*This is a work of fiction, inspired by real events
He was a beautiful man, with profound eyes filled with pools of copper and a jawline so sharp it stung to look at. I met him through mutual friends – we were at one of those free music festivals Atlanta loves to throw during the spring. “Bijan,” he answered, unsmiling, when I asked for his name.
I had to ask again to hear him over the off-tune indie band playing nearby and the surrounding cliques’ overlapping conversations. I grinned. “Does that mean you’re my hero?” I teased, playing on the Farsi meaning of the name, trying to help him relax. I know what anxiety is like. He merely grimaced and replied, “Yeah.”
My girlfriend smiled sheepishly at our exchange. “Bijan comes from Persian parents as well. I thought I’d introduce you, because Middle Easterners can only date each other, right?” That was a joke, I learned later that evening – Bijan was gay.
We went out for dinner after the festival ended. I ordered spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, while he opted for mozzarella cheese sticks and a dirty martini. “Yeah,” he said, between licking the salt off an olive, “I used to have a boyfriend. Handsome, tall fellow. A godsend in the gay community – to find a guy who wanted to be exclusive AND was ‘manly’ enough for me to take home without having to come out? Bless. Things didn’t work out, though. It is what it is.”
Bijan wasn’t actually from Atlanta. His parents lived in Nashville; he was here doing his Master’s in Public Health at Emory. He wanted to help impoverished men and women of color in urban communities with commonplace STI’s receive necessary treatment and prevention. Bijan was an intelligent student, but didn’t receive enough funding for his studies. Fortunately, his parents were wealthy enough to fund his degree, housing, and other needs while he built the foundation for his life.
I was fond of Bijan. We didn’t hang out much after that night, but we made time to get cappuccinos or go to shows a handful of times over the next few months. Those few times, we talked (argued) about religion, local occurrences, and epidemiology. I admired him for his pure intentions – he truly believed he could “make the world a better place” through his research, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles world health organizations often faced, like lack of funding or permission to send aid into certain areas. He had faith that goodness would prevail. But that faith appeared to be nonexistent when it pertained to his own life.
“Yeah, my parents have a list of women for me to meet in the occasion I don’t bring one home before I turn 27,” he’d lament. “Muslim, or Coptic Christian. They really expect me to carry the family name, because I am the ‘man of the family.’ Pardis, my only sister, is older than me, but she eloped with a guitar player a few years ago. Extraordinarily cliché, but aren’t we all? I don’t know where she is now. Anyway, they’ve cut her off and now it’s just me and Parsa, who is still in the 7th grade.”
Bijan spoke quickly, like he wanted to get a confession with a sheikh or priest over with, like I was about to assign him a punishment for simply existing. “They can’t get over the fact that they came here from Iran to have a better life, that they managed to literally go from rags to riches with their business, and they still managed to have a ‘fuck-up’ for a daughter. It puts so much pressure on me and Parsa to be great, to be venerable characters in the narrative they’ve imagined and ingrained in their heads. It’s why, despite the legalization, I will never be able to marry the man I love.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You know, I haven’t made many friends I like here. It’s hard for me to trust people. I feel like everyone lets me down. But I guess telling you all this doesn’t really make a difference.” Bijan confused me sometimes, as well, but when I prompted him for an explanation, he rarely conceded. I chose to enjoy his company, nonetheless, and take what he would give me.
I never got the sense that Bijan was a particularly happy individual, despite his aspirations and fertile inner life. Then again, very few are. Yet, nothing could prepare me for the letter I received early this year from – of all people- Bijan’s mother, stating that he had killed himself and left me a note. She didn’t write anything else, except that she hoped that Bijan hadn’t portrayed her and her husband as ‘bad people’ to me, and that they had tried their hardest to do everything they could for their beloved son.
I hope this letter reaches you well, given the circumstances. If you’re reading this, I am gone. There is nothing you could have done. I want to thank you for being a wonderful friend during the short time we knew each other. In a different life, with different neurobiology, I might have loved you more than a friend. Alas, it was not meant to be.
I write this, because I want you to know. I need to validate to myself that my act is not entirely selfish.
When I was 23, I contracted HIV from a hookup. At least, I want to think it was from a hookup. Unless my ex cheated on me, then I got it from him. It doesn’t really matter though.
Yeah, yeah, I know: HIV is incredibly treatable, to the point where it doesn’t even have to shorten your life expectancy, you just have to take antivirals and enzyme replacement therapy, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because HIV is the last straw for me. It’s the last straw on top of being atheist, on top of being gay, on top of an unforgiving world. I’ve been ready for this for years – the universe just told me it was time.
My father once said that he would rather me have cancer than an STI. I took that as indication that he would, façade and obligatory consolations aside, honestly prefer me dead than shameful. Everything about me is shrouded in shame. This, my death, is my gift to my parents: they can tell their family I died of a broken heart, of mental illness, of anything else, rather than the ugly truth. And maybe it’s true: maybe I am a product of my own relentless self-destruction, a product of gin, sex, and blasphemy.
I am not blaming anyone. Some people weren’t just meant for this world, not human enough, too human. I truly believe I will find peace after this. I’m going to sleep – for eternity.
With utmost love,
I did cry. Sobbed, in fact. And I was furious, absolutely enraged, at his casual tone in the letter. Did he not understand the depth of his actions? Did he not understand the implications for his family? His poor brother, now all alone in a cruel world?
His mother didn’t leave any contact information in her note, which is just as well. I had no desire to speak about Bijan ever again. I could only imagine how he completed the act- was it here in Atlanta? Did he blow his brains out, leaving his roommate a grotesque final image of him? I shuddered, and prayed to forget Bijan’s beautiful face.
Bijan was an astounding man that touched my life, and broke my heart with his demise. I wish his tale was a unique one, but I know it’s not, because suicide is the leading cause of death among young adults in the developed world, and I know that a high percentage of suicidal individuals never seek help, and I know that many people of color believe suicide, death, is the honorable way to go when they’ve disrespected the culture they come from.
And I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to be more merciful to the gays, to the different, to each other, and I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to cater to those who don’t know how to be alive in their communities, or anywhere else. I wish for a more forgiving world, one Bijan could have lived in, flaws and all.
His eyes are closed. A smile forms in the corner of his mouth as he lies there motionless in the summer sun; the warm air cascading gently across his face and rustling his hair in tender strokes. He is in his favourite place on earth, home.
It is the middle of summer and he is in his garden with his back against the oak tree that he has adored since he was a boy. He knows every bump and curve on the tree as he has climbed it almost daily over the past 18 years, often in a game where the tree gave him a lofty advantage over the hapless Indians below or a safe place to hide when Nanny was displeased with him for some misdemeanour or another.
Just recently he has taken to just lying at the base of the tree, with his back to the trunk, that cradles him like a nursing mother comforts a child against her bosom. He loves this tree, he always has. He cannot imagine a more perfect afternoon than this, lying in the garden, on his own in quiet serenity, the only sound being that of his sister’s children playing somewhere out the back. And when he gets hungry, after a few hours that would feel like an eternity, he would amble back to the house and enjoy a long and carefree lunch that would send him even deeper into a state of idle relaxation. Not a care in the world; he feels so at peace with the world and with himself. He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for
He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for picking. The fruit is casting abroad its aroma inviting everyone to come and take hold of the soft luscious harvest that waits. He can also make out the perfume of the lavender bushes that adorn the border. If he opened his eyes he would see the tall stalks of purple soldiers waving in the breeze like a tranquil sea, gently moving backwards and forward in uniformed harmony.
The children’s voices in the distance are becoming a little too animated for his liking and their childish screaming is enough to disturb his peace. Some voices are louder than others and he chuckles to himself as he pictures his younger brother George getting far too agitated as he bosses whatever game he is part of. Sometimes father would have to intervene and ask George to calm down as he became increasingly frustrated that the house servants were not playing the game in the way that he wanted. He stretches his legs and turns to get comfortable; he could lie here forever and is determined that nothing will make him get up. Not that he could anyway, tiredness has taken hold of his body and he is a dead-weight; nothing more than another piece of the landscape into which he is melting.
He wishes that George would pipe down now. His loud screeching is beginning to disrupt his slumber. If he has to get up and march over to the house he will be very angry and won’t be afraid to show it. Although he loves George to bits, he can be a most infuriating chap. Once, he ran off to tell a large group of travellers to get off of his father’s land or else he would beat them all severely – he was only eight years old and he was lucky to be found by our groundsman before they taught him some well-deserved manners. Also, the carefree way he skipped to the recruiting office when the Germans started to cause a nuisance in Belgium, even against the advice of our father… George was always ready to step in and say his piece without thinking through the consequences.
After a few more minutes, and another twist and turn to get comfortable against the tree, he realises that his peaceful slumber has indeed been interrupted. He tried to push it to the back of his mind, but the noise has now become intolerable and he is irked by the mindless shouting. Also, the refreshing cool breeze has disappeared and he is starting to suffocate in this oppressive heat. The air is no longer clean and fresh, and he coughs as he struggles to gulp down any air. This just won’t do…he needs to get up and head to the house. “Curse you George” he mutters under his breath, “will you stop that shouting! Enough is enough. “
Instantly the bright sunlight has turned into a thick choking smoke that obscures the natural light, and instead of soft grass, he is sitting waist-deep in mud and grease. He thrashes around completely disorientated, looking for the safety of his house but it is not there…where is he? Nothing looks familiar, he is not in his garden at all, he has no recollection of this place. Then he notices that the shouting is not coming from his brother George in the distance, it is himself. In fact, as he sits upright against the tree, he realises that he is screaming uncontrollably. Why? Why is he screaming? What is wrong?
Another explosion sends a cloud of earth and stone against his face and he flinches from it, trying to curl into the loving arms of the stump behind him for protection. The tree is rejecting him. There is no safety here; there is no reassurance, no love. He is frightened and alone as he shakes in terror at what is happening. His ears ring to the point that he cannot focus on anything around him, he shakes his head but his senses are totally disoriented and all he can hear is his own muffled screaming and the loud thud of explosions.
He looks around with glazed eyes unable to focus on anything until he looks down at his body. He realises that he is soaked to the skin and his strange torn and bloodied clothes are stuck to him. The material looks like wet paper that could easily be rubbed away if you touched it. He adjusts his gaze and continues to look down to his legs and realises that they are not there, instead, he sees two mangled stumps where his legs used to be. He screams again, this time, it is more fierce and chilling and he vomits onto the ground as the sight of his torn body registers in his brain. Where is he? What is going on? Where is his family?
Through the fear comes a strong resolution to take control, he needs answers. There…over there, look it’s George. He would recognise George’s blonde curly hair anywhere. It’s as golden as the sun and always looks so beautiful, even against the foul mud that clings to him. He finds he can form words in his throat and manages to shout to his brother…”George? George? What the hell is going on? George!” His brother is not answering. He is kneeling only a few feet away from him, with his back turned. “Blast him”, he thought, “what is he doing now?” He grasps the earth beneath him and shuffles nearer to his brother…”George, damn you”…he shuffles nearer and nearer, the thick choking air almost making him faint as he moves across the ground. He grabs his shoulder…”George, what the hell is …” The body of his younger brother falls backwards and sprawls on the earth. The screaming starts again. George’s face is not there. Half of his head is missing and his body is lifeless and limp… “George!!!!” he screams, but no one can hear him. Another explosion, another cloud of earth sprays against him and fills his eyes and mouth with rancid mud that smells of burning. He is immediately sick and slumps onto his side.
What is going on? Why is he not home? He sees a man running towards him! “help” he whimpers…”help me”. He reaches out his arms to be picked up like a young baby desperately in need of love and comforting. He doesn’t know if it is sweat or tears in his eyes, but he knows that he needs to get out of here. The man stops in front of him, kneels down, and unfastens something from his belt. ”A drink! Oh yes please,” he mumbles to himself, barely above a whisper. He reaches out to the man in front of him grasping at the buttons on his coat, tenderly entreating him to save him from the unnatural and godless scene that he finds himself part of. But no drink is offered, no warm voice meets his ears, no reassuring hand comforts his own cold and bloodied.
And then he sees it. Not the soft rounded edges of a flask, but the cold gleam of a blade. Slowly he looks up with fear raging through his body, and for the first time, he is able to make out the face of his ‘rescuer’. The man towering over him is young and rugged but stares back expressionlessly with cold empty eyes that betray no human emotion. Their faces are inches apart. The stranger has not stopped to offer salvation, he is not reaching out to help him, but with brutal gentleness, he slips the blade deep into his chest and twists it as it pierces his heart. His body spasms and immediately his eyes begin to mist over.
All around him becomes calm and the only sound he can hear is the soft speech of his companion who is now whispering something in an unfamiliar tongue. Although slipping towards unconsciousness, he feels that he recognises the pattern of words being uttered; confused and afraid, to his disbelief it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer although it has never sounded as empty as it does now. The stranger’s voice quietens to an echo and all else turns silent. With the knife still protruding from his tunic, he falls back and his eyes finally blacken and he comes to rest with his head touching the golden locks of his brother.
Together they gaze heavenwards with unseeing eyes as the mud continues to swallow their bodies and entomb them in a land that is far from home. Two brothers lost forever in Northern France.
I have been working as a freelancer for the past two years now. I often get asked if it’s easy and what it’s like to be self-employed, so I thought I would tell my story.
I love my freelance life and I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to do it alone, but it hasn’t been easy and there are definitely pros and cons to both kinds of lifestyle. Whether you succeed in one or the other ,I think it comes down to what you want to achieve and what kind of person you are.
I stayed late and worked extra hours and was very involved in the corporate mission for greatness, but for me the time frame in this environment just didn’t cut it. I saw no direct reward for the extra effort I was putting in and being told I would be up for a pay review in 6-9 months didn’t motivate me to stay.
For some people I understand that the security of a regularly paid job, coupled with the more standard career route of rising through the ranks is a dream come true, but it turns out I wanted something different.
I don’t think I actually appreciated that I wanted to work for myself until I quit my job and went for it. I’ve never been as scared as I was when I made the decision to quit. I had worked my whole life to land that corporate city job…nearly 20 years in education!
I had some savings behind me, and the intention of finding a more rewarding and higher paid role. I spent a few weeks enjoying my new found freedom in the city but naturally got a little bored, so I started helping some friends with various projects, while interviewing for full-time roles.
A month or so after quitting I was involved in several freelance projects and actually being paid for most of them! I decided that I would push back finding another full time job and see how I could get on with self-employment.
I had accidentally become a freelancer. Over the first few months I taught myself a lot of new skills while doing projects at the same time. I spent hours networking, learning, and building my personal brand. I’ve never been happier.
At least one working day a week should be spent on building relationships and sourcing new work to make sure that you don’t end up finishing a project with no new work in site.
One of the biggest perks of the job for me is that I can carry on learning while I am earning. I put a lot of my cash back into my education, as a business would with its employee training. This is another really important thing to remember to make sure you stay ahead of the curve in your industry.
It is also important to get into a good work/life balance routine. It can be very easy to work all hours of the day, especially as you see more and more money coming in. However, taking a break will mean you perform better and ultimately will get more work in the long term.
It took me a while to figure this one out but now I work normal working hours, just from the comfort of my own home. I can get up slowly, exercise, have a healthy breakfast, and watch the news. I don’t have to fight with angry commuters and so I save about 2 hours a day of travel time (which I use for personal development).
So long as I keep in touch with clients and the work gets done, they don’t care where I am.
So now that you know my story, here are some top tips for becoming a top notch freelancer and kicking ass at life:
Being a freelancer comes with its risks and rewards, but, for me, it has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
The sky hung heavy in the pines. The dark of night was so dense that even the moon struggled to poke through the branches to illuminate our bodies glistening beneath the frail moonlight.
The whirring of the midnight creatures gave the night a pulse that was felt, and it reverberated through the woods and collected in the air over the expanse of the lake. My grandparents own a small house on Lake Sinclair, and I convinced Giselle to go skinny dipping one night.
I didn’t have ulterior motives, but Giselle floating on the surface of the water gave her an air of infinite peace and made her desirable beyond compare. Her skin was so fair that she seemed to glow, easily outshining the moon.
Even though she was indecent, she emanated a sense of stoic class with the way she turned up her face to the sky to exhale the smoke from her clove cigarette. The smoke clouds couldn’t swim fluidly through the thick air and loomed over her shoulders, giving her the appeal of a black magic witchy woman who casted spells on her subjects for a laugh and put men she desired in trances.
Women like Giselle belong to the night because their beauty is too intense for the light of day, and only they can pierce the black night when the moon is feeling shy.
As the smoke dispersed, her seaweed green eyes gazed out over the lake as if her underwater kingdom bowed before her. Her jaw flexed, concentration broken, and she said, “I wish I could stay here longer.”
“Why can’t you,” I asked.
“Because when that sun comes up, it’s back to reality.”
She scoffed. “This is far from reality. This is the other side. Darkness is always used in comparisons with death, but no one ever considers all that comes alive at night,” she said with eyes reflecting the green of pine needles.
With that, she stood up and walked to the far end of the dock closest to the shore. When she reached the end, she twirled around like a fashion model about to take her first walk down the runway, and then she lunged forward into a full on sprint toward the lake.
Her strides were long with perfect form, landing on the balls of her feet with each step. The snakes on her head were in frenzy and hissed as she picked up speed. As her feet left the edge of the dock, her body lost its mechanical form.
Her head of snakes submerged, and the atmosphere felt calm and fell to a whisper. She floated to the surface and let the water carry her weight for a little while.
It was so late into the night that even the night crawlers were beginning to simmer to a soft pulse. The branches sashayed in the light breeze, and the owls hooted back and forth to each other. Giselle was almost right—this was the other side, but only real for those who listen.
Again? Seriously? I thought to myself as I watched my target through the smoke-filled bar. He’d been sitting in the same sticky corner booth for the last three hours, and my patience was wearing thin.
As the waitress left him and delivered a third apple martini to the blond twenty-something in a tight black dress sitting alone at the end of the bar, I groaned and slumped on my stool, hidden at the bar.
I wanted to go over and tell him that no girl who looked like that was going to be interested in a prematurely balding forty-three year old with a nose the size of Mount Rushmore, but I’d be wasting my breath. At least the young woman in question was getting free drinks out of it. I’d been sipping on water for the last two hours, and the bartender was starting to get irritated.
As the drink was delivered, the girl gave my mark a polite nod, but then quickly turned back around. As his shoulders slumped, I stifled a laugh at how out of his depth this man was.
Wishing he would get the hint that he wasn’t going to score tonight and go home, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to shake the pins and needles out of my lower half. These bar stools were anything but comfortable.
I was hired by Little-Miss-Trophy-Wife to follow her husband around, but I’m not sure why she was bothering to pay my considerable fee for the man in front of me. Mr. Bradshaw here wasn’t even getting a second glance from the single women in this place or any other bar he’d visited this week. Not that it was surprising. He made a rather pathetic image in his rumpled grey suit and stained white shirt that he’d worn three days in a row.
Maybe I was a pessimist when it came to love, but my job as a private investigator didn’t really leave room for a romantic side. Watching married men and women screw the mistress or hooker or random guy in the bar bathroom for a living made you loose the drive to find someone who was just as likely to love you as they were to screw you over.
The bartender came to stand in front of me, and with an irritated look on his face, he asked, “Can I get you anything stronger?” Not knowing how many more beers Mr. Bradshaw was going to guzzle down before finally giving up the chase, I nodded and said, “Scotch. Straight up.”
Looking a little more relaxed, he nodded and prepared my drink. As he set the glass in front of me, I took a small sip before cradling it in my hands.
Enjoying the sensation, I let a small smile play about my lips before looking back at Mr. Bradshaw.
He sat there, twirling his wedding ring around his finger, and the look on his face made a wave of pity flow through me. It must be hard to be so completely miserable in a relationship that you’d rather come to a dive like this than go home.
People needed to choose their partners more carefully. It seemed to me that too many people confused lust with love, and then when the novelty wore off, they found themselves chained to a person they couldn’t stand to spend five minutes with – let alone a lifetime.
A relatively attractive man with dark brown hair that curled around his ears and fell just above his eyebrows was leaning way too close to me. His eyes were a dark chocolate brown, rather common, and the black biker jacket he had on looked brand new as it caught the neon lights above the bar.
He’d clearly had a few, and the slight tilt to his lean frame reminded me of a scarecrow slowly tipping over as the string holding him up came loose.
His breath smelled like beer and cigar smoke when he said, “Hey beautiful. Can I buy you a drink?”
Rolling my eyes, I looked at him and replied, “No thanks. I’m good.”
Irritation flickered through me at the unwanted physical contact, and I turned a bit more toward him. Looking down at his hand, I noticed the slightest tan line on his ring finger and felt ill. How could people be so callous? When I eventually found love, I wouldn’t be so quick to throw it away. As I looked back up into his eyes, the drunken grin I saw there made me angry.
Putting on my best impression of an interested woman who’d had a few too many drinks, I leaned forward slightly and asked, “What’s your name, handsome?”
“Mark Braxton,” he said quickly, picking up on my change in mood as he continued to lightly touch my skin.
“What did you have in mind, Mark?” I asked, arching my back so his gaze dipped to my chest.
Giving him a fake smile, I leaned in close and whispered, “I have a feeling your wife wouldn’t like that too much.”
As his head kicked back like I’d punched him, his smile disappeared, and his face contorted into an angry grimace. “That’s none of your business, bitch,” he shot back.
His intended insult didn’t faze me in the slightest, and I sighed, “Why don’t you just go back to your buddies over there, and I’ll forget to call your wife?”
“Bitch!” he said again before stomping back to his snickering friends sitting across the bar. Watching him leave in a huff, I thought to myself, Why don’t guys ever see the ‘don’t mess with me’ sign I keep on my forehead? It would save everyone a whole lot of hassle.
Shaking my head one more time as Mr. Braxton glared at me through the smoke filled air, I looked back toward my target, and I was instantly shocked when I found his booth empty.
Quickly getting to my feet in disbelief, I scanned the rest of the bar, but I didn’t see him. Shit, I thought. Please tell me I didn’t lose him. Making my way outside, I looked for his five series BMW in the parking lot and breathed a sigh of relief when it was still parked in its spot by the curb. I would have never lived it down if I’d lost my mark because some drunken asshole was hitting on me.
Turning back to the bar, I stopped short when I found Mr. Bradshaw leaning with one hand on the side of the building, relieving himself as he struggled not to fall over. Quickly turning away, I closed my eyes and sighed.
Most of the time following cheaters and liars around instead of doing any of the weirdly acceptable activities for a girl in her twenties didn’t bother me. My work was my life and, for me, that was enough. I flirted and dated when I wanted, but for the most part, a boyfriend just took time that I didn’t have.
Glancing over my shoulder and seeing Mr. Bradshaw finishing up, I tucked myself out of sight between two cars, wrapping the shadows around me, as I watched him make his way over to his car and fumble with his keys. I knew I should probably stop him from driving in his condition, but it would compromise my cover.
I stood there for a few more seconds, considering my options, but when he dropped the keys on the ground, I knew I couldn’t just let him get behind the wheel.
As he saw me, he stumbled back a step and then looked over my body with appreciation.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hey there,” I replied sweetly.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
Slurring his words, he said, “I was just going home.”
“That’s too bad,” I replied, pouting as I tried to act like I was interested.
“I was going to offer to buy you a drink.”
“Really?” he asked, a bit shocked, but then the alcohol kicked in and he smiled.
I wanted to scream at him, but I held my tongue. Trying to hide my reaction, I took his hand and started walking back toward the bar.
Finally getting him through the door and back into the smoke filled building, I looked back at him, and with a forced smile, said, “Why don’t you go find us a booth and I’ll be right there?”
“You got it sweetheart,” he replied, a bigger grin filling his face. Leaning toward me slightly, he reached around and pinched my ass before stumbling his way back over to the corner booth. After he was out of earshot, I made a gagging sound and wrinkled my nose in revulsion. Even that small touch felt like a violation, and I immediately wanted a shower to wash the smoke and sweat off my skin.
Turning back to the bartender, I leaned across the bar and said, “That man over there was about to drive off, but I don’t think he’s sober enough to be trusted behind the wheel. You might want to take his keys so he doesn’t kill himself.”
If he didn’t end up in jail for throwing a punch, he’d be put in a cab headed home. Turning around, I made my way outside to my car as a wave of exhaustion swept through me. I thought about how amazing my pillow was going to feel when I got home, and my lips curved up into a tired smile.
The drive down to my apartment on Buffalo didn’t take very long at 12:20 AM, and before long I was making my way up the two flights of stairs to my apartment as the sounds of Mr. and Mrs. Petrovos’ evening fight filled the air.
Thanking my lucky stars that someone thought to double insulate the walls in my building, I shook my head at their bickering and slid my key into the lock. I lived in a sweet spot between two of the more rundown neighborhoods near downtown Las Vegas, so my rent was really cheap without giving up on the quality of the apartment, and I loved it.
As I walked inside and the warm smell of vanilla filled my nose, I closed and locked the door behind me quickly. Slowly stripping off my clothes as I went, I walked through the living room, making a trail of clothes from the front door into the bedroom. Falling into my bed, I closed my eyes as the soft sheets enveloped me and I reached sweet oblivion.
I can’t explain how I feel,
but these daydreams seem so real.
With a passing thought you’re in my head,
but it feels like we’re there instead.
I come out of my happy dream quickly,
and you’re still out of reach for me.
It’s 4 am. The sinews
in my legs are on fire and
my chest feels like it’s caving
Like I’m being
Like I’m being interrogated
as a witch, when I know full well
that the witchcraft
doing this to me is coming
from somewhere buried deep within
and I don’t want to afflict
Why does It even begin?
The walls twist and spin, my heart races,
and my mind is the only thing
that outpaces it.
And I. Can’t. Seem. To. Fucking. Breathe.
My sick, slobbering, staccato mind wrings the muscles
in my abdomen, in my thorax,
in my gastrocnemii, (to put it medically)
while my vision wavers
I force myself to move, to stretch, to push
out anything deeper than the shallow breath held
in my lungs with each passing second.
I scroll through my instagram feed
searching for an escape.
Pretty landscapes, Pretty people,
Something prettier than this,
prettier than me.
Something whole or
Something that at least has the visage
because right now I feel
This is new.
This poem is about my experiences dealing with Anxiety and Panic Attacks. They’re very new to me. Up until last semester, I had never had a panic attack, never felt what it was like to have crippling doubt about if I was normal, if this was normal, if I could control something like this. With the help of my friends, family, and the love of my life—my sweet and supportive girlfriend—I’ve been able to keep myself in a good place. Some days, it still hits me for no discernible reason. Some nights I wake up with cramps and attacks out of nowhere, like I described in this poem. I hope that by sharing my story, other people dealing with anxiety, especially those who are just finding out what it entails, can find comfort in knowing that someone else knows what they are going through. Anxiety doesn’t define you. There is always a way to combat your anxiety and you should never stop searching for what it is that makes you feel grounded and safe!
Thank you so much to Emily Covais, Dana Sauro, and Kyle Marchuk for your efforts in partnership with Active Minds Loyola, Maryland Chapter.
Cut cocaine with my cheekbones;
they’re too sharp for kissing,
And I’ll lay here in bed,
While drunken giggles chime on
Clawing the air apart with their caws,
Yes I’ll lay on.
Or I’ll float away,
Drifting and catching air,
Like a single strand
Of golden thread
Plucked from my head.
Fly on, netted by the arms
Of ozoned sky.
Do you remember
That time I found my sublime?
Tie dye faded with holes gnawed through,
Like worm bitten silk.
Light woke me,
Though the shades were tucked.
Jackhammers pounding on,
Yet my concrete-cratered slab of body
Just lay, rolled out,
Ready to trip.
Sheets shackled to ankles,
I touch my blistered fingers to the sky,
And the petals unpeel.
Mystic makes me mourn,
Gut a clementine whole
And tear through its skin,
Juicy leather drilling
Into my canines, just to
Forget your glazy eyes.
At the station we say our last goodbyes
No second glance, for that, infinite scorn.
I never did turn my head enough for you,
You ran around, corralling me, net on a pole;
Cork hangs on wall, you’re primed for killing,
I was a speckled butterfly, pricked by your pin.
Bruises drip down left shin,
I hide amongst the waist-high ryes,
Peer through fuzzy heads, eyes filling
With rows of soldiers, neatly lined corn.
I pull an ear, shuck with teeth, spit in hole,
Yellow, green, brown, all coming up blue.
A leaf, a scratch, handfuls of soil, stir and brew
Rub the paste into your face, the butt of your chin.
The leaves of palm, shade of trees, comprise your stole,
Feet tanned as buck hide, goddess you lay out as clay dries
As earth cracks around you, you goddess, are reborn,
Naked and earthen, stallion mane unbraided and spilling.
At the water hole we hover over libations, milling,
Flipping hands, veiny as leaves, starting over, it’s true.
Avoiding eyes, fear of Medusa within, we sneak glances, forlorn,
I can’t help but think, this is the end of our story, finito, fin.
Metal scrapes tile, dental at best, and goddess, she cries,
She yips and hollers, dancing across my bed of coal.
She nays and whinnies, finally free in my soul,
Pulling the pins, she lets the insects fall or fly, if willing,
She savors the fruit’s juices drop by drop, a lip-smacking prize,
With violet eyes, she stares into mine, and I finally view
Myself, cut like glass, no donut glaze; no longer tin,
Frail and scraping, to be crumpled in the wind; I am born.
Because of you
I realized within
I will never be shorn.
I hear their voices.
Voices of the people who want the world to stay as it is—the people who have too much to lose
if things change.
They say to stay quiet.
They say to keep my mouth shut.
They say to silence my voice.
They say to push down my emotions so I can stay level-headed.
They say not to rock the boat.
They say not to say anything that will cause disagreement.
They want me to conform.
They want us to conform.
I hear other voices.
Voices of the people who are losing their lives.
They say they are terrified to make one wrong movement.
They say that “freedom” doesn’t feel so free.
They say they are trapped in a system that isn’t fair.
They say they just want equality.
They say they want the same opportunities I have.
They say people are scared of them.
They say they are misunderstood.
They say they are tired of people walking on the other side of the street at night because of their
They say they are tired of not getting a fair trial in court.
They say they are tired of dying.
They say they are tired of crying themselves to sleep at night when they mourn for their brothers
They say they are tired of being punished for doing the only thing they know how to do in order
to put food on the table for their family.
They say they can’t help it.
So they say they want me to help.
They want us to help.
I hear another voice.
It’s the voice coming from deep within my soul.
He says to love people.
He says to care about other people before I care about myself.
He says to encourage my black brothers and sisters.
He says I should make sure they know I love them.
He says I should do what I can to help.
He says I should mourn with them.
He says I should comfort them.
He says I should listen to them.
He says I should pray for them.
He says I should pray with them.
He says I have a lot to learn from them.
He says to see the world in through their eyes before making any judgments.
He says to make friends with people who have different situations than I do.
He says that I should do more than rock the boat—he says I should sink it.
He wants me to move. He wants us to move.
There’s one voice I haven’t heard, though.
In the past, I didn’t understand all the hype around the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I chose to stay silent on it. I would think things like: Yes, I want everyone to be equal, but we have equality already. They need to realize that none of these things would be happening if they would just obey the laws (the list could go on and on).
As I became friends with some incredible people who are affected daily by fear, hatred, and stereotyping, however, my eyes were opened to the inequality we are still battling today.
They led me to believe that something has to be changed so people don’t have to break the law just to get by.
One time, I was driving through Atlanta with my friend a few weeks back. We were on the way to our church to play basketball. My friend has a heart of gold, but he is a teenaged, black male with an athletic build. The clothes he wears represent the culture he grew up in. Honestly, people look at his neighborhood—which he didn’t get to choose to live in—he doesn’t get a chance to show his heart before he is judged.
Anyways, he told me that he had recently spent a night in jail because he was having an altercation with his brother outside of their house. I listened to him tell me about this altercation and I couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t sound any different than fights I had with my brother when I was in high school. Nevertheless, somebody driving by saw the brotherly wrestling match taking place and called the police. When the police arrived, my friend and his brother were done fighting.
I don’t think there any many officers who do have ill-intentions. This is not an attack on them. However, there is a deeper problem in our society: We have a scale that measures how violent, harmful, or dangerous someone is…and we use skin color as the main variable. So, they assumed that my friend was dangerous. When they approached him to talk about the altercation, he tried to explain the story and say that it was resolved. But, the police took his explanation as some sort of resistance. They then violently threw him on the ground as they arrested him. He was arrested on the charges of domestic violence and resisting arrest.
Then, he had to get bail bonds to be able to get out of jail. Basically, he was thrown, arrested, charged, and forced into debt for something I would have got a slap on the wrist for. That dude looked at me that day with tears in his eyes and said, “Man, I swear it felt like they were trying to bring back slavery or something.” At that moment I realized that I couldn’t possibly understand what that was like. If I had a tussle with my brother like that, my parents would have handled the situation after things died down. I speak up now. Something has to change.
I work with a black girl who has become one of the most influential voices in my life lately. In a few short months, she has taught me more about loving people and praying for them than I could have ever known. As we were sitting in the office last week, she read an article about the KKK being allowed to adopt a highway in south Georgia. The article goes on to talk about the organization’s plans to make a comeback after 150 years from the time it was founded.
I want to know what in the world those people are thinking; and then I put it down and don’t think about it anymore. That is not the case for people who are directly affected by that, though. I will never be able to forget the moment when my heart fell to the floor as I watched my friend cry.
I will never be able to forget the loss of words I had as I attempted to pray over her. I will never be able to forget the realization I had in that moment—the realization that I would never be able to understand the pain and the heartache that the inequality we still have today brings into the lives of my black brothers and sisters.
So I speak up now: something has to change.
I could provide story after story and example after example. I could tell you about the kids I work with who are absolutely incredible, but will never have the same experience and opportunities as white kids unless something changes. I could tell you about the high school students I work with who are affected every single day by all of the stuff going on.
They feel like they are trying to be seen, but are invisible because people who don’t understand are too busy looking at themselves.
They feel like they are trying to be heard, but their voices are being dismissed because of the very thing they are speaking up against. People tell them that their opinions are irrelevant. It’s like a soccer player who knows nothing about baseball trying to tell a baseball player that his opinions about the unfair umpire are irrelevant or stupid—it just doesn’t make sense.
If you have ever played monopoly, you know that it can be fun for some people. For others, monopoly
can be one of the longest and most frustrating games ever. One time, I decided to join my
friends in a monopoly game they had already started. Places were already bought and occupied,
and there was only a little bit of money the bank could afford to dish out to me. So, I started playing
without much of a chance. I could basically land on someone else’s spot and have to pay or
the “Go to Jail” spot. Now, nobody would say that I ever had a fair shot.
I think our environment is a lot like that.
We played the game for over 150 years, then, people wanted to join. So, after
we tried to be the playground bully who won’t let anyone else into his clique, we reluctantly
allowed black people to play. We told them that they have the same rules as us and are allowed
to do the same things we are allowed to do and we called that equality. Unfortunately, the only
places they had left to land on were places where they had to pay, take the back seat, or go to
jail. That doesn’t sound very equal to me.
If you want another illustration as you wrestle through what it may feel like for someone else,
Here is a video that illustrates this point in a slightly different way. It is incredible.
So What Can I Do?
Listen. Learn. Love. No matter what you do in life, if you can do these three things before anything
else, you are much more likely to understand, make rational judgement, and make a difference
with what you say.
Speak up. If you are a silent supporter, know that we need your voice. We need the voice of people
who are not personally affected by these things. For example, I could physically go on living
comfortably no matter what happens with this issue in our world, but I speak up because I am
willing to give up my privilege if that is what it takes. I realize that there are people who wouldn’t
claim to be followers of Jesus reading this article, but I do want to point out that Jesus told us that
life is found when we consider others more highly than ourselves. So let’s do that! Instead of
fighting for what we personally want, let’s be willing to fight for the things others need—even if it
means we have something to lose.
Speak up. The world needs to hear that you
care for justice and mercy. The people who are being hurt need to hear that you are with them
and see that you are willing to stand with them no matter what other people think.
I would like to say that I would have spoken up in the 1800’s when slavery was being abolished.
I would like to say that I would have stood with my black brothers and sisters in the 1950’s during
the Civil Rights Movement.
I fail to realize that it wasn’t the popular thing to do as a white person.
People who had something to lose would have called me crazy for doing those things in that
Nothing has changed.
History is being written as we speak, and I refuse to look back in 50
years and tell my children that I didn’t do something to help move the world forward.
I refuse to have to tell my children that I was silent while my friends were living in fear, grief, and pain. So I
speak up—and you should too.
This one may seem a little weird, but people tend to become who they
hear they are. If someone hears constantly that they were born to lead, they will be leaders. If
someone is told they were a mistake, they will most likely live like they are a mistake.
Peoples’ identity often get bound up in the things others say to them or about them. Let’s stop telling people
that they are uneducated and ignorant so we can start telling people that they are smart,
loved, wonderful, beautiful, and Children of the Creator of the Universe.
All the people who have helped move our world forward have done something that
disrupts the status quo. All the people we celebrate as heroes today, were revolutionaries yesterday.
Think about it.
MLK was shot.
Lincoln was assassinated.
Jesus Christ was hung on
a roman death trap.
Each of these people were considered revolutionaries back then, but are heroes
today. So, let’s rebel. Let’s rebel peacefully and joyfully. Let’s speak up for justice, mercy,
equality, and love. Then, lets commit to loving the haters so much that they can hardly disagree
with us any longer.
Let’s commit to going out of our way to help the haters so they can’t bring any
real evidence against our case for justice, mercy, equality, and love.
So let’s rebel. Let’s speak up.
Let’s stand up. But, let’s remember why we are fighting and rebelling in the first place:
Make one difference. Just bring joy into someone’s life by investing in them and helping them out
of a possible situation. It is not our job to change it all, but it is our job to change what we can
and inspire others to do the same thing.
I hear their voices.
They say not to speak up.
It’s not that they are bad people.
They just don’t want life to change for them.
Change is scary.
So, they don’t try to understand.
They say to keep quiet.
I hear their voices.
They are longing for justice, equality, peace, and love.
They can’t help their situation.
They say they don’t have it like I have it.
They say that nobody understands.
They say to speak up
He is hurting for others.
He is causing me to weep when I watch a video of a real, human life being taken.
He is telling me to be willing to give up some of my privileges so that other people can have
He is telling me that the only real love in the world happens when we are willing to lay down
our lives for our brothers and sisters.
And now…now I can finally hear my own voice.
I am shouting to the world that I am not going to be silent any more.
I am shouting to my black brothers and sisters that I am with them!
I am shouting that they are worth dying for.
I am shouting that I love them—that I am willing to lay down my pride, the opinions of my
friends and family, and even my life if it will make their lives better.
I am Silent No More.
Just Mercy all at once is a riveting personal narrative gifted young lawyer brimming with idealism, places you directly in the shoes of his defendants, and is an inspirational perspective on the fight and the pursuit of, not “justice”, but true justice
As a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which placed defending those most desperate in need its utmost priority, from the poor to the wrongly condemned.
It unfortunately shows how our current system ends up leading towards the impoverished people receiving the majority of punishment in our country, which passionately supports the argument on the need for change in our criminal justice system.
An argument so very fitting in our current societal state of affairs
One day I looked in the mirror
To see if what I held most dear
Was clear, or if it was fear
That held me in its snare.
Perhaps I just didn’t care
It didn’t seem fair
I wasn’t aware
Now it seems so clear
As long as the Lord is near
There is no room for fear.
There is only one way
And though you may say nay
There will come a day
We walk together, that lonely pathway