Swimming Lessons

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Alyssasie B


My grandmother sent me a message out of the blue on a Tuesday morning. I opened the message to see her in a big floppy beach hat and a vintage style bathing suit. A black bandage-like dress of a bathing suit. She stands on a hotel room balcony that faces the beach. Her hand is on her hip and she smiles. She tells me that she wants to start living her life because she is over 65. I reread the message at least five times, chuckling to myself and remembering all the distress she had once caused me over swimming. 

My grandmother has instilled the fear of every moving thing into her children and grandchildren. From riding in airplanes to swimming in the ocean, my grandmother made my aunts, my mother and myself believe we would be harmed or killed in some way. 

“You’ll drown.”

“Boats sink.”

“There are robbers, rapists, and murdered out here.”

“Sometimes it’s better to smile at men than to tell them no. It could save you.”

This was especially extended to being in water or swimming. The summer I turned six, my father, who has been a lifeguard for many years, decided it was time for me to learn to swim. I was extremely excited because I had never been to a pool or the beach and I had never owned a bathing suit. I wanted all three, just not in that order. My brother purchased a two piece yellow, floral bathing suit. At the time, I still had an “outie” belly button that stuck out like a sore thumb. My mother told me to try the bathing suit on in the bathroom. There was a long mirror in the bathroom, hanging vertically on the door. I twirled like a fashion model. “I love it,” I ran to my mother. In my mind, I had no choice but to love it because it was my only option. It could have been neon green paisley or plaid and I would have thought it was beautiful. 

“…She shouldn’t have that on,” my grandmother puckered her lips and shook her head, “cover her up.”

My mother shook her head, “it’s a bathing suit and she is a child.”

My mother and grandmother would continue to go back and forth about me wearing the bathing suit while I eagerly awaited the next morning. My father would retrieve me and take me to the pool. I laid in bed thinking about this magical place. I had only ever seen pools and beaches in films or when we drove past public city pools. I never paid much attention except to the fact that they were crowded with children splashing. I couldn’t wait to be one of those children splashing and dunking my head underwater. I wanted to become one with the water. I would become a fish or a mermaid that could tell my underwater adventures to anyone that would listen.

The morning came and I was up at the crack of dawn. My father arrived and I had a toothy grin with my new bathing suit on. He surveyed the outfit and frowned at my mother. 

She snubbed her nose, “Don’t start.” 

Before leaving, she positioned us for a photo. A moment frozen in time between my father and I. Me in my bathing suit and my father in a white tank top. I grinned from ear to ear.

The pool was filled with buzzing excitement. There was a makeshift concession stand coming out of the recreation center building. The smell of hotdogs  and melting ice cream filled the air. The sun beamed on my shoulders and there were so many kids splashing and playing. My father warned me to stay close by, in the shallow end of the pool. I made some new friends who had been swimming what seemed like their entire lives. I dipped my toes in the water, waiting for the day it would be my turn. 

After a few arguments with my grandmother and a change of attire, I realized that day would never come. I went to the pool. I dipped some toes in the water but I did not learn to swim. My father couldn’t finish teaching me to swim and my underwater dreams soon ended. The closest I got to swimming after that summer was getting color changing, mermaid tailed barbie dolls for Christmas. 

Years later, I found myself at an amusement park on a family “bonding” trip. My two younger cousins eagerly awaited going to the water park. They had never seen a pool or beach or even a lake, except on television. On the way to the park, my aunts stopped at a local target to purchase bathing suits for them. They asked me, “ have you been on the water slides?”

“Yes,” I smiled.

My youngest cousin, cheeks rosy, clasped her hands, “Can you go? Can we go with you?”

“…,” I looked to my grandmother, who was engaged in conversation with my mother. “…Yes but to the kiddie slides because they are smaller.” I tried to say it confidently and forget my memories of my discontinued swimming lesson with my father. My cousins and I waited all day until it was finally our turn for the big moment- my cousin would see the pool, the slides, and the tropical beach replica at the park. “Go ahead,” my mother said, “y’all have fun.” She smiled.

We ran to the shallow kiddie pool. My cousin was distracted by a pool shower in the shape of a turtle, but I told her we could get in the pool first and then go to the showers and slides. We finally reached the gold at the end of the rainbow. My cousin clung to me and my youngest cousin ran up to where the water met the “sand.”

“HEEY!” A voice bellowed like God as the burning bush.

“HEEEY! Don’t go in there. You’re gonna drown!! Get away from there.”

My face began to turn red because I recognized that southern drawl. I recognized the cadence. I recognized the false urgency. It was my grandmother.

My youngest cousin was engrossed with excitement. She couldn’t hear or see anything but the water. She already had her big toe in the water. She took a deep breath as she was about to enter the pool. This was her chance- the moment she had been waiting for. My grandmother came to the pool screaming about drowning and not going in, until other children began to gasp and run for their parents. A little boy grabbed his father tightly, who was laying in the water with his son. She continued to scream until we moved away from the pool. As we sadly walked away, she tapped my shoulder. “…Y’all was about to go home to glory, to meet Jesus. That water was up to that man’s neck.” The water was so shallow that toddlers, I assumed maybe two-three years old, were sitting and standing in the water. When they stood it touched the top of their ankles. While sitting, the water covered their legs.

I didn’t respond: I walked quietly away. My cousins returned to their mothers and I wandered to another part of the water park. My grandmother had given the “approval” for me to venture to the water slides. In her mind, the slide was different from that of the pool. I was older and she thought the few times I went to the pool with my dad, I actually learned to swim. Standing in front of the colorful slides and what mimicked an aquatic animal themed beach, I sullenly watched other children run and play. Children younger than my cousins were happily splashing about in the water. I decided not to get on any slides because I felt like my cousins were missing out. I returned to our group, and we walked silently to another section of the amusement park. We stayed until nightfall. 

On the ride home back to Maryland from my grandmother’s home state of Virginia, I would learn that my grandmother was a product of the Jim Crow south. Grandmother started recalling aspects of her childhood, which included the limitations on recreational activities, like swimming. She was born in a small town called Blackstone. See, a lot of Blacks didn’t swim because they couldn’t. If there wasn’t a law regulating public pools, white Americans were putting harmful chemicals in “Blacks only” pools to potentially maim Black people. Public swimming facilities for Black Americans were haunted with racial epithets and a lack of funding for those pools. Pools terrified my grandmother for more than fear of drowning. 

In her youth, Black people didn’t swim, and neither did we. I’m sure there are many more reasons that influenced her decision. Racism had subtly affected my life before I even fully acknowledged it. My grandmother held and still holds a lot of fear about many things because of her young life. She has avoided driving a car. She has avoided traveling, unless in a car driven by someone else.

Her internal distress would become a hindrance to us as we grew. Because of her paranoia of our bodies being ogled, of us potentially drowning and experiencing racial violence, my grandmother had a say in every decision and activity in our young lives. I am an adult now, and I think about that moment at the amusement park. I think about the young me in the yellow bathing suit. I think about all the factors that led to that moment.

Before my grandmother texted me, I made the decision to take adult swimming lessons. I never laugh at jokes about Black people not knowing how to swim because of the history and culture of swimming. I want to pick up where little me left off because she deserves to fulfill her underwater dreams. I deserve to enjoy an aspect of daily life without racism or sexism interfering with my existence. I deserve to just… be.

So my grandmother has finally gone to the beach, and now I will finally learn to swim.

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Veni, Vidi, Vici

Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Peter H


The language of Latin is dead, but I have spent the last five years studying it. In the beginning, it felt forced; the sounds got stuck in my throat, and the alphabet didn’t include my favorite letter, W. The language does not have a word for modern terms like “pencil” or “pool,” yet they have hundreds of ways to say “kill.” It is a harsh dialect; it does not flow like Spanish or Italian. It sounds like someone is yelling at you while in the midst of a coughing fit. It never appealed to me any more than calculus did. 

Yet my desire for academic validation made me sign up for Advanced Latin I. There I got stuck with a teacher who had been teaching Latin at my school for fifty years. She was somewhat of a local legend in my school’s community, and when I would run into people who had recently graduated all the way up to people who worked with my mother, they always had a story to tell about her. She lived up to the stories; she was a cat lady whose classroom was scattered with empty cat food cans; she made kids cry for translating “liber” as “independence” instead of “freedom.” She should have made me hate Latin, but she failed. Instead, I strived for her approval and doted on the small comments she would make about my knack for sentence structure or verb forms. Still, I thought Latin was just a class I took.

Then, two years later, I was still taking Latin. I was reading the Aeneid, learning about the effort it took to found Rome and about the tumultuous relationships between leaders of the ancient world. The words with the harsh “-ae” ending and the Vs that sounded like Ws turned into long, eloquent phrases about fate and legacy. Written thousands of years ago, I felt myself relating to the characters struggling with mental health and familial obligation. As my math, history, science, and Spanish classes became harder, Latin stayed the same. My desire to pursue the classics grew, and I found purpose in learning a dead language.

spine too chilled

Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton


I always say that I love being disappointed.

The chill in my stomach and down my spine when I experience a pang of disappointment… I love it so much. When I’m let down by a person or betrayed by unexpected circumstances… so human. It’s such a fertile emotion, and reminds me that I’m alive and living. It’s a pendulum swing of a feeling, two faces of a coin– being disappointed, then having hope again, before the universe slips in yet another betrayal, and injects another shot of optimism.

To me, disappointment is a pretty profound way to feel sadness. Being disappointed by someone, via their words, or actions, or unearthing an underlying intention of theirs that reveals things we didn’t know beforehand regarding their character– it’s such a vulnerable thing to experience for both parties, and for myself to be content with that disappointment allows the people in my life to be human as well, and gives them space and time to experience the complexity of their lives without being subject to extreme judgment.

When I’ve trusted someone or a situation to play out a certain way, and they don’t, there’s an opportunity for me to be courageous. I do admit that it’s hard! But I pause and remind myself that it’s so human to fantasize about the future, to dream about an outcome. It is human to extend trust and hope. So, being disappointed is not a great feeling, sure, since our brain processes disappointment as an act of disrespect towards our ego, or a harm towards our wellbeing. But it becomes easier to overcome this when we accept that life just consists of many unequal actors. And these unequal actors will, a lot of time, find it tough to cooperate with each other to produce ideal outcomes.

I’ve come to understand that the vulnerability of my needs and wants being unmet will always exist underneath every single sliver of hope or expectation I extend to someone— all courage in believing in a friend or family member’s promise will forever be haunted by the possibility of brokenheartedness or crushing disappointment. But there is nothing more courageous than to extend my arm to reach across the chasm regardless. There is nothing more brave than attempting to draw that line between expectation and reality over and over again. 

Of course, this shouldn’t apply to all situations wherein our hopes and needs are unmet. We shouldn’t tolerate it when something is done to us with the intention to upset us, by people who want to hurt us. And it is tough to trust someone again after they’ve let you down. But in the occasions when the ones we love are simply being human– grappling with their own responsibilities, subject to their own ever-changing circumstances– it’s important to realize that these pendulum swings between hope and disappointment are what helps propel us forward in a universe where we all have very, very little control in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not encouraging intentionally courting disappointment and sadness like a mad scientist, but it also shouldn’t be something we avoid out of fear with the assumption that moving toward happiness is the best way to live. No. I prefer the path that makes me attempt more questions, the path that teaches me how to answer those questions with more and more accuracy. The path that pursues progress instead of perfection.

Hopefully, I’ll always accept people as they are, and when they are “less of themselves, I’d be ready to help. Hopefully, I would always extend grace and understanding to the people around me. Hopefully, one day, I would finally extend this grace to myself too.

Piano Lessons

Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Maria Tyutina


On Wednesday nights, in a small living room on a dead-end street, I play the piano. This stands in awkward juxtaposition to the rest of my world. Here I fumble over notes and mumble apologies at my patient teacher sitting in a wooden chair behind me. I play Mozart and Bach, but mostly I play the simple pieces from the beginner books. I am not good at the piano, but unlike school or rowing, I don’t care all that much. It is something that I do because I enjoy it, and even though practicing always brings me dread, I never seem to want to quit. 

Usually, I sit on the cold, black bench in sweatpants and a crew neck. Sometimes I arrive at the teacher’s door tired, my hair still slicked into a tight ponytail that gives me a headache. She opens her faulty door that you must apply force will also craning the handle all the way to the right to close, before walking quietly into her living room. I can tell the house was chaotic only a few minutes before my arrival; there are always remnants of forgotten dishes on the table, and the smell of whatever was cooking drifts in, reminding me that I have not yet had time to eat dinner. We make small talk for a few minutes before I open my warm-up piece and begin. I arch my palms and press my fingers onto clean, smooth keys that sound elegant and graceful compared to my small electric piano at home. She gives me advice that she explains with hand jesters and drum beats. She motions for me to stand up. Without warning or preparation, she sits down on the bench and plays the song I have been struggling with perfectly. Her aged hands dance along the keys—a reminder of how much I have left to grow.

Then, after forty-five minutes, I leave the same way I came in. I return to a life filled with chaos and anxiety. I forget the warm living room with the grand piano. Until next week.

Men, and the Women Who Know Them

Written by Caitlin Andrews
Art by Victor He


ONE
“FRED PERRY”

I was walking home from school in the mid-autumn evening (and this was in rural Scotland, so it was already pitch black with the ever-present risk of a vampiric bat attack) when a cluster of disorderly adolescent boys wearing Adidas tracksuits and Fred Perry trainers rounded the corner and started shouting sexual profanities at me. At first, I elected to ignore them; eleven-year-old me was objectively a bit shit-looking, and even at that age, I figured any kind of male attention was a misguided attempt at a compliment, so I held strong in my belief that this exchange was actually targeted towards whatever rogue Heidi Klum-type was wandering behind me and decided to try and make it home without further incident. No such luck.

As I kept my eyes firmly fixated on the stone wall in the distance and attempted, very subtly, to yank down the hem of my school uniform’s kilt in case their badgering was prompted by a pair of unintentionally displayed Primark underpants, my refusal to engage began to antagonise them. They wanted a response. They wanted to be entertained. So, they started screaming about the girls in my year—if I knew Christie Balfour, if I could get a message to Ella Arbroath, and if it was really true what Jen McKenzie did with that boy in the year above over the summer holidays. As their words became sharper and more littered with lecherous hand gestures (you know the ones, where their fingers make O-shapes and jerking motions about six inches from their trousers, as though they were the first hominids to ever grow penises), I felt a lump begin to rise in my throat. Home was less than three minutes away, but the concrete slabs of pavement were beginning to blend together, and I felt my feet become slack and sluggish, like those childhood nightmares of being chased by clowns, and, latterly, adulthood nightmares of being chased by rapists and dental practitioners.

Whatever happened, I wasn’t going to tell my mother. I had already decided that. But I hadn’t decided what I would do if things went really wrong; if it all took a turn for the worse; if the headlines read: “Local girl, 11, gang-raped in central Perthshire. Was reportedly wearing terrible underpants. Parents in shock.” I simply didn’t have the guts to tell my mother the truth—or worse yet, to repeat their crude, verbally incontinent words to my father, which would alert him to the inconvenient fact that I had a vagina—and watch the lines between her brows deepen in anger and fear, before quickly concealing a guilty feminist rumination about what it meant to be forty and not have disorderly teenage boys shout sexual profanities at you anymore.

After a few moments of trying to ignore the boys’ derisive snorts over my shoulder, I heard a large thunk as an Adidas-clad adolescent boy stepped off the pavement. My increasingly gelatinous legs refused to let me turn around and look him in the eye for fear of violent retribution, but I felt my cheeks begin to burn with shame as he offered up the final dose of propellant for my humiliation.

“Nice ass,” he said. “Can I fuck it?”


TWO
“KIDS”

When I was fifteen, I had been dating my first proper “grown-up” boyfriend for a little less than a month; a tryst that mainly involved driving out to the arable farms outside Crieff late at night in hopes of lying around partially naked in his silver Toyota hatchback and watching cerebral French animations from the seventies—half of which I couldn’t fully comprehend and the other half emotionally undercut by the stabbing pain from a wayward seat belt buckle. His name was Telly, a twenty-four-year-old aspiring screenwriter from the Central Belt, who blew thick, edible clouds of fruity vapour into the air and deemed the habit so much healthier than smoking cigarettes, in spite of his weekend proclivities for taking ecstasy and cocaine and roaming around the capital like Raoul Duke without the sunglasses. Our moments together were limited, which really just meant I didn’t have time to analyse what the hell was going on.

After an evening spent trying to teach me how best to improve my sexual performance and the respective virtues of veganism, Harmony Korine, and Neutral Milk Hotel, my boyfriend revealed he had an announcement to make. 

“I’m sleeping with a woman who sculpts,” he yawned. “She’s in love with me.” 

Telly was clever, bonily handsome (in a way that rejected the need for conventional charisma), and had a surplus of creative talent that was only mildly polluted by a lifetime of women telling him he was too pretty for his own good. Even my mother, a woman known for her shrewdness in adopting manual skills and picking partners with strong hands, fell prey to his impish charms on the night he first darkened our front door. She thought he was handsome; he thought she was beautiful; I tried not to think of it at all. 

“When did that start?” I asked Telly, coughing a little from the vapour, and trying to dissuade myself from engaging in thoughts of my mother whilst semi-naked. 

“A few weeks ago,” he replied cavalierly before pausing. “We used a condom.” 

If it hadn’t been for the sweet, boyish bagginess of his jumper or my own internal anguish at the premise of committing to a man whose mandatory “older guy” sex advice amounted to “Enjoy it more,” I might have considered plunging that little purple vape into his eye, but as it stood, I just refocused my attention on the Current Joys song playing over the stereo. After all, my own nights spent in the company of a man named Frank meant I wasn’t in a position to protest.

Frank was an unapologetically boorish person who had been provided with the same nepotistic luxuries as a man like Telly but abandoned them in favour of some kind of middling office job, which meant he thought that access to a company car and a few anecdotal conquests about sleeping with the sisters of previously dismissive ex-girlfriends were the pièce de résistance of tantalising sexual conversation. Occasionally, we played pool (I, to a shitty proficiency, him to a level only accessible amongst men who sweat Guinness and live in pubs), drank lemonade, had semi-public sex, and more often than not, ignored one another in favour of people-watching or staring at our mobile phones. I never had the time to get comfortable with Frank—our interactions were always shrouded by my desire to spend as much time as possible away from my parents’ house, and I went home most nights gagging for a shower. 

“I believe you,” I said, after returning my attention to Telly, my brain bouncing around this half-hearted and heavily-penised betrayal and the newly increased likelihood of having HSV-2. “I’ve been seeing someone, too.”

He looked at me, and the saccharine puffing stopped. 

“What?” he said, coldly, and we both heard my voice begin to falter. 

“His name’s John. He has a beard.” 

Telly stared at me quizzically, and for a few moments, there was silence in the car. He took a deep breath. 

“You know what, Cait? I really think you might be a sociopath.” 


THREE
“QUARTER POUNDER”

By the time I was sixteen, I spent my weekends reading obituaries and drinking anything I could get my hands on (bordering on Mr. Muscle Drain Cleaner). After telling my mother I was taking a train to visit my ex-boyfriend at his parents’ house in Portlethen, I agreed to meet with Richard, a man who was a full-time repeat traveller of the North Coast 500 and a part-time dabbler in orthodontics. If Richard had ever taken an interest in the music of Robert Smith or Dave Gahan instead of Def Leppard and Twisted Sister (or any of the other shit he kept on cassette tapes in the back of his car), he might have stumbled across my mother at an alternative gig in the eighties, though she was unlikely to have wanted to Pour Some Sugar on Him due to his already receding hairline and eventual middle-aged propensity for dating teenage girls.

The night we met, Richard drove us thirty miles out of our way to the McDonald’s restaurant situated right next to the Broxden Roundabout—a location I remembered due to it being where a friend and I bought celebratory McFlurries upon completion of our second year at senior school. He asked me if I wanted anything from the menu, and I shook my head before watching him grab his big brown paper bag from the young, colourfully-haired girl at the drive-thru and set off in awkwardly conversational silence. 

“So, why are you here?” I asked once we had arrived at an unoccupied car park, much like the stilted script of an underpaid counsellor who was probably committing at least six ethical violations.

 “I don’t know,” he replied. “I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess this is just the kind of thing getting divorced does to you.” 

Those words might’ve seemed poetic if they hadn’t been delivered whilst three fingers deep in a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or if I hadn’t already gleaned from Facebook that his divorce was a borderline prehistoric occurrence.

“Do you think I’m young?” I asked, suddenly reminded of my terrible adolescent clothes, choppy red fringe, and inability to form a sentence that didn’t contain less than a mouthful’s worth of filler words or anatomical cusses. 

“You don’t seem young,” he replied. “And I think that’s good enough for most people.” 

I brushed the hair out of my face. Once Richard had finished wiping the thick globs of ketchup off his chin, I felt him insert his tongue into my mouth and push down hard on a contraption attached to the back of my chair, as if to relocate us to the cassette-tape-laden backseat in a manner only explicable by the existence of a James Bond ejector chair. Softly, he muttered something to himself about my “hot little sixteen-year-old body,” and the world faded out into a clumsy abyss wherein I concentrated my eyes on a piece of dirt rubbing shoulders with the fog on the backseat window. When it was all over, everything was silent.

“Sorry about that. I’d have emptied the tank earlier, but I didn’t have time after work. What’s wrong?” he asked, staring out into the darkness.

“I’m not sure. Do you feel guilty?”

He took a breath. 

“No. Do you feel like a victim?” 

I shook my head no, and he smiled. 

“So we’re fine.” 

Later on, during the drive home, I thought about what the “Local Girl” news headlines would say this time, but I relegated that thought to the place in my mind where I hid the smell of blackcurrant vapes and the feeling of Primark underpants and the buried desire I had for the pain to last forever, even if it meant following it wherever it took me. When we arrived, Richard wrapped me up in his arms. 

“I’ll see you soon,” he said quietly, kissing me on the cheek. 

I paused. 

When did you see me the first time? When did anybody see me the first time? I thought as he opened the car door and put his key in the ignition. But by the time the words came out in the order I intended them, he was already gone. 

Ode to Rachel True,

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Rachel True


Since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed the horror genre, and it didn’t take very long for me to begin enjoying fantasy. I developed a fascination for the magical and fantastic. I watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Harry Potter, The Worst Witch, and Scary Godmother. I desperately wanted to be magical, to fly away, to be somewhere else where everyone was other-worldly. That is, until I realized there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in these worlds I loved so much.

One of the first horror films I ever watched was John Carpenter’s Halloween. From there, I wanted to explore more films in the genre. I saw Halloweentown and Hocus Pocus, which I enjoyed, but I wanted to diversify my options. I’ve always felt like I was one degree away from the Goth girls or the scene kids. My grandmother was too religious and traditional to allow my mother to buy leather or plaid skirts. Eyeliner was not allowed until after high school. I had most of the interests, including horror films, but I grew up in a very religious and “status quo” household. My grandmother wanted us to be as “normal” as possible.

One night, when cable television was still a thing, I put my shame aside and found myself snuggled next to my mother, who was secretly an inner goth, watching The Craft

“It’s a cool movie. I think you’ll like it,” she said. My mother loved to show me movies that brought back her mid-’90s nostalgia. Together, we had our movie nights. She always wanted me to be as fanatic and magical as possible.

My eyes widened when the credits came rolling in. The magic, the witches, and the first Black actress I had ever seen in a movie related to horror, being witchy, and feeling socially outcast. 

“Mommy, who is that?” I asked, readjusting myself. 

“Who? …Oh,” she smiled, realizing I was pointing to the only Black actress in the film. “Well, that’s Rachel True. She was on that other show…” 

Her words swirled around my head and became inaudible. I was hyper-fixated on the screen. At that moment, my heart fluttered, and I felt the same feeling in my stomach that you get when the roller coaster drops. I had never seen myself until I saw Rachel True, a witch with brown skin and curly hair. (By this time in my life, my hair had always been “contained” or chemically straightened). That moment froze perfectly in my brain because everything I had ever been interested in had been affirmed. I was called weird at school and at home. I had maybe two close friends, and I was a chubby kid. I liked to read books like Harry Potter. I had a big, overactive imagination. Kids poked fun at the way I spoke. I was a “goody two shoes” who was scared to sneeze incorrectly. That was not the recipe for a “cool” kid. My peers were all interested in more mature things and knew a bit more about some mature subjects. They were the epitome of adolescent “coolness,” and I yearned to be accepted by them. 

That was until I watched The Craft (and a string of other creepy, scary films). I started to accept who I was because I started to feel like it was okay to be a little strange or a little weird, whether people liked it or not. From what I saw, Rachel, whose character’s name is Rochelle, is the only Black girl at the school. She experiences racism that is brushed off as bullying. She is on the swim team, which I thought was amazing because I didn’t swim. Although she is the main character, she doesn’t have a lot of speaking time. She is sometimes treated as a side character, yet Rochelle had a lasting impact on me. I felt like Rochelle—my few eccentric friends with similar interests, big issues being brushed off or overlooked, and having an interest in things that people kind of frowned upon. Like many other girls, I assume, Rochelle was my favorite, and I wanted to see more of her. I rewatched that film so many times just for Rachel True. 

Nowadays, I must watch it every Halloween, every Thanksgiving, and even on random afternoons in the spring when I am cleaning my house. I know True had some discrepancies behind the scenes, including having to “fight” for an audition because the role was written for a White actress, and that after her casting, it was tweaked to fit her “circumstances.” She experienced racism during filming and promotion of the film. From being ignored in interviews to being told, “You’re just not as famous as us,” and being excluded from Horror-Con conventions in the past, True hasn’t been given her cultural flowers. I write this as a full bouquet. I thank her for her presence. I thank her for who she is today—still fantastic and still magical. She let me know that Black girls can be magical too. She let me know that it was okay to be interested in fantasy, spells, and “witchy” things. Before her, I hadn’t seen a Black girl in the genres that I was growing to love. Through Rachel, I felt seen. I felt okay.

When I met Grief

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Mohammad reza Fathian


cw: death, deceased children

Grief has followed for as long as I can remember. It’s a familiar comfort and a familiar pain. I think of grief as a distance relative, a fuzzy memory of an aunt or cousin. I don’t see her often, yet when she comes around, you will remember her visit. She wanted me to know she would always be with me whether I wanted her around or not. I didn’t know, so her first impression was lasting when my pregnant aunt and unborn son were killed.

I wanted to be her. I wanted to have lips lined with black pencil, long denim skirts, and witch boots that covered my ankles. Growing up, my aunt was my idol and she could do no wrong in my eyes. I remember her belting out classic R&B classics. I remember her running up and down the block practicing for a track meet. She wanted to be the best and the fastest. She wanted to manage a sports team or be a sports writer. 

My aunt was 4 feet 11 yet her presence seemed giant to me. We would take long bus trips to the mall and eat snowballs from the indoor snowball stand. My mother tells me that before I was born she would ask about my arrival. She would cling to my mother’s large belly, impatiently, waiting for my birth. Eventually, I was born with a best friend who was 12 years older than me. She promised me a gift for my seventh birthday, a surprise that I would never see because five days before I turned seven she died. She was pregnant, hit by a cowboy boot cladded, blonde man rushing to the bank from a fishing trip. He tried to hit and run, but was stopped by a courageous man who blocked his car that now had her blood smeared across the headlights. The front of the car was smashed and my aunt was severely bruised. He never made it, and she never made it to the department store to meet her boyfriend. 

For many years, I prayed that the reason she went to the department store was not for the gift she promised to buy me. I would never know. 

“I couldn’t see her.”

“Her clothes were too dark.”

“Why is a pregnant girl in the road anyway?”

Phrases from officers and the driver himself. From that moment on, my aunt would run her final race against time and life itself. A mother fighting for the life of her son and herself, time steadily slowing down.  I wonder if her life flashed before her eyes. I wonder if she thought of her son taking his first steps, the only grandson my grandmother would have had. But what can one think about in their final moments? Things they wish they could’ve done? Promises they couldn’t keep? Or did life play like a movie as you slipped into eternal slumber?

It was a brisk November night when an eerie knock echoed through the house. Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat,” played ominously in the background. The knock came just after the video’s dedication to Aaliyah’s final moments. I heard the door creak open, my grandmother’s laughter interrupted. I sat on the edge of my bed, eyes glued to the tv screen.

As the music began, Aaliyah’s first few words were cut with a shrill scream. I furrowed my brows. My attention was drawn to the newfound commotion downstairs. I creeped to the banister. I could hear my grandmother screaming and my mother’s voice. My mother’s words were short and breathy. 

I inched closer to the stairs. The sounds varied from shrieks, loud yet short dialogue, police sirens, and the murmurs of neighbors outside. I gulped. I gained the courage to walk downstairs. There was my grandmother, the pillar of our family, crumbling, like the tattered walls of our old house. 

No one realized that I had wandered downstairs. My grandmother was on the floor, wailing. She repeated, “My baby. My baby.” I had never seen my grandmother cry before that day. I moved around silently, trying to gather what happened. Hours later, my mother sat me on the edge of the bed.

My mother took a deep breath. “…Latana and Ajah… passed away.”

I titled my head to the side, “…Like my goldfish?” I straightened my back. “…She’s not coming back home.”

My mother nodded her head yes. I didn’t respond. At that moment, I felt like I had to be strong for my family. The women I grew up with were like the Sailor Scouts. They didn’t cry. They worked long hours. They built furniture and used power tools. They were called “men,” by people in the neighborhood. At this moment, the persona was broken. This was the first time many of them cried tears that weren’t from laughing. But at 3 am, I woke up with a loud cry, calling for my mother.She came to me, hugging me tightly. Even though I was only seven, I said “my heart was sad” when describing my pain.

Time froze in my house. There was no more Sunday church. There was no more visiting Cactus Willie’s’ restaurant on Saturdays or family trips to the movies. There was Shrek and How The Grinch Stole Christmas repeatedly playing on the television in the large brown entertainment center in the living room. My family drew attached to these films after my grandmother cracked a smile while watching. The Grinch was the closest thing to Christmas we would have that year. My aunt’s clothes were still in the dresser drawers. Her cap and gown from her high school graduation hung on the back of my grandmother’s bedroom door.

“I just can’t yet… I can’t,” my grandmother said tearfully. She kept her cap and gown on her bedroom door until we moved from that house. Finally, her clothes were moved to totes alongside her favorite soap and perfumes preserved with her clothes.

Because her death was November 15, my grandmother didn’t have the time or capacity to plan for Thanksgiving. Usually, we would have a giant feast with ham, turkey, and all the side dishes. She couldn’t bring herself to cook. We already had about 4 hams, two of which were doused in honey. We had so many fruit baskets. That was the year my mother learned to cut a pineapple. For the rest of the year, laughter died at the doorstep of my house. I remember my grandmother having a friend who had a problem with alcoholism, and because I was young, she amused me.“I ran into the kitchen gleefully, saying her name.  “Hey,” my aunt said to me, “… you need to stop, please. I just lost my sister. Nothing is funny.”

I stopped mid run. I scanned the kitchen, to which another aunt nodded in agreement. I put my head down, my eyes warm and wet. I sat in the living room, alone. I didn’t smile for the rest of the year. 

Smiles happened seldomly, only in reference to a good memory with  my aunt. My mother and her remaining sisters would discuss a future that my aunt or her son would never have. I met death and grief together. This was the year I started and never stopped thinking about death. Before this moment, the only death I knew was my army of goldfish dying. I had never thought about death, or had anyone talk to me about death. This was a crash course on living, existing, and dying. This was my introduction to grief and emotion. The only time we could be emotional. This was the year I developed what would seem like permanent survivor’s guilt. 

I desperately wanted to understand what grief meant. On November 15, 2001, a part of myself died and I could never express with words what it was. 2001 was a memorable year. Both my aunts were pregnant. The twin towers crumbled. Aaliyah died and yet somehow out of all of that, the death of my aunt was the thing that hit me the hardest. 

The funeral was bizarre. It was my first one. I remember seeing the man who I thought was responsible for all this, standing over the casket. In the monotonous sea of brown and hazel eyes, I caught a glimpse of blue. My hands clutched the stale candy bar melting in my denim jacket pocket. There was a dead yet curious look in his eyes. His name, Mark Adams, will always be burned in my brain. He was amazed by the Black Baptist church and the singing of church mothers who fried chicken. He cupped his hands together and surveyed the front pews.

Maybe he wanted to ask God for forgiveness or maybe he wanted to see how good they hid the black bruise that covered half of her face. MAybe he wondered how a person so young could be loved by so many. Either way, in this span of time that seemed to never end, I watched him stop the assembly line of people circling the casket. I thought to myself, “would he cry?” “Is he going to say… sorry?” Nothing. Not a single tear from those icy blue eyes. 

Maybe he has never seen dead bodies before. Maybe he has never seen a dead baby… I never had until that day. A dead baby was something I couldn’t wrap my head around until my cousin died the day he was born, just minutes after his mother’s hand went cold. My grandmother held on for as long as they allowed. She said she remembered the warmth leaving her hand slowly as it went limp. I wondered what it was like to hold the hand of the dead, especially her hand one last time. I wondered what it was like to watch my cousin breathe, if only for a moment. Small fragments that I will never know that lead to the moment he attended the funeral of my pregnant aunt whom he “accidentally” killed. It seemed that I was the only person to notice his presence. I wondered what motivated him to attend the funeral in a Baptist church in East Baltimore. Everyone in the church could only focus on my aunt and her son, perfectly placed together in the casket. Everyone was too busy to notice, but I noticed.

 His face was a blur, but his blue eyes, cowboy boots, and the statue of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus he sent the family as a gift would be burned into my memory. “How awful,” seven-year-old me thought, “a mother and son to say I’m sorry for a mother and son.” 

That’s the last memory I have of her. The only memory of my cousin and a distance from Thanksgiving. It truly is the saddest holiday.

I worry that she will become distorted in my head. I worry that I’ll forget her voice, and a small part of me cringes because I have. I vaguely remember her. I have so many questions and wonders that I can never know the answers to, like if she would’ve been the first woman to manage or own a sports team. 

All we have left are clothes, limited edition Timberland boots, and a can of grape soda that was never open and the moments frozen in time from photos.

After a while, scents fade, pictures fade, and dust settles. That’s all that you have left of anyone. When the keeper of those materials fades, the objects that preserved a person won’t matter: they too will succumb to grief. They might be sold or given away to someone who has no idea of the story behind it. Or do these objects even carry a story? I would like to ask that question to my old friend, grief. 

To You

Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Pengwhan


To the girl that gave me a hug after I lost my race, and the one who put milky ways in my locker on my birthday, I like you. I mean I like you like sand is drawn into crashing waves, like it was inevitable for me to love you. No I am sorry, I mean like you. Because I just like you, I do not feel drawn to you like the gravitational pull, we learned that in Physics together. But maybe I do love you, and maybe I love your bright auburn hair that is always tangled, or your constant need for perfection that has always secretly made me jealous. And maybe when I see you I feel like I am tilting towards you like sunflowers tilt towards the sun, because sometimes, I feel like you are my sun.

I do not know where to begin when explaining to you how I knew my feelings towards you had changed. Because it did not hit me like a tidal wave: I did not need to sit down and process. It was just like I was breathing. Maybe I never saw you as anything except a lover. 

This all sounds melodramatic, and the me a year ago would be cringing because I never thought that the things I would be writing about were the things that everyone writes about. But I met you. And suddenly I understand why so much of literature is filled with love. It is all consuming, it always seems to ends in promises or disasters.

The Girl on the Monkey Bars

Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Chris H


My first memory is of a girl standing above me on the playground stairs. She looks down at me and I look into her dark auburn eyes. She has bangs and a pink headband. She is the same height as me. Originally, I had gone to the playground with my mom to meet people before the first day of kindergarten. She was the only one who showed up with her mother. I do not wonder where everyone is; all my attention is caught up in my new best friend—I guess my first best friend. 

The playground is big, with structures painted all the colors of the rainbow. I grab her hand, perhaps as one of the more forward things I have done in my life so far, and guide her across the wobbly bridge and the big slide. We reach the monkey bars, which will soon be our favorite feature of this playground, but we don’t know that yet. Using one of the poles, she climbs up and reaches her arms out towards the first bar, where she jumps and wraps both her hands around it. I look at our mothers, who are now watching us, sensing there may be a disaster that ends in a broken arm and a tantrum (which there will be, but not for another year and a half). I turn back to the girl still hanging, her arm muscles bulging. Trying to maintain my confident persona, I decide to follow her up to the bars, yet everything looks much further away than when she did it. I hesitantly reach out towards the pole and pull myself up. In the air, she hangs, her feet high above the ground. When I reach my short arms out towards the bar, I must make a leap to be able to reach it. I look over at her and she is watching me, sizing me up. I know I must impress her. I jump from the pole and go hurtling towards the bar. My hands finally wrap around the cold metal and I swing. I hear giggles coming from next to me. 

“You were really scared,” she snickers. 

“Yeah,” I respond before jumping off the bar down to the wood chips on the ground. The landing hurts my heels, and she soon follows suit. 

“See you tomorrow?” she says as she walks towards her mom. 

“Yeah,” I say once more. 

We would repeat this conversation for the next twelve years. We would repeat it when we were sitting on top of the monkey bars, daring each other to jump off, until finally our feet could touch the ground and there was no more hanging onto the bar. We would repeat it when we went to a new school together with no playground, and there was no recess, or music class, or Christmas movies, or field trips. We would repeat it when we replaced playing “Princess and Baby” with going to concerts, trips, and parties. No matter how many times we repeated it, there was always a “See you tomorrow” at the end.

Grocery Lists Are Art (In A Ravenous Memoir Market) 

Written by Dia VanGunten
Art by Katy Somerville


Soyrizo 

Not the off-brand but the one I used to buy when we were sleeping in the love-den. For months, we camped within that screened-in porch, where an owl watched us while we slept, or made love late into the morning. August in Austin. I realize now, at my age, that you suffered for me. But I was hot in a different way back then, hot enough for you to heatstroke yourself in the Texas summertime. When the school year started, I’d rise with you and cook soyrizo tacos. I’d walk our red dog afterwards, his caramel coat gleaming in the morning sunshine. You have a long email from this time that you saved because you loved it so much. You shared it on the teacher-chat message board. Everyone said I should write it up as a children’s book. They said you were lucky to get such a massive missive outta nowhere on a sweaty day when no teacher wanted to be back at work.

Tortillas 

Lucky you. Your autistic writer girlfriend made you breakfast tacos and sent you to school with a lunchbox and a kiss. Your over-sharer, work-shirker lover sat down at the computer and typed a story she saw on daytime TV—in vivid detail. The ups! The downs! The tears! A dog named Coconut Harry went missing off a boat and was mourned by his owner. A week later, when scientists arrived on Monkey Island, devoted to primate research, well, who should be there but a brand new honorary monkey? 

Apple Juice

It’s gotta be Martinelli’s like my dying Dad wanted, otherwise don’t bother. No wonder I love that story enough to rush to the computer for that email, which we still discuss decades later. Grief was heavy then. I wanted that phone call from the scientists. I wanted the old man to be howling on Monkey Island. 

Cherries 

You make the tacos now. I’m a better woman with writer’s block. Well, I’m a person. Instead of a proper partner, you have a throbbing brain-on-a-neck, but you still feed it. You bring a bowl of cherries. I spit the pits across the room because this chapter just opened up like a desert highway, and I like that pit-spitting feeling. I always have. As a child, from the balcony; from my car with the top down and the stars. k.d. lang singing about cigarettes. Carly leaned into the dash to light our cloves. Car and I were young then. Both our Dads were alive. We didn’t fear cancer. We could afford those sizzling cigarettes, hot and spicy. I eat all of my cherries, but when I look up, the bowl is full. On a roll! Clickety clack, clickety clack. Spit, spit, spit. POP, POP, POP. Pits fly with velocity. 

Pistachio Muffins 

They are bright green, and I really like that about them. You understand. 

Dye 

Like my grandmother, my hair is so dark that it begins to gray prematurely. I dye silver strands to match the rest, but when I’m fully pale, I’ll go lilac or lollipop or some kinda pastel that I could never do before because my hair was black. In this lifetime, I am determined to get old. So far, so good. I was vain and reckless in past lives. I always checked out early, before I had to find out who I was, or could be, without weaponized beauty. A woman must use every weapon, every wit, at her disposal. You understand.

Douche 

Haha. Nahhhhhhhhh. The vagina is a self-cleaning organism. 

Sports Bra

XL? Big. You know these titties. Don’t come home with some lacy bralette shit. No pre-teen slingshot camo. For the love of Hecate, I just need these breasts to get out of the way while I type. Don’t be sexy. I’m on a deadline, man. 

Pajama Bottoms 

I require simple cotton pants that I can destroy with my slovenly lifestyle. I did not request this Mandalorian onesie with a pouch for stuffed Grogu. 

But I accept it. This is the way. 

Mango Mochi 

I want the kind that I eat when I visit Nickie. They taste like sunshine, chewy cold discs of orange Hawaii. Did I tell you that the mangos hang from trees at the side of the highway? One day, Nickie did a crazy U-turn because she spotted Pickled-Mango Guy. Did I tell you about the mango mascarpone pizza? Did I tell you that while I was there last, I was terribly not okay because I knew I was coming home to chaos?

Moving back south, we almost died on the highway. I was sure we would. Any other driver would’ve wrecked it, but you, slow and easy, ever watchful, brought us through. It was one of those days that could have gone two ways. I woke up knowing that my fate was forking—something bad would happen on the road and I’d either make it through or I wouldn’t. Then I climbed in. Growing up, and still, safety was subject to the fickle whims of adults. The sibs and I formed a back-to-back circle against the elements. Swords out. We were the last living guards of the Night’s Watch, surrounded by whitewalkers. We were never Sweet Summer Children. 

You are the house on the hill, the one that holds its own in hurricanes; the home with the protective Grandpa-ghost that warns me to lock the door; the place where we laid our dying dog in a mountain of baffled down, puffy quilt like a dollop of whipped cream. She smiled because she knew she was worthy of feathers.