It was one of those moments when I knew I should have said something.
My mother and father, married at a foolish eighteen, stood screaming in our pottery barn kitchen. My calculus homework remained untouched along with my pop-tart on the table. I tried to turn up the volume on my I-pod, but it was at its limit. Their angry words floated through the air. I wanted to tell them. With every scream their love decomposed. There was no point for me to be here. I slipped out the back door. The paint was chipping around the edge. Another thing dad will never get around to do. Not even the cold stabbing wind could block out the shouts coming within the house. What’s happening to us? I walked down the street noticing every crack in the sidewalk but just kept walking, right over the cracks.
The sun went into hiding behind the clouds. I longed to be free. But went home instead.
Head in hands, tears all over, my mother sat at the kitchen table a muttering mess. My pop-tart still uneaten.
“Honey, I’m so sorry” Her words no longer held any meaning.
“I know mom don’t worry about it really.”
“We’ve decided to give counseling a try my love. It’s obvious that we can’t keep doing this.”
My heart dropped. Five years in the making and NOW they had enough? Dear God help me now.
“Okay mom” It wasn’t worth the protest.
I grabbed a pot from the cabinet. It’s once black exterior faded. There were dings and bruises scattered about. Bringing the water to a boil, I commenced the dinner process. I watched every bubble rise to the surface and slowly explode, only to be replaced by more.
“Meg I’ll make dinner tonight sweetie” Mother offered.
“No, it’s fine. Where’s dad?” I hated cooking.
“He’s in his office. You know how he gets.”
Mark Grossman was a man of business. Nobody stood in the way of a quick profit. . The company was his child, who was I?
The TV was on in the living room; some kind of stereotypical lifetime movie. You know, the one with the scene where the overworked father lets out a little steam as he brutally strikes his perfectly sculpted trophy wife while the daughter sits in her room pretending to not hear a word. Pretending like she still loves her daddy. Pretending that everything was going to be okay as she hugs her teddy bear tight. I still remembered where I hid my bear.
“Spaghetti’s almost ready mom” My voice acting as the dinner bell.
Two plates. Two forks. Two knives. I knew this routine. Dad wouldn’t show his face. Goddamn coward.
Mark sat in his office cold and alone. A place I never quite felt comfortable entering.
He was inside his own head now, “Mark you really blew it this time. What would Ma say if she saw you doing this again? You promised you’d change…
Stop. Relax. Focus on the work. They couldn’t know. If the business goes down, well, so would we. This is the only thing I have to offer this family anymore. Shit…”
Number crunched, hands clenched, still tense inside the office. The office that knew dad better than any of us. It kept his secrets we would never know.
I set the meal down on the table. Another night with a broken family. My stomach churned somewhere between hunger and sickness.
“I don’t know what I would do without you my dear.” I knew she meant it.
But I just couldn’t do this anymore. I loved my mother with my whole heart. Something was seriously wrong here. She would never understand. I had to get out of this house.
I wore baggy clothes every day,
To hide my drastic disappearance.
But she’d never notice.
And he’d never care.
I got up and walked out the front door.
My pop-tart still untouched;
It’s been there three weeks.
Needles and Carnations
Here the life and laughter never cease
Come with us; your old life falls to pieces
Hush, don’t speak, better your life instantly
You’ll fit the mold, and adapt brilliantly.
Delusion your friend; fantasy your home,
Forget all of the things you have been shone.
There’s no feeling like this. Of that I’m sure.
Passion and bliss, this life becomes a blur.
Don’t think about the pain. Now you are here
In our dream world you’ll find nothing to fear.
But this is a gamble; I can’t promise you’ll win.
You’ll only feel numb once it pierces your skin.
Fun withers to fake. Confused, you have lost.
Chained to this new life, you can’t bear the cost
To change. No, it’s too hard. Stay here, you will,
To replenish that love, your next big thrill.
So keep calm and relax, it’s all in good fun.
And don’t you dare stop to think of what you’ve begun.
My ‘Mom’ is the woman who opens my shades every morning and exclaims, “Today’s going to be another great day, my love!”. My ‘Dad’ is the man who photographs me every chance he can in order to remember my every accomplishment. My ‘Grandparents’ are the two people who feed me every Christmas and Thanksgiving. Genetically, there is no relation between me and them, we are as biologically connected as strangers. Emotionally, they are my Mom, Dad, Gram and Gramp. I’ve known I’m adopted since I was little and my parents have always been open about it. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia and adopted when I was six weeks old. I have never known my genetic mother nor father, but I’m okay with that. I do not need that blood relation with my with my family now. I would never call my mom or dad my “adoptive parents” because they are just my parents.
My mom and dad have raised me since I was a baby. They have laughed at me running up the stairs every five minutes, GameBoy in my hand saying “Mum! Dad! What’s this word?” because I played Pokemon before I could read. They sat at my baseball games cheering me on as I took five minutes to hit the ball. They allow my friends to hang out in our basement almost every Friday, and will always provide food. Every day after school, “How was your day?” and no matter how I respond they will still ask me every day. My dad yearns for the days when I was a kid and thought everything he said was hilarious. They are the ones put presents under the Christmas tree and watch as I open them with wide eyes and shaking hands.
My life would not had they not adopted me, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They adopted me without knowing anything about me and gave me the greatest gift of loving me unreservedly. I try to accept people without judgement and love them with all my heart. I may not know anything about a person, but it doesn’t matter to me; I greet people with a “Hello, my name is Jay!” and give them a smile to show that I am happy to have met them.
I got the best chance of my entire life by being adopted, so why should I judge somebody on first impressions? If I had been judged at first sight, I could have never met all the people I know and love today. I am constantly reminded that no matter what I do, “We’ll always be proud of you.” I want these feelings to extend to people I meet because we all deserve to be accepted and loved. I love my parents for giving me that gift of unconditional love. I spread that love to everyone who comes into my life. Even on Monday mornings, with Mom opening my shades and Dad “serenading” me as I wake up.
I fear, you fear, he fears, she fears, we all fear: but, why? Was this struggle holding people back in the Paleolithic Age, or did it start in the Neolithic Age, or is this even, perhaps, modern? At what point in time did the human race begin to doubt their surroundings and choices? People fear going outside because there are monsters lurking around the corners: monsters such as snakes, spiders, criminals, disappointment, failure and death. Each and every day, all of these simple things are holding back different people from all over the world. But, why? Why let such insignificant things keep you from living your life? Why not go skydiving? Why not travel the world? Why not fall in love? Why not take chances? Why not experience life?
The whole concept of fear captivates me. Some psychologists say that fear is a learnt action. Well, I say that it is taught. I fear because I know my big, strong father will protect me, and if there was nothing to fear then why would I need that? I fear because I have an angel from above to protect me, and if there was nothing to fear then why would I need that? I am eighteen years old and I am allowed to change my mind. So, I am teaching myself not to fear. I do not need protection because life will not threaten me.
During the next chapter of my life, I plan to explore this mystery. I plan to pack my bags and leave this small town that I call home. Each day, while out in the world, I will push myself to take a chance and to disregard fear. I want to know if I can let go. I want to know if I have the strength and the character to do that myself. And, from my inquiry, hopefully I will begin to understand who I am.
Two Peas in a Pod
The little bell on the door rings as another customer enters Cal’s Coffee.
“Here you go,” Abby tells the college student sitting at the counter in front of her. She plunks the mug of espresso down in front of him.
“Can I get you one?” he asks, a cheeky grin stretching across his face.
“Um… I’m working,” she says, ignoring him to dust crumbs off of her hands.
“When do you get off?”
She put the coffee pot back on the broiler.
“I’m Jase, by the way.”
Abby heard someone sit down at the other end of the counter. She grabbed her pad of paper. “That’s nice,” she gave him a wry smile. It was like a competition with these college boys. They all tried to get her attention or to offer her a free coffee. For one thing, she worked there every day and handled more coffee than a person could drink in one lifetime. For another thing, she was a good four or five years older than any of them.
Jase bit his lip and jerked his head, an act she assumed she was supposed to find attractive. She forced a laugh and walked over to the man that had just entered.
“What can I get for you?” she flipped to a new page.
The man in front her sniffed and rubbed his mouth, eyes glued to the menu behind her head on the wall.
“You guys don’t have cupcakes, do you?”
“No, sorry. We have muffins, though, and those go much better with coffee.” She guessed that this guy might be in his thirties. He hadn’t looked at her once. It was refreshing to Abby to not be hit on every minute. She looked him over, noticing his sunken eyes and the tiredness that seemed to seep from every pore. The stubble on his cheeks told her he hadn’t shaved, possibly for a couple days. His shirt was wrinkled and Abby thought it said “The Ramones” but it was partially covered by a jacket.
“Would a six year old like it?” He asked, finally making eye contact.
Abby had never been asked this before. “Um, sure. So… what do you want, like a corn muffin, or something?”
He sniffed again and rubbed the back of his hand under his nose. “Yeah, thanks.”
She waited, anticipating water works. None came.
The muffin wrack was an arm’s length away from him, but he didn’t seem to notice. For some reason, Abby didn’t think it was necessary to point out the closeness of his hand to the muffins. She plucked a corn muffin, the better looking one of the two that sat there, and placed it on a saucer. It struck her as odd that she had done this. Usually she would offer whichever of the muffins was closest, which often meant the one that looked like it had been sat on and therefore was always the last one picked. “Want me to heat it up for you?”
“Uh, what? No, no,” he glanced at his watch. “Can I just grab it to go?” His phone vibrated. He pulled it out and flipped it open. “Yeah? …Yes, Dr. Ryder…”
Abby grabbed one of the small paper bags from the quickly diminishing pile. The creepy college kid was watching her still. He looked focused on something, something near her. She shuddered at the thought that he might be staring at her butt. Luckily he noticed that she was looking and immediately went back to his coffee and textbook.
“How’s he doing?” the man asked the receiver. “Did he wake up yet? …What? I’ll be right there. Yeah, I’m ten minutes away.”
Abby folds the bag closed, sealing it with a piece of tape she didn’t know they had. “Everything okay?”
He held his credit card out to her. “My… my son just had an echocardiogram… Doctor says he’s looking for me. I told him before I left that I was going to get him some food…” The second part seemed more to himself than to Abby.
She reached for his card, unable to read the name since his thumb blocked part of it. Abby stared at it for a second, and then took it. “Here’s your muffin,” she dropped it on the counter with an unceremonious plop. “I’m sorry to hear about your son,” she said robotically, typing something into the cash register. She paused. “You know… I don’t know a lot about kids, but I think I have something else he would like…”
She heard Jase’s stool slide against the floor. More than likely, he was leaning towards them, craning his neck to hear what she might offer.
The man, and probably Jase, watched her as she grabbed a pair of scissors and moved to the sign by the door.
“I really have to go,” he told her.
“Yeah, one sec.” Then she cut a blue balloon from the three floating above the sign.
“Wow,” the man marveled, “Thank you. That’s his favorite color.”
Abby passed it to him, shrugging. “We have two others, it’s fine.”
His fingers brushed hers as he took the ribbon from her, leaving an inexplicable warm patch on her skin. Then he left, muffin in hand.
Jase pipes up from behind her, “So about that coffee…”
As I took the markers and crayons out of the group tote bag, I could see the excitement on their faces. I felt the essence of absolute joy in the room. In that moment, I suddenly realized how amazing these people truly were.
Last year, I decided to participate in a program run by my synagogue’s religious school called the TELEM program. TELEM stands for the Hebrew phrase, “tenuah l’tzi’rim mitnadvim,” which means “movement for youth volunteers.” As part of TELEM, I traveled by bus once a week to the Minuteman Arc, a group home in Concord which houses adults with severe developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities. I, along with six other students, were placed in “Derby House,” home to five women with disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy.
Once we arrived, we ran activities with them such as coloring, baking cookies, making fun art projects, cooking home made pizzas, and planting flowers. As we worked on our various weekly projects, we often talked as friends. It was surprising how easy it was to build strong friendships with the women. What really surprised me was how easy it was to get them excited about something. What most people see as little games and coloring books, these women saw as a wonderful new experience. It was absolutely inspiring.
Last year, someone asked me what I missed most about being a child. My response was “I miss the way I used to be able to find endless joy in simple things.” Well, the women of Derby House have minds like the child I often wish I could be once again. I am truly inspired by the way they can truly find joy in the simple things in life.
This revelation completely changed me as a leader. I’ve always enjoyed being a leader, so when my group came together to decide what activities we might do, I immediately stepped up and offered to be a leader. I planned a project in which we found leaves along with glitter, sequins, and various other materials, and stuck them between two pieces of clear contact paper. We then placed them in the window so the light could shine through them. As we continued visiting the women every week, I learned that we didn’t need to do big, elaborate projects that go perfectly. The women were happy when we came with coloring books, crayons, and a few good stories to tell.
The women of Derby House taught me many important lessons last year, but I think the most important thing they taught me is that although there are definitely times as a leader in which being a perfectionist is a good thing, it is also important to relax and get to know people. Though it may seem like an easy lesson to some, I honestly don’t know how I could ever repay them for all they taught me. I think my participation in the TELEM program is one of the most essential experiences that has shaped me as a human being.