Thrill Seek

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Kássia Melo

I fill the void with more work. Add an extra class and keep my normal shifts at the restaurant. Solder metal, then bind a book, then run some prints through the press. I find myself speaking so ecstatically I think I see my words dance along the perimeter of the loft. I think I can catch my running thoughts. For 30 minutes straight, I monologue about my “soul aching for solitude” to my best friend. Afterward, we both agreed I am becoming very enlightened and doing great work. Great walk! Spend more time processing feelings in bed. I am doing it all on my own! But at the same time, I find myself drawn to the loft at any sign someone else is home. 

Again, I exist in paradox. All my emotional freshening-up clashes with my cacophonous daily schedule. Though I speak the words, my body is not restful. I check the box on my taxes, but I am not independent. I am back in regular chaos, the place where I feel most control. I am back to skipped heartbeats and stress headaches. I am back to where I first was, where I belong.

When I last got my heart broken, I went to therapy and healed the parts of me that wanted to be neglected. Up until now, I’ve chased; I’ve thrill-seeked. I wanted what I couldn’t have, and I became especially attached to anyone who wanted me back. With enough rounds of CBT I began to probe at these bad habits, asking myself why I did them and how to stop them. I tackled my issues–meditated habitually, challenged my negative perception, and asked for help when I just wanted to scream. Reflecting, I feel like I’ve done everything right. But in all my self-improvement, the quality of my life faded into a boring lull, not unlike the periodic drip of a faucet. 

I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I did work to curb my greed for attention, and quit thinking about love. But when I stopped falling in love, my life became painfully boring. On nights when I’m extra-emotional, I choose to lay down with this bored feeling instead of running off to the closest destructive habit. When I am reminded of the past, I avoid spraying text after text to anyone who will listen. Instead, I ground myself in the present with mantras like “I am here now”. And when I succeed, I still feel unnerved. With all this grounding, I have no momentum from moment to moment. Truly, this feeling is the stupidest struggle in the world. I want to be bad, I want to be the villain again. But for the first time in my life, my body refuses–because I know the pain I’ve felt. I still struggle. When I can’t get myself worked up about this boy I love, I think about what my ex might be doing. Even though his social media is public, my hands refuse to type his username in the search. What is time for if not to yearn? What am I if not bad?


Depression Dust

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Karolina Grabowska

Depression convinced me to hole up in my apartment. I didn’t sleep through my days, like the movies have you believe. I tried to maintain a small routine. I checked in on my classes; though, I had no work to hand in. I made food for myself, but only convenient stuff, stuff you can microwave. I fed the cat. Nonetheless, my days felt empty. Only one part of my routine genuinely felt productive: When the monotony of my waking life overwhelmed me, I could kneel in my kitchen, pull the bottles of disinfectant from under my sink, and clean.

I would start with the rag, the one with fleur de lis indented along its length, woven like a plush paper towel. I pulled it along the length of our plastic counters and repeated. My first pass was dry. As the rag approached the cliff of the counter, individual specks of dust and crumbs and basil leaves rained on our linoleum floor. I made my cleaning process precise. I’d start in the corner where our cooking oils were kept. I picked up each slicked bottle one at a time and transferred them to the center of our stove. With effort, I could reach into the pockets of gunk where the counters met the wall, then pull all of it together and down it would fall to our checkered floor. 

Next, to the stove, where I’d replace the oils to their home and transfer the burner covers to the newly dusted corner. The crumbs on the stove were usually big. Expect uncooked pasta bits, plates of dried tomato sauce, and rat-gray indeterminate specks. Instead of the flat length of my rag, I would roll it up to give it some bulk. Down, down, down all the food would fall.

Once the stove was clear, I passed my rag along the open area next to the stove. On inspired nights this counter could shoulder tiny bowls of prepped onion, garlic, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, anxious vegetables anticipating the rush of hot oil. The next morning, I would be the one-man clean up crew. The clutter would often spill over to the far right counter in the kitchen. The counter: our patient friend. He held open boxes of cereal, unlidded bouillon, and packaging my roommates forgot to throw out. In order to express my love for him, I lidded the jars and placed boxes in the cabinets. I wiped him off until he was dust-free.

Though my counters were now spotless, the floor became victim to the crumbs. All of the dust and kibble that my rag pushed landed down below. Bits of food and plastic skirted to the far reaches of the ground. Now, my duty was to sweep it all away. I used the broom to tease the corners of the room. I could gather the bits all together like I did on the counters, but instead of discarding off an edge, I pulled it into the dustpan. Weightlessly, I’d drop the dust into the trash.

After sweeping, I finally reveled in the joy of spritzing disinfectant. It would go everywhere! For a moment, I was a child again, in a swimming pool with a squirt gun aimed at my cousin’s head. When all I could breathe was sterile citrus, I would put my bottle down and scrub. All of my frustrations and anxiety would channel into my rag. It would twitch along the surface of my counter as my wrist dug into the murky sections of my counter. When I found something stuck, I would imagine my arm dipping into the volume of the counter. I could curl my wrist, press my palm, then allow the pressure to roll through my muscles until it hit my tricep. I Press, press, press, until the spot went away. Finally, I’d step back and admire a room that practically sparkled.  In the long months of uncertainty, between depression naps and cleaning, I attended therapy. My therapist emphasized routine. What does your perfect day look like? Now I do that. On my perfect day, I wake up and before my body could switch on, I am already on my routine: wiping, then scrubbing, then sweeping. I used the same rag every time. What once was elegant in its bleach white had become green-gray with pockmarks of bright oranges and blacks. It was no work of art, but each hue stood as a trophy of a time I came and I conquered. It was not the dirt that I heroed, but the slew of white noise that replaced my brain. For at least an hour I had coherent thoughts: dust, then sweep, then spray.

Fever Break

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Cottonbro

I feel as if my lungs have collapsed. I am the loner in the corner of the library who jumps when they breathe. Each inhale stabs the left of my chest and I skip my next, as if my breath swallowed itself. My body is shutting down. Swollen lymph nodes around my jawline spread my neck into a trumpet. The base of my skull houses tender lumps I mistook for spider bites. My throat has inflated inside me, barricading my swallows and breaths. Can a shut down body still operate?

I cope with immersion in another world. At the hospital, I live inside the stories of Faulkner, Salinger, and Kafka. As Gregor acclimates to his hard shelled body, I acclimate to my fever state. My senses are skewed by congestion and a high body temperature. Under attack of a virus, my body produces soldier white blood cells en masse. The excess of immune cells swell the skin. The perimeter of my body expands, and I fail to adjust to the inflation. I feel like a passenger in the body of a balloon animal.  

In an abundance of caution, I am banned from visiting work, friends, or school. I am alone most of the day, only obligated to isolate. I have time to look closer around me. Yesterday I saw a car driving backward in the street. No one could do anything about it. The couple in the seats sat slumped and blank faced, like they were watching a B-rate movie.

To settle the nerves, I tell myself I am not breaking. I buy the lozenges the doctor prescribed. I take medicine. To keep the days from blending together, I make a routine out of my home pharmacy. In the morning, I suck the throat drops and in the afternoon, I take DayQuil. When the DayQuil wears off–around 4pm–I take my Tylenol. When I decide the sky is too dark for me to be active, I swallow some NyQuil and hope I don’t wake up until it is time for tea. But without fail, I wake up so stuffy I can’t breathe, so swollen my head aches as it pivots on my neck, and so sore I swear my muscles are a forest on fire. I fear the day I wake up morphed, like Gregor. Suddenly I am an ashen shadow of a forest. Imagine my skin alchemized to bark. Imagine my fever becomes the fire that minimizes me to dust. I am all singe and burn. Gone are my limbs, gone goes my heart. 

Nightmares are pounding at my perception, so life seems more disordered. I dream of a domesticated snake, loosed by its owner. Abandoned, the snake is forced to make a home from litter in the reeds. It tests its caution; It rolls its body across the peat. Shivers. The snake is reinvigorated: a wild creature finally connected to habitat. Its body orients itself to branches and mineral caves it had only known as plastic imitations its entire life. Finally adjusted, the snake curls into a log in ecstacy, when from the brambles scutter seventeen deer ticks. Deer ticks with a direction toward body heat, with hook teeth that claw through the luxurious leather of the scaled python. Ticks, the fat parasites who make homes in their food. The longer they gorge on the snake, the larger they swell. And all while the snake is drained, the ticks keep watch on the sky, fearing the swoop of a woodland fowl who might feast on their skeletal bodies. 

I wake up in fright, and sweep my skin for bites or lumps. As I come to, the panic crystallizes to pain, and I go through my medical routine again. Swallow the logenze and spoon down cough syrup. Somehow, I am not relieved. The virus which infected me is not large or living like an insect, but I am surely drained. Drained from the fever, drained from the paranoia. Yet I am uncertain said paranoia is linked to my fever. My sick days are the same as any days in the past two years: bored, isolated, and deranged. I lived a whole life before I wore this broken body. No swells, no burns, no nightmares. I was once a young dancer, a set of muscles clenched en pointe. I was an artist with intuitive hands. I ate lunch beneath trees, surrounded with laughter. Once, I was a body in rhythm with a crowd. My chest used to pound with anticipation of another body to love. I used to love. I used to be real.

I comfort myself away from this epiphany: I am not lonely, I am metamorphosed. I am the released snake. I am reunited with home in the soil. I love my rock cave. Again I swallow the syrup and the drops and the tylenol pills. I can make this work. I try to revel in the verdure, but I am cautious of ticks around the corner. I feel like a target: a tick meal. I simply must settle, must orient myself to my new home and this new normal.

Kill Your Darlings

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Bekka Mongeau

I come up with the right ideas far too late. I think up stronger essay topics as soon as my upload is complete. An old illustration reconfigures into a delicate composition as I scan the final draft. At times, solutions to storage problems from apartments I have moved out of will swim through my thoughts. I even mentally audition opening lines dedicated to kids I admired in grade school, now completely useless. Like a slice of life dramedy, I am the stumbling main character. How ironic I might finally find the resolution when the episode is already over! This is my burden, a tragic cycle of falling short. I am the failing clown.

I know my failure is necessary to grow. If I can conceptualize a better essay or illustration now, it’s usually the result of improvement since my last project. But why am I so attached to my last project? The grade is final and the paint has dried. I am right to reflect, but when I look at a mirror the light points back at me. Just as light bounces back from a mirror, my insight is not meant to permeate into past decisions I’ve made. I make my past too precious. Under my bed, buckling folders hold years worth of doodles since middle school. For the past ten years, I’ve told everyone I am making a game which I still have no development for. These ideas have become my identity. 

Every writing coach I’ve ever had would advise “cut, cut, cut! When in doubt, cut it out!”. No mentor was as radical as my screenwriting professor. “Kill your darlings!” She meant it as literal as was legal: murder the piece of your film that you loved the most. “In fact,” she says, “When students include their favorite line, it’s usually their worst.” Sure enough, as we read our classmates rough scripts, faux insights would stick out like sore thumbs. When we answered which was the strongest line, it would be in the place we least expect it. Students always think they know what their screenplays’ most memorable line will be. Yet, without fail, the collective favorite was unexpected. 

You will not know your most memorable line. When I entered college, I was a film student with some art experience. I thought I would make a hand-drawn, heartfelt animated show that would herald a revolution in children’s cartoons. I had a script and character designs and I even asked a friend to voice the lead. But it never came into fruition. I am graduating as a general art student with an interest in creative writing. I took my poetry class because I didn’t have enough credits in that semester; I picked up a non-fiction class because I loved poetry and didn’t want to try prose. I expect now to exit college writing freelance for various publications, but I really might not. I don’t know what my most memorable line will be. 

  I realize what my professors were pleading was not only a mechanical editing rule, but a radical philosophy. Whether it’s sentences, projects, or memories, nothing is so precious it should prevent building something better. The masters of drawing were not trying to create a masterpiece. Masterpieces happen at the end of years of practice, a process in repetition. In order to be a master, preciousness is to be eviscerated. To be precious about your ideas bleeds into the preciousness of lived moments. Sometimes reminiscing is a sign of stagnation. When I replay memories, I neglect the present. I don’t wake up and greet the sunlight, I ruminate on when the moon lighted my room. But in 12 hours the moon will be out again, and I bet I’d be disappointed that the sun went down and I didn’t enjoy the warmth when it was out. My life is not the drawings I could have made better. It’s not the grades I could improve, or the people I didn’t talk to enough. My life can only be what it is right now. How cold I feel in the room. The scent of onions and meat from my roommate’s lunch. The orange tabby lounging on my neighbor’s porch through the window. My life is now. Not precious, but certainly true. Like the masters of life drawing, all there is to do is to practice.

Solar Slide, Domestic Planets

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Gustavo Galeano Maz

Maybe it is as simple as everyone has told me: eat a good meal, go for a walk, soak in the sun. I live next to an outdoor after-school program. The park is not even a block from my residence; turn a corner and you’re there. When unpleasant thoughts pelt the rim of my forehead, I take myself on a walk for five minutes. Five minutes and you’re there! And once you’re there, you can’t imagine yourself anywhere else. The jungle gym twists and pulls around itself like spun candy in orange, emerald, and royal blue. The school kids swing, slide, scream and chase. Their yips and taunts merge with the songbird cries. Trees shade the walkways that spiral into the sun-lit playground. Without the leaves to shade it, the slide beams back sunlight. It becomes a star of its own. Like all stars, the park has a solar system in its orbit. 

Surrounding the jubilant playplace are rows of houses. They each vary in color, material and shape. Some are stucco with spanish tiles. Some have wooden panels and hanging flower pots. Like our own eight planets, I pass eight rows of houses: two on my street and five around the corner. Each yard is its own work of art. Imagine rows of Rauschenberg combines pulled down to lay flat in the gallery–that is what I pass on each walk. 16 compositions filled with light-up shoes, toy pianos, shovels, watering cans, cat litter, lawn chairs. Streaky, junky canvases of concrete, grass, and plastic figurines. I examine the junk treasures each person owns like I’m searching for meaning in burnt ochre brush strokes. I wonder where that small bike came from. I construct who owns the yard. The one with wilted grass and a peach toy jeep belongs to a family of five. Two of their children have already moved out of the house. And the yard across the street from them, with a wild garden and wooden windchimes, is owned by a spiritual grandma who lives alone. I prod at my fantasy tenants, trying to shape them into unpredictable characters. Perhaps that lonely grandma has a girlfriend with a beach-front retirement home; Perhaps the two children who moved out from the home across the way are Vegas stunt performers; Perhaps one house is owned only by a pack of rats!

When the real families walk out toting purses and keys, I pretend they are passing visitors. I prefer to decide what is inside the worlds of these houses. It changes every time. In that way, each walk to the park is a new adventure. I buzz to the farthest edge of my imagination. Where I once fabricated worse-case scenarios, I now paint whimsy and humor in the neighbor’s yard. My gallery walks redirect my attention from my stuttering ego, desperate for examination, to my little community. I don’t have to look to the stars and guess what I am here for. Instead, I am simply here. Here in the long dandelion-speckled grasses, with the tabbies too rowdy to stay indoors. Here with the barbie trucks, the lesbian meemaws, and the infinite possible surrounding planets. I am simply here, in my neighborhood, its own set of cosmos.

Beetle Catching

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Bruno Cervera

My boyfriend takes care of me. He texts me when he’s out of the house. Even if he plans to tiptoe into his own bed after I’ve fallen asleep, he cradles me in my room as soon as he comes home. I’ve got in the habit of eating his frozen foods. We brush our teeth together in the mornings and the nights when I neglected my hygiene all day. He always comes when I cry at the sight of cockroaches. 

My boyfriend takes care of the roaches. He coos out reassurance and grasps me when I shake. Then, he goes for the kitchen and steals a plastic cup. He refuses to kill. Gentle, he places a cup in the path of the animal and carries it out the door. I asked him once, “Don’t the bugs scare you too?” and he told me yes, but he sees the fear in my frown, so he just keeps his cool. As long as the critters don’t run up his sleeve, he’ll rescue me. Each time he crouches down, both hands shadowed beneath the sink, I hold my breath for his final catch. In that moment, I no longer fear the bug, I fear this might be the time the bug charges towards his body and teaches him fear. The odds are stacked against me. He smells like home, after all, where I know those animals are trying to go. When he is finally confronted with the same fears I have, will he stop rescuing me? If the roach runs up his sleeve, will he walk himself outside with it?

They say memory loss from your childhood is linked to dissociation through youth. I don’t have a memory. Totally out of it. My life is a collage of grey and white noise. The noise crowds and clogs my ears. It fuzzes my eyesight until I’m too scared to get out of bed. I feel the noise scutter across the walls around me, like thick black bugs in a glittering mob. The noise-bugs are boundless; I can’t walk without stepping into their swarm. So I don’t function. Don’t make meals, don’t clean, don’t create. I am afraid of living, afraid of the sadness my brain has created everywhere I look. My body and brain have given up against the glistening creatures. They’re the new residents of this apartment and I pay their lease. 

The only way I’ve found to get rid of the noise is a friend to clear it. My sweet boyfriend has happily taken on the job. He loves me when I am sad, and guides me out of my dissociation. My lovely boyfriend greets me daily with his kindness. He lets me eat his food and crawl into his bed on the nights I can’t sleep. He lives by a “mi casa es su casa” mentality. He feeds me even when he’s low on groceries, because I am too tired to make food myself. He soothes me to sleep even after late shifts, because my thoughts are always racing. He holds me all day even if he needs space, because I am desensitized to feeling anything. I cling to him with the stubborn grasp of a spider. I have made his cuerpo my casa instead. he My sweet boyfriend who stinks of tenderness has become my live-in caretaker. Me, I have become a cockroach on his bathroom floor, and on his principles he will not let me die. He told me he isn’t afraid of the bugs unless they hop onto him, but I’ve invaded him. I’ve risked him being afraid of me. And without him, I have been afraid of everything. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. 

My New Year’s resolution is very simple: This year I will function. I have been a zombie for twenty-two years of my life. I have no confidence in my functioning abilities and no practice to boot. I have little exercise over my executive function by nature of depression. Yet I don’t find the task in front of me daunting. I know exactly what I need to do. Like a new hire, I’ve shadowed my boyfriend as he teaches me necessary skills. He has done something radical; He has shown me love to teach me self-love. My boyfriend has never made me feel like the bug in his sleeve. Instead, he’s given me patience, care, and comfort, so that now I find myself with a toolkit I’ve never known. I get out of bed alone like we start our days together. I feed myself a small meal like the oatmeal he makes me on the stove. When I can’t sleep, I hold myself in the places he favors. My gentle boyfriend, my guide to life. Just as I have been riddled with shiny black beetles, he is built of patient cups and gentle slips of paper. He leaves them behind when he is gone. By now, there is enough to carry out every creature in this apartment.

Lettuce Prep

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Pezibear

The lettuce on your In-n-Out Burger was handled in-house by four distinct hands. Two of them belong to an associate on Board, the station designated for dressing and wrapping the burger which will land on your tongue within 8-10 minutes of ordering. The other two hands belong to the prep associate from the morning shift. All the hands that have touched the lettuce are trained experts. Cooks spend years before they hit Board. Lettuce is learned for months before an associate officially becomes a prep body. At my store, a grown mother and daughter duo herald the lettuce team. The two come into work before dawn on weekdays to tackle the preparation process. The daughter leaves before two o’ clock to pick up her sons in elementary school. 

On the weekends, management leaves lettuce in the hands of day associates, at times myself included. My touch is clumsy; I am still unfamiliar with the craft. Our lettuce is first treated to an ice bath. I reach beneath the canyoned sinks and grasp the L-shaped handle that shutters the drain. I turn the metal. The drain is shut, the cold is clogged. 

To keep their hands from freezing, some girls wear two pairs of gloves at once. I choose to instead clutch my palms as soon as they tingle, to comfort them out of their terror. Lettuce is stored in a double-walled cardboard case. I ask men to carry it for me, but I am not too weak to shoulder it. I leave the muscle to anyone but me. Instead, my focus is on the 24 to 36 whole heads of lettuce inside the case, tasked to me for unraveling.

We use only iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is tough, tight, round. English dictates a whole round lettuce as a ‘head’. The leaves of the iceberg curl around one another, fists within fists. Each leaf is larger than its sister below. Eventually, the outermost green blooms out into the open air. Upon discarding these feathered layers, you will find an oblong sphere, a shape parallel to the human brain.  I cannot help, as I handle the plant, to feel a sensitivity to it. This is why round lettuce is known as heads.

My job is to uncurl the fists so that the heartiest leaves, the protein lettuce, can be used to wrap sandwiches. The bath I’ve drawn acts to soften the leaves. For each small brain, my hands dip into the sink and cradle the whole round. The heads instinctually slip from my gloved finger tips. Like an Atlantic fisherman, I scoop them from the freezing until my hands sting. I must pull the pair apart and stretch my two first fingers so that the lettuce lays between four fingertips. The sink is divided into two by a thick steel rim. I place each head on this rim before I wring my two palms.  Like a mother loosening grass from a picnic blanket, I shake out the cold. My shivers discard into the air until my hands can feel once more. The ice water, which was pooled deep into the smallest caves of the lettuce, has flushed down the rim of the sink. All steps are streamlined from here. Shuck the largest leaves, cut them square, then crush the head into cold lettuce chips. Those chips I will pluck from the hard white stem and leave in a separate bin, for Board to use on top of the patties.

Cold glass can shatter under water that is too hot. Tight jars will burst in the below zero temperature of a freezer. My hands are glass in this arctic sink, so when I am finished with my process, I always run a cold tap to warm my hands. I must not overdo it. I treat myself cold to cold, like I would the glass cup. As I let the water run out of my sink, I remind myself of the pink flesh inside my skull. So much more fragile than lettuce or glass, so much more valuable than any money I could make from this job. I treat myself gently, I take my time at the sink. If I don’t, I may just shatter.


Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by xarkamx

Anyone who knows me today would be shocked to hear it, but I spoke Spanish fluently until I was six, the same year I moved out of San Diego county. I was born in a small city called Escondido and carried out in a rush, before I ever attended school. Though Escondido’s populationis richly Mexican, it was not the source of my Spanish knowledge. It’s all correlation–my grandma Martha, a native-born Mexican, spoke to me in her first language. Alone at night, I would recite my catholic prayers with the lilts and twists of the Spanish tongue. The ritual would disappear after I moved. I grew up Christian, discarded my prayers. Soon, isolation would greet me in my childhood town.

I spent my childhood in Temecula, California, a small town known for luxury wines and olive oils. For such a pastoral description, the town itself is pure suburbia. While the wines and oils wear the name “Temecula”, the grapes and olives are grown in the sprawling landscape that circles the town, Wine Country. Temecula is the corporate-run commerce center of the area. My earliest memories occur in shopping malls and car rides. My family’s living routine revolved around chain restaurants, beginner dance courses, and Stater Brothers grocery. In place of tradition and ritual, I engaged in popular culture and consumerism. I was the target cereal-fed, television-tuned, American child. I would age as expected, gravitating towards fast fashion and fried food.

Though I learned Spanish young, it is unfamiliar to me now. My school, neighborhood, and household spoke English. My father, also full-blooded Mexican, knows nothing of the language. My mom, who has known Spanish her whole life, did not teach me. And though she is technically fluent, she feels her accent is subpar. She hates to speak it to this day. I would forget the language my grandma kissed between my forehead and with me, the language died.

I’ve only been to Mexico as a stop on the Carnival Cruise. My family who’d lived there until adulthood could only speak limited English. My Spanish was just as limited. When I was small, my parents would take me to parties rich with tradition. As I cornered puberty, the parties dwindled. I remember tall aunts skilled at long, joyous mariachi gritos (yells). My Aunt Jen, a petite and thin indiginous-featured artist like me, took frequent trips to Mexico. Because we were alike, I expected to bond with her one day. I dreamed that I could take up an artist’s residency with her in the center of Mexico. And then, as soon as my skin was fatter than my bones, there were no more visits to deep San Diego. My family crumbled apart. All of these memories of community and jubilee will only ever be claps of dust between concrete stages of life. My mother and father are now divorced and the family on my father’s side, the ones I grew up with, are modern strangers.

“Mexican pride!” As a teen, the phrase would skip down my tongue. How could I ever claim to be Mexican without participating in the community? Without a family to visit or sing to me stories? My understanding of Mexico is baseless. I don’t know what Mexico looks like. Is it glazed clay plates of tortillas, caramelized chunks of red meat, a table set in colors of orange and hot teal? Or are these just the cardboard cut-outs my mother’s family has replaced our history with? I miss my dad’s cousins who screamed with delight. In place of those big reunions, my mom takes me to her sister’s weekend brunches. The breakfast burritos cannot compare to home-cooked spreads. Our Spanish words are chopped with American pronunciation. And in place of joyful yelps is a silence only ever broken with small talk.

I don’t judge my mom for her choice to only speak English at home, but I can’t help but wonder who I could be if I was bilingual. How much would I know if I could speak to my elders when I was young? I would ask them what kind of flowers bloom in their hometown. I dream the language could bridge the unbearable silence that drapes over the traditions I have now. Maybe we’d be able to give our fears out to song, to yell out color in place of our quiet. I want to know what Mexico genuinely looks like. I hear it’s grit. I hear it’s pure pigment. I hear it’s unconditional love in all seasons of life. I’ve seen it before. My aunts live with each other; My grandparents live with their children. Where is that love when I sit at Thanksgiving dinner today? Being Mexican should be liberating. I remember that liberation from before: the whoops and hollers that would escape the lungs of my aunts like pink birds in the sky. At night I hear my neighbors’ parties filled with those same screams. I wish to be another lung in melody. I wish to be a tone in the crowd. I wish to be colored pink.

I Died: Lessons From the Age of 21

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by John Diez

I was born a fat, happy bug when something cosmic charmed me gold. Never once broke a bone, no allergies to gluten or pollen. Lucky enough never to grieve another. My wishes dropped from the sky. I once asked my parents to buy me a soda from the vending machine, and upon their refusal, strolled to the plastic door of the vending machine drop box. Two Sprites tumbled to the ground. Most likely, someone punched in the wrong number and left in frustration. In my story, that someone who keyed the numbers was my friend Pure Luck. Luck loves me. Luck lives in the house next door.

I grew up a charmed, caramel girl. I ran down the stairs because I knew I would never fall. I ate cookies off the floor and teethed around the mold on my strawberries; I could never get sick. I wore my charm like a dinner roll wears butter. Fortune was baked into my being. I lived full, impulsive, unrestrained until I no longer could, until all of it died.

I first grieved for myself in February after my 21st birthday. The grief struck me where I never expected sorrow to hit: during a run of Clueless. As the film came to a close, I felt a terrible longing for myself. This was very strange. Was I not sitting right here, watching the film? But I was nowhere to be found. Where was the breezy teen who gushed at the sight of Paul Rudd, who happily mouthed one-liners? Inside the warmth of my home, sobs heaved from my chest.

The young, golden baby I once was had been taken from me.  It was a loss that left my muscle bare, like the skin of a mango as you pull the flesh by your teeth. My 21st year arrived at the end of my first adult relationship. Twin flames hold a mirror to one another. Sometimes, they only act to reveal each other’s wounds. We tore each other to shreds. I didn’t want love like I knew it ever again. After we broke up, I shut out chaos. In the process, I lost my impulses and I lost my passions. 21 made an honest being out of me.

What a surprise the sincere world is. Teen romance no longer thrills me. I am more familiar with labor than luck. My tolerance for things is suddenly waning; when I have dairy, I get stomach aches. I have few friends. In one year I have aged 40. All of a sudden, my back hurts, I need seltzer water, and I have no crushes. I am no longer the golden bug, the buttered bread baby. I no longer race the asphalt on a candy high Halloween night. I no longer giggle when I meet someone new. Instead, I cook Thanksgiving dinner with only a recipe to keep me company. I eat with two utensils. To be content, I’ve stopped seeing the world as a bed of roses. I’ve abandoned the fawn. I share my poetry and when people tell me I use too many analogies, it’s true. Drop the metaphors, face reality. A minute is a minute and each day is a day.

Though dark, there is serenity in accepting reality. I no longer use love, luck, or entertainment as placeholders for joy. In exchange, I have room for gratitude. I make my own silver linings. I choose what I look forward to: time to cook a meal, the hesitant greeting of a cat on the street, moisturizing after a shower, and bedtime. Some days, if I really need a push, I buy myself flowers from the grocer. I am my own best friend. 

As I come to terms with reality, impulses run through me once more. I have a new motive to run down the stairs. I’m not afraid of tripping. I don’t need to know it won’t happen; I know it certainly will. I exist now on a beeline to the end of my life, which I will experience bright-eyed and alone. Before I die, I am going to rebuild Me. I am going to have very nice conversations with Me while I cook my meals. I will talk in depth about art and philosophy, and I will never come to a definite conclusion, only because I love it when I chat with Me. When I dine, I will eat with my hands. And one day, when I have someone who loves me enough to look at a rose and think of my skin, I will still buy myself flowers. I am my own best friend, after all, and I don’t want to lose Me ever again.

Trophy Wife Fantasies

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Vlada Karpovich

He is coming home soon, back to the dorms where I am now, in the near vacant west wing. We are all freshmen, and free time is new to us. We’ve become friends because we live together, so we are always together. But right now, I am alone. They are out, enjoying the cold–laughing and twirling on ice. The school is sponsoring a holiday skate rink for the night. I was supposed to be there, eager to be included. I’ve never skated before. We were both invited, in fact, but Cameron has convinced me not to. He jumped when his roommate walked in to grab a book during our screening of Futurama.. He didn’t want to go, and he told me I shouldn’t go. It can’t be that much fun. He doesn’t like anyone, anyway. Cameron prefers we hang out alone, instead. I tell myself that means he has a thing for me.

I stayed behind because he did too. I needed to tackle the chores in my room. Alone in the dorm, my knees on pine, I place and replace objects of sentiment. I dust down my corner of the room. I even check out a vacuum and mop from the student center. I’ve never been good at cleaning, but it’s important to me tonight because I’ve made a game of it. The rules of the game are: everything must be perfect before he arrives. If everything is perfect, then when he comes back, he will announce himself and kiss my cheek. He will declare this space a home.

I throw all my love into the composition of my bedroom. I deconstruct columns of books and paperwork. I leave the middle of the desk clear; I hang my clothes, once habitants of my desk chair, in the closet. He is coming back soon, to my room, to our beautiful home.

When I am done, I have enough time to do something for myself. I unfurl my thick purple yoga mat on the sparkling floor. I pull my body so that I can uncork my head. I twist into myself and I see all the hot yellow hope for tonight. I unroll my body, trying to stretch far enough I can reach him, wherever he is at right now. 

I hear steps down the hall. He comes inside, standing tall with his bass trombone in hand. I am seated on the ground. I am planted in the dirt. I don’t tell him to take off his shoes. He steps on my purple mat. He suggests maybe can we go to his room instead?

This guy is unbelievable in the very best way. He’s tall, smooth, and built tight, like a whippet. His interest in me begins and ends with my virginity; this will be my first time with a boy. I’ve had experience, no doubt, but I felt like I wanted a relationship before I went all the way. I managed to avoid it at the dorms and even when I started living alone. By now, though, it’s been long enough. I don’t mind that he doesn’t want to date, because I don’t want to date. I just want to try something new. 

We don’t even get 10 minutes into the movie before he gets on his knees and pulls down his sweatpants. I am happy to go with his flow. We kiss, we touch, and eventually, he tells me to get on top. I wrap around his body with my head buried in his shoulders. I only perceive the orange and blood space between two bodies. I feel welcome in this warm vacation, the wavy paradise that only exists in the heat of two strangers. 

I know only his name and his Instagram handle. When we finish, he makes a joke along the lines of: You’re so small you remind me of a child and that is so hot. When we finish, I roll my eyes and I roll out of the body and back into the head and think about things like “I want that dalmatian print sweater.” But when we finish he insists on staying in that warm vacation place. Sleepily, he pulls me back. 

Tonight, he is holding me like I’ve never been held before. I am locked between the tension of four limbs and brushed by soft kisses. He’s kisses are slow clouds passing over dandelions. This big, tall hunk who only ever saw me as a hole has not stopped kissing my cheek all night. All of what was once a hot, wet night has laced into vulnerability. Fast, hard, and out of control I think, “the kids will be in the next room over.” My brain in the aftermath of a speedway collision: “The kids are sleeping in the next room over and we’ll all wake up come sunrise and I will serve everyone smiley face pancakes.” 

I am older and wiser and hotter now. I am a good feminist. I don’t wait around for boys who don’t like language. I don’t eat the crumbs the tall boys leave to catch me in the woods. 

As a good feminist, I waited to fall in love with someone who is kind. My lovely someone takes good care of me. I feel loved, seen, understood. He is happy to share a home with me. And so am I, as long as he is happy. My home is built around him.

A perfect night:

I will be sitting when he arrives at the door. I will be curled and cozy with some dignified text in hand. Dug into shelves of words I have no attention span for, my brain will be pinned only on one thing: him. 

He will bust open the door and stand without direction, waiting for me. I affirm his inaction, and lift my body up from my tasks to wrap my plentitude around his form. I’d have taken a shower earlier so I can smell like roses. After his long walk home it is all he can take in. I am so squeaky clean that I am his soap and his sponge. I’ll hold my body against his long enough that the air of his lungs comes out floral. Under his hold, I keep myself small and my heartbeat slow so that his breath can follow the tempo. 

He will be so tired, so weary and tired that I can take from my fullness and feed him. I want to have food on the stove. I want to scoop him a plate. I want to be the cushion of his seat. I want to kiss him everywhere as he devours the meal, the fruit of my labor.