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The Half and Half-Nots

Filipina.
Puerto Rican.
French.
Chinese.
Burmese. (“She could look Myanmar.”)
Indonesian.
Malay.
Peruvian. (“Lots of Japanese migrated there.”)
Kazakh.
Bolivian.
Korean.
Brazilian. (“Look at your ass!”)
Chilean.
Trini. (“Because of the way you dance!”)
Wait, what are you?

“A human.” (12 year-olds have a sense of humour, too.)

Sheepish grin. “Yeah, I know, but, like, what ethnicity?”

Ethnicity, hm. Like, akin to what race? Hailing from just one country? Part of a centuries-old diaspora? A phenotypic religious identity? A regional origin? …Convoluted misperceptions.

Do you even know what you’re asking?

“I know,” My chuckle-less chuckle responds. “I’m kidding. I’m mixed.”

“Oh, so you’re half black.”

“Um…”

Oh, right. Being mixed is simply binary. Only black and white exist, apparently. With white being the default. Not many options of boxes to tick off on the census.

So over its multiple-choice question, thick angry words scribble: Does it even matter?! (10 year-olds have a sense of awareness, too.)

“Can Christine come play at my house?” “Sure.”

Her mom comes to pick her up and meets my mom for the first time.

“I can’t have any more people at my birthday party, so I couldn’t invite you,” Christine says some weeks later.

“Oh, that’s ok.” (7 year-olds have a sense of understanding, too.)

We play that day, consistent with our daily ritual of the last two years. Our playground days were numbered after that. She soon finds another group of girls to play with. You can guess the color.

Cheryl’s older sister’s birthday party. “I love how we’re all only black girls here! Oh, except for you…sorry,” the birthday girl adds. Cheryl got flack after that for not having “more friends like her”. And she soon parted ways, too.

Nobody ever sticks.

We receive Christmas money from a set of grandparents. $20 for each of my sisters and me to the $50 for my “full” cousins. “That’s for my good half,” sister says.

On the other side, the other full cousin is showered with gifts and love and language on the daily by our auntie. We get a box of Pretz sticks.

You should have black hair.
You have ‘Hispanic hair’.
Don’t you know how to make dumplings?
You’re so fair. You look better tanned.
You’re so tanned. You should stay out of the sun.
We’ll get you a boob job. Korean girls do it all the time.
But you have thick thighs and a big butt?
But Chinese are usually pencil-thin and you’re round.
Look at your thick lips! Where does that come from?

Me: What does it mean to be the all-American anyway?

“I used to feel defensive and angry, too,” Dad would say. “But you have to realize, everybody’s just curious…

“Plus, you’re not half. You’re double.”

Half the ignorance, double the consciousness. This cheers me.

And although every side expects something, no “side” wants you. (30 year-olds have a sense of sensitivity, too.)

But fuck sides. Redefining and defying the mold is your mantra.

You’re strong in your own category…whatever that is.

Featured

Little Hands

At 8 weeks, a fetus ceases to be an embryo. At 8 weeks, a baby already has hands.

Why is it always little hands that they talk about first?

We hadn’t spoken in ages. It had been some petty argument or one-sided flair that started it. Then pride and stubbornness prolonged it…pride really makes people ridiculous. I was ridiculous. So it is more a gesture of maturity than anything else that makes me call her up again, 3 years later.

It is like old times when we were kids. Things aren’t different. They aren’t that different. We still joke the same jokes, discuss the same global issues from the safety of shelter, share stories of our personal evils surmounted as well as of those yet to be.

She’s more righteous now—maybe a bit too much for my taste. But I am also more a listener, so I open up to her diatribes, patiently.

I don’t expect her to keep me so deep in her confidence, so it strikes me suddenly when she reveals that she will be aborting her child.

“A girl,” she said. “I just know she’s a girl.”

As always, I recover quickly from shock. And even as I am still registering information, the side of me that, as always, wants to help people, springs up like a dumb-fuck jack-in-the-box.

“As always, I support you. You know what’s best for your family. And for the kid. You’ll do what you feel is right.”

The words come out warmly and confidently. So…why am I crumbling inside?

It’s not like we ever thought of having children. We are like children ourselves. And our relationship is a handful on its own—how on earth could I share enough care for another little human? Why should I feel so affected by my friend’s choice? Her life, not mine.

“It’s done,” she announced a few days later, when I asked her how she was holding up.

The enormity of her circumstance settled around me as if her choice had been my own. It was like a dark, oppressive cloud suffocating me from all angles, compressing my chest, restricting the flow of my breath.

“It’s hard. Some bleeding and pain, and the intermittent crying between shifts. But it’ll be ok.” It was a text message, yet I could practically hear the sigh in her voice and the undertones of resignation through the typed text.

I mean, it’s not like I thought of having children. Why should I feel so affected? Her life, not mine.

But all I could think about—the image plaguing, haunting my waking dreams—was the little life that was no one’s and the little hands that no longer were.

Jayde and The Sworn Bounty

Beneath the Surface

Jayde dipped a head below the surface for only a moment before jerking her head up and panting to take in the air that she only deprived herself of for a few seconds. “Ze pressure on your ears and ‘ead is natural,” her dive guide explained, failing to keep his accent from overtaking his last word. “You must remember to breathe.” There was determination now. Jayde needed to get past this. She needed desperately to dive 28 meters below to the Underwater City. There was only one mission at this juncture. And no alternative but to finish it.

“And you’re sure I can find Aegaeon down there? He hasn’t abandoned the city?”

Her guide was stern. His gills seemed to blanch at the accusation, but his slippery old-world French drawl never faltered. “Aegaeon is ze lord of all Tortue fledglings. He will never abandon. Only you landlocked roamers fall for zat charisma in your leaders.” And with a flap of fins that fanned off the sides of his humanoid hands, the guide didn’t wait, but dipped 6 meters below, waiting for Jayde to join him.

It wasn’t unusual for leaders to abandon these days. The war had driven out anyone who had had resource enough to disappear from the mainstream – this mainly meant the wealthy and the powerful. Jayde’s mother used to say that it was a good thing that leaders had started disappearing. “Too many cities revere their leaders as if they were one of the old gods. They’re just like us. There’s nothing special about them except the resource they have and the way they pretend to use it to help charities.”

But that was a long time ago, at the beginning of the war when they were still allowed to talk about the leaders. Now, you couldn’t publicly breathe unless you were praising them. Sure, they were in hiding,

but eyes and ears were everywhere and their power was still mighty. The Henchmen still enacted punishments for speaking out against them.

Jayde’s panic and phobia had still not subsided, but she buried her fear of water deep down. With a breath, she emptied the excess air from her float suit and let the weights around her waist take her down beneath the surface to rejoin the guide.

Immediately the pressure swelled around her ears like a balloon that she couldn’t pop. She jerked her limbs uncomfortably. It took a long time to figure out how to breathe through the mouthpiece of her BCD rather than through the clamped rubber of the mask around her nose. The guide must have regained some humility because he swam to her. His wide blue eyes gained purchase with hers and he motioned for her to breathe slowly, steadily. Her eyes mirrored his, though hers filled with terror while his were only calm and reassuring. Jayde gradually regained control, slowed her breath and let herself relax per her companion’s guidance. She leveled out her awkward, land-accustomed body into the pillow of the sea. The guide swiveled around her with a gator-like tail to check that she was going to make it, then swirled off into the deep without a second glance. Jayde knew she must follow him into the blue.

“Only one mission. Get to Aegaeon and recover the missing piece. The words were the last command of her own leader before her home base was attacked by Scavengers. Those words shuddered through her body like a resounding echo. If getting this piece – whatever it was – could end the war, then overcoming her fear of submerging into water was the least of her troubles.

The Underwater City

It took shorter than expected for Jayde to grow accustomed to the sensation of the sea swallowing her head, but once she did, her eyes opened wide to the beauty and quiet peace of ocean life that surrounded her. Brightly hued corals decorated the shallows beneath the surface. Colourful fish darted in and out of the winding spines. And large leafy plants swayed in the breeze of a light ocean current like grass in a field. Without the pollution of sound, Jayde’s body quicky became attuned to slight vibrations and changes in pressure. Descending deeper, the light from the surface started to fade and all colours of the spectrum disappeared, starting with red, until everything in sight became murky purplish-blue.

Her guide – Tonas was his name – turned to her. “We must descend along the lobster wall.”

Tonas was a young breed, among the newest evolutionary species of Deterra and Marine mix – that is, a new classification of human and aquatic creature. This enabled him to speak above and below land, though admittedly, his voice below water was a more natural sound. Above, his voice squeaked out in a sort of warble.

Jayde’s face blanched (as much as it could in darkening water) to where Tonas’ long willowy finger pointed. Just beyond, she could see where the playful ambiance of the coral reef steeply dropped to dark shadow and the blue nothingness of the open sea.

Spec Ad: Public School Proposal

Don’t knock it ’til you try it: Why mindfulness and meditation are not bogus

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Einstein was on to something there!

Before you reject the good vibes of a mindfulness and meditation workshop, take a closer look; introspection is something we miss out on time and time again, especially when facing the rough realities of day-to-day tasks.

Meet Rochelle, someone who has been dealing with some childhood traumas and abuse. Mindfulness has been her leading antidote to her anxieties. With meditation, she has come to understand and peacefully deal with the genesis of her own emotions.

Mindfulness is meant as a progressive means to tackle every day issues students may face in regards to concentration, anger management and other inhibiting behaviors.

Project Zen is our solution: a top-down approach to teaching mindfulness and meditation.

It starts here: as a yoga instructor, I will guide teachers through the steps of mindfulness. As we rewire our own brains to adapt to mindfulness, it trickles down to our students who are given new tricks to coping with their anxieties and troubles.

If this project is successful, schools can expect to see a decrease in “acting out” and an increase in mature coping mechanisms in students. I propose we survey the students. That way, we can see a difference before and after, where before, there might be more compulsion towards violence, frustration, etc., afterward. if we’re successful, we will find that students will have uncovered abilities in coping, very much like Rochelle did. Maybe even more so than adults. And if we’re lucky, these methods of mindfulness will carry over into generations of the future.

The ways we’ve tried no longer work. It’s about time we found new methods to address age-old issues in our school environments.

Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

I never usually hike on my own – an attribute of having zero sense of navigation…but it’s certainly the loneliness that I can’t stand.

Hiking with others can also be a strain, as I generally stand between 4 and 13 inches shorter than everyone I know. Every two and a half steps is needed to match just one of that of my friend’s. Frustrating as that always has been, I knew the time was coming where I needed to face up to the courage it takes to walk a path alone.

My moment came in the shapeof a purportedly dangerous and exhilarating hike in Zion National Park: Angel’s Landing.

Fourteen deaths and thirty degree inclines with cliff overhangs, only managed by steel chain climbs, characterized the jagged steeps of this mountain.

At 5pm on a Friday, I made my way up.

My footsteps thudded in military fashion, tenaciously pounding pavement to keep a fast pace and beat my own personal record for speed.

This incline was constant and steady. Every switchback rose at more acute angles to the ground below. The rigor left me breathing heavily and made my pulse surge to an iron taste of blood in my mouth. My pace remained relentless. The power of my mind and determination drove the unlimited power of my body, my vessel. Three times I stopped, ten seconds at a time; otherwise, my feet persisted and carried on.

Onward I climbed, blood pulse now rising in my ears. My fingers swelled fatly with heavy circulation and the power of gravity in the hands at my sides. Only a mile upward! I had done ten mile the day before; this was more than manageable. When I came to the first climb of chains, another group was scooting down on their butts the same way I was going up. “Halfway there,” they encouraged. Steeper it went. Like in a jungle gym, I used the chains and rocks to effortlessly boulder my way up the cliff.

Further up, a handsome, dark-haired man in front of me noticed that I had halted behind him. I only meant to give him space across the slanted threshold that was our walkway. “Are you alright?! Are you panicking?!” His voice was a quake and I felt his projected fears bounce off of my relaxed demeanor. I surprised myself with my own intense calm and basked in the happy realization that I love this; I live for this.

“Oh! No, I’m great. Just want to give you space and no pressure.” We walked together awhile, vibing off of each other’s encouragement. He was from Daytona Beach. I was a on a road trip. “No way but forward,” I would say. The handsome man eased a laugh out of me with his reply: “True! Momma didn’t raise no bitch!” With renewed sense of confidence, he leapt easily over the next crevasse. I crossed cat-like right after him.

He stopped for water. I moved past him with eight limbs. My confidence in climbing was unparalleled. My pace was quick, steady, graceful. I scaled the peak, my strides bold across the rock-fin top. Then, I reached the cliff’s edge and reveled in the glory of my completed accomplishment: one mile, one thousand feet of elevation. I glanced at my watch – from shuttle bus to trailhead to peak: one hour. A gaggle of gentlemen greeted me with hails and offers of snacks and a photo at the top. We all wore smiles of victory. The dark-haired Daytonian arrived shortly after and the band of brothers (and sister) showered each other with congratulations and laughter.

An old woman, a friend of mine, once described me as vapor: one moment, there, and in another moment, gone. I wasn’t one to tarry up there on Angel’s Landing. Within moments of making new friends, I said my goodbyes and parted from the cliff drop. I never got my hiking companion’s name, though I wish I had told him how handsome he was. It always feels like an irrevocable bond to overcome nature’s feats with someone.

Within an hour, I was back inside my car.

Two hours prior, I had embarked on a lone journey to prove to myself my pace, independence, my self-worth. I returned a renewed woman: capable, confident, unconquerable. And all within a two hour hike up a renowned mountain of seeming foreboding. I crushed it.

I came away with new insight to the human condition and capacity: that fear lies in anticipation and that taking action relegates fear to the imagination. leaving room only for the goal.

Moreover, the limits of your body live only in your mind. I had set out with determination and come away impressed with my own results, And though I enjoyed it, I needed no companion to cheer me on, except for one – the one inside of myself.

Silence and Meatbags, Moab, Utah

He was the spitting-image of old Westerns. Long snow-white beard with a handle-bar mustache. Straight-backed saunter and an angle to his chin that made you wonder if he ever made eye contact with you when he talked, or if he just held his gaze straight on perpetually. A man of few words, his deep growl came out with an accent thick as mud, such that you had to crank your head to listen harder.

I never got his name, though I’ve memorised his every demeanor to the last detail. And his final words to me are marks etched in stone, forever burned into my memory.

“You want some cup ramen and a Styrofoam cooler?” At first, I didnt realise he was talking to me. “Uh…yeah?” It came out more a question. “Sure.” Naturally, I was hesitant. Why would one stranger lend a helping hand to another?

“How about some heavy duty trash bags?”

It was evident that my car was weighed down with the wares of my travels on the road. And, after all, I was practically camped out at the laundromat parking lot where this gentleman worked. Why should I be suspicious of a helping hand?

His off-road vehicle golf-cart strummed to a stop next to my aged black Honda.

“Thank you for being so kind.” I initiated after an odd pause.

“Y’all take care and be safe…” Another pause. “Where ya headed?”

“I came across country from the East coast and am headed towards California before making the return trip back east. Where you from?”

“Originally from California. My fam’s been comin’ here since I was a kid. I grew up a quarter mile from the Pacific coast. But I fell in love with this place.”

“Utah is phenomenal…but don’t you miss the sea? That’s exactly what my road trip is for. I’m searching for a new place to live. I’ve moved around to quite a number of places but nothing feels like home yet.”

Then, Old Faithful surprised me.

“Let your sould be silent; you’ll find it.”

He stopped me in my tracks. My inward smile encompassed my whole being; so there are still stoic poets in the world!

“Thank you for saying that.” It was so rare to find kindred spirits.

As if he had read my mind, he started mentioning how hard it is to find genuine spirits around. “You thought I wanted somethin’ from ya, didn’t ya?” I admitted so with a nod. “We all come from different place; we’re all different colors. And in reality, we’re all spirits enclosed in meatbags.”

My response of laughter couldn’t be controlled. And as I laughed, I was amazed to see his stoic veneer melt into a 2-second chuckle. He felt it, too. And realizing his cowboy façade had cracked, he cranked his mini-engine again.

I took the queue for his exit and thanked him again for his kindness.

His stern mask had already taken back its place on his face and replied, “Y’all be safe.”

I took away a very important lessons that day. By spending 10 minutes in honest conversation with a stranger, I walked away with new wisdom held in silence and deep knowledge that we are all permeable, fluid, compassionate creatures that are packaged in a sack of meat with a bone framework.

With Howls at Your Back, Acadia National Park, Maine

The air was brisk at Acadia National Park. While dusk set in, I opted for short stroll through the woods around Bubble Pond.

Bird chirps faded as evening nestled into little corners of the woods. New sounds of the night emerged: leaves rustled to rest; peace settled in; my footsteps padded against the dirt beneath me.

I turned down a shortcut, making my way back to the parking lot. I relished the walk, enjoying the vegetation, the navigation of the path’s curves and the greenery as it browned in setting sunlight. The natural peace was beautiful.

After 20 minutes, I still hadn’t arrived at my car. In fact, I hadn’t arrived anywhere.

The squiggly loop on my simple paper map illustrated a short straight-shot to my starting point. Surely, the trailhead couldn’t be much further.

At least, that’s what I told myself, even as my legs felt the familiar strain of trudging uphill, up, up into the the mountain.

The trees loomed ever higher and all around. Barren branches became shadow. My steps hollowed and heart pounded as I realized, with acute clarity, that I was alone, deep in the woods, far from help – and losing daylight!

Despite the incline – and against my intuition – I reassured myself that the path was short. “I’ll be back in no time.”

Then, a coyote howled in the distance. Once. Then twice. The pinpricks of hairs tickled my neck, bristling my animal nerve and urging me towards my only remaining instinct – to MOVE.

The danger of dark and of losing the trail was now coupled with a new, very real and visceral fear of the hunt. All the pathfinding challenges up to this moment had felt in my control – but now, I was electrically charged and my prey-like senses overtook me. Every organ lilted and my blood throbbed arrhythmically. I was wild panic.

I didn’t know much about the wildlife in these parts; damn it, Elizabeth! You’ve done it again! My lizard brain beat down my ego with the relentless tirade. Without plan, rampaging through wilderness and defenseless against the dangers of nature herself..!

I heard it before I saw it. It was trickling like the light tones of an xylophone. Sharpening my sight in the glow of dusk, I spied a waterfall that scintillated against the black rock.

Nearly forgetting my plight, my pulse skipped with excitement once I noticed that the newfound hiking path scaled the waterfall itself.

I fought with myself to turn back and retrace the way I came. Back towards the certainty of safety and civilization in the growing dark.

But some magic propelled me forward.

I started the climb.

God-damned adrenaline junkie.

Scaling the near 90 degrees of incline, I paralleled the cascade of water. This was the hike I’d always dreamt of – though anxiety over my circumstanceof my predicament dampened any exhilaration. Even so, droplets dressed my skin and the intensity of the climb emboldened me as I mastered the mount. I reached the top, the accomplishment of my feat surging through every cell.

The glisten of a pristine mountain pool greeted me.

The placid surface was untapped and inviting. I eased into relief at the pool’s calm. The temperature of winter’s thaw was frigid, but I wanted nothing more than to dive right in and cleanse myself of my fear of the hunt.

I once heard that happiness lives in moments. Like any emotion, it’s fleeting.

My momentary happiness was no exception. Once my dilated pupils contracted, I realized the reality before me.

Searching for a path beyond the pool, there was nothing but desolate, arid, flat, unoccupied rockface. A vast impression of slickrock that purveyed the forest green that stretched far below it. The return path was too far and too terrifying to face now. And there was only one way home: forward.

In the face of mortal danger, minds can race. And when they do, our bodies seem to know how to take the helm. So, my feet pounded onward across the arid slickrock.

The temperature dropped. Wind was picking up – drastically. Head huddled against the blows, my fatigued feet plodded on. Body and mind clashed: where my wasted legs wished to collapse and hunker down, the voice in my head hissed: What are you going to do? Lie down and die?!

The wind began pressing in on all sides, as did the darkening dusk. I couldn’t think. My breath was shallow. I could only push one foot ahead of the other.

And just when I couldn’t take anymore of the slanted slickrock that tugged at my ankles – the cairns reappeared, directing my way, leading me to a menacing oasis of deep forest. A forest that sloped sharply down a cliffside.

Would this path never end?

Seeking my escape from windchill and desolation, I traded the arid mountainscape for a descent into forested darkness.

There was an eerie peace settling in and around the pines. But my eye twitched with every rustle of leaf and every change in wind. Every plane drone high overhead was easily mistaken for the low growl of an overcharged bear lurking in the shadows.

And halfway down the slope, at the peak of fear, when my mind had played on me every last trick in its books – the last ray of daylight finally extinguished and the path was lost.

I drew in a breath so sharply and so heavily that my sound could have cracked the silence.

But it wasn’t silent.

Something was near. And it would save me.

The tap of trickle against rock and soil. A flow of water – the self-same water source leading down to Bubble Pond!

Water draws many animals, which should have served as some warning to me in the mammalian active night.

But I was also relegated to the breed of beasts. I was one of them. The water drew me, too. And despite myself, like all prey, I disregarded fear of predation in favor of the silvery stream that flowed down the steep hillside.

This – THIS – was the final task. My home stretch. Hopes lifted at the prospect of steady shelter, fluorescent light, the sound of human voices – all things that I’d sought to escape when I first entered this park, but which suddenly seemed an out-of-reach blessing.

Brambles and roots shot out of the earth like grasping arms. My feet practically slid down the steep, sloping hill. But the sound of water led me onward in my blind state. I stumbled, fell, carried on, drenched in sweat and coated in dirt.

Even though there was no path, I could at least follow the sound of water to the pond. No stream had ever given me such salvation.

I ran from invisible enemies, not realizing that the greatest of them all was the fear that lived inside myself.

And before I could take account of anything, there it was. A silvery bulb of a moon shone in the reflective glass pool. The water’s edge glimmered, lighting up my pathway along its bank – to safety.

It brought me to a small footbridge I didn’t recognize. I walked over it regardless. And like a portal, the bridge transformed my environs from threatening woods to enchanted forest where, ahead, the signpost from which I had started my journey stood upright and stock still, like a vigil. It marked my way back to my small Honda, which sat like a lone duck in the empty, dark parking lot.

I clambered inside, my breathing still heavy with the physical and mental exertion of my adventure.

To this day, I still take crazy risks on hikes that challenge the spirit. But now I know better – to at least have ready a headlamp and some idea of where I choose to wander.

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