Summer of 2011

Summer of 2011
The New York State
Summer Young Writers Institute
hat you hold in your hands are the poems and stories – true and imagined – that the students of the New York State Summer Young Writers Institute produced during one crazily
inventive week last July, interspersed with photos and student comments that help to chronicle the
sights and emotions of our annual writing residency.
In its thirteenth year, the Young Writers Institute is held at
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, so that our students
can take advantage of the New York State Summer Writers
Institute, directed by Robert Boyers, which convenes on the
Skidmore campus for the entire month. Having the opportunity to work on their own writing in three classes each day, hear
accomplished writers in late-afternoon craft sessions or at
packed evening readings, and then try out their own works-inprogress during late-night reading sessions in the residence hall
means that our high school writers are thoroughly immersed
in the writing life for every waking hour. And here’s what we
have learned to expect: they love it.
These young writers are unique in any number of disparate
ways, but they all share a devotion to writing. That common
interest creates almost instantaneous bonding when they meet
each other, but it also encourages them to revel in the writing
atmosphere of our intensive, week-long workshop. More than
one hundred applicants send original writing samples each
April, and we choose the thirty-six best writers to attend the
Young Writers Institute. That ability to be selective pays off for us. Year after year, we offer these students respect and recognition for what they have already achieved, and in return we receive not
only a committed, attentive group of students for a week but also the dramatic, funny, moving,
troubling, and remarkable creative pieces in this anthology. It was our pleasure to watch as these
pieces unfolded during our Summer 2011 Workshop, and it’s your pleasure to discover them here.
William Patrick
New York State Summer
Young Writers Institute
Young Writers | 1
Summer 2011 Faculty
Kathleen Aguero’s most recent book of poetry, Daughter Of, is published by
Cedar Hill Books. The author of two previous books of poetry and editor of three
anthologies of multicultural literature from the University of Georgia Press, she is
a Professor of English at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA, teaching in
their low-residency MFA and undergraduate programs.
Liza Frenette is an assistant editor at NYSUT United, the official membership
newspaper published by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). Author of
three novels for children, including Soft Shoulders, Ms. Frenette has published articles in Reader’s Digest and Adirondack Life, among other publications, and has won
first place feature and news writing awards from UPI and Associated Press.
Elaine Handley is a poet and fiction writer, as well as an Associate Professor of
Writing and Literature at Empire State College. Her poetry chapbooks, Notes from
the Fire Tower and Glacial Erratica won the Adirondack Center for Writing Award
in Poetry in 2006 and 2007 respectively. She is currently completing Deep River, a
historical novel about the Underground Railroad.
Richard Hoffman’s memoir, Half the House, first published in 1995 by
Harcourt Brace, was recently reissued in a new and expanded edition. He is also
author of the poetry collections Without Paradise and Gold Star Road, winner of
the 2007 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. Writer-in-Residence at Emerson
College, he also teaches in the Stonecoast MFA Program.
Bob Miner worked for Newsweek and has written for the New York Times,
Washington Post, The Village Voice, and Esquire. He has published two novels—Exes
and Mother’s Day—and is finishing up the third novel in this series, Father, Son and
Holy Ghost, as well as writing nonfiction about Istanbul, Turkey. Since 1980 he has
taught writing for the University at Albany and Empire State College, as well as for
Skidmore College, Syracuse University, Siena College, and the College of St. Rose.
William B. Patrick is the founder and director of the New York State Summer
Young Writers Institute. His latest book, Saving Troy, is a creative nonfiction chronicle of a year spent living and riding with professional firefighters and paramedics.
He has also published a memoir, an award-winning novel, and two books of poetry with BOA Editions. Mr. Patrick teaches writing for the College of St. Rose and
for the Fairfield University MFA Program and serves as acquisitions editor at
Excelsior College Press.
Young Writers | 2
Murmur on
by Christy Agrawal
A playful breeze
Gnaws at your shirt,
Extending its bone-chilling fingers
Up your back,
Sweep up,
To meet seamless skies,
Hear the clouds
Whispering right through you.
As they lumber on, floating on heavy blue
Sunlight melts,
Delectably down your neck.
It dribbles,
Off your shoulders–
A paralyzing warmth,
The depths of yourself.
Undulating mirror,
The fragile surface
Beneath a (dense) halo of light.
The subtle breath of
Fragile crystal,
Careening towards the ground,
Making a sound as sweet
As if a small speck of sky
Were to tumble to the earth,
And shatter.
The humid air,
As if you could punch it,
Collapse into it,
Thick rays,
Pour through the leaves,
Exposing (true) green,
Gentle skeletal fingers.
A hint of salt,
Ignites against your tongue.
The muffled smell of salt water
Engulfs you.
Slithering mass,
Trees ruffling their flowy green manes
Hazy shades,
Blended together as if God himself
Had whisked his gossamer fingers
Across the landscape.
Murmur on.
Young Writers | 3
“Stormy Heart”
by Lily Cao
are in their fifth year, and the sun
basks openly, its rays beating ruthlessly against sweaty citizens who
traverse the streets of a fallen apart
village. There is a girl, her silky black
hair gathered up in twin braids, her
dress the color of bright, bright red.
She stands tall, her back straight in a
manner that others perceive as
haughty, fitting for her background.
In actuality, her stomach is twisting
from anxiety, and she feels awkward
in the little town, the others throwing looks of disdain, for her family is
not like them. After all, she is the
daughter of a wealthy family, a type
of class unable to sympathize, to
understand their woes. Only one
boy, with a dirt-smeared face and
wide brown eyes dares to speak to
her, his mouth fixed in a friendly
smile. “Hi,” he says. “I’m Tian Lei.
But everyone calls me Xiao Lei.”
The girl summons up all of her
courage to offer him back a smile.
“Hi,” she says. “I’m Hua Xin. But
everyone calls me Xin Xin.”
And so it begins.
In the next years, they are content, oblivious to shifting changes in
Young Writers | 4
a country that is moments away
from exploding. Outside of their little town, there are horror tales of
Japanese troops ravaging the country, running rampant like beasts
hungry for blood. But such monsters
are far away from their little home
up north, and they are safe from the
endless appetite of hungry invaders.
This is a matter for adults to concern
themselves with, and there are new
things to learn, places to discover.
When he isn’t in the fields with
his parents, Xin Xin teaches him the
art of language, watching as his
clumsy fingers finger dust-worn
textbook pages, stumbling over the
simplest of characters. It takes him
days to remember the word da
(“big”), but eventually
he commits the
brushstrokes of the
character to his mind.
Still, the character
that comes easily is
yi—a single horizontal stroke that represents the number one.
Nevertheless, she is
patient with him,
never growing frustrated when he mixes
up his characters.
One day, she
teaches him his name,
Lei Tian-Say
(“Thunder”), her
brushstrokes neat and
delicate against the
white parchment. Next she teaches
her name, Xin. It means heart, but
when said in repetition like Xin Xin,
it sounds more like star, flickering in
a night sky.
In the summer, they put their
pens and books away, and it is Lei’s
turn to lead. He drags Xin Xin by the
hand, and she walks into the town
she hates, the town where she feels
like an outsider. “This is Xin Xin,” he
says matter-of-factly and he glares at
anyone who opens their mouth to
retaliate against her presence. They
go to the town sprinklers, where cool
water emits from rusty, unstable
pipes. The water spews out from
everywhere and the children dash
about, relishing the feeling of
smooth water coating their hot,
feverish skin. Xin Xin is shy at first,
but Lei grabs her arm with a firm
hand and pulls her in. It is only
when Xin Xin is laughing and
shrieking in childish delight because
of a mirthful game does she know
that she can never go back to a life
where she doesn’t know Lei. The two
friends push and pull each other
into the water, ignoring disapproving glances and curious looks. They
are happy in their little world, even if
in the real one they are not.
They are ten years old when one
war ends and another resumes.
There are celebrations as the
Japanese flee their proud nation, but
her parents remain wary as a civil
war interrupted resumes. According
to Xin Xin’s parents, one side of the
war is misguided. Her father throws
around words like “swaying of the
uneducated class” and her mother
nods in agreement over a cup of jasmine tea. Nevertheless, she is convinced that nothing will change. She
is sure that these new enemies will
disappear just as the Japanese had,
monsters that had never even shown
their faces to her in the first place.
They’d struggle and fight and spit
liquid hatred in some other part of
the country, but Xin and her family
would be safe. So as the world worries, Xin’s life goes on.
That summer, she and Lei do not
visit the fountains. Instead, they
meet by an abandoned shed near
Lei’s home. She always knocks first,
like it is a real house and he is the
real owner, and for moments, the
shed really does seem like home.
continued on page 5
continued from page 4
One day, in their little makeshift
home, they talk of the future. “Xin,”
he says one day. “Let’s marry when
we grow up.”
Xin Xin laughs, and even though
Lei knows that the joke is at his
expense, he doesn’t mind because
the sound is beautiful and joyous
and something to be treasured.
Then, she ceases her laughter and
studies him with her dark brown,
almost black eyes.
“Oh, Xiao Lei,” she says finally, a
wistful gleam in her eyes, “If I could
I would.”
Those words are enough for Lei
to hope, enough for him to dream a
future where he will have a better
weapon than a dented shovel, a better future than a field where the only
things that grow go anywhere but
his stomach.
“Xie Xie, Xin Xin,” he says,
thanking her. There is something
earnest in his eyes. Xin doesn’t know
what it means, but he sounds honest
to her, and for Xin, that’s enough.
“You’re welcome,” she says pleasantly, and she means it.
When she is twelve years old, Xin
Xin begins to understand that the
enemies are not a distant threat. She
realizes that this time, her hatred is
not shared by all her peers, that this
threat is actually called the communists, and that each day, they are
drawing closer to her beloved home.
Most importantly, it is not a hate
that Lei shares. Instead, he talks of
them with a shining look in his eyes.
He tells her of how his parents have
told him about the future they can
have with a man named Mao. He
tells her about a future he never
once dared to dream. It is a future,
he says, where they could marry, and
for the most part, Xin Xin remains
silent, because she doesn’t understand and she doesn’t want to talk
about it. If they never talk about it,
maybe it will never happen, and she
clings to this belief desperately.
“Never speak of them, Lei,” she said
softly. “They hate me. Please, don’t
speak of them.” There is an awkward
pause in their conversation, like a
rough patch in a smooth road.
“Sorry, Xin,” he says, because he
has made some inscrutable sadness
appear in her eyes, and that is
enough for him to regret daring to
dream of such things, if they are the
type of dreams that will make her
sad. She smiles weakly, and stiffly
changes the topic.
Xin is thirteen when she learns
the bitterness of betrayal. It is his
fourteenth birthday, and she is sure
that he will be in their little shed,
waiting for a gentle hug or a soft kiss
to the cheek. But when she raps her
fists against a decaying door, there is no
answer, and the only
reply is the emptiness
of silence.
“Lei?” Still, there is
no answer. Suddenly a
glimpse of white
catches her eye, tucked
between pieces of firewood piled up high
next to the shed. It is a
letter, written clumsily
by Lei’s shaky hands,
and even though the
Chinese is barely legible, each word rings
out painfully clear in
Xin’s mind: Sorry,
Xin. I had to.
She is shaking then, hands trembling in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotion. Later, she learns
from a prideful mother that he has
gone to “fight for their country,” but
as far as Xin is concerned, it is for
the wrong side, for the side that
wants to eradicate people like her
father and steal away her family’s
riches. The betrayal still stings, and
that night she dreams of him in a
green uniform, thirsting, thirsting
for blood.
They do not see each other for
decades more, when the hint of
wrinkles have started to appear on
their faces and their bodies have
started to weaken under the weight
of age. He is returning home, ready
to greet aging parents who he has
not seen for years. All of a sudden,
he sees her, her long hair shining
underneath the sun’s rays, her brows
furrowed in concentration. Gently,
she scatters the seeds over the field,
and then covers her work with handfuls of dirt. The wind seems to be
calling her name—Xin Xin, it sings,
and it is a melodious, familiar
sound. “Xin Xin!” he exclaims, echoing the ever-present wind. She jumps
at the noise, and when she glances
behind her to see his face, her eyes
widen in shock. And then, as the surprise slowly melts away, she cautiously takes two wavering steps
back, wiping her dirty hands on
what might have once been a pristine white apron.
Her face is older, but still has the
same gentle grace. She is leaner than
before, muscles gained from days on
the field, and her skin has been
continued on page 6
Young Writers | 5
“I feel like I have grown by leaps and
bounds over the course of this week and
I’m so incredibly glad that I pushed
myself to apply. This was such a unique
and wonderful experience as well as a
helpful precursor to a college I’m interested in. If I wasn’t a senior, I would
come back in a heartbeat.”
continued from page 5
bronzed by the afternoon sun. “Xin
Xin,” he repeats, and this time she
grabs her watering can off the dirt
floor, straightens her back, and starts
to walk away from him.
He pushes his legs forward to
catch up to her. “Xin, it’s me–Tian Lei,
I we, you–” His hand lands on her
shoulder and her whole body stops
and stiffens.
“Officer,” she finally manages, her
back still facing towards him. She
comes off strained, forced, a vestige of
a voice that once ran free when she
was a child.
“Please, Xin, call me Xiao Lei. We
are old friends, remember?”
She turns around slowly, and
shakes her head. “Officer, I have business to attend to. So if you please, pray
tell me how I may be of assistance and
I shall be on my way.” Her voice is
carefully controlled, but he sees how
her hands tremble and clutch at her
apron in an iron grip. He grabs her
hand, pulls them away from the dirtied cloth, and peels her fingers out of
the fist. Her palms are calloused,
unlike the smooth hands he had
known in their childhood.
“Why are you here, Xin?” he asks,
tracing the rough scarring on her little
hand. She pulls away her hand quickly,
Young Writers | 6
trying to push away his words, but
they nevertheless make her think of
what has happened since he had left
her, how they had taken all the money,
the house, and the furniture within it.
She remembers the broken look on
her father’s face as he toiled under the
sun for the first time, punishment for
his honest words against a government that didn’t want to listen. She
remembers her mother’s look of redfaced shame, and the way her delicate
body faltered underneath the hot sun.
“My father,” she finally says, in a
quiet and resigned manner. “We were
sent away for his telling of the truth.”
There is an awkward silence, the
sound of wind splicing through the air
in the background. The thought of
Xin doing work once meant for him
makes Lei feel suddenly guilty, and he
once again stares at Xin’s hands.
“Your hands are rough, Xin. I
promise you—I won’t let them get
rougher. You won’t have to work any…”
“And what authority do you have
to do that?” she asks. She studies him
with a contemplative look. “Doesn’t
that go against your ‘equality’?”
“I just want to help…”
“Tian Lei,” she says. It is the first
time she has said his name since he
left, and his heart beats angrily against
his chest. “I thought for a while of
what I wanted from you.” And indeed,
there had been so much she had still
wanted from him—an actual goodbye,
an acceptance of a fourteenth birthday
gift, a completion of a childhood. But
such things were in the past, and Xin
knows that it is futile to look back at
something that is gone completely.
They are things that Lei can no longer
offer her, but still, he speaks.
“You can have anything, Xin.
Marriage, freedom, money…”
“Equality?” she asks softly. There is
a subtle mocking tone behind her
words, and Lei opens his mouth to
protest, but she motions for him to
stop with her hands, flat up in the air.
“Lei,” she says. “Du bu qi.” I cannot
make it right.
And he wants to ask her why she is
apologizing, why there is this strained
look of sadness painted onto her sunblackened face, but before he has the
chance, she straightens her back so
that she is standing as tall as she did
when they first met and softly steps
away from him. He is urging himself
to move, but he finds his feet still, his
voice gone, and so he watches as she
grows smaller, dwindling into nothing.
In the wind, the scent of wildflowers
linger. The Sweeping of Star Skies
by Erin Carden
acne, the years that your bony knees become bonier and
knobbier, contain some of the best nights of your life.
I forget how it started, but I think you were sweeping
sunny golden eye shadow across my eyelids at 1:00 A.M on
a fall morning, the moon illuminating the starless city sky.
While she watched, amused by us, I think I accidentally
spilled this sunny golden eye shadow on your carpeted
floor, and you—in revenge—splashed me with its kisses, by
throwing it playfully in my face. It became a game. Next
you grabbed lipstick for protection. I grabbed at makeup
on the nearby counter, trying to find something, anything.
My boney fingers grazed mascara. We were fighting battles;
our thirteen-year-old bare feet pitter-pattered across your
floors. We laughed. You swiped my face with lipstick and I
pathetically tried to attack you with my feeble mascara
brush. The sunny golden eye shadow’s dust drifted down
from my locks and trickled into my almond eyes, blinding
my vision with glorious, glittery specks. I couldn’t see. She
ran a bath because well, I was a mess, and you were a mess.
And she laughed along with us, too. You weren’t as comic
looking as I was. No longer could you see my dirty blond
hair. Instead I was disguised as a sun child. A child, born
from the gods of the skies. A child with a sun golden halo
of angel dust, wrapped around my scalp. And there was lipstick. Bright ruby red lipstick painted in zigzags and lines
across my face. And I was drunk with laughter. As you two
picked me up under the armpits, and stripped me of my
p.j. pants to place me in the lukewarm bath water, I
laughed. I laughed as I watched the flakes of sun dust slip
off my body, and swirl around the water, caressing my toes
at the bottom. I laughed as the bath water turned red from
the ruby red lipstick and the light above pierced my eyes,
blurred with tears from my laughter. And we laughed. We
laughed because we were young, naive and ridiculous. Our
laughter reached the ceiling and shook the walls. We
laughed because we were endless. Our laughter, our minds,
and the glitter that was woven between us, was endless. And
we were beautiful. “This past week I have learned to open up
to others about my writing despite whether I
was confident about my piece or not. I
have allowed myself to become vulnerable
which helped me grow and open as a
writer. Before I came, coming up with stories was always the hardest part for me.
Now I’m excited to return home and begin
the numerous ideas I have for new work. It’s
truly amazing how passionate we all are
about writing and it’s clear how tightly
woven by this passion we are.”
Young Writers | 7
Bats in the Belfry
by Kathryn Corah
I’m not going to lie
But now I see bats in the sky
Floating homicidally through the air
I could have sworn I saw one there!
And in the woods the foxes call home
Rabies-infested and prone to roam
About the campus, late at night
They stare from bushes with sickly sight
And at night killers stalk
All who dare to take a walk
Or maybe they’ll just rob you blind
Most likely they won’t be so kind
Of course there are fires everywhere
Sending students into open air
And down eleven flights of stairs
To be cataloged by RAs with care
The bats are on fire but aren’t working alone
They’re in with the foxes who give sickly moans
They attack the poor campus by air and by land
While the killers and robbers stalk and demand
I sit awake in my dorm room bed
Visions of rabid foxes in my head
A bat that I swear is attempting to kill me
Hangs from the pole in my closet, lonely
I could’ve sworn I was crazy
I looked at the bat, mind hazy
Slowly I got to my feet to chase it out
I got near it and let out a shout
And then the bat took off in flight
Out the window and into the night
I got back in bed, facing the right
Thinking, now how will I get to sleep tonight?
Young Writers | 8
Monochrome Utopia
by Dana Crispi
As the tide rolls gently, the soft green ribbons sway and flirt, entangled
upon the splintered bottom of the slick white raft. A raft which on countless occasions had been a pirate ship, a diving board, a safe haven. A
place to stop. Just to stop. To lie and think, bound by the rays of the sun
and cooled by the ease of water on skin. Where the horseshoe crabs
can be seen in the water’s cool depths, peeking out from the shadows
of the sand. The light plays and flits on their perfect backs to the rhythm
of the waves. Night approaches. The stars slowly encroach into the sky,
until the sun has faded away, and touch each end of the earth, the
water glistening in response. The sky is sable, the sand is silver and
everything is black and white. It doesn’t need to be anything more.
“Every year I was lucky enough to attend
the New York State Summer Young Writers
Institute, it gave me something different.
Whether it was the ability to critique others’
work including my own with honesty, or the
social experience of meeting dozens of
others who were just like me in my thinking
and passions for writing, or even just the
challenge of true revisions and having to
“re-see” your work once again, all helped
me to understand how writing, as well as fitting into the place you most belong, is a
process. It is a rarity to find a program like
this that so fondly radiates that buzzing
intellectual hubbub of words and writings
with such passion as this one does. It is a
world, that if you’re like me, you are excited
to get into. This program supplies you with a
remarkable invitation into that world, where
you feel already in the door.”
Young Writers | 9
Picket Fence & Canis Lupus
by Riley Dixon
There is a burning in my heart,
and wolves at my door and the beasts
are enough to drive me deeper
into the gaping maw of the stairway,
just so I can flee from the snapping,
cracking, dripping jaws.
That you haven’t been happy
since before we came to complicate your life,
since we drove him to the bottle and you to the
and pinned you there, shackled. We thought it
would be a life sentence.
“This is not my home,” I say,
but you don’t believe me because
I’ve been here before and I’ve
played with the beasts.
“I can’t do this anymore, and I want to go
but neither of us knows where home is anymore
and the word home
is circling in my head until it becomes house and
white picket fence and dog and
They remember me. They have my scent.
They want me back.
“I cannot live here,” I say,
and you laugh because I’ve lived here all along.
Mired in defeat, too tired to move, sleep, or eat,
“I am dying,” I say,
and you smile because you’ve been dead
for years and all you’ve ever wanted
was some company in this haunted house.
“We can sit here together, alone. We can spend
in separate rooms, never speaking, never
believing the other one is there and
when we see each other we will
talk like strangers,” you say, though
we’ve known each other for sixteen years.
“I don’t know who you are any more,
and I am sorry I grew up so fast.”
“Get me out of here,” you whisper like you’re
afraid someone will catch wind, will finally realize
you’re not happy;
that you never were.
Young Writers | 10
I hate you because you made me give away my
and I will hold this grudge forever like a splinter
underneath my skin until it festers
and grows into something much more sinister.
I can’t believe you left that desk, we put you
there, we needed you there,
and you, being the main protagonist, decided to
make the first bad decision in this rising action
the resolution is nowhere in sight and I am hiking
up this
metaphorical plotline without a goddamn dog to
keep me company
and, I don’t know if you’ve realized yet,
but it’s been years and I still haven’t forgotten
all the choices you’ve made and the sour
decisions you’ve forced us to live through
and you are a stranger to me.
“Get me out of here,”
You mumble, as if you had never
by Maggie Doran
to me. Well to be honest, she had
always been close to me so I wonder
how it is that I didn’t see things get so
out of hand so quickly. She was a
sophomore at the time, and though
she was far from ignorant she didn’t
quite seem as conscious of herself or
the world around her as she once was.
That night I watched her brown
hair (the same shade as mine) whip
back and forth as she laughed and
talked with people she didn’t really
know anyway; I saw her hazel eyes
turn hazed and red; and I witnessed
her lose control, render herself senseless, and become someone she once
swore she’d never be.
From the second she arrived she
had seemed eager to begin the night’s
experimentation with how far she
could push herself. Ten minutes in she
snuck away to the bathroom to take
long swigs from her secret stash with
her two girlfriends. More and more
people were arriving, all murmuring
about when things would get started. I
could tell she was disappointed in the
lack of energy, which she practically
craved. Soon the doors at the top of
the basement’s steps slammed open
and in walked two upperclassmen carrying the treasures for the night. They
were jocks, walking victoriously like
the gods themselves carrying
ambrosia. In reality, they were far from
godlike, and the treasures they carried
were certainly not the nectar of the
gods, but cheap beer from the nearby
Bottle King. The room cheered. She
smiled and threw one arm in the air,
obviously raring to go. She scooted
around her fellow partyers: the scantily dressed girls, the bragging boys, and
the wallflowers, to reach her destination. With a pull and click the dewy
can in her hand was open and without
hesitation she brought it to her pink
lips, the silver and blue can looking
even darker against her pale skin. She
left it there, her cheeks swelling and
deflating like a fish desperately gulping water, until it was empty and she
tossed it in the trash with her left
hand, while grabbing another can with
her right.
Turning towards the main table,
where the cliché game of beer pong
was starting, she sipped her second
drink while chatting about ridiculously insignificant things with ridiculously insignificant people. I watched as
her shoulders relaxed, the liquid
courage starting to set in. She began to
talk a little louder, to think a little less,
“I will remember
Skidmore as a help in
growing my writing. The
community, camaraderie
and wise teachers willing
to listen meant a lot to
and to become a bit bolder. This feeling of liberation was exactly what she
loved so much and I could see her
eyes flash with pleasure. The basement, at the bottom of tonight’s popular wannabe’s house, was packed far
past capacity. The lights were turned
low and empty bottles, cans, and cigarette butts already covered the floor.
The air was smoky and littered with
shrill voices and yells, all growing
louder as the night continued.
After cheering and booing the
game with the others, she decided to
play a round herself, finding the nearest partyer to be her partner. She, of
course, let her competitive nature get
the best of her, yelling at her partner
when he made a mistake and giving
little victory dances for every made
shot. They won, of course. After all she
was on top of the world, could she
have lost anything?
Afterwards, she shimmied her way
over to a speckled counter on the
other side of the packed-like-a-sardine-can basement, where a tiny redhead held a large bottle high in the air.
The group around the redhead held
out their miniature glasses, each decorated differently—”Dirty Jersey” read
one, “Just One More,” another. She
grabbed one for herself: a neon green
striped one. Holding up her tiny glass
she smiled and waited for the others
to join her in her ritualistic toast, “To
Fridays,” she beamed before downing
the clear liquid. I watched her face,
waiting for the scrunching and the
shaking that usually took place due
the biting, burning taste of her personal poison, Triple Distilled
Smirnoff. But there was none this
time. She had become so accustomed
to it that it no longer bothered her.
And so she downed another shot,
and another, noticeably trying to keep
up with the hardcore group around
her. They took a break and I was
relieved. I wasn’t so sure she could
handle anymore. She walked on, stumbling and slurring, blatantly past her
limit. I could barely watch the rest of
the night, so I am only a reliable witness for sporadic moments, each separated by a dizzying darkness. So here
is what I can somewhat piece together:
She guzzled at least another shot,
maybe even two more, and another
can of cheap beer.
She fell so many times that when
she woke up the next morning she
would be covered in mysteriously
black and blue reminders of the
evening’s events.
She sat on a couch with guys she
hardly knew or didn’t know at all as
she sputtered incoherent words and
they laughed at her.
She dropped and broke the beaded
bracelet her sister had let her wear, the
one she promised to be careful with if
she could just borrow it one time, and
she barely noticed—let alone seemed
continued on page 12
Young Writers | 11
continued from page 11
to care—as it scattered in pieces across
the sticky floor.
That’s all I can tell you about the
end of the night. As I said, I could
hardly watch. But that doesn’t matter
too much because that’s not where her
real problem happened anyway.
Her biggest problem came after
she made a drunken fool out of herself, when her father came to pick up
her and her friends in his midnight
blue Corvette, like any other night.
Her friends were piled in the back but
she barely paid them any mind. I listened to her talk. She was practically
screaming, it sounded so loud. And
she was babbling on and on about her
plans for tomorrow. Would she just
quiet down and try to act normal? I
didn’t want to see her get in trouble.
The more she talked, the more I took
note of her drunken breath. It was as
if her pours were seeping the Smirnoff
that she practically worshiped. I wondered why her father hadn’t noticed
yet, why he hadn’t questioned her yet.
We—her, her father, her friends,
and I—had almost returned home
when she clasped her hand to her
mouth and made a faint swallowing
noise. She did this once more and I
found myself staring, wondering what
on earth she was doing. Finally, she
leaned forward swiftly, her now frizzy
hair covering her shoulders as she
spewed the contents of her stomach
onto the floor of the car. She was
done, she knew her father’s strict no
alcohol rules as well as I did and surely she would pay for this.
But he didn’t yell yet, he just
turned to her slowly as they reached
the driveway and whispered, “Go to
your room and sleep if off. We’ll discuss this in the morning.” She almost
looked relieved but I knew better. This
was only the calm before the storm.
And of course she seemed to have forgotten that soon her progress report
would be arriving as well, with a
notice that she was currently failing
advanced algebra. Yeah, I’m sure her
dad would be real pleased with that
news, too. Her grades were dropping
faster than the cops act going to bust a
party and now she had thrown up in
her dad’s car after yet another night of
binge drinking.
She walked to her bedroom as I
stared at her. I couldn’t believe what
she had become, how stupid she could
be. I was disgusted. I mean I’m all for
letting loose every once in a while, but
she had taken it to the next level,
indulging almost every night of every
weekend. She had once cared so much
about school, she had once tried so
hard to please her dad, and she had
once been a perfect role model for her
sister, but now look at her.
I was more than disappointed in
her; I didn’t even have a word for what
I felt. I looked right at her and she
looked back at me, her eyes rimmed
red. I bit my lip deciding what I could
finally say to her, and she mimicked
me. As I started to part my lips to
speak she did the same and I held out
a hand to silence her for a second
longer. Surprisingly, as I did this she
did as well. I slowly lifted my hand
closer and closer to hers until we
touched. But what I felt upon contact
was not flesh. It was cold, hard glass. I
pressed harder and found my hand
against a mirror. I gasped, was this
me? Had I become this monster? It
appeared so. “This week at the New York State Young
Writers Institute was unexpected in that I
didn’t know it would be so amazing. The
teachers gave me such valuable advice
and the friends I made will stay in my
memory forever.”
Young Writers | 12
The Learner and The Educated
by Andreas Esposito
outside, almost so that you wouldn’t
notice a change if you took off your
sweatshirt, but still not quite warm.
An eighteen-year-old boy walks to a
bus stop and sees a scruffy, unshaven
seventeen-year-old boy sitting on the
bench. Reluctant to sit down next to
him, the first boy leans against a pole
instead of sitting on the dark brown,
wooden bench.
ing it? Is it for school or something?
Scruffy Kid: Naw, I don’t milk that
goat anymore, I’m just reading for
Preppy Kid: Milk that goat? That’s
not what school is for; you go to
school so that you can get an education and one day get into a good college so that you can get a high-paying job.
Scruffy Kid: What are you afraid of?
Scruffy Kid: The way I thought of
school when I was
going there was that
you learn the things
you want and ignore
the things you don’t
need or wanna know.
So essentially I just
took the milk and
threw away the crap.
Preppy Kid: Oh
please, you’re just giving yourself excuses. I
mean, look at you!
That bench is probably the closest thing
you have to a bed, all
because you didn’t
maintain your grades.
Preppy Kid: N-nothing, I just don’t
feel like sitting.
Scruffy Kid: So what are you doing
Preppy Kid: Nothing, just going to
pick up some books.
Scruffy Kid: Oh really? What are you
getting? I’m still reading The
Principles of Psychology by William
James. It’s like, fourteen-hundred
pages and dry as hell. (Chuckling)
Preppy Kid: Then why are you read-
Scruffy Kid: Ya’ know,
grades aren’t everything, they’re just
a bunch of numbers.
Preppy Kid: What are you talking
about? Your grades in school have a
direct correlation with the rest of
your life. You can’t do anything without high marks.
Scruffy Kid: Ha, that is where you are
right. But I just couldn’t ever connect
the two. I always preferred to just
listen so that I wouldn’t start hating
the material by associating it with
endless worksheets and papers.
Preppy Kid: Oh come on, you’re a
lazy bum and you know it.
Scruffy Kid: I’m not lazy. I just
believe that school should be an
institution of learning.
Preppy Kid: That’s what it is.
Scruffy Kid: No... I’m sorry to say
that it is not...
Preppy Kid: Wha-what do you mean?
What is it then?
Scruffy Kid: It’s a beaker, a test tube,
a ruler, something to measure us by.
When is the last time you ever got a
bad grade, and your parents told you
that you need to learn the material
so that you’ll just know it? Never. All
they see are your grades, and hammer you to get your grades up. All
they notice are the As and the Ds
and everything in between. Think of
it this way: if you hand in your
homework late, you get half credit.
Does that make sense?
Preppy Kid: No, it doesn’t, late work
should be a zero because you didn’t
get it in on time.
Scruffy Kid: Right there, that is the
social conformity right there. If
school was really based on learning,
then as long as you knew the material and understood it, then you
should get an A.
Preppy Kid: What would that do?
You’d just end up doing that later in
life and lose your job.
Scruffy Kid: Yes, and why is that?
Preppy Kid: Because you would learn
that you don’t have to do things on
continued on page 14
Young Writers | 13
continued from page 13
Scruffy Kid: And that is because we
do not learn discrimination. We are
not taught discrimination. Most of
the stuff we learn in school is repetitive and not useful to us—it’s just a
means of comparing us to other students so that colleges can nitpick
who gets in and who doesn’t. The
saddest truth is that I wanted to
learn. I desperately wanted to learn,
but not so that I could get a job, but
just so that I could advance myself. I
was intrinsically motivated to gain
knowledge, but it wasn’t happening
back in those four walls. I want to be
challenged, not by multiple-choice
nineties on tests, and I knew that
they weren’t really proud of THEIR
achievements. They just wanted
praise and thought that they were
fulfilling their own ambition to do
well, but they weren’t.
Preppy Kid: That is because they did
achieve something: it’s good to get a
high grade on a test.
Scruffy Kid: Have you ever felt
smart? And I don’t mean in terms of
school. I mean, have you ever been
surprised by your own intellect and
perception? This one time, I got to
go on a writing
retreat. Going there, I
thought there would
be a ton of brainiacs
and I would be
ignored. Instead,
everyone was nice,
and thoughtful, and
real. And the best part
was that I could compete with anyone
there. Even the most
gifted, artistic writers
there were on par
with me. I didn’t
know that I could do
that before I went
there. And do you
know what our
reward was?
questions, but by deep, developed
thinking. I wasn’t a scholar, but a
person who was genuinely interested
by what my mind could achieve.
Preppy Kid: What? Did it look good
for college or something?
Preppy Kid: Then why, if you were so
driven, did you just quit? Why not
just do the work? You’ll still get the
same information.
Scruffy Kid: My reward was just
being able to read everyone else’s
work, and have mine read as well. No
grades or credits. Yet that was the
moment in my life where I truly
felt smart.
Scruffy Kid: Because I couldn’t stand
the whole system. I felt so pressured
to excel in things that I couldn’t
make any emotional connection to at
all. I remember seeing the fake,
deceived smiles of all the kids getting
Preppy Kid: But if you’re so smart,
then why drop out of school? Why
not just do well so that you can do
what you want later in life?
Young Writers | 14
Scruffy Kid: Because I’m too smart
for this time period. I wish I wasn’t...
I wish I could conform... I wish I
didn’t have to know all this... I wish I
was just an asshole who thinks he’s
the king of the world without giving
anything else consideration. Even
though I’m here preaching my philosophy to some guy on the street
and probably look like I think my
way is the only way, it really isn’t, and
I know it. I can never go back
because every fiber of my being tells
me that this system is wrong and
that I have to escape it and create my
own new world of logic.
Preppy Kid: No, you can’t just say
that, you need to stop complaining!
Listen, I know that it’s a flawed system, but it’s what we have. If you
can’t follow it, then just abuse it so
that you can advance yourself into
society and be better than everybody
else. I can’t stand seeing someone
who’s probably smarter than me just
die off like this. I’m sorry that you
have to be the one to see all of this,
but it can’t drag you down into the
abyss. You’ve got a gifted mind, use it
to inspire other people! I’ll tell you
one thing before this bus drives up
and I never see you again, it’s that
everybody else in the world is an
idiot, so don’t let those dumbasses
beat you in anything. Make that your
new ambition, but keep your ideas
and your way of thinking, because
you only need one sun to illuminate
an entire planet.
The bus arrives and the first boy gets
on. The second boy gets off of the
bench and follows him. In Observation
by Andrew Fedorov
his shoulder but did not dare to take it
out and flip to the pages with the crinkled post-it note wedged between
them. He did not decide to reach for
the book and hold it in front of him
and curl his back and lean forward to
explore the fictitious jolly world while
his thick-lensed glasses slid down his
large pointed nose. He didn’t feel comfortable reading in public because he
knew all these terrifying eyes that were
the product of millions of years of
evolution would come to that moment
to provide a constant vigil. They were
staring at the little man in the green
jacket on the bus. Staring at him.
What went on in their minds?
Why couldn’t he understand? What
did they do? Did they have friends?
Did they relax with those friends and
enjoy themselves? That guy there
across the aisle. The one with the gray
coat with the matching beaten-up
fedora hanging over his empty-headed
eyes. The one wearing the loose-hanging business suit and the heavy brown
leather shoes. Did he go home to a
family? Did he enjoy their presence or
did he despise those damned drains
that swirled away his life? Did he sit
there on the floor, building structures
out of Legos with them? Did he flip
burgers on the grill on the small porch
behind the house covering the majority of his small lawn? What did he do?
What about that girl over there
with the hoodie with a demonic noirhaired Norse god frying a monkey
(and enjoying the melodies of the sizzling hair) drawn on it. What did she
think about as she stared out the window at that helpless hobo lumbering
by with his cardboard sign as the bus
slowed down and the doors hissed?
Why did she press her pierced nose to
that dirty window? He thought about
her friends and the colony of
eccentrics making up a whole. Was it
possible that he was the real freak?
The lonely little man in the seat, not
staring out the window but with his
head firmly planted and sprouting
roots on the seat in front of him. He
was not a blooming eccentricity. He
was not exhibiting his eccentricities
for all to see. He just didn’t get
humanity. He just didn’t get the social
In all likelihood they probably
were still staring at him with their
ignorant criticizing eyes. They had not
grown up with books, they were not
used to the idea that paper held ideas.
Did their heads hold ideas? Were they
just doers? Were they just human?
He thought of his future at the
company as he slipped his mass market
paperback into the solid briefcase. He
put away what would not help him and
focused. This was to be his first day.
What a cloudy, depressing first day
it was to be. The sky was an unwavering gray and a fierce wind charged at
him. Not a pleasant breeze but a wind
that despised him, a wind that could
not stand the sight of his meek form.
He pressed on, briefcase waving
behind him. It had rained that morning. He schlepped past puddles, not
noticing the wet dog walking with him,
and not noticing that repugnant smell.
The sidewalk was full of cracks, splintering apart with the freezing of the flow.
As he walked he mumbled to himself although he didn’t realize it
because he thought he was mumbling
to the people passing him by. But they
couldn’t give less of a shit. They just
went on with what he thought might
be thoughts.
It wasn’t practical matters he was
mumbling about. It was just what he
was doing. Life was a practical sport to
him, not a jolly little game. But practicality has its limits and sooner or
later he subconsciously broke off from
it, trying to destroy the horrible chains
that clinked as he dragged his feet,
ruining the sneakers. And once in a
while he splashed the wet ground so as
to wet his carefully rolled pants and
his thin but soft black socks, which
were already a little wet because they
made him sweat like a tap.
He finally reached the dreaded
number on the door, 90. He stood
there. He had done this sort of cowardly thing all his life. Instead of
choosing the way to go he would
impale himself on the fork in the
road. People went in and out, but he
just stood there, staring at how the
gray sky reflected off the numbers that
were probably a glittering gold when
receiving the sun’s sacred rays. He
moved closer and saw a large-nosed
shmoe approaching the 90. This guy
spread over the whole thing as he
approached, like a liquid dribbling
away into a mold. The door finally
swung open and with false bravado he
went into the large building past the
second pair of large glass, brassrimmed doors, forgetting to wipe his
dripping shoes on the fuzzy carpet.
He walked on towards the old elevator, noticing the echo of his feet on
the marble floor. The half-circle above
the elevator door sat there with a
slowly moving arrow and the grind of
unnecessary gears behind it. He
stepped in alone, careful to get ahead
of the much older, hectic, jumpy but
tired-out man with a prickly gray
beginning-of-a-beard and a suit sized
too big. He was quick to press the button and the doors pulled themselves
together in front of the older man
who had an expression of pure
anguish upon his face.
He lay back against the elevator
wall watching the arrow shift from
number to number, performing its
mandatory duty. He wasn’t thinking of
anything in particular when his head
jerked up. He had always been spastic.
In school the cruel children would call
him “spaz.”
The doors shifted open and he was
on the floor of the company that now
owned him for what he hoped would
be the rest of his working life. In this
place there would be no sky above
him and no earth below. It would all
fall away. Young Writers | 15
by Luke Foley
world would simply forget to celebrate Christmas than for this ancient
tradition not to be upheld. Even
teachers turned a blind eye to the
ruthless abuse of first year students
for this one lunch time every year.
There had been cases of boys being
Saran-wrapped upside down to trees
for an hour, having their pants set on
fire, and being used as cricket wickets to the immense pleasure of the
seventh formers. For some reason,
these eighteen-year-olds found it
necessary to establish a chain of
supremacy on children a third of
their size. No one ever escaped without suffering at least two or three
“dead legs”. Older
students would
“The Young Writers Institute has shaped me
guard the exits to
the school
so much, not only as a writer but as a pergrounds and
son. For the past three years, it has
patrol the halls
become my absolute favorite part of the
and classrooms
to ensure that no
summer. I will miss everything about this
newcomer was
program from the faculty, to the students,
attempting to
to the author Q and As to Bob Miner’s
dodge the initiation “ceremony.”
prison analogies. It has been one of the
Jeremy knew
best experiences ever and I am so lucky
all about the trathat I have been able to participate in it.”
dition; all the
older boys in his
had told him
about their respective experiences.
It was lunch time at Wellington
None of these stories seemed to
Boy’s College on the most revered,
deter any of the parents from sendyet savage day of the year: the Third
ing their sons to the most prestigious
Form Hunt, also known as the first
school in the district. It was where
Friday of the school year. In the colyou went.
lege’s 126 years of existence, it is said
Now, sounding like a drum kit
that only two things have never
on wheels, Jeremy was quickly
changed: the name, and the Third
approaching a flight of stairs that
Form Hunt. Hazing at British all
would lead him to the parking lot
boys schools is a widespread phenomenon that old men in their rock- adjacent to the huge playing field
ing chairs like to boast about to their and a slightly safer environment. As
the sun continued to berate his skin,
grandchildren. However, never had
beads of sweat created canals down
there been a hazing tradition as bruhis forehead that lead to his eyetal, organized, or consistent as the
brows, limiting visibility. His belt
one practiced at Wellington Boy’s
buckle was apparently attempting to
College. It is more likely that the
frantic; he could hear every beat of
his heart as if a tribal ritual was taking place in his chest. He had long
since shed his burdensome backpack:
lost textbooks were not worth the
risk of being caught by the owner of
the looming shadow he could see on
the white hot pavement beside him.
The slap of his rigid leather dress
shoes on the concrete added a hi-hat
to the all-consuming drums that he
himself was orchestrating. Jeremy’s
intended destination was the school’s
playing field where it was possible his
surprisingly relentless pursuer would
give up chase.
Young Writers | 16
permanently lodge itself in Jeremy’s
fleshy gut, the result of too many
shepherd’s pies.
“Get back here you runt,”
boomed a voice from behind.
Jeremy ran a little faster. The
sound of the voice compelled him to
mistakenly turn his head and to his
dismay Jeremy saw that he was being
pursued by an ogre—an ogre that
had managed to don the navy shirt
and dull grey shorts of the school
uniform. Perhaps frozen with shock,
Jeremy stared a little too long at the
beady eyes and evil grin and ran
head first into the first car in the
parking lot.
As Jeremy was being dragged
away he began imagining what tragic
or fatal treatment he was about to be
subjected to. It soon became clear
that the ogre’s destination was a
nearby trash can. Soon kids were circling around to watch yet another
humiliation. Jeremy spied his neighbor, Scott Fletcher, at the edge of the
crowd. Their eyes locked and
Jeremy’s gaze pleaded with Scott to
help him. The Fletchers were close
family friends and Scott was a good
friend of Jeremy’s. Was he really
going to stand there and watch this
happen? As the fumes of hotdogs
and unwanted fruit invaded his
sinuses, Jeremy realized that Scott
didn’t care enough to help.
Forty minutes later, smelling like,
well, a trash can, Jeremy stomped
into class. There was no hint of surprise on his teacher’s face and he
took a seat at the back of the class
without any questions. As Jeremy
was walking home he was obviously
angered and felt the pain of injustice;
however, he could not help feeling
like he was now part of something,
he had joined a club. He was almost
looking forward to next year when
he would be able to say, “Yeah, that
was me once, you’ll live.” Sweet Revenge
by Cynthia Gerber
downriver looked like trees. The
bodies were the trunk of the tree,
with the heads being the branches
that fly out in all different directions,
clutching green healthy leaves—the
hair—hoping they wouldn’t fall
when the wind began to pick up. You
could barely see the bodies and their
tree-like qualities, though: it was
nearing midnight and pitch black,
and the river was so quiet that it
didn’t appear to exist. It was a
spooky scene, where I half-expected
to see the ghost of my grandmother—a knitter who died just over
three years ago—pop out and shriek,
“Why haven’t you called me, Lainey?
What kind of granddaughter are
The bodies looked so real, with
blood gushing out of various body
parts, polluting the clean river water.
I could only imagine how they died:
some maybe by murder, others by
suicide. But, of course, those bodies
weren’t real. They were plastic,
dressed in cheap, loose-fitting
clothes like oversized plaid shirts
and giant pairs of pants that no one
could fit in. A face was painted on
each body—the lips extra red, the
eyes bloodshot —with random
blood painted to look like it was
dripping from noses, split lips or
foreheads. Some had stitches, making them look like Frankenstein.
They ranged in size, but it was obvious that all of the bodies were made
by the same person. The plastic,
floating dummies looked like a unified group of friends, lazily swimming down the river.
It was Halloween night, and my
small town of Lilly Wood always
made the town’s park a haunted little village with the help of dedicated
volunteers. It was the first time I had
participated in something the town
sponsored since moving away. Now
that I was back, I had to be a proud
citizen again, a model citizen, a suck-
up that always went to community
events. Lilly Wood was too tight-knit
of a community to not go to these
events; rumors would go flying. Why
wasn’t the Black family here at the
fall picnic? Oh, I heard they’re having money troubles.
A loudspeaker suddenly cracked
on and played the hoots of an owl
and squawks of a crow, making me
jump, trip and fall into Ben’s chest.
He caught me before I crashed into
the river and made my own journey
downstream, squeezing me close to
him. I reached up to kiss his cheek,
mumbling, “My hero.” I doubt that
he caught that, and I sighed, intertwining my hand into
his. I knew he wanted to
be treated like a normal
boyfriend, forced to go
to my singing gigs with
my backup band and
dragged to events like
this, but Ben couldn’t
honestly be enjoying
this. He couldn’t be feeling the same high I got
after a concert or show.
He just...he wasn’t a normal boyfriend. Ben was
something special,
someone different.
Ben was deaf, his
father was dead, and his
childhood home was
completely destroyed all
due to a house explosion two years
ago, right after I left for New York
City. A pipeline had boiled over in
his basement, and while the family
heard some strange hissing noises,
none expected the entire house to go
up in flames. His mother wasn’t
home at the time, but his dad was in
the heart of the home, the kitchen,
when the house became engulfed in
flames and shook as if an earthquake
had hit. He was killed almost
instantly; a refrigerator had toppled
on him with such force that all of his
ribs as well as major arm and leg
bones were broken into bits and
Ben had been lucky, hit only
with the aftermath, the aftershocks.
Playing basketball right outside in
the backyard, the noise, flames and
power of the explosion ruptured and
burst his eardrums, causing his deafness. With deafness comes muteness;
Ben hadn’t said a word since learning he was deaf, too self-conscious
about his voice now that he couldn’t
hear it. He had burns on a good part
of his body, most on his chest, which
was now mangled with scars and
rough patches.
It almost seemed automatic for
me to pay Ben a visit once I got back
to Lilly Wood, something I obviously
had to do now that we were going to
be shopping at the same mall and
convenience store again. He was a
friend of mine before the move to
the city, but we lost touch quickly as
he recovered from his accident. I
knew I didn’t have to befriend Ben
again, especially since he went to a
deaf high school instead of the
town’s public school, but I felt obligated to; it wasn’t right to drop him
continued on page 18
Young Writers | 17
continued from page 17
as a friend simply because he was hard
of hearing. He was still the same guy
that loved soccer, hated the Speedo he
had to wear for swimming and couldn’t stand any type of math.
Of course, being Ben’s friend wasn’t the easiest thing. Just to communicate we had to come up with a silent
language of gestures and motions
until I became fluent enough in sign
language. He carried a pad and pen
everywhere he went, just in case I
couldn’t get what he was signing.
Jotting things down became second
nature in our new friendship. I had to
learn to speak slower, to assist Ben in
reading my lips, and his mom became
our translator whenever necessary. It
took a lot of effort and dedication, but
seeing Ben happy, seeing me happy
with his arms wrapped tightly around
my waist, made it worthwhile.
“Lainey, still babysitting the cripple?”
I turned around and saw the outline of a guy that appeared to be
slightly shorter than Ben and about
the same age as us. I couldn’t make
out his face, but I could smell alcohol,
faint but prominent, probably the
Young Writers | 18
scent of cheap beer that was sitting
out for a while. The figure continued
to walk toward me, revealing his hair,
his face, his body, his posture: he was
my ex-boyfriend, and he was most
definitely wasted. “Troy, go away,” I
said and pulled on Ben’s sweatshirt,
itching to get away from smelly Troy.
Only bad things happened when
someone was that drunk.
Troy grabbed my wrist and
dragged me closer to him, forcing me
to hug his chest. His body odor was
unbearable, and I tried to push myself
out of his grip. Ben jumped in, unable
to say much, and pushed me away
from Troy. Little snippets of my memories with Troy flashed in my mind:
the way he drank
too much, held me
too tightly, gave up
on Ben just because
he was disabled; the
way he pushed me
down, down onto
his bed that one
night and tried to
force me to. . . I
stopped, feeling
myself get nauseous.
The attempted
rape. Oh, God, the
attempted rape.
I breathed
through my mouth,
the salty, bitter taste
of Troy’s perspiration shocking my
taste buds. “Go
away,” I repeated, feeling slimy and
dirty as I clung to Ben’s red sweatshirt.
We needed to get out of there fast. I
began to pick up the pace with Ben
following behind me, but Troy was
faster, stumbling his way over to me,
planting a wet kiss on my cheek. I felt
vomit come up my throat.
“Come on baby,” he slurred. “You
know you want me more.”
Something snapped. Ben punched
Troy, causing his to fall and roll
around on the grass back toward the
river. “I didn’t know deaf people could
fight,” Troy mumbled and stood up,
tottering a little, and threw his fist at
Ben’s face. He missed, his aim way off
due to a powerful side effect of beer,
and Ben punched him again. A fight
was starting quickly enough, and I
could feel the crowd form. There was
no need to show the socialites of Lilly
Wood a lowlife fight caused by jealously and beer.
“Ben, Troy, stop it right now!” I
shouted, tugging on Ben’s jacket.
That didn’t stop them, and off they
went tumbling down toward the river,
Ben winning the fight easily as Troy
kept falling and falling and falling. It
was hard for him to get up, probably
hard for him to really see straight, and
I could imagine Troy’s head spinning
with a huge ache in the back of his
skull. “Guys, stop! Ben, let’s go. Troy
just leave,” I begged, feeling more and
more eyes on the scene, some cheering
the fight on, and pulled on Ben’s jacket
hard. “Let’s go,” I demanded, forcing
him back toward my car.
Ben held up a finger. One minute
He walked down the slight hill,
eyes falling on a huffing and puffing
Troy, trying to catch his breath while
puking at the same time, and simply
pushed him into the cold river water
with the rest of the fake dead bodies,
where he belonged. Troy easily fell
down ass first in the water and continued vomiting, contaminating the
water, the crystal clear water. “I’ll fucking get you back for this,” he promised
in between coughs, and I heard Ben
snicker, jogging back toward me,
wrapping his arm around my shoulder. In his eyes was a flicker of something I never saw before, sparkling and
dazzling in the low light.
Troy had got what he truly
deserved, and Ben became the change
he needed to be. The Longest Elevator Ride
by Shivani Sanwal Gonzalez
older than me. I pull out my iPhone
going to die.” He goes over to the eleGET ME OUT OF HERE. THIS WASN’T THE
so I can look up the number and call
vator door and starts pounding on it.
stereotypical teenage sarcastic line. I
the mall. B.O guy comes towards me.
He is sobbing now. Beard guy just sits
was stuck—in an elevator, with three
“Is that an iPhone?” he asks.
on the ground with his beard touching
other, not so charming people. One
“Um yeah,” I say.
the floor. I see that fake tan guy is still
had a long mangy beard. The second
“Do you have the ‘Rate My Kiss’
one had a weird unknown band T-shirt pounding on the door, his fist leaving
app?” he asks, his eyes filled with wonlittle dents in the metal. I suppress a
and smelled as if he hadn’t showered
in a decade. The third was the worst of giggle. This is not happening. B.O guy
“No” I say sharply.
lifts his arm and I wince from the smell.
all. He was wearing tight pants and a
I sit down next to the fake tan guy.
“How about we call for help” I say,
tight T-shirt. On top of that he had an
I dial the number of the mall.
trying to get myself out of this situaobvious spray tan. His hair stuck
“Hi. We are stuck in an elevator in
tion. Fake tan guy starts screaming at
straight up and I could practically see
the mall”
the top of his lungs. I cover my ears.
the oil drip off as we stood there. His
“I know doll face. We are getting
“Shut up!” the bearded guy says.
mouth was formed into a huge smile,
there. It might be up to three hours”
It’s the first time he’s talked this
showing off his bleached teeth. His
the lady says with an annoying drawl.
whole time and his voice is higher
music was blaring; even I could hear
Three effing
it. That’s when I lost it.
hours. In this elevator.
“What the hell are you smil“I never expected to become so close, so
With fake tan, weirdo
ing about? We are stuck in an effquickly with the friends I made here.
with a beardo and
ing elevator!” I scream. Obviously
B.O. This was going to
fake tan guy didn’t hear me over
Between the time we spent giving each
be a long three hours.
his loud music. Beard guy just
other feedback and the time we spent
I told them what the
stroked his beard while B.O. guy
hanging out in the dorm, we got to know
lady said. Of course,
just hit the open door button
no one responded. All
repeatedly. What a genius. It had
each other well. This added another layer
four of us sat on the
been a perfectly normal lazy sumto the already rich experience provided by
floor. B.O played
mer Sunday. My mom had asked
our classes. It was the faculty and the other
chopsticks with himme to do returns for her at H&M
self, Beardo made
and now I was stuck in this effing
young writers that made the week special.”
clucking noises with
elevator with these idiots. God, I
his tongue, fake tan
was so not in the mood for this.
sat in a fetal position,
“Um guys,” I say, trying to act
rocking himself and I just stared at
than any voice I have ever heard. I
better. They all just glance around.
push B.O guy out of the way and press these crazy people. I must have fallen
“Should we like, try calling someasleep because I woke up and my head
the call phone button.
one or something?” I say, trying again.
was on fake tan’s shoulder. My phone
“Hello” a voice says.
B.O guy looked around.
was ringing.
“Hi, we are stuck in this elevator.”
“Yeah sure,” he says, like he is high
“Is this the girl who is stuck in the
Fake tan guy starts screaming again.
or something. He probably is. Fake tan
elevator?” a voice asked.
“Shut up!” the bearded guy says
guy takes out his headphones and says
“Yeah that’s me,” I responded, risagain, his voice definitely higher than
to no one in particular, “Damn, this is
ing to my feet.
the first time. He could say that his
a long elevator ride.”
“We are getting ready to get you
mother died but I would still laugh
I look at him. Beard guy and B.O
because of his high voice. Fake tan guy down.”
guy just glance around the elevator. I
“Thank god. Thank you,” I said
is now sitting on the floor crying and
guess that I have to handle this.
and then hung up. The elevator start“Um, the elevator’s stuck, but yeah.” apparently he’s wearing mascara
ed moving. The other guys stood up.
because black streaks his face, along
“What?” he says.
After a minute the elevator doors
with his tears. I realize that the guy on
“The elevator’s stuck” I say, trying
opened. I stepped out quickly and disthe other end of the call phone has
not to lose my temper.
appeared into the crowd. I didn’t even
hung up. Jerk. It wasn’t my fault I had
“Holy cow!” he yells. “We’re stuck
look back. I kind of wish I had. to babysit all of these guys who are
in this elevator, I’m going to die, I’m
Young Writers | 19
Breaking News
by Chloe Hamer
or some shit?”
Chris flicked a clump of dirt on
the rotting wooden porch rail toward
the werewolf boy and the werewolf
boy’s ugly girlfriend. The girl narrowed her eyes and tensed up like she
had a real great comeback on the tip
of her tongue, but Beast Boy, after
wincing slightly, beat her to it.
“Guess you don’t get the news
much around here,” he laughed, gesturing to the empty dirt road and the dull,
sad houses that rotted among the weeds
along the side of the road. But his voice
came off sounding more nervous than
he’d probably wanted it to.
Chris didn’t reply immediately. He
watched the kid squirm in the silence
and the girl scowl at him as he lit his
cigarette, taking his time. He took a
drag and blew a ring of smoke
towards the girl’s face. She didn’t
flinch or even wave her hand, just kept
staring at him like she was trying to
burn a hole through his head.
Finally, Chris got around to
answering, in between puffs of smoke
swirling lazily around the front porch.
“We get it,” he said, squinting up
into the late morning sun. “Just don’t
figure those crackpot journalists know
what in hell they’re talkin’ about.” He
looked down at the werewolf boy
again, a hint of amusement playing on
his face. “That’s why I’m asking you.”
The boy dug his hands into the
pockets of his jeans, inspecting the
floor of dirt and rocks beneath Chris’s
porch like it was the most fascinating
thing he’d ever laid eyes on.
“He’s not a werewolf, asshole,” said
the girl, hissing the word werewolf like
it was some piece of road kill she had
to carry at arm’s length. “Do you really
“I was asking him,” said Chris, “not
you.” He raised an eyebrow at the girl.
The boy laughed lowly. “No,” he
muttered, “I’m not a werewolf.”
Young Writers | 20
“Your mom screw an animal, then?”
At this, the boy’s ears perked up.
His pupils got about three times bigger, and his chapped lips slid back to
reveal a large, pointed set of canine
teeth. The girl put a hand on his
shoulder, as if it would actually calm
him down.
“Look, if you’re not going to help
us...” she sighed, giving Chris a weary
Chris laughed quickly and put a
hand out like a peace offering. “Hold
on. It was a joke, kid; I’m just playing
with you. I’ve read all about this mess,
like you said. Bet you wanna kill those
dumbass scientists, huh?”
The kid looked at the ground
again, his dark eyes back to normal.
“That’s the idea.”
Chris rested his elbows on the railing, leaning over the edge of the porch
and fixing his gaze on the boy. He was
maybe seventeen, with coarse black
hair that fell dejectedly over his forehead and stuck out at random angles
around his ears, which were covered in
thin, short reddish fur, as was the rest
of his body.
Chris remembered something he’d
read that morning, scanning the front
page of the newspaper as Frank or
Steve—or whatever his mom’s
boyfriend’s name was—read the
Sports section or something, the open
paper hiding his face.
“I heard your parents were pissed.”
Chris chewed his lip and tilted his
head to the side, softening his voice.
“At you.” Suddenly, he laughed. “Ha,
ha!—before the, uh, incident, I mean.”
The kid didn’t laugh. He looked at
the girl, and the girl touched his arm
and opened her mouth like she was
going to say something, then closed it
again. She shrugged apologetically,
and the boy nodded slightly, then
turned back to Chris. When he spoke,
his voice was hoarse, like after you cry
for a long time.
“If I was your kid, you’d be pissed
at me, too.”
“’Cause of the fur,” said Chris. It
wasn’t a question. It was just to be
sure they were on the same page.
The kid looked away from Chris,
staring at the ground below the porch
again with a sort of pleading look in
his eyes. Human eyes.
Chris took another drag of his cigarette and nodded slowly, then exhaled
and watched the smoke fade into the
thick air.
“Fair enough.”
Somewhere, a dog was barking,
mean and persistent. A police cruiser
came lumbering down the road, a cloud
of dust following it like an angry ghost.
The car stopped in front of Chris’s
porch, the engine still humming.
“Hey, kid.”
Chris looked up.
“You seen a boy with fur wandering around? Orange fur, brown eyes?
With a human girl.”
“What’s he wanted for?”
The cop rolled his eyes. “We have
reason to believe he may be dangerous,” he drawled, and when Chris didn’t say anything, the cop’s eyes almost
bulged out of his head and he added
incredulously, “He attacked his parents, kid. Ain’t you heard?”
Chris dropped his cigarette stub
onto the wooden boards of the porch
floor and stamped on it with the toe
of his sneaker. It made a quiet squeaking sound.
“If I see anything strange, officer,
you’ll be the first to know.”
The policeman nodded curtly, and
drove away. Chris watched the dust settle on the empty road, then turned and
went inside, his lip curling up in a
smirk to reveal a set of canine teeth that
were still only a little bigger and a little
sharper than they should have been. Cheshire Cats
by Carson Jarrell-Rourke
Cheshire cat’s grin under my right
eye. At least, I like to think so. Others
just tend to call it “that” and then
gesture to the bags under their own
eyes. The question I normally get
when people notice it is “What is
that?” They know what it is. It’s a
scar. The question they’re really asking is ‘How did you get that?”
When I was three and my family
lived in a little white house in
Camden, Maine, we owned an old
white German shepherd, aptly
named “White Dog.” He had
belonged to my great-grandfather. I
don’t remember how he became
ours. White Dog had hip dysplasia, a
canine ailment that fucks with a
dog’s hips once they reach a certain
age; it’s very prevalent in German
shepherds. The incorrect construction of their hip joints is there genetically, but the pain it causes doesn’t
arrive until later life.
Now, at that time, I wanted to be
just like my father. I still kind of do,
except when he Tweets incessantly
and laughs like a foghorn in public
places. I would watch my father with
White Dog, and when White Dog
refused to sit, he would gently put a
hand on White Dog’s rear and coax
him into a seated position. Once,
when I was playing with White Dog,
I didn’t take such a delicate
approach. Understandably, when I
tottered over to White Dog, demanded he sit down, and then slammed
my weight onto his hips, he was
indignant as fuck. I remember him
whipping around, a very lupine snarl
carved into his otherwise sweet face.
He bit me. My mom likes to exaggerate and say he “mauled” me, but
that’s not the case. It was more on
par with a K-9 police dog taking
down someone smuggling cocaine,
only instead of going for their arm,
White Dog got my face. I was pretty
short, so I don’t blame him.
I don’t remember anything after
that, but I do know that I am not
upset with White Dog for making
me asymmetrical. Apparently, I was
upset with my parents when they
sold White Dog to an old woman
who fed him hamburger meat until
he became obese and died. But the
thing is, I have no memory of the
pain it caused, just like two boys I
know who both have had heart surgery and are blessed with long, even
scars down their chests; they don’t
remember their operations. Physical
pain can be recalled, but not summoned up again like some pale
specter that thirsts for your every
happiness and longs to steal it from
you. And that’s where emotional
scars come in.
In October I slid into
a “depressive episode”,
which, along with ruining my GPA, exacerbated
my social anxiety. I spent
the school year in a
numb, discouraged state.
I had always had the
capacity to be depressed,
but the change in my
hormones brought it on
like The Great Flood.
Information I received in
class refused to click.
Everyone around me was
a fucking fucker and
could go fuck themselves
until they were fucking
fuckless. Crying was also
a frequent pastime of
mine, and I began to entertain
thoughts of suicide, but the kind of
suicide that is often classified as a “cry
for help.” The details aren’t important. What mattered was the ache in
my gut that still likes to return often
and with great ease.
Sometimes I wonder, in a fit of
Angsty Teenager Syndrome, what
depression would look like as a scar.
Would it wrap around someone’s
entire body, encasing them in smooth
pink skin, or would it look like brutal
slashes, as if they had been flogged?
Furthermore, what would any kind
of emotional turmoil look like physically? When one’s skin has been
fucked with, you can tell. But can you
tell when their very being has been
thrashed to the point of no return?
No. If that were the case, babies
would be shoved out of their mothers’ wombs looking as smooth as
fresh cream, and in their old age
would die in a mass of unrecognizable scar tissue.
But even if emotional trauma
could be seen, no one would know
how it had gotten there. People would
still ask, “What is that?” and inspect
the scars with judgmental eyes,
searching for some explanation. That
kind of grief would be more difficult
to explain, and way more personal
than telling the story of having a nail
punched through your hand.
So I guess it’s better that they do
remain hidden. After all, no one
wants to go around explaining
something that they can’t even
explain to themselves to new
acquaintances at dinner parties. It
would put everyone off of their
meals. Young Writers | 21
by Andrew Kim
Twelve years of beaming sunshine were followed
By a teenage life that seemed to be hollowed.
No matter how he tried to fill his heart with
Fire, true passion seemed a dead myth.
Hands unoccupied wander freely.
With all the focus teenage eyes could center
With all the force teenage legs could gather
With all the passion the teenage heart could muster
The boy ran, faster and faster
Adrenaline pumping mind blanking, heart racing
Clerk’s gun behind, clicking and cocking and chasing.
Time rushes like rapids until finally
Still running he glances backwards to see
That deadly gunshot that pushed him to flee
Gave birth
To a passion – Gave birth
To a runner.
“The people at the Institute really made
this experience one I will always remember. I felt comfortable reading in front of
all the attendees and looked forward to
hearing their insight. Without the welcoming atmosphere here at Skidmore, I
would not have grown as a writer. All I
can say is, thank you all!”
Young Writers | 22
by Madeline Klein
side lived in a house in Palos Heights,
just outside Chicago, in a ranch my
grandfather designed himself. It
reminds me of one of the old
Byzantine churches I studied in art
history, because it was plain, even ugly
on the outside, but inside, it was one
of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever
seen. It also had a crucifix in every
room, or at least in all the bedrooms.
They were always the Catholic or
Eastern Orthodox style of cross, the
kind that include a miniature Jesus
hanging on them. This never bothered
me as a small child; I think I assumed
he was either sleeping or stretching,
with his arms above his head. It
helped that his eyes were closed.
My grandmother had several religious figurines, but my favorites were
her Virgin Marys. She had three, all
about the height of a Barbie doll,
made of fine porcelain. They all
showed Mary in the same robe-gown
thing with a veil-cloak draped over
her shoulders, long hair falling free
down her back, eyes closed in an
expression of serenity, palms pressed
together in the prayer position. Two
of the Marys, in my parents’ room
and in my grandparents’ room, were
white. The one that stood on our
dresser had been painted—her robes
were blue, her hair was blond, and
her halo and hem were painted gold.
Once I knocked her over accidentally,
and she broke into three pieces;
grandpa took her down to his workbench in the basement and glued her
back together.
Every other Christmas, we stayed
at their house, and this meant Mass.
We never went on Christmas morning because my sister and I liked to
open presents in our pajamas. We
went on Christmas Eve, after dinner.
I was forced into itchy tights, dress
shoes with buckles, and the kind of
dress that has five miles of crinoline
under the skirt to poof it out. The
church was not gothic; alas, it was a
one-story, octagonal building with a
high, circular central room and a
roof with a point in the center. Now,
it reminds me of a Viking hall, with
its bare walls and naked beams. It
did have stained glass windows,
which were my favorite kind of window and still are today.
The other thing Christmas
meant was the Nativity Scene under
the Christmas tree. My grandparents’
living room was, to my young mind,
the height of elegance at all times,
with its white and gold wallpaper,
upholstery, and curtains; its marbletopped cocktail table; its bouquets of
fake flowers; and its gigantic table
lamps with brocade shades, from
which dangled crystal prisms. At
Christmas, a statuesque artificial
evergreen was added, and this was
hung with glittery-white snowflakes
and doves, bulbs, and ornaments
that held photographs of our family.
Under the tree was a sparkly,
sequined and beaded tree skirt. On
top of this cloth sat the nativity
scene. It was mismatched, with two
of the three wise men, Mary, baby
Jesus, two shepherds, a person who
might be Joseph (or another shepherd), two mismatched female
angels, and a lot of animals, mostly
sheep. Together, these were meant to
be arranged to reenact the birth of
Jesus; I played with them as if they
were action figures, and when my
sister got old enough, she demanded
to play, too. We had a nativity scene
at our home, but ours was newer,
matching, and, with a clearly designated Joseph: much less fun.
When we stayed with my grandparents, or when they stayed with us
(back when they could travel), my
grandfather would do two things
every night before we went to bed.
First, he would give us wet, spitty
kisses on the forehead, and we did
not enjoy this. Then, he would trace
a cross on our foreheads with his
finger, saying, “God bless this child.”
Some nights, grandma would put us
to bed. She told us stories about her
class back in Catholic grammar
school, in particular stories about a
boy named Tommy. In one story,
Tommy dipped into his desk’s
inkwell the braid of the girl who sat
in front of him. In another, Tommy
pulled a loose thread on a boy’s
sweater until he had unraveled a
giant hole in the back. Afterwards,
“Coming to the Writers Institute
helped me learn how to
spend time evaluating my
work and how to enrich it
myself and edit it over time
and reflect about myself via
my own work.”
she would sing us two songs. The
first was called “My Sweet Little
Alice-Blue Gown,” and the second
was a church hymn about crowning
Mary with blossoms. I forgot the
words to the first song around the
same time that she did, but I still
remember the lyrics to the second,
though I don’t know its name. It
stays with me, like the memory of
her lying next to me in bed, her
shaky voice straining to carry the
high notes, the gentle smell of her
old-woman perfume in the air, in
the warm orange glow of the
nightlight. Young Writers | 23
Life on a Scale
by Elizabeth Lee
The digital numbers blink 74.4
Mocking me
Tears swell, and I am red—
I will wait for 72.2,
But by that time I’ll be orange
And then I will crave 68.8.
68.8 is a wash of green, satisfied
For only an instant
Until I cannot breathe without—
One. I am blue.
I am weightless.
I am flying.
I am black.
Young Writers | 24
The Art of Climbing the Social Ladder
by Lily Lopate
I asked. As soon as the words came
out I realized I sounded like one of
those mythical characters on the desperate quest to get to their ultimate
destination. I was talking to my
young math tutor who lifted her
head from her neat notebook and she
looked at me with a perplexed face:
“Wait, I’m sorry, what’s your
question again?”
“I must get to the Hamptons,
how can I get there? Like as soon as
possible.” Because yes, it was just that
urgent. It had never crossed my
mind to go until everyone I knew
was suddenly talking about going to
the Hamptons like they used to talk
about going for an ice cream, as if it
were that simple. The concept of
envy and the desire for conformity
consumed me when I was sure I was
missing out on the party. My tutor
responded, calmly closing our math
books, “Well, I think it’s more simple
than you’re making it. Getting to the
Hamptons just sort of happens”
“How does it happen?”
“It’s very matter-of-fact, everyone knows someone in the
Hamptons, and you just make the
time and you go! It’s a wonderful
place.” She seemed flighty all of a
sudden, caught in a distant, post-college memory resembling a beach
scene from Gidget or Where The
Boys Are, a fantasy in which I was
not in the mood to indulge her. In
mere seconds, my once admiration
for her sparkly earrings, perfectly
curly hair and slender figure turned
into scowling judgment, jealous of
how her young twenty-something
connections surpassed my own. I bit
my lip and shook my head in disagreement: you didn’t get to the
Hamptons knowing just anyone, and
you certainly didn’t hitch a ride
knowing no one. Getting to the
Hamptons meant you had to know
certain people, people who were
After our lesson, I closed the
front door in haste behind her. I
rushed back to the kitchen. I
pounced on my scraped-up frosted
pink blackberry to scroll through my
contacts, “Who did I know who
could get me to the Hamptons?”
“Which one of my ‘friends’ weren’t
just anyone, they were exciting, wellconnected and enviable?” I eliminated people as though they were fruit
flies; I was ruthless. “Oh no, not her,
God she’s such a tree hugger!” “No
no, not her, she’s such a Marxist, she
thinks social hierarchy is madness.”
Or “No, no, they wouldn’t work
either, they’re such oddballs!” It wasn’t the technicalities of the car, or the
money that was stopping
me from getting to the
Hamptons, it was the
vision I was so desperately eager to fulfill. I
was stubborn and particular about the specific
type I wanted to vacation with, which is why I
wouldn’t settle for just a
drive by look with my
parents or my zany
neighbor; I wanted the
whole Ralph Lauren,
Tommy Hilfiger,
Abercrombie & Fitch
Hamptons package.
Frustrated, I tallied
up a short list, mostly
people who were seniors
in high school or freshmen in college. These were friends
of mine who went to school in
Manhattan but whom I only saw a
few times a year. As much as I’d like
to brag about how close we were, the
reality was we rarely saw each other
and it would be an extreme exaggeration to expect them to drag little
miss me to elite or happening social
engagements. And so began my tangled quest to get to the Hamptons,
the place where fabulous people of
purpose and money congregated in
the lap of luxury, and where exclusivity is the most prized VIP ticket:
the place I was convinced would
make my summer more complete.
Within the next few days in my
errands around Brooklyn, I soon
realized that everyone, even schlubs
from the meat market, seemed to be
making it to the Hamptons. I
thought of migrations in history, like
the Great Migration where mass
numbers of black southern workers
moved to the North for work opportunities and the hope of freedom.
The concept of a migration felt so
much more important than just an
outing or a planned trip, just by the
very fact that hundreds of others
were doing it, too.
While at my orthodontist’s office
in Manhattan, I found myself
uncontrollably glaring at people who
chatted in the waiting room. A twitter of casual smooth phrases: “Oh
yes, Ralph and I are going to the
Hamptons, next week. Yes, well, we
just cannot stand to stay in the city.
We just have to get away.” Their
hands would clasp the gold buckles
continued on page 26
Young Writers | 25
continued from page 25
on their Louis Vuitton purses as they
said it with such a tone of relaxed
social confidence. They had such a
high-nosed demeanor, a heightened
self-entitlement, for a moment I
could see them back in time as those
“popular” girls in high school who
would declare with tremendous
authority which harshly-lit lunch
table was considered elite.
For the next week, the word
“Hamptons” was highlighted in my
brain, like a dog’s ears that would lift
at the sound of a car. It seemed that
“The NYSSYWI is awesome!
Everyone, the teachers
and the students, are so
supportive of each other
and their feedback is
invaluable. It’s an incredibly fun, productive week”
just by walking around Smith Street
in Brooklyn during particular times
of the day you inevitably ran into
nearly everyone you knew, whether
you wanted to or not.
“Where are you all going for the
“Oh, well, we’re all dropping by
the Hamptons actually, you know we
own a house there. Yup, go there
every year, fire up the grill. God
those kids love the beach!”
“God, that sounds swell!” I say,
my feet already walking in the opposite direction. Then there were the
old time school buddies I met on
the street:
“Yeah, well I’m going to the
Hamptons, I mean cause everybody
“Right, totally of course—everyone” I say defensively while simultaneously crushed.
Young Writers | 26
“Well see you later! I’ll catch ya
“Where?” I say—immediately
remembering the tone of this conversation was so not the kind where
you ask follow up questions in
search of deeper clarity.
“Huh? The Hamptons. I’ll see
you there.”
“Sure will,” I say, slapping some
genuine onto my face, but thinking
“fat chance.”
On one of the hottest days in
mid-June my mother had sent me
out on a grocery run to various
stores around the neighborhood. I
was waiting in line to pay for my
mother’s Bok Choy at a Korean market when I heard two tan, fit thirtysomething’s talking:
“I finally did it Meg!”
Oh no, I thought, another inspirational but slightly sleeper story
about how they finally got married
and the missing threads of their lives
came together!
“I was sure I would never appear
select enough to go, but I guess I
was. Marjorie knows Liz who knows
Claire who knows Annabelle who
knows me, and apparently, remember those bratty blonde kids that I au
paired for like three years ago?” Her
friend nodded calmly while checking
out some of the peachy summer colors on the Burt’s Bees lip smackers
line by the checkout.
“Well...” she grinned in suspense
like a little kid about to burp,
“Annabelle knows the mother I
worked for, Elizabeth, who called me
the other day and asked me to work
again this summer!” By this point
the woman was looking like a
blithering idiot grinning so hard it
looked like she was auditioning for
some Jim Carrey routine, and both
her bland friend and I were failing to
connect the dots.
“And.. .” she paused waiting for
the big crescendo, “they’re summering in the Hamptons and they need
me to au pair all month!” Without
another cue, her Burt’s Bees-inclined
friend squealed:
“Oh my god! Get outta here?!
Meg this is amazing!”
“I know. This’ll be it, Kat, I’ll
finally get the summer I’ve always
dreamed of. I’m going to the
Hamptons!!! I can’t believe it!”
I wanted to butt in and say congratulations or something, as her
over eager enthusiasm clearly
matched my own but I figured the
interaction wouldn’t go as planned.
As envious as I was that she had
attained what I had begun to think
was the unattainable and had discovered the loophole for getting to the
Hamptons, I felt genuinely happy for
her. I grinned to myself with amusement as we shuffled closer to the
checkout line.
“Oh, I have to find something
sophisticated to wear, something
expensive. I have to try to fit in
okay?” Her eyes pleading as she
threw her change into the “TIP” jar.
The scraggly blonde guy at the
checkout counter eyed her, but she
missed it.
“Promise me Kat? I want to
splurge and buy that dress I told you
“But Meg—” the Burt’s Bees
friend interjected, her strawberry
chamomile lips now frowning.
“That’s more than half your salary.
You’ll never make it through the
month with rent and all.”
“I’ll manage. I may be a working
girl, but sometimes a girl’s got to
spring for the glam when she’s headed for the Hamptons!”
As the women exited the store,
they both were glowing, the 5:30 P.M.
sun hitting their necks and forearms
at the right angle, and as I exited the
store, I thought: well it may take me
’till I’m thirty but at least I’m not the
only one out there pining for a keyhole glimpse into a world just a few
rungs above me on the social ladder. Graham Who Loves His Jeanie
by Erika Lynn-Green
thought of coming to Malibu, I
pushed for ritzy glam-glam, the kind
of place where we could have a star
sighting. Graham played the money
card, the “I’m only a poor dentist with
one vacation which I want to enjoy”
card. My friend recommended The
Cabanas and so here we are, with the
beach coming right up under the little
thatched huts, blowing up through the
sanded floors. Actually I do see Matt
Damon as we’re checking in, but I
don’t tell Graham because he doesn’t
know who the hell Matt Damon is. I
study Matt as he walks outside. He’s
shorter in real life.
Graham slides around my shoulders and I slide away.
“I’m good, thanks,” but I smile at
him blandly because Graham’s paid
vacation is providing for my Matt
Damon sighting.
In our cabana that night, Graham
discovers the pocket-sized bottles of
rum and downs three of them. “Only
had three,” he tells me, irritated, after I
remind him that not only is he in
remission and should not have alcohol, but that I will not be sharing any
kind of bed with his vomit. I step outside, my back to the door, as he lurches for the toilet.
The sun has decided that I, Emma
Jean Porter—aka “Jeanie”, trophy wife,
never-mother, that-girl seeing
California with a baby’s eyes—should
come outside and play. The sun falls in
spectacular fashion, an Olympic diver.
He is on the runway, dressed in his best.
I lie out on the beach, not yet
wearing my new sarong because
Graham got drunk too quickly to
unpack. The beautiful people are
inside; no doubt at parties like those
ones in the Vanity Fair Graham has in
his waiting room, where actors laugh
on art nouveau couches with actresses
leaning over them. Flipping onto my
stomach and stretching, I yawn and
lean my cheek against the shifting
beach. It is less of a beach to me now,
more individual, tiny grains of sand,
of every color, most of them dark, in
fact. They stick to my hair and the oils
in my skin soak them up.
Graham is asleep when I get back,
travel-dirtied and old in the armchair.
Hands on my hips, I wonder what my
mother would have done. No doubt she
would have tidied up. I throw off my
shorts and climb in the sheets’ maw.
My husband and I look the picture
of domestic tranquility at breakfast:
combed hair, zipped pants, bright colors. He laughs at me laughing at
“I’ve met the coolest
people who all get my
references and who
have such skill in writing. It’s been a great
time staying up all
night comparing words
with them.”
him—really it looks like good times.
Our waiter, Ronnie, is a twenty-something who wears a little medal around
his neck, which he explains is Saint
Christopher, patron saint of surfers.
“No wonder you’re so fit!”
Graham exclaims, laughing to me as
Ronnie and I smile at each other.
I wheedle Graham into coming to
the beach after breakfast, so he sits and
reads while I am forced to make
acquaintances. The children are in the
water while their parents and their
parents’ circles are on the sand, barking. The people who are interesting
are impossible, and the people who
are accessible are boring. As I
approach my husband in defeat, he
reaches up for me, to kiss me. Sidling
around, I reach for his book, of which
the titles change but the contents stay
largely the same: Republican superiority. As I release it Ronnie comes charg-
ing down the beach, no shirt, muscles
tight, flying into the ocean. The water
seems to part for him and then take
him, one of its own. Graham is watching me watch him and I grab up my
sunglasses to keep my feasting baby’s
eyes private. We stay there, the three of
us in a triangle, Graham back to reading, Ronnie doing whatever hot, surfy
things, until a breeze comes down the
beach, breaking Graham’s concentration, and a buzzer rings the time,
breaking Ronnie’s, breaking mine.
Graham pulls me inside our
cabana—he is laughing and dancing
me around, happy, and I grin at him
and exclaim, like it has just occurred
to me: “We should go to dinner in the
restaurant; it would be so much fun!”
His face is indulgent, like my grandfather’s, and I press down my shudder,
pushing it into the pit of my stomach.
The restaurant’s atmosphere has
changed to spicy, sexy candlelit and I
feel it cling to my skin as I come off
the cool beach, a tingling layer of
spark. I lead Graham to the same table,
in Ronnie’s section, and I watch
Graham order his shots. Ronnie
glances at me—he is in formal wear
now, a white tux that is delicious in the
way Stacy London would use the word
delicious—and when I smile at him in
my sparkling new skin with my
ingénue’s eyes he sets me a napkin,
beautifully folded to hold a paper, subtly, while Graham is behind his menu.
Graham gets toasted pretty quickly
and so I can read Ronnie’s note without suspicion.
“Darling,” I say, feeling my pretty
skin flush. “Darling, I’m going to get
some air.”
I don’t wait for Graham’s reply, to
hear him order more shots or see him
gaze after me hurrying away, the most
soporific smile on his face. I don’t
think anything of a drunk, stingy old
dentist, Graham Porter who loves his
Jeanie. Young Writers | 27
by Sean Maloney
by me in my rickety beach chair and
thick paperback, I quietly observed
how they glanced over at each other,
smiling as they did it. The taller of the
two, very pale with short silvery hair,
obviously had not been to the beach
in years. She walked with an uneasy,
self-conscious waddle, knees together,
trying the best she could to conceal
her veiny chicken legs. It was no fault
of hers: I put her in the ballpark of
about sixty years old and most women
of that age hardly have the self-image
to show their faces on coastal vacation
spots at all.
Her partner, who looked
about ten years younger, smiled
warmly and laid her slightly
baggy arm across her shoulder,
assuring her that she looked
beautiful as always. I wasn’t
alarmed to see this type of relationship at the beach, although
these ladies were a hair older
than the average beach bums. I
did, however, notice as they
began to settle down in front of
me, that this was an excellent
opportunity for some “people
watching.” Keeping half an eye
on my paperback, I began to
discreetly eavesdrop. (An embarrassing side note for me is that I
have become quite good at this
sort of thing; I don’t think of it as
“creepy” so much as it is me exploring
my interest in my fellow humans.)
Anyway, as they were settling in I
noticed that the older of the women
spread out a large blue towel which in
bold white letters read: Darla’s
Dentistry D.D.S. Under this was a jolly
cartoon tooth whose wide grin
revealed another set of teeth: tooth
teeth, if you will. At the appearance of
this towel, her partner rolled her eyes.
“You brought that thing!?”
“Indeed I did.”
“I have never heard of any other
dentist’s office which gets personalized
towels made.”
Young Writers | 28
“Well in that case I run a unique
Interesting. Darla, perhaps growing tired of the monotony of prying
open the mouths of shrieking grade
schoolers, decided to pack up her girlfriend and her personalized dentistry
towel and enjoy a long overdue weekend of fun in the sun. I put on my
sunglasses so that no one would notice
me staring a bit more obviously.
The sun moved further and further across the sky as the two ladies
both spent time sizing up the other
beachgoers and reading their respec-
tive paperbacks. Darla, fancying herself not only a unique dentist but also
a literary critic scolded, “Harriet!
You’re reading that trashy romance
again!?” Harriet simply shrugged her
shoulders and smiled cheekily, “I have
to find romance somewhere, don’t l?”
They both shared a hearty laugh.
After some time, Darla put her
book down, sat up, and relaxed while
looking out toward the blue horizon
and other families enjoying themselves. Harriet now lay on her stomach
with her eyes closed. Each time a
young child happened across their
path, Darla would smile and wave at
her or him, shaking Harriet awake to
marvel at the youngsters with her.
At first, with each awakening
Harriet simply smiled and rolled back
over. But with each successive shake,
she became increasingly unpleasant,
rolling her eyes and grumbling so that
her steadily increasing blood pressure
was very apparent. Eventually, stern
and unblinking, she said, “Okay Darla.
I get it with the whole ‘kids’ thing, but
I think I’ve made it quite clear where I
stand on that and I am sick and tired
of having this conversation.”
“But we could do a better job with
them than half of these parents!”
“Okay, you’ve officially
lost it. We are as suited to
be mothers as we are suited
to carry a child.” With this
she gestured with an outstretched hand to Darla’s
presumably baron pelvic
“Oh bull! Look at him,”
she gestured to a little boy
of about three. He wore a
red bathing suit and smiled
contently as he mounded
the sand in his surrounding area into a little pile.
“Look at his teeth,” she
exclaimed, “They’re mossy!
His parents obviously don’t
care about hygiene. If he
had a dentist for a mother
those abominations would be pearly
I looked back at the boy and was
shocked to find she was right. I guess a
dentist develops an eye for this sort of
thing. This child’s toothy grin revealed
a revolting, almost moldy set of chompers. They could have been oozing
pus. Honestly, it was revolting. The
absent-minded parents snoozed in the
sun while their gremlin-toothed toddler played in the sand.
“Oh sure,” said Harriet, “That’s the
dentist talking. You’d get bored in a
week, I promise.”
continued on page 29
continued from page 28
The argument escalated and other
people on the beach started to stare
and whisper behind cupped hands. I
felt for them. Having this type of argument is never easy, especially under the
scrutiny of strangers who are quick to
judge. Finally, Harriet, with a teary yet
bitter expression, got up and left Darla
alone in the sand. They wouldn’t be
speaking any time soon.
Abandoned, Darla curled up into a
ball, placing her forehead on her
arthritic knees which made an
unpleasant popping sound as she did
so. She sat there for a long time, still
and quiet. I had begun to think that
that was the end of it, and was just
turning my attention back to my
book, when Darla’s head reared
upwards and into the sunshine, eyeing
the kid in the red bathing suit.
Discreetly, Darla packed up her
things. Leaving them in the sand she
walked over to the kid and crouched
down next to him. She smiled at him,
tussled his hair, even helped him in
making his little pile of sand. I couldn’t
hear what they were saying but she was
being very friendly, always looking him
in the eyes when she said things. Mostly
the kid just laughed and nodded.
Looking over the kid’s shoulder at
the still sleeping parents, Darla quickly
directed her attention back to the kid.
She got all serious and pointed with
her thumb over her shoulder at her
packed up things. The kid’s face
seemed to light up and he quickly
stood up in his lopsided three year-old
way, brushed the sand from his red
trunks, and trailed behind Darla back
to her spot, grasping with all his might
to two of her fingers.
I stiffened, not quite sure if I
should believe what I was seeing. The
parents, still snoozing away, had no
concern as to where their child went,
or with whom. I scanned the beach to
see if anyone else had their attention
on Darla and her little friend, but
everyone’s attention had been diverted
from the scene she had made as easily
as it had caught their attention.
As Darla and the boy collected her
things and headed off the beach
together, Darla now walked with a
confident stride that told the world
that she didn’t care what you thought
of her veiny chicken legs. I started to
leap out of my chair to perform some
vigilante justice, but just as I was
doing so I caught another glimpse of
the kid’s grimy, putrid, wouldn’t-wishit-on-your-worst-enemies teeth.
Simultaneously I took a gander at the
towel rolled up under Darla’s arm, the
partially obscured smiling tooth staring out at me, and decided that the
boy in the red trucks might be better
off after all. “This was the first time away from my
parents, so I was kind of nervous, and I
wasn’t sure I was going to make friends,
but I did, despite being somewhat
socially awkward. From all different
parts of the country, everyone was
friendly, talented and unique.”
Young Writers | 29
What You Deserve
by Olivia McElwain
How dare you treat people like scum
When you can barely hold your own.
You ask for approval
From the people you hate,
And people did like you.
They weren’t ready to say good-bye,
But you lied.
You changed.
You will never be the same.
You’re cold.
You’re alone.
No feeling, just flesh
And bone.
I’m tired of thinking about you
Since you said good-bye a long time ago.
I’m holding on.
I’m filled with hate,
But I love
But you don’t deserve my love or anything more.
You don’t deserve these words.
You deserve nothing.
Not a thought or
A second glance.
Not even this poem.
Young Writers | 30
Green Eyes, Blue Lips
by Matteo Mobilio
said to her on a cool spring night.
The small fire they’d made on the
beach crackled loudly. The embers
whizzed up into the dark sky, making
a break for freedom. It was mid-April
and the tourists hadn’t started to
arrive yet. This night, they were alone
on the beach. For a moment, Sophia
slipped out of Eric’s consciousness,
replaced by the sound of the waves
breaking on their cushion of sand.
“It’s so much more of a distinctive
sound when you hear it at night,” he
thought, “During the daytime, the
people and seagulls and boats and
planes all detract from a solo piece.”
He listened to the rhythm for a while
and, for a minute, neither said anything. They waited. For a moment,
even the air lingered, as if it was waiting to see what would be said next.
The crackling of the fire came to a
halt but the waves continued, their
pattern remaining unchanged.
Sophia fingered the small, golden
cross at her neck, twirling it in her
fingers. Her hair was a faint brown;
thin, but vibrant and full. Freckles
covered her pink cheeks. She stared
into the fire forlornly, her green eyes,
small and bright, flickering.
“We need to consider our
options,” Eric had said. “There’s
school in the fall.”
“We don’t have any options,
Eric,” she told him defiantly.
“Sophia.. .” He slid his hand
across the sand towards hers.
“I need to tell my parents,” she
said, unwilling to make eye contact
with him.
“Before we make a decision?” he
asked her.
“I’ve already made mine.”
The words sent a shiver down
Eric’s legs.
He forced a smile. He thought
back to the letter he
received just a week
ago, informing him of
his acceptance to the
University of
Pennsylvania; about
how hard he worked
to get into his first
choice; and about how
upset his parents
would be to learn he
wouldn’t be attending
in the fall. He thought
of their disbelief that
their son could be so
stupid. Another case
of a bright, young
teen wasting away his
youth, he reflected.
“Let’s go for a
swim,” he suggested, swallowing his
panic. Reluctantly, she agreed. They
stripped down to their underwear
and dove into the ocean. The water
was cold, but it soothed Eric’s tense
“You’ve really made your mind
up?” he whispered to her as the
waves bobbed them up and down.
“This is part of me now. There’s
no turning back.”
Again, he tried to force a smile
but this time his lips refused to curve
properly. Instead, they twitched rapidly and he had to bite them to subdue their trembling.
They swam back towards the
beach, the water weighing down
Eric’s briefs as he rose from the
waves. He looked back, expecting to
see her beside him, but she wasn’t.
He examined the shore, searching for
her. Finally, she surfaced in the
waves, a little ways off in the water.
“Eric!” she shouted shrilly, her
voice full of dread, “My leg! It’s
cramping. I can’t...I can’t...” but she
disappeared under the waves before
she could finish her sentence.
“You’re going to fucking joke at a
time like this?” he yelled back. Her
hand resurfaced a moment later,
pawing the water. Then, it slipped
under again. A breeze blew by and
suddenly the wind got colder,
prompting him to shudder. She came
up again, repeating his name, crying
out as she said it. Then, something
clicked inside him and he felt his
whole body stiffen. He walked to the
edge of the water and stood there,
looking out at her attempt to swim
to shore. She was still moving
towards the beach but she wasn’t
going to make it by herself. She’s
drowning, he realized. He ran a few
steps into the waves and then
stopped. She’s drowning, he thought
again. A thought popped into his
head, a police report scrolled across
his brain. He took a step back, the
water receding, sucking his feet
down into the wet sand; the beach
held him in place.
For a moment longer he stared
out, watching her flail. Another click
and his mind jumped back to reality.
He plunged into the water and started
swimming furiously towards her.
When he reached her, she was lying
stomach down in the water, her hair
spread out in the water in clumps like
the pedals of a flower. He turned her
over and wrapped his right arm
around her torso, pulling her towards
the beach. He dragged her onto the
continued on page 32
Young Writers | 31
continued from page 31
sand and knelt beside her. Her lips were
tinted a faint blue. He pressed hard on
her chest with both hands and she
began to cough up water. She inhaled
and her eyes jerked open with a
renewed vitality. Falling onto his back,
fatigued, Eric put his hands on his head,
running his fingers through his wet
hair, taking in what had just occurred.
When he glanced over in her
direction, she was sitting up, glaring at
him. His chest contracted sharply and
his heart seemed to knot up. He heard
the cogs turning inside her head, processing. Her mouth barely hung open,
salt water still drooling out as she
examined him. He had looked away,
trying to regain his breath. Eric felt the
chill of her stare on the back his neck.
“Close call,” he said, panting. His
assertion received no response. Eric
got up, gathered his clothes, and started towards the car.
The drive home was a quiet one.
When he had dropped her off, she
gazed at him one last time, quizzically,
her impeccable green eyes glossed
over. He hadn’t noticed it before, but
she’d been crying, a soft, silent cry. She
closed the car door behind her with a
distinct frailty. For a moment, he
watched her walk slowly across her
lawn and then he sped off, eager to get
away from her. He considered heading
home, but the thought of seeing his
parents stopped him. He headed back
to the beach, this time to the pier,
where his grandfather’s fishing boat
was docked.
The engine came to life slowly, the
rumbling starting as a vibration under
his feet. It built up, the boat shaking as
it idled. No one else had been out in
the harbor that night. The waters were
calm, the waves barely lapped against
the hull.
When he decided he was far out
enough, when the buoys were way off
in the distance behind him, he
stopped the boat. He made his way to
an old fishing chair in the stern and
scanned the sea. The seat was old and
the bolts that kept it attached to the
boat were rusted through so that the
chair faltered to one side. He sat there,
letting nothingness surround him. “It’s
nice out here,” he had said to himself,
unperturbed, “away from everybody.”
He peered over the edge; the water
was dark and murky. The wind picked
up and caused the boat to rock ever so
slightly. He felt the panic returning to
his fingertips; images of her face
frozen in terror projected themselves
onto the calm waters in front of him.
He closed his eyes and sucked in the
muted atmosphere, holding it in his
lungs. He let his mind relax and his
body unclench. The wind had died
down and the boat sat still. He opened
his eyes to the boat’s dirty stern. Spots
of rust dotted it like the freckles on
Sophia’s face, but when he thought of
her, all he could remember were her
blue lips and radiant green eyes. He
got up slowly, the cheap padding on
the chair’s armrests breaking away
under him. He returned to the helm,
surveying the nautical equipment. Eric
looked out onto the expanse of water
and gunned the engine. The NYSSYWI provides the groundwork to
aid the transition for writing students
becoming writers. The instructors here,
instead of pushing a set curriculum, help to
build upon the students’ creations, turning
ideas into works of art.”
Young Writers | 32
by Kerry Mullen
riptide warning forbade any refuge in
the foamy sea, and the neighbor’s
screechy one-year-old teethed on the
edge of my blue striped towel. This
beach day, spewed from Hades itself,
mocked my inadequate professor’s
paycheck and anger stewed deep
within at the injustice of it all. I came
here to swim and deserved the sanctuary of the tumultuous waves if only
to replace the torturous memories of
blank stares as I poured the knowledge of a learned man, an educated
man—Columbia Masters, Harvard
Ph.D.—into empty heads. The tedium of the swirling waves and the
excruciating sun was not the rejuvenating escape from indolent students
I sought. On an overcrowded, familyinfested shoreline, only one other
beachgoer seemed alone, and she
headed straight towards me, a chessboard balanced in her juvenile hands.
The rumpled chess tournament
champion shirt I’d donned this
morning must have attracted her
narrowed gaze and impelled this girl
to open her small mouth.
“Chess?” a single word blurted
from her freckled lips. Her question
would have taken me off guard if not
for the stupor of boredom that
encased my old soul. Why not? I
decided, thankful for this chance to
unglue my eyes from the seagulls circling the clouds.
“Winner takes thirty,” a command escaped the silence and I complied with only minor reservations,
not wanting to rob this adolescent of
her monthly allowance. The opportunity to break the monotony of all
this sitting and staring was irresistible. I edged the black rook into
the chess arena to begin the game.
The chess match was a blur. This
girl moved the pieces intimately, targeting holes in my strategy that I had
believed flawless after fifty-eight
years of meticulous sculpting. Three
moves and this mysterious, nameless
girl broke through my extensive barrier of knights and bishops with one
measly pawn. My king— history’s
shortest reigning royalty—submitted
to the underdog.
“Inconceivable.” The word
seeped through my pursed lips and I
was all too aware that I was quoting
that red-faced pompous bastard who
dies laughing.
“Pay up, mister,” I heard her utter
through the heavy, dark
mass of her tangled
Hustled by an
eleven-year-old. What
karmic mistake led me
to this moment: discarding money into foreign
hands on a distant Long
Island shore?
Her nails were bitten
beyond recognition,
gnawed until they
resembled the discarded
core of corn on the cob.
I met her cold, calculating eyes that had dominated the chess board
moments before. They
flicked between the outstretched cash and her worn chessboard. Disconnected from the black
and white squares and lost without
the need to outsmart her latest victim, the simple exchange of bills
seemed a task far too complex for
her to comprehend. She had wandered out of her element— or so I
gathered from the mismatched
mumbles that barely escaped her
chapped lips, nearly engulfed by the
ravenous ocean roar.
“Keep it,” her barely audible
voice somehow found its way to my
aging ears.
And then she was gone, grabbing
only her chessboard and scooping
the pieces into a cloth drawstring
pouch before tearing down the sandy
obstacle course. Tufts of sand flew as
her bare feet slapped against the
ancient beach and she tore towards
that sea.
A tourist, jogging to lose a few
extra pounds that padded his waist
like an inflatable tube that keeps
swimmers afloat, collided with this
girl, my opponent. She crumbled into
an inhospitable mixture of rocksand-salt water while the tourist
stood apologizing before he fled the
scene. The girl’s chessboard, knights,
rooks, bishops, queen, king, and the
favored pawns were lodged in the
sand, forlorn by her motionless feet.
Shock. It had to be shock that kept
this poor girl rooted in the rocksand-salt water. It had to be shock
that forced her to stand and pound
her own footprints into the sand. She
never glanced back at the chessboard
and the game that no longer
belonged to her, covered in soggy
sand and salt water. Only then did I
look at my own hands, still with
money outstretched, and with nails
bitten beyond recognition just like
hers. Young Writers | 33
Portrait of the Grandfather Who Never Was
by Connor Murphy
how ya use it!” At this point, I’d like to Now let me note that if he was in
front of me at this moment, he would
mention that I’m not trying to be
distinct words I had ever heard my
likely beat my ass for describing one of
crude and obnoxious, or even walk
grandfather speak, it would have to be
our descendants as having a heart that
over a dead man’s grave with any disfeck (fuck) and arse (ass). Since his
is filled with some emotion: that genrespect. I am simply trying to put this
passing ten years ago, the closest I can
erally isn’t allowed in our culture.
get to that bittersweet memory is either completely how we Irish like to conmy father’s impression of him or mine, verse. But as my people have said in an (The reasoning for this remains
unknown to me, but it’s possible that
expression you might get by inferring
the latter not being pleasing to the ear
because of our ancestor’s drinking and
from the context, I’ll try not to keep
on account that it is only my voice. I
fighting habits, our emotional side of
this one on the long finger.
also recall to this day various adults
the brain has been left underdevelSo I’d known the rowdy old man
saying with their smartass humor, “Ah
oped). So he would overpower me easfor seven years, minus about two or
the poor little bollocks looks like Old
ily, for although he was on the small
three when I was a baby who knew
Tom Murphy!” I may have some
jack shit, as we Irish say everyone does side, he was built with what I liked to
resemblance to the old Paddy, but
call “farm strength.” After giving me a
in that early stage of life. You’d probanothing will ever come close to the
fine ass whopping, he
original, my Grandpa and
would laugh a hearty laugh
true Irishman, Thomas
“The Young Writers Institute has been such a and ask me, “Do I have
Joseph Murphy.
Mr. Murphy was a short
great experience for me. The program real- emotions now, boy-o?”
How he and I connectand stocky man, with the
ly pushes you to explore other genres and
ed (considering the small
ugly Irish guy’s face, and the
brain levels we both had at
the faculty is awesome. You meet really
ten red hairs that lay on his
the time, his pickling back
head in what he called a
cool people here, all passionate about the
and mine still growing) was
“comb over.” He wore wool
same thing you are.”
under the simplest of cirsweaters and dress pants
cumstances. One day I was
nearly every day, with a pair
standing in front of him
of cheap tan loafers, as if he
lying cozily on a bed,
were still a kid in County
watching a game show of
Mayo. The one article of
some sort. He had his pillow up
clothing that he would never skimp on bly think that ranging from years zero
against the wall, and he didn’t look at
to seven, I didn’t take in much from
though was that wool hat imported
me for one second. I held his cane and
this grandfather of mine, but you’d be
straight from Dublin. I knew he didn’t
hat—he had called me for them a few
wrong. When I became conscious of
go cheap on the hat, because of the
moments ago—as the cars buzzed by
Irish festivals I would go to in hopes of myself around a toddler’s age, I was
in front of his and my Grandmother’s
genuinely scared of the crazy old
buying a pure replica of it. I found at
house. I can recall hearing the host of
these festivals it cost some low amount Mick. He used to growl at me for God
this TV show have some corny and
only knows what reason. It was classic
in Euros that translated into forty dollars American. As for me buying one...I teasing of course, but still scared me as pretending-to-be-excited voice at giving away a bunch of worthless shit. It
a little kid, who didn’t know a lot at
mean, I like the hats, but forty dollars?
was something my Grandpa liked to
the time. This I know is something
I’m kind of a cheapskate just so you
watch, for what reason I don’t have a
that our family’s old men enjoy doing
know, so that doesn’t work out.
to children, as I have seen my old man clue. Realizing that I was in front of
He walked to his bars down the
him finally, he turned to me and asked
do it every once in a while to get a
street with his polished, wooden cane,
for his property in that voice that
which was most likely just a symbol of mean-hearted, but meaningless laugh
could be made fun of with that damn
out of life. It sounds kind of fucked
him being as aged as he was. And if I
annoying phrase “top o’ the morning
up, but then again we Irish tend to be
had to make an educated guess, it
t’ya!” I handed them over, eyeing that
kind of fucked up.
would be that he had the Irish curse,
oddly-patterned wool hat with some
I was roughly around four or five
as all his kin most likely do. If you’re
attraction. It took him a few tries to
when all the bullshit entertainment
not aware of this curse, just imagine
get up, being the old man he was, but
my Grandpa and I got out of each
Grandpa Tom saying something in
other was over, and we truly connectthat broken accent of his a little like,
continued on page 35
ed with one another for the first time.
“T’ain’t t’size tat matters boy-o. It’s
Young Writers | 34
continued from page 34
he eventually landed on his feet with
the support of that oak cane. Towering
over me, he looked at my face with
that joking smile of his for some time.
At this point, I thought he’d say something witty as I always expected.
Instead I saw this joking face change
into a genuine smile, where his eyes
narrowed, the kind of smile that you
would use to look at your grandchildren with love. He slowly took off his
hat and studied the texture, as if
something were wrong with it, all the
while with that same grin upon his
face. After a few seconds of this, he
dropped the hat on my head, completely covering the childish mushroom cut I had. A huge (and similar to
his smile) smile appeared on my face,
with no words having to be said. He
began to walk away, and although it
may sound terribly dramatic, he also
began to walk away and out of my life.
Yes, this is where the sad part of
the story begins. You see at this time,
my Grandpa had been in his fifties, yet
you would guess from his appearance
that he was at least seventy. He looked
older and more wrinkled than men of
his age. Why you ask? Well, it’s complicated in some ways for someone
who doesn’t have experience with this
kind of stuff. But for others who do,
it’s not. I told you my Grandpa was an
Irishman, a true Irishman. This duty
doesn’t just come with the brute-like
looks or the wisecracking humor, but
it also unfortunately comes with some
pretty terrible habits. When the Irish
culture comes into discussion, the
topic of alcohol usually follows merrily along. I’m not trying to be cliché or
stereotypical about my heritage,
because it isn’t too far off-base from
my past experiences. So what I’m really trying to spit out is that my
Grandfather had a little drinking problem. Well actually, ‘little’ might be a little understatement, as he was a raging
alcoholic, known to go on binges for
days at a time. Being only a wee little
lad while he was still alive, I was quarantined from that kind of behavior. Yet
I had somehow known in the back of
my mind that there was something
wrong with this man who tended to
act like an ape sometimes, while holding a bottle of beer in his shaky hand.
Now I’m assuming that you know that
drinking can seem like it’s the fun
thing to do at first, but the backlash of
being an alcoholic is devastating not
only to the alcoholic, but to his or her
family. And there was no exception
with my Grandpa. To be brutally honest, I’m not sure why my Grandma
stuck around with him, but she did
and here I am now because of it.
But it wasn’t just the drinking that
he was prone to. These bad habits usually tend to come in pairs and in the
case of Tom Murphy, it was smoking.
Not pipes, not pot, not cigars, but
plain old cigarettes. He would lie on
his bed for hours at times, doing nothing but taking the smoke into every
inch of his body, for the hell of it. It
made as much sense back then as it
does now to me; why would anyone
continue with this as a hobby? Being
the big hypocrite he was, he would say
to me from time to time, as my dad
also has said to me, “Don’tcha ever
smoke, okay? Ya Promise?” I hadn’t
comprehended why he said it like this,
but I came to learn in time. And I
don’t mean to sound like some antidrug freak, but my Grandpa’s choices
came to shape me in a colossal way. I
know also by this point, I have become
less jokey and more somber-toned. But
knowing my grandfather, he would’ve
found the whole thing hilarious in
some zany old bastard sort of way.
I distinctly remember when he
faced the consequences for his habits,
in the form of a cancerous growth in
the lungs. He lay on his bed with
something similar to that old grin, yet
not quite there because of the illness.
My Grandpa looked shittier than
usual, as well as deathly tired. He
snuck a drag inconspicuously every
once in a while, sometimes even in
front of me. I was an ignorant child
and he a reckless old man in so many
ways. I wonder if he knew what he had
done to me the day he died. He
stripped me of a grandfather and all
the lessons never taught in the sarcastic tone he would’ve delivered them
in. I loved him with every goddamn
inch of my heart and soul and he
passed on me. Yes, I know I’m a selfish
fuck, so no need to remind me as he
would’ve undoubtedly.
That Irish bastard, I sometimes
think nowadays. He’s probably off in
Hell, laughing his ass off and waiting
for me to get there. I bet the devil and
he would be buddies by the time I
arrive. And perhaps if I was lucky
enough, he’d introduce me. Oh wait,
you didn’t get the memo? Yes, I’m
most likely going to Hell for undisclosed reasons, but who gives a damn?
Half of my family and half of the
important people from the history of
the world are down there, so how bad
can it really be?
For now, I live my life sometimes
quietly thinking of him. The wool hat
sits in my closet, slowly aging from the
time and the dust it’s lived through. I
have refused to wear it at all. But as
Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist
anything but temptation.” Perhaps he
would’ve wanted me to wear it, but
who knows? Once in a while I swing
by where he resides presently, St.
Patrick’s Cemetery in Catskill, New
York, to be exact. It’s as nice as a cemetery can get I guess, patches of grass
some places and dirt in others, indicating the newest members of the
club. I think his pitch black gravestone
with the overgrown bushes surrounding it has something like, “Thomas
Murphy, Husband and Father” carved
exquisitely on the side of it. They forgot about me I can see. Or maybe I’m
wrong and it’s something different
inscribed on it. I’ll find out next time I
drop by, Grandpa. Young Writers | 35
The Fountain
by Maddie Rojas Lynch
I inhale the smell of fried dough,
freshly mowed grass,
I hear the sharp sound of children’s laughter.
I pluck a penny
from my back pocket.
Its texture is smooth,
its color faded from many fingers.
I test the weight of the coin,
contemplating its fate.
It seems silly now,
to wish for things.
Wishing is for laughing children
who gobble down fried dough.
The vision of my former self
parades down a path before me.
Her hands are melded with her mother’s.
But her eyes
are glued to the sky
leaving it only once, to find the fountain.
She whispers to her mother, who has no time
for marble fountains.
I look down, and cast the coin
into the mist of the moonlit water.
I cast it for her, and I cast it for me.
We are both too young to stop wishing.
Young Writers | 36
by Carolyn Schultz
I’ve only truly been that way
once in my life.
It was on a slow
summer morning that my world
I’ve always wished
that the sky had been full
of lighting,
scorching the earth
with forked tongues of light,
or fist-sized chunks of hail,
leaving spider webbing patterns
on windshields.
Some small hint from nature,
some ominous sign.
Instead, I got a sunny day
and a comfy family couch—
my father scratching his stubble,
while trying to explain
why he couldn’t stay.
My mother staring out
the window and
not saying a single thing.
I wanted screaming
and tears.
Some sort of epic battle
to defend what I held
most dear.
But there was nothing.
There were only
the sound of the front door closing
and a car engine starting.
There was no explosion,
gravity didn’t disappear.
No black hole
ripped open to swallow up
my old life.
Nothing happened.
It was just gone.
Young Writers | 37
These Are My Scars
by Leila Selchaif
legs, my elbows, the backs of my knees? No? Look closer.
Closer! Don’t tell me you can’t see unless your nose has
pushed against my skin. They aren’t hard to see; you just
don’t notice. Let me help you.
The scars at my ankles are from the constant nipping of
the small dogs of the media, telling me to buy this gum,
this razor, this diet plan. Cut and dye your hair just like
Rihanna’s. Don’t ever cut your hair like Rihanna’s: you’re
not black, you’re not allowed.
The scars on my heels are from the stilettos I refuse to
buckle into. As I ran without them on strong, flat-footed
feet, the shoes flipped upwards and their spikes dragged
into me, the stabs an attempt to hobble me. I walk barefoot
now, savoring the pain they have caused.
Do you see my ribs? The scars there form a tic-tac-toe
board. They were drawn by the pink, glossy edges of Elle
magazine, Cosmogirl, and Teen Vogue. You must fit size
zero, you can only wear extra-small.
Here: let me peel the soft skin of my thighs back, and
show you the marks dotting them. They are puckering
burns, from the cigarettes lolling on the older girls’ lips,
from the tokes rolled by all the beautiful boys who flirt
with me in class.
And don’t even get me started on the needle marks
along my inner arms. They’re almost too small to see, but
they itch like hell until my fingernails have formed long red
marks along the skin.
Take your hands—I won’t hurt you—and drag them
along my cheeks. The ridges are beautiful, are they not?
They come from the makeup that beckons in the drugstore,
all manner of matte and berry, desire and self-worth. They
are scalding to my skin and caused these ridges to rise up.
They accentuate my cheekbones, right? They make me look
like Keira Knightley, right?
And here—these ones are still raw, these one hurt like
nothing else. These scars curve along my breasts, trace the
wires of my bras cutting me ragged as they lift and plump and
round. They suffocate me behind bars of a curved prison.
The scars behind my ears are from the tears. As I lie
upon my bed and let them slip from my eyes and migrate
back there, they cruelly left their marks, turned to acid
from my want of things I couldn’t have, shouldn’t have,
would never have or even voice my desire for.
Instead, I’ll open my mouth and show you the scars
there, and while you’re at it, imagine the ones scrawled
across my eardrums. Those have grown from exposure to
the constant droning of the mosquitoes of terror, and the
scars along my lymph nodes come from my screams in terror. I’m deafened by the terror of being different; I scream
in terror that I’m not.
You can lean back now. Get away. You can see them
now, can’t you? Now look down. I know. They’re on your
fingers too, they lace your skin as much as mine. Don’t just
stand there, that won’t stop them! Get up! Get to your feet!
Our scars can’t stay invisible any longer. “The NYSSYWI is a valuable experience for
me to grow as a writer and as a person.
Surrounded by such a diverse and talented
group of people, it’s easy to get caught up
in the passion and energy.”
Young Writers | 38
by Kaveri Sengupta
someone else’s fault? The truth was
that it was her fault. Of course,
Camilla could never pluck up the
courage to let Megan know because
she had always idolized her. This
undermined her most prominent and
bothersome flaw: ever since they were
little, Megan was an expert at blaming
‘it’ —whatever ‘it’ was—on someone
else. Usually it was someone close to
Megan, someone who was uninvolved
in the undisclosed ‘it,’ someone like
Camilla. Megan was clever and savvy,
but never creative. Camilla had forgiven Megan for innumerable faults
in the past, during their childhood
and adolescence, because Camilla
couldn’t seem to find the initiative in
her to tell her that she didn’t like what
she was doing. Camilla had to let out
some of her own pent up frustration
—to shove at least some of the blame
onto Megan. It was only eighteen
years overdue.
But all the worries—What
should I say? How should I frame
things? Will she hate me?—would
have to be pushed aside for later
contemplation. First, she would simply meet Megan for lunch—a harmless, unassuming act. They would go
to that sushi bar Camilla knew
Megan loved but she personally
couldn’t stand. She would complement Megan on some new outfit of
hers, warm her up with some chit
chat and then…she would finally say
what should have been said two
years ago, the event that marked the
last straw for Camilla.
The air was chilly on that
October night two years ago, and the
leaves—illuminated mysteriously
due to the streetlights—had transformed into the auburns and burnt
oranges that were inevitable. Camilla
identified with this time of year
because it was a transitional period.
As her father had passed away two
months ago, she found herself
caught up in her own process of
transformation. She was unsure if
she should remain continuously
aware of her father’s passing, or find
the strength to move on. If she rose
above it, she would have a guilty
conscience after realizing she hadn’t
thought of her father for a significant amount of time. These were the
thoughts that plagued her mind as
she walked to her closest friend
Megan’s house.
As she knocked on
the door, loud music
reverberated off the
walls before Megan
could even answer the
knock. Camilla raised
her eyebrows and sighed.
Megan, of course, would
be the one to have a
party when her parents
were out of town. It was
so like this “new” popular Megan. The old,
innocent girl who accidentally fell in a pile of
mud at the age of four,
laughing hysterically at
its gloppy texture, was
gone. In its place was a
stranger who Camilla
barely knew.
“Hey Camilla,” Megan said,
“come on in.”
Camilla was reluctant to enter.
She knew this party would contain a
variety of things she was uneager to
associate herself with, namely drugs,
drinking, and hooking up. But parties were the “new” Megan’s hobby.
Camilla knew full well that she
would be unable to say no, as Megan
would interpret this act of refusal as
a huge insult to their friendship.
Megan stood there, tapping her
foot and waiting for Camilla to
answer. No doubt she was dying to
get back to the new guy she had set
her sights on. Camilla walked past her
and into the house, her feet dragging.
Sure enough, the potheads were
in one corner smoking weed. One of
them, bleary-eyed, looked up at the
sound of the door slamming shut
and raised his eyebrows suggestively
at Camilla. She rolled her eyes and
continued inside, taking care to
dodge the empty beer cans littering
the floor. The shiny green Heineken
cans cast an eerie glow on the wall,
causing Camilla to shiver. She sat
down on a couch, the only one
remotely vacant (a couple was
canoodling on the other side) and
stared at her watch, trying to will
time to speed up.
She barely noticed when a raucous game of Truth or Dare began,
which mutated into an equally boisterous spell of Spin the Bottle. Just as
she was about to leave, blaring police
sirens sounded, causing the partyers
to scatter and attempt to hide the
remnants of their escape from reality. Caught up in the sudden action,
Camilla was thrown off balance by a
guy sporting a plaid shirt. She landed
on her stomach on the couch, looking just as high/drunk/whatever else
those kids were as the others.
The doorbell rang: an ominous,
continued on page 40
Young Writers | 39
continued from page 39
foreboding sound. “Hide everything!” Megan whispered harshly, as
if everyone hadn’t been doing so
already. Making her way to the door
cautiously and slowly, struggling to
steady her steps after the beer she
had drunk, she answered the door.
“What can I do for you, officer?”
she innocently asked the man, whose
silhouette was outlined in the moonlight, his face hidden in the shadows.
It was impossible to mistake the
stench of alcohol and marijuana that
lingered like fumes rising from a
busy factory.
“Officer?” the man responded.
He stepped forward, and the figure
of Megan’s father was defined.
Megan’s eyes opened wide, and she
whipped around hastily. Her gaze fell
to Camilla, who was still trying to
untangle herself from the couch.
“Daddy, Camilla really wanted to
have this party. She decided to invite
everyone over, without even asking
me! I told her you and Mommy
would be out of town, and she took
advantage of me. I got home late
from school and I was so surprised
when I saw this! I really tried to
make everyone leave, I did, but I just
Young Writers | 40
couldn’t...” Her voice was broken,
soft tears falling down her face. She
was the incarnation of a pitiful, helpless baby, so naive, so inexperienced.
“Camilla, could you come over
here for a second, please?” Camilla
heard Megan’s dad’s grating voice
and knew that was it. He had never
taken kindly to Camilla, deeming her
from the start of the girls’ friendship
‘a bad influence.’ If he had his way,
Megan would never be allowed to
see Camilla after the former accused
the latter of stealing her paint set.
After taking the liberty to yell at
Camilla for a little while, Megan’s
dad assured her he
would let her mother
know about this “incident,” as he called it.
Camilla didn’t stand
up for herself. She
couldn’t. The entire
time, Megan was
peering around her
father’s back, shooting
Camilla looks of deep
apology. Camilla
closed her eyes and
pretended she was
escaping far, far away
from the depths of the
hell she was trapped
in. She was with her
own father, in a better
place, and they were
playing the games they used to play
during her childhood.
Megan’s father kicking everyone
out jolted her back to reality, and
Camilla stumbled back to her house.
A day later, she endured a harsh
rebuke from her mother, and swore
to give Megan a piece of her mind.
But it never happened. Life went
on just as it had before.
That would change today,
Camilla resolved, as she opened the
door to the sushi bar. A strangelooking wind chime was suspended
over the door that sounded as
Camilla entered the room. She half
expected it to fall on her.
“Hey.” Camilla turned around.
Megan was standing a few feet away,
wearing a tan jacket and jeans splattered in paint from the time they
had painted her bedroom orange.
After it had dried they repainted it
green because the orange looked
ugly. She looked so familiar it killed
Camilla. She didn’t want to distance
herself from Megan; they’d been
friends for so long. She knew that
bringing up this old story would
alienate Megan. Megan was one to
hold grudges.
“I like your jeans,” Camilla said,
trying to make some conversation.
“Thanks,” she smiled.
The truth of the matter, though,
was that those jeans fazed Camilla.
They took her back to a time when
life was hanging out at one of their
houses on Friday afternoons after
school. Megan was there for Camilla
at a time when no one else was: just
after her father died. She was the
shoulder Camilla cried on, the person she called when she woke up
tearful in the middle of the night.
They made small talk for a while,
Camilla skirting around the object of
the lunch and Megan a little confused as to why Camilla seemed so
Two hours passed in that café
with the two of them talking.
Camilla did not tell her a thing.
Megan had a power over her; one
that she hated acknowledging but
one that always existed. That power
left her with no determination to
utter what needed to be said. After
three wholly awkward hours in the
cafe, they hugged and parted.
Camilla departed with a huge cloud
of regret for things not said churning in her stomach. A tear trickled
down her cheek as she made her way
down the busy, bustling city street. The Scarecrow
by Griffin Shoglow-Rubenstein
The waves broke slowly, not hurrying,
Relishing the endless
Back-and-forth motion as I did, too,
As they touched my hands,
Spread out on either side
Like tiny wings.
Sand grains beneath my back and body entire
Became wet as the water
Washed over it and banished dryness.
I saw only blackness, saw nothing also
Save the absences of things, but I felt
Everything, and so, I saw everything, too.
Cars on the freeway
Rushed by dimly, and their wild quickness
Slowed me,
As did the gentle ocean breeze, and then—
And then it was ruined, ruined by the absence of an absence, and this new presence slid
inside my nose, and I sniffed
The smell of cigarette smoke.
And at once that inner gravity, which had held me fast and slow against the sand,
Was burned away by a scent.
And I? I lay on the jetty, either hand immersed in continual waves,
Which never came quite far enough
For me.
I, the scarecrow, lay on a bed of sand,
Caught between an ocean I did not know
And a scent I knew too well.
“The program was extremely helpful and
the talent in the room was astonishing. We
were able to learn so much from each
other. The faculty was light-hearted but
their critique was expert.”
Young Writers | 41
Things I Didn’t Do
by Grace Terdoslavich
I didn’t finish speaking.
I didn’t do the homework.
I didn’t forget to do it.
I didn’t forgive him.
I didn’t say goodbye.
I swear to God, I did not see your hairdryer!
I didn’t phrase that quite right.
I didn’t learn the language.
I didn’t try. I didn’t not try.
I didn’t kill anyone. Yet.
No, I didn’t know where it was, either.
I didn’t break a bone.
I didn’t climb a tree.
I didn’t pick that lock, either.
I didn’t die.
I didn’t flunk science.
I didn’t try to hurt anyone.
Of course I didn’t ask anyone else, it’s your hairdryer.
I didn’t cry.
I didn’t shrink and cower in a corner.
I didn’t run away.
I didn’t hide.
And I didn’t lose.
And I didn’t know who could have taken it, maybe the squirrels or something.
“This week was honestly unlike anything I’ve
ever experienced before. It was amazing
to have an opportunity to hone my writing
skills, something I’d never been asked to do
and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The teachers
and students were really inspiring.”
Young Writers | 42
Saturdays at the Beach
by Cara Tomaso
Christopher, Mommy is tired.
Collect shells, swim . . . hell, build a
sandcastle for all I care. Mommy
needs her rest.” His mother’s eyes
were glazed and watery, and her
threadbare swimsuit—a real steal off
the Wal*Mart clearance rack—was
two sizes too small. She situated herself on her towel, tucked her wiry
hair beneath a wide-brimmed straw
hat, and sighed. Christopher knew
what that meant. He had just been
officially dismissed. Mom would
smoke two Marlboros, sip a fruity
wine cooler, and read what Daddy
called trash novels, with titles like
Thou Shalt Sin, The Deflowering of
Marie Osmond, and While the Body’s
Still Warm. She repeated the same
ritual every time they visited the
beach. Christopher used to get excited about their Saturday outings, but
not anymore. He didn’t like to be
Much like his mom, Christopher,
too, developed a routine, sans the
porn masquerading as serious literature. He packed a PB&J sandwich,
two Capri Suns, and a beat-up
Tupperware container into his backpack. Once she decided she wanted
her alone time, he grabbed the plastic box and scoured the shoreline for
shells and starfish. He had it down to
a science. He’d go shell hunting for
about an hour, take a break to eat his
lunch, and then keep collecting until
Mom decided she was ready to go
Plastic box in tow, he tiptoed
through the sand in search of seaside
treasures. He methodically dug
through piles of damp grit, but after
a short while, his fingers ached and
he was bored. He considered taking
an early lunch break, but a glance in
Mom’s direction told him now was
not the time to dig through his backpack. Christopher knew his mom
well. She was on her second cigarette
pretty quickly, which was never a
good sign, and besides, Christopher
wasn’t that hungry.
He settled into the sand and
studied the families on the beach
longingly. He was used to being the
wallflower, the doormat. His mother
did all the talking, and his dad had
better things to do than stay home
for any length of time. He liked to
watch the kids pick fights with each
other, the teens mingle
and flirt, and the adults
sip beers and flip
through wrinkled editions of Us Weekly.
Having grown bored
with his shells and the
other families on the
beach, Christopher
focused his attention on
this guy sitting alone in
the sand. He’d first
noticed him earlier that
day after experiencing an
uncomfortable stinging
sensation that was the
universal indicator that
someone was watching
you. Now the man was
cradling his head in his
hands, and his forehead was creased
in intense concentration. Without
realizing what he was doing,
Christopher slowly approached him.
His gut wouldn’t take no for an
It took the stranger a couple of
minutes before he finally noticed the
little boy standing there expectantly.
Christopher got the feeling that this
man wasn’t used to feeling anything
that wasn’t sadness; the sudden shift
in emotion from sorrow to surprise
seemed painful for him, like he had
just moved his arm too quickly after
sleeping on it the wrong way.
“You’re sad,” Christopher said
“Yeah,” he admitted, reluctantly,
“I guess I am. How old are you, kid?”
“Just ten?”
“Wow. You’re . . . small.”
Christopher was mildly insulted.
“Yeah? Well, you’re big.”
The stranger laughed, but then
stiffened, like it hurt to be happy.
“So what happened that made
you so sad?”
“Listen, kid . . .”
“It’s Christopher.”
“Listen, Christopher, I’ve just got
a lot on my mind, is all.”
“Like what?”
The stranger took a moment to
mull this over. “You ever been in
Christopher thought of a girl in
his class named Gracie, who had
tight blond curls and pretty blue
eyes. She was cute enough. And then
he thought of Mommy, who smoked
Marlboros more times a day than
Christopher could count. And then
he thought of Daddy, who forgot his
last birthday.
“No,” Christopher answered
“Consider yourself lucky.” The
stranger bowed his head. “She was
my everything, you know?”
continued on page 44
Young Writers | 43
continued from page 43
Christopher didn’t know, but he
nodded like he did, anyway.
“My cousin Amy has that sweatshirt, I think,” Christopher said.
The man looked down at his
hoodie. It had a picture of a goofy
red bear carrying pom-poms and the
letters BSU stretched across the chest.
“Probably,” the stranger agreed
lamely. “I was supposed to graduate
from Bridgewater State this year.”
The two fell silent. Christopher
wasn’t sure what to do next. It
looked like this poor stranger hadn’t
slept in days. Greasy clumps of jet-
“Writers are a different
type of people and
need to be surrounded
by each other. If you’re
serious about writing
and want to improve,
the Institute is the
black hair clung to his forehead and
the nape of his neck. His eyes,
weighted down by angry splotches of
blue and purple, sagged deep into
his skull. His clothes were sloppy
and mismatched. And he reeked. The
stench of stale smoke and cheap beer
was painfully familiar to
Christopher. His heart lurched when
he realized that he was looking at a
younger version of his dad.
“You can tell me,” Christopher
But the stranger shook his head.
“No. I really shouldn’t.”
Christopher couldn’t stand it
when adults clammed up like this.
He was ten, for God’s sake. He’d
been taking the bus by himself since
he was seven or eight, and he’d
taught himself to use the stovetop to
Young Writers | 44
make macaroni and cheese just a few
months ago.
“Can you at least tell me her
“Ava,” the man sighed. “Her
name is Ava.”
The admission encouraged
Christopher. “You can trust me, I
promise. I’m really responsible!
Mom says she’s never met a little boy
as dependable as I am!”
The man scrubbed his hand over
his face, annoyed. “She loved to bake.
Apple pie, pumpkin bread, cake.”
Christopher rejoiced silently over
the little victory. He was giving in.
“She made our wedding cake—
red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Mom told me we were rushing
things, but I didn’t listen. I loved
Ava. It felt like the right time.”
“So what happened?”
Christopher asked.
The man grimaced. “Turned out
my mom was right. She decided she
didn’t want kids. But she never told
me that, and by the time I found
out, it was too late.”
Suddenly the man was choking
back quiet sobs, and Christopher
shivered as understanding hit home.
He’d once heard Mommy talking to
his Aunt Tracy about . . . that. Tracy
was forever getting herself into sticky
situations with men Mommy called
no good, rotten bastards.
“I couldn’t look at her after that,
you know? So I filed for divorce. But
lawyers are expensive. And I’m still
in school, but I’ve been such a wreck
. . . and now I’m failing practically
every class. I’m broke, and I might as
well be homeless because of course
the apartment was in her name, so
I’m bunking with a buddy of mine,
but I can’t mooch off him forever.
And I still have to call my mother . . .”
Christopher didn’t know what to
say to that. “I’m sorry,” he offered.
He knew it was a lame response.
“Me, too, Christopher. Me too.”
“So, now what?” Christopher
“I’ll sit here on the beach, I guess.”
“And when the beach closes?”
“I’ll walk to Travis’s apartment.
Fall asleep watching reruns of
Roseanne on Nick at Nite. Wake up at
noon. Realize I’ve skipped class.
Again. Think about calling my mom,
my lawyer. But I won’t. Maybe I’ll
walk to the beach again. Grab some
Taco Bell. Fall back asleep on the
couch. Wake up the next day and do
it all over again.”
Christopher wished there was
something he could say, something
he could do. He knew all about
being lonely.
“Wanna check out my shells?”
Christopher asked. “Mommy drags
me here every Saturday. She’s the lady
in the ugly pink swimsuit reading the
book with the naked lady on the
cover. I get bored, so I collect shells.”
“Really? Let’s see.”
In mere minutes, the two were
engaged in animated conversation
about anything and everything—
where Christopher found his favorite
shell (wedged between an empty can
of Pepsi and a crushed box of Sno
Caps), how much school lunches
sucked (the pizza was rubbery, and
the milk was always expired), and
what Christopher wanted to be
when he grew up (an astronaut).
“Christopher! Time to go!”
Christopher sighed. “That’s my
“I figured.”
Christopher crouched awkwardly
above his shells. He wasn’t ready to
let this moment go. “So . . . same
time next week?”
Much to Christopher’s relief, the
man smiled: “Same time next week.”
And for once, Christopher felt
alive. Hopeful. Maybe stale cigarette
smoke and trashy romance novels
weren’t so bad after all. Poetry
by John Volza
I’m drinking sangria
with rum
and I don’t even like rum
Stirring the plantains
in the kitchen
taking sips when my arm gets tired
There is guacamole on
the deck and I walk out
to take a taste
My sister is smoking
a cigar with my cousin
the ash falling into their cups
My aunt is wearing
a miniature yellow sombrero
and asks where our dead dog is
Someone hands me a tortilla
chip and I try the salsa
My fedora is on
backwards, but I’m too
drunk to notice
There is something I’m
supposed to be doing right now
but the air feels so good on my face
I breathe in and smell
the growing stench of
burnt plantains
I steal away, back into
the kitchen to cut up more fruit
for the sangria
Young Writers | 45
Sister Of
by Michelle Waters
has them. I’m not even just saying
that so you’ll buy me a pair.” The day
my brother walked out of the car and
into history, all I wanted was a pair
of Ugg boots. You know Uggs: those
ubiquitous glorified slippers that
muffle footsteps and deaden souls.
Mom sighed, “Michelle, we’re
focusing on Sam right now.”
“Tell me how that’s unusual,” I
grumbled, playing the bootless martyr. Minutes passed in silence. Sam
barked at Mom to turn off her
favorite oldies station. She did, and
he leaned his head back in an
attempt to steal a few moments of
sleep before the test kicked his ass. It
was November of his junior year,
and I was thirteen, an age at which I
was aware of the SATs but not their
significance. Lucky as usual, my
brother took the test on a day in
which it was being administered at
his school: Millburn High School,
the toast of the township, the pride
of the people, their reason for moving here. That month was chosen as
the first time he would take the SATs
for logistical reasons that my parents
rehashed, and continue to rehash,
over and over; he couldn’t take it in
Young Writers | 46
December, January, February, or
March, because in my family, that
block of time means one thing:
wrestling season.
“Don’t be nervous,” Mom told
him, though he had not mentioned
nerves. “Rick has prepared you well.”
Rick was Sam’s tutor for the math
section of the test; my parents had
hired him based on a random mailing we received from the tutoring
center where he worked, towns away
from us. God, another stroke of
dumb luck, hiring Rick was.
“Can we go to the shoe store,” I
burst out.
“Michelle, shut the
fuck up,” Sam said: a
typical exchange. Mom
said nothing, knowing
as she did that he was
just letting off steam
before the test.
“I could wear
them with so many
types of pants,” I continued. “Jeans and
sweatpants. Plus they
come in neutral colors, so they would go
with so much.”
“We’ll discuss this
later,” said Mom. I
could feel her annoyance with me hanging
heavy in the air, as well
as Sam’s. In fact, I was annoying
myself, but I could not help it. I ached
for those boots the way a writer aches
to be published. It was a desperate
ache, a shallow, materialistic one.
“Sam, we’re here.”
My brother’s head jerked back.
“What?” He looked around and
noticed the school’s facade. “Okay,
let’s do this,” he said, goading no one
in particular.
I was much more subdued on
the return trip to the school,
exhausted from the skirmish I’d had
with Mom about the Uggs upon our
return home. Neither of us spoke as
we waited for Sam in front of the
school. Her oldies music blared from
the radio. I ran my fingernails over
the grey velour seat. The motion created a nearly intolerable swishing
sound that pleased me. “Can you
stop,” Mom paused, searching for a
word “generating that noise?”
“Sorry,” I drawled. I couldn’t
think of a snappy comeback. You’re
arguing with a woman in her forties,
I thought. Save your energy for an
age-appropriate opponent.
“You’re being a brat,” she told me,
not for the last time. Sam emerged
from the school, not for the last time
either. He searched lethargically for
“I thought the Institute
was great. It was cool to
share a common ground
in writing.”
Mom’s silver minivan. She rolled
down the window and shouted his
name. He approached the car,
motioning for me to get out of the
front seat and move to the back.
Mom offered a sincere smile. “How
did it go?” she asked.
Despite his obvious drowsiness, a
half-terrified grin was frozen on
Sam’s face. “I think it went well,” he
said. “There was this one question
on the critical reading section—what
does ‘bellicose’ mean?”
Mom paused, considering, turning the wheel with vigor. “To be
honest, I don’t know,” she admitted.
“There was another one on the
math section, but I’m sure you
wouldn’t know that either,” Sam said.
Mom’s nostrils flared slightly. I
could see that her fingers were red
from taking out her vexation with
us, her know-it-all children, on the
continued on page 47
continued from page 46
steering wheel. As it turned out, Sam
did know it all.
During that long winter—
wrestling season—Sam was plagued
by injuries. I used to claim that I
didn’t understand the hold that
wrestling had on generations of men
in my family. There’s my grandfather, who was banned for life from a
certain Long Island high school
gymnasium because he protested a
referee’s call with too much fervor.
There are my uncles, whose college
wrestling feats were lauded in nowyellowing newspaper articles that my
grandmother keeps in a photo
album. To say that Sam was pressured into wrestling would be unfair
to my father, for whom the values of
individuality and athleticism are in a
neck-in-neck race. He allowed my
brother to choose to stick with the
sport that, at eight, he had wanted to
quit. As a result of his involvement
in wrestling and soccer, Sam grew
from a short, scrawny kid with buckteeth to an athlete, a true one, with
the muscular arms and deviated septum that accompany that title.
It was expected that Sam would
be recruited to wrestle in college. We
didn’t expect it the way desperate
teenagers and families do, posting on
college admissions forums about
how to get in contact with Ivy
League coaches. Sam simply had the
grades and the talent to attend such
a school. His future was simply a
given because, as people say when
the topic of my brother arises, “some
people are just fuckin’ blessed.” The
summer before Sam’s junior year we
had visited a few coaches, who told
us of the hard life of a college athlete
in a rigorous school. My dad, who’d
wrestled for Yale—which, to his
annoyance, had cut its wrestling program— spouted pithy aphorisms of
his own fabrication throughout the
process, including his longtime
favorite: “Never give up.” On what?
But my brother didn’t; he obeyed
Dad’s platitudes. After all, I was the
recalcitrant one.
Early that season, his shoulder
was rotated awkwardly, but staying
true to a maxim that Dad never used
because he thought it crass, Sam
“played through the pain.” Weeks
later, he was thrown clear across the
mat by a wrestler from Newark with
a pair-of-wings tattoo on his back,
and this was years before the advent
of Black Swan.
The January day on which Sam
found out his SAT scores was colored
gun metal gray by rain that would
have been snow had it
been ten degrees colder. I
remember the three of
them—Mom and Dad
and Sam—squabbling
over how to access the
scores online. My parents
stood behind him in the
computer room, known
somewhat inexplicably as
the office in our home. “I
did it,” Sam said with a
roll of his nut-brown
eyes. “I’m in.”
“What does it say’?”
Mom asked. She strained
to see the all-important
numbers on the computer screen.
Stunned silence from
them all as I watched from the doorway, the belligerent younger sister
almost always outside of the yellow
room, waiting, excited.
“Is it possible?” Dad asked.
“Is it possible?” Mom repeated.
“I think there’s been a mistake,”
Sam murmured.
“You can always retake,” I volunteered. “This was only practice,
right?” I didn’t understand then, as I
do now, the world of practice tests
and scaled scores and wanting, desperately, to prove the world wrong—
or, in Sam’s case, right.
“If these scores are correct, he’s
never going to take this test again,”
Dad said. So it’s a good surprise, I
thought. I should have known.
“What does it say?” I stepped
“Three eight-hundreds,” Mom
hollered as if she were announcing
the gender of her newborn child. “A
perfect score.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. Even then I did
not understand. Mom bent down to
hug Sam and Dad offered him a
spread palm. “That’s cool.”
“I think maybe it’s just saying,
like, what you can get,” Sam opined,
his voice calm.
“Let’s call Rick,” Mom said. She
turned to my father. They were both
calmer now. “Jeff, get his number.”
Dad ran upstairs to his own
home office, returning a few tense
minutes later with an uncrumpled
scrap of his paper held delicately in
his hand as if it were made of most
delicate crystal. “Here, I have it,” he
Mom dialed the number on the
venerable white office phone, the
same phone that, three years later,
received a call from my math
continued on page 48
Young Writers | 47
continued from page 47
teacher, who wanted to tell Mom and
Dad that she was proud of me for
raising my grade to a B- from a D+.
“Rick—yes—hi—it’s Nancy—Greene,
Sam Waters’ mother?” Mom’s voice
ticked up. “We just wanted to call
because—yes—yes, we checked, and—
yeah—we saw that Sam—well, he got
a perfect score.” I heard Rick’s animated shouts on the other end of the line.
“Do you think it’s possible?”
Sam scratched his chin. Dad bit his
already-bloody cuticles. I fell upon the
bed, bored. Mom began to laugh with
glee at Rick’s words. “Okay, thank you
so much,” she said, and hung up. “She
said he definitely thinks it’s possible.”
That’s when my world exploded.
More changed over the next year
than my shoe collection—for my
fourteenth birthday, I got a pair of
Uggs, which was anticlimactic given
that my birthday is in August. I
entered high school, where my epithet
remains “Sam’s sister.” I see those
months as a slideshow: here, an image
of Sam calling the greedy College
Board to confirm his score; there, our
family huddled around the white telephone on the first day of July, the first
day college coaches are officially permitted to contact recruits; Sam visiting once again, more seriously this
time, the campuses of Princeton and
Stanford and Harvard and UPenn; and
me, in the car with Mom asking if he
could go to school wherever he wanted. She told me it wasn’t as simple as
telling the schools about his perfect
score. But, really, it was.
A sunny Tuesday morning in
October: “Dad and I can’t pick you up
from practice today,” Mom said as I
hoisted my field hockey bag over my
shoulder. “Something big might be
going down.”
“What?” I asked, watching the bus
leave my stop. I had missed it, but
Mom could wait to hear that.
“I can’t give you details right now,”
Mom responded. She shoved a bagged
lunch into my hand.
“Mom, I’m already carrying three
bags,” I whined.
At the same time, she said, “We’re
not certain yet that it’s going to happen today, or even at all. And you will
bring a lunch to school. Can you get a
ride home?”
I did get a ride home—from my
friend Elizabeth Shea, whose car carries the permanent stench of liquidated crayons and sour milk. “I think
something big is going down today,” I
“Oh, what?”
“I think,” I said, “that Sam is going
to decide to commit to a
“It was a chance to be surrounded by
writing on all sides, literally and
metaphorically, so that I was pushed in
ways I haven’t experienced before—
and the results showed.”
Young Writers | 48
college.” It had come down to Stanford
and Harvard, if my memory serves,
and I knew enough by then to know
that few people know in October
where they will be going to college,
least of all that they will be going to
either of those schools. Though I
knew what his choices were, the whole
business seemed literally incredible.
“Oh my God, that’s so cool,”
Elizabeth said. “You’re going to find
out, like, now.” We had pulled into my
driveway. I exited the malodorous
Shea family van.
Sometimes I think I dreamt it all.
Sam opened the front door—not the
white door we usually used, but the
glossy brown one with the fake
stained-glass window. He was shirtless
and smiling. “So?” I shouted.
“Harvard,” he shouted back, and
there is no word or phrase that can
capture that moment. It seemed that
everything in our lives had led to this,
had brought it about, not just chronologically but thematically, somehow. It
seemed that we deserved it. I ran into
his ridiculously muscular arms.
Mom appeared in the doorway as
well. “Isn’t it amazing?” she asked.
And it was amazing what assholes
we were. My Other Family
by Lydia Youngman
met every time I ask her. It starts with
her coming home from school to Nana’s
house with a few of her friends. When
they arrive, there’s a strange crib stuck in
the middle of the living room. Brittany
and her friends kind of look at each
other wondering what’s going on before
they kick off their shoes and approach
the crib. They peer over the side and see
a baby—me—blinking up at them.
“Who is that?” Brittany asks. Nana comes
up behind them and says in her Nana
voice, “That’s Lydia.” There’s a general
chorus of “ohs” and the story’s over.
Nana has been my babysitter since I
was just a few months old. There were
always kids at Nana’s house; she’d watch
five at a time, a lot of them her relatives.
Since everyone in the Bobb family got
married and had kids really young, they
had a huge extended family. Family
members were always dropping by, talking on the porch for a while before sticking their heads in the living room to
check on the kids watching television. At
Nana’s house, I was part of something I
wasn’t when I was at home—I was part
of a big family. In fact, I used to spend so
much time at Nana’s house that I would
tell people they were my family.
Brittany lived with Nana. She had her
own room right off the kitchen with a
lock on the door because Brittany was
picky with her stuff. Her room was purple—both our favorite colors—and had
a Tweety Bird theme, which I loved.
Then there was Monasha, another
one of Nana’s great grandchildren. I
always played with her when I went to
Nana’s house. She loved to do my hair
because it was long and hers was short,
but by the end it would always be in a
horrible knotted mess. It was so bad one
time that Brittany had to reach for a pair
of scissors. I didn’t want her to cut my
hair, but I had absolute faith in what she
was doing just because she was Brittany.
It was a huge relief to see at the end that
she’d only cut the tangled hair tie, and
not any of my actual locks.
Monasha was the one who read the
poem she wrote at Nana’s funeral. It was
called “Yes You Are” and each line was
addressed to Nana as a description of
what she was like—how strong and eloquent and beautiful she was—followed
by “yes you are.” It was one of the best
parts of the service.
I don’t know who I would be without Nana’s presence in my life, because
I’d never not had her there. When I was
just a few months old, my mom had
been searching desperately for a daycare
for me and had come up with two
options: one was a brand new daycare
center near her work and the other was
Nana. When my mom visited the new
center, she said the kids sat around Ushaped tables while teachers sat in the
middle and monitored everyone’s activities. My mom said she thought that I’d
be in these controlled environments for
the rest of my life. Nana’s house, where I
could get to be a part of a big family, was
something that I couldn’t get somewhere
else. Nana wasn’t running an institution:
she was just opening her home. From the
kitchen table I would watch “Judge Judy”
while Nana made fried chicken. We
taught Nana’s great grandson Junior how
to write his name while sitting around
that kitchen table.
Nana always looked the same every
time I saw her—every time but once.
Lying in her casket she looked very thin
and small and not at all like herself. She
had been sick for a while and lost
enough weight that her skin sat on top of
her bones instead of melding to the
shape of them. Her face looked like it
had lost some hidden quality.
Lots of things Nana said and did
stick with me. My favorite Nana memory
happened during a sleepover birthday
party of Monasha’s. Monasha was serving drinks and asking me if I wanted
soda. I was about to say sure, even
though I didn’t like it and never had,
when Nana brought out a bottle of
Hawaiian Punch. It was juice she’d
bought just for me. “I know my Lydia,”
she said. When I had to make a decision
about which high school I wanted to go
to, Nana knew what I’d decide before
I did.
There were some things about me,
though, that Nana didn’t know. I have
this one memory that always leaves me
with a squirmy feeling. In middle school,
I had stopped at Nana’s to visit. I rang
the doorbell and saw her brown eyes
looking at me through the blinds before
she opened the door. When she did open
it, she looked distrustful. I could tell she
didn’t recognize me. I was a strange
white girl on her porch. Of course, once
she realized who I was all that evaporated. She smiled and ushered me inside
before telling me to take my shoes off.
Race was one thing we didn’t share.
The Bobbs were black and I was white.
Nana wasn’t even sure how the babysitting would work at first because we
weren’t the same color. It quickly became
clear, however, that skin color really didn’t matter at all. My mother says that
when I was little I was absolutely colorblind. She has a vivid memory of taking
me to the ballet in Saratoga and asking
me who my favorite dancer was. “I like
the dancer in yellow,” I said and
described her without once mentioning
the fact that she was the only black
dancer on stage.
My dad says that, in the beginning,
Monasha was colorblind, too. She used
to come to all my birthday parties, even
though she was the only black girl there.
She even came to my swimming party,
despite the fact that she couldn’t swim.
But after a while she stopped coming.
She told me she was uncomfortable
because she didn’t know anyone…but
part of it had to do with how different
she felt from everyone else.
When I was inside Nana’s house—
not just standing on the porch—I never
once felt out of place. When I was with
Nana and her family, I was with my family. It wasn’t until Nana’s funeral when all
of her grandchildren stood up to sing a
song for her—and I wasn’t up there—
that I realized for the first time that I
wasn’t one of them. Young Writers | 49
Blazer Boy
by Karen Yuan
one’s seen him without the deep blue blazer with the double cuff stitches and gold insignia buttons that covers him
like a great bird: not in the dining hall or class or on the
path. So, obviously, people wonder if he takes it off outside
of public eye, in the dorm. But the people who would
know change the topic when they’re asked.
He’s not the pale and pimpled kid who’s wearing
daddy’s best jacket though. No, he’s “English but not,” kisses
the hands of the girls he meets, wears calf-high white socks
and waves his hands as he talks. My first memory of him is
seven o’clock in the morning before German class: he
waltzes into the room and towards Herr Schieber’s
Macbook in the corner and turns on Tchaikovsky from
iTunes. Then he just starts moving around and humming,
hair stealing the morning sun. At first I’m thinking, what
the hell? But he just swings right out of the room, voice
carrying down the hall.
Rumors fly. His parents take him to operas in NYC every
weekend, they say. His mom bought an apartment by the
school to live in just so he won’t be lonely. And…his accent
is fake...his accent is fake. Because one cold day in
November blazer boy shows up without his blazer, without
his dapperness and without the accent: just a rumpled shirt,
bags under his eyes and a very American ‘sup’, charisma—or
whatever it was—gone. He meets no one’s eyes. When
someone asks him what was up with all of that, he gestures
at himself, tired and smaller somehow, and says, look at this,
this isn’t interesting— September was, October was, the
blazer, the guy who swept through the halls in early morning belting classicals and pulling chairs out for the ladies.
That was interesting. No one knows what to say. “This program is a great break from your daily chaos. It’s nice
to have a time and place where you can simply set aside
your time and write.”
Young Writers | 50
by Sinan Ziyalan
being invasive. When someone sees a
pretty girl, they assume she’s been
approached a lot and that they can
handle the pressure that being
approached causes. Little did these
hounds know that Rose couldn’t
handle it. No, I wasn’t her knight in
shining armor. No, I wasn’t ‘in love’,
or the faux-teenage equivalent. In all
seriousness, I had no ideas to get
involved with her. After all, how
would that help someone damaged the way she was? No. I
This week was pure awesomewas just someone who got
ness. All of the people here are
caught up in taking care of her.
the best. I honestly wish we could Who got caught up in caring
for someone else, because they
band together and form a
were someone who needed
covenant of writers.
care. I just wanted to protect
this frail, fragile person.
I remember walking her
home from the train station
after a night out with friends. I
piercing blue eyes, she finds a way to
remember how we decided to sit on
make you remember her at the end
her stoop and just talk. I remember
of a long night with friends.
walking away feeling different about
She was the crazy one; the fun
one; the hurt one. Behind each laugh people in general.
She had been through shit. A victhere was a fear of who she was
laughing with, or at. An uneasy ques- tim of two very pushy ‘suitors’, one
tion — ‘will you hurt me?’—hung in of which she took to court for sexual
abuse. It made my blood boil that
the air. They say that laughter has
these people made her this way; the
more to do with bonding than with
way she said it, it was as if she was
humor; if that’s the case, Rose
embarrassed that it had happened to
seemed very tentative to bond with
her. She even felt sorry for the guy,
because of how he wrote things on
Every man, I believe, has a side
his Facebook making himself out to
that makes them want to protect
be the victim.
others. They may play it down, but
It was horrible that they—two
everyone, from the burliest of jocks
entitled, poor excuses for human
to the smallest of nerds, requires
beings—had come to define her male
someone that they feel they can proexperience and turn her into the pertect. Not someone to hold, or look
son she was. She was someone who
after in the romantic sense of the
had had a bad time, because of two
word, but someone to whom they
isolated incidents of guys being
feel at least platonically responsible,
pricks, not realizing the power they
someone who gives them a purpose
have to change people, treating this
in living. Rose was that purpose.
girl like she was their ‘right’.
She had a way of seeming small
She said, quote: “I just feel bad
and crushed by those who tried to
for him. It wasn’t that bad, after all
take advantage of her good looks by
of a few people. Disappointments
summed up in feelings are hard to
put into words. I guess I’ll take a
crack at it.
Rose was someone who, while
beautiful, wasn’t ready for the kind of
responsibilities that such beauty gave
her. She’s the kind of person who
doesn’t understand and thus fears the
world of men. Light brown hair with
the crap he gave me on Facebook, I
just thought that this wasn’t worth
it. He made me feel terrible. I wish I
had just kept my mouth shut...if he
had raped me or something, I don’t
think I would’ve said anything,
because it’s so embarrassing for people to know.”
I care for people. I cared for her.
Frankly, I was disappointed.
I was disappointed in what people turned out to be: lowlifes that
have the capacity to treat each other
like meat. I was disappointed in the
entire fucking human condition for
what we are capable of.
So yeah, Rose fucking disappointed me.
We don’t talk much anymore.
She’s grown and moved on, but I
know that the scar is still there. I
guess this is what people are, a collection of mutilating scars that grow
over and comprise the twisted, contradictory people they’ve become.
She’s made me realize that we’re
all just reactive children, children
who have had bad experiences and
act differently to avoid repeating
these experiences. Those guys who
were invasive probably had experiences that were rewarded for this
kind of entitled behavior. So they, in
turn, gave her an experience that
affected her. We’re all just reacting to
each other. In this long, drawn out
dance of shifting personalities, we
must be mindful of who we may
‘bump’ into and how this bump
might alter their step.
I don’t want anyone to think that
I’m admonishing these particular
boys. But know that I believe, in a
way, we’re all vulnerable. We’re all
just the sums of our experiences
manifested in our actions. Don’t ever
think that that pretty girl or that big
jock is invulnerable. No one is. We
could all use some caring and protecting every now and then. Young Writers | 51
New York State Summer Young Writers Institute
Summer 2011 Participants
Christy Agrawal
Lily Cao
Erin Carden
Kathyrn Corah
Dana Crispi
Riley Dixon
Maggie Doran
Andreas Esposito
Andrew Fedorov
Luke Foley
Cynthia Gerber
Shivani Sanwal Gonzalez
Chloe Hamer
Carson Jarrell-Rourke
Andrew Kim
Madeline Klein
Elizabeth Lee
Lily Lopate
Erika Lynn-Green
Sean Maloney
Olivia McElwain
Matteo Mobilio
Kerry Mullen
Connor Murphy
Maddie Rojas Lynch
Carolyn Schultz
Leila Selchaif
Kaveri Sengupta
Griffin Shoglow-Rubenstein
Grace Terdoslavich
Cara Tomaso
John Volza
Michelle Waters
Lydia Youngman
Karen Yuan
Sinan Ziyalan
Young Writers | 52
Young Writers | 53
Since its creation in 1984 by the state legislature to promote writing and the artistic imagination across
the state, the New York State Writers Institute has emerged as one of the premier sites in the country
for presenting the literary arts. Over the course of three decades the Institute has sponsored readings,
lectures, panel discussions, symposia, and film events which have featured appearances by more than
1,000 artists—including six Nobel Prize winners, and 90 Pulitzer Prize winners—and has screened
more than 600 films, from rare early prints to sneak previews of current releases. The Institute is a
major contributor to the educational resources and cultural life at the University at Albany, where it is
located, as well as the surrounding community. It is also identified by the writing and publishing communities as a place dedicated to promoting serious literature, where writers and their work are held in
high esteem, where being an invited guest is considered an honor, and where talking about books is celebrated as the best conversation in the world.
Further information about Writers Institute programs may be obtained from its website at:
Skidmore is an independent, four-year liberal arts college located about one mile from historic downtown Saratoga Springs, NY. Skidmore extends its academic year emphasis on experimentation and creativity across disciplines into the summer months, through its numerous institutes in the creative and
performing arts; the college’s Summer Term; programs in the liberal and studio arts for pre-college students; and by promoting a wide array of campus events including concerts, film screenings, lectures,
readings, and art exhibits.
Young Writers | 54
Administrative Staff
William Patrick
Director, New York State Summer Young Writers Institute
New York State Writers Institute
William Kennedy
Executive Director
Donald Faulkner
Suzanne Lance
Assistant Director
Mark Koplik
Program Fellow
Skidmore College
Jeffrey Segrave
Acting Dean of Special Programs
Michelle Paquette
Associate Director, Academic Programs and Residencies
Christine Merrill
Program Coordinator
Chloe Barker-Benfield
Katherine Humphreys
Resident Assistants
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