The Pink Night

Today (well, it’s 2:15am, so technically, yesterday) was my last day of classes. Ever. At the college I’ve been attending for the past three years. It was actually a decent day. I was happy to see my professors and the friends I’ve made but I also had that thought of, This is the last time I will see most of you. This is the last time I will ever buy a cup of coffee from here. This is the last time.

I had a great afternoon/evening with some people (and a couple of very good people) at our creative nonfiction professor’s house. We just ate good food and talked and it was a nice time. This was influenced by how much Rene Magritte work I looked at last night, but around 7:15, looking out the window, the sky, the street light, and the houses totally looked like a Magritte painting. If you can’t already tell, he’s one of my favorite artists.

Afterward, I went over to my friend’s house, where my three best friends were. I almost immediately began hysterically laughing at nothing funny, chain smoking, and being repeatedly asked if I’m okay. This continued a lot throughout the night. As my friend drove to get cigarettes, the rain, the light, the darkness, the houses, the illumination, the neighborhoods I’ve known for 21 years all looked so fucking beautiful and it made me feel heavy.

I am not mentally prepared for the months ahead of me, but I never will be. And I am never mentally prepared for the overwhelming feelings of hope, despair, love, fear, and depression I experience, so I guess the only thing I can do is write about them.

– Z

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What I Learned In (Community) College

Figuring Out What You Want Takes Time

I didn’t figure out what I wanted to do until I was in my third (and final) year of getting my associate’s degree (which is “supposed” to take 2 years). After high school, I only applied to one college and that was it. I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to do and I knew this school was an easy commute, inexpensive, and actually a top school in the state. I took a lot of psychology courses and thought, Hey, I’ll be a psych major, but then realized that I was not cut out for it and well, it wasn’t my “passion”. In my second year I got pretty discouraged with the whole school thing and decided to toss it, deciding that after I get my degree, I’d get certified for phlebotomy (blood drawing), which came to me literally because I went to get blood drawn. Yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to make a major life decision based on a five-minute experience. I was honestly fed up with the educational system and just wanted to get out as soon as possible and make money to survive.

In the fall semester of my third year, I realized what I wanted to do; write. I had taken a creative writing course my second year and it really helped me progress as a writer. I’ve always written on my own (I can distinctly remember writing a bizarre “story” on Microsoft Word in colored font in third grade. Thank god for improvement.) and felt very passionate about it, but thought that there was no chance of making a career out of it. I had an unedited, bizarre poem published in my school’s literary magazine and a short story won second prize in a contest the same year and was also published. Then in the fall of my third year, I took a short story class and a poetry class and quickly realized that this was what I wanted to do all the time. I decided that I would continue on with my education after my associate’s.

Get On Good Terms With At Least One Professor

It’s always an advantage to have a good relationship with a professor. I’m shy, quiet, and have just as much trouble talking to adults as I do people my own age, so this was no easy task. I didn’t even really do much to achieve this; my creative writing professor just really liked my writing and I would go see her plays when they were performed downtown, so we just sort of went from there. I was able to go to her to discuss my next steps after graduation, and having her reassure me that I could do it was good enough for me. A friendly professor can act as your motivator, advisor, and friend, and they’re a good person to have around. Also, they’ll probably be more than happy to write you a letter of recommendation, which is always a good thing. I’m eternally grateful to this one professor – she was basically my academic advisor and that’s not even part of her job. I know she does this with other students and probably hears it all the time, but I can’t thank her enough and I hope we remain in contact.

Drop Classes Before It’s Too Late

If you’re taking an elective and you hate it, and I mean hate it, and/or are not doing well in it, drop it. I once took cognitive psychology and hated it with every fiber of my being (mostly because it was a late afternoon class, an hour and 20 minutes long, and I didn’t care for my professor’s style of teaching) but I didn’t drop it, even though I didn’t need the credit to graduate. Staying in a class you’re not doing well in or you really don’t enjoy is a great way to make your time more miserable than needed and destroy your GPA. Do yourself a huge favor and drop the course. Even if it’s required, you can always go back and sign up for it again in a later semester with a different professor and with a different attitude.

Making Friends Is Challenging

As I said before, I’m shy. During my first two years of school, I felt very alone. On my hour break between classes, I would either go to the library and read or attempt to study but let’s face it, chairs in libraries are extremely uncomfortable. I eventually started just sitting in my car with a cup of coffee and chain smoking while listening to music. It’s lonely, it really is. I didn’t make friends until the fall semester of my third year, when a bunch of us who shared a poetry workshop sort of just began to bond over a mutual frustration with our professor and the way the class was structured. Then, my hour break became much more bearable; I had someone to smoke with and people to talk to. We even orchestrated writing workshops outside of class so we could remain productive, share our work, and keep in touch.

Lecture halls are a tough class environment to make friends in; I know I never succeeded in doing so. You don’t get the opportunity to socialize or work together. Finding those “niche” classes, I suppose, are definitely real chances to meet people and form bonds. Reading each other’s work, critiquing it, and having smaller classes helped a lot. I’m not sure if it was by chance that we all met and became friends or if fate took part in it, but either way, I’m grateful. I grew to truly love the few I befriended and I hope they remain part of my life, somehow, for years to come.

Moving On Is Scary, But Necessary

I didn’t start working on applications to four-year universities until my spring semester. It was a confusing road and I give a lot of the credit to my professor whom I previously mentioned. After finally submitting all the applications in April, I had the waiting game. Would I be accepted? I was accepted into all three colleges, which is great, but also means more work, and here we are in the middle of May, and I still haven’t decided which one I’m going to. I haven’t even been to the campuses of any of them – shame on me. I’m terrified of leaving home. I’ve never had the desire to leave home as a college student. Commuting to my community college took 15 minutes. I could commute 45 minutes to one of the schools I’ve been accepted to, but that’s just…ridiculous. I am dreading living in a dorm, partially because of the extra money I will need to take out and pay back but also because I’ve never lived with anyone but my family. What do I bring to the dorm? Where will I put everything? How will I sleep with someone else in the room? What do I do if I have car problems? How will I masturbate??? All these questions, among others, are overwhelming. I’m absolutely horrified at the thought of leaving home and moving on, but it has to happen now. I know it will be extremely difficult, frightening, and I will be a binge-drinking, sobbing, lonely mess, but I guess I’ve already done that so maybe it will all be alright.

– Z

Calm Down, It’s Just A Panic Attack

I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed, writing a paper.

I have felt the threat of a panic attack all day but have ignored it. My hormones are out of whack at the moment, I’m under some stress, and I’m normally highly anxious anyway. So what if my body is shaking uncontrollably? Just ignore it and it will go away.

I stop typing and rush down the stairs and out the back door. I’m standing barefoot, trying to breathe, realizing it doesn’t fucking matter how deeply I breathe, really. It feels like I am going to die. I tell myself I’m not going to die, but I don’t believe that. I think I might be having a heart attack. No, it’s a panic attack. I’m not going to die, but it feels like I’m going to die, and honestly, I’d rather die.

I just want to go to sleep now. I just want to be unconscious and feel safe. But there’s nothing I can do. I can’t stop it. I can’t control it in any way. There’s nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. It’s inevitable. It could be tomorrow, it could be a month from now. But there is another one waiting.

There’s always another one.

– Z

Friday

Last night I went to see Michael McDonald (from MADtv) at The Comedy Club. The opening comedian was terrible. He was kind of adorable in a purely physical sense – slight beer belly, beard, a bit shorter than me – but I think I chuckled only a couple times. His delivery was just…bad? I don’t know comedy, but he was not my cup of tea, and he could tell. He was onstage for a while too. I got to the point where I had to resist the strong urge to tell him to shut up and/or “boo” him. Michael McDonald was hilarious, though. I’d never been to a comedy show before, but I’d go again. It also helped that my parents paid for my six dollar beer.

I was going through some serious nicotine withdrawal during dinner after (a sub-par chicken parm sandwich) and it didn’t help that it was karaoke night at the bar on the other side of the restaurant. Some guy did “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. I eventually went out after the check came to smoke and as I did so, a man was singing (or, whatever) “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and despite the poor delivery, I’ve been PMSing badly and it made me sad (“My Way” is one of those songs that, when played, without fail, I cry).

Today I woke up at 7:30 and knew there was no way I was going to fall back asleep, so I read for a while, played some stupid bubble game that I’m obsessed with on my phone, went online, and by 9:30 I was bored. I made coffee, spilled the hot coffee onto my leg, smoked a cigarette, watched some of The Office, and then at 1:30pm I fell asleep until about 4:30. It was a hot, sweaty, uncomfortable nap during which I woke up multiple times. Kylie Jenner was in my dream. I’ve been on Buzzfeed too much, clearly.

On another note, I’ve been accepted to all three colleges I applied to. So, the easiest part is done…Lord, help me.

– Z

Year of the Writer

This year has been a very important year for my writing.

Today I attended my school’s 44th annual Writing Contest awards. I feel really grateful to have such a strong, supportive, helpful writing community at my school, as well as the contest acknowledging so many different styles of genres of writing. I was extremely nervous all of today – I knew I was going to get up in front of a small crowd and read an excerpt from the short story that won first place for Best Short Fiction. My professor gave me a lovely introduction, and I especially appreciated how she remembered the play I wrote last year for her creative writing class and noted that what I do best is explore the human condition. The excerpt reading went well – for me, anyway. I was physically shaking, but I got through it.

Then almost immediately after I attended the Sixth Act playwriting performances since my play, Quitting, was one of the three winners. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the performance went; the actors did a great job at conveying the emotion of my characters and it really did work. It was incredible to see it truly come to life as a moving, breathing piece of performance art. The talk-back was also quite enjoyable – it’s nice to have people interested in your work and want to know more about how you work and what your thought process is.

Although I did win an award for second place Best Short Fiction last year, this year has truly been a year of really growing as a writer. I determined that it is, in fact, what I want to do with my life. I became a better writer in general and explored new genres and also improved in those genres even over the span of a semester. Receiving recognition helps – people connected with my work. They thought it was important. It’s an amazing feeling. I feel as though I really did delve into writing this year and I am so looking forward to continuing.

I am also incredibly proud of my writing friends who also won awards – their talent and hard work is totally deserving of its recognition and I am also grateful to have met them and been given the pleasure of reading their work.

– Z

Pieta – A Travel Essay

Pieta

I walked along the grass, weaving in between graves, careful not to step on the fresh ones, pausing as my feet almost touched the new soil. The heat of the afternoon sun collided with my skin even through my clothes, perspiration dampening my forehead. After walking the same section, eyes darting from stone to stone, in one small patch of shade provided by a lone tree, I found a grave with the name ENCAO engraved into the stone – a relative. I rested my hand on top of the stone. My grandfather’s grave had to be somewhere nearby – thank god for the map I had printed out earlier, but simply finding the section he was buried in didn’t help me much. I walked back to the edge of the paved road and moved right, my eyes grazing over each stone.

Finally I saw it, a stone identical to the Encao grave, except my grandfather’s stone had two lilies engraved into it, each one beside the engraved depiction of Jesus. CASSARINO, the stone read in huge grey letters. Three graves; Josephine, Rosario, and Louis, my grandfather. My grandfather also had his own stone flat in the ground to the right. A small, tattered American flag had been plucked into the ground above his name.

I plopped my backpack down and then sat down in the grass between the two stones before taking out my pack of Senecas and lighting one. Despite never knowing my grandfather, I could feel my eyes glazing over, and the bright sun only made it worse.

“You smoked,” I said to the grave. “I’ll share a cigarette with you.”

The tombstone reminded me of the fact that he had been in the navy. I have a picture of Louis in his uniform in a wooden box that had been passed down to me, young and handsome, but I always forget about it. “BM2 US NAVY” – Boatswain’s Mate Second Class. Below that, “WORLD WAR II”. I had no idea he had even fought in WWII, though I’m sure a family member had relayed that information to me at some point.

“I would have loved to have heard stories about that,” I said to him.

His birthday. I never knew his birthday. “April 12, 1925”, the stone told me. “Happy belated birthday,” I told him. An Aries, I immediately thought.

I spoke to him for a while, never receiving an answer, but finding more solace in that fact. I told him I hoped he was happy wherever he was and wondered if my grandmother had raised Hell when they met once again after her death last spring. I told him that I knew so little about him and what I had been told had probably been misinformation. I let him know that my mother missed him, and thanked him for visiting her.

“You could visit me sometime,” I said, staring at the stone, the flag flapping in the breeze. “Although I don’t pick up on esoteric, cryptic messages very easily.”

I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet, but got up to walk around a bit nonetheless. Holy Sepulchre was bigger than I anticipated, but in comparison to Mt. Hope, felt smaller and somehow newer, with its organized rows of still-shiny tombstones. I wasn’t used to the flatness of the land and the lack of gnarled trees and abrupt hills. I walked past my car into a plot of graves, all flat stones, each one paired with a small American flag. Another reason I wanted to visit this particular cemetery was to find the mock sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pieta. I walked more, stopping once in a while to gaze at a stone or to replace an object that had been blown away from a grave by the wind, and then, most likely by sheer luck, I did find a Pieta. It wasn’t the massive, bronze statue I had seen only on the internet, but a smaller, marble version. This Pieta wasn’t just a statue, it was someone’s grave. At first glance, I thought the Virgin Mary’s eye had been destroyed – it looked like it had disappeared into blackness – but on further inspection, and much to my relief, I saw that it was simply some sort of stain. It did look as though she could be crying, but I pushed that thought away.  A stain overwhelmed the lower half of Jesus’ body as well as he lay in her arms. I reveled silently in its presence for a moment and then, feeling satisfied with my find, headed back to my grandfather’s grave.

Feeling guilty for completely forgetting to bring flowers, or anything at all, I plucked a stem of small purple flowers, still decent-looking, from a nearby wastebasket and sat down next to Louis’ grave once more.

“I don’t know if you even like flowers,” I said as I sat down, placing the flowers in the upper lefthand corner so his name was still visible. I lit another cigarette. “You’re probably scolding me for smoking. I know, I know.”

I talked to him some more, about school, about my family, about the world, as white pollen floated through the air. I reminded him again to visit me, if he ever felt like it. After the cigarette went out, I placed it next to the first one, telling him I hoped he didn’t mind; if anything, they’re reminders to him that I was there.

Before I got up, I fixed the flag, then cursed myself for not bringing my own miniature American flag from my bedroom. “Next time,” I assured him. “I love you,” I said to the stone as I backed away, waving one last goodbye, then reentered the stale heat of my car. The engine whirred into action and I was headed back home.

– Z