December 2016/January 2017: Ivy Hall Review Features Lauren May

lauren-mayAbsolved
by Lauren May

I was seeing nuns everywhere. Behind me in the grocery line. Passing me in the airport. I was dreaming about nuns. I was also dreaming about light. Rays of light. Cathedrals. I was painting cherubs basking in clouds, for heaven’s sake. I bought Frankincense. I bought prayer candles. Holy shit, I was praying. To what, or who, or why, I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s Pope Francis, who has been dubbed the “Most Progressive Pope Ever.”  Maybe it’s age.  Twelve years of Catholic School had me paddling hard to get out of the Church. My skepticism hit around puberty, but was it teenage rebellion?  Was I just being dramatic? Now, after almost twenty years of skepticism and rocky relationships with family and friends, many of the Church rituals have found their way back to me.   I abandoned my faith early, but did I jump the gun?  And why all the nuns? I decided to revisit, to go back, as an adult—like sleeping with an ex one last time to make sure you’ve made the right decision.

***

The confessional was just like the ones you see in the movies, grand and shrouded in antiquity at the back of the church. I walked slowly and with reverence, like I belonged.  A line of men had formed in the center aisle, but I couldn’t tell which end of the line was the back. Cutting felt wrong, and asking someone felt amateur, so I meandered by the vestibule. I stopped at an open book on a podium: The Book of Petitions. This was a binder full of prayers to the Church, like a guestbook signed with strangers’ hopes and wishes.  I had the urge to steal it and read the entire thing. Instead, I grabbed the pen and wrote my own petition, stalling as long as I could to keep an eye on the line and read the two pages in front of me.

Some of the petitions were vague: “Pray for all who suffer.”

Others were more specific: “Help my daughter on her school work.”

Another, in shaky cursive: “I pray that my insurance company allows for the necessary treatments that I need.”

I wrote something sweeping, like this: “For the women of this world, mothers of the Earth, may they take care of their children, in all forms, and find peace of mind. Above all, may they have the courage to nurture themselves and what lies in their own hearts.”

It was something dramatic. And I meant it. I had some friends in mind, but why stop at just a few?

After loitering by the petitions, I got in line behind a man in a suit. Almost bald, he looked to be in his 40’s, and wore a wedding band. He shifted his weight side to side, shaking his head, wringing his hands. I wondered what was so urgent that he came over here on his lunch break to confess.  Maybe there was nothing urgent. Maybe he did this every week.  True Catholics always surprise me. I think they’re hard to come by. By true, I mean they attend Mass more than on Easter and Christmas and they do penance on their lunch breaks. True like they celebrate the feast days and pray the Rosary. True like devout. True believers.

***

Many Catholics I meet as adults self-proclaim that they have “lapsed” or are “recovering.” I prefer the term “estranged.” Once you find this thread, you commiserate with them like you’re old war veterans or did time at the same prison.  You understand each other’s need to escape, and the guilt that keeps you from ever truly doing so.  Even when you “leave” the Church, you get roped in at the holidays to make Mom happy, or an old friend invites you to her traditional Catholic wedding, all ninety minutes of it. At least there will be booze.  And years after you’ve left, you end up baptizing your baby because all the grandmothers will disown you if you don’t. It’s easier to just play along.

***

As the guy in the suit shuffled in my periphery, I noticed a small red bulb shining above the confessional door—an ON AIR sign for the absolving of sins.  I stared into it, trancelike.  It was almost my turn, and I didn’t have a confessional speech prepared. All I could think about, though, was how the red light above the door was Rudolph’s red nose incarnate. I studied the intricate detail of the woodwork behind the light, which the church describes as “elaborately carved Philippine mahogany.”

When the light turned off, the confessional door opened and a messy-haired kid, maybe 18, stepped out.  He dipped his hand in a basin of holy water, made the sign of the cross, and then sat in a pew up front. Was he here on his own accord? When I was his age, I had already backpedaled a few blocks around the Church and was ready to back out for good.  My decision to leave was neither fast nor deliberate.  There was never a moment of putting my foot down in defiance; it was more like scraping a stubborn bar code sticker off an item from the store—one tiny piece at a time—and then finding that the bottom film never goes away.

Early on, Catholicism was confusing. The whole sinning thing didn’t add up. We all sin, and should feel extra bad for our sins, and extra guilty, but God forgives as long as we are deeply sorry in our hearts. Here was the message: keep on sinning, but feel tremendous guilt, and God will forgive you. Mom was extra devout (and still is), and didn’t seem to question it. This angered my adolescent mind.  With Dad I just wasn’t convinced. He converted to Catholicism before he and Mom got married, and I always wondered if he was just doing it for her. He’s an old school, scientific kind of guy, and a real war vet.  I’ve heard the way he talks about chiropractors and holistic healers; They’re all quacks,” he says.

Given his personality, I can’t see how he wouldn’t dismiss the Church in the same manner. At least, that’s what I want to believe. And then there’s this:  On Christmas Eve, circa 1993, our family went to Midnight Mass. The church was under renovation, so Mass was in the cafeteria. It was packed. Mom and I got a seat, but Dad and the three boys had to stand in the back. This was after our holiday party, and Dad had had one too many Scotches on the rocks.  The priest made a comment about leaving if there wasn’t enough room, and it pissed Dad off.  He cursed the priest under his breath, and he and the boys walked home before Mass even started. Mom was appalled at Dad’s actions, but Dad felt slighted by the priest, and with good reason. The church was supposed to be a place where all are welcome.

***

Back in the church, suit guy was in the booth. The red light was on and I was on deck. I felt anxious all of a sudden; what if I don’t do it right?  A tall woman with a bun and pearl earrings walked in, genuflected, and got in line behind me.

Fuck, I forgot to genuflect. I was rustier than I thought.

At last, the light went off. Mr. Suit exited the confessional.  He looked relieved. I felt relieved for him. I stopped to let him bow to the altar before he left. Inside, the priest sat behind the screen, so I could only see his silhouette. There was a kneeler and an elbow rest, which didn’t match up with my anatomy. I knelt, hunched over the whole time like I was waiting to hit a baseball.

After an awkward silence, I began, “Good Morning.” Just then, he started to say a prayer on my behalf, and I felt like an ass for interrupting him. When silence fell, I spoke again.

“Um…” I sighed. “ I haven’t done this in fifteen, maybe twenty years.”

The priest laughed a little. It sounded condescending but I couldn’t see his face to be sure.

“Let me give you some advice,” he said.

“OK.”

“Try to make this confession more general rather than going through a bunch of specific examples from the last twenty years.”

“Good idea,” I said. I could do general. That was easy.

***

Throughout adolescence, the mixed messages continued, especially regarding sex. In November of 1998, Britney Spears’ hit single “Hit Me Baby One more Time” debuted on MTV. I was in 8th grade. The video, with Spears in a skimpy Catholic schoolgirl outfit, was overtly sexual not only for girls of the church, but also for young girls everywhere. I saw how this image affected the boys and men around me. I saw that it aroused them and the power it could hold, that I could hold. I heard society on my shoulder, whispering that sex was a very important tool.

On the other extreme, we had Mrs. Lanning that year for our religion teacher. She was old, plain, and spoke in a monotone voice. There was nothing seductive about her.  She never even smiled.  She in no way reflected the sexy glamour of the Catholic School girl we saw on TV nor did she relate to us in any way to show us a better alternative. She made spirituality and a strong moral compass seem like horrible things. We never wanted to be like her.

And then there was Pam. Pam was the one-woman star of a VHS series called “Sex Has a Price Tag” that we were forced to watch in 9th grade health class. Pam, a Rachel Ray look-alike with short hair and a pantsuit, told us to beware of the boys that pressured us into sex by pretending to love us. “But we love each other,” she’d whine, imitating what a future suitor might use as a selling point to get us to sleep with him.  Her message: real love waits. She’d sprinkle in all sorts of frightening tales about genital warts and chlamydia. I’m sure there was a part in all of us that feared for our loins after watching these videos, but mostly she made us laugh. At this point, many of us were already experimenting with our sexuality. We were beyond abstinence.

***

My confession commenced.

“Well, I’ve lied to people… people I love, people that are close to me…and to myself… and I’m self righteous. All the time. And I’ve been holding onto emotions that are keeping me from moving forward with my life. Emotions I need to let go of.”

“Well, this reminds me of a story of when I first became a priest.”

“OK.” I was listening.

“A man called me up from the hospital, on his death bed, and wanted me to contact his estranged brother. They hadn’t talked in thirty years. He didn’t even know his phone number. I asked him, ‘why on Earth haven’t you guys spoken?’ The man told me, ‘Ya know, I don’t even remember anymore.’ So I called up the guy, told him that his brother was in the hospital, and that he’d asked me to call him to let him know. I asked him the same question, ‘why haven’t you two spoken?’ The man replied, ‘Ya know, I don’t recall’.”

The priest sort of chuckled at the story.

“Does any of this make sense to you?” he asked.

“Yes. Yes. I think so.”  Through the screen, I saw the glow of the priest’s cell phone as he put it into his coat pocket. He was checking the time.

“Well, do you have anything you’d like to add to this confession or any questions you have for me?”

“No, I think I’m just going to marinate on what you said.”

“I won’t make you do all the Hail Mary’s for not coming to confession in twenty years,” he told me.

Gee, thanks.

“Are you familiar with the Act of Contrition?” he asked.

“It’s been a while,” I told him.

“Go look it up. It’s in the red book at the front. If you go do that right now, I will absolve you of all of your sins.”

***

The church is against abortion and contraceptives.  Along with preaching abstinence, it has another method it teaches called “Catholic Family Planning.” Junior year, my mom signed me up for a class called Teen Star. Ten other girls and I learned from an ex-nun how to track our ovulation cycles by charting our vaginal discharge. Each day, we had to mark on our worksheet the goings-on of our vaginas. From here, we could monitor when we were ovulating, so we could avoid sex at that time and decrease our risk of getting pregnant (or increase our risk once we were married to a man and ready to conceive). Out of all the weird shit we had to do in Catholic School, and as mortified as I was to be a “teen star,” I am actually grateful for this one. It helped me better understand my body.

***

“I’ll go look up the Act of Contrition,” I told him.

The priest waved his hands and then did the sign of the cross.

“I here now absolve you of all your sins! Next time you come back, you can skip the part about it being twenty years.”

He mumbled a prayer.

“Amen,” I said.

“If you don’t mind, I have to walk out with you. Mass is about to start.”

Sure.

We walked out together. I sat in a pew and stayed for Mass.

***

Nowadays, leaving the Church isn’t out of the norm. In fact, it’s on the rise. A new Pew Research Study found that since 2007 the total number of Catholics has dropped by three million people. Catholicism loses more members than it gains at a higher rate than any other denomination. And, more than a third of millennials claim no religious affiliation.[1] Even my mom has switched gears. While her faith remains steadfast, she now attends Mass by a priest who has been excommunicated by the Church. He wanted to get married and have children, but the Church does not allow this. Instead, he branched off and has started his own Catholic community where he invites everyone to the table, including people of all sexualities.  His mission is to offer spiritual support for those seeking a personal relationship with Christ in a non-judgmental community. The Catholic Church does not recognize his Mass as legitimate, and has encouraged its patrons not to attend his gatherings.

***

For once, Mass seemed short. About forty people were there, and we all sat scattered in our own pews. It was the Feast Day of the Rosary, commemorating a famous Battle in 1571 that saved Christianity in the West from the Ottoman Turks. St. Pius V was involved and it was the Rosary that brought the victory. I’d done this a million times, it seemed, sat bored in church listening to the priest drone on about something that happened centuries ago. This is why the Catholic Church is losing members. It’s holding on too tightly to the past.  I’m not sure a hip new Pope or a renegade priest can save it, but I’m glad they’re here. Change has to start somewhere.

Like the guy in the suit, I left feeling great relief.  Not because I got some sins off my chest, but because I know I have made the right choice in leaving. I slept with the proverbial ex, and all I felt were the hands of a stranger. Spirituality is personal. I’ll keep my candles and my incense. And I’ll make some weird celestial art.

And I’ll keep praying, but to what, or who, or why, I’m not sure.

*******

[1] https://cruxnow.com/church/2015/05/12/pew-survey-percentage-of-us-catholics-drops-and-catholicism-is-losing-members-faster-than-any-denomination/

For Lauren, writing is a compulsion and has always been her preferred medium for making sense of  life. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Kentucky in 2007, and moved to Atlanta in 2015. She loves exploring spirituality and the healing arts, both ancient and modern, and has been teaching yoga for two and half years. She finds solace in improv comedy, mundane moments, and deep belly breathing.
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November 2016: Ivy Hall Review Features Jasmyne-Nicole Walker

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Congratulations to Jasmyne-Nicole Walker for winning the GENERATE challenge for the writing department with her creative nonfiction, Hindsight. 

GENERATE is a creative competition hosted by SCAD each year to challenge students to create completed works of art in a 24-hour period. SCAD Writing MFA candidate,  Jasmyne-Nicole, showcased her signature prose in a heart-rendering story. We’re proud to share her voice with you.

Hindsight

If you knew then what I know now, maybe you wouldn’t have tried to save those two little boys. Maybe you would have hesitated just long enough that they simply slipped beneath the muddy brown waters, their slick ebony skin camouflaging them from rescue. But you didn’t do that.

*******

The day is a normal Georgia summer’s day like any other: sweltering heat with the occasional breeze, clear blue skies, the smells of honey suckle and barbeque and sweat wafting through the air. It is a lazy and long Sunday stretching with freedom and possibility. And then there is you, all stocky build, farmer’s tan, shaved bowl cut, twinkling baby blues, and pseudo-surly demeanor. You, enjoying a typical deep South, smalltown redneck summer afternoon, filled with big red Chevy Silverados, Dodge Hemi trucks, and F-­250s decked out in stars, bars and deer decals. You and your friends park curb-­jump style at Turtle Park, just up from the banks of the Flint. As the Bud Lights and Michelob flow, the light laughter of beauty and youth mingle with bass-­heavy country rap songs about mud-boggin.’ You are reclined, gate down, on the back of your truck. Clouds drift overhead. You are 23, all musk, might, and promise.

The chatter of your group is overtaken by the hoarse and panicked cries of an elderly black man.

He is half—running, half—stumbling through the brush along the riverbank. “Matt! Josh! Hold on! Oh my God, my boys! Somebody, please help!”

As you hear the commotion, you stop mid-­sentence, jump down from your perch, and take off running toward the man. Your friends are close at your heels. As you near him, the old man breathlessly points just past him, into the water. Following his finger, you can make out two little black boys bobbing up and down in the water, visible, then gone. The river is strong. Waiting for a head to break the water’s surface is agony. As you wait, you reach back and grab the hand of your nearest friend and start wading out into the water. The cold shocks you, momentarily countering the adrenaline coursing through your body. The water is deep and swirls up around your waist after only a few unsteady steps. And then, the little boys resurface. You reach for the hand of the one closest to you.

“Grab my hand!”

The little boy’s head is dunked under by another surge of current, his hand feeling through the dark wet. His other hand is holding on to his brother. At first, the two boys are just out of reach. Their faces strain with all their might as they fight to swim closer to the safety of you and your chain of friends. Everyone in the chain stretches themselves as far out as they can. After a few agonizing misses, you get a firm grip on the little boy’s hand. The human chain is now five people—deep.

“Okay, pull back!”

As if synchronized, the group gives a collective grunt and begins dragging you and the little boys back to shore. But you stop just short of the shoreline. The water has sucked the boy’s brother from his grasp. You pass the sputtering child up to your friends and the safety of the shore and his grandfather. Then you turn back to the water. Your friends give protest.

“Whatchu doin’ man?”

“Be careful buddy!”

“Do you see the other one?”

“It’s too dangerous DJ, please be careful!”

One more.

You frantically scan the water again, searching for the second boy. When he finally does appear, he is much farther away. Dammit. He’s staying underwater more than he’s staying up. The seconds ticking by feel like an eternity. You know that there is no time to form another human chain and wade out again. He will be gone. You look over your shoulder at your friends for a moment, then turn and dive into the river toward the other boy.

You are a strong swimmer. The current matches your strength. You get to the little boy. But he is so disoriented, he is grabbing on anything to stay afloat. He is grabbing on to you. He is panicking and sputtering and choking and trying to get air. His fear makes him surprisingly strong for his small frame.

You try to position him so that he is holding onto you and kicking, but he is too frightened to do anything but fight to get air. He begins to fight you, to push you down, to try to climb on top of you like a life raft. Now you are sputtering. You are a strong swimmer. You are a strong swimmer. You keep pushing through the water with the boy still in tow, still fighting. But the water is sucking at your legs now, pulling, tugging. And you are tired, coughing, choking now.

You are a strong swimmer, but the frightened little boy and the strong current that matches your strength are stronger.

Joshua Perry’s body is recovered later that night. They find you the next day in an eddy, only a few yards from where you first jumped in to help.

*******

In the years following your passing, many things happened. First, you were mourned with great sorrow. The depth of the impact of your life was on full display at your funeral, I was told. I hope you can forgive me that I couldn’t be there; I wasn’t ready to see you that way.

Your heroic actions shocked our little hometown, and because of you, people who would have never been in communion, were: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, everyone. People from all walks of life came out to offer their last respects. You were submitted and accepted for commendation and received the Carnegie Hero Medal, a national award for those who, “risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.”

Some time after the funeral, a granite bench was erected in honor of your valor and also to honor the life of Joshua Perry. Your friend Rickey Porter’s mom headed up the whole thing, got the measurements, chose the granite, got pricing. The whole of Albany pitched in and gave to the big screen TV raffle. Now there is a beautiful engraved bench, just a few feet from where you and that little boy were last seen, where the people who love you most can go and feel close to you.

*******

On hindsight, I wish I had gone to your funeral. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t still be so deeply wounded by your loss. On hindsight, I would have made it more clear to you how much our friendship, especially existing under the harsh racial social conditions that it did, meant to me. How much your humanity, meant to me.

In her article “Relations,” writer Eula Biss shares law professor Randall Kennedy’s theory that a “well-ordered multiracial society, ought to allow its members free entry into and exit from racial categories.” And while I appreciate the intent behind the theory, I disagree. In my ideal racial society there is no need to flow from one racial group to another, because there is but one race: humanity. And when we see each other in need, we help with no regard for the amount of pigment in a person’s skin or regional variation in their features, because we are in tune with our humanity.

On hindsight, if I am honest with myself, I know that you would still have jumped in to save those two boys, especially if you knew what I know now, because you have always been a person of true grit. However, as proud as I am to call you my friend, I still miss you terribly. You made a huge sacrifice.

But, I know that it is up to those of us you left behind to be strong in spite of our sadness, because I can think of no greater reason for you to be gone than because you gave your life to save another’s.

*******

Hailing from Albany, GA, Jasmyne-Nicole is a cultural rhetorician and wordsmith with a lot to say. She is also a second-year graduate student pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and New Media Writing. When she’s not playing with words, J-N can be found playing the roles of butler, awesome aunty, chef, and entertainer to her almost-two nephew, Beau, and her almost-one Pitbull-Retrievers, Treble and Bass.
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February 2016: Ivy Hall Review Features Megan Huxley

                                                          Catfishing Through Time

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It’s amazing how common words can take on radically new meanings throughout time. A word that formally recalled one, clear image to mind can hold an entirely new definition – especially if it spreads on social media. The word ‘catfish’ is one example. When I was a kid, catfish were the ugly fish with the big mouths that my grandpa would sit on his rickety deck for hours trying to catch. Now, the first thought that comes to mind when I see the word ‘catfish’ is a teenager falling in love with a boy she has never seen. A boy that has nothing but professional, model-like pictures on his Facebook profile.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture the scene. Turn to MTV on any given day, and you’ll catch at least one episode of the show Catfish. Starting in 2012, and still running, the show is the television version of the documentary of the same title that came out in 2010.

The documentary follows Nev Shulman as he builds a relationship with a woman online, who calls herself Megan. The pictures and information Megan sends to Nev start to become suspicious, so he seeks her out to investigate. It turns out that Megan is really a middle-aged woman named Angela. Megan doesn’t exist. Angela doesn’t even know the girl in the photos she sent him.

Nev hosts the television show along with Max Joseph. The show follows the same basic storyline as the documentary. People fall in love with pictures, words on a screen, and occasionally phone calls, but start to become suspicious about the identity of the person on the other side of the screen. Nev and Max swoop in to help, eventually finding the suspected catfish and meeting face-to-face.

I would like to say I had to research the information about Catfish: The TV show, but I already knew most of the information. Catfish is my biggest guilty pleasure show—something I never wanted to admit. I only say guilty because it seems wrong to watch the embarrassment of a teen or young adult as they realize something that the rest of the country saw as obvious, from an outside perspective. I don’t feel guilty about finding the subject matter interesting. It’s fascinating because it is a concept that is both familiar and foreign.

I see forms of it on social media every day. Men will accept friend requests from beautiful, scantily clad women with four friends, using pictures of similar looking, but different women. These men will comment saying “Hey beautiful, message me your number,” when it’s painfully obvious they will never get the number of the pictured busty blonde.

Yet, it’s something that doesn’t seem like it should be so culturally familiar. It’s hard enough to believe the person standing in front of you is everything he (or she) says he is these days. I don’t know anyone that is so trusting to start a relationship with someone without meeting first, at least I haven’t in a long time.

My first experience with catfishing was in the eighth grade, but I didn’t have a name for it back then. My best friend at the time was named Bailey. We were shy, wanting to be more popular, and just starting to desire attention from boys. Bailey found the attention she wanted from a boy calling himself Andy. He looked older, with a Justin Bieber haircut before it was given a name, and had tanned skin. Bailey showed me Myspace messages from him calling her beautiful, smart, and soon, his girlfriend. But, as you can, guess, Bailey had never met Andy.

He claimed he went to a middle school in our town. It wasn’t unusual that we’d never met him because the town seemed much larger in the days before we drove. Still, he seemed too handsome, too well-spoken, and too kind – too good to be true. Bringing up my suspicion to Bailey only led to arguments. Eventually, the problem worked itself out. Girls in our school started comparing messages they’d received from “Andy,” and he deleted his profile never to be heard from again.

It’s not difficult to see why Bailey would fall into the trap. Bailey being thirteen years old at the time almost says it all. On top of the awkward age, she had yet to lose her baby fat and was often teased because of it. She desired attention, was offered it, and accepted it.

We can understand a young girl falling victim to catfishing, but how do adults get pulled into it? The obvious answer is a deep insecurity on both sides – the victim, and the catfish. The reasons people pretend to be other people, and the reasons people believe it stem from the same source, although the reasons vary case by case.

Let’s look at some examples of catfishing.

Henry VIII is a famous case of being fooled by an image. Although it may have been simply called deception back then, catfishing isn’t a new concept. Social media has made it much easier, but as long as there have been people with complex emotions, it’s not so hard to believe that pretending to be someone else in order to manipulate or fulfill a desire has existed.

After Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour died, Henry was on the search for yet another queen. Anne of Cleves was suggested to Henry. It was thought that a marriage to Anne would be a smart political choice. Before agreeing to the marriage, Hans Holbein the Younger was to paint a portrait of her first. Henry accepted the marriage after seeing the portrait, but did not accept Anne’s appearance once he saw her. Holbein was accused of painting her to look more attractive than she was. Along with that, Henry’s courtiers spoke highly of Anne’s beauty, further convincing him of his decision. Henry was heard to have called Anne names negatively based on her appearance and say that he could not perform his husbandly duties because of her looks.

It’s difficult to call Henry VIII a victim, but he is on the victim end in the case of catfishing. He sought a queen, and accepted a marriage based on the words of praise and a portrait. His hope for a wife didn’t turn out as expected. Henry was possibly, and most likely, manipulated because with marriage in those days, alliances were formed. A marriage to Anne of Cleves would have been helping people other than Anne and Henry. In this situation, it was not Anne doing the catfishing, but members of Henry’s court. The marriage to Anne was soon annulled. The main factors in this case would be manipulation and a desire for power.

Let’s fast forward to look at a more sinister case of catfishing. Catfishing is not only done out of a romantic desire. Pretending to be someone else can make it much easier to carry out a crime.

In the 1920s, a man named Albert Fish was known to put ads out under the name Robert Hayden, a supposedly rich, Hollywood tycoon. Fish would send out letters to his victims that were normal at first, but would soon turn lurid. It is not certain that he murdered any of the women he wrote to under the name Robert Hayden. His only known victims were young children.

It’s not too difficult to have some sympathy for the person pretending to be someone else. Sometimes its just a matter of low confidence that leads someone to catfish. Fish, however, was the worst possible kind of catfish. There was nothing but pure deception and manipulation in order to gain a twisted satisfaction.

The women who responded to Fish’s letters were the most common type of catfishing victims. Most likely, they wanted extra attention, and found it within his letters. These women corresponding with someone they’d never met was more understandable back then than it is now. They did not see multiple suspect Facebook profiles a day and Nigerian princes claiming to have a fortune with your name on it.

Now, let’s get back to modern day catfishing. Most people ignore the emails from various countries offering money or asking for money. The emails are often dramatic, and I hate to say it, pretty funny. If you don’t know what emails I’m talking about, check your spam mailbox. A woman named Sara found the potential for a partner in one of these emails.

Sara had been divorced twice already and was looking for love when a man claiming to be Chris Olsen contacted her. He said that he was from Italy, but was now living in Nigeria. Chris would move around to other countries in Africa as well.

Sara and Chris started out by emailing, but would eventually spend hours each day on the phone together. Sara noticed a change in his accent from Italian to an African accent, but didn’t think much of it. Over time, Sara wired Chris $1.8 million dollars to cover food, rent, bail, hotels, just about anything you could think of. Though she has yet to meet Chris, she feels confident that he is trying to get to her. She believes it is true love.

This is possibly one of the saddest cases of catfishing that hasn’t ended in murder. Sara has such a belief in the person on the other end of the computer that she is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his affection. Her relationship with Chris has put her on the news and shows like Dr. Phil, but even with so much disbelief thrown her way, nothing convinces her that Chris may not be who he says he is – even to this day. Is it desperation, manipulation, or a need to feel powerful that fuels Chris? And how deep must a need to be loved be to maintain a relationship like that? This extreme of a case of catfishing seems unique to the twenty-first century.

As we have seen, catfishing isn’t limited to lonely souls on both seeking the attention to they make lack in every day life. It can be fueled by much more sinister or manipulative reasons. The optimistic side of me likes to think that the majority of ongoing catfish relationships are the product of insecurity, of what we lack in daily life. Getting in touch with people is easier than ever, but it’s not an unfamiliar thought that so much contact leaves us feeling more alone than ever.

Catfish: The TV Show was my guilty pleasure, but I didn’t think much about it until I saw an episode a few weeks ago. This episode was about a young woman named Andria, about twenty-two years old. On the show, she stated that her only relationship had been going on for ten years so far. When she was twelve, she met a boy named David online. They quickly formed a bond, writing letters, calling, and messaging through Facebook. Andria claimed she had never loved another person. But, she had become confused because her boyfriend recently said that she was a woman named Christina. Andria was in denial, until Nev helped her discover her longtime boyfriend really was a woman. Christina treated her coldly when they met on the show, stating that she was only messing with her emotions, but told Andria she really loved her when the show wasn’t filming.

It’s hard not to feel bad for Andria, but I think her story offers an explanation for why catfishing is so prevalent today. The girl stayed faithful to a person she had never met solely because of their extensive communication. She may have met others throughout the years, but the depth of her bond through words alone is what we thrive on. Yes, it’s difficult to form a bond with a real, live person in front of you when insecurity runs deep, but lately, it seems to be more difficult to have meaningful communication at all.

Catfishing may provide lonely people with a way to communicate in ways they never could in person, good intentions or not. But, the next time you’re craving meaningful companionship, it may be better to get up the courage to talk to the guy you’ve been seeing on the bus every day over the guy that looks like a model in his Facebook profile picture.

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Megan Huxley is a BFA writing student. She graduates in March and plans to take a year off before graduate school to further explore writing and reading.

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January 2016: Ivy Hall Review Features Lauren Small

How to Become a Baseball Fanatic

PlesantLearn the game. To love any sport is to know it. You have to know the ins and outs of the game: boundaries, rules, score keeping. When you’re in the sixth grade you won’t understand how serious the game can be. The only thing you’ll know is you love it. In the sixth grade, you’ll begin doodling your name and little hearts all over your wide-ruled notebook with the colorful gel pens you will beg your mom to buy for a class project.  Your mom will see your doodles, the hand-written notes, and the red blotches on the top of your hand where you scrubbed off “I love Marcus” before you got home from school. She will say things like, “you better not have a boyfriend” or “you only love me.” You will think she is bitter because she hates the sport, but to you love is not a game and you and Marcus will live happily ever after. In high school, you won’t even know Marcus anymore (he will move further north), you will continue playing the same game, with puppy love victories and heart-shattering losses.

Research the players. As a college student, you will dream of the major league and the oversized diamond. Watching the sorority girls with their perfectly clear skin recruit the top talent, you will realize quickly through all-nighters and after-hour tutor sessions that none of them are a great catch. You’ll debate their stats and trade them out like trading cards. A full roster, all L’s.

Run the bases. You will lose to the frail girl with the awkward ponytail. Your once favorite sport will begin to push you harder than the opposing team. You will approach 25 and you will feel like an unfit competitor for the first time in your career. Consider retiring all together.

Stop playing the game. You will go to another wedding ceremony of a childhood friend, get teary eyed and wonder when you will make it to the championship. If only you could get over that last tragic loss, the one you thought was a for sure win.

Prep for the next contender with a new, confident, “I can keep a man” attitude because the books tell you you’ve been playing all wrong. Your new fan favorite promises to take you to The World Series. Believe him. You’ll want to wear his jersey instead of your own.  You will still feel uneasy about stepping back out on the field with all the resurfaced dirt and bright lights, but you love baseball.

You never make it past first base. You will realize you never liked the guy you just love the game. You will disregard the previous inning, your losing streak, the ripped and bruised muscles given by past most valuable players, and the many rivalries. You can’t stop playing.

 

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Although Lauren’s heart resides in Tennessee, she has a love affair with Atlanta, Georgia. Falling in love with the creative culture of the city she is now earning her MFA in Writing. Lauren finds inspiration in creative non-fiction and cliché dating guides. 

 

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November 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Lexa Strong

lexaBreadcrumb Trail

The night my brother Mikey came home drunk and laid a finger on my baby sister was the night I told her to pack her things and the two of us drove for hours until the sun came up and I got too sleepy to keep driving. We ended up in a little city just across the Alabama border in a shady motel with nothing but a few hastily packed things and barely enough money to take care of ourselves.

All I can really think about—besides how I need to get a job if Alice and me aren’t going back and how I’ll afford the motel for more than a week and how Alice is missing precious hours of school and how I walked out on my job—is how Mama didn’t do a thing. She saw Mikey getting rough with our ten-year-old sister and she just sat there, smoking her cigarette, eyes glinting like ice and steel.

The thought nested itself deep in my head and made itself comfortable there, gnawing at me since we left on Sunday night. The week has waned, and it is Thursday.

When I knock on the door to our motel room, there is a brief hesitation while Alice looks through the peephole, and relief washes over me because she’s following my instructions.

She opens the door and looks up at me, unsmiling, but her bluish-gray eyes  are bright.

“Did you get my scotch tape?”

“Mmhm.” I produce the tape from one of the plastic grocery bags I have at my side, and she takes it from me and scampers back into the room. I follow, shutting the door behind me.

“I got mac ‘n cheese for dinner,” I announce. Alice doesn’t seem to notice, she’s standing on the flimsy chair she slid out from beneath the flimsy desk and taping a picture she drew with a ballpoint pen to the wall with all the others she’s doodled since Monday. I hope she won’t break the chair, this motel is already leeching more money out of me than I can afford to pay if I stay jobless. I almost reprimand her, but she hops off on her own after a second, so I continue with my train of thought. “Is mac ‘n cheese alright for dinner?”

“Hm,” She steps back and admires her picture. “Yeah, that’s okay.” I crane my neck to get a look at her drawing. It’s some kind of floppy-eared dog. I can see where she accidentally smudged the ink on its tail with her hand. Alice isn’t a bad artist for her age, really.

“That’s real cute, Alice,” I say, and she blesses me with one of her rare smiles.

The mac ‘n cheese was the kind where you just add water and put it in the microwave to boil. The only microwave in the motel is the one in the dining room where they serve free breakfast. After setting aside the groceries, I give Alice the usual instructions (lock the door, don’t open it for anyone but me, look through the peephole to make sure it’s me) and make my way to stand some five or six minutes in front of the microwave, listening to the classic rock blasting on the radio while my eyes flit back and forth between the boiling water in the mac ‘n cheese container and a big, ugly reddish-brownish stain on the tile beneath me. I wonder what happened. Maybe someone was stabbed to death there, and it’s a bloodstain. With some of the other folks I’ve seen here, the story feels plausible. Or maybe someone spilled their instant ravioli.

The mac ‘n cheese isn’t worth the six minutes in front of the microwave, but Alice seems to enjoy it, so it’s okay. She’s chattering today because she’s been bored as hell all week, and for about the two millionth time since we left home, I feel a pang of guilt about having her miss school.

“Do you think we could get a dog, Chris?” She asks me. “When we’ve got a house? A cocker spaniel dog. There were cocker spaniel dogs on Animal Planet today, and they were so cute.”

“We’ll see,” I tell her. “Some places don’t allow dogs.”

“I would be okay with a cat if we couldn’t have a dog.”

“We’ll see.” Alice is allergic to cats, but I don’t remind her. Instead, I change the subject. “I got you something from the grocery store.”

“What?”

“Just something to keep you busy. I know you’re bored and all.” Abandoning my mostly empty container of mac ‘n cheese, I move to rummage through the grocery bags. Alice hasn’t snooped through them, because Alice is a good girl. After shuffling through the boxes of cheap, nonperishable food, I return to the desk we’re using as a table with a coloring book I picked up for cheap. It came with a tiny pack of markers. I set it at Alice’s seat, and she flips through the book.

“You like it?” I ask her.

“Yeah.” Her eyes brighten, and I see the faint shadow of a smile on her face—a  twitch at her mouth, a brief flash of a dimple on her cheek—and she remembers her manners. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Alice is always welcome.

 

She’s already coloring in it by the time I go to bed. I’ve been trying to go to bed early all week, since I always leave early in the morning to go look around town and hopefully find a job or maybe meet up with Rita, the real estate agent who is going to help me find us a cheap house to rent. So far, there hasn’t been a thing to show for either the job hunt or the house hunt.

I need an Internet connection. I’ve never been all that big on technology, but I feel a little lost, and the Internet’s a pretty good guide. Rita the real estate agent has been hounding me to research the area more.

“You wanna go to the library tomorrow, Alice?”

“Yes.” She answers quicker than a blink. Alice loves to read. The only book she managed to grab on our way out was Charlotte’s Web and she finished it on Tuesday.

I watch her coloring and think what a shame it is that she was born to our godforsaken family and is now all holed up in this godforsaken motel. Alice is good, too good for all this.

 

I’m the one who introduced Alice to reading.

She was four at the time, and I was thirteen. It’s one of those very clear memories that I’ll probably never forget. Mama was sitting on the couch with Alice in her lap, reading Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. She had mispronounced the word “dexterous,” so I corrected her. Normally I wouldn’t, trying to be respectful and all, but seeing Alice there on her lap… Mama might not have finished high school, everyone else in the family might be stupid, but I wasn’t going to have Alice mispronouncing “dexterous” when she was forty years old. And the look Mama gave me—it wasn’t annoyed or venomous like I had expected. It was worse. It was tired.

“Christopher.” She took a brief, irritated drag from her cigarette before she spoke, and the smoke was swirling around the syllables of my name. Alice didn’t even cough. I worried about that sometimes, about my baby sister getting lung cancer from all that second-hand smoke, and her just a little girl. “Since you’re so smart and you like reading so much, how about you do this every night, huh?” She snapped the book shut and handed it to me. Then she got up, made me sit down, and plopped Alice on my lap.

She was being sarcastic, but I still took it as a compliment. At least she had sense enough not to give the job to either of my two shithead brothers. Mama was acknowledging outwardly that I was different from them. Normally I might have complained, I already had a lot on my chest from school, but Mama’s not the kind to give compliments readily, so I indulged and let myself accept it. Just a half hour every evening reading to Alice. I could handle it, it proved that I was responsible and not a delinquent out smoking pot like Adam and Mikey. Alice, I decided, would never smoke pot. Alice was going to be a good girl.

After we got through a few more Dr. Seuss books, I went for an anthology of Grimm fairytales that I borrowed from the public library. Not the watered-down Disney stuff, I wanted to give Alice the real stories. The book was thick and tattered, and it was the last thing I ever checked out: it got lost and I ended up just not returning it. Later, Alice admitted that she had hidden it because she didn’t want me to give it back. She was easy to forgive, only four years old and with good intentions. I read her one story every night, and she seemed to really enjoy the absurdity of them. We wore that book out over years.

Our favorite was Hansel and Gretel. Alice liked it mostly for the candy house, and I liked Hansel and Gretel’s cleverness.

We read it so much that I found myself thinking about it a lot for a while. About how cruel it was that Hansel and Gretel’s father agreed to abandoning them in the woods, and about how helpless they must have felt after the birds ate up their trail, and about how awful it must have been for Hansel to watch his sister slaving away while he was trapped in a cage, waiting for his own death.

Fairytales are too dark. Alice and I eventually moved on to other books.

When I wake up the next morning, the first thing I notice is that Alice finished a page out of her coloring book, and there’s now a marker picture of a vase of lilies on the wall with all the ballpoint pen doodles. I tell her how pretty it is, then we get ready and go to the lobby to ask the receptionist at the desk for directions to the library.

The library in this town is a squat brick building, maybe a little smaller than the one back home. As soon as we walk in, we’re greeted with the familiar, comforting scent of books.

Alice goes off to browse the kids’ novels, and I’m lucky to find the computers situated where I can keep an eye on her. I almost remind her to be quiet, but she’s pretty quiet anyway, so I don’t think there’s any need. Alice won’t cause a ruckus, Alice is a good girl. She brought her coloring book too, in case she gets bored of reading.

I spend a few hours digging through local real estate advertisements and looking up every major franchise in town with an online job application. I search through some classifieds, and check my email for the first time since Monday to find nothing but spam.

At about 1:30, Alice tells me she’s hungry, and we head out for an hour or so to get some lunch. Then it’s back to the library. I’m proud when Alice doesn’t complain.

The application filling recommences. I’ve made some contact with Rita the real estate agent and she’s flooding my inbox. She links me about a hundred useful websites that I’m stuck wading through. I never knew it was so hard to find a place to live; it’s no wonder Mama never moved us out of our little trailer, even when it got too small for us.

Alice is bored. A few times, she wanders up and chatters to me a little, and I try to humor her, but I’m really busy.

“Look, Alice,” I say, trying to keep from getting irritated. I know she didn’t do anything wrong. “I’m trying to get us all set here, alright? So we can get a house. Let me work, okay?” She nods, and wordlessly returns to the kids’ section. I feel a little bad.

I wonder for a minute if, when Hansel and Gretel were lost in the woods, one ever got annoyed and told the other to shut up. I wonder if they were so frantic that they started to get a little snappish with each other.

After a little bit, I’m pleased to see that Alice has settled down with a novel. She’s reading a book with a dog on the cover called Shiloh, and I think I might remember that one from my own childhood, but I’m not sure.

The library closes at seven, and seven creeps up fast. Alice asks if she can check out the book she’s been reading, but we don’t have a library card, so I tell her no. I tell her maybe we’ll come back tomorrow. Alice doesn’t seem too upset about leaving her book behind. Alice is a good girl.

I hope I’ve actually done us some good. I hope I’ll be able to get a job, and we’ll be able to settle into a house, and Alice will be able to go to school. I wonder again if this is right. Alice is only ten years old, I hate the idea of taking her so far from Mama (Mama whose eyes glinted like ice or steel when she watched Mikey getting rough with our ten-year-old sister, doing nothing, smoking her cigarette).

Sometimes I wonder about Hansel and Gretel’s father. I know he loved them, I just know it. He’s the goal, he’s who they spend the whole story trying to get back to. But I still wonder why he listened to his new wife and left them out in the woods to die, even when they’d been with him longer than she had. I wonder if she pressured him. I wondered if maybe she did it all on her own, and he just sat back with glinting eyes and a smoking cigarette between his fingers while she was the one who threw them out. I wonder if maybe he was just old and tired.

I stop wondering by the time Alice and me start the drive back to the motel.

 

I’m the one who waited with Alice on her first day of school.

If the elementary school was convenient to our route, our oldest brother Adam would have driven her along with Mikey and me to our own respective schools, but unfortunately, it wasn’t quite on the way, so it was the school bus for Alice. Which meant she would have to stand with all of the other neighborhood kids every morning. She was scared, so Mama made me take her. I would have protested, but instead, I just asked why she wasn’t standing with Alice herself.

“You have a way with her, Chris,” Mama admitted. I glowed under her praise and held Alice’s hand while we waited for the bus in the warm, muggy, August-morning mist. There was a small throng of other neighborhood kids around us wearing backpacks and talking amongst themselves. A few of them had parents with them. I could tell Alice was trying not to cry.

“You’re a brave girl, Alice,” I told her.

“What if no one likes me?” she asked in a sort of whimper. I didn’t want to spoon-feed her some crap about how she shouldn’t worry and everyone would definitely like her, because I knew from experience that friends don’t grow on trees. Replying took me a minute. I was at something of a loss. How could I make reality gentler for a five-year-old?

Then the bus came, all sputtering and roaring and disgusting just like how I remembered it from before Adam got his driver’s license. Alice shifted her pink backpack on her shoulders and her grip on my hand tightened.

“Just know we all like you at home, okay?” I finally said. “If you can’t make any friends, I’ll be your friend.” I smiled at her, trying to be reassuring and all, but she just stared at me, bluish-gray eyes all wide and terrified.

To this day, I’m still not sure what was scarier- climbing onto that bus for the first time myself and watching home disappear, or helping Alice onto that bus and watching my baby sister disappear.

 

The car-ride back to the motel feels like it takes a year. I have a migraine. Alice seems like she’s just been freed from prison, and she can’t stop chattering away about this book she found.

“So there’s this boy,” she’s telling me. “And he finds this puppy, and he names the puppy Shiloh, and then he finds out that Shiloh belongs to a mean old man. So he tries to save Shiloh, but his family don’t want him to.”

“Oh,” I say, using one hand on the steering wheel and the other to massage my throbbing temple. “Sounds interesting.”

“Yeah, and so he builds Shiloh a little house out in the woods where no one knows where he is, and he comes and feeds him and plays with him. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Oh, and Shiloh’s a beagle dog.”

“A beagle dog?”

“Yeah, a beagle dog. I think a beagle dog is my next favorite kind of dog, after a cocker spaniel dog.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I would like a beagle dog.”

“We’ll see,” I tell her.

Dinner is microwave mac ‘n cheese again, so when we get back to the motel, I make my little trip back to the main building for the microwave, and I ponder over the big reddish-brown stain again. Maybe some kid threw up there. Maybe there was a leak in the ceiling and it was a stain from the rainwater.

When I get back to our motel room, Alice is sitting on her bed, reading a book with a dog on the cover called Shiloh.

“Did you get that from the library?” I ask. Alice looks up at me.

“Yeah.”

“I told you we couldn’t check anything out.”

“I know.”

“You just took it?” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Alice shifts where she’s sitting, and gets a small scowl on her face. I’m trying to remember if the library had a detector for this kind of thing, but I don’t remember. It’s a small library in a small town.

“Well, they won’t miss it.”

No. No, she couldn’t have just said that. Alice is a good girl. Alice wouldn’t.

“Oh yes they will,” I say, and I can hear an edge in my own voice. My head hurts. This all feels too surreal.

Alice’s scowl deepens. “We kept a library book once, I remember it. Besides, they have lots of books. They had two or three other Shilohs on the shelf.”

“Alice, you can’t take it because it isn’t yours,” I say, trying to stay calm, but my voice has risen a little and it sounds shaky.

This is my fault. This is all my fault. Alice has always been a good girl, she must be doing wrong because I’m doing wrong. She needs to be with Mama. She needs to be back home, in school. Not trapped in a motel room or a library, bored as hell. Not away from her own mother

“So? I’ll just give it back when we go back tomorrow. I just wanted to finish it anyway,” Alice says coolly, and for a minute, I think of that icy-steely glint in Mama’s eyes on the night we left home.

My eyes travel to Alice’s forearm, where there’s a week-old bruise from Mikey’s hand, all yellowish-greenish from healing. I know there’s another one on her shoulder, and one on her collar. I think about how mad I was when I saw him, and I try to remember what I was thinking when Alice and me started the long drive to end up here. I can’t remember.

“You’ll give it back tomorrow,” I say slowly, but my mind isn’t really here.

“Yeah.” Alice turns her attention back to the book that’s not hers. I feel the impulse to raise my voice, but I don’t. Somehow I think it would be useless.

I’ve done wrong. I thought I was saving her. I thought I was helping her. But from what? Mikey’s never roughed her up before that night. And I was just taking her away from her school and my job and the roof over our heads and our mother. She’s a good mother, our mother. I know she loves us. Alice was a good girl when we lived with Mama.

What have I done?

I stay quiet and watch Alice reading, and I stay quiet when it’s lights-out time and Alice goes to bed, and I stay quiet and listen to the sound of the air conditioner while Alice sleeps, and I hardly sleep all night.

Hansel and Gretel were at that witch’s candy house for a long time. I wonder if they ever slept. I wonder if they were ever up all night, missing their parents and blaming themselves for everything that happened.

 

“We’re going back home,” I tell Alice the next morning over breakfast.

“Oh,” says Alice. I wonder if she was always this indifferent. I wonder if it even mattered when we drove away from home. I remember how she was crying, and I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, going back. Nothing feels clear anymore.

“We’ll stop by the library first so you can give that book back.”

“Okay. I finished it.” Alice shrugs. I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have let her finish it, if maybe then she’d know she did something bad. I don’t know.

We clear out the motel room. I load the grocery bags full of cheap, nonperishable food into the trunk of my car, along with our hastily-packed belongings from home. Alice takes down all her ballpoint pen doodles and her picture of the vase of lilies and I check us out.

I use the last of our money on gas for the drive home. We stop by the library, and Alice slips Shiloh into the return slot. I tell her to give them Charlotte’s Web too, and think that maybe that will be enough. Alice doesn’t seem to mind.

Then we drive and drive. Alice colors in her book for a little while, and sleeps for most of the drive. We stop a few times for bathroom breaks. When we stop at the rest stop at the Alabama border, Alice asks for a candy bar from one of the vending machines, and I tell her no. We drive until the sun goes down, and when the crickets are out and the sky is dim, we pull into our neighborhood.

No one’s home at our trailer. The lights are all out and there’s no cars the driveway. I wonder if Mikey took Mama to get her cigarettes and lottery tickets or maybe a manicure. I wake Alice up, and we climb out of the car. I still have the house key in my pocket.

I can tell as soon as we walk in that no one’s been home for a long time. Everything is gone. No furniture. My brain is racing, and my heart feels caught in my throat. Where did they go? Why didn’t they wait for us? Everything is wrong. The house is cold and empty like a mausoleum.

Alice yawns.

I walk outside without saying anything, and Alice follows me. Then I sit down on the porch steps and try to shut my brain up and calm my heart down. To be honest, I feel a little like crying. I feel like the day I put Alice on the school bus for the first time.

Alice sits down next to me and squeezes my hand.

“You’re real brave, Chris,” She tells me, and suddenly it’s her trying to smile at me all reassuring while I stare back all terrified. “You know, you don’t have to get me a dog. I don’t need one. I was just dreaming.”

“We’ll see,” I say, trying to keep my voice from shaking. All I can think about is the way Mama’s eyes glinted. She was a good mother, our mother, just old and tired is all. Just old and tired.

We sit in silence for a minute, listening to cricket song and watching the sky grow darker.

I wonder just how long Hansel and Gretel were lost in the woods before they found the candy house.

“You want to stay here, Alice?” I finally ask.

“I don’t care,” Alice says. “We can go if you wanna go.” “I wanna go.”

“Okay.”

Alice stands up, then pauses. “What if they come back?” She asks.

“They’re not going to.” My voice is flat.

“They might,” she says. Then she goes back to the car, and comes back with a black marker, her picture of the vase of lilies, and her scotch tape. I watch her while she tapes the picture to our front door, then writes “Alice and Christopher were here” on the yellow background of the picture with the black marker. “Just in case they come back, so they’ll know we were looking for them,” she tells me.

Then we get in the car and we go.

 

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Lexa Strong is a sophomore at SCAD majoring in illustration and minoring in creative writing. She draws inspiration from fairytales and folklore and has a passion for cats.

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October 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Carmen Lehtimaki

Church

WP_000421I hated going to Church as a kid. Bible study and choir practice I could deal with, but not regular Church on Sundays. It meant that I could only sleep in on Saturday. We went to a Baptist Church, even though I was told we weren’t Baptist. I was confused and frustrated enough already so I didn’t want to make it worse by asking questions about it.  Also, I was afraid to say how much I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to go to hell, although I bet in hell they don’t make you go to Church on Sundays.

On Sundays there were two services. The second service was a little after lunch time and was always quicker and more relaxed. A smaller amount of people went to the second service. It was basically for the people who wanted to sleep in a bit more. The first service was when a huge show was put on. The adult choir marched in after everyone was seated from all three entrances of the sanctuary. They then stood behind the pulpit in their designated seats after singing two songs. And I don’t mean just lazily singing the chorus and the first verse like we did whenever we would take out hymnals and sing as one. I mean they sung the entirety of both songs, all six verses. That alone had to have taken up half of the amount of time they spent during the entire second service.  Both services had a program to tell you what was going on and in what order. I used it so that I could make tick marks on each part until it was done. Once I was at the end of the program I would get a huge burst of energy, because the worst was almost over. I even once compared both programs. They looked identical except for the time each one started. They didn’t add on the second program that what they did in one and a half hours took the first service three hours because of the circus it was made into.

After everyone would sit down for the first service, the minister or the pastor’s son would say a few words. Then it was time for Reverend Creecy. He was the head of the church, and his wife was the first lady. I don’t think most churches call the wife of the head pastor the first lady, but at Olivet Baptist Church they did. And she owned it. She always sat in the first row facing the pulpit front and center. When Reverend Creecy would begin his sermon she sat up a little straighter. I always felt bad for the person sitting behind her because her hat was big enough to compete with the other old ladies in attendance. Reverend Creecy was old. We all knew it. His son was next in line to be the lead Pastor of Olivet. It got a bit political, but I think that had a lot to do with his timid speeches. He couldn’t compete with the original Reverend. Reverend Creecy would start off calmly talking about a passage from the Bible, but the more people would start saying “Amen” and “Yes’ah” while fanning themselves, the more intense he became. He would get louder and start spitting into the microphone. His wife could have taken a bath while in the first row. He would even start saying words that weren’t actual words. At first people murmured that they thought it was a mistake, but after some time you knew he would do anything to get the congregation hyped up.

Church was a fashion show. As a child you were always dressed like a live doll parents cooed at. The adults acted as if the red carpet in the sanctuary was a runway. The men looked like pimps. Men had canes when they didn’t even need them, just because it went with their suit that day. The women wore hats that looked like fruit baskets. It seemed like a competition to see who would have the biggest and most outrageous one. I would imagine looking down from above and thinking it was a tropical rainforest because of all the ridiculous hats in the room.

Usually about midway in the service they would have everyone turn to their neighbor and give peace. It always started out the same with people saying, “Peace be with you” to those in their immediate area. But when the choir cranked up, so did the crowd. They would always sing their liveliest songs and everyone would get up and walk across the sanctuary to talk and gossip with their friends. This lasted about ten minutes. Once it began to settle down Sister Johnson and Sister Beverly went and got into place as if a director told them to stand on the ‘x’ in front of a camera and screamed ‘action’. They began sprawling their arms out and screaming, “Yes lawd.” They would hop around and bend over just to belt it out even louder. The musicians would get back on the drums and piano to crank the music back up and assist with this timely fiasco. I always considered it the dance portion of the Sunday entertainment. Many people thought it was amazing that they always caught the Holy Spirit. Sometimes others would join in as well as if the Holy Spirit was as contagious as the flu. What really got me is that the Holy Spirit would even have them dancing along to the beat.

What I actually liked was communion. It was only every third Sunday of the month, but it was worth it every time it came. My mom always thought I was joking when I called it my snack time. That’s how I saw it. I know they would always talk about it being the blood and body of Christ, but I knew that wasn’t literal and it was so nice. I would always sit where I wouldn’t be as noticed and take two glasses. I thought I was being so sneaky by drinking wine, even if the wine tasted oddly like grape juice. I didn’t mind.

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Carmen is an MFA writing student with a growing interest in copywriting and marketing. She currently works as a content creator for social media and will usually be found with a journal in one hand and sipping sweet tea with the other.

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May 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Jen Schwartz

beaniepicConfessions of a Non-Girlfriend

By Jen Schwartz

Sitting at a table during the Senior Banquet with my family and closest friends, Colin’s table is conveniently behind mine. Naturally, we can’t keep our hands off each other. He left his girlfriend at home and I neglected to invite my boyfriend, as well. I was so happy to be with him, sans our significant others, so I asked a friend to take our photo. We squeezed our heads together and he wrapped his hand around my neck. Our fingers were already intertwined, shown in the bottom corner of the photograph. My wide grin was more genuine than it ever has been, evident by the crinkles near my eyes. I didn’t care that what Colin and I had was wrong in every sense of the word — I wanted all of him, any way I could have him.  Though his smile looks inviting I can see plainly in his eyes his need for control and the promise of damage and heartbreak.

I was never Colin’s girlfriend. In fact, I was quite often “the other woman”. His first girlfriend, Ashley, was away at college and the long distance between them proved to be fatal to their relationship. When Ashley revealed that she had been less than faithful, Colin stopped trying to control his impulses and I was more than happy to lose control with him. In our high school’s hallway there was a rather large, cushiony chair that students would sit on in the mornings before classes started or during our lunch break. Because Colin lived so far away he was often found curled up on that couch as early as 6 a.m., snuggled up with a blanket he had received as a gift from Ashley. I found myself getting to school as early as my mom would allow to get a chance to cuddle with Colin for a few minutes every morning. Occasionally we would touch each other under the very blanket his girlfriend had given him and though we both knew it was wrong, that somehow made it all the hotter. Colin’s second girlfriend, Sarah, was far more aware of my looming presence over her relationship. Because she also attended our high school she witnessed most of our inappropriate behavior — the handholding, cuddling, and over-the-top flirting. To my knowledge she never mentioned having a problem with any of it, which may be due to the fact that she couldn’t see what we still continued to do under that blanket of his.

It’s hard to say why I willingly stayed around through not one but two of Colin’s relationships but I think my low self-esteem played quite a big part. Being somewhat of a late bloomer in the romance department, my dysfunctional tryst with Colin was closer to a real relationship than the short-lived ones I carried on with boys who actually gave me the girlfriend title in high school. Most of the guys I dated would end things after around two weeks, so the fact that Colin remained interested in me during my entire senior year made him as good as Prince Charming in my book. I had to do a lot of rationalizing to excuse my behavior. I reasoned that since I was single and Colin was the one in a relationship, I wasn’t really doing anything wrong and the blame should solely be placed on him. I also told myself that Colin cared about me deeply but the timing was simply never right. I never got the respect and full attention I truly desired from him. I settled for what he would give me, convinced that it was the closest I could get to love.

Though I never was Colin’s girlfriend, I believe I bear just as many emotional scars as those who got the official title. A friend of mine firmly believes that Colin abused me, but I’m not so sure. His alleged abuse wasn’t like how domestic violence is portrayed on TV. He didn’t beat me to a pulp as I cried for him to stop; real life isn’t always as clear-cut as that. For as long as I can remember I, like many women, have had fantasies about being dominated, and my relationship with Colin certainly incorporated some dominating elements. We would often play-fight and wrestle, but it was far more intense than two kids horsing around — there was choking and bruises and plenty of rough groping. I can’t say I didn’t egg him on, though. One time I was laying in his lap on a school bus and he said something particularly snarky that angered me so I spit in his face. Infuriated by my actions, Colin forced my mouth open and spit into it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.

Colin had a sick sort of darkness rooted deep inside him and I found it incredibly arousing.  One evening I met up with him and his neighbors at a park to goof off. I brought a girlfriend along with me but she mostly watched us all passively rather than bother to interact. The boys were roughhousing, which somehow led to me bringing up how I had recently taken a class on self-defense. Colin and I then got into an argument about whether or not I could successfully fend of an attacker, and soon it was decided that the only way to solve the dispute would be for him and I to wrestle. We started off on our knees and it didn’t take long for him to have me lying on my stomach, his body pinning mine down. Before I admitted defeat, Colin slipped his hand into the front of my jeans, cupping me and aggressively whispering in my ear, “It’d be so easy for me to rape you right now”. I should have been disgusted, but instead I was wet.

The problem with our rough play was that I wasn’t always such a willing participant. There was one action that I always found off limits, which was being slapped in the face. It just seemed degrading to me, and this is coming from a girl who enjoyed having someone spit in her mouth. Though I relayed my displeasure at being slapped to Colin several times, he would only respond by slapping me once more, probably just to prove that he could. Another time I recall him relentlessly trying to snake his hand into the front of my jeans despite my fervent attempts to keep him out, only halting his persistent efforts after I told him I was menstruating. As a young woman coming into her sexuality I was frustratingly confused by the whole situation. Though I knew I welcomed many of his actions, even invited them, I still felt that at the end of the day my consent had to count for something and that saying yes to one thing shouldn’t have taken away my right to say no to another. So was it abuse? I’m not sure, but it wasn’t exactly a healthy romance.

At the time of these events I thought I was in love, but I know now that that couldn’t be true. I can’t list any real reasons that I loved Colin. I know that hoards of bitter women are always exclaiming, “I have no idea what I saw in him” in order to mask their pain, but that isn’t the case with me. I still remember how hard I struggled not to think of him constantly and the rush of dopamine that entered my brain whenever he was around. But none of the reasons are deep enough. Though I hate to chalk up such a tumultuous and heartbreaking time in my life to simple infatuation, I’m afraid that’s exactly what it was.

I think one of the things that I found the most attractive about Colin was the playful nature of our relationship. Colin and I were constantly poking fun at one another; many of our interactions were spent egging each other on and trying to one up each other. Basically we acted like preschool children afraid to admit they had a crush. It’s hard for me to admit it but another large part of Colin’s pull on me was how he was always just slightly out of reach. He’d tell me he loved me and then go cuddle with whoever his girlfriend was at the time in plain sight. We’d steal erotic touches in the hallway but have to stop short of release as a classmate or teacher approached. Colin knew exactly how to keep me wanting more. I was in love with the sexual tension. I was in love with the forbidden fruit. I was not, however, in love with Colin.

When I look at the photograph of Colin and me at our Senior Banquet, a lot of aspects stand out to me. I notice the expression of pure bliss on my face, elated to be intimate with him. I notice our hands laced together and fondly remember the warmth and comfort that radiated from his touch. But mostly I notice Colin’s firm grip around my neck. I was never Colin’s girlfriend and now I couldn’t be more grateful of the fact. If I had been, I might have never escaped that firm grip.

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Jen Schwartz is writing major at SCAD Atlanta and an all-around ridiculous person. Her passions include pizza, feminism, horror, and petting every dog she sees.

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April 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Emme Raus

Emme Headshot (1)Mini Mermaid found in Tuna Sandwich

By Emme Raus

I’m guessing you’ve already read about it in the papers and on the interweb. Jeez’em crow it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in Maine since the media stopped hanging around Stephen King’s gothic manor waiting for a spook or something to slither out the front gates. But I was the one who found her and it’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever been recognized for something. Don’t worry though; I won’t let it go to my head.

The guys and I always stop by this little seafood shack, about a quarter mile up the road from the harbor. After depositing my load of fishes and picking up the week’s pay, Penny and I found ourselves sitting like kings on opposite sides of a booth with an ocean view. I belong to a small fishing operation off the coast of Cape Elizabeth – practically miniscule – I’m talking like four or five guys on deck at the most. Three of us, including myself, don’t have families. Either the spouse moved out or the kids moved on or in my case, hadn’t gotten around to have loved ones grow up and leave yet. Anyways, it was the end of the week and I didn’t have any other place to be so me and Penny, my pooch that is, had taken a Sunday drive along the cool waters at the crack of dawn.

Most people get lonely real fast when they are out fishing by themselves but not me. There’s something other-worldly about rocking in a tiny rowboat surrounded by acres of blue as supporting as sheets of Egyptian cotton with the occasional stitch of white foam breaking the surface. I tell ya, as long as you don’t think too much about the unnerving amount of unknown life teeming beneath you, it’s pretty swell. Not to mention, they were biting that morning. Normally, I let a few guppies nibble on my fingers just for the interaction before hoisting my net up to uncover some cod and a few mussels, but on that day, my net was close to tearing from the shear amount of shellfish wriggling inside. Penny and I had never had such fortune shine down on us, so we decided to celebrate by turning in early for breakfast.

It was only eight in the morning and the place wasn’t busy so I didn’t have to wait long for my deluxe crab roll with calamari and a large Diet Pepsi along with a tuna sandwich for Penny. I had just swallowed my first bite of that glorious sandwich when I looked up and saw a few locks of gold hair hanging out of Penny’s choppers. You see, Penny has a grayish, rawhide coat so I had no idea where this gold could have come from. I reached over and tugged the hair from her mouth. Only Penny didn’t want to let go. And that was when I saw a doll’s arm flop out of her jowls.

I didn’t want my dog to choke so I grabbed the little arm and yanked it right out of its socket. Then I realized dolls didn’t have sockets and before I knew what I was doing, I cranked the dog’s mouth open like I was cracking open a walnut. Looking back I’m not sure what was worse, the howling crescendo of pain from the poor animal or the broken body I discovered lying on her tongue.

Now fishing is something that I’ve done for my entire life and I can remember all the way back to when I was boy, camping out for hours in a tin dinghy with my grandpa talking my ear off about mermaids. The old man had half a mind to believe that my grandmother was once one of them and I humored the bastard because she’d been claimed by the sea before I was born. But this was different. This was a real, golden-haired, scaly-waisted, fish-tailed merlady, about the size of a Barbie but much more hideous. Apart from the fact that I had accidentally dislocated her arm, her body was slimy like she’d been pickled in a can for some time and her reptilian features were all but lovely. Which is why my gut reaction was to hurl the thing across the room where it smack dab hit some fellow who had the misfortune of walking in right at that moment to grab a cup of coffee before church.

“What the fuck?” The man in the suit exclaimed as the creature slapped him across the cheeks and landed on the checkered floor.

The newly-hired, zit-magnet fry cook saw the whole thing and doubled over laughing until the manager came out and smacked him upside the head. Then all three ambled over and leaned in close to take a look at the contents of Penny’s tuna sandwich.

“Holy crow, what is that thing?”

“It’s got gills. Wicked.”

“It’s mutated! This is the kind of food you people serve here?”

“Where did this come from Danny?”

“I put it in that guy’s dog’s sandwich. You always say to cook off the bad fish first.”

Mr. Suit whipped around and took stock of Penny and me shrunken into the corner just then.

I lumbered over and swallowed hard before croaking out, “It’s not a fish. She’s human too I think.”

But before any of us could get a second look, Penny, that clever girl, scooped up the ragdoll remains and was out the door, pounding down the boardwalk. The rest of us hauled after her, not really sure of why we cared so much but enough to keep charging after the dumb animal. But seeing as all things larger than life are short-lived, we arrived just in time to see Penny fling the figure out to sea only to hear the soft watery burble of a heron before it swooped down and gobbled up the mystery.

It turned out that Mr. Suit was actually a reporter for the Daily Steamer, our pathetic small-town newspaper, but by the following Sunday everyone in the state was reading the editorial praising Cape Elizabeth as the underdog hotspot for all things supernatural – or something like that – with an interview from yours truly. I was painted like a hero, or a lunatic, depending on which way you read it, which is why I’m setting the record straight by putting my story out there on my own terms. For you see, I kept that lock of golden hair that I pulled out of Penny’s trap; found it later stuck to my jacket somehow, statically I mean. And I’m hanging on to it not for the simple assurance that the whole thing really happened, but as a keepsake to give my own maybe-someday little golden-haired girl when she asks about the time her adventurous daddy saw a mermaid.

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Emme Raus enjoys writing realistic and historical fiction that gives readers a sense of hope. An outspoken young woman, she is also the co-copy editor for SCAD Connector and SCAN magazine and won first place for Best Column 2015 with Jen Schwartz at the Georgia College Scholastic Press Awards. She is a rising junior at SCAD and working towards a BFA in Writing with a minor in Creative Writing. Emme hopes to travel and pursue journalism by writing and editing for an arts and entertainment magazine as well as dabble in freelance work after graduation.

 

 

 

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March 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Tonesa Jones

FullSizeRenderWhen Black Hair Burns

By Tonesa Jones

Andre Walker, a stylist and author of Andre Talks Hair, has created a classification system that many people have adopted to describe their own hair type. Andre’s classification system ranks from 1-4”

Type 1

“Straight”

I discovered the difference between my hair and white girl hair on the school playground at age eight. She was in the fourth grade with long brown hair that did not smell like Pink Luster hair grease or African Pride. When she ran it flung out behind her like a cape. It was super-girl hair. I wanted that hair. I stripped my barrettes and undid my ponytails and ran beside her, feeling my hair lift behind me. I imagined I too had super-girl hair, flying behind me in a dark, thick cape, just as shiny, just as beautiful.

My mother did not smile when she saw my hair and when we got home she sat me in front of the mirror. “Look at what you did to your hair.”  My hair stuck out in all directions, styled by the wind, looking less like a cape, and more like a pile of dirty laundry. I didn’t have super-girl hair. This was hard for my eight-year-old self to accept this because my favorite Disney princess and girl extraordinaire had super-girl hair. Pin straight, not curly, and their hair did not freeze in the wind when they ran. It flowed.

Straight long hair was a fantasy and sometimes when I was alone, I would wrap my curls in a pillow case or a sheet and pretend I had super-girl hair. Princess hair. Good hair.

Type 2

“A relatively unusual type, wavy hair tends to be coarse, with a definite S pattern to it.”

Even when there were no white girls in my class in middle school, my hair was still a problem. It is curly like my father’s and confused the others girls in my class. They would suddenly reach and touch my puff, mesmerized in a way I had only seen when they saw white girls with long plaits. They touched without permission in blind curiosity. This was the fantasy girl effect, the effect I only thought light-skinned, bi-racial girls could have. Even without light skin, my hair looked different enough that they could accuse me being a racial other: “You don’t look completely black. Do you have some Indian in your family?” What they meant was my hair didn’t look completely black, thus my whole racial identity was questionable. I did not want a questionable racial identity. Essence Magazine taught me that black hair is either pressed flat with a chemical relaxer or an afro. My hair was too thin for an afro so by age eleven, it was chemically straighten.

Chemical relaxers at Audrey’s Beauty salon on First Avenue cost forty-five dollars, not including styling and occasionally left quarter sized chemical burns on my scalp. The chemical stayed on as long as I could tolerate it and the longer it stayed the straighter the hair. It stung like a deep itch, but I resisted complaining. Later, when my mother rubbed African Pride hair grease on my burned scalp, I could feel the damage beneath my hair, the lumps of scabbed skin. This was the ritual almost every month until I turned fifteen: dish out sixty-five bucks for a relaxer and a roller set, come home sooth the burns.

My hair attempted to resist a first. It was stubbornly curly, a trait it probably inherited from my father’s hair. My father firmly believed in knowing our “roots” and all things black history, black music and black people. Whenever I washed it, my hair would attempted to spring back into a tight coil, but the relaxer slowly beat the West African resistance in my hair. My hair, like every other thirteen-year-old girl at L.M Smith Middle, became a part of the uniform. Black or blue pants, white button-up shirt with collar, and damaged permed hair, part in the middle, to the side, or secured in a ponytail.

Type 3

“Hair is shiny, with soft, smooth curls and strong elasticity. The curls are well-defined and springy.”

I was in the tenth grade when I discovered my hair could bush into an afro. By freshman year in at UAB, the chemically straighten strands were cut; the curls that bushed into a reasonable fro were moisturized by products from black owned hair lines that I did not know existed until 2010.

I stopped perming my hair when I discovered natural black hair on YouTube. African Export. Beautiful Brown Baby Doll. Girls Love Your Curls. Mahogany Curls. Long bra length hair. TWAs. Twist outs. Braid outs. Mini twists. Finger coils. I saw black hair, unrestricted black hair. Natural hair.

Natural beauty gurus taught me black hair could be a rebellious Angela Davis Afro or curvy and fully-bodied like Pam Grier in the eighties. I would sit in front of my lap top with a tub of Kinky Curly Curling Custard leaning against my thigh and wide tooth comb in my right hand following tutorials on how to care for my hair without chemicals that burn the skin off my scalp or a pressing comb frying my edges.

My fingers worked through my hair like my mother’s did before the perm, before my broken off uniform hair, before my obsession with super girl, when the only hair I knew were puffy ponytails with clamps on the ends that my mother worn in a faded black and white picture when she was six.

 Type 4

“Type 4 hairs looks tough and durable, but looks can be deceiving. If you have Type 4 hair, you already know that it is the most fragile hair around.”

I sat in my cousin’s basement beauty salon waiting for the “sun-kissed brown” to show through my black roots.

“I’m only doing this because you’re my cousin,” Carla told me while peeking under the cap to see if the color was taking, “I don’t do natural hair.”

Carla always did my hair, from the time I was five and sheared off a whole ponytail with craft scissors to my first relaxer. For church, for school plays, for prom, her hands manipulated my strands to be straight and uniform.

“I lost my best costumer to this natural hair shit. Like Joan. Not everybody can do it. If you got good hair like this you can, but them women walking around with that Kunta Kinte hair need a perm.”

When my mother first cut her chemically relaxed hair, she cried. It had begun to break off from years of relaxers, flat irons, hot combs, and boxed hair dye. I had never seen my mother’s natural hair, and as she looked at for the first time since she was a little girl, there was a look of disbelief. She was a vulnerable eight-year-girl again, attending an all-white school at the beginning of desegregation in Birmingham. The first year she was there, a teacher told her she was ugly, ugly compared to all the other little white girls in the class with long straight hair braided down their backs.

After she cut it, I helped her style it. We sat in the living room, her head resting against my knees as I sat on the back of the couch with a rat tail comb, parting her hair into small sections and twisting it, like she use to braid mine.

I never went back to my cousin’s basement beauty shop. I left her still believing that black hair was only beautiful when burned. She used to tell me I needed to “train” my hair to be straight by pinning it down every night until it forgot how to be curly. Sitting on the couch, feeling the texture of my mother’s natural hair, I saw the hair I always wanted, virgin black hair, unrestricted, unburdened, free.

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A Birmingham, Alabama native, Tonesa Jones received her undergraduate degree in creative writing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2013. She is currently a writing MFA candidate at Savannah College of Art and Design. 

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February 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Rebecca Arrowsmith

Arrowsmith.HeadshotStory of an Hour and a Half

By Rebecca Arrowsmith

7:24pm

I study the street outside of my window and sit, legs crossed, in the space between my bed and the wall. I’m watching the road. My hand searches under my bed.

Maybe I pull out Barbie and talk in that voice while she bounces along my bed skirt. My eyes go from Barbie to the road, Barbie to the road. Barbie road. Barbie. Road.

Or maybe I find that swan book I took from the library and forgot to give back last year. I’ve read it four times so I read it but not really. The words are just shapes. I turn the page and my eyes slide to the street. Another page and my eyes slide back and forth, to the street, to page 14. Eyes on the street, turning the page, page 29. Street. Page 37.

I’m staring at the road.

Maybe I look at Barbie and reassure her that he’s almost here because tonight the tribes merge on Survivor and he wouldn’t miss it. It’s the most exciting episode of the whole season. He comes every Thursday night. Survivor Night. Every Thursday. I stand up to look at my puppy calendar. It is Thursday. It’s 7:30 on Thursday night. Not to worry, Barbie.

7:30-something

I see his car appear and drop the swan book or Barbie, maybe both, maybe neither. Mom is in the kitchen setting the table when I run down the stairs. Henry barks. I open the door before Dad can tap on it or open it himself.

“Daddy! Dad! Do you know?!” Henry barks and barks and licks Dad. Mom shakes a bag of tortilla chips into a basket and makes it a centerpiece. Dad squeals at the dog with his hands hovering playfully above him – that gets Henry all jumpy and wanting a cookie. “Remember Dad? The merge is tonight! Strategy. Right, Dad?

Usually the slow, weak and old people are voted off Survivor first. But that changes when the two tribes merge. There are no teammates. No partners.  Everyone competes alone. When the tribes merge, the strongest member gets a target on his back. “I know sweetie! Give your Daddy a hug,” I do and he yells for Ryan, “Where are you, bud?”

“Coming.”

Mom puts salsa on the table. Dad picks up a chip and dips.

7:57

Mom had our couch “reupholstered” a few weeks ago. It’s like covering furniture with a bed sheet but not so crinkly and there is a giant wood bar hidden inside now. When I plopped, my butt bone hit the bar so hard that I started to cry. Mom said, “Don’t plop down, honey.” And Ryan said the couch is training me to sit down like a normal human.

We leave the dishes on Survivor Night because the show comes on at 8. Mom will do them later. She is still in the kitchen making popcorn for dessert. We all love popcorn, mainly Dad because it’s a healthier dessert. I hear popping downstairs and I forget the wood bar every time, so I plop onto the couch. Dad doesn’t notice. I blow air up into my eyes until they’re watering. I say “Owwwwah” and he asks, “What happened, sweetie?”

Ryan tells him I don’t sit like a normal person.

We probably fight and Dad says “Shhh” because it’s

8:00

Mom gives Dad the big gray bowl of popcorn and scoops some in a little bowl for herself. She sits on the black massage recliner she bought after the divorce and Henry lies under it.

I have no memory of her on Survivor Night after this.

I eat a lot of popcorn out of Dad’s big gray bowl.

I have no memory of my mom saying a word any Thursday night.

I wonder if she was just quiet. My mom is not usually quiet though.

I wonder if I just didn’t care what she had to say.

 

Ryan sits at the desk, facing the wall behind us, and talks to his girlfriend online.

 

On Survivor, there are challenges with combinations of balls and ropes and wooden planks, Dad asks, “Ryan are you watching” or Dad gasps really loud after another challenge of who can stand on a ball, a rope or a wooden plank the longest and he says, “Ryan, did you see that?” or “Ryan. Bud, you got to see this!”

Ryan might twirl his chair towards the screen. He might put his permanently-smells-bad-runner-feet on the couch. Next to my face. We might fight about that.

Or Ryan might say, “In a minute, Dad” and never turn around.

8:21

On commercials we toss popcorn to Henry. He misses and his mouth makes that hollow pop sound. Then he gets it, he gets it, he gets it and he misses. Hollow pop. Dad throws Henry’s rawhide down our dark, skinny hallway. It clanks from wall to wall and falls down the stairs. Henry comes back with the bone and it flings out of his mouth, across the room. Henry runs in circles over and over and over again and we are all laughing. Laughing until there are tears. Henry is running circles and panting and barking. We’re all pretending to be an unbroken family. Laughing and crying and then Henry is tired so he wobbles to his bone and sits under Mom’s black massage recliner.

8:37

I always told Dad that he should try to be on Survivor. He’s strong and tan and talks about strategy all the time, on days that aren’t even Thursday.

Ryan doesn’t say anything about Dad going on Survivor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ryan talk about strategy. To be fair, I only talk about it at school. “Well, I don’t think that Mrs. so-and-so has a very good strategy” and “Hm, I wonder what the strategy for lunch is today?” and “Walking on the silver line seems like a nice strategy” and no one knows what I’m talking about.

When the last commercial comes on, Dad tells me to get ready for bed. I put on one of his old t-shirts and think about how some people at school say that Survivor is fake. They say it’s stupid and staged. I brush my teeth and open the bathroom window. There is a hole in the screen so I stick a red Ken doll shirt in the hole. I’m not sure why. Over the years it becomes apart of my bathroom, just as ordinary as the sink or the ceiling or the floor.

When I plop down on the couch again, I say Owwwah again and blow tears into my eyelids. Dad asks what happened sweetie again and I tell him about the stupid wood bar.

Survivor comes on again and the tribes’ merge, it only happens once a season. Two tribes become one tribe but they have no other tribe to try to beat so they compete within their own tribe.

“All about the strategy, all about the strategy,” Dad says. And I wonder if there is a makeup person putting dirt on the girls like it’s blush.

8:57

The best part of the show is tribal council. Every member has to vote someone off of Survivor. “When you dip in your torch, you get fire. The fire represents your life.

When it’s gone, so are you.”

9:00

Plates clap under running water in the kitchen while I wait to be tucked in. I put pillows under my covers to make a fake me and hide behind my bedroom door. When Dad comes in, he pats the pillows. Then I shout “Boo!” and laugh and laugh because I fooled him again, just like every week, he jumps a little and says, “You scared me, sweetie!” Then he tells me that no matter what, Daddy will always love me and cracks my door just how I like, with a line of yellow light dividing my room into two dark halves.

I hear him gently knock on Ryan’s door and say “Goodnight bud, love you.” There are voices downstairs. I open my bedroom window and I don’t think about bugs getting inside because I don’t care very much. I hold my stuffed Doggie close to my chest. A car door shuts. An engine starts. I watch. The car makes a sound, low to high, and then I see him backing away.

My Dad is the fastest, the strongest and talks strategy more than anyone. Every Thursday, there is a ritual and it ends in me watching him leave. I watch headlights on the driveway. Then I watch them disappear. Just like that.

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Rebecca Arrowsmith is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Her love for stories comes from dissecting movies, admiring musicals and turning pages. After dabbling in several creative subjects, only writing turned her into a fervent artist who’s running out of computer space and should probably write in notebooks anyway.

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January 2015: Ivy Hall Review Features Jared Steinberg

Featured Writer HeadshotOn the Spectrum

By I.J Steinberg

I never thought I would have one. Most people assume I don’t have one because when they look at me they see a mouth that never shuts and a smile that can either creep you out or invite you into the embrace of an awkward friend hug but then we laugh about it so it’s completely fine and…. sorry I lost my train of thought. Oh right! I never thought I had a mental disorder. I knew my mom had one and I knew I hated her for it. I can’t tell you why I never saw past her drooping eyes and forced smile. I can tell you why I thought she was faking it and why I can’t say I’m sorry to her even though I want to.

I want to for example say that my mom is and always has been a strong person. I can’t though. Even if she kicked an excitable dog’s knees out just to free my hand from its skin-pinching collar, she wasn’t strong. Even if she cradled my airy eight year old head all the while promising me that carbs weren’t that great and that I didn’t need to have fifteen Oreos in my lunch like the other non-diabetic kids, she wasn’t strong. Even when she created a game where all I had to do to win was take the biggest breath I could while those retro fitted ‘healthcare’ needles pierced my skin and then try not to look as I dug them out of my finger tips. If I won the game I got a back scratch and a lullaby. But no she still wasn’t strong. She wasn’t strong enough to tell me why she was still with Dad during the time in which I hated him. Or why she could scream and still be fine the next day, as she still smelled faintly of queso and black beans. It was Mexican night when he decided to throw food at her. I can’t tell you if the police sirens brought me comfort or panic or melancholy or anger. I can tell you that as Mom was being questioned all I could see was Dad’s head poking through the back of the cop’s car seat, and I wanted him back.

I remember when we got Dad back Mom was quietly happy so long as her former friend Sally, the one who called the police in the first place, wasn’t there. For a while Dad was fine. He had those little orange bottles again, bottles that I could never open and were told to never touch. They made him better Mom told me. They make him accept the truth she told me. She still would fight with him though, especially when Bush was in the Oval Office. Dad hated that man, and I hated him too. I told all my friends I hated him because he was stupid. They asked me what I meant by that. I always told them it was what my dad said and he was right about everything. Mom would agree but that mutual disgust didn’t erase their debt during that time, so our red barn of a manor was always held to the torch. So they fought about money, they fought a lot and by some miracle that they would stop long enough for me to bring a friend over I would pull Mom aside with all the strength my arms could bear and tell her to just agree with Dad. I had her to agree with what ever he said. Or if that didn’t work just say it was her period or say she has been a little depressed lately and lost her own orange bottle. I didn’t know what period meant but I knew it made Dad nod his head and bow out before the yelling got too loud. I knew depression meant that Mom got sad but to me it was a coward’s excuse, and it worked.

I can’t tell you if I actually hurt Mom by pulling her to the side. I can’t tell you how good it felt to grip someone’s skin so hard and pull them to your level just to get what you want. I remember how weak she felt when I was telling her to make an excuse out of something she couldn’t help. Her orange bottle was a fancy maraca to me and everything else was just something I could use to get her and Dad to stop fighting. I didn’t want any fighting.

Later on I saw Mom as a different kind of weak, one who didn’t have enough willpower to overcome the very thing I once asked her to exploit. She would mope and cry all because of this thing I thought she could fight. She would swing back and overload my friends and guests with sickly sweet smiles and shaky handshakes whenever she had the chance. At this point she was looking to score happiness. She was a serotonin junkie and my friends and I were her unwilling dealers. Nothing gave her more happiness than I did apparently so she would call me, batter me, restrict and guilt me into whatever she wanted me to do. She didn’t know she was doing it, that’s the kicker. She would say things like “it would mean a lot to me if you,” and then launch into a daily schedule of activities none of which I ever wanted to do. She would show us around the city of New Haven Connecticut, taking her eyes off the road to point and smile wildly as if she had just scored the biggest high of her life. My friends and I would always call her out and she would tell us to relax and have a good time with her. Still, it was never too bad though, until she asked me to turn against Dad and ask him to apologize for throwing a stack of bills at her face. I was there watching the whole thing when Dad threw a flurry of bleach white paper reeking of mailroom glue right into Mom’s chest. I can’t tell you what he said to her when he did that. I can’t say why I still sided with Dad. I must’ve have thought she was manipulating him, that I could simply talk to her later, get her to stop, and Dad would be happy again.

I hated Mom for doing that and I thought she did it all the time. She always apologized for manipulating and said she didn’t mean to. That she was just depressed. I hated that too. I can’t tell you that my Mother was strong because she wasn’t. I can’t tell you my Mother was making excuses because she wasn’t. I can’t tell you how much it hurt when I finally got my non-corrupted clarity and saw just how strong she was.

I made my mother cry talking about suicide being a coward’s way out and saying she should ignore the pain of depression. I sat in my cozy little side of the spectrum and judged. I judged my mother as manipulative, depressed, and weak. I judged my dad as aggressive, scary, and right. I can’t say that I ever really judged myself though. I can’t say if I’d like the ruling. I can tell you that I never bothered to understand my mental familial burden. I can tell you about how much anxiety I have over the thought of needing my own orange bottle. Maybe Mom, Dad, and I can fiddle with them together.

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Jared Steinberg (pen name I.J Steinberg) is a New England-born multimedia writer whose love of prose and poetry is matched only by his love for deep-dish pizza and Pokémon. Jared is a student of the beats and has read everything from Kerouac to Ginsberg. He hopes to follow in their footsteps and write full-length fiction novels about his generation. Right now though Jared hopes to make his parents proud and obtain his B.F.A. in Writing. 

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December 2014: Ivy Hall Review Features Shelley Danzy

SDanzy_Number 3_Price GilbertMid-life strife: How to be perfectly okay when the perfect pair of jeans aren’t perfect

by Shelley Danzy

 

Reflect: Three-way mirrors lie

You’re grateful that someone in the world renounced “husky” from the wooden placards inside of JC Penney. The wooden chair in the dressing room is a fitting reminder that you might have to rest in between trying on the newer plus-sized styles that could aptly be labeled the denigration of denim. Hang the plastic hangers on the hooks and give yourself a friendly once-over in the mirror. The newest gray hair makes a desperate plea to make its presence known; at least the count hasn’t doubled to match the double-digit numeral that indicates your pants size. Continue reading

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