Number One

On Being One

Diana Bejarano

On Being One

Eve

Diana Bejarano

Eve

Being One

Diana Bejarano

Being One

On a Star’s Behavior on a Clear Night

Luis Henao Uribe

She got Grandma Paulie’s big deep blue eyes and from there her destiny was marked. They named her Lisa, like a diva, and they spent a lot of time convincing everyone that she was cuter than baby-cute, more special than as charming as you get. And then, at three, they got her a magazine cover. That golden hair and huge smile shined in every doctor’s office waiting room in the State.

She didn’t know how to sing; she didn’t have sense of rhythm or tone. But her parents paid for very expensive private classes. The teacher said: She doesn’t know music, but she follows orders pretty well. Her talent was to obey, and she did it well, and she learned eventually. Singing, dancing, horseback riding, knitting, baking cookies, origami, foot massage.

She was a little star, that girl Lisa, and made parents all over feel less happy about their children. Those big and deep blue eyes caught everybody’s attention, including records companies and popsicles makers. She made millions but never got a pony.

I just want to paint a smile
On the faces of the world
And dance, dance a-and jump
Ho-Ho, hee-hee-hee!

Effort

Ian Demsky

We come again to the place of stones,
circled by torches, the getting heap.

Those who need a stone, its shape, hardness
or minerality, what it has to tell,

come here.  It’s only natural to want to take:
first one to shine with the oils

of your hands so it holds
on to some of the firelight,

then a barrowful to build your hearth,
our kind are stonetakers by birth.

Numerical Terrain

Eric Frey

substance let through.
semblance owed.
possessions held up.
love letters.
anecdotes incorporated.
promotional backhands.
sourced composites.
exemplars.
constituency bias.
theoretical choice.
ornithos handmate.
narrative arcs.
substance let through.

Superlative T-shirt

Annie Quick

Superlative T-shirt

Stoned

Jane S. Kim

Han and I are sitting on the bed, listening to music.

“I think you should hear this song.”  I switch on the stereo and let it crackle.  The sound of tiny bells ring out.  “This song is the one.”

I love Han very much.  I’m thinking this music will tell it so.  I lean back on the bed and close my eyes.  I feel like a big piece of ice twisting in the light.  The sounds turning me, reflecting.

Things are not as important as they seem or feel.  This is something I’ve been telling myself lately but I’m cheating the situation.  I know it’s a cowardly move.

Hemingway wrote that if you do not break, you will be killed impartially.  The brave, the gentle, and the very good will be killed without a moment’s regard.  Courage lies in never being weak: it is no good being mended in places that have already been broken.

Han is slumped against the wall, backside to me.

Like so many other men I’ve known, Han longs for Hong Kong.  He longs to lose himself in his days of being wild.  In New York City, we are alone together and I hang around his neck like an albatross.  A sad and strangled face, faking strength by silence.

Inside

Kathleen Deliege

Mark writes me and says he went out for a walk in the woods, found an injured garter snake, helpless, in its death throes, smashed its head in with a rock, “said a small prayer for him to have a safe journey on to his next life.”

I tell him I’ve been behaving badly, wearing eyeliner, trying harder, all tree-grows-in-Brooklyn contortions, twisted shape just to get a lick of sun. I mention that I didn’t forget about the time I told him I’d bring him to New York. (I meant the mountains, not the city, but who’s counting.) I still have a few more years to make good on that, said I’d do it by 27, my magic age, the age I promised myself I’d quit smoking by, the age by when I suppose my younger self always imagined something would have happened. (So I guess I am: I’m counting.)

I say to him that our present selves are like potions made in a chemistry lab, a little splash of that, a little splash of this, that I’m always puzzling over what elements exactly I’m really made up of. That he must be in there, somewhere.

He wanted to join the Navy but they wouldn’t let him in. Got fired from a job mowing lawns. Lost someone important, probably many someones. And the snake.

Is this the man he’s become or the person he’s always been?

So that’s the present. And it’s nothing to speak of really, just a few tendrils outstretched, a minimal overlap. It barely even exists, could’ve easily never taken place. I reached out, touched a fingertip against the wall, said a whisper, and he was there on the other side. No tin cans and a string, no bars to reach through. Just that I could hear him moving when I pressed my ear against the mass, could tell his fingertip was there, on the other side of mine.

But the past, that firstness: how has it shaded me? Water color on my skin? Tinted dye in my IV? A barely perceptible shadow: no color at all, just a slight darkening? Or maybe none of those. Maybe more like a guardian angel—a presence you wish was there but isn’t, that isn’t actually anything except your own desire to be surrounded by a presence. You hold a rock in your hand and feel it get warm. You mistake that warmth for a response, think the rock is embracing you back, but it’s just fog on the mirror, condensation that you made with your own breath.

———

Back then.

I actually never would have imagined that he existed.

I always saw his brother’s car parked out front of the house next door, became smitten with the Operation Ivy sticker in the back window and the boy I imagined it belonged to. Once I saw the car in a parking lot downtown and left a love note for it. (A folded up piece of paper, stuck underneath the windshield wiper, open it up and read: This is a love note: LOVE LOVE LOVELOVE LOVE <3 <3 <3 <3 LOVE LOVE LOVElovelovelove.) I fancied myself compatible with the nameless, faceless but surely socially aware and handsome driver—these weren’t serious, mania-inducing daydreams, just flighty urgeless urges. There was no younger-brother branch on that imaginary tree.

But then one day, there was Mark, striding across the grass of my lawn, I don’t think confidently is the right word, but with some sort of aloof, alone assurance. I was sitting on the porch, possibly smoking a cigarette, which I’m sure he derided, waiting for someone to come pick me up. It was evening, summertime, crickets and barely moving air. I don’t remember what he said, just that I thought of him as a boy; was condescending to him in my nice voice (I still do that to people now); answered some questions with uncomfortable honesty; got him to laugh, wonder about me. He spiked his hair up with glue. It may have still been brown at that point. See you later, neighbor boy, I said as tires crunched up onto the gravel.

He kept crossing the invisible barrier between our two lawns. Convinced me one day to go for a walk around the block with him. We rounded a corner and he announced: I want to kiss you now. I laughed, said, Well, okay, I guess. He was always direct.

———

We never loved each other, never said it, never felt it, never needed it. He was inappropriately affectionate with my friends and tried to/possibly actually did make out with one or two of them in the early span of our ‘togetherness.’ It was mildly irksome, but never really inspired any green-eyed ire or gut-queasiness. He was sort of mine by default anyway, and I think I just never really cared that much.

I started calling him honey (still the only guy I’ve ever used that pet name for) and he would reciprocate, in his mocking-serious way. Like he’d accidentally knock a cup of water over and I’d whine, HUN-eyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! and he’d bellow back at me, HONEYYYYYYY!!! grabbing my arms, face one inch from mine, with smiling eyes exaggeratedly wide.

He’d ride around in the street on his stupid skateboard which I made so much fun of, while I sat in the grass on my front lawn, writing frantic marijuana-induced ‘poetry’ in my green mead notebook. I’d mock his punk-rockness, put it down, say it was fake, not like mine, say he didn’t care enough, didn’t do enough. We’d walk to the park through the woods behind our street, and when we got there, he would hassle the Frisbee-golf players, rude up-in-their-face—who knows what they thought of this skinny teenage boy sarcastically sneering at them (like, nice knit cap duuuuuuude, wicked right hook, you guys are totally awesome). What the hell is wrong with you, I’d ask, also in front of them. Why do you have to be so fucking antagonistic all the time? Though now I sort of admire him for it.

———

We did it on the library floor of my mom’s house one afternoon when she was away all day at the hospital. Musty brown carpeting, musty brown books. We made out with our shirts off for a little while (that was foreplay), and then he put the condom on (stolen from the Trojan multipack under my mother’s bathroom sink; it was the kind with a beige wrapper, which I’m guessing was a regular lubricated one, maybe a reservoir tip as the extent of its fanciness. I can’t imagine selecting anything special for Mark’s sake, and would have surely found anything ‘her pleasure’-related to be gimmicky and beneath me).

Everything we used to play adults we stole from our parents. We’d take weed out of his dad’s bedroom stash and smoke it. His stepmom was obsessed with cows and had bovine-themed tchotchkes choking every surface and crevice of the house. That distinctive black-and-white pattern anywhere a wandering eye might land. Wallpaper, cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers, figurines, hot pads and dish towels, tablecloth, throw pillows, dust ruffle. What’s even likable about cows? I wondered.

It lasted a few minutes. After Mark rolled off me, he asked earnestly, thoughtfully even, Did you come? And I laughed in his face. Maybe if it had lasted longer? he asked. Sure, maybe, I conceded, softer this time, half of my mouth curling up in a sad smile. I rode my bike to rehearsal that night, awash in a world of firsts. This is the first time I’m riding my bike as a non-virgin, I thought; tonight I will sleep my first night as a sex-haver. I think it was October. I thought I would never forget the date, but I have. Afterward, I had bruises from where his bony hips had pressed into my inner thighs.

———

That was the only time. I was terrified of pregnancy, counting down the days until my period, attuned to every twinge in my lower abdomen, suddenly painfully aware of the cruel irony that swollen breasts are a symptom of both PMS and pregnancy. He tried to make it happen again. Once when I was sick, delusional from fever, hallucinating and filled with terror that there were dark presences in my bedroom, convinced I needed to sleep on the couch in the living room. I would bury my head in his chest, hang on to him, all please hold me, Marky and pathogen-laced tears. He kissed me hard, pulled me close and pressed against me, started talking about how my mom wouldn’t be home for a while, said, come on, let’s just. I was too fever-addled to be annoyed.

But I postponed time-number-two indefinitely, saying I didn’t want to get pregnant, couldn’t rely on condoms, needed to go on birth control first. Really, it was just a gradual dissipation of whatever strange glue had been keeping me there.

———

And one day, it was just over. Some veil, finally totally lifted. He had moved at that point to another house, miles away. He came over one day after school and I spent the entire afternoon ignoring him: I took a nap and then listened to Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, not looking at him or talking to him, singing along to every song. Fourteen year old me, in all seriousness and an impossible but genuine empathy: Fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was seventeen…

I confessed my distaste to my mom and Liza Funkhouser, maybe Edward too, in the kitchen one day; everyone smiled knowingly and counseled me, saying sometimes this happens and you just need to be honest about it. So I called him on the phone: I don’t want to talk to you anymore.

After that, in my brain’s misguided attempt to detox, I became obsessed with grown-up masculinity. Ogling guys with big arms, not being attracted to anyone under 20, unless it was clear he could grow a full beard if he wanted to. Ironically, or perhaps completely unironically, I now prefer boys with no chest hair, long-lean arms, pretty faces, like Mark was and I imagine still is now (except who knows about the chest hair). Of course, after Mark came a ten-year stretch of boys, of men, who were at least five years older than me. It was a long time before I was with somebody equal to me again. It’s possible Mark started that pendulum swinging, but really I think it’s always been there, its own weight tugging it slowly back and forth, side to side, inside of me.

———

We came in and out of each other’s lives in minimal ways over the next few years. A while after we’d broken up, he went through a ‘spirituality’ phase where he got quiet and serene instead of brash. I visited him in Manchester, which I will forever associate with the idea of peaceful escape from pathology and darkness; like rehab, the whole town a halfway house surrounded by soybean fields and marshy swamplakes. We sat on a picnic table looking out at some vast expanse of green, talking about the universe and our intersecting pasts and the development of my blowjob-giving techniques. He tried to get me to let him spend the night at my place, and I said no, because it was beneath me. Because he was too young. Because it would have meant more to him than to me. He hadn’t slept with anyone besides me by that point, and I had just gotten out of a serious relationship with another man too many years my senior.

A few years after that, he started harassing Elizabeth, climbing onto the roof at my mom’s house and breaking into the window of my old bedroom, where she was staying. He’d wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d scream at him, tell him to get out. He’d beg her not to make him go home. Say he was drunk, couldn’t go home, couldn’t drive. He ransacked my mom’s dresser drawers, looking for the weed he knew she kept in there; eventually he’d leave, crawl back out through the window and shut it behind him.

———

Elizabeth and I still sing that Liz Phair song, at karaoke sometimes, even though we know everyone will feel awkward about it. Us, singing our hearts out in tribute to our sweet, sad, maybe-sick youth, everyone else in the room waiting for Journey to come back on, cringing uncomfortably at “even when I was twelve,” not knowing how to react (if they were even listening) when the song wraps up so choosing just to pretend like they were busy doing something else the whole time.

And almost immediately, I felt sorry. ‘Cause I didn’t think this would happen again, no matter what I could do or say, just that I didn’t think this would happen again, with or without my best intentions.

How true that is for me now, still. You delude yourself into thinking you’ve grown up, out of a certain phase; believe that at some point, you learned how to know better. But it becomes crystal clear in the span of a few awkward moments. Oh right: this.

I walk away, from room to room, in and out of doors, feeling like nothing I do will make any difference. Guys and their virgin-whore complexes: even the good ones sometimes want you to be one or the other or an impossible combo of both-and-neither. And the bad ones? They make you feel guilty and ashamed for being too dirty and too chaste.

I make my own guilt to carry, too. For my multiple dishonesties that first time, with Mark, for my withholdings. I withheld the wrong things. Possibly gave up the wrong things too. Should’ve learned to invert it.

These old habits. I still lay cards on the table I should hold close to my chest. I still keep stuff I should share locked in the safety of a dark box. Scared that if it comes out, it will get damaged. Better to leave it in blackness for centuries, unseen and so unharmed. Even if I wanted to let it come crawling out, I wouldn’t know how. Am scared of the life it might take on if it got free. Am scared of how it would change. How the colors would fade, how disappointing it might be in the light of day.

I can’t quite seem to fix myself; every moment a new opportunity arises and I usually revert, like when you drunkenly shrug off unprotected sex and then kick yourself for it in the morning. Next time, next time I’ll be better. The stakes are so high; can’t afford to make such a mistake again. And you can’t. But you do. Some steps forward, less steps back. If you’re lucky.

That’s not to say that I’m not different now. I’ve lost things, found others. My eyesight isn’t the same, my view, my scope. These things differ. I’ve grown.

But much of me is the same, and that’s why I’m not sure whether the impact of a number one is anything more than an imagined aura, an invisible hug you think encircles you but doesn’t.

I think of who he is now and wonder, Is any of that because of me? What did I do to him? Should I have said no? (Funny how I use those words—”said no”—as though having sex was a response to some question of his, when the whole thing was probably my idea in the first place.) Should I have made him wait, try harder to fuck that pretty, innocuous normal girl he dated after me? What would I have escaped from if I’d made a different choice? If I’d waited? If I’d loved the first? What would I have gained? The events, certainly, would have been different—an alternate external-outside chronology—but would I? Sometimes I think: That story had already been written, and he just stepped into it. Even if the plot had been different, it would’ve ended up the same old tale. (And I’ve never been very good at waiting for things.)

I look at a recent picture of him. He has a mohawk. So I guess neither of us has completely changed.

111 Normal

Veronica Robinson

111 Normal

Moonlight Skate

Adam Bozarth

Cole braced his tiny midsection for impact as he skated into the wooden divider wall. It was the only way he knew how to stop. He didn’t rollerskate much, just the few times during the school year when the school sponsored a skate night at Skateland. He couldn’t really go by himself to Skateland, as he was only 12 and Skateland sat on an otherwise deserted stretch of forgotten highway outside Briarton, Illinois. Cole landed with a bang the set off creaky reverberations in the rest of the aging divider wall. His sandy blond hair jolted into cascades at the impact.

Cole struggled toward the exit of the rink, hand over hand on the railing like a pubescent mountain climber. He propelled himself across the worn carpet of Skateland, plopping onto a bench to retie his laces. Stupid laces, he thought. Why are you so smoothed over and why do you come untied all the time? Ricky Beirbaum totally ran over my laces to trip me and make me look dumb in front of Lisa. He knows. He’s being a real asshole.

His hip still aching from his spectacular fall, Cole decided to save himself any further embarrassment by playing pinball. Cole was always excited about coming to Skateland for the pinball. Specifically, he was excited about Pin-Bot, who was more robot than pinball table. Pin-Bot used his flipper-like fingers to bounce the space-age pinball across drop-targets and light-up displays on the playfield. It spoke your score aloud as you racked up thousands of points in a swath. The laser-fire sound effects, the illustrations on the backglass, the visor. Oh, the visor. Activating each one of the colored targets would make Pin-Bot’s visor raise, revealing more targets with incredible point values as well as a slingshot bumper that could knock your ball clear down the center of the playfield if you were careful. Cole sank about a dollar-fifty into Pin-Bot before his fingers got sore.

———

While Cole was mastering space-age pinball strategy, an all-skate block of music was being played over Skateland’s aging stereo system. The selection of music had also seen better days, as grade schoolers where gliding around the rink to Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” followed by “Rock and Roll pt. 2″ by Gary Glitter.

Lisa Hammond was sipping on a Slush Puppy in the snack bar watching all of her friends skate by doing hilarious poses. Jane Halloway kept doing goggle-eyes at Lisa, Scott Foreman kept doing discreet middle-fingers until he was caught by a chaperon, and Ricky Bierbaum was doing exaggerated hip thrusts to the beat of the music. She laughed very loudly and smiled wide, taking off her glasses to wipe her eyes. She wore square frames. It was a look she was trying. She thought it made her look smart. I want to be smart. Will I be smart? I think I’m not that smart now. I do dumb things.

After she finished her drink, she rejoined her friends on the rink. “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey was playing.

———

Cole stumbled and rolled his way over to his friend Andrew who was struggling to play Ridge Racer 2. Skates are murder on an accelerator, even if it’s for a video game. Andrew’s grubby hands gripped the fake steering wheel with maniacal intensity. He brushed his dingy hair out of the way of his face as he careened back and forth across the virtual course, making more collisions than headway.

“Hey, man,” Cole shouted over Mariah

“What up?” Andrew replied, eyes still on the game.

“What do you think about Ricky Bierbaum?” Cole asked sheepishly, hoping for Andrew to reply with disgust. Oh, how I hate you, Ricky. You have a swimming pool, you’ve touched like 5 boobs, and you’ve had a beer before! Why do you get everything, Ricky? Sorry that my parents don’t own a bank, Ricky! Jeesh.

I hate you, Ricky.

Onesies

Sunny Park-Johnson

Onesies

Most Improved

Adrian Miller

In middle school we were given individual awards for performance. These awards, handed out by teachers, more or less were the precursor to mock elections in high school. The popular kids always garnered such awards as “Highest Achiever” and “Most Likely to Succeed.” I, on the other hand, always got “Most Improved.” You would figure that “Most Improved” would lead to bigger and better things, but this never proved to be the case. Sixth grade was the worst. Each quarter of sixth grade I only got “Most Improved.” If I got Most Improved in both fifth and sixth grades, surely top award will be mine next year. Of course, I had competition. I joined an elite list—or sub-elite list—of over 20 or so Most Improvers. To join the ranks of the popular kids we must improve more than our recognized improvement, perhaps to the point where improvement was no longer needed. Mind you, this was at the time when I thought my life’s successes depended on middle school merit awards. How much improvement is there left to make?

I suppose the question of improvement was and still is a matter of a means to and end. But to what end? How do we define success? Is success a matter of being the best in the world or just simply being happy? Given, I never won any glossy award. Rumor had it that I narrowly missed the cut for homecoming court in high school—a time congruent with puberty when being an adolescent meant success necessitated being sexually attractive. But, alas, that was never the case; however, this never meant the end of the world. Teenagers live in a small world, never realizing they have their whole life ahead of them. Of course, the playground mentality never goes away. Adults in the real world have to deal with workplace politics, and women, in particular, still face sexual harassment as they did in high school.

Well, it appears I am rambling now. This clunky, unorganized, and so not number one-ish piece may not be worthy of much, but I just want to tell people that success rests in your hands, not in the hands of others. Far too often we invest our happiness in other people, often left disappointed in the results. I have always hated empowerment and self-help bullshit, but the truth is that you control your own happiness, as trite as that sounds. It may be great if someone else thinks you are number one, but you must first think of yourself as number one. That’s all.

First Pie

Emily Liu

First Pie