To All the Women Who Taught Me To Love…

Written by Montez Louria
Art by jasmine browley

I sat down at the computer to write an angry piece about the state of the world. But I get tired of writing about Black death. I get tired of writing about Black grief. And I grow tired of writing about century-long social injustice that finds ways to reinvent itself. It feels like we never stop mourning. We can never stop being angry or sad. For once, I wanted to focus my attention on something that I have yet to write about and in some ways, I have been terrified to even put into words—love. 

Black love. Black Joy. Black happiness is one of the greatest forms of resistance. The smiles. The hugs, and of course, the boisterous laughs. My resiliency is not in my strength, per se, but intertwined within the Facebook video calls, long distanced, long-lasting phone calls, and countless funny videos shared on Instagram to preserve the joy inside—the true life force. It lies in “their loss” sincerity after PhD rejections and sour dates. It is intertwined in the hearts and memories of the people along the way in my life.

Growing up in a cis-heteronormative society and household, the idea of love is associated with romantic relationships that would involve myself and a man.  This was the concept. That was it. I had no idea that friends could love you. My family is extremely “tight knit” and skeptical of “outsiders.” I didn’t see the people I lived with have many friends, especially those they would consider a best friend. However, I am not a hopeless romantic and I am still working on what it means to “love”. But what I do know is that it doesn’t have to be romantic, and those relationships seem to be the most impactful for me. Platonic love has literally changed my life. I feel like I have been saved by the friends I have made in my life, including the ones I have lost. Here is an ode, or love letter to all the femmes who taught me something about love. Through them, I am still learning to love myself. 

When I was a little kid, it was cute to give out Valentine’s cards to all your classmates and get all the candy. You would give your closest friend something extra cool because they were the “it” crew in your head. I always cherished that experience because it was about people sharing camaraderie and everyone felt good, until adults started imposing their ideas about who liked who in the room on children. 

“Is that your boyfriend?” my teacher giggled. I was mortified, more like petrified. I stood grasping my bag of Reese’s shaped hearts. My eyes grew wide. If we could go back in time, at that exact moment and pause, you would see the exact moment a trickle of sweat formed on my forehead. Boys at that age for me were extremely taboo. Yet as I aged, I was expected to have crushes from afar, but not exactly date them because according to my parents- dating leads to babies. Yes, I know, that escalated very quickly, and that is exactly why I was so taken aback at the idea of having a “boyfriend.” My teacher looked at me. I looked at her, fist, jaw, and lips clenched so tightly carbon monoxide wouldn’t pass through. She squinted her eyes. I swallowed. I swear it took me at least 70 seconds to say “no,” and scurry away. I have always been a tad awkward. The exchange lingered in my mind, and for some reason, I felt really weird. 

As I grew, I realized that relationships between femme presenting people and masculine presenting people became extremely complicated by several external forces and by the time I was in high school, people were no longer giving out Valentines day cards to their “crew”. High school was the time for boyfriends, girlfriends, crying in the hallway, and wearing the cool sports attire of your person. I was no longer the kid with the clenched fist of candy. I was the boyband loving, secretly depressed, retro film nerd. The question would arise again, except it was more like, “do you have a boyfriend?” This time, my parents were bulging their eyes and clenching fists. Eventually, I ended up dating someone and misusing the word love because as far as I knew it was as simple as Merriam-Webster described. My parents would tell me they loved me but my other immediate family weren’t into “saying that,” as they said. My mother’s sisters have a range of personalities from lighthearted to downright mean. We were not saying, “I love you,” or hugging on a daily basis. So that was it… until it wasn’t. 

I realized this more complicated when one of my friends said, “I love you.” She had said it before but at those times, she was laughing hysterically at some nonsense I was saying, so I didn’t believe it. She looked me in my eyes seriously and said it in a platonic yet non-humorous way. I was startled. I was stunned. There was a pregnant pause and she gave a half smile. It was time for class, so we went to class. Later, she poked at my then-hard shell. 

“So is love not a thing you do?”

“Huh?” I said.

She laughed. I couldn’t tell if she was serious. 

I had a moment of internal panic. I had a tough exterior to keep up, “… no. I don’t really say that. My family, we don’t really do that. We aren’t really huggers either.”

She nodded her head. My friends were huggers. My boyfriend, at the time, was a hugger. Everyone seemed so much more emotional than I was and I started realizing that being stoic wasn’t normal. After shifting friendship, graduating, breaking up, and starting therapy, my journey into emotions started. More significantly, my journey into happiness and love started.

It became apparent that I needed to define love, so I started where everyone does, the dictionary. Let’s begin with Oxford. Love is defined as “A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence (distinguished from sexual love at sense 4a); great liking, strong emotional attachment; (similarly) a feeling or disposition of benevolent attachment experienced towards a group or category of people, and (by extension) towards one’s country or another impersonal object of affection. With of, for, to, towards.” That seemed very mechanical. Then there is Merriam Webster. The definition according to Merriam is shorter but relates to kinship, strong affection, physical attraction or desire, and tenderness felt by “lovers.” All those are just words that come together to create something superficial. It’s easy on paper. It’s easy to misuse.

When a friend told me she loved me, it was like the moment Buzz Lightyear was reset in Toy Story. I short circuited and started thinking about the oddities of emotions in my life from that moment. Maybe I should personally thank her for starting this line of questioning and developing more ideas as I go along. We aren’t close friends anymore because unfortunately people grow apart. However, I had a friend who I had known since middle school and at some point we became as thick as thieves, like peanut butter and jelly. Through my time with her, over a decade of friendship, I gained these experiences that showed me how people could care about you. I saw an affectionate family firsthand and the shell, the stoic facade starting melting more and more which is why our friend “break-up” ravaged me from the inside out. It hurt worse than calling it quits with any partner I had. I found myself reminiscing over the late nights hanging out in her car, getting our college acceptances, and growing into young adulthood (the thing that tore us apart).

But the best thing about adulthood is that it lasts a while, you learn a lot along the way, and you meet new people. The people are fond of the person you are becoming—no matter how depressed, how quirky, or how many times you have to miss an outing. They show you love in the smallest yet most effective ways. From silly things like sending memes or letting you ramble about superheroes they care nothing about being there when you are having a depressive episode and you are rotting away in an Old Navy onesie. They hype you up. They tell you why you’re amazing. They want to be around you. They understand you and all your quirks. When you talk to them you always have something to say and when you don’t, the silence is never uncomfortable. They sometimes have to tell you the hard truths. I gained these experiences throughout my life from amazing women who have made me feel loved and encourage me to see the love within myself. Currently, I have two people that I talk with almost everyday. They let me know that despite what is happening in the world, these small slices of life and laughter are worth existing. I don’t need Valentine’s day cards or chocolate hearts to know that I am loved. One may ask why this is so important to me. 

Because so much of my life was centered on fearing people who weren’t family and securing a partner when I was old enough, the idea of “love” was attached to rigid stipulations while also not always being demonstrated in ways that matched the word. 

I know my parents love me but they’re parents. Here, I find myself thinking about these relationships that I have fostered and that are fostering me to become a more loving and better person. Through my friends, I found a love that I didn’t need or could have and it’s platonic.


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.

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. 

The Summer I Was Angry

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Mateus Souza

It was the summer of 2016 and I was studying abroad in Ireland. I had one semester left before graduation. This was one year after Freddie Gray was murdered in my hometown. My world was full of tension. This was my first time flying, getting a passport, and visiting another country. I was ready to experience something other than American racism.

I arrived in Ireland during the first week of July. Days after my arrival, I was crying outside of a pub. A living mate was toasting to her new job as the television screen replayed the murder of Philando Castile. The TV blurred the gory parts but we could see through the blur. The world watched as he died. My world moved in slow motion as the glasses around me raised and my eyes cemented to the screen. The air felt thick and my stomach felt heavy. The pain in my chest radiated to my throat.

“Do you want to get some air?” A voice broke my trance. I got up from the table in disarray. We walked silently outside and we stood for what seemed like the longest minute of my life. I opened my mouth, and, before a single word could drip from my lips, the cruel sharp air scratched my throat. 

Outside of the pub, I lost it. It was the first time my pent up anger bubbled over like pasta water and spilled. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I was angry and this was the first time I was allowed to be angry. All my life, I was reminded of the “integrity” and “grace”  my community leaders used to combat racism which, somehow over the years, has been diminished to bullying. I was constantly reminded to be calm and reasonable, and to combat my anger with “love,” as those who’ve come before me. It is only our leaders who are meant to be negotiable and non-violent.  

I was depressed and I was Black. This combination led to a cocktail of sobbing and moaning. People passing by thought I was insanely drunk. “Hey,” a heavy Irish accent spoke, “it’s alright. Drinking makes me cry too.” There was another who giggled and raised what seemed to be a beer in hand. 

My living mate pulled me in and hugged me close—as close as close could get. My tears fell hot down my cheeks and soaked her shirt. 

“That could be my dad. My brothers. Me. I’m just tired…” I was rambling uncontrollably and I felt so embarrassed at that moment. 

“I… I know sorry doesn’t help but I’m sorry,” she said. 

It seemed like the world was moving around yet another death of a Black person. As the last moments of Philando’s  life were shown to the world, drunk people were giggling  and my other living mates were encouraging  me to “just ignore it.” It’s rather hard to ignore the realities of your life when they are broadcasted for the world to see. No, I didn’t know Philando personally, but I knew him, a gentle Black man who just wanted to live. He is a part of my community, a hurt community who were forced to take a collective sigh as we watched him die, on a loop. A pub wasn’t the best place to hear the news. The Guinness was flowing. The world was just going on as if nothing happened.

My community endured another public tragedy and were given no time to grieve. When a nationwide tragedy happens, the nation encourages everyone to come together through sympathetic speeches, and reminds everyone that we are in “this” together. When a Black person is killed by police, we are expected to stay complacent and move on. The country digs deep into their personal lives, searching for petty mistakes and  mishaps from some other times in their lives to justify death. In those moments, when tears roll down my face or when I’m sighing as I say, “not again,” I think:

“When is it going to happen to my cousin, brother, mother, father or even me?” 

“What thing have I said or done to justify the erasure of my life?”

The cool air dried my tears and chilled my face. We left the pub and walked up the hill to our hostel in silence. I sat on her floor without removing my shoes or jacket. I could still feel hot tears rolling down my face. My other living mates stumbled in one by one. They were quiet. A part of me felt ashamed and another part of me felt relieved. A wide eyed, brown haired girl stooped down and rubbed my hand gently. I didn’t like to cry in public because I was always told that was a sign of weakness. I was taught to be strong and to pull a fake smile no matter what. Oddly enough, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I spent the rest of my time abroad reflecting on my own identity and the paradox of being Black American. 

I thought back to that summer night as the fifth anniversary of Philando Castile’s death came. I thought about my time in Ireland as more unjust Black deaths have occurred .That summer I was angry, I was sad, and I finally allowed myself to travel through a full spectrum of emotions. 

To Philando Castile, may you rest peacefully and may your legacy be with us forever.

Decorated Bodies

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Laura Tancredi

It’s midnight and I am sitting on my floor scrolling through Instagram. I see ads for Fashion Nova Curve, Love Vera, and Savage Fenty; all the bodies are some sort of “plus-sized.” The 2021 idea of what it means to be plus-sized: beautiful models with plump lips, full busts, wide hips, and big butts. Most of these models conveniently have no bellies and are perfectly smooth. I look down at my own protruding belly, my thighs that kiss each other, my flappy arms.  

I have been fat, or “plus-sized,” for most of my life. I remember walking to the bathroom in third grade when a teacher I didn’t know walked over to me and poked my belly. “Fatty-poo,” she said with a shaking hand and wide grin, “I wish I was as fat as you, fatty-poo.” I suppose she thought rhyming would make me feel good about being poked and called fat. Growing up, fat was a bad term and I was always made to be ashamed of being fat. The teacher continued, obstructing my walkway, “fatty-poo, where you going fatty-poo?”

Finally, when she saw that I would not respond, she let me go to the bathroom. I sat in the bathroom for a moment, not even using it. I looked down at my belly and I sighed. She wasn’t the first to say this, my classmates would also mention my impish belly. I recalled my classmates pointing and screaming at me: “Your fat tail!” I felt so defeated that I hung my head low, looking at my yellow, collared school shirt.

In church I was called “cheeseburger” because I was fat and lighter skinned, while a dark-skinned chubby girl was called “hamburger.” My mother was appalled by the sentiment, she demanded them to stop calling me “cheeseburger” because it was reminiscent of her fat sister who was called “bacon” in her youth. Everywhere I went I was reminded that something was wrong with my weight.

Because my mother and grandmother were so upset about the “cheeseburger” comments, they began scolding me about my weight. My grandmother valued smaller bodies; she believed being thin was the key to success in any facet. When I was in eleventh grade she told me, “Start working out, lose weight so a nice boy can take you out on a date.” She would poke, squeeze, and feel my stomach to examine if I had lost any weight. In my youth, my mother would scream at the top of her lungs, “You’re getting too fat!” She started limiting what I ate; my grandmother had convinced her that tuna fish was the best “nice and light” option for my lunches. I was reminded that a distant uncle lost over 100 pounds by eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Corn pops were his only food. I would look in the mirror and desperately want to be thin, I was always concerned about eating in public and the amount of snacks I consumed. I hated my body.

I would ogle Seventeen Magazine, Girl’s Life, Teen Vogue, and even Cosmo, wishing I could look like all the girls on TV. Thin, petite, straight hair, all the things I didn’t have and would never be. I had sadly accepted that I would never be as pretty because I would never be as thin.

As I got older the body positivity movement started, but I noticed that something was off about it. Fat bodies, actual fat bodies, are still not appreciated unless they are deemed “sexy.” I scroll through the hashtag on Instagram to see bodies that are beautiful yet aren’t a reflection of bodies that have been shamed, pummeled, and overlooked for many years. There are bodies that fit the casting call for plus-size models: no bellies, no cellulite. Yes, I know there are ads and places that do feature bellies, but with the idea of body diversity it isn’t enough. No, I don’t want thin or hourglass bodies to be replaced, I want better representation, actual representation for fat bodies. Larger bodied people have to parade in lingerie, business attire, or overly-elegant outfits to be deemed worthy of showing. Many fashion influencers are only influencers because they aren’t fat.

Fat femme bodies should not have to be sexy to be appreciated. I log onto Instagram just to see accounts of plus-sized models loaded with comments about BBWs because they are exposing their skin or wearing lacy underwear. I have noticed an appreciation for the bountiful bodies of plus-sized women, but only with certain stipulations. The guise of appreciation is strongly masked with fetishization. Fat femme bodies shouldn’t have to be decorated to be appreciated. At times, when I look at Instagram, I feel like the eight-year-old in the hallway on my way to the bathroom. The fat little girl who was ashamed to be seen, the fat little girl who desperately wanted to be thin.

I sit by my balcony door. I let the breeze hit my face and I scroll over to the tags section of Instagram. I search, “fat ootd.” I see bodies that resemble my own. I search, “fat yoga.” I see bodies that look like my own being active and happy. I get up and look in the mirror, examining my own body. I have a belly that rests on my thighs, I have arms and legs with stretch marks. My pants are found in the “special” sections of stores or mostly online. I am not proud but I am not ashamed, I am becoming content with my body. I have given up on working out 5-6 times a week. I retired my meal plan that only included protein, a cup of leafy greens, and brown rice. I stopped obsessing over my weight and how I looked in a bathing suit and I just started living. I realized that life is too short to spend it hating my body.

Dear Uncle Louis

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Anete Lusina

As the clock changed from 11:59pm to 12:00am, the month changed as well. I smile. June, PRIDE month and my mom’s birth month, crept up on me. I look at the clock, thinking heavily about the performative brand-stamped rainbows that will decorate everything for only 30 days. I think about the origins of pride, the POC women that paved the way, and the riot that started it all. More importantly, my mind moves to myself, the queerness I’ve become more comfortable acknowledging and my distant relatives who lived proudly, secretly. A lesbian (my grandmother’s aunt) and my mother’s favorite uncle, Louis Fitzgerald. 

My mother didn’t know him as a gay man but she knew him as a smooth-talking, white Cadillac-driving, afro-picking uncle. A gold tooth cladded man who served as a protector for my mother.My grandmother’s heart outside her body, as she called him. That is until she discovered him to be gay. This is an open letter to you. I know you’ll never physically read it but I hope your spirit will absorb my words.

Dear Uncle Louis,

Hi. I am your great niece. We never met or were ever even in close proximity, but I feel you and I think about you often. Mom started talking about you again. She reminisced on the arguments you had with Sammie, the neighborhood drunk. Sammie hated you but loved you like a son. Do you remember when Sammie died? Mom says you cried a lot.

Anyways, I am writing to you to say you thank you. Eventually, you said who cares and admitted your truth, even if that meant letting your sister go. You left your family behind to live happily. I don’t want to call you courageous because we shouldn’t live in a world where you need to be courageous to live. I don’t want to say brave because I want to avoid cliches, so thanks for the inspiration. For being a predecessor and being part of a family that wouldn’t accept you for who you are. Your essence will not die, and neither will the aesthetic you left with us. Your humor, confidence, compassion, and soul will always live vicariously through me. I am an extension of you because I will live my truth, without permission. Accepting queerness, rejecting old family ideologies, all of that is because of you. I learn from the stories of you that what happens behind the closed door of my bedroom doesn’t matter. What matters is how you show up for the people outside of your bedroom door. Mom didn’t have the best childhood but whenever you appear in a story, her smile radiates and her heart bursts. Thank you for protecting mom from the monster across the hall.

As June ended, I didn’t celebrate in vain or take anything for granted. You deserved so much more than what you got. So much more than a lonely death and an unmarked grave. I hope you are in heaven flashing your gold teeth and rings, waving a pride flag, proudly. I celebrate pride for you and because of you.

Oh! Mom wants you to forgive her for the time she saw you on the street. You both made eye contact, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say. But if she could go back in time, she would tell you that she was sorry that she didn’t keep in contact with you. She is sorry that she let that opportunity slip away. We love you.


Montee, your great niece.

I had a John Hughes phase and I’m ashamed

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Victoria Borodinova


I remember removing the plastic from brightly colored DVDs which held the contents of John Hughes’ films. I remember admiring Hughes’ film,  they are cute and campy. (If you are unfamiliar with his work, he is responsible for movies about teenage misadventures and mishaps. He even did the Home Alone trilogy). Of course, there were love stories, zany comedies, and films that challenged the way we think of high school archetypes. These films sound legit, yeah? Like most things, they were cool for their time and  I watched them religiously. I am 26 now and I realize my not so cool, “I’m so cool, I’m into nostalgia that I was never a part of,” phase has contributed to some social oblivion. Of course, we have to start with the most obvious and most shameful. Sixteen Candles. Now listen, I loved Molly Ringwald. (Hey, I discovered these films in late middle school). So naturally, I wanted to watch all the things with her in them. I started with The Breakfast Club and made my way around to Sixteen Candles, then other films not involving her, too. The first problem of many in the film is none other than Long Duk Dong. 

 “What’s happenin’ hot stuff?” The character Long Duk Dong says as a gong is smashed as an introduction to his character. He is a foreign exchange student from an unidentified Asian country. Are you cringing yet? I definitely am. Despite not having much screen time, the character is one the most memorable and quoted of the film. He is part of the long tradition of misrepresenting Asian people and culture in American cinema. Stereotypes that reduce Asians to people of mysticism, restaurant owners, kung fu and ill spoken immigrants. I know that someone will read this and say, “OMG! Pipe down millennial, stop ruining  everything! It is funny. Comedy. Tee hee… a character.” But it isn’t and like many stereotypes in the media, I was made to believe that this was true. That it was okay. Even watching it back then, when I was a teenager, something didn’t feel right about the character but I didn’t have the vocabulary or conceptual awareness to explain it. I do now, and I am ashamed that I watched that film repeatedly. 

The film shows him using a fork and spoon as chopsticks and he speaks in a generic, stereotypical Asian accent. The one almost every actor has to do for cheap laughs. With lines like, “oh sexy girlfriend,”, “no more yanky my wanky,” and “Donger need food,” accompanied with ridiculous laughter and a gong every time we see him, it is very easy for me to want to push this movie in the back of my mind to die. I remember not laughing at this character, but I had a relative who snickered at his on-screen appearance. Maybe the snicker was at how Hughes could have ridiculously crafted a caricature like Dong, even down to his name. In Hughes’ creation of the character, he gave ammunition to already rampant Asian hate and racism. I am not Asian, but I can imagine what it was like being an Asian student after the premiere of the film. Being called, “Donger” instead of your actual name. What a treat! What a wonderful nostalgic film. What culture to look back on. I look back at that movie and I want to bury it. A part of me hopes that younger people do not discover Hughes’ films because a lot of them have very problematic things.. Stereotypes like Long Duk Dong aid in maintaining the long history of Anti-Asian rhetoric,as well as stereotypes that lead to hatred and mistreatment. I’m not going to say that the recent spike in Asian hate crimes is because of John Hughes but I will say that the people who cannot sympathize or empathize with Asian communities today, probably laughed at something like Long Duk Dong’s character in the past. Hollywood is only good at positively portraying cis white men. 

Aside from the racism present in Sixteen Candles, it’s also very sexist and creepy. Looking back, I can tell that this script was written by a man. The decade as well as the 90s seems to be romanticized a lot. The 80s was the decade of recreating the American dream and likened itself to the 50s. (I won’t go on that tangent). Many of the themes are similar in some ways. Much of its comedy lies within the problematic nature of the film. Rape Culture is so intricately woven into the plot that it is masked by a ‘dream boy falls for geek’ story line. Even after the dream boy participates in the date rape of  his girlfriend Caroline, we, the audience, are supposed to be in on the joke.  All because Caroline is deemed the 80s “slut” archetype. The film tells young women to not be like Caroline. Be responsible. Don’t drink. Don’t party. Don’t be mean. Don’t have sex. Oh, and by the way, cheerleaders are always, always mean and dumb. (This trope hasn’t really died yet in present day TV and film). We are made to think she deserves it. Also, the horrible writing of the female characters here is beyond toxic. 

Obviously, I’m not saying that Hughes is responsible for every God-awful value that we have as a society but what I am saying is that films, television shows, music videos, media work like time capsules. They capture the good, bad, and problematic of the time in which they exist. That means as we progress, and I use the term loosely, we need to look back on previous media. We need to look at the societal issues of the time and work on not repeating those same mistakes. Somehow, in 2021, we still have stereotypes of Asian people in TV and film. We still have archetypes and harmful messages about young women’s bodies being presented to us. Somehow, they are still at work and they need to end.

So please, in the future, no more “Dongers” or angelic jocks who sacrifice their unwilling and unsuspecting girlfriends. I had a John Hughes phase and no, I am not proud of it. I’m not boasting about seeing the classics and will not think fondly of them. Thanks, John Hughes, for capturing the problems of the 80s in your films.

The Vaccine and The Vessels

Written by Montez Louria
Art by Harrison Haines

While in class tonight, I am giving a presentation in my Zoom class when a classmate raises his hand. We are still living in a virtual world because of Coronavirus. We are in our second semester of staring at each other on the screen. Although the days are getting longer and the itch of outside calls, we are still in a global pandemic. A pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

He asks my professor, “Professor, are you on campus right now?”

She responds, puzzled, “I am not. Why?”

“There has been a shooting near campus on Lincoln.”

The tiny squares trap the tiny faces. There are an array of emotions –surprise, numbness, and horror. My initial thought is “how are we still in a pandemic and yet there is a shooting? How can we get a slight restriction lifted and immediately people are being shot?” America is the leading in gun violence. In 2020 alone, we had over 600 mass shootings. Mass shootings become as normal as after dinner conversations.  According to Forbes, “There have been 147 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as when four or more people have been shot or killed, not including the shooter.” This year alone, there is a prediction that at least 500 mass shootings will happen. The question becomes how and why? How can we access firearms so easily and why are we so torn about it? Pewresearch says, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans who report living in urban areas say that gun violence is a very big problem, compared with about half of suburbanites (47%) and only about a third of those who live in rural areas (35%). Majorities of all three groups say that gun violence is either a very big problem or a moderately big problem.” The issue is a matter or proximity and culture. The idea that the farther away a gun you are, the less gun violence affects you. Therefore, gun violence is not an issue. It’s the same issue with Coronavirus. The idea of “safety” and what we are saved from. Gun play in America is like going to the grocery store. We debate on the topic of saving lives.

Articles slowly coming as we sit in class discussing the correlation of 1920s literature and 1920s issues of race. We pause for a moment. We are frozen in time as the flashes of previous school shootings and mass shootings run rapidly through our minds. Our professor is speechless. She stops mid sentence,  but she gathers  her thoughts and class resumes. 

Just like that, we experience the shooting and then we move on so abruptly.It is the perfect metaphor for mass shootings in America. My presentation had to be finished. The class had to finish. At that moment, I didn’t want to finish my presentation. But I also didn’t know what I wanted my professor to do. A dilemma I have often. A dilemma we face in America. What to do next after a mass shooting? We post on social media. We send thoughts and prayers to families. We do everything but create actual gun reform.

Maybe there was a quick thought or prayer to the victims because a classmate mentioned that the shooter had been apprehended. My professor offers a sigh of release. Class can officially, uneasily go on. It’s not surprising that as the country begins to open, so do the rounds. America holds the stats for the highest percentage of mass shootings. Not only that, we have sold over 20 million firearms.  

We have now implemented active shooter drills in schools and workplaces. We live in a place where we debate about the regulation of purchasing firearms. It becomes an issue of the liberals vs. the second amendment when really this is an issue about human rights and safety. There is no real reason a person like me or even an avid hunter needs an assault rifle in their dining room.

In the last five years there have been 29 mass shootings in America. Most recently, the gunman who killed ten people in a grocery store. Before that, an Asian hate crime in Atlanta. These events happening as we cheer for the return to “normalcy.” Eventually, we will abandon our masks but look over our shoulders and be on edge at public gatherings. This is American normal. Violence, rage, and hate are normal in America. Those concepts are deeply embedded into our society.

 I suppose being able to drink an overpriced beer at a dingy venue makes life seem less bleak. We lower White House flags. We say prayers. We give speeches. We cry. We mourn and we do it all again at the next shooting involving a “misunderstood lone wolf,” who deserves redemption. What good is a vaccine if we still have other viruses running rampant in our country? 

I don’t want to pretend that life is normal and everything is okay when everyday we are in danger. We cannot go to grocery stores, school, movie theaters, gas stations, spas, concerts, bars, clubs, airports, or even places of worship without the looming suspense of becoming the victim of a mass shooting. America, this is our normal and it’s terrifying. The unfortunate thing about mass shootings is that they can coincide with racism. That means no one is safe anywhere. The thought is tiring and it’s exhausting to think about such a thing. This is America, where it’s easier to access a firearm than it is to receive therapy. Where it’s easier to purchase a rifle than to receive basic healthcare. I currently live in the state of California. Although every state has different laws about purchasing firearms, in the state of California, I only need, “Purchasers of handguns must provide proof of California residency, such as a utility bill, residential lease, property deed, or government-issued identification (other than a driver license or other DMV-issued identification), and either (1) possess a Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with their recently purchased handgun or (2) qualify for an HSC exemption,” according to Cal State Department of Justice website. The requirements are a lot easier than being qualified for health insurance provided by the state. Requirements for health insurance are an income at minimum, $17,609 annually. That means that you need to make less than $1400 a month. Why does this matter? The cost of living in California is astronomical. You need a job that pays at least $1400 or more to pay rent. With rent averaging to at least $1500 in the state, it is safe to say that many Calirfonians are not receiving health insurance. Somehow, it is easier to secure a gun than it is to get a PCP (primary care physician) or therapist. We have a serious issue in America with firearms being readily available to people who can provide necessary IDs or even pass background checks, in certain states. Everyday we step outside, our lives rest in the palm of someone else’s hand. There is someone waiting for the weather to get hotter, public gatherings to get larger, and more vaccines administered. There is someone waiting for the virus and its variants to be eradicated. Unfortunately, there are already shooters who seized their opportunity as some restrictions were lifted.

When we applaud the efforts of our government for rolling out coronavirus vaccines, let’s make sure we hold them accountable for gun reform in our country. 

I no longer want to see families crying. Friends lost. Children robbed of a future. Women who become statistics. A nation in fear and oblivion. Unfortunately, as more people get vaccinated and Coronavirus becomes more controlled, we still need to develop a remedy for our other, long lasting, ever-evolving viruses.

Zoom Alumni Association

Written by Montez Louria

Zoom classes are the Dracula of education. My soul, energy, and passion are all sucked out of me while sitting and staring at my glowing tablet screen. I have four classes and instead of getting lost or running from building to building within a minute of class starting. I am frantically drowning in Zoom links. Is it or is it code: 601 326 7566? At this point, all the links and numbers are the same. 

I see the tiny squares of equally unenthused classmates, trying to find the right comfort in a chair. Trying to not lay back against their bed. Trying to relate good lighting. Home offices constructed out of kitchen islands and Zodiac tapestry. Then there is me with sticky notes against the wall right above my head. Feet buried in the carpet. Cheap Walmart chair with wheels that would never attach. A furry pillow turned into a butt pillow that is now deflated. Here, I am in a virtual classroom, hoping that my wifi doesn’t take a break. Hoping that today is not the day my tablet gives up. Hoping this isn’t time for a power outage or other experimentations from my apartment complex. 

Our professor asked us to keep the camera on because “keeping the camera on facilitates the learning environment.” We start class at 7pm EST. We start the class with a personal yet unfunny anecdote from everyone’s favorite quirky White male professor. Half of the class laughs at the story about a student being potentially date raped at a party. “Scratch that,” he says, “I didn’t mean that. I’m not victim blaming but why are you going to a party, DURING COVID?” I look into the camera. Half of the students are smiling, the other half uncomfortably pretending this is okay. We follow up with a sci-fi reference while realizing forty minutes of class has been wasted. The class goes until 9:50. Yet somehow we will be waiting here until 10pm or 10:05pm. Oh joy. 

The blank stares, awkward silences, the one person who talks too much, people should talk more… are these archetypes imitating life, or has life begun to imitate the archetypes? Traditional student tropes plaguing my digital life. I sit, trying desperately to hold my attention to the screen– it’s rather difficult to discuss the threshold concepts when your bed is calling. She says she misses me, andthe television is waiting for me to catch up on Doom Patrol. My immaculate “Wild Art Heart” anxiety reducing coloring book is waiting for me. I’m fidgeting. I have things I want to say. I say nothing. My overcompensating classmate speaks again, and every time they speak, it’s a practice for a badly written dissertation. They take up so much space in conversation. 

I miss the stale walls of a lecture hall. I miss the swivel chairs, the tables with plugs already in them. I miss the brick of campus. Walking past busts or statues I secretly hate or wonder why they exist. The most painful thing about Zoom classes is that I still pay for full tuition for half the experience and half the access. I started my MFA program via zoom and I’ll probably graduate via Zoom. Like many others, at one point in time, my workplace and classroom are also my bedroom. My place where I could decompress, abandon my fears, and reset became a dumpster of emotion and stress. I cannot leave my stress at work. I cannot deposit my academic frustrations in a building named after a donor. I worry about my attire. Am I being too casual? I attend class in a tank top or pajamas that look like a hoodie. I lean against my back wall. I lean against the side wall. I slump on my home desk. The candles in my room flickering distract me. There is something about being able to walk or drive to a campus, sit in a room, speak passionately about the intersection of identity and pedagogy, and then go home. Something about being able to catch a classmate after the session. Have a chat. A quick late night dinner/snack. But all of this: gone. I end class in my bedroom, I go to my dark and lonely kitchen. Refill my water bottle and complete my night routine. 

We will all have the common ground whether we are undergrad, grad, or post grads. We will all remember the makeshift virtual accommodations, virtual club meeting, ceremonies, mixers, and orientations. We will remember graduation as a name on a screen with a “sorry, thank you box,” full of school merchandise that no one wanted to buy. We will have the loans from attending class in our isolated rooms and favorite slippers. What wild card crazy or exciting memories will we have from zooming our way through higher ed? What hazy yet enjoyable memories will we have of conversations in dining halls or dimly lit pizza shops? Yes, being able to seek higher education is a privilege. However being in the same space all the time because of a pandemic changes your outlook on college. I will speak for myself when I say I am past the point of organization. Past the point of being optimistic about zoom fatigue. So welcome us all, into the alumni association of Zoom University. The reunion will be amazing. Shared misery makes for the best cocktail hour.