Archive for the ‘Writing by my students’ Category

The tires of my jeep crunch the tiny pebbled stones as I weave slowly down the driveway. Trees, as large as buildings, line the side of the gravel drive as if guarding a fortress. An army of twisted bark and thick-rooted foliage stand silently behind, extending for miles on end. The lime green ferns sway and dance in the light as I pass, welcoming me back. I am finally here, my favorite place on earth, The Great North Woods.

The beaming headlights slice through the black of night, proving to be the only light for miles. The lights catch eye of the only place that I will ever call home. A clearing emerges, bearing a modest timber-frame structure, adorned with a sinking wrap-around porch. The cinder block foundation crumbles gently with age into the ground, making the first two steps warp and crooked. A long picnic table sits parallel to the house, taking up more than half the porch.

The wood siding is worn and soft but bears scars and wrinkles from a long life. A clothing line droops across the entire side yard, with clothing pins randomly clinging to the rope. I step out of my car and take a deep breath in. The sweet air is fresh and carries the smell of the lake. A feeling of relief floods deep inside. I gaze upward to see thousands of sparkling lights strum across the deep black velvet sky. They are bright and clear and sit boldly in the sky, like crown jewels displayed in a high-end jewelry store. I keep my eyes fixed on the sky to allow the picture to burn into my memory. The clarity of starlight is not compromised by lights, pollution, or the hustle and bustle of city life.
The night is eerily quiet. There is no movement, and the earth is silent. I quickly reach and fidget under the driver’s seat of my car in search of my high-powered Maglite. I leave the brights on in the car and the door wide open for an escape.

Although childish, this ritual began early in childhood, during a visit from my mother when my brother had a group of friends up for a fishing trip. The house was destroyed and smelled of rancid meat and stale beer. She cleaned up the cabin and heaped the garbage into the garage, hoping to take it to the dump.

After returning from the store late that night, she had a visitor. The door had been forced open and clung to the hinges like a loose tooth. As she flipped on the light, she met eyes with a 400-pound black bear, sitting human-like on his bottom eating spoiled meat by the fistfuls. My mother dropped all the groceries and sprinted for the car. The bear was not ten steps behind, and my mother was terrified. As she reached the car, she fussed with the keys jingling in her hand desperately trying to unlock the door.

Unable to unlock the car, she sat and cried until my neighbors responded to the terrible screams and sprinted over with shotguns and flashlights in hand. Flashing their lights into the forest, they slowly inched toward the edge of the foliage in search for the monster. The bear was nowhere to be seen. To this day, the family loves to tease my mom about how massive the beast was and what actually happened that night. Although we give my mom a tough time, I still always leave the door open, just in case I have an encounter with an unwanted visitor.

I slowly make my way toward the house, the tiny, deep volcanic red pebbles crunch under my flip-flops. The house is masked in shadows from the brightened headlights that shine directly on the front door. I slowly step up the three steps on the porch. The weathered wood whines and creaks as I move upward. Cobwebs hang in elegant patterns in every corner, glistening and shining like silk on display in the makeshift spotlight of my flashlight. I reach for the rusted screen door handle, also covered in cobwebs.

As I force the door open, the springs squawk and squeal. I carefully insert the key and lay my body weight against the door. The seal is warped and holds a tight grip on the bottom right edge of the door, making for a trying entry. I stumble in after the door releases from the hook of the trim and reach my hand out for the light switch. The smell of sandalwood and faint mildew flood my nostrils as the lights dim on.

Everything is exactly the same, outdated and full of stories and memories. In front of me, green, lumpy couches are positioned inward to the fireplace, with antique side tables placed on either side. Thick fleece blankets, that match the color of rug, hang on the back of the couches cleaned and waiting to be snuggled with. The fireplace is bulky and holds massive stones as large as dinner plates. Each stone has been hauled from the lake and meticulously placed. Oval-shaped wicker baskets are placed on either side, full of toys, movies, and blankets for guests.

To the left is a kitchen far too small for my mother’s cooking talent, adorned with an avocado-green oven and microwave from the late 70s. A large oak table with room to fit twelve sits on an angle just to the right of the kitchen. Each chair is different, adopted over the years from different times and locations. Floor to ceiling windows line the walls, allowing for a perfect view of the lake. A tiny layer of dust wraps around everything in the house.

To the right, a tiny hallway holds two bedrooms and the house’s only bathroom. I flop lazily on the large couch and allow myself to absorb the room. The energy is warm and welcoming to my soul. The house, which is usually crawling with families, friends and dogs, is silent and peaceful. I am home.

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Patagonia is a wild and vast country with seemingly infinite horizons, skies with ever changing clouds, and very long winters. The southernmost part of Chile is the most isolated place in the country. You can reach Patagonia by airplane or by land through Argentina. Patagonia lies in the very bottom of Chile where the land become dispersed into many little islands, canals, and finally emerges in the ocean. I lived in a city at the end of the world named Punta Arenas (Sandy Point). This region is known for its unique geography: islands, fjords, glaciers and icebergs.

The winter nights in Patagonia are dark, long and cold. Summer days are long and bright. Patagonia is a pristine place, wild and silent where the nature remains still untouched by civilization. The only thing that breaks the silence in this desolated place is the strong and untamed wind that makes the trees surrender under its power. People call this wind Devil’s Broom because it blows away everything in its path. Patagonian trees suffer under these severe gusty winds. Consequently, the average height of the trees in Patagonia is below normal, but the trees are short and strong.

One summer day in January, I and a group of friends planned a trip to the National Park Torres del Paine, which is one of the main attractions in Patagonia. Torres del Paine in the indigenous language means The Towers of Blue Sky. You have to drive three hours on the gravel road to reach a city called Puerto Natales. Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are located alongside the Magellan Strait. When I arrived to Puerto Natales, I could see a flock of black neck swans swimming happily in the cold water of the Magellan Strait. Even though it was summer, the weather was chilly and windy.

After we stopped in Puerto Natales, we continued our trip to Torres del Paine. We drove for many miles through vast grasslands called pampas. I saw settlements and ranchos, sheep and grass all along the way. The trip seemed to be long in this far away land with no trees or mountains. I was observing this isolated landscape, when I witnessed one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. In the distant mountains, I saw the spectacular Group of Las Torres. This is the geological formation of three enormous gold-colored granite towers that give the national park its name. The towers are part of the Paine Massif rising from the east and dominating the Patagonian pampas. I was speechless. It seemed like the hand of a giant had mysteriously put the three granite towers there to look after the park.

The flora in Patagonia is very rich. When we drove through the national park, I saw a millenary forest of Lengas. Lengas are short and strong dark-green trees with sturdy leaves. The vegetation is really spectacular. They grow many different kinds of flowers, and there is a Patagonian bush called calafate that has black sweet fruits. It is believed that if you eat this fruit once, you are destined to return to Patagonia.

Fauna in Patagonia is very rich and diverse. I saw next to the road a group of guanacos rooming through the park. Guanacos are big animals with a thick reddish-brown fur, closely related to the llama. They are herbivores and eat grass and trees. In those vast latitudes, they run very fast. You should not approach the guanacos because they could spit at you. Guanacos spitting is a defense mechanism, and their spit is as fast as a shot.

I also saw ñandus. Ñandúes are related to the ostrich, but they are smaller. They run very fast trough the Patagonian steppes and lay big eggs. In pampas, a wide variety of wild birds and wild geese live. Lakes and lagoons are a big habitat for wild ducks, beautiful black necked swan, and the unique and graceful Chilean flamingos that show their pink feathers to delight you. Flamingos have pink pigmentation due to their diet of algae and shrimp. The most majestic bird among all the birds is the South American condor. The condor lives in high mountains and is a huge bird that flies over the vast plains of the Patagonia observing the panorama from the height.

The lagoons have a vast range of colors. One of the lagoons is called Laguna Amarga, and its color is emerald-green from minerals that exist in the deep water. When I was there, I left the car and touched and smelled the water because I wanted to be sure that the smell was really from the minerals. When I tasted the water, it was salty. Amargo in Spanish means salty or sour. Another lagoon is called Laguna azul due to the dark-blue color of its water. The fishing in Patagonia is a must. People can fish wild salmons and trout and also, one of my favorites, the king crab.

The glaciers in Patagonia are millenaries; one of them is Glacier Grey. When I visited the Glacier Grey, I walked toward the big ice blocks. I always thought that the ice was white, but after being in this far away landscape, I realized that the ice is light-blue. Glacier Grey is a mass of blue-icebergs that are cold, immaculate, and untouchable. I continued walking to get closer to the ice blocks, but it was very difficult because the wind was so strong. The wind was so cold, that I felt it was penetrating inside of my bones, and it was so strong that I was barely standing up. There are not words to describe this place. The sound of the wind, the coldness of the air, and the beauty of the landscape mesmerize you.

Returning to the shelter was pleasant after being in the cold. We sat by the fireplace, and we drank some warm coffee while we enjoyed the view of the glacier at the distance. The quiet crackling of the firewood and the comfort of the warm fireplace made me feel calm and restful. We sat next to the fireplace for awhile until we decided to get back to Puerto Natales, and we planned to stop in a ranch of a friend. When we arrived to Puerto Natales that afternoon, we went to a nice restaurant to have a delicious plate of scallops made in the Patagonian style. After the dinner, we were very tired and went to our hotel to have a very comfortable night sleep because the next day we needed to get up very early to go to the ranch.

It was early morning, and the day was very pleasant. We drove to the Magellan Strait shore and we boarded a small boat. Then we crossed the channel. It was a short boat ride. On the other side the owner of the ranch was waiting for us in a jeep. The ride in the jeep was fun because we drove through the grass. We crossed little creeks and meadows. The jeep rode through narrow pathways. It was a big adventure, the air was fresh and pure, the sky was blue and the clouds were dancing in the blue sky. I could hear the birds singing, and I could see a lot of sheep wandering through the meadows. After an hour drive, we arrived at the ranch. The ranch was a big old house surrounded by a fence, grass, and flowers. There was a barn where the owner of the ranch kept the sheep’s wool. I also saw pigs, chickens and horses. The house was located in front of the ocean and next to the mountains. We spent the afternoon sitting by the fireplace. Then we had a dinner and we went to sleep.

The next day, the people that worked in the ranch, the gauchos, prepared the horses for us, and we were ready to start our horse ride. Our guide was a Chilean gaucho, dressed with a white gaucho’s attire. The gaucho was very experienced in horse riding. A group of sheep dogs followed him. We rode for a while, and we saw a big group of sheep. The gaucho whistled at the dogs, and they begun to lead the sheep to the corral. The Patagonian dogs are trained to help gauchos with sheep herding. They group the sheep together, and with one whistle from the gaucho, the dogs understand what they have to do. The job of the gauchos without the dogs would be very difficult because they have to herd thousands of sheep.

We rode the horses through the meadows, and we saw streams and creeks where the people fish salmon and trout. When we come back to the rancho, near to the lunch time, we were very hungry. The gauchos had prepared a fresh lamb outside in the open fire, the people prepared salad and we ate a very delicious meal. Then we visited the barn, where we learned how the people of the ranch shaved the sheep to get their wool. People in Patagonia export the wool sheep all over the world.
Next morning, I returned home. My trip to Torres del Paine will always remain in my mind, and it will be forever an unforgettable experience.

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Swoosh! My bedroom door flew open with my roommate yelling at me to get up. “Buy Tickets!” he raved, as I laid in my bed half asleep, and confused. He came up to me and started shaking me awake. I groaned and sat up looking at him blankly. He stared back at me with his Sean grin. I realized it was something intense by the look in his eyes. “We got to go to Texas, for Nocturnal Festival!” He said excitedly. He began to explain to me that it was a two-day jam and electronic music festival outside of Austin, Texas. With many of our favorite bands and DJ’s performing, including Bassnectar, Disco Biscuits, Lotus, Pretty Lights, Rusko, and Mimosa. I became excited, and the best part about it was that it was only $60. I bought my tickets that second and we began to plan our trip.

A month and a half went by, and it was time to travel to Texas for a rage fest during Labor Day weekend. Sean, another roommate Clayton, and I packed the Subaru and began to head south. We were excited to head down to Texas, because we are all from there and a bunch of our friends would be at Nocturnal. We arrived in San Antonio a day before the festival started. We woke up early that Saturday and met up with one of my buddies Thomas, who was going. We all drove up to Austin together, and picked up our buddy Hannah. We were ready.

We had a bunch of hummus, camping gear, and almost too much beer. The car ride was only about 45 minutes to the festival campsite from Austin, and the car was full of good energy during the whole trip. We arrived at the campground around 4:30 p.m. and started setting up our tents. There were already copious amounts of people there blasting music, getting drunk, partying, and getting ready to go to the festival grounds. We were all ready to head over to the festival to catch the first act we wanted to see.

We arrived at the festival grounds and were thrown in the mix with all the rave kids and electro nuts. We were getting hyped from hearing the massive bass drops in the distance. We waited in line, finally got in, and were observing our surroundings. The festival grounds were very nice with four massive stages and one with a giant LED pyramid for DJ’s. There were huge trees all around covered in giant glowing ornament orbs.

The main stage was called The Labyrinth and had most of the artists we were interested in seeing. Our buddy Hannah ran off to the Queen’s Ground to go dance to the DJ’s. We knew we would run into her randomly. All of us made it over to the Labyrinth to catch The Pnuma Trio. We made it in the middle of their set. The sun was going down, and the lights became more intense as the Pnuma Trio jammed on through the sunset. We were only able to catch half of their set and then we wanted to explore the grounds.

We started to head to other stages. We made our way through the queen’s ground, and were captured by the energy. Everyone was dancing and getting down really hard. We were disoriented as we pushed our way through the bodies of sweat to get out of the heart-stopping bass. We walked towards the water station because we had none. It was like walking through a sea of mad zoo creatures, with all the crazy lights and faces.

The water station was just in front of us when I heard someone yell my name. Everything was quick, and I was looking around because it was very noisy. I made a complete turnaround, and there was my buddy Paul. He smiled and gave me a big hug. We caught up a little, and then I introduced him to my roommates. We got water and then headed back over to the Labyrinth stage to rage Girl Talk. On the way back to the stage we lost two people in our group. Thomas and Clayton wandered away. Paul and I arrived there right when Gregg Gillis was coming on stage, and he rocked the house. He was throwing down really groovy dance beats and mash ups. The crowd loved it.

Paul and I were wandering around the stage area, and we ended up getting separated as well. I was by myself just wandering around, through the crazy lights and noises. Every person I saw had a unique characteristic about them. A lot of people looked very confused and lost, as if their minds were elsewhere. I made my way all the way to the front and was just dancing with random rave fairy girls. One girl who came up to me started hooking glow sticks all over me, and then her friend joined in. I was literally covered. They even put them through the gauges in my ears, so I had mad colors dangling off of me everywhere. The girls gave me a hug and pranced off into the crowd.

Girl Talk was done playing, and I gathered my thoughts before the Disco Biscuits came on. There was about an hour break before them, and I wanted to find everybody in our group. As soon as the crowd dissipated, Paul came running up to me. “Damn,” he said. I just laughed and drank a lot of water. We went to go back to the water station and got water. On the way back to the Disco Biscuits I ran back into Sean. We rejoiced and went into the crowd. I turned around and saw a huge group of our friends who we have not seen in a year.

The Disco Biscuits had really intense lasers, and they were not afraid to let them loose through the crowd. We showed up in front of our buddy James who was very confused and did not realize we were even there. I was even confused during this epical time in my life. I was lost in this paradox of the labyrinth of life itself. Finally he realized it, and he took us to everyone.

Thomas and Clayton were there, Sean, Paul, and I were the only people lost. Like it really mattered anyway because it was crazy. We all just chilled and laid in the grass and waited for Bassnectar. About two hours passed, and Bassnectar was about to melt the faces off of these poor helpless souls. We chilled in the back and watched him do just that. After he was done it was about 3 a.m. Everyone was beat, so we headed back to the campsite and the party was just getting started.

There was a lot of beer, and I began to drink heavily to sleep comfortably, as the hot Texas sun began to rise. I crashed around noon until Sean shook me and told me it was time to go. We still had a full day of music to attend. We arrived on the grounds with everyone, and we made our way to the upside down room to see Fukkk Offf perform. His genre was a unique style of electro. We were in the middle of the chaos, and I got separated from everybody.

I went to the back of the crowd and scoped out the situation. I pulled my phone out and saw that one of my really good friends Sophia hit me up. She was at the same stage as me and I asked where. She said at the front right, so I made my way up there and she gave me a big hug. She was wearing a crazy peacock feather mask that was very vibrant. I was lost from everyone else, so I just danced with Sophia all night.

A couple of hours went by and one of my favorite bands Lotus was about to come on. Sophia loves Lotus too, but she has never seen them, so she was very stoked to partake in this. Sophia and I got good spots and we were in awe as lotus tore it up with their funky, groovy, electro jams. They’re really talented musicians and kept a live upbeat dance groove going till the end of their set. During all this nonsense, Sean found us. We all had huge smiles on our faces and Lotus kept them up. They ended their set on an upbeat note and we were blown away. We went to go lay down for a couple hours before Rusko ended the festival. We made our way back to the upside down room and Rusko was just coming on. Sophia and I sat in the back and observed the dub step nonsense that Rusko put out. We were so tired. By then, 2:30 in the morning.

Sophia is a massage therapist, and she offered me a massage. I gladly accepted and right when she started I passed out. I slept through the whole set of Rusko and when I woke up Sophia was crashed out next to me. When she woke up we just looked at each other and made our way back to the campsite to sleep. Everyone was at the campsite, and I was sad when I realized this fun weekend was over. I acquired important realizations at that moment, and I tried to piece this puzzle together in my head. It was Memorial Day morning, and we had to make it back to Colorado the next morning for school.

Sean, Clayton, and I were not looking forward to this drive at all but it had to be done. We packed up the car around noon, and drove back to San Antonio to drop off our other friends. We slept for three hours in San Antonio then hit the road back to Colorado. We had class in 20 hours. The drive was awful and no one wanted to take the wheel, but we had too. We arrived back in Colorado with two hours to spare before school. It seemed so quick to be back in reality.

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Looking back, I realize the chain of events that turned my life upside down began with my heartbreak. It was early fall and still unseasonably hot in the Sonoran Desert. It was my second year living in Tucson, Arizona, and my existence up to that point had been somewhat of a fairytale.

The move from Pennsylvania with Jocelyn, a fiery redhead from a dying steel town on the outskirts of Philly, had been amazing. We settled in quite nicely to our new home, and things were going great until she had a change of heart and had an affair with another man. Still green in the ways of love and perhaps a little naive, I was completely smitten by this beautiful woman. The connection we shared was electric and palpable, and I wished for nothing more than it to be everlasting, which made it all the more devastating the day she said goodbye. I remember feeling lost, heartsick and abandoned.

I searched for solace in music and found comfort in my favorite melancholy songs. Weeks went by and my heart still wrenched with the ghosts of my departed love, so I decided that the best medicine might be a night on the town. I did what I could to muster some hope and proceeded to shower and shave. With a spray of my best cologne, and one last reassuring look in the mirror, I departed for the local watering hole.

The evening air was thick and the temperature was still well above 90 degrees. With the windows down and the system bumping, I tore off in the direction of my favorite dive. As I drove down Oracle Road, I noticed the city lights glowing in contrast to the black desert sky, and the chemical smell of the creosote bushes magnified by a recent rain. I felt through the pain, brief moments of excitement as I neared the night’s destination, The Arizona Ale House.

It was happy hour when I arrived, and they had this ridiculous deal on giant mugs of beer. I picked my poison, Dos Equis Lager then pushed my way through the crowd to a bar stool with a good view of the stage. Three or four colossal glasses later my ears rang with covers of campy rock anthems and the sedated drawl of the surfer dude karaoke DJ. The neon signs began to blur so I cashed out, and left to find my car in the parking lot. I hit the button on the fob, opened the door and hopped in.

With limo tint on the windows, and given my current fuzzy state, I decided to keep them down on the drive home to prevent any unnecessary traffic stops. Somewhere in the midst of exiting the parking lot, the thought of Jocelyn came rushing back prompting an onslaught of emotions and a knot in my stomach. All mixed up and on the verge of tears, the light turned green and I mashed the accelerator to the floorboard. I worked though the gears in a fit of rage finding 40, then 60, then 80. Topping the crest of the hill in a bit of hysteria, I glanced into the rearview mirror and to my nightmare, blue lights. “Fuck,” I said out loud as my mind raced in search of an excuse.

This was really happening to me, and it seemed to be the crescendo to all of my recent misfortunes. I did the best I could to feign sobriety while pulling to the side of the road. Spot lights on me, I think I could hear every heartbeat as if I were wearing earplugs as the officer approached my car. “Do you know why I’m pulling you over?” the officer said with his Maglite pointed in my face. I thought it best not to lie, and told the cop that I may had been going too fast and I was just trying to get home. “Have you been drinking tonight?” he asked me. “Yeah, I’ve had like two beers” I replied. “Two beers huh? I’m going to need you to step outside the car.” “OK,” I said complying with the officer’s request. He gave me a field sobriety test which I thought I passed, but according to him I had a sway in my posture so he gave me a breathalyzer and I blew a .17 percent , way over the legal limit.

Upon failing the breath test, the officer called for an E.M.T. to draw blood. We waited for what seemed like forever for the ambulance to arrive and the urge to urinate got pretty bad so figuring that I was already caught, I asked the officer if I could use the restroom. The cop consented, and I shuffled my way off the shoulder of the road amongst the sand and cacti. The paramedics showed up at last, and after a brief chat with the policeman they approached me with a needle, some surgical rubber tubing, and a clear plastic vial to retain the sample. The medic prompted me to extend my left arm then he tied the rubber tube tightly to make the veins pop up. He took the plastic safety cover off the needle and eyed my arm like a vulture. Seeing a capillary, he carefully made his move piercing my skin and then attaching the vial. Crimson red fluid filled the tube to the top, and the tech withdrew the hypodermic and swabbed the entry with some alcohol.

I felt violated by the involuntary medical procedure and hit bottom. I felt a lump in my throat and I started to cry. All the stress that I’d been under finally made its escape and manifested itself as the tears flowed down my face. I think the patrolman empathized with my situation. He told me that I had been very respectful and that he was going to allow me to have someone pick up my car that night and drive it home for me.

Because of the hour, no one answered, but I had one number left to call. Three rings and a familiar voice picked up. It was Jocelyn. In a twist of irony, the object of all of my sorrow would be the one to drive me home. She showed up to pick me up in his truck. I didn’t know what to do, but the awkwardness was gone and I just enjoyed her company on the way back to my apartment. After making arrangements to retrieve the car in the morning, we said goodbye and I traversed the stairs to my place.

It’s kind of crazy how emotion took over and led me down the wrong path. On the days that followed, I had to get a second job waiting tables to defray some of the enormous expenses. I chose a restaurant within walking distance to my house because I knew I would eventually lose my license for 30 days. The silver lining turned out to be a manager at the pizzeria with a rough and tumble biker boyfriend. At the end of my shift one evening, I told her about my ordeal and she quickly jotted down a name and number on a bar napkin. The lawyer that she referred me to had been the judge in the county courthouse for 13 years, so I decided to take her advice.

With a whisper in the ear of the court clerk, he got my sentence reduced from the standard 48 to 24 hours in jail. In hindsight, that was some of the best money I ever spent. Court was adjourned and my penance included addiction awareness classes, a onetime lecture courtesy of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, and of course, the night in jail.

The scheduling for my stay in Pima County’s minimum-security prison was left up to me, so I picked a Saturday morning 6 a.m. check in. I remember the night before being sleepless while the wheels were spinning inside my head wondering what terrors lay in store. Dawn broke and there was no turning back. I had made my bed, and now it was time to sleep in it.

I arrived at the jailhouse wearing some tattered sweatpants, some tighty whities, and a white T-shirt, the required garb for the transition from civilian attire to the orange jumpsuit and plastic flip flops. I sauntered up to the reception desk and received a callous demeanor from the morning master at arms. After surrendering my wallet and car keys, a tired looking correctional officer entered the lobby from behind a locked door and escorted me back to a room with no windows for a strip search. I was ordered to shed my clothing and to reach down and grab my ankles and cough while the poor man looked on to make sure that I hadn’t smuggled anything in.

Completely humiliated, I was handed the aforementioned jumpsuit and led to the processing room where a couple of fairly pleasant looking ladies sat behind bulletproof glass to take my information and assign me to a cell block. The room was all gray with benches cast from cement, and it had a very unsanitary feel. Being early morning on a Saturday, I was surrounded by the cream of the crop from the underbelly of society. Homeless men ranted incoherently citing injustices they had endured, and a pissed off, borderline psychopath taunted the C.O.s when they came into his space. Mortified, and feeling totally out of place, I leaned back against the cold concrete wall, shut my eyes, and pretended to sleep.

My number came up, and I was assigned to D block, the minimum flight risk unit. Before being taken to my bunkhouse, the master at arms walked me to a computer desk area where my fingerprints were taken, and they took digital photos of my tattoos. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was taken to the cell block.

The room where I would spend the day and entire evening came into view, and it was slightly different than I had imagined. Rather than cells with locking doors, it was a huge building separated into three parts. There was a day room, a rack area filled with metal bunk beds, and the latrine/shower area. After being shown which rack was mine by the C.O., I crawled up to the top and went to sleep. Hours passed and hunger pains stung my side, so I decided to venture out to the day room when the lunch announcement was made. I clamored down from the top of the bed and walked warily into the general population of miscreants.

My nerves were on end as I peered about the room, and I quickly gave up hope of encountering a friendly face. I got in line for chow, and after a 10-minute shuffle, a glop of casserole and a piece of green ham were tossed onto my plate by the mess attendant. Feeling a little queasy, but hungry nonetheless, I forced down the salty abominations.

Partially satisfied by the brick that was making it way though my digestive system, I headed back to bed. Ignoring the constant commotion of the room, I was finally able to fall back to sleep. I think I woke up about 20 times that evening, checking my surroundings for safety then struggling to find peace again. At last, the morning sun broke through the plexiglass windows that topped the jailhouse, and I was allowed to make my exit.

It took a while to retrieve all of my belongings, and when I finally stepped foot from the prison I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom. I’ll never forget all that I had to go through because of a poor decision and still lament the series of events that sent me into the system.

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The roar of my 1990 Honda Civic hatchback heater tricks my brain into thinking I’m warm. My muscles loosen up for a moment, and it seems no other world exists beyond the pitch-black void outside my car. The glow of my radio makes the night outside seem even darker. I rest my head against the steering wheel, shut my eyes and hum along with a Pink Floyd tune playing on my cd player.

I try to remember the last time I saw my uncle and sit thinking about the story of Icarus I’d heard in school earlier that day. As my thoughts dance away, the passenger door bursts open. “Hey sweetheart! Look, who am I?” My uncle Willie slams a couple pills, takes a swig from a half-full bottle and gets in. “Now take me jail,” he says. I smile as I watch him act the part of Ray Liota from the movie Goodfellas.

In our family, we are the most connected, but the whole family only consists of five people. There is a grumpy father Erich and his son Rich. Nobody knows where he is most the time. My father Erich was the glue that held everyone together until he died. Then the island we all lived on shattered, and we each took control of one different, floating land mass. Willie drifted onto mine.

“Where’s it going to be captain?” I ask Willie in my most polite 4:30 a.m. voice. “Well I’m thinking a little here and there. Somewhere close, maybe far. You are young, and life is long, and there is time to kill today!” Willie answers, with a huge smile on his face. There is something about that smile that just makes it impossible to be mad.

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun. Shine on you crazy diamond. Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky. Shine on you crazy diamond. You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze. Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine.

At 26 years old, Willie is full of life. He calls me in the middle of the night out of my warm house to give him a ride who knows where. Willie is a Pisces, a water sign and like a lake, he fluctuates and changes and is never fixed on any one point. Or like a river, he flows wildly wherever life takes him and is just as unpredictable and impossible to tame.

We drive through the night searching for the sun, talking about the dramatic life he’s led — not the extreme, wild events but the memories he can’t get rid of, coloring by himself in pre-school and eating gummy snacks his mother packed for lunch until a bigger kid took them away. We all have memories like this. They appear to have no real significance but hide in the dark corners of our subconscious minds waiting.

After a series of turn here and turn there we arrive just outside of Brighton in an unlit and lonely street. He asks me to turn the engine off and park facing east. Before us is a beautiful view of the horizon. My CD had been on repeat the entire time we’re together. The sun rises over the land, smiling. It seems as if the sun holds its breath beneath the earth at sunrise until it can’t wait any longer and must come up for air.

He begins to tell me about my father and how much he loved me even though he was gone most the time. He describes memories he had of me when I was a child. “I will always be here to take care of you, sweetheart,” he says. Then we begin driving again, and he continues to give me directions. I am a bit confused from all the turns until I see a sign that says Adams County Jail.

“Well sweetheart, thanks for the ride. Hope you didn’t spend too much gas on me,” he says in a calm voice, contrary to what he must be feeling. My stomach does somersaults as he opens the door, but a few words manage to tumble out of my mouth, “What? Why? How?”

“I am in some trouble, and I need to turn myself in. I have been putting it off for a while. No one wants to go to jail, but it will be alright,” he says as he hugs me goodbye and gets out of the car.

As I watch him walk away, walls seem to be closing around me. I feel as if there’s someone in my head, but not me. The sky has changed, and the sun is high above us now. It feels as if Willie is tumbling from the sun.

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I look at the expanse of targets before me and the diversity of people behind me, wondering how I’m here. I went from shooting with crooked arrows in my grandfather’s old bow to being here, at the New Mexico National Archery Competition. My $1,000 bow is lined up among the bows of the top archers in the nation. Shooting on the line beside me are people from as far away as the east coast and Alaska, even a few from outside the U.S.

I feel honored to be here, shooting not only against, but alongside, the elite. I think back to how I came to be here, the years of practicing as my equipment became more sophisticated and my talent increased. But it all began one day in my grandparents’ basement.

It was dark and musty. The damp smell of the basement was overwhelming. I was treasure hunting, looking behind old stacks of books and crates of rusty tools. I climbed to the top shelf and found a foreign object among the many old fishing rods. Gently, as if I held a priceless gem, I grasped the object and blew off the dust. To most it would have been unrecognizable, for it was unbent and lacking a string. But I knew what I held.

The next day, small twigs crunched under my bare feet despite my light tread. The earthy smell of the pond and the woods assailed my senses. The humid Virginia air was heavy in my chest as I wove among the towering trees, knowing the route by heart. I listened to the sound of the woods that my grandmother so adored, the chirping birds, the rustle of leaves in the light breeze, the sound of the chickens scratching, even the faint trickle of water from the nearby stream. In my hand was the treasure I found in the basement. The object was light, the old black handle fitting perfectly in my small grip.

I arrived at my favorite spot in the woods, a place indistinguishable from any other place by most. I stopped in an alcove set back from the slight clearing and dropped some of the things I had brought between two large hemlocks, a novel and a cup of lemonade, before turning my attention to the object still clutched in my hand.

I looked down at the bow. It was very old and had belonged to my grandfather as a boy. The once dark green fiberglass limbs had become pale feldgrau. The plastic handle was worn smooth from years in my grandfather’s grasp. The string was made from white twine I’d found in the garage that morning. It was an old bow, not particularly well made, but I held it delicately, as if it were delicate.

I withdrew a long, slender arrow from the back pocket of my jeans. It was silver aluminum with red plastic vanes rather than feathers. I placed the arrow on the rest and nocked (notched) it to the string with my index finger above it and my middle and ring fingers below. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins but the woods created a sense of tranquility, allowing me to focus on the bow. I lifted my arm and drew the string smoothly, looking down the badly bent and dented shaft. I relaxed my fingers, allowing the bow to propel the arrow forward into the heart of the stump.

I retrieved another arrow from my pocket, this one green, and nocked it to the string. The bow felt natural in my hands. I once again lifted the bow and drew the string, barely touching the tip of my finger to the corner of my mouth and sighting down the arrow. I loved the feel of the tension in the muscles in my back and of the weight of the bow in my hand. I took a single deep breath, steadying myself, and relaxed my fingers again.

I felt the arrow’s flight and heard it cut through the air, the vanes whistling slightly. I followed its path with my eyes. It flexed slightly as it traveled. I felt the thud as the arrow struck the stump. I had forgotten the novel and the lemonade between the trees and thought only of the bow and of the arrow.

When I am called to the line at nationals, my thoughts turn from the past to the present, to my bow, the arrow and the target. Nothing else exists. I take no notice of the man beside me knocking a new arrow or the child crying behind me. As it did all those years ago in the woods, the world fades to include only myself and my bow. My breathing steadies, my shoulders relax. I draw and sight down the arrow as I have countless times before. The arrow embeds itself in the center of the gold ring. But a single arrow is nothing. I draw again.

Six hundred arrows pass through my bow in this tournament. Only three land outside the gold ring. My shooting is some of the best I’ve ever done, but my best might not cut it. I wait the results anxiously, and they call the top three from each class over the loudspeaker, handing out trophies. I hear my name, “Female compound, first regional, sixth national.”

I pause for a second, stunned, but my mother presses me forward. I walk to the front and smile for the flash of my mother’s camera, shaking the man’s hand and accepting the trophy. I walk back to my place in the crowd, sixth in the nation. Who would have thought an old bow in the basement would lead to this?

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It was another Friday night at the speakeasy, and my band Back to the Woods was playing. I knocked on the wide oak door, shivering a little as a cold breeze swept though my over-sized wool sweater. The peephole swung open and a very familiar narrow brown eye winked at me. Next thing I knew, I was being beckoned in by Wookie, the Star Wars crazed bouncer who I met a few months earlier. He looked a little like the movie character and was the cherry on top of the staff that worked there.

Max, the bartender, gave me a small head nod as he poured what looked like whiskey into a coffee cup for a man in jeans and a light-blue paisley flannel. There were enough people there that you had to raise your voice over the noise. I spotted my band mates at one of the booths toward the right corner and proceeded to move toward them. I situated myself up against the tall green cushions and plopped my hand upon my bent knee in a salute to relaxation from the hard morning’s work.

The speakeasy made me feel right at home. It was dimly lit with narrow windows near the ceiling. Good wine and whiskeys lined the wood-paneled walls. In front of me sat Jeremy, our saxophone player. He was rambling on and on about his girlfriend’s computer crash and about other band members. To emphasize his point, he nodded his head up every rant with a loud burst followed by a murmur.

I knew he was done when he shrugged his shoulders and tightened his neck like a turtle into its shell and said something like, “So ya, we should do that.” Being the only one with good fashion sense, I could see that the men in our group were extremely dressed up for the occasion.

Tonight, Jeremy wore his out-of-date brown skate shoes that were tied so tight that they had lost their fluff. He had on a collared shirt with the leather jacket he had found abandoned on the side of the street one night, and I could tell he had tried to find the cleanest pair of pants he owned. He would have succeeded too, but he got so excited about eating his pizza that a piece plopped straight onto his freshly laundered khakis.

Almost immediately, Cam burst into laughter. He was always smiling. His dimples made him look almost innocent, and he knew how to work it to his advantage. This is probably why he appointed himself as the official band manager/spoons player of our group. He could walk the walk and talk the talk like any good businessman. He was hard to read, but I had come accustomed to his expressions. He had a square face and always dressed in the highest of sophisticated casual coffee house attire. His hands were black from a days worth of drawing. When he spoke he waved his hands back and forth as if he was a big mafia lord with a cigar in his mouth.

Directly across from Cam sat Matt, who was smacking his mouth every time he took a bite of pizza. It made him look so nonchalant. He was logical and had a way with words. His tall, lanky figure stood out against his bass, and his low-sinking notes matched his low-riding pants. When he played, he swung his long, dirty blond hair over his left eye, as if he were a metal head. Tonight he decided to wear jeans and a white t-shirt with a nice sports jacket.

He looked around the room for something and landed on Nick, giving him the signal that he wanted to start the first set. Nick was the newest member of the band. I had found him at a jam party I was invited to. I was still learning my banjo chords at the time, and he had just picked up the mandolin. I didn’t play a lot of bluegrass, but when he heard me sing he was down to jam. He was the only one of the group of age to drink and was sitting at the bar now, sipping on a beer. His ultra-hippie style sprung out at you, and you could feel the confidence radiating off him. He had spindly dreaded hair that came to his shoulders and sometimes wore a head band to keep it out of his face. He wore Merrell shoes, and his pants were flared.

At first glance I thought he was a druggy, but when he spoke you realized immediately that he was a thinker. His expressions and the way he moved were passionate. He loved his life and his opinions and wanted to share with anyone who would listen. When he finished his beer, he gave max a tip and signaled back that he was ready. Everyone moved at once. I went to go get my banjo and started tuning. The bar had thinned out a bit tonight, but there was still a good crowd. I saw many familiar faces along with some new ones too.

Jeremy did a mike check quickly, while the rest of us figured out what we were going to start with. Jeremy and Nick both looked at me to step up to the microphone. I watched as the crowd simmered down, and suddenly half the audience was waiting to see what we were going to do. Without introduction, we started the slow dragging minor chord into our dirty Louisiana blues. With his eyes closed, Jeremy wooed the crowd with his off-beat swing, and the energy in the room immediately changed. He raised his saxophone in the air stomping his foot to signal the pause.

And there we all stood with every single eye on us. He looked at me, and I stepped up to the microphone. I waited a few seconds till I could hear the ring of silence in the room, my eyes fixated on my banjo the whole time. I looked up and almost whispered the words into the microphone, T’s for Texas, T’s for Tennessee…. The crowd sat on the edge of their seats as I dragged the soft melody like a dead body onto the next verse. I got louder and showed them what my body could really do. I could feel the sound was vibrating all though my body. Everyone was caught off guard, and I had them right where I wanted them.

From there on something beautiful happened, and I was so in the moment that it didn’t even matter what they all thought about me. I could feel the emotions escaping my body, and nothing could tell me that something was right or wrong. My voice carried itself, and I hit notes that I never thought I could. I felt myself dancing with my banjo and my body moving the crowd. When I looked up all I saw was Max and Wookie, with their mouths dropped in shock.

The band had never been this in tune with each other before. It was as if all my frustration and my hurt that I had held in for so long turned into electric waves and spoke to every person in that room. I knew it was time to change to the next song. I nodded my head to signal it and sang with the passion I had felt just a few hours ago, and I opened the door into the first verse, There is a house in New Orleans. It was slowed down so that each note could be toyed with and melded into the perfectly imperfect phrase.

I couldn’t feel my body anymore. I became the lingering note sailing though the air. And Jeremy was the low reverberating note that complimented mine. And something happened that is rather hard to explain. We stopped on the four beat and played together as loud and passionately as we felt like playing. I wasn’t even saying words anymore.

Then as if it had never happened, we were as quiet as we had been at the start. It took a second for the crowd to realize what had just happened but they cheered and whistled, amazed that they had walked into this moment with us. Gently, we ended on the slowest we had ever played as I sank down, eyes closed letting my voice fade away into silence. As I stood there, I didn’t open my eyes. I felt my body release all its tension. It was at that moment I realized what love really is. I believe it’s different for everyone, and for me it’s these moments that come together so perfectly.

I had been inspired months before to pick up a banjo and to begin performing on stage. And now I was confident enough to let myself go. That night was beautiful because the band trusted each other. I understood for the first time the reason for life, and why life takes us on this ride.

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