Saturday, February 12, 2011

Students need to take initiative with financial aid

The article “Breaking News: Report on UA states the obvious” in the February 8 edition of The Northern Light reflected a general dissatisfaction among students at UAA in several areas. As the article stated, we hate our parking and food choices. Okay, I can accept that one. I don’t like trolling the parking lot like a shark for a spot any more than the next person, and sometimes I don’t like my options of Subway versus Chinese in the Union. But when the UA report finds that students are dissatisfied with their financial aid assistance, and the article backs up the report with a student opinion agreeing with it, I had to stop and scratch my head for a moment.
            Yes, I’ve been frustrated with my financial aid. Yes, I agree that the University could use some improvement in this area. What irks me is the following quote from a UAA student: “They need to go to each student individually and then talk to them because I didn’t even know about how to go to financial aid…They’re just not being aggressive enough.”
            If this is the general student opinion regarding financial aid, then we have a problem. And I don’t mean “we” as in UAA—I mean “we” as in us students. Time to wake up, everyone. We’re in college now, and it’s time to start taking responsibility for our own education and our lives. I’ve never “not known” about the FAFSA. Flyers everywhere around campus tell us not only when the deadline is, but where to go and who to contact if we have questions. The University sponsors workshops to aid in filling out FAFSAs, and whenever I’ve had issues with my financial aid, my emails have been responded to promptly and the staff at the financial aid office work diligently to assist me.
            The student edition of the Green and Gold Daily always posts information regarding the FAFSA, as well as other important financial aid info such as available scholarships and their deadlines. Flyers litter the Student Union and the Sky Bridge. Pick any bulletin board on campus, and I bet there’s some information regarding financial aid and scholarships.

Case in point: These flyers urged students not to "monkey
around" and to submit their general scholarship essay by Feb.
15, littering every table in the Consortium Library this week.

The information is out there, folks, and just because it’s not popping up as a personalized ad on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s not within reach. As young adults, it’s our responsibility to seek out information pertinent to our educational goals, and that means figuring out financial aid. If we start actively participating in the process, we the students can bridge the gap between our needs and available financial aid resources.
            The University is not our enemy. They want us to succeed. They want us to graduate. But it’s time we start taking more responsibility as students in the financial aid process and start seeking out the resources available to us instead of waiting for them to arrive on a silver spoon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tolerance, Pt. V

Mike Erikson turned down the street toward his car. It was Friday and he was the last to leave work for the weekend. He worked relentlessly establishing a support network for the Muslim community over the past three months. All for his best friend Ahmad. Michael wondered how he had come to this point in his life. He was working longer hours than ever, organizing groups and protests and funding. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat down to a meal with his family. With his beautiful wife and his three kids. He imagined Thomas and Rebecca being there, too. He considered them family. He glanced down at his watch as he strode across the street. The last remaining rays of sunlight glinted off the glass pane before he could read the time: 7:48. If he hurried he might be able to enjoy dinner without sticking it in the microwave.
A slight breeze poured through the street, and Mike buttoned the remainder of his coat. New York was in limbo—that time between winter and spring where it can’t decide quite what it wants. Right now it was teetering on the edges of winter, ready to tip into full-fledged spring. Just teetering, though, and Mike quickened his pace to escape the brisk chill. A few people joined him in his after-hours stroll to his car. He took comfort knowing he wasn’t the only man on the block putting in extra time.
He reached his car and fumbled for his keys. The wind subsided into a quiet still. Mike heard nothing in the deserted parking lot. The absence of sound made him pause. He looked up.
“Excuse me?” Mike dropped his briefcase and turned toward the voice.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you come up,” Mike said. He looked at the stranger. A man, near his own age. Dressed in a business suit and holding a small briefcase. His eyes were covered by a pair of sunglasses. “Can I help you?”
“Are you Michael Erikson?” the stranger asked.
“I go by Mike. Michael is my son.” He smiled at the stranger and reached out to shake his hand. The man took it, his hands rough and his grip firm.
“Yes, Mike. I must have just missed you in your office. I’m with the Charity Fund Committee and wanted to let you know before the weekend that your funding has been approved.”
“That’s wonderful news! If I can get your information I’ll get a hold of you this weekend so we can—“
“That won’t be necessary. Everything you’ll need—paperwork, contacts, zoning guidelines—they’re all in here.” The man extended his arm holding the suitcase, and Mike reached out to grab it. “If you have any questions you can contact the committee directly.”
Mike felt the weight of the case in his hand. Lots of papers in this little guy. So much for my free weekend. “Thank-you, thank-you so much for catching up with me,” Mike said. “I’m sorry but I didn’t get your name.”
The man had turned to go. He paused and said something, but the wind returned and carried his words away from Mike’s ears. The stranger waved a goodbye and the frigid air forced Mike to fetch his own briefcase and retreat to his car.
Like a kid at Christmas, Mike couldn’t wait to open his new present. He unhinged each clasp separately, taking in this monumental moment. The months of hard work had paid off. The community was behind the mosque and the Muslim community center. His dear friend Ahmad, after years of persecution, could have a place all his own. He took a deep breath and opened the case.
Mike’s eyes raced wildly. “What the hell—” He took in the shiny metal inside, the canister, and the clock.
Three. The papers on his desk. He hadn’t submitted his request for funding yet.
Two. The door. The handle. Where is the handle?
One. His wife. His beautiful wife. His wonderful family. He could never have wanted—

Tolerance, Pt. IV

Thomas finished setting the table and poured himself a glass of wine. The day had been busy. Since Mike Erikson’s death, everyone was on edge, supporters and protestors alike. Thomas had done his best to ensure those on his side that the work they were doing was worth it—that Mike wouldn’t want them to stop. Some had left, others had stayed but been silent. And still others had doubled their volunteer hours, enraged at the violent acts by their fellow Americans. Thomas leaned back in his chair and let the Merlot rest on his palate. The bittersweet flavor encapsulated each taste bud and rested there after he swallowed. He swirled his wine glass, holding the stem with the tips of his fingers.
He remembered his first glass of wine with Mike. They discussed the implications of supporting Ahmad and his family, yet there was never any doubt in either of their minds about their loyalty to Ahmad and their responsibility to his family. After aiding in the Hassan family’s flight from Palestine, they felt obligated to provide their friend with a place to freely practice his religion. They both agreed without hesitation that they would organize the support system within the neighborhood and within New York for a Muslim community center. Thomas wondered if Mike would have changed his mind, knowing the outcome of it all.
The door opened and closed, sending a loud thud echoing through the small apartment. Thomas placed his glass on the table and strode to the living room to greet his sister.
“Hello there Sis,” he said, smiling at her appearance. She was holding her yellow flip-flops, staples to her wardrobe during the spring and summer months. Her long brown hair flowed over her shoulders and frizzed slightly at the ends. He thought she looked like a daisy, beaming at him, fresh as the spring flowers. She took four steps to cross the small living room and gave Thomas a hug.
“Hello Brother!” Thomas thought she sounded especially happy and wondered why. Then again, he knew once what it was like to be that age. To be that age and to be in love. He used to worry about Rebecca and her boyfriends. He was even wary about Rebecca and Michael when they began dating. But he and Mike both agreed that the two couldn’t have been better for each other. Thomas liked the idea of Rebecca’s boyfriend having loyalty to the entire family.
Rebecca pulled away and skipped into the kitchen.
“What didya make for dinner? I’m starving!”
“Your favorite, roasted pork chops and scalloped potatoes. Rosemary and all!” Rebecca giggled and took a seat across from Thomas’s abandoned glass of wine. “What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, just enjoying the wonderful spring day. Michael and I took a walk in the park. It was absolutely lovely.”
“You should have invited him to dinner. I would have loved to see him. He’s been laying low since the accident,” Thomas said, hesitating on the last line. He hadn’t seen Michael since the funeral and was concerned about his stability. But both Michelle and Ahmad had assured him that Michael was doing well—grieving, but doing well.
“Oh, well, you know Michael. Doesn’t like to show his feelings and all. But I think he’s doing well. And he said he had to get home to see his mother.”
Thomas thought about Michelle. She had been a rock at the funeral. In public she stood tall. She stood proud of her husband and what he had done. She greeted each patron who attended the ceremony, thanking them for their condolences beneath her black, veiled hat. Her soft hands gracefully accepted each handshake, each hug. Tears only escaped her brown eyes when Ahmad performed the eulogy, and even then, only for a brief moment.
Thomas set the pork chops on the table and turned to fetch the potatoes.
“Would you like a glass of wine, Sis?” he asked.
“That would be lovely.” He poured the wine and in a waiter-esque balancing act managed to bring potatoes, glass, and bottle to the table all at once. Rebecca laughed and applauded, and after placing each item on the table Thomas gave a quick bow.
“Dinner,” he said with a French accent, “is served.” He sat at the old, wooden table. Rebecca took a swig of wine then scooped a healthy serving of potatoes. The phone rang. Thomas and Rebecca both looked at each other, heads tilted, and laughed.
“Go figure,” she said and continued eating.
“Yep, they always call at dinnertime!” Thomas pushed his chair back and danced across the kitchen to the phone. “Hello?”
“Thomas, it’s Ahmad. Something’s happened. Is Rebecca with you?” Thomas turned to face his sister, unaware of anything but the rosemary roasted pork chop that now engulfed her plate.
“Yes, we just sat down to dinner,” he replied. Rebecca smiled at him and he returned the favor. He took a few steps into the living room and let the expression of worry that suddenly manifested inside him wash over his face. He lowered his voice. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Michael. He’s…not stable. I showed him all the letters when he came home and he just went insane!” Thomas could tell Ahmad was on edge. “I…I thought he was going to…I thought…” Thomas heard a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. “He blames me for his father’s death.”
“Where is he now?” Thomas thought of his sister in the next room, innocently stuffing her face with meat and potatoes. He knew Michael might lash out at her next.
“I don’t know. He stormed out of the house about 30 minutes ago. Michelle just got home and said I should call you immediately.”
“Yes, thank-you. I’ll be sure to let you know if he comes here.” Thomas prayed he didn’t.
“Don’t let him talk to Rebecca. The look in his eyes. I just…I just don’t know what he’s capable of. There was so much anger.”
“Thank-you Ahmad. Call me with any news.” Thomas hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He knew Michael couldn’t be “doing well,” as everyone said. The anger and hate behind his father’s death catapulted itself into Michael’s soul. And that type of powerful emotion can drive a man insane.
“Thomas? Who was it?” Rebecca asked with a mouth full of food.
“It was Ahmad,” he said. He returned to the kitchen and looked at his sister. He never found it fruitful to lie to her. “Michael seems to be having some issues. He attacked Ahmad and might be coming here.” Thomas gauged her reaction. She chewed her food slower and nodded. She swallowed and finished her glass of wine.
“Attacked him?” she asked.
“Yes, verbally mostly. But Ahmad was very afraid, and wanted to warn us, just in case. I think it’s best that if he does come here, you go to your room. I’ll talk with Michael alone.”
“Okay.” Rebecca nodded again and piled in another bite of food. She stared straight ahead, her body rigid and tense.
“Rebecca? You have to promise. Look at me and promise that you won’t see him until I say it’s okay.” She finished swallowing and turned to look Thomas in the eyes.
“I promise,” she said, then smiled. Thomas nodded, confirming the verbal contract between brother and sister. He took his seat and tried to eat. He sipped his wine. The clinking of the silverware against the plates echoed in the tiny kitchen. A certain tension floated in the air but Thomas couldn’t decide exactly what was causing it. The news about Michael? Certainly that was contributing. But there was something else hanging there, too. He polished off his first glass of wine and reached for the bottle to pour a second.
“I have some reading to do,” Rebecca said. Thomas looked up and met her eyes, his hand resting on the green glass bottle. She smiled with her lips, but those wonderful blue discs that normally sparkled with life were empty. She cleared her plate and left the kitchen without another sound.
Thomas stared at the empty doorway. That emptiness within his sister haunted him. Worried him. He lifted the bottle of wine and tilted the neck to his glass. It was empty.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tolerance, Pt. III

            How infuriating! After all this time, all those promises. After I was there for him when his dad died and how I let him cry on my shoulder. How I so foolishly believed that he loved me, would do anything for me. I’ve been tolerating you? Gawd, he really has some nerve.
            I took a sharp left and made my way through the park. I noticed things as I power walked by, like the roses blooming in the flower garden that me and Michael first kissed in. I thought back to that day and wondered how we got to this point. How I thought maybe Michael was “the one.” I wanted to help. I wanted to understand. But he’s been shutting me out since the accident, and I can’t handle it anymore. He’s been driving me insane.
            Maybe I’ve been tolerating him. Ha! That’s rich. Wait until Thomas hears about this. He’ll go insane. I hope he kicks Michael’s ass. Seriously, he would deserve it at this point. He can only play the dead father card for so long.
            What am I thinking? His dad died. And not just died, but was killed. Blown up. Fighting for something he believed in. I stopped walking. I started to take in the things around me. The blooming roses, their deep reds and pure whites. The sugary scent that drifted through the air took me back to that magical moment when Michael and I first touched lips. Only our second date. The stars twinkled brighter and the full moon cast romantic shadows across the sidewalk, witnesses to the blossoming love. Even thinking about it now, I know it was all a little cliché. But it didn’t change how I felt at the time, the sheer emotions that pulsed through my veins and the way I felt Michael’s heart beating out of his chest when he held me.
Thomas didn’t even know about us then. We had both been too afraid to tell him, maybe even too afraid to admit to ourselves what was happening. We were falling in love. We did fall in love. We still are in love.
I hoped it wasn’t too late as I ran back to the fountain. Damn flip-flops. I kicked them off and ran barefoot across the grass, praying that Michael was still there, that I could tell him I’m sorry and I loved him and I understood. Or at least I wanted to understand.
I saw the top of the fountain first, and as the rest of the ivory monument came into view I only saw a girl with pigtails, tossing a penny into the water. I kept running anyway, grasping on to some hope that Michael would see me and come back. When I reached the fountain I doubled over, breathing hard and grasping my side that felt like it was being stabbed with a dull spoon. Each breath compounded the annoying pain, but it slowly subsided. I rested with my hands on my knees, still taking deep breathes not because I needed to but because I was trying not to cry.
“Are you okay?” A tiny voice squeaked in front of me. I looked up and saw two pigtails protruding from a small round head. The little girl’s blonde hair glimmered in the sun. She looked about seven years old, and she tilted her head at me the way a puppy tilts its head when you try to speak to it.
“I’m fine,” I said, and repeated it again. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” The mantra was more for me than the little girl. I stood up and looked at the sky, hands on my hips. I just didn’t want to cry. I looked around and saw a group of guys walking away with a bright green Frisbee. A woman was crouching down in the grass petting her dog. A young couple sat on a park bench and their faces grew nearer. They kissed.
I wanted to march over and tear the girl away from the boy. Tell her it’s not worth it, not to go down that road. Because once you do there is no turning back. Once you’re in love, it’s not the beginning but the end. You could lose him forever.
“Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” I looked down and the pigtails were now pointed down and, following suit, her finger pointed down to my bare feet. I wiggled my toes and laughed, and I could feel a pair of curious 7-year-old eyes on me.
“I guess I lost them,” I said. I couldn’t fathom explaining to this child what love makes a person do. How it makes them act. I barely understand, just a 23-year-old young woman who barely knows her own self.
“Well you should find them. My mom says you’re not supposed to walk around the park with your shoes off,” PigTails scolded me. Her “supposed to” sounded more like “sposta” and she rocked back and forth on her heels as she spoke. “You could step on a needle and then you’ll have itchy feet.” I mused over this statement for a moment, guessing Mom had said HIV and her seven-year-old daughter heard ‘itchy feet.’ I squatted down so Pigtails was at my eye-level.
“We wouldn’t want that would we? Don’t worry, I’ll find my shoes and be careful not to step on a needle,” I assured her. “Did you throw a penny into the fountain? What did you wish for?”
“I can’t tell! It won’t come true!”
“Okay, okay! You’re right.” I tried to calm her hysteria. “I just hope it was for something good.” I smiled and her eyes lit with excitement.
“It was. I hope it works, because I don’t want you to be mad anymore.” She turned and ran back to her mom, probably to tell her the crazy girl that was yelling and screaming earlier isn’t wearing any shoes, but she promises not to get itchy feet. I wondered what she had wished for, about me. She didn’t want me to be mad anymore. If only she could understand. Anger didn’t make that monster inside me surface—love did. I watched her as she reached her mother, and tilted my head the way a puppy tilts its head when you try to speak to it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tolerance, Pt. II

Michael closed his eyes and let the sun seep into his pores. The spring was unusually warm for New York, and his leather jacket enveloped him like a winter furnace. He took it off and slung it over his shoulder as he stood. He looked around the park. More people were making their way into the sun as the afternoon grew warmer. A group of college kids threw a lime-green Frisbee around in the grass. A young woman jogged by with her golden retriever dutifully leading the way. A high school couple walked along the path, joining hands for the first time.
            Michael wondered how they did it. How they continued their lives. How they lived with themselves. Consciously, he knew none of these people had been responsible; yet he held everyone accountable. Everyone had played some role and he wasn’t about to let anyone get away with it. Rebecca was the first to pay. She had been nice enough, he mused. He might have even loved her at one point. But there was only so much CNN vomit he could take. He wished he could believe that was the last time he would see her, but he knew better. The long-standing relationship between his family and hers guaranteed them another meeting. Thomas would be infuriated. After he found out about Michael and Rebecca began dating, Thomas approached Michael and warned him about breaking his little sister’s heart. Dammit, he thought.
            With his jacket slung over his shoulder and his sunglasses again placed over his eyes, Michael made his way back to the subway. His white v-neck t-shirt hung over his dark washed jeans, and he walked with an air of cool confidence. Michael always gave the impression that he had everywhere and nowhere to be, the kind of irresponsible know-all typically seen in teenagers. But he wasn’t a teenager. He was 25-year-old man, haunted by the ghost of his father’s death.
He contemplated lighting another cigarette but thought he would save it for later. His mother had begged him to quit, and in light of recent events he told her this would be his last pack. His mother was the only thing keeping him going. He knew with his father gone he had to keep it together, for her. He had taken the sudden death the hardest of anyone, but he didn’t show it. Apart from his fits of selfishness and self-pity, Michael had the best interests of his family at heart.
The subway was slowest in mid-afternoon. At least as slow as anything ever was in New York. The city that never sleeps. Michael hadn’t been sleeping as much—not since the bombing. When he did sleep it was littered with nightmares of protestors armed with weapons, storming his home and dragging his family into the street to be slaughtered. He woke up drenched in sweat, and developed a habit of walking around the house to check the locks on the doors and windows. They still knew his family was here, and Michael worried they would attack their home next. But his mother had refused to move, to go anywhere. She believed her husband’s death would be in vain if they abandoned their home and their efforts. So she still woke each morning and went to the synagogue, joining the supporters of what Rebecca had called religious tolerance. Peacefully fighting the protestors that had killed Michael’s father.
He knew his mother wanted him to come with her, but Michael’s skin crawled at the thought of picking up where his father had left off. Fuck that, he thought, I’m not going to be the next body blasted apart in the street, my fucking brains smeared across the sidewalk. His mother’s implied request wouldn’t be enough to have Michael join the cause. Even if she did ask, it might not be enough. Michael was not his father, and since his death he made a point of showing that to everyone.
Michael checked the time. 3:42 PM. Thomas got off work at four. Michael expected him to be at his house waiting to pummel him into the ground. But Michael was ready. He knew Thomas couldn’t wail too hard on a guy who had just lost his father, and Michael wasn’t afraid to use that to his advantage. He climbed the stairs out of the subway tunnel and returned his shades to his eyes. Instinctively, he checked his surroundings before turning down the street toward his home.
He stood outside and lit another cigarette. The house loomed over him, oppressive and judgmental. The plain, beige siding needed a fresh coat of paint, and the windows were dark, nearly angry looking. Michael remembered when they first moved into the home, their happy family. The house seemed happy then. Bright and colorful. Welcoming. Now it just sat ominously, expecting the worst. Michael inhaled the final drag and tossed the butt under the patio where his mother wouldn’t see it.
When Michael entered the house, he was fully prepared to face the wrath of his friend.
“Hello Michael!” This voice was familiar, but not the one Michael had expected.
“Ahmad? Is that you?”
“Why yes, Michael, who else would it be? Come, come, I have some very important news to share with you today.” Michael nodded stiffly and followed Ahmad into the kitchen. He was still unsure how to act around Ahmad. Of all the people he blamed for his father’s death, Ahmad was the man he held responsible above all others.
“Here, Michael, sit.” He did. “See these articles? These letters? All these people have written because of what your father was doing! They support us, Michael, they do! We aren’t as alone as we thought. So much work to be done, but now we know that more people are willing to help us! Just look!” A pile of letters covered the family dining table. Some had spilled onto the floor. A few of the envelopes had been torn open, the discarded shells on the ground next to the trash receptacle. The opened letters sprawled across the mound of envelopes, the chicken scratches and scrawls across the page dancing like a horde of troops ready for battle. At least, this is what Michael thought Ahmad imagined.
He picked up the nearest opened letter and read silently to himself.

Dear Erikson family,
I am deeply sorry for the loss you have suffered, but I want you to know that you are not alone. My husband died in Palestine last year fighting for equality among the religions and the tribes, trying to find a peaceful way to resolve the issues that surround these troubled countries. Mrs. Erikson, our husbands shared a dream—that all people, regardless of their beliefs, be treated equally. Like your Mike, my Jeffrey was not a Muslim, but believed strongly in the right to practice religion freely, no matter where we live. I was truly moved my your husband’s and your family’s story. Who ever would have thought that here, in “the land of the free,” such a tragic and hateful crime would take place. I want you to know you are not alone, and I share in your pain and sorrow. But I also share in your vision and your dream, and pray you will continue to fight the good fight—

“Isn’t this wonderful, Michael! All of these people have such kind words and such support!”
Michael stopped reading and crumpled the letter into a tight ball. Ahmad Hassan, his father’s Muslim best friend, droned on about the letters. The supporters. The do-gooders. Michael felt the heat rising in the pit of his stomach. It boiled there for a moment, then shot through his veins so rapidly he thought he was going to implode, caving into himself in a ball of fiery rage.
“Enough!” Michael shouted. Ahmad jumped and dropped several letters. They drifted to the ground in slow motion. “That’s enough! Don’t you think you’ve done enough already? The protests, the support, the fucking bomb!” Michael lowered his voice to a deep whisper. To that sinister tone. “All of it was because of you. You, my father’s best friend. You’re the only reason he supported that fucking synagogue in the first place. The only reason.” Ahmad’s eyes grew large and round. He took a few steps back as Michael stood and towered over his smaller frame. “You! You are the reason my father is dead! Fuck the supporters! Fuck the letters! But most of all, fuck you and your damn religion.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Tolerance. What a funny word. We tolerate the antics of toddlers because they don’t know any better. We tolerate that friend of ours with no tact or social skills because they have no one else. I tolerate that fucking blinking light outside my apartment because I pay a measely $475 a month for this cramped studio apartment. I even tolerate Mrs. Kilpinski’s damn cat because she brings me dinner every Thursday night.
            Yeah, we “tolerate” a lot of things. So when Rebecca touts her liberal religious tolerance to me today, I want to rip off her head. Damn left-wingers. Spouting about tolerance and equality and liberty, like they’re all intertwined, compatible—synonymous even. Some noble vendetta in creating a world full of fucking butterflies and rainbows.
            We tolerate annoying shit. Annoying friends, annoying pets, annoying blinking lights. The euphemism has lost its power. Apparently we’re supposed to do the same thing with annoying religions. That’s what Rebecca tells me.
            “Religious tolerance means we’re accepting of other religions. Like, I totally get that Christianity isn’t the absolute only religion. Lots of people practice different beliefs.” She was excited. Her words started to blend together. I hated it.
But I tolerated it.
“Lotsa different people means lotsa different beliefs, I totally get that. We hafta tolerate other people’s beliefs and respect that!”
            Tolerate and respect. So, like, totally contradicting, dontcha think? I wanted to spout off in that valley girl accent. But I just tolerate it. She keeps talking. I ignore her. She hums in my ear about some more political debates, shit she picked up that week on MSNBC or in Newsweek. She stayed there, hovering like a humming bird searching for nectar in my flowery ears.
            Yeah, I tolerate her. Not for long though.
            “You know what I mean?” she says, and the long pause tells me it’s my turn to interject some contributing comment to the conversation.
            “Yeah, people are fucking ignorant.” This line usually worked.
            “I know, right?” she squealed, pleased with what she must have thought was a decent argument. I wouldn’t know—I never listened anymore. I was at least mildly pleased that I could drown out her rambling and answer with something so vague and ambiguous. She never did catch on. Probably because she liked to talk so fucking much. She just never shut the fuck up.
            I sat down on the bench by the fountain, lit a cigarette, and tipped my head back. I took a long drag, letting the toxins fill my lungs and filter into my bloodstream. The pounding in my head subsided. I exhaled. The sun came out behind the clouds and warmed my face. The rays were the only warm thing between me and Rebecca anymore.
            “Hey babe, I’ve been thinking.” My voice sounded deeper than usual. Almost sinister.
 “This thing, with you and me? It’s not really working.” I took another drag. I could feel her staring at me, the confused look that probably washed over her peppy face. The way her rosy lips pushed together in a tight pout and her brows furrowed into a sharp V above her piercing blue eyes.
            Those eyes. Those baby blues. The little discs of death that sucked me into this draining relationship in the first place.
            “Whatareyoutryingtosay?” The sentence sounded like one word. “If the ‘thing’ you’re talking about is our relationship, then, well…what the fuck Michael? You’ve never said anything before! This is just totally out of the fucking blue—”
            She morphed back into her hummingbird, flitting from one ear to the other, dancing around like a clown at a 5-year-old’s birthday party. Hummmmmmmmmm. Hummmmm. Hummm. Hummmmmmmmm.
            “Michael! You could at least fucking look at me! Where the hell is this coming from?” she screamed, grabbing the attention of some family across the fountain. A little girl with pigtails peered up from just above the ledge, wide-eyed and mouth open. She tugged on her mother’s sleeve and pointed at us, obviously distressed at Rebecca’s choice vocabulary. The scene kept me calm, kept me on track. I didn’t want to look at Rebecca. To see the hurt and the pain and the anger in those big blues. Yeah, I knew I was being a coward. But it was always easier that way.
            “Let’s just say I’ve been tolerating you for a while now.” I stared straight ahead, completely aware of the fury and rage boiling in the pot beside me. I thought if I looked at her I would see steam coming out of her head. I had to check.
            Big mistake. As soon as I did, a hard slap landed across my face. The force knocked my sunglasses off my head and flung my cancer stick from my mouth. It landed in the fountain. Dammit. I reached down for my sunglasses, and when I looked up Rebecca was already walking away, flinging her grotesque Prada bag over her shoulder. I remembered when she bought that thing, fucking $500 for a damn purse. She was preaching about starving kids in Ethiopia that day. The flop, flop of her yellow sandals faded the farther she walked, and she disappeared from sight.