or tear stained face, her hands will be what will hold and haunt me every day now; she puts the frail, thin hands up against the glass. I see several thin, fine silver bands on her praying-mantes like fingers. Her palms are etched with life lines that hold strong memories, torrid love stories; but it is her fingertips that burn into my memory. Fingertips so very red- blood red, and raw- It is as if someone attempted to scald away her identity.

So, who do you think is waiting to be written?

-Stephi D.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Life of Pleasures

Let's talk about pleasure. Am I wildly immature in that when I hear the word pleasure I instantly go to wrinkled sheets and a dark room? Yes? I figured as much . . . Anyway, as you, and I, know there are many types of pleasure. Some of them do entail the aforementioned scene, some of them are dirty in reference to your calorie intake, some are guilty, but oh so fabulous, and some are uninhibitedly pure and innocent in their nature. Everyone's pleasures are different, but I'm going to share some of mine. . . in a categorical fashion.

Guilty Pleasures

*The Real Housewives of . . . (Not limited to Beverly Hills and Orange County, but excluding Atlanta) These bitches are ridiculous, out of control, and delicious. I know there are some other housewife lovers out there. . . can I get a hells yea?!
*Deep Fried Pickles . . . From just about anywhere, but I especially love them from Holly's Cafe and Carryout.
*Ranch. For salad dressing, for deep fried pickles, for french fries (especially for Red Robin's french fries) I love me some ranch, people.
*Full veg out sessions of watching, and re watching, full seasons of Will & Grace, Sex & the City, and The Big Bang Theory. I can quote scenes in their entirety and I still tip toe on that fine line of laughing so hard I'm crying and laughing so hard I'm pissing my pants.
*Those precious little pints of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra ice cream. That Ben and that Jerry. . . those bastards know their ice cream.
*Marilyn Duff's cheese ball . . . it's salty, it's cream cheese, and it goes on a cracker. Need I say more?
*The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. Good grief, sweet baby Jesus.
*Marilyn Duff's cheesy potatoes. . . not just regular joe schmo cheesy taters, people. . . she makes them regularly but then she crunches frosted flakes in butter on top. . . crunchy and cheesy and sweet? That's the fucking trifecta, folks.
*McDonald's fountain Coke. I know we live in Ohio and this is a predominately "Pepsi" area, but you Pepsi lovers can kiss my grits. Coke is where it's at. And nobody does fountain Coke like McDs. Sweet, syrupy deliciousness sipped through a straw that also gives me a dosage of required caffeine? #Winning.
*Well written, sexy, sex scenes in literature. I am not a reader of romance novels, but I always hope there will be some steamy sheet time in the books I read. A girl has her vices, right?
*Wayne. This requires no explanation.
*Tequila. Specifically Patron. . . with course salt and a lime. Bliss.
*John Krasinski. . . in anything . . . or nothing! OH! Bazinga!

Day to Day Pleasures

*Reading, and since Christmas, my Nook. It is love.
*Making people smile, whether because I am acting a damn fool or genuinely being kind.
*Photographs- of my family, old friends, new friends, of people I don't know and places I've never been.
*Sending snail mail and receiving snail mail. This tradition is so under used it devastates me. There is nothing like receiving surprises in the mail. . . even if it's a card with a hand written message. That's special.
*A mind blowing conversation. . . be it over dinner, over the phone, or in a vulnerable situation. Nothing moves me like a conversation that just is.
*Text message conversations that are so incredibly ridiculous they have to be woven into a story the world will read someday. . . you people know who you are.
*Using the word 'Fuck.' It's just liberating.
*Knowing my words touch people.
*My brother asking me how my day is.
*Our wood burning stove.
*People genuinely checking in on you because they want to know how you are.
*Being invited out. . . by anyone- a girlfriend, a guy friend, my brother. . . anyone.
*Eating dinner out at sit down restaurants. I love it, I love it, I love it.
*My janky, disgusting, falling to pieces, Kelly green Chuck Taylor's with the peace sign laces. . . someone please buy me a new pair before I end up barefoot on campus because I refuse to throw these away.

Incredibly Innocent, Heart Stopping Pleasures

*Braden giggling because I am tickling him.
*Anytime Disney re-releases a movie from the vault. I am currently counting down the days for 3D Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo.
*My mom calling me 'baby' or 'Sophie' or 'Coco'
*A giant 'X' in the sky and/or that illusive sun dog.
*Hearing Free Bird by Lynard Skynard
*Anyone calling me 'Stephi' . . . I love it and most people stopped when I hit puberty
*Watching Belle dance and sing like she's the next Taylor Swift (this is a giant possibility. . . the girl has star quality)
*Getting asked a gazillion questions by Holly's kids.
*Pretending like I sound like Kelly Clarkson, look like Mila Kunis, and dance like Shakira in my car driving down the interstate.
*Imagining my wedding dress, my wedding ring, and most importantly- the guy I'll be walking towards.
*Talking to anyone in my family- they are all fabulous in genius-ly unique ways.
*Taking naps.
*Looking in the mirror and being on the verge of liking what I see.
*Being proud of who I am, who I am from, and where I am going.

Some pleasures are life changing and some are small moments we will remember forever, but they all change us or shape us in same way. I really believe that life is designed so that we can live each day unearthing new pleasures and re living familiar ones. The best ones are when you don't expect to find pleasure, but there is it- creeping up to kiss you on the cheek when you least expect it.

I hope as you are reading this you are practicing something that brings you pleasure, thinking about a way in which you will find a new pleasure, or making a list of the things that bring you pleasure- for all sorts of reasons, in all sorts of ways.
Life is a ride for the senses . . . make sure it's worthy of pleasure.

What brings you pleasure?

-Stephi D.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Sounds of Loss: A Short Story

Okay, guys. . . this is probably a cheap way to post a blog, but I am showing the world my first complete short story. It is for a fiction seminar I am taking. It is a rough draft, but I'd love feedback. It is long, I apologize. Hope you enjoy :)

The Sounds of Loss
            There is no statute of limitations on grief. No one will come into your bedroom at night and inform you that you’ve cried yourself to sleep enough times to last one thousand lost siblings. There will also never be an instance in which anyone will have words to soothe the throbbing hole where your heart once resided. This is what I’d like to say to every face that is painstakingly waiting for me to lose my shit in the hallways at school. This is what I’d like to say to my parents when they immediately look out the window and exclaim, “Oh my goodness, the sun is so bright today!” every time I walk in the room. I’d really just like for everyone to stop pretending I’m too fragile to handle the downward spiral of my universe.
            Before Duncan’s accident our family was normal . . . well, as normal as “normal” gets, anyway. My parents were hard-working and loved their three kids fully; they just also happened to be clueless about what to do with their busty, plump, non-athletic daughter. Duncan was your true, all-American boy next door: he had blonde hair that curled perfectly and cerulean blue eyes that could stop traffic. He was also athletic, intelligent, and played guitar. Duncan was the guy everyone watched when he walked into a room, the guy every girl had a crush on at some point in her life, the guy who was both parts gorgeous and uninhibitedly kind. My younger brother Charlie was equally as Aryan as Duncan, but he was thirteen . . . going on twenty-one. He, more often than not, wore button down shirts no matter the season, was the only one in his class that wore Ray Bans instead of contacts, and had a calendar in his bedroom in which he kept a countdown on the days until he could legally vote. He also greatly enjoyed quoting dead poets at the most random moments.  I do not have blonde hair, blue eyes, a natural glow to my skin, or any natural talent on the field or in the classroom. I am a curvaceous strawberry blonde with a tickle of freckles on my nose and I find the greatest pleasure in avoiding eye contact at school and keeping all comments/thoughts/ideas to myself; this generally suited everyone around me just fine until an unexpected day in a high school bathroom.
            One day I was using a graffiti stained bathroom stall when two girls on the cheerleading squad walked in and immediately began the song and dance of the high school elite.
            “I mean, what’s her deal? We have been waiting to pick uniforms for four years and now she wants to go all sister Christian on us and pick uniforms worthy of grainy yearbook photos circa the 1930s?!”
            “LIZ! I do not have time to concern myself with cheer uniforms right now . . . I am late! And I cannot say anything to Trevor until I get this shit figured out, so shut the hell up and help me!”
Liz and Phallon were two of the three captains of our high school varsity cheerleading squad. They were beautiful, thin, and two of the most heinous people in the school. I sat there and considered waiting out their conversation while reading up on the true life accounts of who’s loving who and who one may contact for an enjoyable romp that were splattered across the sea foam green walls of my particular stall, but the trickle of sweat across my brow and the enclosing walls shot that idea right in the ass. As I prepared to open the door they continued their incessant clucking until I came into view and made eye contact with them in the mirror they were grooming in.
            “Beeeeeeeatrice! Big plans this weekend?” cooed Liz
            “Oh, Liz, come ON!” Phallon looked at Liz and then centered her gaze on me, “Listen, Beatrice, you should count yourself lucky that you don’t have friends to worry about or guys who want to take you out. It really is so hard and much more trouble than you could handle.”
They both nodded at each other as if what they were giving me was solid advice instead of another icy dig at the lack of any social life or existence I maintained at this school. They both turned their bodies back to me to continue the ritual verbal slaying I had come to expect when the door swung open.
            “Girls. Really? Don’t you have ribbon to cut for your hair and Styrofoam cups to stuff into fences for the big game tonight?”
Rosaline was relatively new to school, but clearly did not let the social step ladder get in the way of sharing her opinions. She could also be found fulfilling a different persona via her wardrobe every day. Today she had tall, combat looking boots on with what looked to be an old Catholic school uniform: plaid, pleated skirt, rolled a little shorter than what school policy dictated ‘lady like,’ and a navy blue cardigan with some sort of crest on the left breast pocket. To add a little flair she wore nothing under the sweater except a black, lacy bra. This girl was forever making a statement.
            Liz wrinkled her perfectly straight, pointy nose and scoffed, “Good Lord, Rosaline, put some fucking clothes on. No one cares to have a front row seat to your milky white skin and crude collar bones.”
Rosaline didn’t miss a beat, “And no one cares to hear the trials and tribulations of being on the mob squad and how incredibly difficult it is to find a uniform that will make it perfectly clear what a bunch of tricks you all are,” she moved her glare to Phallon, “And certainly no one desires to hear about the ways in which you fail to use proper birth control and lose your foolish jock boy friend to the next sleaze.”
Liz and Phallon simultaneously rolled their perfectly shadowed eyes and headed out of the bathroom . . . they were oddly similar to vultures that way: feasting on a helpless carcass only to fly away when another predator approached; Anyone can tell you, though, just wait a few minutes and they circle back around and dive back in.
            “My, ahem, my name is Bea . . . that’s what I go by, anyway. They, uh, they always call me Beatrice,” this was my socially outcast way of attempting a conversation.
            Rosaline turned her bright green eyes on me and put a slender, ring laden hand in the air, “Sugar, I don’t care what you go by or what the tan squad calls you. You just need to learn to use your words.” With that she sashayed to the ancient window, cracked it, and lit a cigarette. I suddenly recalled hearing a story about her approaching Dylan, the go to guy for fakes, on her first day here; I also remember seeing a nice array of fakes cascading out of her wallet in the cafeteria one day. She was everything I wasn’t- running full tilt and  hell bent towards defining herself,  both here and in the world, while I was desperately crossing off the days until I left this mold incensed hell hole.
            Those thoughts and that conversation happened long before Duncan took his daredevil stunts too far. Today was his viewing and as family we were here an hour early to have a few moments alone, but there was already a line of familiar faces waiting outside the doors. As each of my family members walked up to see Duncan, the bile in the back of my throat grew more sour. I could not quite believe I was here, in an ill-fitting, black, V-neck dress preparing to say good-bye to my beautiful big brother. That morning I had stood in front of my closet sobbing at the realization that this was the cruelest form of punishment anyone could suffer through without dying due to the searing fire burning a hole through my heart; I was also pissed because the only black clothes I had were winter clothes. My entire life was about being the unfashionable one at every event so why would I expect it to be different for the death of my brother.
            As I walked up to the box that held his body I slipped out of the heels I had purchased for special occasions . . . clearly what I had in mind was much more celebratory than this. I put my hands on the deep, smooth wood and peered down at Duncan. We had decided, as a family, to dress him in his second favorite outfit, next to his full football uniform: his football jersey, well worn blue jeans, and his favorite DC shoes. He was handsome and now his skin would forever be this flawless palette never to be etched with worry lines. I realized my time was running out so I leaned down close to his ear and whispered a small prayer I hoped he could hear,
            “Oh, D. I love you so much. Have fun playing in the clouds.”
            A few minutes later they opened the doors and the crowd flooded in. I was standing next to my mom as acquaintances and strangers a like embraced me and rained condolences down upon our family. The mother of one of Duncan’s best friends walked up and hugged my mom.
            “Oh, Janie, he just had so much life. He was always so alive within his life. I am so, so sorry.”
In that moment I was next to my mom, but I wasn’t present; I was at our last family Christmas. We were all sitting around the tree unwrapping gifts. The wood burning stove casting an orange glow on the room and our tree emitting an evergreen smell that never gets old. It was mom’s turn to unwrap and as she delicately misplaced the first piece of maroon and gold paper the screen of our window seat rattled; we all turned to find a black cat hanging by its claws. Everyone else quickly went back to the festive task at hand, but I looked into the hollowed face with the coin sized golden eyes and instantly felt a camaraderie that had never reached my senses before.
            A cold hand on my bare shoulder brought me back into the moment; it was Rosaline decked out in a sleeveless, deep purple, cotton, belted dress, a strand of cloudy pearls, and black pumps. Apparently Jackie Kennedy Onassis was on the agenda today. She enveloped me in a corset of lean muscled arms and a bouquet of burnt cigarettes and Clinique Happy.
            “Bea. Oh, Bea- shit, sugar this sucks. And I’m so sorry. Duncan was . . . God he was stellar. And smart and Jesus he was hot! Damn, I would’ve liked to –
            “Rosaline! Thank you. I- uh- well, I um, appreciate your-
            “Shit, God, yea. I suck at this thing- no filter- damn! I am sorry. It’s awful. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t even have time to respond before she roughly locked me in another embrace and moved on. I remained next to my wilting mother, surrounded by a fog of Rosaline’s perfume and addiction thinking back to that day in the bathroom at school.
            A few moments later I excused myself from the receiving line to get a drink of water when I came across Liz and Phallon; they were both chicly dressed in black and were holding hands in line. Any illusions I had of them finding grace and kindness through this devastation were shattered when their conversation drifted through the air,
            “Liz, what are we gonna do? Duncan was such a great guy. Football games will never be the same- our record will suffer and the grief the team and squad will suffer is unimaginable- I mean . . . we were his best friends.”
            “It really is awful,” Liz squeezed Phallon’s hand so that the whites in her fingers were prominent, “How will school or parties ever be the same?”
They both allowed swollen, fat tears deter the perfection of their painted on make-up. Hearing these comments made my heart race and my blood pressure spike, but finding my voice here would be a desecration to who my brother was, so I kept walking. Once I reached my destination, I tucked myself in a leather chair next to a table where family and friends had placed plates of cookies, liters of soda, and trays of cold cuts. I let my body fold into itself and let out an aching sigh. Never in my life have I felt so surreal, so broken, so confused. You never think these things will happen to your family, to your town, to your heart, but here I am- preparing to leave my brother behind, facing glances of pitying sadness, figuring out if being shot would hurt more than this . . . I conclude it would not.
I returned to the line a few minutes later and after what seemed like days of standing there excepting condolences and deep, tight hugs, we extended an invitation to everyone to return to our home for a meal of sorts. Upon arriving, our house filled quickly with family, friends of Duncan’s, and more people from school than I’d ever seen outside of the lockered, echoing hallways. Among those faces were Rosaline, Liz, and Phallon. Our kitchen had been renovated into a short term buffet style set up and people filed through quietly, picking lightly over the array of food as if showing any inkling of appetite in front of the mourning family would be a slap in the face. Ironically my typically insatiable appetite had dwindled; it seems my body was already full with held back tears and muffled sobs in the night time.
After many of our elderly neighbors and close friends had left with promises of casseroles and lasagnas to feed us for weeks, I decided to head to my room to change. In order to get to our bedrooms you have to go down a long hallway that was a museum quality scrapbook of school photos, family portraits, and candid snapshots. When I turned down the hallway toward the sanctuary of my room I found Liz and Phallon in the center, staring up at the current school pictures of the three of us. The sight of them made me falter my steps and I considered turning back around when I caught the conversation.
“Duncan was so good looking. I mean, hell, little Charlie is gonna be a looker, too, when he gets older. Those genes sure as shit skipped a child,” Liz half spoke, half snorted; naturally Phallon had to put in her critique, too.
“Uh, yea- I mean what the fuck happened? With the complete lack of allure and just what in the hell is she wearing today? Like- she’s just so big and-
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?!” My own voice startled me as they turned to face me; I could feel bodies collecting behind me and then the thin, loving voice of my mom,
“Bea, honey- what’s-
“Mom, stop.”
I looked back to the two girls who had long trampled my self esteem and done dances upon it. “Who the hell do you two think you are? This is my home in which you are guests. You girls think you are suffering some great loss because you may have fewer touchdowns to cheer for and you have one less option for a sexual encounter in the event that your current ones realize you’re not as appealing as you first appeared? What about me? What about my parents? They will never see their son graduate from high school or college, marry a girl, have a Duncan Jr.; I will never be able to walk into my brother’s room to watch a movie with him again, I won’t ever have the chance to call him about a guy I’ve met, I will never again be able to hear the smile in his voice when he speaks my name. What are you two going to do? You’ll move on. Duncan will be that cute guy you went to school with, but never hooked up with, he’ll be that killer athlete you used to handspring for on the sidelines, but my family- what are we doing to do? We will miss him. We will miss him every minute of every day from here to eternity because he’s not just some guy, he’s our heart. So do me a favor and shut your mouths, gather your things, and get the fuck out of my house. And remember this- this size of my ass has absolutely nothing to do with the size of my heart.
As I shakily turn around I see my exquisite mother quietly crying in the doorway leading to the hallway, I see my father standing with his hands on Charlie’s shoulders beside her, and I see Rosaline leaning up against the wall; her slender, thin arms crossed over her abdomen and a smirk on her face. I didn’t stick around for commentary, or even to make sure Liz and Phallon left my home, I just sprinted for mom’s bedroom to collapse. As I lay on her pristinely made bed I wondered to myself when my heart would return to a normal speed of beating.
Two Months Later
            There is no statute of limitations on grief. No one will come into your bedroom at night and inform you that you’ve cried yourself to sleep enough times to last one thousand lost siblings. There will also never be an instance in which anyone will ever have the words to soothe the throbbing hole where your heart once resided.
This is still true; two days, two weeks, two months after Duncan smiled his last smile . . . it doesn’t matter how the time passes because I can still see the crinkle next to his right eye when he smirked, I can still see the dimples that made an appearance when he laughed out loud, I can still see how his left arm was always above his head when he fell asleep, and I can still feel him- at the dinner table, banging on the bathroom door for me to hurry up, and walking behind me protectively everywhere I go.
            School is relatively the same; I just miss the quick ‘hi’ from D in the hallway. What I do not miss is the harassment that came to define my existence; Since that day in our photograph laden hallway, Liz and Phallon don’t go out of their way to cut digs anymore, but they do go out of their way to avoid eye contact. Rosaline still encompasses every fashion fad in the history of clothing and she still enjoys lighting up in the bathrooms, too. She and I are not best friends, but we seem to share small moments without any passing of words. There’s a very good chance she saved me from myself that day at school and for that she will always be my sole friend from high school. As for my family, everyday is a battle; dinners are laced with unspoken words of what’s missing and holidays leave me short of breath and craving noise. I can’t bring myself to enter his room and his laughter never ceases to be missed.
Duncan was incredible at many things, but he was flawless at being a brother and greeting each day with electric, contagious desire. Every day something happens that I want to share with him, but I have a feeling he sees each move before it happens, anyway. Duncan never sat on the sidelines of any game or his life; and I’ve come to find that I many never reach his level of zeal, but I’m certainly not hanging on that screen of my existence waiting for my life to start, anymore, either.
So, are you all living in your life?

-Stephi D.