Deep Breath

DEEP BREATH

“Just get out! I just-, I can’t handle this right now!”

The door slammed in my face, hard. My ears were still ringing from my wife’s abnormally shrill voice. I wasn’t sure what I could even do at this point, so I walked. And I walked, and walked, and walked. I kept walking through the empty streets; everything was dark and cold and lonely. I wandered into a park with a simple swing set adjacent to a worn out yellow slide all surrounded by sand. I’m not sure why I stopped here, maybe because I missed the simplicity of youth or maybe I couldn’t comprehend why everything was falling apart instead of falling into place.
Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? You grow up, you pay your dues, and you get through it. I’m twenty eight years old, this shouldn’t still be happening, I thought to myself. Her face popped into my head; it wasn’t like it should have been. It wasn’t a pretty picture, it wasn’t happy; it wasn’t the way I should see my wife of ten years. Her smile straining to stay on her lips, her forehead ridden with wrinkles. It broke my heart over and over again.

The wind whipped my skin as I sat on one of two swings, I could feel everything close in on me. It was like everything I’d ever pushed to that dark corner of my mind came running at me from every direction with an urgency I couldn’t handle. I ran my hands through my hair and gripped ad hard as I could. I needed to hold onto something, anything that meant stability, sanity.

“Rough day?”

The sound of my neck cracking rippled through the dead air as I turned to face a lean man, slightly older than myself, with faded jeans and a kind face. The man sat on the swing next to me, it almost scared me that I completely missed his presence. He leaned towards me, flashing me a yellow toothed grin.

“Yeah, you could say that. How could you tell?” I chuckled sheepishly.

“Because I’ve been divorced and you, my friend, are a carbon copy of the married man I use to be.”

“What? No, I’m not, I mean,” I cleared my throat. “We’re not getting a divorce.”

“Well, should you be?”

“Uh, no?” He gave me a long, long look. It was an expecting look that pinned you in your place because it said how obvious it is that you’re lying through your teeth.

“So, why’re you married to her?” It wasn’t a question I was ready to answer. Without another word, he stretched his arm out to me. A pack of opened cigarettes was in his hand along with a white Bic lighter.

“Not a smoker?” I shook my head slightly. “Well, this means you have two choices then, my friend.”

“Which are?”

“You can grab one, take this lighter, and accept your fate same as mine.”

“What’s my other option?” I asked as I eyed the carton with a desire I wasn’t familiar with.

“You can leave right now and fix things with her.”

I stared at him, then the box, switching my gaze back and forth between the two without really seeing either. The image of the purple bags under my wife’s red rimmed eyes splattered my vision. With a shaky hand, I placed my first cigarette between unsure lips and inhaled a deep breath of what I believed was my fate.

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A Firm Believer

ImageTo any readers that are looking for a happy ending, I must advise you to stop reading right here. I am not bitter, I am not pessimistic. Over the years, my naïve beliefs in perfection in anything human have diminished. Life is rough and at one point, we all must come to terms with that simple yet devastating fact. As cliché as it is, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. This is how I learned.

I remember the day my parents got married. In a sense, my parents were high school sweethearts – though they didn’t meet at school and my dad dropped out during his freshman year. But it’s close enough. I was in 4thgrade when I was taken out of school during the first two weeks of March for a cruise to Mexico, where my parents finally tied the knot after being together since they were sixteen and having two children together.

I was the flower girl and my younger brother was the ring bearer. I loved the blinding smiles that were etched onto my parents’ faces as my mother walked down that stone path, in her beautiful white gown: this was it. This was the day I knew she’d been dreaming of since she was a little girl. The ceremony was beautiful, the food was great. The speeches were heartfelt, laced with bad jokes and drunken slurs. The pictures were embarrassing, unless it only contained my parents. Every two seconds my uncles were cheering, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” as they tapped their glasses until it practically shattered. It’s one of my favorite, most fond memories. But it wasn’t a fairy-tale.

The day they told my brother and I is something I would never be able to forget. I was about thirteen and my younger brother was seven. It was early, too early for any of us to be up on a Sunday morning. We’d gone to a family party the night before and hadn’t gotten back until at least four in the morning; hence our mother waking us up at ten in the morning made us wonder if she had actually lost her sanity by just being up at such an ungodly hour. But, the second she’d popped her head in my room and asked me to come into the living room, a terrible sense of dread fell over me. Something was wrong, and it scared me that I didn’t know what.  

For about ten minutes, my brother and I stared at the bag of McDonald’s breakfast that sat on the coffee table placed in front of the couch. The table served as a barrier between my brother and I, and our mother. She sat there, waiting. We weren’t entirely sure what she was waiting for, but we knew to stay quiet. My eyes rested on my mother. My mother is a beautiful woman, no doubt about it. But that morning, she looked like death. Dark, purple bags sunk into the space beneath her red rimmed eyes. Her hair was thrown into a sloppy bun and she wore the same rumpled clothes from the night before.

They say that the eyes are doors to the soul. I could see, in my mother’s eyes, in every detail of her demeanor, a shattered heart. It wasn’t the type of broken heart one could see in a teenaged girl, after her first real break-up, but this was a heart that’d been through so many wars and carried so many scars that there didn’t seem to be a real reason to continue beating. I didn’t have time to ponder what could have possibly happened because a loud bang caught our attention. Heavy footsteps echoed through the dead air as my dad graced us with his presence. The atmosphere was simmering with such a hostile tension; I could practically taste the bitter feeling on my tongue.

He plopped down on a chair next to my mom and a very familiar scent hit me, hard: Marlboro Light cigarettes, cheap weed, and hard liquor. It was a disastrous cocktail and it was Dad’s favorite. Dad wasted no time. He was rambling incoherent things, like he always did when he was like this, while repeating, “You know, I love you guys so much. I’ll always love you,” throughout his entire monologue. Then my mom said the words that made the world freeze.

 

“Your father and I are getting a divorce.”

 

In retrospect, I didn’t have a real reaction, so to speak. I didn’t cry, I didn’t yell. My parents had been fighting so much over the past year or so, it was almost as if I secretly knew what was coming. Signs of a broken marriage, a broken friendship, were splattered all over our daily routines. I noticed when Mom started working longer hours, or Dad started sleeping on the couch. And I ignored it. I ignored how no one liked talking to each other in the house, or how we didn’t seem like a family. It was more like a makeshift group of outright strangers that were forced to live together until the others began moving out. I guess my father was the first.

I don’t remember if my brother cried, but both of my parents did. Tears leaked out of my mother’s eyes as she tried to explain that it was the best thing for us as a family. The sincerity in her words was so strong that it was painful. But my dad, being the over-dramatically emotional drunk that he is, denied everything she said as he also bawled his eyes out like the child I knew he was. Since drama seems to stick to my family like a shadow in the middle of the day, it didn’t end there.

My dad grew exponentially angrier. His tears turned into shouts. It was an angry, desperate kind of shouting – the kind of shouting you hear from someone who has nothing left but the words in his mouth. And though he never touched us when he was drunk, my mother ordered us to go into our rooms. I ushered my baby brother into his room as Dad tried grabbing us, stopping us from leaving his sight. He refused to be undermined by my mother, even if he was a bit too tipsy to catch up with us. As I looked at my younger brother, who could hardly register what a divorce was, I could see something that was just – in lack for a better word – wrong. I saw reality snatch my seven year old brother by the ear and whisper gross truths that were not for a child. And as it all began to sink in, I could practically feel the way my brother was growing beyond the childhood he was supposed to have. It made me sick.

Dad eventually stumbled into the backyard, where he slammed back another gulp of alcohol before passing out onto our dusty patio furniture with a couple of bottles of vodka surrounding him. I slipped into my favorite red, basketball shorts and a black hoodie before telling Mom that I’d be back in a couple hours. She asked me to throw out the bottles before I left and to call her later to check in. I watched my mom walk into her room with her shoulders sagged as she gripped the bridge of her nose with her fingers. She was absolutely defeated and I knew exactly who to blame.

So I went to the backyard and slipped past my father to grab the glass bottles, still half way filled with alcohol. And I stood there, and I’m not completely sure how long until I moved again. I did nothing but stare until there should have been holes burning into his head, wishing that he would wake up sober to hear everything I had to say to him; because for the first time, I hated him. I hated my father for everything. I hated him for being so childish. I hated him for ruining my mother. I hated him for what was happening to my brother. I hated him with every aching fiber of my being. Most of all, I hated knowing that I was just like him. I was always like him; his temper, his attitude, his way of thinking, his stupid god-damned stubbornness – was mine. There was more of him coursing through my veins than I was ever willing to admit and I despised him for it.

But I knew he wouldn’t wake up for a while and I wasn’t going to waste any more of my time. I tossed the bottles in a recycling bin across the street before sprinting to my best friend’s house. Sofia  was my best friend for about four years at the time. Her house was my second home and there wasn’t a better place I could have gone. She was a little less than a ten minute walk from my house; I hadn’t bothered to knock. I barged in and made a beeline for her room. Her younger brother, Giancarlo, opened his mouth to tell me to get out of his room, since they shared, but shut it as soon as his eyes landed on my face. Giancarlo was my brother as much as Sofia was my sister. He walked out without another word, giving my shoulder a reassuring squeeze before he left me alone with his sister.

Like earlier at my house, I sat there; completely and utterly silent. I wasn’t sure how to bring the subject up – she didn’t know how to ask. Then, after God knows how long, I whispered, “The rents are splitting.” That was when I started crying. It wasn’t a couple of tears, it was endless sobs that ripped from my throat as if there was no way to contain them and I’d never felt more pathetic. I felt stupid for crying, for feeling sorry for myself, for not expecting it sooner. I felt like a horrible person because I did nothing to stop it. And to be totally honest, I felt like a complete bitch for crying to a friend whose parents were already divorced.

 She didn’t say anything at first; she didn’t even look at me. She just got up from her spot on her bed, which was parallel from the spot where I was planted on her brother’s bed, and sat down next to me. We stayed like that until my tear ducts decided that they couldn’t produce any more tears. I took long, ragged breaths in a feeble attempt to stop myself from practically hyperventilating.

“When did you find out?”

“About an hour ago.” My voice was rough and unfamiliar.

“C’mon,” she said as she hauled me up. “We’re getting food.”

Sofia’s parents loved to cook. There was a whole fridge full of leftovers and we spent the entire afternoon eating it. Giancarlo and Sofia both listened tentatively as I explained everything from the way my mom looked like crap, to the way my dad was high and drunk off his ass. I told her everything with excruciating detail and she didn’t need to say she understood or that she was sorry; I just knew. Maybe that’s why Sofia was my best friend for so long, I could talk and talk and talk about everything on my mind and she just made it better without the pity, or the awkward apologies

After a couple hours or so of venting, I could honestly say I felt better. Right when I was getting up to leave was when we realized two things: first, it was pouring rain. Second, it was ten o’ clock at night. Part of me was praying that my mom wouldn’t kill me for not checking in sooner as I dialed my house number. It rang and rang and rang. No answer. I called again and was greeted by a voice that didn’t belong to either of my parents.

“Grandpa?” Lovely, I thought to myself. More surprises. “What’re you doing at my house?”

“Oh, hi baby Cecilia.” I could hear Sofia and Giancarlo snickering behind me. I shot them a look that pleaded them to shut up as I took it off of speaker. “Your mom, uh-, she called me to help with your dad.”

“Oh, well. Can you ask her if she can come pick me up from Sofia’s?”

There was a brief ‘yeah sure’, before a click. We waited for my mom to pull up and Sofia’s parents asked if I wanted to sleepover. I smiled and said I’d love to, but my mom was on her way. I watched as her parents laughed with each other, held each other. Even though part of me knew that Martha was her step mother, I couldn’t help but wish that my mom could be half as happy with my father. As far back as I could remember, my parents never seemed like a couple, more like friends and nothing more. It was never like Sofia’s dad and Martha. The way the two looked at each other, it was hard to picture them without one another. I knew my dad couldn’t be that for my mom. Though that never stopped me from secretly wishing that my parents would have that one day – the happiness we’re promised we can all find.

A honk from outside shook me from my thoughts and I checked from the window. Sure enough, it was my mom’s car. I said my goodbye’s and jogged out to the car. I came to an abrupt halt at the car door. I stood there, in the pouring rain, with the door wide open and a slack jaw. It wasn’t my mother sitting in the driver’s seat, it was my father, who still reeked of alcohol and wore a nasty grimace on his face. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me that he was still drunk. “Get in.” he said with a low grunt.

Honest to God, I don’t know what came over me. Maybe I just didn’t want to cause a scene. Maybe I didn’t want Sofia’s parents to know about my dad. Whatever I was thinking, I got into the car. Without a warning, his foot slammed on the pedal, sending us flying backwards out of Sofia’s driveway. I was hurled into the dashboard before I got a chance to put my seatbelt on. It was pitch black outside with a couple of dimly lit street lights. The rain poured, making it almost too hard to see five feet in front of us. My heart was in my throat as I dug my nails into the leather seat below me. I cursed myself for setting foot in that car. Every time it swerved, my stomach lurched. But my dad didn’t notice and no one else was on the road to notice either. Loud, terrible screeches were echoing in the small car and it wasn’t until my throat was throbbing that I’d realized that the wretched screams were coming from me. 

It wasn’t a long car ride, but it was the most terrifying one I’d ever encountered. And as I jumped out of the hardly parked car, pathetic tears sprung out of my eyes once again. Frankly, I wasn’t sure why I was crying – I was safe, Dad was safe. But the tears never stopped once they started. Without a word to any of the people in my house, I rushed into my room and bundled myself up in my blankets, praying that I would find enough comfort to stop the stupid tears from dripping down my face. I could hear my dad shouting from outside as my grandpa and my auntie’s boyfriend tried to calm him down. My mom came in a couple minutes later and asked how I got home. That was the second time in the entirety of my life that I’d seen my mom absolutely, almost horrifyingly, livid.

Earlier, I’d said my mom looked like death. But at that moment, when I’d explained – through my never-ending hiccups and snot-ridden sniffling – that my father drove me home drunk, that was when she came alive. Her eyes were filled with a rage that reminded me of a lion ready to strike. The anger she possessed at that moment was practically oozing from her pores. Vulgar, relentless insults spewed from her mouth as my grandpa held her back from pouncing on my father, who was also being held back as he yelled unforgiveable things at my mother. My auntie’s boyfriend managed to get my father out of the house. But being as it was my father, the personification of stubbornness in the very flesh, he came right back for more. He easily escaped the hold of my auntie’s boyfriend, and kicked down the locked door.

The screaming match continued for a considerable amount of time. Only God will know how long it actually lasted. I’m not entirely sure how, but my dad ended up at his brother’s house in San Bruno that night. He stayed there for a while, and my brother went to visit sometimes. I never did. Soon enough, he moved to Concord. Not long after, my mother bought a house in Martinez, where my brother and I have resided ever since.  

In hindsight, the divorce was a good thing.  The experience began terribly. Constant bickering and an undeniable resentment for my father lasted through the years, but it was a tidal wave of reality that we all needed. Complications arose from that day forward that I’d never imagine would be in my life, but it made me who I am today, a firm believer that everything does, in fact, happen for a reason.

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Locked Away

Have you ever sat in a room, staring at the ceiling, letting all of your thoughts run ramped among one another until they finally all die out – leaving an empty cavern in that skull of yours. Then, you close your eyes, practically begging blissful sleep to save you from the horrors of the night. But it doesn’t. So, you lay there, tossing and turning, fighting to keep your mind blank.

A mind is a dungeon. In this dungeon lay dark, dirty secrets that beg for the light. They taunt you as they struggle against their chains. They know why they’re locked so far away, they laugh at the way you cringe at the sight of them. They love to see you suffer because the only way to kill them is to set them free. So as the night becomes still and the clouds of daily tasks clear away, they kick and they scream until you have no choice but to listen.

And you do listen, you listen to the way they talk about you. They tell you why they’re locked away, they laugh as you remember. They just laugh and laugh and laugh until you’re so painfully exhausted that you fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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“And it’s just like the…

“And it’s just like the ocean under the moon, it’s the same as the emotion that I get from you, you got that kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth, now give me your love, make it real, or forget about it.”

- Santana ft. Rob Thomas

Smooth 

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Toxic

          They lurk in the corners with the face of an angel, hiding the dark in their eyes, the last sheds of humanity long ago burned from their hearts. Disguised as a friend, as a lover, unwilling to show their razor tongue behind that feigned smile. They wait, wait, wait. They wait until they find something, someone, to latch onto – to dig their nasty little claws into.

They’re toxic. 

             That girl that broke his heart, gossiping to her girlfriends with a snide smirk and sheds fake tears in front of  him; the boy that promised her she’d be special, watching his devilish plans unravel as she removes her clothes – they have acid in their heart. They’ll seep into your veins, spread from your heart to your head. They’ll never leave; forevermore will their touch, their words, the sound of their voice stay with you, like an ugly scar to remind you of the war you fought with this deadly disease.

                Maybe one wouldn’t understand how dangerous they are if they’d never been singed by these people. But could you stand even the sight of the person who threw those vile words that pushed that boy into suicide; the person who spewed lies to everyone until that girl was plagued by the name slut, whore, easy; the person who craves the companionship of madness and chaos; the person who licks her lips at the sound of his cries; the person responsible.

                She’s the toxin seeping into my veins, spreading from my head to my heart. She’ll never leave; forevermore will her touch, her words, the sound of her voice stay with me, like an ugly scar to remind me of the war I fought with this deadly disease. I breathe her in, like a personal drug that satisfies a need that I never knew I had. She’s toxic, so I must be sick because I need her too. 

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“And I don’t want the w…

“And I don’t want the world to see me, ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand, when everything’s supposed to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”

- The Goo Goo Dolls

Iris

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Infrared Photography

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