“Notes on Heartbreak” by Madeline Kay Sneed

I felt too old the first time I kissed someone, just like I felt too old the first time I had sex, but the first time I had my heart broken, when she broke my heart, it felt right in time, like that Lucinda Williams song my dad sent me after everything, letting me know that love was really just music and there were all kinds of it: the fast kind, the slow kind, the kind with words that cracked you open. Love could be country, love could be hip hop, love could be alt-indie-dream pop.

Maybe that’s why I can only catalogue my loss of her in measures, beats, rhythms. Vignettes in Boston scored by Lorde and Phoebe Bridgers and Beyoncé. The inheritance of my heartbreak was my capacity to finally understand the music I had heard all of my life.

When I heard Lorde sing, “Please could you be tender, and I will sit close to you,” I couldn’t breathe. I’d longed for tenderness. Longed–the word stretched out, sunk down deep, swirling around my tongue before I could choke it out. Tenderness, I used to think, was a weakness born from wanting. But now I know it’s just another word for love. The way I saw her: a dream encased in gold, summer days in summer cities, deep inhales of thick ocean air; soft lips, flickering eyes, words like yes, no, maybe, I don’t know. I was so ashamed of my surety, of my capacity to love someone who could not love me back. It’s strange that a song called “Hard Feelings” is all about tenderness. But I felt it. Those hard feelings that compelled me to ask, please, please, just once, could you be tender?

The perpetual question haunted me as I walked through the Boston Common during Christmas time with my headphones on to drown out the carols coming from the ice rink. I turned up the volume and Phoebe sang, “I have emotional motion sickness, somebody roll the windows down,” and my mind went to the summer, the warmer months, the smell of sunscreen and sweat and her. The way she looked in my eyes on the Fourth of July and told me that I was everything she ever wanted in a girl. She kissed me in front of everyone. Three days later, she handed me a note that read, “I love you too much to let myself like you.” There is no nausea like the kind born from waiting. For someone to love you. For you to be enough for them. It’s emotional motion sickness with the windows locked shut.

After thousands of hours of music, I don’t quite feel nothing for her. They are shadow feelings, the imprint of desire pressed deep into my heart. Like Armstrong’s boot on the face of the moon, the first steps of celestial exploration never go away. Healing is not always linear, just like love is not always reciprocated.

As I find myself writing about her once again, I listen to Beyoncé sing, “I found the truth beneath your lies,” and I wonder, did she lie? An unanswerable question. Irrelevant. A distraction from the truth beneath it, which is found in the excavation of memory. I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back. But, after a decade in the closet, a decade of believing love was some far away dream I’d never get to touch, it is something like a miracle that I was able to have my heart so completely broken. “Baptize your tears and dry your eyes,” Beyoncé sings, and I obey, wondering if I’ll be born again when they open.

I feel my cracked heart start to beat.

Madeline Kay Sneed is an MFA candidate at Emerson College. She is from Houston, Texas, and is currently working on a novel about Texas, the LGBTQ community, faith, and family. Her work has appeared in The Salve, Tiferet Journal, and EthicsDaily. She strongly believed the Astros would win the 2019 World Series.

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov.

“Remember Me” by Anna O’Connor

I leave footprints in the sand. Memories of fleeting moments spent.

I wonder if the sea remembers me. In its wild and vast expanse. I wonder if the rocks, the shells or even an insignificant pebble remember my step. (Though if they are insignificant, then what am I?)

I wonder if the sun smiles down, remembering the day I walked beneath its warm and blinding rays. Or if the seaweed strung from wooden soldiers ponder on what became of that silent figure ambling past.

The sea breeze calmed my thoughts, replacing solemn heaviness with vacant air. The sound of sea echoed in my skull bringing with it a new sense of silence. People. There were people there. Leaving their footsteps, too. Though none as heavy as mine. None else remembered. They laugh and smile. Families, friends. Picking the prettiest keepsake out of the sand, throwing back the ones not chosen. A thing to remember, remembered by all.

I wonder if the sea remembers me or if the footsteps I leave in the sand will long be forgotten, blown away by that same sea breeze that so much calmed me that day.

I leave footprints in the sand. I am a part of that place now. The sea, the rocks, the shells, the insignificant pebbles. The sun, the wooden soldiers, the soft sea breeze. I am with them forever, remembered by all. I leave footprints in the sand as silent prints of me.

Anna O’Connor is a 17 year old secondary school student from Ireland. She is an aspiring writer, just now finding the courage to share her work. Anna has loved writing from a young age and hopes to study English in college. (@annaocxo on social medias) 

“Questioning” by Joy Mamudu

I like it very much when a stranger or someone I have only just begun talking to asks me, “Are you a lesbian?” I am not, for now. Although I have read articles about heteronormative women who wake up post-thirties in straight marriages to the epiphany that they are gay. Stories like that, about women who settle fully into their individual identities, make me incredibly happy. It pleases me when people ask, because I am happy that it shows; I am not firmly perched on either end of the sexuality spectrum. 

Ends of a spectrum make me think, oddly, of birds. Robins, maybe. Two robins, perched one on either end of a taut electricity cable. A third robin appears, momentarily suspended high up in the air, tenderly silhouetted against the softly setting sun. He flits in the air, hovering above the hoi polloi, this third robin, and then perches close to one end. After a bit of pecking and twitching about, as birds do, he takes flight and dances lightly over to the middle, then moves on to the other end of the cable. He seems more relaxed than his brothers. More confident, yet humbly open to the many wonders the universe may likely throw at him today. His fluidity lies not only in being able to communicate fluently with the birds on either extreme; it lies more in how comfortable he is, no matter where he is. Even when he stands alone in the middle. Of the three, he is the only one who realizes that his wings can help him do more than balance on a wire – the only one who realizes that he is free. 

That is what it feels like to be questioning.

Joy Mamudu is a Nigerian woman trying her best to find answers to the many questions that keep her up some nights. When she is not preoccupied with self-doubt, she likes to watch comedies, scroll through her twitter feed and laugh. She lives in Abuja.

“Ghost” by Vera Armstead

I told my sister she would haunt our house when she dies because she carved her name into the wall of our house. Thin little letters written in sloppy cursive appeared, a sort of silver against the white. She must have used the point of a pen without ink, leaning over the edge of the banister that seperated the second story of our home from the first, taking her life into her own hands.

“You’re going to haunt this house in 100 years when you die,” I remember saying matter-of-factly. It made sense to me at age 8. Branding your name on something to take claim of it, for its whole existence, forever. That’s what we learned in history class in the third grade; practically.

She stared at me with a warped facial expression that indicated confusion, but also amusement at how random her little sister, 8 years younger than her, could be. I still see it clearly in my mind. “Um…what do you mean?”

I held her larger hand in mine, leading her to her masterpiece. “See?” What couldn’t she understand? It was simple. She had to lean close to it, pressing her nose against the wall to observe the almost translucent features of her line work.

“I don’t even remember doing that.” She seemed spooked at the idea of dying, the idea of haunting. Years later, her name was covered by three thick layers of beige paint. Sometimes I return to that spot on the wall, rubbing my fingers over the area that her name lies beneath, wondering if it will ever bleed through to the surface.

Now I realize how morbid it was of me to suggest that my only sibling would die. Everything was simpler back then. Maybe I understood the circle of life. Maybe I too wholeheartedly believed in the idea of ghosts. Maybe I didn’t have the chance to contemplate the prospect of spending life after death in the midst of dirt underneath a gravestone.

At least, in my mind, there was hope of an afterlife, even if one is a ghost.

Bio: Vera Armstead is a writer aspiring to be a mental health counselor. Vera is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology with a minor in English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She is the Managing Editor of The Point News and has publications in Teen Belle Magazine, along with Her Stry, Vamp Cat Magazine, and Avatar literary magazine. You can reach Vera at @farmv8 on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo by Rowan Heuvel.

“The Annual Trashing of Summer” by M. Carrigan

At the beginning of each season, I am full of ambition. I will tackle the season like a massive house renovation. I will mold it somehow, contain it. I will save it, because perfection is worth saving, and I am terrified I’m trashing so much.

I will design the summer as effortlessly as they do these things on HGTV.  I imagine starting the mornings with French press coffee and a plate of danishes arranged like a children’s choir, each one so deserving, angelic, heavenly, buttery. We’ll see animals at the zoo, see fireworks from rooftops, take the kids hiking. They’ll have matching water bottles. We’ll eat salads frumpled up like geometrical shapes and charred alongside the slices of pineapple on the grill. We’re beautiful, we’re human, and we grill fruit.

Each day will stand alone, a smooth stone grouted onto the aquamarine backsplash that I learned how to do from HGTV. I’ll make zesty lemon wreaths, also learned, to affix to my door and welcome the season, the summer, the sun.

The reality is, I get washed away in the ocean of it. A trip to the beach, the ice cream outings, setting up the sprinkler in the backyard for the kids, the pool birthday parties, lazing in front of the TV and soaking up the air conditioning. They continuously meld together until one day, it’s late August, and school is about to start. Summer, amorphously.

I failed to contain it, yet again. It felt too good in the moment to float away into that ocean. Besides, I don’t know how to grout. I aspire to grand home renovations and end up at the thrift store, collecting back the things that others have trashed.

Bio: Alter-ego of blog The Surfing Pizza, editor grande supreme of Taco Bell Quarterly, party person, original owner of Spuds MacKenzie, enjoys staring at sun.

“Getting Off the Plane in Saudi Arabia” by Saleh Asad

As I arrived at the airport, I was caught off-guard by the rudeness of fellow Saudi airport staff. The queue was a spiral of Afghani men, who seemed too comfortable in the long line, together with White British and American nationals who were getting slipped through the front of the line for no apparent reason but the obvious one. I thought to myself “This has to be a joke”. 

There is no way, “I” as a South African Indian male, who has been through apartheid, and in the clutches of segregation, come to Saudi Arabia as a Muslim, only to find out that my skin still isn’t the right shade of human. 

I was bowled over. I was irate. I knew that the fire in my belly stirred like an angry dragon, waiting to exhale a ball of fire on also brown-skinned uniformed guards.  I waited and waited. My eyes caught a line of Ethiopian women, with long colorful garments on. Their eyes looked weary and frightened. A Saudi passport controller quickly reached for a spray bottle and filled the eye socket of a droopy Ethiopian girl who was not keeping her head upright enough for the camera. This was the second time in 30 minutes that I witnessed blatant disregard for human -rights. It was no exaggeration, because being in that moment will all those men, with no one daring to say anything meant that everyone knew, that to speak was to cause unwelcome issues. 

When it was finally my turn, I made sure not to engage the Saudi that stared at me like a judgmental food critic about to devour his meat. I handed over my passport and to my already astonished and shell-shocked brain, he blatantly asked me how I am South African if I wasn’t black. I didn’t know at the time, but this would be the most asked question by Saudi people over the course of 7 years. Funnily enough, this question didn’t leave their mouths, when a white man in my company stated he was from South Africa. Maybe it was because they figured that was what White men do. They colonize places they aren’t from but it was more than that. 

The Saudi Arabian mentality was far more abstruse than that. They have been conditioned to believe that the white man was the savior of everything “this-worldly” whilst they, the inheritors of Islam were the saviors of the other life. 

The airport doors shut behind me and the reality of over 40 degrees of hot air penetrated my nostrils, as a rude Indian man directed me to his Hyundai. The car park was filled with desperate men, each vying for passengers. Passengers who didn’t know their lives of subservience would change them forever. 

Much to my disdain, I found myself in a dusty apartment with the leftover stench of a careless couple. Perhaps they left in haste. Perhaps, leaving moldy crumbs on the floor and a mattress that reeked of sweat and dust was their way of getting “Saudi” back for what they might have gone through. 

“The Slide” by Lina Lau

At the fun fair, you grin, hair strands already escaping your pony tail, wisping wildly around your small face. You pull your hand out from mine and run straight for the monstrous, orange, inflatable slide. The rainbow striped dress you insisted on wearing flails out from under your green spring jacket.

Oh no, I think. That is too high for you. My chest tightens as I shuffle after you. I adjust the weight of your baby sister on my hip. If I put her down, she will toddle off.   

You slip off your black runners, hand-me-downs from your cousin, and just as I am about to yell at you, I realize the other kids are taking their shoes off too. The sign says No Shoes Allowed, but you cannot read yet.

You place your runners neatly to the side amidst the jumble of footwear. Words stick in my throat.  You push yourself through the swarm of kids. Smaller and younger, I lose sight of the top of your head. I call your name. Again, louder. Shriller. I start towards the crowd but quickly stop, realizing I can’t get to you.

 The slide is too high. My neck muscles tense.

 You will panic. My mouth becomes dry.

 I will need to come and get you down.

I sigh, exasperated. I  call your name AGAIN. My brows furrow, my breaths quicken.

I untie my laces, slip off my shoes. I imagine you at the top, frozen, lips pulled down into a grimace, searching frantically for me. What will I do with the baby? I will have to take her up with me when I come and get you. Everyone will have to wait, and watch. Will I bring you back down the stairs? Will I have to slide down with both you and your sister? Is that even allowed?

I watch you climb up, up, up. Rhythmically, one foot in front of the other, never looking back.

I start to push my way to the front of the crowd, still lugging your sister on my hip. At the top, you turn around and barely glance at the crowd. You move quickly, plop onto your bum and push off with no hesitation. You sliiiiiide all the way down.

You run over to me, eyes wide, slightly out of breath. “I did it!” Your voice is whispered, shaking. “I’m going again.” Braver this time.

I exhale and my breaths start to even. You climb again, more confidently. You wave at me from the top. I’m grateful my fears didn’t stop you this time, from learning what you can do. I wonder about the next time. I place your squirming sister on the ground and as she starts to pull me, I follow her lead. 

Lina Lau writes creative nonfiction and lives in Toronto, Canada. Her work can be seen in Hippocampus Magazine, carte blanche, and Little Fiction Big Truths. It was also longlisted for the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review creative nonfiction contest. Find her on Twitter at @LinaLau_.