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A Tragicomedy in Three Sections

Prompt: A Tragicomedy in Three Sections

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When I got caught being drunk I was lying down on my bed in my boxers with a pair of headphones blasting over my ears playing Radiohead. Rest assured, I was an insecure teenager trying to escape the feeling of living in a boring town. I was tired of hearing the ocean waves, the rustling trees, and the yapping gossip. Nature could go screw itself.

I mouthed the lyrics, thinking that my room was an island that no man could set foot on. As Thom Yorke crooned like a baby being yanked from its crib, I opened my eyes and saw that my mom was standing over me. She took one look at me and shook her head. She walked out.

The next morning, I stumbled into the hallway and I saw my dad. He shook his head and laughed. It had been one of those nights.

In fact, the reason that I started to embrace the “when in Rome” attitude to partaking in drink and illicit substance was the utter isolation that I faced by my peers. “Every one is doing it, Kris” my conscience would tell me. But the collective conscience ruled over the anomic of naturally going against the grain. What is cool and normal in a small town was bound to win. I had to go against my beliefs, and thus what my parents raised me up to be.

In retrospect, it was the isolation I felt from my parents. They saw that I was going astray by doing unspeakable things. I traded in studying for my SATs for a chance to chase astral projections that were terrifying, alluring, and disconnecting. It even got to the point where I was the one being chased.

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I don’t know if it was being a rebel, not having a brother or sister around, or the fact that church was becoming the same thing every Sunday. Any concerned parent would just see it as a “cry for attention.”

So what is a cry for attention? In the contemporary context, it’s posting a status on FaceBook lamenting how your day is a steaming pile of dump. It’s tweeting about how you met some famous celebrity and how he or she told you how good you look. It’s Instagramming a photo of peas, potatoes, beef, and cheese before it becomes a Sherpherd’s pie.

In the past, my cry for attention was drinking until I reached a point of clarity where I could feel like all the ideas I had were limitless. It was chiefing with my homies out in the carpark. It was trying to win the attention of any girl by writing and writing and writing until she would ignore me.

Now that I am older, it’s a lot more complicated. I have to keep an image. I have to be careful about doing something that could jeopardize my own reputation or that of my parents.

I’m also a lot more conscious of keeping my body a temple. I wake up in the morning and do stretches. I jog. I go skate. I drink less (maybe a beer to settle the aching pains). I’m not a teenager anymore.

But even I know that although the options are endless, there is always a breaking point to the banal routine of smiling and waving at the camera. Hell, I don’t even have a camera.

While I spend my summers cooped up in the high rise overlooking Ichon station (where the hell is that?), I wonder how I could arrive at a platform as boring as right now. It’s almost as if I am back in my room in Alaska, lying down, listening to Thom Yorke practically cry about something that I can’t understand. It’s called inflection Thom.

 

Day 52 - Paris - Musee de l'Opera 106And now comes the fun part, where I let my mind run loose. Where I take all that energy of sustaining the image of the model minority and turn it into a minefield of loose ends. “But that breaks all blog rules and thematic consistency!” you might say. Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do now? Isn’t the cry for attention supposed to be something akin to the mind of a crazy person? At least I’m not releasing a diss song or a sex tape. Now that, that would be crazy.

The patch-up solution cannot prevent the “crack-up” (or whatever Fitzgerald talked about). Sometimes people just crack up because there’s a piece of them that they keep to their selves and another that goes towards something else. And when that other piece that they sacrifice for the vocation, reciprocity, or reception is ignored, then they have cracked up – or something like that. Fitzgerald’s own recognition of his failure is a reminder that you could either accept that you’re done, or accept that you’re done and not go down without a fight.

If there is a list of things that I’d want to understand, it goes as followed:

– Why do the people you try to gain approval from focus their energy and pride towards a more practical and stable individual?

– Why is approval even necessary?

– Is this even starting to make sense?

– Lists are a terrible way to frame the mind

The remedy doesn’t lie in action: the verb. It’s the act of acting and going at it each and everyday. Take for instance a magnificent artist like Michaelangelo. You think that guy ever lied on his back and stared at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and asked “When will my father ever see that this is a magnificent piece of work?”

Somewhere out there in this electronic mundo, there’s an artist chipping away at photoshop to make sure his masterpiece is pixelated and colorized to his wanting. His father or mother is in the other room yelling at him for being a lazy brat that does nothing but jerk around all day.

Anyway, what does this even mean all mean? I’m starting to sound like Thom Yorke.

 

P.S. God Bless America

What I Talk About When I Talk About Cleaning Rain Gear

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I grabbed the nearest boot and launched it across the room towards the wall. It brushed against the life vests that hung on a hangar rack that went across the ceiling. The vests fell to the ground, succumbing to the watered down weight in its fabric. As the rain beat down on the dock outside, I swore off my boss (for the past two summer seasons) for demoting me to strenuous and physical labor. I continued to grab the nearest things to me and throw it at the other side of the room like a boyfriend in a jealous rage. I made an even bigger mess than what I first encountered.

Just a couple summer seasons ago, I started working for a local company as a barista and was promoted to fish monger my second year around. When I returned to the company for a third season, my boss demoted me to rain gear cleaner. It was my duty to clean and dry fishing equipment in preparation for fishing tours the next day.  In other words, I cleaned up everybody else’s shit.

Fishing tours took place in the morning time on skiffs along the coast around Gravina Island, a lowly inhabited island just across the sound of Revillagigedo – the island where Ketchikan city existed. Then again, I hadn’t been on a skiff, nor was ever invited on one, so this assumption of the fishing tour routes remains beyond (or short of) my actual belief. 

The worst days were when the fishermen would decide to hold a tour later than usual – say from 5 to 7.  I had to wait for them to come back after already cleaning up the first round of mess. The absolute worst was when there would be more than 60 people doing fishing tours in the morning. That’s 60 people that were different shapes and sizes. 

This scenario was typical during what happened seven days a week during the summer tourist season.  There was someone that needed to clean up the mess after.  That someone was me.

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Inside my workspace – a room on the shaky dock that was 8 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 12 feet long – I saw that raincoats covered the floor. Boots, gloves, and socks remained as lifeless on the planks, soaking the wooden planks as if it were a pile of unwanted fish slaughtered in cold blood. 

I stared at the mess. My temples throbbed. I raised my fists and began to speak.

“Motherf –”

Knock, Knock!

I turned around. It was the boss’ son.

“You alright in there, bud?” he asked.

“Yeah, just sorting the mess out” I replied.

“Well, you let me know if you need anything.” He spat the saliva from his snuff. “Cause I hear ya from the end of the dock.” 

“Yeah, nothing wrong here.” I replied.

He then went back to his clipboard and waved me off, exiting the workspace. 

Looking back at that moment when the boss’ son asked if I needed something, why yes, yes I did. A meat grinder to shove my boss’ face and his grizzly beard and serve it to the poor. 

I did my usual sorting of the clothing. Gloves here. Hats there. Pants in different sizes and different piles. I prided myself in the system I made. 

“Kris!” my boss called out. “How are you doing today?”

Besides my name and the usual “how are you?” my boss would pull me aside at a random moment during my shift and ask “Did you clean these clothes properly?” 

In the middle of scraping fish guts off of a pair of trousers, it’s no surprise that he did it again that day.

“Did you clean these clothes properly the other day?” he asked. After asking, he told me about the tourists that complained the other about how some of the clothing was still wet. 

Not making eye contact with him, I projected my voice.

“Yeah I did, but I’ll do a better job today.” 

When in reality I think: “Why of course I did! Despite the fact that was raining shit the other day, liiteral shit, I most definitely dried all 60 pairs of raincoats, rain paints, socks, gloves, beanies, and lifevests.”

Any day for a fisherman (or rain gear cleaner) is filled with an open grumpiness. You ask a fisherman for some bait, they give you the hook. You ask a rain gear cleaner for some clean clothes, he gives you a coat with dried up fish blood.  

 

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The good thing about being me is that I always have an effective icebreaker: telling people where I’ve lived and what I’ve done with my life.

“I’ve lived in Alaska before,” I would say.

“Really? That’s so awesome!” they would reply.

“Yeah, it was cool, but also very shitty the last time I went.”

“Why is that?”

“My old boss exploited me. He demoted me to the lowest position of the company and didn’t give me a raise.”

“That sounds terrible.” you might ask.

“Yeah, it was alright.”

“What did you do?”

“I was a rain gear cleaner” I reply.

“A reindeer cleaner?!”

“No, a rain gear cleaner!”

Perhaps this conversation would not work with music playing in the background. 

But if you don’t mind, the rain is beating quite loudly at the moment, and I can’t hear a word at all. I got a lot of cleaning to do.

“In media res”

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Writing Prompt: Start each sentence in action.

This whole semester I’ve  been told that the best way to start a story is in the middle of a scene or an action – in media res. It could be like that one time I was at a pizzeria buying a couple of slices before picking up my girlfriend at her internship. All of a sudden, I hear a lady speak up loudly. “Watch out!” she says to me. There’s a guy digging in your bag!”

Or it could be when I went back to my place after work. This one time I transferred at the usual stop in Queens past midnight when a man walked up to me and muttered in hot drunken breath, “You’re the ideal type” while rubbing my belly and nudging my elbow. 

For this particular post, I decided to go the most cliché way – waking up. Why? Because waking up is what most of us do anyways. Whether we get pick pocketed or strangely hit on, we all have a fifty-fifty shot of waking up in the morning. For those that are asleep right now, you may want to stay in bed for this one. For those that are not, please excuse the the sentimentality. 

*

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There was a bang at my door in the early morning. I reached out for my usual remote to turn on the television, but it was not there. I stood up, feeling the chill on the bottom of my feet. Slowly in the dark I tip-toed toward light switch before answering the bang at my door. With a flick of my finger, I clamped my eyes shut by the beaming brightness then opened them.

The movers had come to pack up all of my family’s belongings into a large truck the previous day. The room was empty with the exception of the mattress. I was leaving Naples in the dead of winter. Considering the fact that it was late December, the air in the room was colder than usual. 

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I tossed on a hoodie and started packing my bag at the foot of the bed. My mom and I were going to move temporarily into a hotel later that day. But first, the place had to be checked one final time. After the inspectors wrote their reports and twiddled their thumbs, they led us out of the place I had known for the last 5 years. 

My father had received orders some weeks ago that told him that him and his family had to transfer to another post back in the states. It was a terrible time to move, because I was beginning the ninth grade in a place that I had grown up for a great majority of my life. Cold is a good word to signify the indifference of the wind that constantly changes your course. Good thing I have a hoodie, right? 

I moved to Virginia a few days later.

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Ask any any military brat and they’ll tell you.  “Transition is the catalyst to adaptation. It’s the name of the game.”  One moment, you could live in a place located along the coast. The next moment you are landlocked in the middle-of-nowhere. The dramatic change of scene could make any person feel that their path is meandering around a narrow bend. At a fast and unpredictable current, it’s tough to get around unscathed. 

One could only imagine how I had to answer the question “Where are you from?” 

Holding out my fingers, I’d count each place from the day I was born. “Pay attention,” I’d tell them. 

Pretending to point at an invisible map, I point at each place where my parents took me. “There’s Japan. Then there’s California. Then there’s Washington. Next, Hawaii. Next, Italy. Then Virginia. Alaska. Back to Virginia. Back to Alaska . . . Korea. Now here”

 

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Photo by Simon Brooks

I moved to city. It only seemed right that I ended up in a city, where the movement doesn’t stop. A place where most things cannot be changed, but can change the way you are. It’s my point B for now, and there are probably more stops ahead. 

I rub my chin because that’s what all great thinkers do (right?) I’m more concerned with what it means to move. You know, to move from one place to another. For the past year, I had been living in a big city where moving could mean going from Point A to Point B. Yes, it had taken me some getting used to. With an hour commute, there’s not much you could do but sit down and contemplate what moving is really about. 

When I think about it, that’s why I moved to this place in the first place. I’m just used to all movement. 

Not only do I wake up in the morning like most people [Or getting pick pocketed, or sexually harassed by some random dude on the metro] I’m usually packing my bag, as if I was going on a trip. I can’t stop the fact that I’m probably going somewhere one day. 

 

“I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long”

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As I took a bite of my birthday cake, I remembered the first time I ever had a birthday party.

If you can imagine Washington with all its trees and clouds, then you would be in my shoes. Nikes from what I remember. If not, let me give you a glimpse.

Although Bremerton, Washington was known for its rain, such as most of the Northwest, the sun was out. Spring emerged. The wind wasn’t too strong and gave a little push. Still, my family and I stayed inside to celebrate as the sun crept through the blinds. In the backyard of our blue bungalow, a great big green field separated us from the woods. Once, I saw a deer wandering the field. When I told my mom, she didn’t believe me.

Ian and Hannah are there. Ian lived down the street and was my best friend. He had skinny limbs and the energy of young Tarzan. Hannah was a girl I went to church with. One time when she was having play time at our place, she kissed the cover lid of the board game “Scrabble.” On the brown side, she left a kiss mark. They sat with me on the carpeted floor – Ian flailing his arms and Hannah making kissing at the air.

My mom prepared a table full of food. She always cooked Pancit Palabok for my birthday – noodles covered with pork rinds, green onion and topped off with sliced boiled egg. I never ate a plate without drizzling lime over it. I squeezed a slice over my plate. I dug in, twirling the noodles to get as much as I could into my mouth.

There was also ice cream cake that day. Pops said I couldn’t eat it without eating dinner. I don’t remember the flavor but I do recall that I didn’t have a tough time choosing the flavor. I wanted a cookies and cream cake. My parents bought it at the local Baskin Robbins down the street – or at least it seemed to be.

Pops talked with uncle. Uncle uses a lot of hand gestures, but mostly rubs his shaved face. He looked over to me every now and then. He waved his hands.

Ma was in the kitchen while she roared in laughter with all the other aunties that decide to come. There’s Ian and Hannah’s mom.

Kuya and Ate were hanging out with the Ian and Hannah’s older siblings. They laughed but I didn’t understand any of their jokes. Ate pats me on the head. Kuya gives me a hug.

I didn’t understand why any of them laughed. Ma and Pops talked in a different language. It didn’t sound like the cartoons I liked watching. Kuya and Ate talked about people I didn’t know, older people that they knew from school. I didn’t go to their school.

“Do you know what they’re talking about?” I asked my friends.

Ian ignored me, playing with his toy soldier that he brought over. Hannah shrugged her shoulders and played with her mirror.

When it was time for the cake, I immediately dashed to the table where all the food was.

Unexpectedly, 5 candles stood on top of it. What are these I thought. They looked like the sticks poking out of a snowy field. My eyes lit up as the flame flickered.

On the cake read “Happy Birthday, Kris!”

Everyone in the room began to sing.

“Happy birthday, I love you,” Pops chanted. It’s one of the first times I had seen him since he was out to sea for about 6 months. I was happy that I could spend time with him.

Kuya and Ate helped cut the cake. So did Uncle. They handed a piece. I grabbed it and took a great big bite as if it was the peach and I was James. The ice cream melts on my tongue. It feels tastes like liquid gold.

Even better, I finished fast enough to get to the next event. It was present opening time.

My parents handed me my Uncle’s gift box. It was a large cardboard box covered with yellow paper. Inside was Woody from Toy Story. However, there was no string at his back.

There’s a snake in my boot I whispered to myself.

The next present I received was in three boxes.

I opened the first box and discovered a helmet, which was strange. Why would they just give me a helmet?

The next present I opened was a set of knee pads and elbow pads. It seemed like I was leading up to the big finish.

When my parents handed me the last box, I ripped open the box with Christmas paper around it. Inside was a pair of roller skates!

These weren’t just any roller skates! These were the ones that I had been wanting for the last year!

They told me to put it on. I felt how new the gear was on my skin. It was like putting on a costume that a hero would wear.

“Cheese!” my father said.

I held my arms up just like Pops. He was a strong man.

Mom gave me a kiss. Pops gave me a hug. Ate hugs me as well. And Kuya gives me a noogie.

Sooner or later, we were outside. Everyone cheered for me as I took my first stride on the rollerblades. My feet smoothed over the ground. There wasn’t a sign of any rocks or gravel. With the sun at its zenith, it shined down on me. The wind touched at my back. It was spring all right.

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As I finished taking a bite of my ice cream, I thought about that birthday. What it means? How I could make it more significant as the years go on? There had to be a way to recreate those feelings I felt more than decade ago. After all, Gatsby’s thought about repeating the past “Why off course you can!”

But the truth is, I’ll never be 4 again. I’m now a 22 year old man, trying to figure it out.

As I sit here with a sprained ankle, knobby knees, scraped elbows, and a head full of thoughts, I sure wish I still had all that protective gear.

 

 

Prompt: The Last Seconds of your Life

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The tall dark man told me that I had ten minutes to live. He gave me a piece of paper, and told me to write. So where do I start? 

Do I thank everyone in my life that has given me a chance to grow as a person? What are the qualifications for those sorts of people? For the record, you helped me get here. I can’t stress how much I needed you in that crunch.  

Do I tell the people that I love that I love them? Perhaps, they already know and by the time that I finish writing this it’ll become something that’s too sentimental for the average human. For the record, I love you. 

What have I been doing up until this moment? Editing. Drafting. Practicing. Eating. Sleeping. And doing it all over again. I have 8 minutes left, so let me be brief. The tall dark man is pointing at the moon and showing me that there have been shades forming over the last two minutes.

If there was one last meal that I wish to have, it has to be a full three course meal, one breakfast, the next lunch, the next dinner. I’d want some French toast with bacon and scrambled eggs and a glass of orange juice. For lunch, I want a Reuben sandwich and some potato chips on the side. For dinner, I want to have baby carrots and hummus, something light because I have already ate like a king.

If there’s anything that I’m proud of, it’s that I’ve come to terms with the very nature that we all come to this part of our lives. I have to say, I thought that I was going to feel unresolved with all that has been in my life so far. But I have no regrets.

I don’t regret the late nights where I wrote too much and ignored everything else that needed to be done. I don’t regret leaving, because I came back in the end. I don’t regret the extra pint that I drank that one night where I ended up dry heaving for a good thirty minutes. All of these things were good to me. They taught me that I need to learn how to control myself. 

If there was one thing that I wish I could do right now it’s to spend time in a bedroom underneath three layers of comfy blankets. Such a thought reminds me of the first time that I came to you and felt warmth for the first time. It was spring when the wind crept into your windows, and left a scent of the sycamore. Those trees, those stupid trees. They never said that I would leave. 

It’s hot in here right now and the tall dark man is breathing just at my neck, letting me know that time is almost up. I have a minute left before I go somewhere beyond these walls. It’s a strange feeling. I wish I had . . . 

Hale Koa

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         When I visited Hawaii just last year, I felt like I was returning back to all that was sweet. On the plane, I sat on the window seat. I edged over my arm rest to try and catch a glimpse of the coast of Waikiki. The clouds were too dense to permit me a view, but the blue sky outside indicated to me that we were near.  A little girl and her grandma sat on the outer seats from me. While I peered out my window, she watched me become enamored with the great white fields of clouds.
            “Enjoying the view?” she asked me.
            “Yes. I don’t see anything yet, but I sense that there’s something beyond those clouds,” I replied.
            “You talk funny!”
            I smirked the smirk of an adult. I knew exactly what she meant.
            “Is this your first time visiting?” I asked her.
            “No. I visited last year with my parents and grandma.”
            I looked over to her grandma in the aisle seat. Before we took off in Anchorage, I let her have the aisle seat. Her eyes were loosely shut as if she were on the cusp of a dream. She wore a purple and pink floral sundress, preparing for the sunny afternoon that we would arrive in. I imagined she dreamt of nothing but the clear blue water and coconuts filled with her favorite cocktail.
            “What do you want to do when you visit?”  
            “Probably just sit on the beach and let the warm sand run through my toes,” she replied. “I like the way warm sands slip through your toes.”
            “That sounds great! I’m here to visit a friend of mine,” I emphasized.
            I made sure to tell her that, because telling a child I had a girlfriend probably made him or her think I had cooties.
            “That’s very nice of you,” she said. “I wish my friends could come to.
For another hour or so, the little girl and I talked about where we were from. I leaned in closer to her as she talked, because the jet noise drowned out our conversation. She lived in near Anchorage, loved country music, and dreamed of riding horses. Her favorite color must have been purple, because her glasses and shirt were that color. She went to a private school, which meant that she probably could have afforded to ride a horse. 
           I told her I was from Ketchikan, hated country music, and dreamed of surfing waves. Although I had never surfed in my life, I couldn’t have now. When I was a child, I ruptured my own eardrum swimming in the water that prevented me all my life. Because of that, I lost 70 percent of my hearing in the right ear.  
          “I hadn’t swum since I lived in Hawaii” I revealed to her.
          “That’s a shame. Swimming is fun!” 
            Eventually the small talk died down between the two of us. When her grandma woke up, the little girl talked to her. Not feeling my legs, I stretched them. I yawned, scratched my head, and closed my eyes for a bit. That is until a great hue of red flashed across my closed eyelids. I felt an extraordinary warmth on my face. I peered out, and saw blue below. Outside the window floated the island of O’ahu in all its glory. Fields with massive rivulets meandered popped out of the land like a 3D image. Sooner or later, the coast of Waikiki came into my vision. From the corner of my eyes, I could see that the little girl watched me, knowing that it was a sight that I had been waiting to see once again.

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           The sight of the coast brought me back to 2001, when I was a short 4th grader on a beach in Waikiki. I was with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. We just arrived at the beach on a glorious Saturday morning. Tall palm trees as skinny as the girls in their bikinis stretched their green leaves, providing shade for people at the beach. Floral print towels, the smell of sunscreen, the bright yellow and white shimmers in the ocean. I could feel the eastern winds brush my chubby cheeks. It was going to be fine day. 
          Once I advanced closer to the ocean, I saw my friend Jay and his parents already lounged on the beige sands. He had recently been introduced to his baby brother that was born just a few months ago. His mother nestled him in her arms. His dad wasn’t around. He was on duty on an island in the Atlantic doing who knows what. He was no longer the only child. I walked up to him and gave him a high five.
         Although my family and his were in a touristy part of the island, I hardly noticed anybody around except my own self. But when you’re a child, you’re hardly aware of what’s around you. In Waikiki, a place known for its large crowds of tourism, there are many hotels near the beach that are lined up. This arrangement provided the tourists a view of the sun going down to the western hemisphere. With my family and the hundreds of tourists roaming barefooted, it really was a crowded that day. 
         I wove through the tourists with my friend. he was full of energy just like me. We were both the same height and prided ourselves at being extremely talented at playing basketball. Sometimes when I would play him at his house, I would win. I never won often, but it felt good to beat him at his own game. Racing each other, we ran from our parents to head over to the local ice cream shop, a delicacy known for its ice cream.
        I dug in my pocket of my still-dry border shorts. The gloss of the fabric shined under the sun, making the orange flowers look like tangerines. I felt four quarters in my fingers. I had enough for an ice cream cone I thought. Jay carried bills that his parents gave him, not knowing that later on his change would be soaked. I asked the lady from behind the counter for a green ice cream cone. It was my favorite flavor, a vanilla ice cream with green swirls flavored like lime. He gets a blue one, but it doesn’t taste anything like blueberries. I lick my cone, making sure I don’t waste one single drip. We returned to the beach with our cones and ate the ice cream as if it were our last one. 
       As I sat on the berm of the beach, I dug my feet into the warm white sand. I felt the warm sand slip between my toes like sand in an hour glass. It felt great. My fat toes pointed up to the sky like a hitchiker’s thumb.

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           When I finished sitting in the sun, I took my hat and sunglasses off. I threw off my tank top and ran towards the shallow end of the current. I plunged into the ocean like a scuba diver. Before I went in, the ocean glimmered, shining into my eye and leaving a blare of white light when I closed my eyes. The water shocked me to my nerves. I shivered a little bit, but bared the tingling sensation. It was cold, but refreshing in the 80 degree weather. I held my breath underneath with eyes closed, feeling the bubbles from my nose emerge to the surface. After trying to hold my breath forever, I popped out of the water with eyes still closed. The water in my hair dropped down to my body, soaking my once glossy shorts in the process. The white light in my eyes turned into a red hue. I opened them and was enveloped by rays of sunshine. 
         I splashed the water at Jay and he splashed back. I crawled out of the water towards where my parents sat at. I lied on my green towel as grains of sand stuck to my soaked brown skin. 

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         But the truth was, I wasn’t there to swim in the ocean. The ocean was just a warm up. I was there for the Hale Koa. At the Hale Koa, many military families vacationed there. It was known for its cheap rates, which garnered lots of attention from mainlanders. Although locals looked down on them, I saw myself in a lot of them. They probably enjoyed their time at the Hale Koa, because they moved around a lot. At the Hale Koa, people had the opportunity to stop time. They had the opportunity to sit around and soak up the dream of not moving, or not dealing with their superior officers, or not having to pack up trucks filled with their homes. 
        Once, I saw my childhood crush at the Hale Koa. Her name was Sierra. I went to elementary school with her at Hickam, an Army base that connected to the more well-known Naval base Pearl Harbor. She had a smile that was missing one of her two front teeth. The last time I saw her at the Hale Koa, I waved at her and she ran away. It was only fair that she ran away, because she once tried waving at me at school. She was with her friends at the hopscotch station. I blushed, flushing with an extreme embarrassment and ran towards the kickball field to kick my frustration out on red rubber balls. 
        The best part about the Hale Koa was the pool. I don’t know what it was about it. Thinking about it now makes me realize that it must have been a pool filled with pee, spit, and filth. But before, I was never concerned with how dirty the pool was. No amount of pee was going to prevent me from diving in. In fact, I peed a lot in the pool too. There, I admitted it. Strangely enough, with the rules and reality of the pool that could have restricted me from having fun, I couldn’t care less. I was unbound.
        From where I sat on the beach, I could tell that the ocean was clearer than earlier. Clouds shifted a bit to the east, giving room for the sun to penetrate the ocean blue with its yellow rays. It was now midday. Our parents brought out the food they made the night before – rice, lumpia, and spam musubi. The taste of soy sauce melts on my tongue. “Yummy!” I muttered with rice all over my lips. After I finished, my parents told me to wait 30 minutes or so before swimming again. I crossed my arms and turned my head. Jay did the same. 
For a couple of minutes, I sat there in silence. I let the rice on my lips stay on my mouth. My mom tried wiping it off, but I turned my head away from her. 
            “Okay, you can . . .” my mother says. Before she says “go” I darted towards the Hale Koa. Jay dropped his musubi and followed me. 

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            I ran on the stone slabs with my bare feet. The sun had lit them to make sure they sizzle my soles. The slabs rid of the sand particles that were stuck to my feet, drying them in the process. I also felt the wet footprints of other children eventually. I must be closer I thought. Just over the bridge, I saw shrouds of coconut trees. I noticed that there weren’t any coconuts in them. Underneath them, a big sign that read “POOL (I.D. REQUIRED” came into my vision. I smelt the chlorine and basked in it as if it were the perfume of familiarity. 
Before entering, the guard asked to see my military ID. I pulled mine out. I handed it to him and he observed it from beyond his shades. I imagined if he took off his sunglasses, it would had been whiter than the rest of his tanned body. On my ID, my face was chubby. It was physical proof that I loved sweets. My hair was cut like a marine. I wore a facial expression that looked like a squarish frown. When I think about it now, it makes me laugh.
         Flipping it over, he handed it back to me. He motioned a thumbs up to me. Jay gave his ID to the lifeguard after me. Without waiting for him, I slowed down as I approached the pool. I tested the ground around its circumference to see if it is slippery. The footprints had dried up. 
        Backing up a little further, I crouched just a little bit. I wound up and picked up speed, launching myself into the air as if I were a catapulted rock. I cannonballed into the mid-shallow end. The impact wet the dried up spots once again. The girls hollered. I opened my eyes underneath, and I see a blurred vision of legs kicking around to stay afloat. The clearest thing I see are my hands, my body and most especially my big fat toes.

Prompt: The thoughts of an Introvert

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I raised my hand. With a response on the cusp on my lips, I heard my professor call a different name. The girl behind me raised her hand higher. I dropped my hand and pretended to scratch my ear as if it was really itchy in the first place. 

My instructor dismissed our class when the intro-discussion on Medieval age ended. I never studied it before, but a lot of it involved people cutting into each other’s lives. A lot of white people murdering each other, having sex with each other’s wives and husbands, and mystical creatures shapeshifting beautiful people into ugly hags. It sounded a lot like the stuff I watched on television. 

I intentionally packed my bags as fast as I could, making sure to clasp the side-release buckle on my bag as swiftly and quietly as possible. The buckle pinched my finger. I shook it, eliminating whatever pain I feel. Some students that already left the classroom stood by the elevator outside, interacting with each other about their plans for the week. They were enveloped in their conversation. I strolled past them to take the fire exit stairs. I whistled some random notes of some song I made up at the moment and they echoed in the staircase. 

When I arrived at my next class, I opened the door and plenty of eyes stared at me. There were brown and green and blue and hazel ones.They probably expected the professor I thought. After all, no matter how bad or a good one was, professors had the ability to keep students at the edge of their seats. Disappointed in the fact that I wasn’t there to teach, my classmates reverted their eyes back to their pixelated cellphone screens. 

(I wore a red and gray striped sweater in the sea of glum faces and black-and-gray clothing combinations. If I were Waldo’s student, he would be pissed at me for sticking out like a thumb.)

I chose a seat at the front of the classroom. I always liked the front because I heard somewhere that you were more than likely to get a better grade if you sat in the front. This meant your focus would be imperative. Front, back, side – it didn’t matter. I knew I was smart as a whip, but I also knew that most of the seats in the back were already taken or reserved. It’s like being on the subway: you either stand the whole ride or you sit right next to the bearded man with smelly fingers. The front would work for now. Considering the fact that I was studying poetry for this class, I needed to focus more than usual. 

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I had trouble focusing, because there were so many more things interesting than studying poetry itself. Take for instance: the people in the class. At one moment after I arrived, a lanky man walked through the door with the confidence of a racehorse. He wore an herringbone overcoat and a bowler hat made of wool. When students thought that he was going to stand at the front and address us, he took a seat.  Looks could be deceiving. 

It’s tough to focus with a view of the window from my desk, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was like outside. The tree scratching at the surface of the window pane sounded way more depressing than Poe when he talked about dead pallid women. When trees swayed, they swayed with the winter winds. When they stood still, they were enveloped by sun rays. When they were naked in the hue of red and orange, autumn probably arrived. It must be lonely to be tree in the city.

I slouched in my chair, toying around with my pen as if I were in my room. The professor eventually entered the room. “Hey class,” he says. “How y’all doing?” He must be from the South.

I straightened my posture a bit and opened the pages to my notebook. He asked us to introduce ourselves, tell him a little bit about ourselves and what we studied.

What was something interesting I could tell the class? I thought about all the adventures I’ve had. I’ve lived in many countries before. Maybe I could say that I’ve climbed Deer Mountain in Alaska and camped atop of it during the Summer Solstice. Perhaps I could tell everyone that my first kiss was in Italy. Or I might let them know that I worked as an elementary school librarian in South Korea.

“What’s your name?” the professor asked.

“Kris. I’m an English major. Don’t know when I’m going to graduate.”

“Name one interesting thing about yourself, Kris.”

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“Interesting? Well, I went to Vegas this Christmas break. Got addicted to craps. And it was pretty fun” I replied unconsciously. 

Silence pervaded the room. No responses or laughter. Is that a sweat bead on my forehead? Too much of a gamble I thought. Now everyone thinks I’m a lying douchebag. 

I stretched my legs and I put my hands in my pocket. They were the same pants that I hadn’t washed since that rooftop party at Caesar’s Palace.

Class continued with twenty more other people introducing their own selves.I tried to listen to each and every person, but it proved hard because there were just too many people to remember. It honestly didn’t matter because half of them were going to drop the class anyway, and I was right. A week later, the classroom looked less like the express train on a Monday morning. 

The last class that day was certainly not too memorable.

As an icebreaker I was supposed to write about a book that had affected me in my life. While I listened to most people talk about their lives, rambling on about why and how the book changed their life, class time was running out. I was one of the final people to speak. Everyone had already clocked out mentally, because class was about to end. I told everyone about a book that changed my life. The response was the same as the previous class. Now everybody thinks I’m a pretentious douchebag. 

You probably already know that I took the train back, so no need to explain that too much. Everyone takes a train every now and again, but in the city only those that need to get to point B.  The only feeling that I felt on the commute back was invisible. But who doesn’t feel invisible these days? Well, to me that ain’t so much a rhetorical question. It’s pretty clear why I would feel invisible, but I wouldn’t burden you the time to tell you why. Just know that I’m listening. 

I walked out the first day that semester feeling invisible. Yeah, invisible is the right word. Too many times can I recall what it means. According to some racial studies classes, my place in society is at the back of the line. I’m the unwanted presence outside of the discussion circle.  But let us not resort to the easiness of a race argument. Let’s make it about my own experience.

It harkens back too many times when I was a new kid. I always have been the new kid, and so many of you too have felt this way.

Hell, I recall the times in high school when I sat in the library with a book in my hand. During lunch, barely anybody went to the library. Yet, when someone would walk past me, I would pretend to be reading the most sophisticated book I could possibly find on the shelves. I would furrow my eyebrows, rub my chin, and clear my throat. “The Sun Also Rises” is first book that I tried to read. It’s the one book that I never read, yet told everybody to read after that day. The librarian, a man with neatly combed and curly hair, told me the writer’s prose was terse and straightforward. I connected with terse and straightforward. It was what I was all about.

That time I became a Librarian

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Although I moved to Korea, I grew into a slump. It must have been the fact that I spent a month in a hotel room as if I were Bob Harris. I wished I was on a trip towards self discovery, but I really was lost in translation.

I found myself taking online courses that alienated me from the prospect of human interaction. The crazy part was that this was self voluntary. I had the option to take physical classes on the military base a bus commute away, but I told myself “I didn’t need any friends. I’ve lost too many of them already.”

 I thought that I escaped the question mark that was the future. I thought I would avoid the troubles of a postindustrial economy in America. However, I was still adrift in a metropolis in the Far East. Unemployed, not having enough “experience,” and not having many friends, I was wondering how the hell I was going to get back to fighting shape.

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As a result of this slump I began to read more. I picked up novels that I only got halfway through in the past. Books like Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises. I took to reading almost a book every day, receiving the proper education that I needed outside the constraints of a thousand dollar tuition. I dissected a number of Eurocentrip books as well, some Satre, some Nietzche, and some Shakespeare. There was nothing more out of place than reading a bunch of dead white men’s manuscripts in an Eastern Asian country.

Because I wasn’t in America, I didn’t have to groan at the prospect of people telling me I was a hipster for reading these kinds of books. I was a foreigner once again, gobbling up American literature.

With a gym downstairs, I also made sure to keep in physical shape. I jogged for three miles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I did weights on the days between. While I exercised, I listened to musicians I have never really delved into: a little bit of Prince, some Simon and Garfunkel, and plenty of Scott Walker. This cycle went along for a good month during the winter. Winter was a period for my own deep meditation, a time to weather the snow.

When my parents asked me what I was planning to do to return back to America, they interrogated me into a state of extreme self loathing. My chance for deep meditation was disturbed by the prospect of my future. Where was I going? What have all these books been teaching me in the first place? I wasn’t even writing as much as I was supposed to either.

I retreated deeper into the books, searching for the answer. At that moment, I wished that I had spiritual guidance, a person that would lead me to the end of the yellow brick road. I needed my wise old man. As a result, I picked up Kafka on the Shore, a book no other than the Haruki Murakami.

I identified with the fifteen year old protagonist throughout the whole text. Like Kafka, I felt a strange disconnection from everyone around me – my parents included. Employers from multiple trades rejected me like an orphan asking for spare change.

After I completed the book, I felt compelled to stand in front of a mirror and give my best thousand yard gaze. There were bags under my eyes. My hair was disheveled from lying down for a while. My eyes had been glued to the page for at least a couple of days, and I needed to take a walk. Being inside was the last place I wanted to be.

I brushed my teeth. I combed my hair. I washed my face. I tossed on blue jeans, a Hofstra hoodie, and brown Wallabees. I went out the door.

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As I took a stroll onto the military base, I passed by the elementary school that my mom worked in. She had been working there ever since we moved to Seoul. She specialized in kids that were mentally challenged and needed extra patience that a normal teacher didn’t have. In other words, she was saint-like.

Passing by the school, my head went into a whirlpool. I sensed a complete flush of all the negativity from the rejection that I had been given. It must have been from all this fresh air I thought.

That’s it! I thought. That’s what I’ll be! If Kafka could do it, I’ll do it too!

On a whim, I entered into the elementary school’s front office and asked about volunteering for them. Money became the last thing on my mind. My prospect of finding a job finally went out of the window.

The front office responded with enthusiasm as they gave me paperwork to fill out. I filled out what seemed like 30 pages and handed it to the receptionist. She told me to come whenever I felt.

“Can I introduce myself to the librarians?” I asked

When I walked into the library, I noticed that it looked smaller than what I remembered as a kid. Of course, the only thing that had grown was me. I looked at my hand and imagined the size of a Harry Potter book in it then (in my small hands), and how it would look like now (still small hands).

“Hello, I’m your new volunteer. I was wondering when it would be convenient for me to come in” I asked.

“Oh, great. What’s your name?” they ask.

“Kris Santos,” I replied.

I shook their hands with great enthusiasm. The librarians responded with smiles. I exited the library with a profound hunger. It was the late afternoon, and I decided to treat myself to lunch.

*

As a few months passed, the kids came to the library and didn’t leave empty handed. They would run through the library, and I would tell them to slow down. It made no sense for them to be in a rush for anything. This one time, I sat behind the desk with a book on the counter.  “What are you reading?” a kid asked.

I looked up and responded.

 “I’m reading the story of my life!”

Homecoming

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Years back, when I was fourteen years old, there was a place where the rustic countryside surrounded us from all around. Living enclosed by the fences of the military base, we all wanted to go get away from feeling like hamsters stuck in an endless time loop. But in Naples, Italy, we always found a way to make that endless time loop well worth the time. 

One October afternoon my friend Ryan and I left our high school and went to my place. It wasn’t too far. It was right across the street. Usually after school, I had volleyball practice but today sports practices were cancelled. Taking the opportunity, we hung out for the first time in a while because we weren’t busy.  

We arrived at the apartment that my dad was assigned. Filled with an array of ceramic flowers and marble sculptures, he moved with caution as I walked like I usually did. I asked if he wanted a drink or anything to eat. My mom used to tell me it was only rude if you didn’t make your visitor feel at home. He politely declined. I still gave him a drink.

For a few minutes, we talked about how our days went. He told me he was glad to have a day off, because practices were intense. I listened, rubbing my chin most of the time. Then all of a sudden, a thought passed by me. 

It was the week of homecoming, where the stakes for sports games were higher than usual. It was a time to ask out the prettiest girl in our school and pretend we had a chance. It was more than just a dance in a gym. It was a special time where we were able to go to a villa out in the countryside and act like adults who hadn’t seen each other in years.

Then, I remembered the announcement that was made before the final bell after fourth period.

“Dude, you’re the homecoming prince!” I said. 

“Yeah about that . . .” he replied.

He asked if I had an extra suit to borrow. He needed it for the dance. After all, a prince couldn’t show up to the homecoming with just anything.  

First, I checked my sister’s room to see if there were any tuxedos in her closet. Strangely, this had become routine, because her room was the closest to the living room. For some reason, the only thing that I found were both homecoming and prom sashes that she won as Queen. She had left for college a couple of years earlier. 

Next, I checked my brother’s room. Inside of his closet were varsity letters, dossiers filled with awards, and jerseys from his high school years. I sifted my hands through the leftover clothes of his high school days and found two hangars at the very right side of the closet, each enclosed in a zipped up linen covering. They were two suits from his homecoming and prom dances. I pulled them from the closet, and closed the door behind me. He too had left for college earlier that summer.

I came back to the living room and held them both up. “Do you want the stripes or jet black suit?” I asked. He chose the pinstripes, a bold choice. After he chose, he went into the other room to try out the suit. He walked out with the whole suit on, white gym socks on his feet, and asked how it looked. I gave him a thumbs up.  

“Your date will love it!” I said.  

“Yeah, I’ll probably get a tie to match her dress.” he said.

We hung out for the rest of the afternoon, talking about how our practices had been going. We ate, we walked around outside, and we talked about girls in our school. Then, he asked if I was going with anyone. I shook my head. 

When it was time for him to take the bus back to his home in Gaeta, a bayside military base about an hour west from the military base I lived in. He carried the suit on his shoulders like a letterman jacket. I waved to him as he got onto the bus. It drove away into the brisk autumn night.

A few days later he came to our group of friends with a terrible revelation. It was apparent by his silence as he sat at our lunch table. Although his date decided she didn’t want to go with him to homecoming, I tried my best to console him. I rallied in to make him smile. “You got us!” I told him. My other friends, Donnie and Tynan, joined in with the sentiment and gave him the expected pat on the back. “Let’s just go have fun and forget about it.” 

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A day later, a volleyball teammate offered a ride to the villa on homecoming night. I accepted his invitation and rode there in the cramped up tan van. There was his girlfriend, another teammate and his date, and Donnie. From the sound of their voices, there was a great expectation in the night. On our way there, he asked why the shirt sleeves in my suit were exposed. I didn’t give him a reason then, but the answer was that the shirt was too big.

When we arrived at the villa, a valet led us towards the dancehall. The girls exited the vehicle first, then the men followed along, making sure their coattails were not wrinkled from sitting down too long. I stared at my shoes to see if they looked alright. They were my dad’s shoes and we wore the same size. The girls quickly found their friends and chattered with big smiles on their faces. The boys stood in a circle and acted like a bunch of cool guys. Boy, did we think we were cool. 

The night was filled with a lot of dancing, a lot of eating, and a lot of awkward pauses. There was a couple that navel gazed and talked near the bushes, exchanging heartfelt words. They stared into each other’s eyes the way that a child watched cartoons. Oh dear, I thought. 

I stagged, much like most dances in my teenaged years, and drank my cup of mineral water coolly in lonesome. I struck up a conversation with a person that I didn’t even know. The next time that he saw me, he didn’t say hi.  

Outside the venue, I took pictures with the volleyball team that I played for. We were fresh off of an undefeated season and were eying our ascent to the Mediterranean Championship. We shot the shit and joked around at how badly we were going to give it to all the other teams. Sooner or later, the breeze picked up. We carried ourselves back inside to watch the homecoming court dance. 

As a homecoming prince, Ryan danced with the homecoming princess of our grade. Everybody else loved her although I wondered why. She smiled and they both talked swaying to the song “One Wish” by Ray J. Knowing what Ryan had been through, I was able to tell that he didn’t want to dance with her. I looked over to a table next to ours and saw the girl that didn’t want to go to homecoming with him. She wore a red dress. He wore a black tie.

Cicadas

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After the cicadas were done hissing, I went to go skate. On a Tuesday afternoon in the summer of 2013, the weather was humid as heck, and on average, I had to take a shower twice a day. After that day, I was on the road to a third. 

I took my board and headed over to one spot that was shaded from the sun. I practiced skateboarding there because it was a big open space where I wouldn’t hurt anyone. No sweat no harm I thought.

As usual, I was embarrassed to skate outside because I wasn’t very good. Every time I fell off my board, I was open to view by hundreds of high-rise windows. There’s nothing more frightening than stranger scrutinizing what you like to do, no matter how good or bad you are. This one time, I tried to skate down a hill, weaving in and out of it. To get a proper image, imagine the way a surfer carves a 20 foot wave. Except, I wiped out onto the grass like a little kid trying to copy. A couple of college kids nearby laughed at me for even trying. 

When I was outside, my skateboarded grated the cement underneath, making a sound that asked for attention. Noise was an intrusion in this quiet suburb. In the area of Seoul that I lived in, the suburbs were 5 high-rises standing in row.  

I headed towards the central high-rise where there was a large plaza. It was usually empty when the sun blazed in the afternoon. It also had a water fountain with water shows during the hotter months of the year. Gingko trees with their strong aroma added some shade that stretched over the plaza. 

On my way to the central plaza, an older woman and man, two grandparents I assumed, took an afternoon stroll. I skated near them. They turned around. The grimace on their faces told all that I needed to know. They spoke in their native tongue, walking the opposite direction as me. I zipped past them, leaving a trace of annoyance. Restaurant workers that ran the stores below smoked their cigarettes. I zoomed through their smoke, coughing in the process. They stared at me as I sped around the corner. I carried the smell of their smoke on my clothes. 

When I turned the corner, I heard a bunch of pops and cracks nearby, and my heart immediately sunk. There were other kids at the usually empty plaza that I lingered around. From what I remember, there were about 7 kids, each one of them riding a skateboard of their own. 

I tried to divert the situation by going to a different shaded area. I skated with ease so that my wheels wouldn’t make too much noise. That is until one of them spoke up.

“What’s up man!?” a lanky kid said to me. “Hey guys, we got another one!”

“I’m not very good,” I said. 

“That’s okay. None of us are that good anyway,” he said.

The fountain in the plaza was turned off today even though it was hot. Since it was dried out, the teenagers attempted to jump off the 4 set of stairs. They practiced their form and hang-time.  

One of them, a brown kid with some fuzz on his face, kick-flipped down the stairs  although he didn’t catch the board under his feet. He flicked his fingers like he expected a genie to appear. Another kid, a little black kid who looked 12, varial heel-flipped down and almost landed the trick. It was apparent that he was the Wolfgang Amadeus of the bunch. He was quiet but focused. 

“Do you do stairs?” the lanky kid asked. 

“Never have tried them,” I responded.

Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was that the stakes were higher, maybe it was because the kids were getting better as I got older, but I decided to jump off the stairs. I didn’t warm up but was worth well the shot.  

I proceeded to walk up the stairs to measure the distance. Without taking a deep breath or telling myself I’ll have a smooth landing, I pushed the board in front of me and hopped on. As I neared the edge of the fountain ledge, the stairs beneath stretched out. I squatted and gained momentum. I hopped up as high as I could.

Oh shit I thought.

My board escaped from me. It flew from my feet mid-air. I did a dive roll, knowing that this was the first bail of the day. 

The kids laughed and jeered in support. 

“You’re close man!” one of them said.  

For some reason, I felt compelled to do it one more time. However, I came close but nipped the last stair. Instead of a dive roll, I fell straight on my ass. 

Sooner or later, the fuzz came around to kick us off the property. We decided move to a new location that was at a different property. I followed them as they skated along the brick ground. My wheels nicked a pothole and I managed to stay on. After cruising for a few streets, we arrived at the spot – a three-stair set.

Then, as if a light switch lit the room up, light rain started to pour. The weather did not stop them from skating. They immediately practiced jumping off the three-set. They went through trial and error; some of them slipping, some of them losing the board under their feet. They too did not land the stair set on their first try. That’s when I realized that they were just like me, except younger. They fell with grace and picked themselves up for their second or third attempts. 

Feeling spirited by their synergy, I attempted this stair set.

“Dude, you got this!” 

The group cheered. The cicadas shrieked and silenced everyone. I heard only the cicadas hissing away. Sweat beads dropped on the concrete like rain. I pushed off once again, this time taking a deep breath and focusing on landing. I squatted and gained momentum, and I hopped up as high as I could.

I didn’t see what was in front of me, but I was able to tell that my feet were still on the board. The gray concrete beneath me kept moving. I lifted my eyes and I saw them snapping their fingers, howling at me like a bunch of wolves. I heard my wheels smoothly roll over the gravel.  

I quickly turned my board around. I skated towards the stairs and climbed up to try again.