Dealt a Different Hand

By Yehong ‘Mo’ Min-Lange

“Big Ate 2”, in bright neon blues, pink, and yellow were plastered on a stark white, generic cotton blend T-shirt that was given to me to announce the arrival of the 4th edition to the family. It was late October, just before Halloween when my father and step mother sat us 3 kids down on the couch – a couch that sat in a dank and creaky top floor 2-bedroom apartment. The scratches that streaked the floor, alone could tell you stories of their previous residents. Melanie, the youngest, was oblivious to the gravity of our parents’ need to sit us all down; she anticipated that she was not going to get her birthday party as promised. My father dished out the shirts like a final test in a math class that could bring that ‘B’ to an ‘A’. After he passed out the shirts to their corresponding receiver, he sat down in the black leather lounge chair, adjacent to the computer desk and remained silent. My step mom entered the living room from the hallway as if to be the grim reaper about to collect a soul. She instructed all of us to flip over the shirts to read what they said. “Big Ate 2” … For a 12-year-old, another sibling was going to be the end; I was already the middle child and now with a 4th kid, I was going to become the eldest daughter. A title that burdened my shoulders. “This is what Atlas must have felt like”, I remember thinking to myself.

9 months later … Friday July 28th, 2006

My father called me from the hospital and spoke in a lifeless manner that would appease a librarian. Around 10 o’clock in the late evening on a warm summer night, Mia was born. A couple days in the hospital was normal for a newborn, but those couple days turned into one and a half weeks of nail biting. Mia had dangerously low levels of bilirubin when she was born and Death was waiting for her; sitting patiently in her room, reading a magazine. I came to learn that bilirubin played a role in maintaining the risk of jaundice in infants. This is normal, this happens all the time, she just needs a few days in an incubator, don’t worry I see this all the time. It did not matter what the RN’s, the doctors, the CNA’s, or what my parents told me; Mia was going to die and I would never get my chance to be the best big sister to her.

Driving to the hospital on Mia’s 3rd or 4th day in NICU, my father was silent. His suffering had been slapped with insomnia, but somehow was carefully masked with a smile to assure me that everything was fine. We pulled into Bellflower’s Kaiser Permanente’s parking lot, did a couple turns, eventually parked the car, and began to saunter somberly to the NICU room where Mia and her mother were waiting. Since this was my first visit to Mia since she was born, I didn’t know what to think based on what my father was relaying to me from what the doctors said. It was nice, though, to get out of that game of Telephone and see Mia for myself.

The elevator ride up was isolating. I knew my father was with me in the elevator car, but I rode up to the third level alone. Ding, the doors took their time opening for even the doors knew that I needed to be patient. Haste got the best of me as I began to run through the nurses and patients looking for my baby sister. Once I found the room, I froze at its’ entrance; I wasn’t ready to face the music or wait for curtain call. Mia was wearing a diaper and an eye patch that had an image of sunglasses printed on them. A sick fucking joke for a dying baby to sport. The nurse was just placing her into the mobile incubator that sat next to my step mother’s bed where she would sit and stare at her child writhe in longing to be held.

Mia struggled to lay still because she had already learned to miss being loved. The nurse’s quick fix for that was giving Mia a pacifier with sugar water on the nipple. Adolescent rage burned through my skin that I could’ve been an incubator for my sister. My eyes were the flames and my tears were wax being melted by the fury inside me. My father saw that I was miserable and suggested that we head home to pack up a few things for my step mom and for me. It was a part of the arraignment that my older brother and I stay with our dad in the summer and we’d live with our mother during the school year. This time, I would be staying with my mother until further notice. My father wanted to shield me from more pain.

We got into the car, pulled out of the parking lot, and began on the freeway to home. I took a vow of silence on the journey home; I needed to process seeing my new sister in her condition. He parked the car and we headed towards the apartment’s staircase. I had walked up those 13 measly steps a thousand times over, but that day might as well have been the first day we moved in; my legs dragged as if to have been carrying multiple heavy boxes up that flight of stairs. Unlocking the door, my father told me to pack what I needed and to do it quickly because he wanted to be by Mia’s side. I grabbed my backpack from Melanie’s room that we shared during the summer and threw my clothes that were scattered on the carpet into the main compartment. As I turned the corner to the living room, my father was waiting for me with the door open. We ran down the stairs, to the car, and left immediately.

A few moments went by and my father looked at me and asked if I understood what was going on. Before I could answer, my father went on trying to put the situation into layman’s terms for me. I cut him off to explain that I did understand what was going on, that Mia was dealt a different hand, that we as a family are now being tested, and that whatever happens will happen because we all have been given different paths. My father looked at me with astonishment and began to sob a bit, but composed himself to agree with me. For a pause in time, my father accepted me as more than just a child. I was acknowledged as my own person, with analytical comprehension and spiritual understanding. Mia almost dying taught me that life is not about the quantity of your experiences, but of the quality of them. Qualities that I now have the pleasure of sharing with both Melanie and Mia; my two beautiful, healthy, and smart, baby sisters. I am “Big Ate 2” – always and forever.

My WebWebs

 By Mia Rodriguez

         My world has always been made up of webs. Lines intersecting through space, through my life, through my mind. Subtle danger within the vivid beauty. Many times I’ve gotten so tangled up in these webs I could hardly decipher where it began and ended. In the end I would get so fed up I’d just pull it all apart and start from the beginning. Thread by thread, weaving a grand tapestry. My life embedded within every fiber, miniscule links that bring every aspect of my existence together to form something that can get worn down, repaired, reshaped, but never destroyed.

Some have gotten caught in my web and hung around for a while; others have broken free and left nothing but a hole that I had to mend. A hole that, until I got around to repairing it; gave others the opportunity to fly straight thru it, narrowly missing getting stuck in my web. I let them go without interference. Why test the Fates I thought, after all they have thread of their own; much more powerful than mine. Looking back on it now though I wonder if I should have closed that gap sooner. Maybe I shouldn’t have let my web become some metaphorical highway, where people whiz past me without a second glance, sometimes without even a first. Too many times I’d blended into my background. I became to use to the feeling of being invisible. At first it was liberating, it gave me power I had never experienced before. I could glide along my web and never be detected by the rest of the world. Easing along until I was right on my target, and then quick as lightning I would snatch it up, and finally have what I had been working towards for so long. No one could take that away from me, or so I thought.

It wasn’t long before things started getting sticky (no pun intended).  You can only guard something bigger than yourself for so long before you start to develop breaches and leaks. Leaks are the worse within a web because the bad things don’t just run off and disperse like their supposed to. Instead they cling to each strand and dangle there for all to see, disguised as something dazzling, blinding those that peer at it to the ugliness underneath. At the end of the day it leaves my web in tatters. Binds are broken, hanging limply, but still very much alive like exposed wire. They sway in the afternoon breeze, sending vibrations through my very foundation. Everything is coming apart; lines are split in half creating new smaller memories, that don’t quite fit back together in just the same way. So I weld them to other loose ends and create new memories. Sometimes this spawns hellish images which I’d rather not remember, and other times it births moments that I wish I could remember as being true.

I’ve rebuilt my web too many times to keep track, and every time it feels like I’ve built it better than the last. More complete, and stronger than its predecessors. Yet every time holes start to form once again. They start off small and few, but then as time wears on they grow in size and number. Until eventually the web is more holes than connections. They spring up faster than I can close them, these hole leave me with an empty feeling deep inside. They leave me with a gnawing need to bring all the scattered pieces of myself back together into something whole again. That’s when I start grapping miscellaneous ends and tying them in knots in an effort to force them to conform into shapes I want them to be. Into the life I always wanted to live but never had quite enough ingenuity to create. Others can spin vast webs that stretch over larger plains and have more incorporated within, and envy prods at me to emulate their creations. Yet no matter how hard or long I’ve worked at it my tiny universe has always stayed just that; tiny. I’ve always been afforded the room to expand, but fear has always stopped me from widening my perimeters even just one inch more.

To step out of my bounds is unthinkable to me. Sometimes I lay awake at night and think of all the unspeakable dangers that await me outside my comfort zone. I’m scared to toe the line between the known and unknown, but I’m also scared to live within this figurative box I’ve made my web inside. I can’t live here forever. There is no sunlight at the bottom of this box; there is no room for me to grow, and therefore no room for my world to expand, for my web to become limitless. Yet that’s exactly what I want, a world that’s limitless. Right now there is an end to my web, and edge that taunts me to jump off of it. But, what’s waiting for me at the bottom of the deep abyss, do I dare be the first sane person in history to jump OUT of the safety net into peril. There is always another option, where there is a down there is always an up. Can I pull myself up and out of this rut I now refer to as life? If I squint I can still see the line I repelled down here on, glinting in the reflections of light, like a brilliant saving grace. I can backtrack. Just retrace my original spiral downward, but in reverse. There is still only one thing stopping this ascent into a new life. Me. I still fear what I cannot see, and I have no idea what is waiting for me on the other side. When I fell into this mess, the world was a different place on top. I was a different person, a more accepting person. I could roll with the punches back then. I could adapt to new surroundings, with little to no pause. Now if something in my small universe noticeably shifts, my mind goes into a full blown panic, and slowly I start receeding into myself. Trying desperately to recall my old skills of invisibility. Wordlessly pleading to disappear. I just want to disappear. Life is so much easier when you don’t exist. Deep down I know that’s not the right answer. I need to tentatively walk down another path. I need to muster the courage that I have buried way down deep for so many years. I need to become that fearless wide-eyed child I use to be.

I don’t need to tentatively walk. No I need to sprint head on into my destiny. I’m starting to realize that I’ll never be fully prepared for the future, but who is? I damn sure am not, but I’m running into it’s strange embrace anyway. I want to take one last look at my familiar web, but I know if I do I will never move forward. I will let my old demons overcome me and the fear and anxiety will take hold of my mind and manipulate me like an old marionette puppet. I cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen. I blindly grab hold of my lifeline and with good faith begin the long and grueling process of hoisting myself up and out of this slump. At times on the way up I want to quit, Many times I look back and wonder if I have made the right decision. I believe wholeheartedly that I have, but at times my faith is tested. I must learn to trust in myself, and trust in my instincts. I keep venturing on. Right when I think I can’t make another step, another leap, another push forward, I realize I’m there. Blinking into the light, I try to look around at all the unfamiliar faces and places that swarm around me at my end point. It’s overwhelming and I swivel my head back and forth searching for a safe place to hide. I can’t breathe, I’m choking on my surpressed screams. I was wrong! I cannot do this, I’m not ready. But then right when I’m readying myself to dive back into my isolated abyss, I catch a glimpse of a familiar face. Then another glides past, just mere feet away. These are ghost from a past life. Entities I haven’t tried to conjure since before I tumbled down. This land isn’t as foreign as I thought it would be. This life isn’t trying suffocate me, it’s trying to loosely wrap me into it’s folds. Something warm and unfamiliar starts to spread throughout my body. I start to realize it’s a sense of belonging, it makes me tingle; like coming into a warm home after being out in the cold for so long. Finally I really accept that I can be here, that I can exist in the plane.

Through the white noise in my head I start to realize that there is a voice speaking near me.

“ Welcome to Harbor College.”

The ClimbClimbing

By Juan Melgoza

There was a time I counted my steps as I walked across the same room back and forth. The tiny details in the rug were visible; torn thread here and there with no effort taken to become whole again. I traced the blank wall looking for magical words to appear like the writing on the one ring in the movie Lord of the Rings. The lingering taste of disappointment soiled my tongue like a rag left to ride the currents of a sewer. I could feel the sweat raking down the side of my temples as if each drop of sweat was a ghost not ready for the reaper. How could I tell my mother, who was recently let down by another man I was descended of, that I would not walk the stage or receive my diploma in time? My mother who has since been widowed for a year during this time? She was about to hear and see her star fly south, curve, bend, sputter dust, lose color, watch it become dim, and hope that it lands in the ocean and not on concrete.

There was no point in creating a scheme – this was not some overdramatic scene from the latest thriller. Although, the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger cliché “I’ll be back” would have fit perfectly if this were a comedy. If I carried such a powerful presence then, I would have been a believable character. My mother would have seen my power in my physical presence, felt the thrust in my words, and believed I would be back just as Hitler had all of Germany believing in him. I was not that bodybuilder nor was I one of the most powerful speakers in history. I kept it short and simple and spoke the truth. Short and simple like Arnold – the truth unlike Hitler. I was not going to graduate in time, but I will continue school and receive my diploma I told mother. As the words came out my mouth I could see the shallow water in her eyes. I felt like I plummeted from a cliff and landed in those eyes and hit nothing but rock, and I know she felt the same. I made promises that I intended to kept, but lacked the heart at the time to devote myself completely. My greatest issue was mending my own wounds while pushing forward. Becoming the man of the house and failing before my first foot was in the door was a huge misstep, but it was all part of the growth that made me into what I am today.

It was at this point I realized I had to break down my own essence of my being, and reconstruct him anew. I had to learn of my own breaking point and limitations while trying understand the linage of my own psyche. I began exploring avenues and methods of expression, not only through writing and meditation, but physical exploration as well. Fighting, martial arts, boxing, sports, bodybuilding – all become important aspects to myself. The spiritual essence of continually fighting, marching, moving forward, and always growing was an important theme I wanted to implement into my own self. If I could not conquer and take care of myself, how was I going to take care of my family? How was I going to walk the marshes with added weight on my shoulders if I could not even get my own feet out of the swamp water? This was all very important psychological structure I had to implement upon myself. In the midst of depression, loss of self, loss of a father, and loss of faith in my own self I had to trigger the survival instinct in me. I had to find out where it dwelled, tap into it at need, and use it to propel me to my goals.

Practicing fighting became an important avenue of expression for me because I could express my anger, happiness, sadness, frustrations, and disappointments. Bodybuilding became a spiritual practice for me. Understanding how muscles contracted and moved became a symbolic reference to mending my wounds to become one again. Understanding the destruction that muscle fibers undergo, only to become stronger, became an important theme of how I wanted to perceive my own self. I wanted to live each day with growth. As long as I invested that growth in myself through bodybuilding; I believed I would continue to grow regardless of how the world revolves around me. When I had those days I wanted to quit I would use exercise to take that essence out of me and slap it across the face again and again until it wanted to fight back.

Eventually I received my very first job at America’s Tire Company where I learned work ethic, and other things among the blue collar workforce. I learned important life skills, how to work with the public, the mindsets of people, how to handle situations, and how to talk to supervisors and coordinate with them. These life skills were all knew to me because none of this was taught in school. School prepares the individual for the world, gives the student a solid foundation in an indirect manner, but as to how to apply it is up to the individual. I worked there part time while attending adult school at PhineasBanningHigh school and Los AngelesHarborCollege to make up for lost credits. I had to work even harder now, and if I wasn’t prepared I would not be standing here today.

My hard work eventually paid off, and growing everyday is always a constant challenge. Growth is always obtainable in positive environments, but sometimes one has to dig through the rubble of a building destroyed by superman and his nemesis to find growth in a negative environment. I obtained my high school diploma; attended college full time, missed a year and a half of school, and then reenrolled again.

During my bodybuilding journey, I received a shoulder injury from improper form. I also injured the c4 disk in my neck which ended up pinching my nerve that stemmed all the way from my shoulder to my index finger. I was in pain, working a physical job, and doing parent duties in raising my sister. My mother had also had her kneecap replaced in the same year. She was in no condition to walk, and for about a year, I was the only one in the family working. My priorities had shifted; I had to take care of myself first and foremost, and then my family. School had fallen off the priority list. I had to attend physical therapy and learn about muscle structure, contraction, and development the right way. All the growth I had gained had come to a halt; it was like riding a bike for the first time again and retraining my body entirely. I saw a physical therapist, a physical therapist that specialized in sport injuries, and had an MRI done. When my sports doctor released me, I made it a commitment to rehab my shoulders properly and develop my body the right way so that I could avoid such an injury again. I am very thankful for the injury, for it has enlightened me, taught me things I did not know about the body, and was an important break pedal in my life that allowed me to refocus.

The injury was perhaps the most dreadful journey of all. There were times when I would lose sight of the goal, but due to all my prior training I had already obtained a psyche that forced me to keep pushing. No matter how much it hurt, I had to make money to eat. I had to mask my injury and manage to survive at work. I had to play certain roles and learn to keep my foot off the gas pedal. It allowed me to see the world at a much slower pace and absorb knew knowledge I had missed before. I had moved so fast that I missed the very tiny details in life. I had forgotten how to personify things, and make light of situations. I forgot how to work smart and become crafty. I had lost my balance as a person with too much stimulation and power, and not enough grace and delicacy. I had forgotten how to be a writer and myself. I realized I had shut off an important part of myself in my quest for such a raw and unstoppable character I was building.

The journey has been challenging sometimes, but with each step I grow stronger and learn something new. Currently I am working a physically taxing graveyard shift of 40 plus hours a week while attending college. Everything I have gone through in life has been for a reason; I have been crafted into a character that is capable of taking that climb. Becoming the individual that I need to be in order to survive and continue my spiritual growth, psychological growth, and mental growth. I am currently one semester away from my AA degree and I have been accepted into Cal State Dominguez Hills.

How a Loser Saved a LoserLoser

By Maddie Ibarra
This is merely my second semester at Harbor College. I still have a couple years to go before I get my associates degree in liberal arts and sciences and transfer, preferably to Long Beach State or Marymount. Or, maybe I’ll publish and sell my first few books and use the proceeds to afford LA Film School.
Whatever I decide to do, it beats sitting at home for three years after high school by a country mile. After graduating high school in 2008 I was generously given a year off by my parents to relax before I start college or work. Even though I had all kinds of ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, I had no drive. No desire to pass my driver’s test, go out with my friends or do anything a normal seventeen year old should do. Not to make excuses, but I believed my mindset was a year behind everyone else’s in my age group, so I was slow to start anything. I still feel this way.
So for three years I stayed locked in my room, afraid of the outside world, watching YouTube, eating, and waiting for my dad to get home from work so I can finally have human contact. My friends moved on and seemed to realize that I was far from doing so, since they started avoiding me. Today I can’t imagine going through that again, but that was my reality after the summer of 2008. I had no idea how to register for college, get a job, take orders, and drive on busy streets. I was afraid the world would be hard and unfair on someone like me. I felt, for lack of a better word, retarded. I would hear about it too, like my parents making me feel worse for doing nothing, never feeling like I made them proud, not having anything to say when my family asked how I was doing, and only numbing myself with food and internet articles from when I wake up at 12 AM to when I fall asleep at 11pm. It was a sickeningly pathetic routine that I openly weep about to this day.
One of my daily internet searches led to me being educated on the internet prodigy by the name of Christian Weston Chandler. Here is a man, baby, or man-baby, who is autistic (the type that’s able to function adequately though) who managed to dig himself a hole of embarrassment and shame he can never in his life get out of. Apparently he gained such negative internet fame by posting a video of himself, dressed in a shirt Ernie on Sesame Street would find too much, around his neck a crude Crayola model magic medallion of a Sonic the Hedgehog character he ripped off, granny glasses and reads from a list he wrote on advice from his own experiences. Some of his advice consisted of stroking the hair of a My Little Pony toy for comfort, sending all the alcohol and tobacky to the moon and the importance of remaining heterosexual.
The video, called Chris-Chan’s future message by the way, marked his own grave as he descended down a spiral of ridicule he imposes on himself. There is an entire website called the CWCKI dedicated to every ridiculous thing he has done from the now thirty years he’s been alive. From creating his horrible plagiarized comic series Sonichu, to harassing women, to being tricked, to even nearly being convicted of a felony. Making videos and internet declarations on how the world is against him and that he’s done no wrong yet has a bunch of bullies out to get him. His website has more articles and sources than a website for George Washington or even a heartthrob (term used loosely) like Justin Bieber or Robert Pattinson. Congratulations?
The moment in which my life was changed forever by this disgusting man was a particular video in which he talks on the phone to the father of a girl he wants to date. While the father and daughter turned out to be ultimately pranksters, the conversation was realistic as any overprotective father talk would be. Chris handled the call childishly as he made it evident he was on welfare and had no desire to work, is not secure, has no real love for the girl other than to use her to validate his manliness and repeatedly compared his menial problems to deaths in the father’s family.
Entertaining enough, I saw a lot of myself in Chris. His laziness, selfishness, resistance to change and no real desire to work for what he wants. His childish ideas and illusions of grandeur. Even though I wasn’t as old or worse off as he was I felt I was coming quite close. At least I was aware that that was not the kind of attitude I should live with, while Chris thought nothing he says or does, or rather doesn’t do, is wrong. Even the way the father scolded him in the video for being the way he was felt too close to the arguments me and my parents get into about my laziness and inability to function. Admittedly I also felt unfairly attacked by my parents when they would scold me and come up with the conclusion that they needed to change and not me. That scared me because it struck me as Chris-like behavior. With the new knowledge that such a person exists I strived to never be in any way like this disgusting person.
So after a three year hiatus, we’ll call it, I finally learned to drive and made it a part of my routine. I finally registered for college and became less dependent on my parents. I went out more and made new friends. I still live with my Dad and am unemployed but that is the next step. I’m never going back to the way I was.
Chris might be a huge joke of a human being to the rest of the world, but I see him as a precautionary tale. An example of what happens when one’s childish tendencies and fears ultimately take over oneself. I luckily had parents that would not allow that of me, but it was my own doing and drive that pulled me away from potential Chris-hood.
As I further detached myself from Chris, I still had my fears of the outside world, but that is only something I must deal with. I was regretfully conditioned by my dad to feel fearful of the world around me which became my weak point. A lot of what I had not done was due to fear. Like I would not understand something, be taken advantage of, make an embarrassing mistake or forget. What my three year hiatus was really about was my fear to move up. Fear to drive on the road with many other people in a not-so-safe part of town. Afraid to have a session with a guidance counselor for she may speak in some language only college nerds in films would speak. Nowadays my fear keeps me from work for I may lose my study time or, selfishly, my free time. Or that from bad work experience, I would fail yet again.
I learned that a failure is someone who doesn’t even try to pursue anything due to fear. Fear of hard work or things not going well in one’s favor. A lot of problems Christian Weston Chandler had stems from fear presumably. Fear of leaving his place of comfort and security. I can sadly relate. During high school I was not expected to do much but to not be late and pass my classes. I’d survive an eight hour school day, come home and pretend it didn’t happen and contently do my own thing until bed. Then after graduation a whole world opens up where I’m expected to go out and find my way. I always thought it was just instinctual to know what to do after high school and pursue it no problem. Yet I was still not prepared. I was too comfortable at home and, callously, I felt my school did not prepare me for the outside world. Alright, I learned how to write a resume but what do I put on it? My parents seemed to do okay after high school so what was my problem?
What I learned as well is that things always sound scarier than they actually are most of the time. Like the sound of a test or a job interview, the actual thing passes eventually. Even though I remind myself of that, I always get afraid before something needs to be done, but it all ends the same. Where I get through it.
Despite my long way to go to be who I really want to be, I must thank Christian Weston Chandler for my new realizations and dramatic life change. Due to one’s unwittingly careless expense, I and maybe even others can improve ourselves.

Pop Tarts and Battle Ships


By Kayla Kohn

I come from a family of all boys. Testosterone was not just a word, but a lifestyle and a fuel to live off of. The term “tomboy” was never seen as derogatory or negative, it was just my way of fitting in my own home. This family was not just full of boys, but military boys. I have always had great pride in that and consider myself more patriotic than your average American… However that unwavering devotion was tested on October 12, 2000, when the USS COLE was bombed in Yemen. Mind you this was almost a whole year before 9/11, before people knew what a war on terror was. My father had just retired as a chief in the Navy and for the first time I was on “the outside”. Moving to my mother’s small hometown of San Pedro, California, is where everything changed and suddenly I learned how sheltered I really was. I was the “new kid” and every day I found myself explaining what my family did and where I came from. To these eleven year olds, I was an enigma, almost from another planet in that I had no concept of mistrusting people because on a naval base, you could trust everyone.

That morning of October 12, I remember like it was yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. As if it is a dream that is eternally engraved in my mind, knowing the details are facts but not knowing if I can ever accept them as so. Getting ready for school and fighting for pop tarts with my older brother Alex, we sat and fought like your usual brother and sister who are only a year and a half apart. As we got louder, I noticed we were the only noise aside from the television. My mother had been quiet for some time just watching the television and holding the phone, she seemed to be on hold. But with who? Why wasn’t she getting ready to take us to school? I was trying to make a good impression on my new classmates who had been friends for years, and my mother was just watching the news like she had never seen the thing before. My brother took this opportunity of my observation to snag the pop tart and eat it as fast as he could to prevent retaliation. I just kept staring at my mom. Then I finally heard, “Do you know if he is one of the bodies found?” and “Well tell me what you do know” all in a very hushed voice almost like a secret she didn’t even want to know.

I finally looked at the television and realized while in the midst of a pop tart battle with my older brother, my oldest brother’s naval ship was the top story with a huge hole in the side and smoke coming out. I was always so proud of my brother, George, for being like my dad and joining the Navy. He was a sonar tech and this meant that he was stationed in the hull of the boat- right where the hole was on the screen of my TV. Not many details were being said, but a caption of “BODIES FOUND. MANY INJURED” was periodically flashing across the bottom, my heart dropped and I didn’t know which way was up anymore. I quickly tried to think of where my brother described his post when I would ask him while he was on deployment. I couldn’t remember exactly and hated myself for not listening better.

Suddenly I didn’t care about school, the pop tart, or even my older brother beside me. I knew all those things were insignificant and that Alex was safe… but I didn’t know about George. Watching my mom on the phone asking if her son was dead or alive sent chills down my spine that pushed out any innocence I may have had left in my childhood. I had always been proud of my brother, thinking he was invincible because he was like my dad, who I knew was invincible. I always hailed the Navy as the greatest thing ever and turned off my ears to those who would try and protest my love for America. People who protested war annoyed me and people who spouted injustices and corruptions in politics boiled my blood, but at that very moment I was finally faced with the reality of it all. The bombing wasn’t an accident; they were never supposed to refuel in Yemen. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why this was all happening and before I knew it, my mom was rushing us off to school because she didn’t want us watching the news and thought it would keep us occupied.

I had to go to each class and pretend I wasn’t scared. The fear was written all over my face and every person that asked what was wrong almost brought me to tears. I felt like I was going to explode; from fear, anger, uncertainty, and anxiety all at once like the bomb that may or may not have taken my brother away from me. I had to wait until I got home for my mom to tell me George was fine, but the hours of that school day in between turned me from a girl to a woman. Having to wrangle with the thought of losing my oldest brother; the big brother who taught me how to fight and take care of myself because he may not always be there. Those lessons burned into my memory and had me wishing he never taught me so he would have to be okay out there to come home and protect me. I tried to make reasons in my head for him to HAVE to be okay, to HAVE to make it home because I wasn’t ready to lose him. Rationalizing death and trying to will my brother to stay alive when I knew I had no power over it made me feel childish, yet looking back I realize the childish thing would have been to stay home and wonder what’s going on, to just have my mother tell me it’s going to be okay and not worry my pretty little head about things I probably don’t understand. That day I had to face the idea of death, and I had to accept that the thing I took pride in the most about my family, father, and brothers was might also take them away from me. I could handle six to eight month deployments but I never rationalized the thought of one of them leaving and never coming back.

My mindset changed that day along with my brother’s and most of the nation. Not long after that 9/11 brought to the national stage a threat that my family was all too familiar with, but by this time I was mature enough to understand.

Bodiless: The Descry of Success


By Julio Marcial

            When I was a kid, nothing was better than being the first to see my Dad come home from work. After a hard, well-played day, I would gather all of my toys together and build a mini fortress on the front porch. Then I would wait eagerly as my mother watched from the kitchen window. I knew when he was home; I could distinguish the sound of his car from afar. As soon as I saw his yellow-white tinted headlights beam on the driveway, I would race over to him. He would pick me up and hold me, and in that moment, the small details became this immense, unparalleled beauty. The smile he would give from up there felt so genuine and so honest. It made me forget about the minutes that felt like hours; he was all I knew—the warmth he gave me.

One night, while waiting, I asked my mother why Dad worked so much. “Your father works to support us, our family,” she said. “When you grow up, you’re going to have a family of your own someday, and when that happens, you’re going to have to be a hard working, successful man too.” The next morning, I woke up before my Dad and put on his white long-sleeved shirt, did my best at tying his tie, and combed my hair. Then I began to clean anything I could get my hands on. I washed the dishes, vacuumed the living room, dusted the china, and swept the floor. Of course, this was done pretty carelessly, and with a lot of noise. My parents were startled by the commotion and came out of their bedroom to see what was going on. When they discovered me on all fours, scrubbing the tiles of the kitchen floor, they began to laugh hysterically, asking me what I was doing. In a firm tone, I said, “I’m working!” Curious, they asked why I was working.

“To be a man! I can’t wait anymore! I got kids to feed like Dad!” I answered.  And, there I was, a little kid lost in a big man’s shirt. Looking back now, I can see that this was the first event that triggered my search for success, and as young as I was, even then I knew that when I grew up, something would be expected from me, something that everyone was supposed to achieve, but what was that? I didn’t know.

From that day on, I began to notice my father’s commitment to his work. Whether tired or sick, no physical state would deter him from his job, at least until the big strike in 2003: United Food and Commercial Workers Union made the decision that Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons, the three major supermarkets on the west coast, would rally together and try to establish a concrete contract with their parent corporate companies. I was eleven at the time; I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew that something was wrong, and my parents tried their best not show it.

“Rice and beans again, Mom?!” I abruptly shouted out at the dinner table. The look on her face: I’ll never forget it. Her eyes lowered, and she looked away, as if my words had pierced right through her. She didn’t have the heart to tell me that there was no other food to eat. I suddenly realized that I shouldn’t have said what I said. “Mom?” I questioned her worriedly, wondering if she was okay. “Mom, it’s okay, I like rice and beans! I’ll eat it all, promise!” I began to shovel down as many big bites as I could take. My father was sitting at the dinner table as well. He spoke his mind: “It’s time we tell them, Rose; they need to know.” He looked over at my mother, and she back at him, nodding her head. “Son, we don’t have money to spend right now. I might be losing my job soon, and if that happens, God forbid, we’ll need every dollar and cent to make it.” Nights like these lasted for another five months until the strike was over. They were hard times. After the first month of the strike, my parents had used up most of their savings, including whatever savings they had put aside for my siblings’ and my college tuition. They had to refinance the house, take out loans, and open new credit accounts—it was the disaster they had never thought to prepare for. Despite everything, they managed to pull through and get back on track, but things would never be like before. Money was always tight and always my parents’ main worry. They would never retrieve the savings they had lost; they would remain in debt.

And as time drifted forward, my real world perspectives began to change. When I turned nineteen, I had these recurring thoughts scavenging through my mind. I was trying to define to myself what a successful man was. Was it the hard workmanship? The white picket fence on the corner house? A family? I did not have an answer. It was my second year in college, and my parents could not afford to pay for my tuition anymore. I was grateful that they were able to help me with just one year. I needed to get a job, fast. My sister Angela, who coincidentally also works at a grocery store, Albertsons, said she could try and get me a job there. (Sadly, my sister Angela was recently laid off from Albertsons; she was one of twenty-five-hundred. They said she did not have enough seniority, and even though she had worked over ten years for the company, they laid her off on a technicality.) I didn’t hesitate to apply. A week later I got a call, came in for a interview, and I was hired on the spot. I was so excited! My first job ever! Even though I was going to be a box-boy, I didn’t care. There is some truth to that old saying, “Work builds character.” I felt confident, and thought maybe this could be my first real jab at finding success. However that alone was not enough. I wanted to emulate a man as much as possible, so much that when I went out, everyone would know it. I began to buy nice blazers, dressy shirts, and oxford shoes. I figured, if I want to be a man, might as well look like one. Even though I looked great, working with a fulltime schedule between my job and school began to affect my body. I was always tired and couldn’t focus in class. Nevertheless, when I felt there was time, I picked up on an old hobby of mine: poetry. Although fatigued, I would remind myself that this was the life of a hardworking man, a successful one like my father. Things changed, at least the way my friends, family, and people reacted towards me. They would smile and approach me in a manner I hadn’t seen before, but I knew that it was the apparel that was responsible for the sudden change. The apparel, acting as a façade—a carefully crafted wall constructed between us—was accountable for the new reflection of me in their eyes.

There was something about me that I didn’t know yet, and time: it felt like I had none. Desperate to find some clues, that following summer, I left my city, Torrance, for a day trip to downtown Los Angeles. I remember walking down the sidewalk amongst the collisions of buildings and windy pathways of cramped shops, watching the people pass by. The men there were dressed in suits and shined shoes. Here, I could relate. They each had their own fixated stare of certainty, as if the streets were carved in every angle to fit their offbeat peculiarity, yet in harmony with the environment. I had found it: success.

Content with who I thought I was, I continued to work, disregarding the symptoms of my health issues. I would take energy supplements to get me through the day. Whether it was a few cups of coffee, energy drinks, or power shots, none of it mattered to me as long as I got the job done. When the fall semester of school came around, I held onto the belief that if I had perseverance, I would succeed. After the first week of school, I really began to feel the toll on my body; there were days when I could not even pronounce the simplest of words. My thought process was decreasing, but still, I ignored it and kept on. I would remind myself of how my father worked six out of the seven days a week to support our family. Running on three to five hours of sleep, I somehow found more time for poetry. This great appreciation of literature began to grow within me, like a small flame, slowly erupting somewhere in the coldest of winters. I found myself writing in notepads at work, writing while out with friends, writing when the sun rose, writing in my dreams. When writing, it felt like I was able to stop time and hold it with my bare hands.

About half way through the semester, a pain began to grow in my chest. At first, it was subtle, and I could barely notice it. After a week, it grew deeper; the subtleness turned into a sharp pinch. Occasionally, it would go away.  However, it would return with a steep stab; still, I ignored it. That same week I saw my father before he went to work, and up until that moment I did not realize how much his work had aged him. He turned back at me with weary eyes, tired and drained, not like the great image I kept of him from when I was a young boy. He flashed me that same genuine smile, and I watched it as all the years flooded past him, falling into nostalgia. His youth was taken from him, stolen by his work. I was about to ask him what he thought of success, when all of a sudden, the pain in my heart felt stronger than ever; the pain was trembling, tightening, piercing. I sat down on the floor as my father worriedly asked what was wrong. I told him it was nothing. I went back inside the house and lay down on my bed, hoping that it would go away. Slow contractions of pain would burrow in and out of my chest. I became scared, so scared that I almost dialed 911. Instead, I gathered the strength to tell my mother to take me to the hospital. On the drive there, I could not control my breathing, and my heart was palpitating. My skin did not feel like it was mine; numb tangling shears of vibrations would race though every inch of my body.

When we finally arrived at the hospital, my vision became disoriented. In the emergency room, the nurses looked at me with a pale stare, revealing the vital case of my condition. My heart was beginning to feel heavy, like an anchor, sinking down into my stomach. A doctor immediately took me in, and asked if I had been on drugs. I shook my head no, and asked why. He replied: “Well kid, either you’re about to have a heart attack, which you’re far too young to be experiencing, or having a severe anxiety attack.” Heart attack? Anxiety? What? It didn’t make sense, and just when I thought the worst was over, a great white noise came screeching into my ears, blurring my vision even further. I almost fainted. I was afraid that this was it, the inevitable end. The doctor calmed me down and assured me that I would be fine. After a series of test, he concluded that it was an anxiety attack. He comforted me, telling me that it would soon pass; I just had to “ride it out.”

After it was over and they allowed me to go to the bathroom, I remember staring at myself in the mirror, directly into my own eyes. Leaning on the tiled wall, the cold smoothness was the only thing that kept me from crying. This thought I had kept repeating, like a creature of habit: “Success failed me. Oh, the hard working man I was becoming.”  I felt lost. Everything, all the events adding up to what had happened, were not significant enough to define me. My experience with “success” was too short and artificial—not enough to show me who was in front of that mirror. I saw a reflection of some young man, but this was not the man I believed myself to be, nor the man I wished to be. What caused the anxiety attack was an excessive amount of energy supplements, lack of sleep, and overwork in general. I thought that working this hard would make me successful like my father. He could work six days a week, running off of four to five hours of sleep a day. Why couldn’t I? What was I doing wrong? If a tangible object could reflect my thoughts at that instant, it would be a freshly painted portrait of myself, washing away in the gutter.

The week following, I was required to stay home and get bed rest. I was not used to having so much free time. The first night, I tried to keep myself busy, but ultimately I took  “bed rest” to heart, and lay in bed all day. I wasn’t tired, I was more than capable of doing something, but it was my thoughts, once more, that were dissolving through my mind and onto the ceiling of my bedroom. I gazed into the ceiling, as if it was the sky and the sky mirrored the universe. I wondered about life. Oh, how little I knew of it. The next night, this obsession of wanting to write came over me. I wrote what I felt, what I thought about friends, family, and the places I had visited. I wrote about anything, really. It was like this person I always knew was taking a defined shape through the inner layers of my skin. I believed in my journals, in my poems, and in my stories. I believed there was a voice behind every word, like a split second of a frame in a film. I could pause, rewind and visit my words over and over again, forever captured by each stroke of my pen. By the end of the week, I had written so much that my hands were sore, and I had calluses between my index and middle fingers.

On the last day of my recovery period, I was fed up with being home, so I went downtown in search of an answer that I thought I had already found. I walked the streets of Los Angeles, yet again. However, this time there were fewer people on the streets and the sun was setting. Sitting down on a bench that overlooked the heart of the city, I watched the sun’s tangy oranges, reds, and yellows shimmer onto the skyscrapers’ sleek surface. It flowed onto them like a river of golden emeralds. I saw past the violet hazed clouds as they fused with the sky’s ambient dark blues in which the stars were exposed, and they, too, shined, flowing collectively. This naturalness of transcending change overcame the city, and when the sun had completely set, the lights of the buildings caved through me as they pulsed through the air like circuits. The bulbs of street lights flickered in wilderness as they one by one turned on, ridding the darkness of its depths. The cars that drove by had no faces; I wondered about the people driving—what their day was like, what were their destinations, what were their dreams, what was it they were chasing. I wanted to know because they were people living, living just like me. And this planet we live on, Earth, is just a speck in orbit from a million miles away in space. The universe, in contrast, is this vast place where thousands upon thousands of stars, planets, and constellations are entwined into infinity. However, here, on this populated soil ground, a minuscule fraction of space, is where people live. They learn to love, laugh, dream, and build cities, countries, kingdoms. It is all limitless as to what possibilities may arise, and I, standing right before all of this greatness, the universe of life, felt lost.

The wind began to pick up, and it was a bit chilly, so I put my hands in my pockets; however, when I reached in, I felt a prick on my finger tip. Baffled, I grabbed something familiar to me. With my hand open, a pen was resting on my palm. I closed my hand and gripped it tightly. The still air around me fogged my breath as a single tear left a warm trail on my cheekbone. In my hands, I thought, it’s always been in my hands. That’s when I knew, that I would become the writer that I am today. That success isn’t some definition printed in a book. It’s not some tangible object, like materialistic cars, homes, or how hard I worked at my job.  It is through the eyes and perspective of the individual who seeks to define it for him or her self. Now, I can use this, what I found, not only to help myself, but to lead others into finding this blissful state of mind. And of course, my parents will have no more worries after I graduate and make enough money for all of us. But I can never repay what they have done for me with money; I can only show them with my actions. Success, I have found you.

6 responses to “Memoir

  1. Megan L.

    These are great! Not-so-light reading for a Saturday afternoon, but I want to read more!

  2. Curt

    Great stories, all.

  3. kayla kohn

    I want to keep contributing! Is that possible?
    Also, workshopping my memoir in a nonfiction class today, wish me luck

  4. Grace Nesbitt


    • The editors of laharborlights will be posting new material after Harbor College’s 10 minute play festival, Grace. The plays will be staged and performed in May. Once the plays have been recorded, we will also be uploading new poems, memoirs, and stories.

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