Life, an endless bridge full of pitfalls and broken boards. You can choose to mend these problems along the way, or just ignore them completely. If you decide to take the path of ignorance: towards what you think is the end, you will start to see that the bridge can no longer support the unseen weight that you carry on your shoulders. Which in turn will leave you with nowhere to go but down...
"Starbound" by Kaitlin Jacobson
He smiled at me, his young face lighting up the dark of the night that surrounded us. I smiled too, caught up in his innocent joy. We sat on a blanket outside in the cool autumn air and looked up to the heavens that lay before us.
“Do you know what I’m gonna be when I grow up?” he asked me. His bright eyes twinkled with unsounded laughter.
“What?” I asked him. I closed my eyes for a moment as he answered, gathering in me the calmness of that night.
“I’m going to be like the stars!” I grinned, my eyes still closed.
“Wouldn’t you rather be a doctor? A firefighter?”
“No! Look at the sky!”
My eyes snapped open and what I saw dazzled me. I saw the sky as I’d never seen it before. The stars cut miniscule holes in the unending black, their very multitude and intensity bringing light to the dark. They were guides, beacons, and hope. I was looking at the sky through that boy’s young eyes.
“See what I mean?” the boy asked. His face turned towards mine and searched my face for an answer.
“Yes, I do. And I have to agree; being like a star is an excellent idea. One of the best.” I sighed and returned to the beauty I had found, and then murmured so softly that he couldn’t hear me, “And I hope that you never change your mind.”
"Right, Left" by Rica Kutchik
I stopped asking questions a long time ago. The answers are not needed anymore because I know it does not make a difference now or back then. Nothing would change and you won’t come back. So I’ll close my eyes with the summer breeze and when I open them again the leaves will descend on me from the fall trees. The strings on my guitar are the slightest bit colder when I play them and they sound strangely different. Like the accents of the harmony have a deeper meaning and depth than I have ever realized, especially in a place like this with the changing seasons. Sitting on this dying grass with these dead people, I can feel myself aging. It’s a new concept and surprisingly I’m not afraid. I am not afraid of being older and wiser. Or maybe, I’m still just immature as ever. I know what it means to be responsible for my own actions and take the burn if I fall. I’m ready for it. I also know I haven’t always been. I know there was a time where I was beyond accepting this, accepting reality but here and right now is where I want to be. I like how it feels and I wish you could see me. You would be so proud. And you were right, in time I would understand. I guess not all of it, not everything, but enough so I would stop killing myself over answers. Before I even knew something close to the truth, I was tripping right over it. Everything I needed to know, the truth, certainty, reality, fiction, it was all right here in front of me. It’s displayed like the rock embedded with your name on it. Even if can’t get it all back, I have the memories. Even If I can’t get back what once was, what used to be and what should have been, I still have the pictures and the camera I took it with. Just know that I would give anything, I’d give up everything, trade it all, burn the remains and forget the rest. Even though I’ve gotten older I still haven’t gotten over this. I figured admitting this proves my age. It has taken me so long to say these words, without the apprehension and fear because I know I never will be over this. I’ll just keep aging and never forgetting. As I get older, I’ll learn to let go a little piece of you, more and more, everyday. I’ll let go of all the grudges I have managed to pile up in my twelve years that you’ve been gone. I’ll be conscious of the world around me and take fewer things for granted because I know how easily the little things can be lost. For me, it only took one day, one hour, one minute, one moment, for things to change. So I’m getting older but I’m not over this. I’ll try not to look back as I put one foot in front of the other. Right, left, right left. When I feel myself falling to the past I remember the distance I still have yet to go and I bring myself back to the present. Right, left, right, left. I will keep moving forward because I believe in giving time, time. That’s all I need. That’s all I ever needed.
"Reality: Is It Worth It?" by Yeonjae Lee
Giving into your own deceptions is so easy. It’s so simple and convenient. Why, why would anybody want to wake up from their deceptions to reality just to painfully learn that their “reality” was just one tiny aspect of what it truly is?
It’s so much easier to lie to yourself. To become who you have convinced yourself to be; this is more convenient than to be who you were meant to be. When you can’t do anything, when you can’t deal with your emotions, and when you can’t protect anything, you have to become someone else to try and protect yourself. You lie to yourself and you slowly begin to feel invincible: invincible from emotions, people, the entire world. It’s a power that you have created with your mentality and the thing is, it is nearly impossible to give up that power because it is so addicting. Not only is it addicting, but it makes you forget the past. The past that you have been fearing for your whole life, and you create a present, a future, that is shaped according to your plans.
Nothing has ever been this convenient. You feel content about your orderly life. You don’t mind, no you openly ignore, the fact that you are becoming colder and colder. Everyday it gets harder to love and only easier to hate. You mold your heart to fit your plan and your plan wants nothing to do with your heart. Your mind hates your heart and so you slowly kill yourself. Ironic isn’t it?
Hopefully though, someone will rescue you before it’s too late. Someone will make you ask yourself “Am I still a person?” Someone will make you want to know what emotions are. Someone will make you learn how to be that loving person you once were. Someone that makes reality bearable. But I guess you’ll have to wait for that someone, or is He waiting for you?
"Hospital Gone" by Stephanie Olmstead
I sit outside, holding it all in. It’s nothing; my brother Jack could’ve broken his arm— anything but what I know it is, trying to keep myself from breaking down right there.
I can tell, even before I hear the news, even before my mom’s mouth even moves. My grandmother is dying. Will be dead. My grandmother, who for all but nine of her seventy years smoked, who got throat cancer, who had chemo, who seemed to be getting better, is dying. My grandmother, who took care of me when my parents were nearly broke; my grandmother who told me to ‘blow da stink off’ instead of watching TV is going to die. Not available for negotiation.
The fear and sorrow has turned me into a primal creature, going from one train of thought to the next, slowly trying to process everything as the silent music plays in the car. I can hear nothing other than my shallow, uneven breaths; my ears have grown numb from hearing.
At the hospital, it’s silent. As though everyone can tell that a life is passing. All I want is for them to stop staring and leave me alone. Their sympathetic yet ‘knowing’ look, as if they could know. Dark thoughts that scared me when I was a child are now my companions, as shadows from the blinds pave my way across the hygienic hospital floor.
Don’t step on a dark spot and maybe she’ll live. I lose that game, so many times. I rub my eyes constantly for an eyelash, hoping for a final wish. No crying, I have to keep it together. I’m the oldest, the rock, the unchanging constant, and the glue.
I see my dad at the end of the hall and my sister and I run to him. We hold on tight and we don’t let go. This is the first time I see him cry. He smells like heated tarmac and lost luggage and stale coffee.
“I know guys,” he whispers. “I know.” He doesn’t know, not exactly, but it’s his mother so he knows enough. He leads us the rest of the way. Other hospital goers stare, they look at us and know, and I wish so many times that I could trade places, leave this all behind and only deal with a broken limb or some cold. Anything but this. I hate it.
The room is dim, but I can see her.
Her bald head is wedged inside a contraption designed to keep her from pulling out the tubes in her neck, ripped apart from chemo to get the cancer out, how I wish I could hear her say my name just once, to tell me it’ll be okay. Just once. The leg compressors go in and out, getting circulation through her system; setting the pace of the breathing machine, keeping time while everything else is off kilter. Everything around her moving while she’s so still. I sit at her left side and grab her hand.
I can’t hold it back now. I cry. So hard and yet without a sound. The two IV trees stand at each side of the bed, guardians, holding the cold hand at bay. Her hand is so warm and soft and I feel like I’m ten again, holding her hand, sitting on her lap, watching her White Sox and eating New York Cherry ice cream on a balmy summer night.
I don’t move for a while. I don’t know how much time passes or how many tissues I rub against my face, burning it raw. The only thing that stays is the beeping of the machines, but even that can be erratic. I repeat the Our Father over and over in my head, the only prayer I know. I hope God will help me and see it to take my pitiful offering to save her. They tell me to talk to her; they want her to wake up. I start talking, little sentences into her ear when my legs stop shaking enough to hold my weight. I talk the general talk, what I’m doing, and going to do. I can’t go any deeper than that; this is not my Nana I’m talking to. It’s some other person, someone who’s going to leave me.
Soft music plays. It’s a lullaby over the PA system.
“They play the song to let the hospital know when a baby has been born.” My grandpa speaks from across the bed.
“Oh.” I have nothing to say. He’s the only person who could possibly understand. And yet… our closeness makes us separate.
Life death, life death, life death, life death. The words repeat in endless cycles. Years compressed into minutes, compressed into seconds, continually counting down ever faster. The nun comes in with a prayer. I hum along, unable to force words out of my mouth.
I then ask the one question that had been lurking in my mind:
“Is there a DNR?” I don’t know who answers my question, but the answer remains: Yes.
Do not resuscitate.
Do not resuscitate.
Do not resuscitate.
Do not resuscitate.
They replace the life and death cycle, screaming at me, hurting me and reminding me how useless I am. We get taken out of the room to the family area. The home of bad daytime TV and brokenhearted cries. They’re going to let her meds run out now. All I need to do is wait. It would’ve been better to have her go quickly. I wouldn’t want to remember this, ever. To see someone you loved so deeply waste away in front of you, to watch each breath come with the aid of the machines around. They’re no longer a person; they’re already a dead body.
The same nun walks in with a plate of cookies.
My grandma is dead.
"My Story" by Vikram Ramesh
My story is an unusual one. When people read my narrative, they are presented with an existentialist drama that presents my best and worst experiences, and my responses to them. They are first introduced to my protagonist, an ordinary young man, who struggles to achieve extraordinary ambitions while living in his quiet suburban community. He is at odds with his community however, for he loathes the repetitiveness of his routine and the lackluster quality of his life. My character chooses to face his world boldly – armed with his passion and perseverance – carrying the banner that promotes his integrity and protects the people he cares for. He holds a heart of gold and people foresee great things in his future. In spite of this, he is hesitant and afraid of his decisions. He is not confident in his actions, and is confused about his expectations. He does not want to disappoint himself or those that care for him, so he dons a mask hiding his inner pain and mysterious thoughts. He closes his emotions from the world, fearful of its judgment of him. He releases who he is through two outlets: his words and his prose. Though he cannot act upon his thoughts, he articulates them verbally through his rhetoric, with persons who fall silent to his language. Though he cannot express his masked pain, he reveals it poetically through his writing, with persons who are captivated by his composition. People see in him the promising artist that challenges the standards of his world, refusing to compromise his genuine ideals or his sincere identity. Though my story presents this stunning character, hardly anybody truly understands him the way I do.
I am in the farthest row from the entrance to the library, in the section where few venture. My presence is distanced from others who parade their pages in superficial superiority, with embossed covers, pristine and untouched. Instead, I have a black leather cover, slightly worn with age and use, with a fading gold title that cannot be read. Inside, some of my pages are dog-tagged from when readers marked important events in my story and others are annotated with various comments. I am greeted warmly by adults who hope to decode my enigmatic ideas and resonant language. This audience reads through me, amazed at my maturity and complexity, but they go no further in wholly understanding me before putting me back on my shelf. There are times when a rare child walks in, takes me from the shelf, and opens me to discover what makes me so stimulating, only to be lost in my thoughts and words before putting me back.
I remain where I have always waited on this bookshelf, wedged between hundreds of thousands of books who are more frequently noticed than I. When I hear footsteps echoing in the hall leading to me, a moment of ecstasy fills me and I stand ready to be noticed. The moment unhappily leaves me, when it was another book around me who was chosen instead. In order to forget the feeling of not being chosen, I envision my moment of success. I picture an unknown man whose mere presence exudes noble prominence walking into the library to choose his desired book. He sees rows of bookshelves lined up covering the spacious hall, knowing that each shelf contains volumes of literature of distinctive merit. His eyes grow in admiration and a gaping smile curls from his mouth, for he cannot help but marvel at the chronicles of history recorded and preserved for eternity. Breathing in the musty odor of dry ink, aged paper, and beaten leather that fills the air with sacred wonder, he feels as if he has stepped into a temple and has inhaled the aroma of burning incense. At last, a sense of eagerness grows and explodes from him. The impulse to seize each book from its shelf and celebrate its aesthetic value becomes too awful for him to express. He delves deeper into the library, hoping to discover a mysterious and vibrant world. He walks into my setting and lays his eyes upon me. Though unfamiliar with my story, he removes me from my space, reads between my lines, and finds meaning in the true message of my text. Refusing to put me back to that wretched space, he instead takes me away to keep as his own. That is my ultimate desire, for a rare person to choose me for all that I offer and appreciate my sincere story.
"The Youth" by Mira Whang
As we dashed through the gates of the open stadium, it was like the music we had heard half a mile away suddenly stated seeping its way through our veins, our ears, our teeth, our skin. It was a reflex, affecting us on impulse and we were carried by of music notes to the front of the stage. There, where we began moving our feet, our arms, our sunburned backs and stomachs. There, where we danced to the sound of a song that could easily define our youth as a whole - “Is this the way my life has got to be, by a single opportunity?”
This was our moment to be alive- me and my friends, the hundred of strangers, elderly drunks and middle aged loners. I felt the most alive as I was lifeless- frozen in seconds, as the bass pumps below our feet, allowing me to forget about breathing, thinking and my sore legs. This is being totally ripped away from reality as I was living in the most real moment of my existence; our youngest years- letting go of any tensions from the days before.
The Taste of Chicago; a place where the streets were filled with lovers holding hands, groups of kids who get bored on Saturdays, and the homeless looking for scraps of food, or a person to spare a dollar. It was red with heat, waves of it crashing over everyone, staining us. We were carrying gallons of water and snacks in our backpacks because everything cost more than what we had left in our pockets.
We didn’t need to worry about money though, because Passion Pit, who hardly ever tours in the United States, was here in the big city for free. And I loved the way that they sounded in my stereo, and I had always live. And I was about to find out. And we were late, pushing through crowds of people who were waiting in line, trying to keep cool and drinking beer. We didn’t have a clue where we were going, but we could hear the music. So we followed it, and in less than a few minutes we could see the security dressed in orange, and people moving their bodies and I thought that maybe this was what they mean to conform because I had never felt like I needed to become part of a crowd so bad. And so we wove in and out of the line and the second song started playing and my phone was buzzing but there was no time to think about that.
The music pounded into our souls, pumping the adrenaline into our blood and pushing us against everyone around us. We lost our heads, took off our shoes and dropped our belongings, only to become belongings of the music and the rhythm. Just exactly how we heard the music is how we moved, we were puppets out of control, moving every joint in our bodies. And the sun was so bright. And the crowd stretched for miles, and to be in the middle- in a state of ecstasy, and to forget about my worries, the ocean, and unlocked cars. Because I was there, and although cliché- (living in the moment), (forgetting about the world); this is what really matters when nothing else makes sense. This is free hugs, defying time and circular motion.
This is all in a moment. This is our youth, forgiveness and what it’s like to feel alive.
"Sanctuarium" by Wendy Yang
As the sole source of luminance, it whispers and crackles as it dances, tendrils ravenously licking the blazing logs. Untamed and wild yet contained in the baroque fireplace, it occasionally teases through the recently polished black metalwork with a few fiercely burning embers. The flames spill flickering hues of vibrant crimson mingled with smoldering gold across the vast chamber, envisioning ever-changing shadows along the furnished panels. Although hazy and indistinct, the panels amplify every crack. A low hiss accompanies the intimate heat of the blaze, basking the chamber in warmth. Twin velvet recliners, neat and unwrinkled, sink into the dense plush of the luxurious Persian rug a few paces away from the leaping inferno. Poising stately above the lustrous, rich cherry wood floor are several oak bookcases filled with a sea of knowledge. Musty tomes and illuminated manuscripts systematically line the immaculately ornate shelves, overflowing with words of yore. The orderly chamber is permeated with the lingering smoke of wood fire against the familiar scent of antique paper and ink, handbound in leather. Situated upon an adjacent wall, extravagant bay windows are cloaked with thick, silken drapery the color of garnets. Distantly beyond, the howling tempest rages on in the inky void, offset by the piercing, frigid pandemonium blanketing the meadow in a layer of blinding, silvery white. Frozen condensation crystallizes the sleek glass.
Virtually imperceptible, a heavy ironwood door dwells snugly in a nook, beset into the wall and shrouded in shadows. A gothic black-steel locking mechanism, operable only from the inside of the chamber, embellishes the ironwood along with corresponding metal reinforcements rippling down the confines. Amidst the elaborately designed expanse caressed by a coat of dust, titian motes tarnish the ebony knob. The door lies shut.