Boys Will Be Boys by Raymond Collazo

I was sitting awkwardly in the passenger seat. Our truck didn’t have enough room for us to move around in and the Kevlar plates in my combat vest were poking my ribs. I couldn’t move much because the truck was already crammed with computers, radios, weapons and other gadgets. To make matters worse, the air conditioner wasn’t working properly and it was spewing stagnant air into my face from its sand imbued air vents. It’s like the truck was trying to smother me, occasionally sputtering sand into my mouth and face. Being over seven thousand two hundred feet above sea level didn’t help, but the truck restricted my breathing more than anything.

If only I switched seats with my gunner at that point. I thought he had the best seat in the truck. He sat in the turret with the wind blowing in his face, holding onto his weapon with one hand, chillin’. He was the most vulnerable, but at least he got to move around and be cool.

Who knew driving up and down the Kandahar-Ghazni Highway would be so boring at times? It allowed me too much time to think. Time to think about the immense heat, my leg falling asleep from the cramped space, what we were going to find and if we were going to be attacked. We were doing the same thing we did every mission, checking the Highway for IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device) and I was packed like a sardine in the canned sauna with four other soldiers.

The five of us would usually poke fun at one another, or talk about what we were going to do when we got back, but we were tired. We were tired of the monotony, unbearable heat, and restrictions that were being imposed on us. Uniformity was the rule for everything, “do as we say”, “follow our lead”, and “speak when spoken to”. Anyone who did otherwise would be in the spotlight.

After about a month of being in Afghanistan, we were ordered to not bring any cellphones, cameras or any other electronic devices. The leadership thought the devices would hinder us from being attentive. Someone got in trouble for posting sensitive information and pictures on social media. Thanks, Man! I tried to go on mission without it but I couldn’t do it, so I chose to not follow that order and bring my iPhone anyway.

It’s not like I had anyone checking up on me in the vehicle, I was in charge. All I had to do when there wasn’t any action was pay attention to my surroundings, the radio, my soldiers (which were already in the truck with me) and the navigation on the computer screen. I needed something to help keep me awake on missions that would sometimes take days to complete. The constant anticipation of something happening was overwhelming and the cure was listening to the sounds of Nas, AC/DC and Daft Punk, to name a few. Music helped me maintain my vigilance. I was able to be more alert and it eased the anxiety and tensions of war I had within.

On our way north that day we received information from military analysts about suspicious activity taking place on a farm near a village. That was something we weren’t used to. Most of the time we drove north, then back south or vice versa and called it a day. Change of plans! We were to drive into an unknown village. That had an unknown amount of inhabitants. For unknown reasons, other than “suspicious activity.” Even though it was out of the norm to go off road and into a random village, I was confident and prepared. At least that’s what Nas’ song “You’re da Man” was portraying to me.

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Our massive trucks barely fit the small dirt road in the village. The houses were made out of mud, and there were people hanging outside of them looking at the cold colossal contraptions we were driving. Being the last truck to go through the village put me at the edge of my uncomfortable seat, causing my knees to hit the computer screen. I had scenes from other war movies taking place in my mind. What if we get stuck behind, what if the people start attacking, what if we get blown up?

I had to think positive, but at the same time I had to prepare myself mentally for anything to happen. Some of the younger Afghan men would wave, but most of them stood there with their arms folded behind their back, eerily looking at us without moving. The village elders and older men would glare at us with colored beards, or maybe they were scared and didn’t know how to react.

None of the other vehicles were making any human contact, so we followed suit with their robotic approach through the village. While passing the men, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking and if they were possibly concocting some devise to attack us. I told my gunner to keep an eye on them, just in case. They could have been part of the suspicious activity for all I knew. My gunner acknowledged and moved his turret to the side a bit. That’s when we saw a group of girls.

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They were the only females my truck encountered and quite possibly the only ones that were out that day. They looked extremely innocent and I wasn’t sure if the oldest one was a big sister, a mother or a cousin but she was guarding the younger girls. She was holding onto their hands and from her body actions it appeared she was telling them not to stray away from her. I watched them stand barefoot, looking at us in awe while we drove by. I don’t know what it was about the females, but they didn’t worry me. I know they could’ve just as easily strapped themselves with suicide bombs, but I sensed fear in their eyes more than anything.

The rest of the convoy made its way through the village, except us. We were at a halt in between the last two houses. There was a group of six young boys standing near the side of the road by tall grass. They were hesitant to make contact with anyone. It seemed as if they wanted something, but no other vehicles paid them any mind, which made me cautious as well. I wondered what their young minds were possibly trying to make of the situation. If they were thinking about what was going on, who we were and what the gigantic machines were doing in their home. Then again, I thought that moment could be the end of us. What if these kids had bombs strapped to their chest and would run into the vehicle, or if the other guys would ambush us with rocket propelled grenades?

My heart was beating fast, but I don’t know if it was from my frustration of not having enough room to stretch, the heat and the stagnant air blowing in my face or if I was getting agitated from the anticipation I was building in my head of a battle scene. It didn’t look like we would be moving anytime soon, and the kids were standing right by the truck. I didn’t know what they wanted or if something was going to happen.

“Hey Patterson, do you see anything weird about these kids?” I asked my gunner.

“No, they look like normal kids.”

“What about the people in the village?”

“They’re going about their business, the girls went back inside. I don’t see anything strange from up here. Why?”

“I’m getting annoyed not being able to do anything in the truck and I gotta do something.” My leg was making me squirm from those tingly sensations it gets when it falls asleep. It didn’t even hurt anymore and I felt delirious at that point.

“Wanna stretch out a bit? I got you covered.”

He must have seen me uncontrollably fidgeting when he said that. I rushed to open the door, unlatching the lock and pushing the heavy door with all my strength. As soon as I heaved the door open, I was blasted in the face by a gust of fresh air. I took a deep breath and inhaled the clean oxygen that found its way into the vehicle. My lungs felt like they had just been infused with some minty fresh coolness, but the sight I was witnessing was possibly more refreshing than the breeze. Patterson was throwing down extra food supplies from the truck, causing the kids to jump up and down with joy. The air that instantly filled their lungs escaped with laughter.

The commotion must have woken up Williams and Ward. I heard the confused gorilla noises they always made throughout the deployment from the back of the truck, followed by the door behind me flying open. They started making faces and hollering noises at the boys, then threw some of the candy they received from their care packages out of the door. The boys jumped and laughed seeing the friendly life forms in the giant machine that cast an even bigger shadow. The fear or worries any of them had, evaporated when they felt the vibrancy we emitted.

We were stuck in a droning way of being; closed off, cold, and stagnant because we didn’t want to do anything wrong or deviate off the monotonous path we were on. With that event we broke out of the robotic stasis. Opening the door was like opening my heart. It allowed us to have human-to-human contact and express ourselves in an amiable manner regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or any other social barriers. These kids were ecstatic about the simple and necessary things of life. Simple caring, loving human interaction during war can create an immense sense of joy in people’s hearts. Maybe that’s what’s necessary in life in general.

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About the Author,

Raymond Collazo

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The various roles Raymond Collazo played in his life full of escapades have provided him with a great deal of knowledge. Each role; from soldier to student and traveler to entrepreneur, has taught him more than he expected. With the wisdom he accumulated from these experiences, a burning desire to assist humanity was invigorated within. Ray has deep passions for music, poetry, storytelling and film. With his writings he hopes to inspire others unravel mysteries of the universe, create change in a flawed government system and live in harmony.

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Different by Yasmin Winston

“Where did I come from?” I asked my mother. At only seven years of age I questioned everything. Of course Mom gave me an answer that most parents give their child when they ask the “where do babies come from?” question—something irrelevant and easy enough to change the topic. The funny thing was, that’s not what I was asking. What I really wanted to know was who I was, and why I was there in that house with her.

I wouldn’t say I had a hard life because I didn’t. Things were easy, which would explain why I always felt like a princess. Yet, that wasn’t enough to hide the fact that I felt a certain unease. It wasn’t apparent, no one could tell. I guess I had this fear that if I did express my feelings, ask questions, or show concerns, I would get shut down. My mother had always reminded me of how blessed I was and how grateful I should be, but that still wasn’t enough for me to subdue that feeling that I know would forever reside in me.

I’ve always known I was different. It wasn’t that hard to tell. Even though all the obvious things there were, I had hoped my mother would be the one to tell me. Yet, even when she eventually did, there was this underlying telling of facts that came with it all—just something I had to understand. The fact was that it had already happened. I was here, alive, and better off than I could have ever imagined, and that was that.

My name is Yasmin Shadae Winston and I’m different. “Winston”, the title that I carry, the name that follows the self I know I am, is not me. Winston was one of the obvious realities that affirmed my difference. My family is the “Khans” and I, a “Winston”. At first the difference never bothered me because I had no need to feel different, but when it all came down to the truth, I was.

I always knew it was hard for my mother to talk to me about it, even if she admitted it wasn’t. The situation was not infidelity, even if that was what it sometimes seemed like. Mom gave birth to me from a previous relationship she shared with Kenneth Winston, my father. Yet, all I share with the man is his last name, physical features, and blood. Other than that, he is—and means—nothing to me. He means nothing because when I think of him, I think of failure. A man of the streets, immature, naïve, and willing to make the quickest dollar. A drug dealer was and is not the father for me. It would seem harsh the way I describe the man, but I can’t not show how much of a disappointment he is to me. Maybe it was because Mom rarely spoke of him, and when she did, it wasn’t anything good. The only positive thing was that at one time Kenneth did want me. He did love me, but was love really enough? What about my future? My life? I guess he didn’t love me that much.

When I think about my life and all the twenty-one years of my existence, I think about how much I know God has blessed me. I think about the stories my mother sometimes tells me of her past and of how different my life could have been.

I was only four years old when my mother got married to the most amazing man I know. My stepfather is the only man who has ever loved me like a father should and the only man I could ever call “Dad”. Of the farthest memories I can retrieve from the depths of my mind, he is there. His are the hands I’ve held, the daddy I knew would protect me from all the monsters in the world, the man I knew would be there for me forever. Of course my mom has had a huge role helping to mold me. But my stepdad (daddy) has been my reason for being the strong, independent, woman I am today.

As hard as it is to express how I feel, what comes easiest is to say that love has always surrounded me. My mother is not the affectionate type, but my dad has always filled that void. Thinking back on my situation of being what one would call the “outside-child”, my step-dad had no reason to love me. I was not his. Yet, he did. And he does. He loves me unconditionally, and I know this because not once have I ever felt as if he loved my brother and sister, who are biologically his, more than me. If anything, I’ve always felt that he has loved me more. This man gives me hope and is the reason why I push myself so hard to be successful. He is special and different than most guys out there, and I know that not everyone has it as good as I do. And if I were ever to be in the same situation as my mother, I’m not sure my kids would have it as good as I do either.

My biological father, Kenneth, has missed out. He has given up the opportunity to love and cherish his own child to someone who does it better. I’ve never seen Kenneth. I don’t even know what he looks like, and I don’t think I want to. In writing this I am angry at his stupidity. I am angry at all the fathers out there who give their children up out of selfish gain. I am angry because I know that things didn’t have to be like this, but they are. Yet, in a sense, I also feel joy because I don’t believe that if I did share a relationship with my biological father it would be anything like what I have with my stepdad now.

If I ever built up the courage to look for my father, to see him, or even speak to him I would want to say just this:

Dear Kenneth,

In case you’ve forgotten, you have a daughter out here in the world—amongst other children as I have been told. I know you loved me for a very small part of my life, but what about the rest? Were the drugs worth it? Was the game worth it? Was I worth it? I don’t care if you want to change. I don’t care if you want me in your life now. Because it’s too late for me. Someone else has taken your place, and he’s done one heck of a job. I don’t think you could ever love me like he does because at least he knows how to be a father. You’ve failed me. In my eyes you are a failure. I’m sorry if this hurts you. But in thinking about you, you have hurt me. I carry a name that I wish I didn’t. I wish I were a Khan. I wish I didn’t have to feel different. And it’s all your fault. You couldn’t be the man that I needed.

Sincerely,

Yasmin

 

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About the author,

Yasmin Winston

 

Yasmin Winston

A seeker of knowledge with dreams higher than the tallest skyscrapers, Yasmin Winston is a student and goal-getter at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. With a passion for writing, her works express themes of creativity, experience, love, family-life, and travel.

New York Tourist by Elizabeth Yanes

My friend Steven and I grew up on food and travel shows. On his couch we recently viewed the PBS documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like. When I was twelve and watching this show with my mother, I was the little girl who dreamed to see the world, but mainly the United States. My mother, however, has always wanted to go to Europe. Back then, and again with Steven, I wanted to eat the sandwiches we saw in the documentary—the lobster roll in Maine, the barbeque in Texas, the Elvis, and Pastrami sandwiches in New York.

Then I realized that I wasn’t the little girl anymore who was forbidden to cross the street alone. I was older. I could make my own choices. I told Steven we could go to two of the places on the program. He had already gone to Katz and wanted to go again. Steven was also up for any sandwich that had bacon on it, which the Elvis in Peanut Butter & Co. does.

“Just looking in from the outside, I felt younger.”

Two weeks later, having saved up enough money, we went. The summer day was warm, with slightly chilly winds. We followed the directions I wrote on an old yellowed piece of loose leaf paper to Peanut Butter & Co. The shop was not hard to miss with the blue and white striped awning. Steven went in the shop so easily. He was not drifting into the past like I was—seeing the old 50s Wonder Bread ads, the girls spreading peanut butter or jam on slices of bread. I wasn’t born in the 50s, nor was my mother. I was, however, raised with TV shows from before my time like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy. The commercials that came with those shows were old fashioned.

I walked in, feeling shorter and younger than I had been outside, and ordered the Elvis, a peanut butter sandwich with bananas, honey, and bacon, served on their famous extra-large slices of bread with the crust still on. An elderly couple sat by the window, eating, not minding the sun hitting them. Steven and I ate our sandwiches away from the glaring sun-rays, and we barely talked. I preferred the silence actually. It gave me time to reflect on the simple dream I had accomplished.

Then I felt ashamed. It had taken me eight years to go to Peanut Butter & Co. I had been missing out on the Elvis with bacon for nearly a decade. Because I was so focused on wanting to try all the sandwiches I’d heard about in other parts of the United States, I had failed to see the ones close to me.

“Dreams can be accomplished with the smallest step.”

I bit into the Elvis with a child’s innocence and anger. The peanut butter was wonderfully sticking to the roof of my mouth. The honey dripped on my fingers and down to the plate. The bacon was crispy and perfectly fattening. I took a break from eating and saw a 1963 Norman Rockwell Skippy advertisement on the wall and felt like I was enjoying what America tastes like—peanut butter, white bread, crust, bananas, honey, and bacon. My mom had made me peanut butter sandwiches for my school trips and for our outings to Coney Island beach. But this sandwich was a grownup’s sandwich. I started to feel my age again.

I knew what I could and couldn’t do. I learned what others had learned much more quickly. Dreams can be accomplished with the smallest steps or with a train ride.

After we ate, we walked around a bit to make space for the pastrami sandwich awaiting us about a mile away.

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“I told Steven I was going to see the world,

and New York was part of it.”

 

 

I was a tourist in my own city and needed to get to know my own yard more. I was off to a great start. Steven and I were going to another tourist attraction.

Then we were at Katz to get our second sandwich of the day, not even having waited long enough to digest what we had eaten before. Steven and I took our tickets from the man inside and headed to the sandwich counter to place our orders. Together we watched the carver cut the meat into thick slices. He offered a piece of pastrami to us, and I relished eating it for real instead of just inside my imagination.

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I’ve eaten pastrami before,

but no place was like Katz.”

 

 

I thanked the man and watched him perform his delicate task of stacking the pastrami slices between the slices of rye. I had accomplished one dream just a little while ago, and even though I was still happily stomaching it, another great sandwich was coming my way.

We sat a couple of tables away from the famous seat where Meg Ryan had her fake orgasm in the movie When Harry Met Sally. The sign on the ceiling, moving with the wind from the door opening and closing, pointed at the place. A family occupied the seats, and I was okay with that. The reality of what Katz is and tastes like is better than sitting at a celebrities’ table.

The counters were completely crowded with people. Old ladies and old men had to fight their way to be heard over the other customers and to give their carnival-looking tickets to the carver. He wrote down their order and gave the ticket back. Not everybody was fortunate to get a piece of pastrami to taste.

Pictures of celebrities were wallpapered to the deli. Some United States Presidents had eaten there. The sign that encouraged buying salami for the troops gave me a World War II feel. I imagined rations and women working the jobs men left behind.

I was eating at my first Jewish deli, attacking my juicy, greasy, pastrami sandwich, slathered with brown mustard, held all together on rye bread. I was seeing and tasting the world’s food within my city and an hour away from my house. I would only finish one half the sandwich and have the other half wrapped to go.

I originally wanted to go to Katz with my mother, but we had different ideas about traveling. She wants to save up to see Europe. I want to see America and then Europe.

I decided I would travel on my own more. The times of watching travel and food shows continue, and gradually I’ll be able to say I’ve been to those places.

“I’ve changed my I want to I have.”

     I’ve traveled around NYC more since making that decision. Steven’s collection of food and travel shows help point me to the local places I can check out. I have to order more sandwiches from Katz. I have to go to Coney Island to enjoy the cotton candy and mango on a stick again. I have a lot of places to see. This little girl has grown up and has a world to explore. And I’m proud to call myself a New York Tourist.

 

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About the Author,

Elizabeth Yanes

Elizabeth Yanes is a writer, nature lover, photographer, and possible adventure seeker. She wanders around New York on footfor hours to see the changing city. Currently she is writing a mystery novel set in present day New York and takes pictures of city life in her free time. Elizabeth wants to document the times through pictures and writing, while she works to create positive change in the present.

 

Displaced by Aya Abdelmoamen

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It’s scary to think about it. To stare at the plain white ceiling in my room and think about what happened. Scarier to try to recollect memories you don’t want to remember but try to anyway so they don’t get buried inside your thoughts and haunt you. So I try. I try to remember so I can forget.

“Welcome to New Orleans, Louisiana! For your safety, please remain seated with your seat belts fastened until the fasten seatbelt sign has been switched off. Please do not remove your carry-on baggage until the aircraft has come to a full stop.”

The six of us got off the plane, rushed to the baggage claim area, and got our bags to leave the airport so we could head to our hotel. As soon as we stepped out of the airport terminal, I could see the cloudless sky as I took a deep breath of the fresh, cool air that filled my lungs. I noticed a young, hefty woman at the curb of the street as she signaled to us and we dragged our bags over to her taxi.

“Where ya’ll heading to?” Her voice seemed to be filled with bitter exhaustion as she chucked our bags to the back of the cabbie. Ugh. This was just like New York. People are almost always pissed and always in a rush.

As I saw my friends get in the back of the taxi, I opened the passenger door to sit next to her and turned to my friends. “You guys don’t mind if I sit here, right? I get car sick easily.” We practically live together. Of course they don’t mind.

Our taxi set off down the highway past the Mercedes-Benz Superdome stadium, our taxi driver began to lighten up. I could feel my body relax as the tension and anxiety eased. “Where ya’ll from? What brought you guys down to Nawlins?” the cabbie asked us enthusiastically in her southern accent.

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All of us must have been fascinated by the way she pronounced “New Orleans” because we remained silent for the next five seconds. I could see my friend smirk as he replied, “We’re here from New York for NOLA’s national college media convention. They hold the national conference in different states every year, and usually the senior editors attend.”

I didn’t listen much to the rest of the conversation about why we came and their brief discussion about what Hurricane Katrina did to the city because my eyes were set on the sights of the slender-stemmed palm trees clustered on every street. “Oh, My god! There are palm trees here!” I exclaimed in sheer excitement. I must’ve interrupted my friend’s conversation with the cab driver because I heard them laugh at my random exclamation. The trees looked like they belonged in a part of heaven because they stood so beautifully elegant, and I began to wish that they grew in New York.

I continued to look ahead from the passenger window at the tropical trees. After what felt like a short ride, our cab stopped at the corner of a lively street to unload our bags. We tipped her and walked two steps ahead and into our hotel lobby. There was a mix-up in our payment process for the room, and I grew frustrated that we couldn’t quickly settle in. We were cranky and jet-lagged from the long transit flight. I finally managed to book two rooms almost adjacent to each other on the fourth floor. One room for us girls: Taja, Navita, and me. The other room was for the guys: AJ, Ben, and Chris.

Sharing rooms wasn’t a problem for any of us, though, because we all worked together. We spent endless hours in our newsroom training intro and intermediate reporters to write good stories. We spent hours past midnight working on layout and copy edits before sending out our monthly issue for publication. We were together in classes, together when we went for coffee breaks, together for yoga, together when we screamed in utter frustration that the load was over-bearing, and together when we walked out of the newsroom in relief to head home.

We hated and loved each other. Like family.

“Hold the doors, Ben,” Navita said as we walked over to the elevator and hit four. Our rooms were replicas of each other. When we settled into the room, none of us unpacked because we couldn’t wait to roam the festive and energetic streets of this town. Besides, we had so little time tomorrow after our workshops and sessions we needed to attend. We left our rooms eager to tour the infamous two-way Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and eat at any open local restaurant. Holy god, we were starving, and it was past midnight. We were tired from traveling, but none of that seemed to matter because whatever energy we had left over was ready to explore this place. When we walked a few feet from our hotel, the six of us stared in surprise at the sight of the Halloween town. Watching this place was like living the Disney movie Halloweentown. Bourbon Street was packed corner-to-corner with people adorned in Mardi Gras costumes and masks.

aya research3Purple, green, and gold beads were being thrown from balconies as the crowds surged below in an attempt to catch the beads from above. They all wanted to hang the colorful beads around their necks. Maybe it was their symbol of being sexy. The techno beats and hip-hop music soared from bars and clubs, and we could barely hear the sound of our voices. I could feel my heart rate pounding as fast as the beat of the music, and it was hard to tell if I was getting too anxious or too excited. I couldn’t stop staring ahead of me at the fortunetellers and other mystic offerings ranked on every street claiming to be the best in town.

Instead of New York’s food carts filling the fast-paced city, New Orleans’s streets exploded with booze stands on every corner. New Orleanians were buying beer like New Yorkers buy Starbucks. I was shocked to see people drinking on the public street as smiles dressed their faces. They were lost in a wave of happiness. Like if the wave suddenly turned into a tsunami, they would never notice until it drowned them.

“Holy shit, the bar scene here is so different than anything else,” Chris said. I’ve never seen a bar scene anywhere I’ve traveled, so I had no idea what he was talking about.

My mind went blank as I glared at the large crowds. It’s not like I wasn’t accustomed to the mélange of people everywhere, but this place was pulsating with too much. Too much noise. Too much drinking. Too much excitement.

I’ve seen diversity in New York, and I’ve seen tourists in Egypt, but I’ve never felt such a rush of contagious excitement from any town I’ve visited. “We can’t walk as a group because of the massive crowds,” AJ mouthed the words while trying to use his hands to explain what we should do. We split in partners as we sidestepped and maneuvered through the lively Bourbon Street. We hunted for food until we finally found a place to eat. At the restaurant we got seated on a table long enough for the six of us, and we ordered the waitress’ recommended Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Po-boys.

When all of us made it back to our hotel rooms, we spoke about what we would do for the following day. We changed into our PJ’s and laid back on the stretched out sofa to talk about which workshops to attend for tomorrow’s conference. I circled the sessions in the conference book that I wanted to attend for copy-editing, writing, reporting, and leadership. I finished circling the leadership session when it attacked me. I was struggling to breathe. A sudden wave of panic rushed through my body, and my face became numb as it moved to my hands and down to my spine and legs and feet. My heart soared with fluttering beats so fast that I was almost sure that I wouldn’t survive it this time. I looked over at Taja, and before I could say a word, she saw my hands and body start to shake as it exploded with anxiety. This was Chicago all over again.

I trembled and shook until I felt an overbearing tingliness all over my body, and that’s when I lost sensation in my hands, legs, and face. I looked down at my hands, and I could tell they were paralyzed. I could see the session book in my hand, but I could feel nothing. I couldn’t make sense of anything. My mind was running frantic, and I couldn’t understand why.

I knew I had no control over my body attacking me, so I sat disabled on the sofa staring at my fingers as the muscles in them contracted and they appeared immobilized. Like cerebral palsy consumed my hands and writhed my body.

My friends knew what was happening to me. Taja’s brows furrowed and her eyes stared at me with concern as she quickly got up from the couch and reached for my hands to get me up.

“Come with me,” she said, trying to remain calm. I could barely feel her hands grab my arms because I was too numb to feel. I started to cry out in fear, “I. Can’t. I can’t feel my hands. I can’t feel anything.” I didn’t recognize my voice as I struggled to breathe. She continued to support me with her arms as I began to walk baby steps. I felt like I was separated from my body as I watched someone else control me.

When I entered the empty bedroom, she helped me sit on the bed. “C’mmon, Aya, breathe with me. Pretend we’re in yoga class—take a deep breath in.” She paused for five seconds. “Aaannnnddd exhale out.” She extended the words as she breathed in and exhaled out slowly so I could follow her breathing technique, but I was too worried about not being able to feel my face.

“I can’t do this, Taja. I can’t breathe,” I cried out as I could see but could not feel the tears falling down my face and onto my hands like waterfalls. “Don’t worry,” Taja said. “We’ll get through this, I promise. We’ve been through this before, and we’ll get through this again. Just breathe with me.” She repeated the triangle breathing as I tried to mimic her.

The anxiety lasted for hours. It haunted me at the end of every following night, and attacked me every time I tried to close my eyes to fall asleep.

Each night I had to stay awake because I was afraid that I wouldn’t wake up because of the paralysis. That I’d lose myself and helplessly watch something take over me. That I’d let the waves drown me without fighting the water from filling up my lungs. I had to keep awake. I had to breathe. These episodes lasted for three restless nights, and until I got on the second transit flight back to New York.

As I sunk into the airplane seat, I could clearly hear the airline attendant’s announcement before we took off. “If there is a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall down automatically, just place the mask over your nose and tighten the strap, oxygen will flow automatically. We thank you for choosing our airline and if there is anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please don’t hesitate to ask!”

I inhaled in and exhaled out.

 

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About the Author,

Aya Abdelmoamen

aya personal2

Aya Abdelmoamen migrated to the U.S 13 years ago. Then she did not speak, read, or write English, but she learned and has come a long way. She is a tutor at the Writing Center at John Jay College, and she hopes in her coming years to teach and inspire other college students the way she was taught and inspired. Aya loves to write behind walls to escape into her own creations. She is a beauty junkie who is in love with fashion but doesn’t follow any trends. When she isn’t commuting, writing, or working, Aya researches unanswered questions that run through her mind.

 

 

 

 

A Commuter’s Perspective by Aimee Estrada

It is still dark when I leave my house, surrounded by a frozen, slumbering world. It’s February. I’ve been commuting only since August. I’m not yet anesthetized to this journey, not completely.

For nearly two hours I ride in a silent, somnolent car, watching the world wake up around me. I’m not a morning person, so I usually sit in the Quiet Car beside blurry-eyed commuters napping or staring out the windows. The lunar landscape of the frozen Hudson is mesmerizing, irregular and beautiful.

aimee blurry river shot

When we arrive at Grand Central Station, I join the flood of people streaming out of the train, onto the platform, and up the station ramp. There is an unspoken order to the chaos. The train empties row by row as if someone’s stern grandmother is directing traffic.

Approximately 456,000 people commute into New York City daily via three of the busiest commuter rail lines in the country. Metro North transports an estimated 131,000 people from upstate New York and Connecticut, approximately 150,000 travel in on Long Island Rail Road, while another 175,000 commute via New Jersey Transit each day (American Public Transportation Association).

I am one of countless many.

aimee grand central rush hour morning

This becomes even more apparent as I join the organized chaos in the main concourse and in the subway passages. An estimated 3.7 million people ride the New York City subway system every day. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be one of them, to be lost in a crowd that size. The closest I’ve come to describing the experience to my suburban friends and family is to compare it to the malls at Christmastime, only sped up, like one of those nature documentaries with the time-elapsed camera.

I grew up 60 miles from Manhattan and have taken the train countless times. I’ve ridden the subway before, but it’s a very different experience during rush hour.

My senses are overloaded, bombarded by overwhelming stimuli as I rush through the station to “Get your Metro.” Jehovah Witness poster boards read “What does the Bible really teach?” The AM New Yorker is shoved into my hands. Glass-blowers and musicians set up for the day. I hurry past, slowed only by turnstiles as I swipe my Metro card to the sound of endless beeps. “Reveille,” “Amazing Grace,” and “I Dreamed a Dream” are serenaded in stereo to the backdrop of countless footsteps. A melodic tone, “Be safe. Never go onto the tracks for any reason. If you drop something, please notify the police, an MTA employee, or use the customer assistance line found….” “¡Buenos días! доброе утро. Excusez-moi. 對不起.” The cool, damp air hits my face as I rush across the platform, past the iconic tile walls. “Stand clear of the closing doors on track 1. The next train will arrive on track 3.” The crowd presses into me, forcing me further into the subway car where I smell the sultry, arid scent of humanity—slightly salty and putrid.

At Times Square I pour into the station, one of many moving against the current of commuters. Crowds intersect in the underground passages like schools of fish converging into one another. I push past the surging crowd, like a salmon swimming upstream, and slip into the packed 1 train, standing clear of the closing doors behind me.

I arrive at my stop and walk out into the sunlight and the bitter cold at Columbus Circle. The metal globe reminds me of the Daily Planet and I have to smile. This is the real Metropolis.

In the afternoon I repeat the process, in reverse. It is the same, but different. The atmosphere is different. In the morning, everything is somewhat subdued. Now, high school kids shout and push each other, lovers meet at the end of a long day with a quick kiss, a hand on the small of a back, hands clasped as they hurry home. Musicians and dancers perform to blurry-eyed commuters. Everyone moves a little faster, talks a little louder. Everything is more animated, more alive. We are all going home.

aimee times square musician

We hurry past the unfortunate few, the panhandlers and beggars, with their sad stories and melancholy songs. We try to look away and ignore what we see. We pop our ear buds in and turn up the volume. “I am homeless and out of work right now. I humbly ask for your help.” Someone chants in an almost melodic voice. We hear the same story over and over again. Same story, different face.

We avert our eyes away from the homeless sleeping on the station floor. It’s too hard to look at, so we convince ourselves that we can’t help them all, or that they don’t really need our help, and may really be better off than us. We convince ourselves of anything to make it easier not to see.

Eventually, we become anesthetized to it all. The sameness, the monotony, the repetition.

As I stand here, taking the pictures for this essay, I feel the looks. Part curiosity, mostly exasperation. I can almost hear their thoughts:

“Silly tourist.”

“Look at her, taking pictures of the ceiling.”

“Get out of my way!”

“Why is she taking a picture of that?”

aimee homeless at grandcentral with shoppers

I’ve had the same unkind thoughts myself and I realize, suddenly, that I’m becoming one of them. I’ve grown accustomed to hurrying past the beauty, the mundane, and the ugliness. I have stopped seeing.

Is that why we despise the initiated so? Because they still see what we can no longer?

I’ve heard it said many times that we should try to view the world through the eyes of a child, because they see the most purely—that we should slow down and enjoy the beauty around us. Life is too fleeting otherwise.

I contemplate this as I travel home and see the beauty all around me.

In everything.

aimee NYC skyline reflection

Works Cited

American Public Transportation Association. “Transit Ridership Report–Third Quarter 2013.” 19 November 2013. American Public Transportation Association. pdf. 8 Fevruary 2014. <http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/Ridership/2013-q3-ridership-APTA.pdf&gt;.

 

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 About the Author,

Aimee Estrada

aimee personal

Aimee Estrada is an observer, wanderer, and writer who believes the journey is more important than the destination. She tried almost every major before finally finding forensic financial analysis and writing, where her curiosity and obsession with details is put to good use. She grew up in Beacon, New York before it was trendy, knowing Pete Seeger as “that old guy who played the banjo at my elementary school.” She lives with her husband and car-obsessed son in a work-in-progress farmhouse with a backyard full of deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and the occasional bear.

 

Nests by Christopher Ferreiras

No one ever believes I’m from here. “What’s out there,” people would ask, and I’d say, “nothing but the Bronx Zoo.” And where I grew up. It’s just like I remember it except I don’t remember the sky being so grey. Then again the last time I was in this neighborhood was the day we packed our shit and bounced to Riverdale, and that day was as covered by waves of heat as it was by waves goodbye. Past the bodega we drive and I nod my head, surprised at the fact that the oddly detailed graffiti of the Tim Dog mural is still next to the cleaners, the Puerto Rican with the once grey hair now stands at the deck of his house with a full head of white and a face carved with wrinkles. There isn’t a single soul on the block except him and us. “He’s still here,” my mother chuckles.

We approach the corner of Grand Avenue, and what a grand sight it is to see that not much has changed on my block either. That red thing with the buttons to call the police and firefighters is still there, and I’m more in shock that I still don’t know what that’s called than I am at the fact that it’s still standing. The bricks on the corner building are still separated enough to climb if your hands were small and ashy enough like mine were on the day I watched my family panic because I’d pretended to be lost.

Looking back, I don’t understand why I did it either. I was just a child and didn’t really know what it meant to feel lost (even though getting lost was one of my biggest fears), but I don’t know if I understood that my loss would’ve scared my mother—that was never my intention, I swear…at least I don’t think—but I guess if I could think of any reason why I did do it, it’s probably because I wanted to see if they’d feel sad if I ever went missing.

“I don’t know what possessed you to do that. You were never like that,” mama says looking back at me as I gaze out the window of the passenger seat. “To this day,” she continues, “I still don’t know where you were, or what happened. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.”

Typical kid things, one could rationalize, but to this day I don’t know where I was either—mentally I mean, because that’s some sociopath type shit—watching my mother and sister go crazy looking and screaming for me. My mother always trusted me enough to wait for her in front of the building whenever I ran out of the apartment before her, so why I hid behind the building at the end of the block, I don’t know. Why I never responded to the times she and my sister called my name, still don’t know. But I guess some karma I don’t believe in got me good for putting my mother in a frenzy that day because only a year after that lovely incident I almost got my ass kicked by Davon in the fourth grade because he found out Eva liked me instead of him.

My mother drives slowly as we approach the front of my building, but not before I see it all unfold before my eyes again just like the day it happened: a young, blurry Davon letting go of his little brother, dropping his Jansport, taking off his coat, and stepping right to my face after I nearly shook the shit out of my pants and laughed nervously in his face. By that time in the fourth grade at least more than half of the boys in Ms. Cueto’s class, including Davon, had already been talking about Blood and Crip initiations and telling me not to wear blue or red unless I wanted to get fucked up (and thus began my obsession with black), so it’s pretty safe to say I got the scare I deserved before my neighbor Justin rescued me from him. Life goes full circle I guess.

Before I know it, there it is, 2181: six stories of memories overflowing through the cracked glass on the entrance door. The building still looks like it’s made of red sand and dust while the buildings and houses around it look like they could really use a new neighborhood. We double park between the schoolyard next to my building and the super’s entrance way. I hop out of the car to see if I’ll feel another crashing wave of memories, but instead a young hooded boy, no older than my seven-year-old nephew, turns from playing alone and waves enthusiastically at me through the beaded gate like he recognizes me from behind my black wayfarers. I try to make out a face, but all I see is two fat cheeks, a jungle gym that was once green and yellow, now green and red, and more boys playing basketball in the background. Whose kid is he and how does he know me?  I retreat to my mother’s car awkwardly and laugh with her because honestly, how would anyone except Biemba, whom I heard was still living in my building, possibly recognize me in black velvet with a topknot, a beard, and shades?

After I jump back into the car, we circle the block one too many times, driving under the tossed shoes on the telephone and power lines above the streets, and if I’m not mistaken, that pair of chucks are still there as they have been all my life. We turn one too many heads as we stop and stare at the second floor, where we used to live. Behind us are the houses where Minham and Minhaj grew up, and that other house that once burnt down and became a home for a stray Siberian husky is now the foundation for an ugly clay building.

My mother points out that four of the windows on the side of my old building belong to 2C, and three of the four windows now have air conditioners that weren’t there when we moved. “I wonder who lives there now,” she says, “last time I checked Justin and his family were living there.” It’s strange to think someone lives where I lived and is building memories exactly where I’d once built mine. From inside, the sun always seemed to shine on our building, or maybe it was because we had sheer curtains and every light looked bright that way. “You know what, the boys look happy,” my mother interrupts. “It doesn’t seem that bad.” But it was never that bad, even when it was.

I’ve welcomed ghosts that can’t see me, coming here, welcomed memories I thought I had forgotten me, replaced me with other boys and girls who played and lived in the same places I did, as I have replaced. But as the hood stands, so have my ghosts waiting for me to press play. Coming here is more than visiting the place I grew up; it is growing up again to play in that schoolyard and watching my window break during slugfest. It was watching Stephanie stand by the fence that divided the yard from the jungle gym and watching my younger self contemplate approaching her. But those boys will never see that because their memories are not of falling off Zoomie scooters, or of David and his crew doing the Harlem shake while Renee tried to stop a ball in the sky by throwing his catching glove at it. It’s not of kickball and not of the burning dumpsters that smoked through my fire escape window. The only memories me and those boys might share are the ones of the legendary vakas sitting by the gates, waiting for something to happen so they could gossip about it, maybe because being in their apartments was worse than being outside. And those kids of theirs, those kids who probably felt more at home eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the yard than in their actual kitchen, or dining room. But I might be wrong. Who knows where they migrated, or what street corner they occupy now. Home will always be, whether it’s for me or someone else, whether it’s outside, or in.

We circle around the neighborhood for one last wave before we drive back home. My mother often says that we were a family. Happy once. I can’t help but wonder if we reflect on home as fondly as we do because we no longer live in 2181, because we left the nest we built together, or because happiness is beyond just the place; it’s the people who were there when we made it. We cross the bridge, park the car, and begin to walk home. I hear a loud flap circle and descend from above to the ground in front of me. A black, velvet crow waddles with a long, thin branch before it flies up and away. She’s a building a nest somewhere.

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About the Author,

Christopher Ferreiras

christopher personal

A lot of horrible things happen when I’m around. People begin to smile and have a great time. It’s really quite awful. As if it wasn’t bad enough that my cool kid qualities are highly contagious, I also write, photograph, draw, sing, and probably have cooler hair than the person next to you. You might assume that such an eclectic variety of talents would make me quite the bundle of joy and intrigue, but really it just adds onto what a nightmare I really am.

 

 

Love in Abundance by Jordy Frias

Questions can infiltrate into the human brain about the creation of earth. Creation itself speaks volumes from its complexity and beauty. But, it must have a source of frame, an origin, a designer; a designer whose intelligence surpasses that which the human mind lacks the ability to comprehend. Rejection is the outcome of a denying heart in the concept of a creator.

jordy1My mind had pondered on a particular question: Is there more to life than the “day-to-day” living with our hope in materialistic objects of inevitable decay? WHAT WAS IT! What should be the motive by which we, today, exist? The answer . . . It is the reason why He came. The world needed saving and this was given 2,000 years ago.

With vivid memories I recollect of myself questioning my existence as I lay, resting, on my bed most mornings. The sound of a siren, that annoying sound from the iPhone alarm options, is what I awoke to with the custom of attending school. Education, without a shadow of doubt, was substance I desired, but of course it was also expected by the social structure.

jordy2

I contemplated the vicious cycle of life:

–       Being conceived would be the beginning to long, trial encountering, challenging journeys we will soon endeavor on.

–       We eventually grow, with the influence of seeking an education.

–       Then, we hope to have a family and our hard work to pay off, but it seems like an unreachable goal with an economic crisis as our surrounding. In 1990 fifty-four cents once was equivalent to the buying power of a 2014-dollar bill. Our hope is supposed to be based on our achievements, but if 2.59% is the annual inflation rate throughout this period, our hope is diminished for any potential chance of growth.

–       Finally, we age, our years catch up to us, and our fragile hearts give into our mortal bodies. But is that all what life offers? Life should be more meaningful than this! Have you felt this way before? Have you ever contemplated the true purpose of life?

jordy3

The satisfaction we seek will never reach its full potential as long as our hope lies on finite concepts.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

But, one may say; how can I believe in something I cannot see? How can I feel secure in trusting this God I cannot hear? The evidence–of knowing our hope and trust will not fail–in God surrounds us.

From the existence of the trees, agriculture, and other human resources we depend upon, we see God’s craftsmanship. We see His concern for us; for YOU. We can hope and believe that jordy4life is offering more than what we have at tangle reach. I acknowledge the grace–unmerited favor of God–not because I place an imaginary figure in my mind to look to, no! But because God is love and this is love; not that we loved God but He loved us FIRST!

God gave Him to us; He offered love in abundance, in an unconditional manner. Life is more than a “day-to-day” living. It brings us to have a purpose and our eyes fixed on the hope that is Christ Jesus.

 

guy

About the Author,

Jordy Frias

Jordy Frias attended Borough Manhattan Community College and is a current student John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he majors in English. As a writer, his parents have read his work. As someone with with a love for kids, he strives to his goal of being an elementary school teacher. As an eater, platanoes, lasagna, salmon, and totones are foods that he enjoys. Although funny at times, Jordy has mastered the skill of being corny. Jordy is a family man, loves his girlfriend, and is a sincere, fervent follower of Christ Jesus.