MARINAvsWriting

suburban war

Lawyers, doctors, and moms have the best drugs. One time, while out dancing with a doctor-mom-friend she pulled out a baggie of pills and offered me one. “What are they?” I screamed over the nihilistic mumblings of James Murphy. “I don’t know!” she screamed back before throwing a green pill into her mouth. I’m a good little immigrant girl trained to follow rules, listen to authorities, and never ask questions, so I declined my doctor-mom-friend’s offer.

That’s why, when grieving the desecration of my hometown and the related murder of my cousin and her husband, I told another pal, my lawyer-mom-friend, that I wanted drugs. Good ones. “Hallucinogens,” I told her over the phone while leaving a Highland Park Community Rally that mostly made me angry.

As I wandered the pristinely manicured streets, expounding on all the reasons why I wanted and deserved drugs, a woman in a car waved me down, “Excuse me,” she yelled, “Excuse me, do you know what’s going on?

“Hold on,” I said into the phone, walking up to the woman mainly to get her to stop yelling, “It’s a community rally because of the shooting.”

“Again?” She responded with an eye roll so pronounced, that I was certain my lawyer-mom-friend heard it over the phone. “They just did one on Friday,” she followed.

I was so put off by her response that I laughed. It had been five days since a 21-year-old male in a dress snuck onto a roof in downtown Highland Park, Illinois, and chose the same street where I used to serve pancakes to cantankerous octogenarians to snipe dead 7 people (two of which were married, one of which was my family friend)—injuring approximately 40 others.

I wanted to tell the woman in the car that I guess the issue hadn’t resolved itself with just the one rally, that somehow, people were still hurting and gun violence was still a problem, but I just shrugged. “Sorry,” I told her, adding an unexpected item to the list of my inexplicable apologies.   

“Okay, thanks…it’s just that I live here, and there’s no parking,” she concluded, before rolling up her window and driving off.

About 24 hours later, my lawyer-mom-friend was by my side, shoving a small vial with large pills the color of octopus, into my hand. The rapid delivery was incredible for a number of reasons; for one, my lawyer-mom-friend lives in Upstate New York, and I live in the heart of Los Angeles, yet somehow, we were both standing in the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Secondly, the exchange felt so pedestrian that for a moment I thought she was passing me breath mints. It wasn’t until she was halfway through her detailed instructions that I realized what was sitting at the bottom of the tote bag I bought at the Rijksmuseum only 7 days prior.

(It never ceases to amaze me how much life can change in only one week. One day you’re in the Netherlands wandering the gift shop of a historic Dutch museum, the next you’re in your childhood home burying friends and inspecting rooftops for killers.)

“Can we just take a moment to absorb this,” my lawyer-mom-friend said, breathing in the serenity of the gardens. At the entrance, a sign read: HEAR NATURE CLEANSING. I felt it was a bit aggressive, like the garden was screaming at us. My lawyer-mom-friend, however, was instantly charmed by the beauty of it all. “I want to throw something out there and feel free to say no,” she posited.

“No,” I demurred as we weaved in and out of loud families, who were also taking advantage of the last night of free garden admission due to the whole mass shooting thing. 

She laughed and I remembered that even though I was furious at humankind for unleashing this kind of pain and hopelessness on my family and neighbors, I still needed to act like a human person so as not to scare my very lovely friends—one of whom just smuggled illegal substances onto my person.

“Just kidding. Go ahead. What was it you wanted to ask me?” I robotically responded.

“I wanted to know if you’re interested in meditating together?”

“Here?” I asked looking around, growing acutely aware of the strangers and our exposure. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than sit in public with my eyes closed and chest open.

“Yeah, we can find a quiet spot,” she told me her beautiful face melting into a warm smile. Her expression was so sparkly, so tender that I had to look away. 

“No.” There’s only so much human-person-ing I can do.

“Okay, and that’s totally okay,” she responded as she skipped up the steps to an alcove where a woman—who looked even sadder than I did—was sitting and talking on the phone. Maybe she’s from Highland Park too.

After a few hours of aimlessly wandering the splintering pathways, it began to rain. “Hear nature cleansing,” we said in unison over the drumming of water on leaves. Our pace didn’t change, which I appreciated because my body was incapable of moving any faster.

We found a bench under a tree overlooking a pond and watched as the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon. It was a striking scene and I didn’t care one bit. I told my lawyer-mom-friend as much, “I feel nothing.”

At that moment, I thought of a story this very friend once told me. Her little-itty-bitty daughter was getting bullied by some punk named Skyler. One day, my lawyer-mom-friend walked right up to Skyler and gave her a stern sermon about the potency of kindness. Afterward, while walking with her daughter to the car, my lawyer-mom-friend told her kid to forget about Skyler. “Skyler is not someone you need to worry about,” she said to her precocious 5-year-old, whose big Hershey kiss eyes are so sweet they’ll give you cavities. Unexpectedly, her little-itty-bitty daughter looked up at her and angrily said, “Skyler knows exactly who I am but then she just fucks me.”

That’s how I felt. After getting hit by a car in 2019, I spent my second shot at life cobbling together an altruistic existence wherein I practiced radical love and boundless joy. During the pandemic, I watched evil unfold around me and I fought against it—naively according to my father, but aggressively nevertheless. I began volunteering with multiple organizations, donating so much money that I ended up in debt, I smiled, I listened, I cared, I cried, I loved, I meditated, I did it all.

“To quote your daughter,” I told my lawyer-mom-friend as the sun’s forehead ducked out of sight, “The world knows exactly who I am but then she just fucks me.” I looked over in time to see her pretty, tender face crumple into tears.

The next day I woke up at 2 p.m., needing to remind myself once again why I was in Highland Park, back at my parents’ house, with their broken floors and dying dog. Just about the only activity I felt capable of doing was walking to the local Dunkin’ Donuts; a delightfully unchanging safe zone.

I peeled off my XL sleeping shirt which, by this point in my week of funeral hopping, was splattered in toothpaste. I changed into something a bit more public-appropriate: an XL sleeping shirt not splattered in toothpaste. I love oversized t-shirts because they show off the best parts of my body; the area from my elbows to my fingertips and from my knees to my ankles. I threw on some black bicycle shorts and decided that this was a very decent outfit for an adult-girl-woman in mourning. Subdued, frumpy, black. Excellent. Good job to me.

I grabbed my bag but not before offering donuts and coffee to my parents, both declined. Cueing up “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire on my phone, I popped in my earbuds and headed out into the muggy midwestern afternoon. Unable to absorb anything in the days after the shooting, Spotify’s algorithm jettisoned “The Suburbs” beyond my grief and into the folds of my brain. It became the only song I could listen to without spinning off the edge of the earth.

The falsely cheerful piano chords came in and I disappeared inside the song…

In the suburbs, I

I learned to drive

and you told me we’d never survive

Grab your mother’s keys, were leaving

You always seemed so sure

That one day we’d be fighting in a suburban war

I’d always hated growing up in the suburbs. I thought they were creepy, flush with sterility and lacking culture. I never fit in and I hated everyone who did. I left the year I turned 18 and never looked back. Four years later Arcade Fire released “The Suburbs” and I realized that maybe I wasn’t alone in my experiences. I began noticing other kids who had scaled the deep pit of isolation that comes with a neighborhood designed for perfection but rotting at the roots. Why didn’t the shooter kid do the same?

As Win Butler presciently cooed about a dystopic militarized suburbia, sirens in the distance bled through the chorus. My thoughts diverged from the lyrics long enough to wonder what other horrors could possibly be unfolding in this town.

Sometimes I can’t believe it.

When I dug into my tote bag to pay for an iced coffee I had no recollection of ordering, I realized I’d left my wallet at home. My forgetfulness was at an all-time high and I was too sad to be frustrated. “Do you accept apple pay?” I asked the man behind the counter, the same one who had been there the day before and the one before that. He did.

Back on the street, I restarted “The Suburbs” and turned right when I should’ve gone left. I crossed 41, and walked past the Target and the Staples, past the retirement community and the gym, past the hospital where up until three days ago, I always thought of my little brother’s deviated septum surgery that I delight in calling a “nose job” to this very day. Now, I studied a toppled sign at the entrance, wondering if it blew over during a storm or if it was yet another victim of the 4th of July massacre.

I kept walking until I found myself at the entrance of Highland Park high school. A close friend’s dad—who was at the parade—recommended I attend their free counseling. I shrugged feeling uncomfortable by the support, “I wasn’t there…”

 “No,” he sternly said, adding another word to the approximately 50 he’d said to me over the past 20 years. “You lost someone close to you. It’s there for you,” his eyes began to water so I hugged him to spare both of us from the tragedy of watching someone you care about cry.

As I stood at the entrance of the high school, I told myself I’d turn around when my brain told me to. Forgetting, of course, that my brain hadn’t been properly working since before the shooting.

Inside, the place felt more like a movie set than a high school; elderly volunteers with stuffed animals trailed support dogs, shell-shocked parents guided small children through hallways built for big children, useless inspirational quotes hung from the banisters (“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas), and strangest of all were the FBI agents. So many of them. Everywhere. Did they come from New York or Texas? Where were they sleeping? When was the last time they saw their families? How much more of this could they possibly take?

An elderly volunteer broke me from my trance to offer up a “squishmallow,” a circular stuffed toy lacking any defining features. Its innocent black eyes and rainbow coloring looked so cheerful under the fluorescent lights that it made me nauseous. “I’m okay,” I managed to choke out.  

“Are you sure? They’re so soft and they really do help.” I kept moving, scared I’d say something that would erase that smile right off her affable face.

Everyone who entered got a wristband; blue if you were at the parade, white if you weren’t. As I watched the white band get cuffed to my wrist, my face flushed with shame.

Sweaty and disheveled, I hadn’t even brought my eyeglasses with me, so I kept my burning eyes hidden behind sunglasses. The soft voices, sad smiles, and general gentleness made my nose prickle with despair. None of it felt real and the fact that I was pretending it was made me the fakest of them all.

An ancient security guard, clearly a retiree trained to wander the halls and absorb teenage rudeness, was slowly checking IDs and printing up visitor badges. A young couple in front of me, both wearing blue bands, were escorted into the FBI line. The ancient security guard waved me forward.

I reached into my tote bag, forgetting I’d left my wallet at home, and as my fingers searched the bottom, they brushed against a small, hard, unfamiliar vial. I froze, eyeing a chocolate lab three feet away from me. I let go of the drugs and considered my options:

I could turn on my heel and walk back home where I was safe from the authorities, the building full of strangers, the rote sadness, and the outside world. The second was to risk arrest (or worse: confiscation) and tell the security guard that I desperately needed to talk to someone about how I didn’t want to be a good person anymore, how evil was winning and everyone was losing, how I was filled with a terrifying amount of rage and I was scared of where it’d lead me.

I took a deep breath, tightened my grip on the tote bag, and took a step forward.

Break Open In Case of A Mass Shooting

An Angerly Written Guide In The Aftermath of Gun Violence

Here’s what happens when you’re experiencing a mass shooting from afar—I share this because, at the rate we’re going, you’re probably going to be in one, or know someone who has. If you’re lucky like I am you’ll only be saddled with unyielding, life-long trauma doggedly thrumming at the base of your neck. If you’re unlucky like my cousin and her husband, you’ll be murdered.

First, you will get a pithy text or a notification on your phone; shots fired, gunman, shooter…something of the sort. I got the notification when I was on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Austria. I was sitting at a high-top table in Vienna when Sam’s phone lit up: “Shooting at Fourth of July Parade.” It says it’s in Highland Park, he told me.

I’m used to these types of Citizen notifications in our current neighborhood where gun violence is prevalent; a few months earlier Sam and I watched from the same app as a family cradled their dead 14-year-old son, shot in the chest at the park where we walk our dog. A few weeks ago, Sam stepped into the front yard to find an unspent bullet casing glinting on the sidewalk. I battled each experience with my thoughts, prayers, voting, and action.

Your life will immediately be split into before and after. You’ll long for the sweet, sweet moments of the before. In my before, Sam and I were enjoying our final night in Austria with our close friends. We spent the day wandering ancient Viennese streets, attempting to retrace the steps my family and I took 30 years earlier when immigrating from the Soviet Union to The Land of Opportunity.

When you do get that shattering text, it’s normal to not quite understand what you’re reading. I’d assumed it was all a miscommunication—someone mistaking fireworks for gunshots. Happens all the time in my neighborhood. But after a few minutes, the gears clicked into place and I figured it’d be good to send a text to my parents just to make sure it really was a misreport. The text back did not go in my favor.

My parents confirmed it was a mass shooting. My little brother wasn’t there. He texts the family chain to say he’s already getting information from friends who were there. A former coworker’s grandfather was murdered, he tells us.

That’s when your ears will probably begin to ring, at least mine did. The world around you will lose focus. You text everyone you know in the area, “WTF?! You safe?” collecting little moments of false relief with each response. Eventually, someone you know doesn’t respond.

In the hour or so after the shooting, you’ll be in this odd liminal period, an information vacuum. It’s before your neighborhood starts to trend, but after it’s changed forever. Soon it will be added to the bottom of a long list, bumping the last shooting into its new position of opening act. A name that was once so personal to your origin story will be uttered in somber tones by strangers across the country.

Before June, when venturing outside of Uvalde, its inhabitants had the privilege of laughing and telling people, “Oh it’s this tiny town you’ve probably never heard of.” Now, all these places, including my childhood home, have been violently stripped of their obscurity.

Before understanding the severity of the situation, you’ll want to post something to social media. You’ll feel like people need to know that you aren’t there, that your family is safe. Go ahead and post what you want, but be aware that it might turn out you’re wrong.

I posted from the bathroom, using a black background to convey the levity of what I was about to upload to dumb fucking Instagram stories. Not that it matters, but it was my second time doing so that week. How many more bathrooms will I have to stand in, choosing the perfect font to describe the end of one tragic existence and the beginning of another? Five? Eighteen? Infinity? For the gazillionth time, I considered deleting social media, as if that would keep the bad news from seeping through my phone.

Then, the articles will start to trickle out. Some have videos, I didn’t watch those and never will. All have chaotic snapshots; discarded shoes, dumped strollers, an empty street that still somehow looks like it’s in motion. These pictures will replace any memory you’ve ever created in that place. Bullet holes fill walls where you used to whisper the names of crushes into the ears of your best friends. I stopped looking at photos when I see a fountain I used to wade in as a middle schooler. Next to the fountain is the Dairy Queen where I used to lick my sticky fingers clean while searching for familiar faces in line. Now, it’s all just caution tape fluttering in the wind. A sash for the new Miss America: bullet-riddled Suburbia, U.S.A.

None of the early articles will have useful information or details…the story is still developing and it will continue to develop for the rest of your life—the picture never quite coming into focus.

You will find out about your loved ones before the rest of the world. Especially when the community is small and insular like immigrant Soviets in the Chicagoland area.

I found out at 5 a.m., the morning Sam and I were leaving Austria about 11 hours after the shooting. As I stirred awake, stretching through the peaceful moments before the reality of the previous day set in, I reached for my phone. Sam firmly placed his hand on my back, “I think someone you know died.” I clung onto the I think. I think is good because a thought is not a reality. Not yet.

I sat up and unlocked my phone, refreshing all the apps I use to communicate with my scattered family. The wifi where we were staying was spotty and my family thread remained unchanged. I snatched Sam’s phone out of his hands. He didn’t protest. WhatsApp was already open and the names were there: “Irina and her husband were killed.” A blunt text from my father, who wrote it on his way to Irina’s house to greet her mom, dad, and mother-in-law (who I’d later learn was shot in the head). The loopy handwriting Ira used to sign her paintings in art class flashes behind my eyelids before I slammed my face into the mattress, using the firm padding to muffle my sobs.

When my parents got to Irina’s house, 12 hours after the shooting, they sat at her kitchen table, mouths agape in horror. The journalists arrive before anyone else did, by the way. The gall. Irina’s mom tells my dad that I was lucky to be in Europe because with the time difference I got to live in a world where Irina was alive for a little bit longer than everyone else. Luck becomes a burden, forever pinned to your chest.  

If you’re far away from the shooting, you’ll try to disprove the information you received. I googled “highland park il victims” but it was the middle of the night in America and the articles wouldn’t be updated until I was in the air. I obsessively searched the internet until the fasten seat belt signs went on and we were asked to put our phones in airplane mode.

I enjoyed a private grief 38,000 feet in the sky while Irina and her husband’s name began trending below. The internet greedily lapped up the particularly cruel circumstances in which they were murdered; shot in cold blood by a sniper in front of their child. Irina and Kevin become the poster children for this massacre.  

Random memories sandwiched between violent imagery will start running through your head. Mine involved Irina teaching me to shave my legs, while our disapproving mothers smoked cigarettes in the backyard; Irina throwing her arms around her dad, who always looked like he just woke up from taking a nap under a tree; Irina lying in the street, her long, brown hair matted with blood.

Texts from friends who realize your connection to the tragedy will start coming in. Slowly at first, then at an unmanageable pace. Everyone will keep telling you they “don’t know what to say” as if there’s someone who does. A handful of people will send you “No words” texts. Until eventually, you’ll want to set your phone—the electronic trigger-bomb—on fire. Still in the air, I logged out of everything and passed my phone to Sam. Wanting to absorb information on my own terms.

The President will release a statement and for a moment you’ll wonder how he knows about your small neighborhood. Then you’ll remember. You will find comfort in the fact that, just like everyone else, his words also don’t have any meaning either. The abyss is too big to fill with words. Take comfort in the darkness. There’s no need for thoughts, prayers, voting, or action here. It’s too late, the monster is inside the house, outside the house, and on top of it.

I land at LAX 15 hours after the shooting and ask to see my phone. It’s confirmed. Irina and her husband were killed. I briefly look into flying straight to Chicago but decide to go home and shower first.

Vigils and guides and booths and dogs and priests and posters and hashtags and documents and food and books and GoFundMes will pop up. Journalists with gentle, rehearsed demeanors will descend into DMs and comments, encouraging you to reach out if you want to share. A resource sheet will go out with people to contact, but the only people you need to talk to aren’t available to take your call.

You’ll wonder if one of these things can answer your questions or ease your confusion. The answer doesn’t exist and never will.  

The GoFundMe campaigns are death by a thousand papercuts. Every time you see (and re-see) the photos of people you know, another part of you will die. Help with medical bills. Help with funeral costs. Help. Help. Help. The first one I saw was for a former camper, organized by another camper. Fifteen years have passed since I was a summer camp counselor in Highland Park but she looks just the same, her features more pronounced than when she was laying in the grass making lanyards with friends. In the GoFundMe photo, she smiles proudly into the camera with a newborn in her arms, her husband and toddler sitting on the bed next to her. She was shot in the leg. She’s one of the ones burdened with luck.

Next is navigating whether/how to do updates for those in your outer circles and where to post them. What’s too performative? Who has the license to take up space? Who gets to share a grief that’s so uniquely personal and national all at once? When is the right time?

Irina and I grew up together but grew apart in the way you sometimes do after college. We call each other cousins like most refugee-immigrants forced to find a new family in a foreign land…but we’re not blood relatives. Do I sneak in my hurt and anger onto the feeds? Do I put it on the grid where it will jut out amongst the curated work-related photos? Do I save that space for those closest to her? What happens when those closest to her do not speak English, are not writers, or on social media? What happens when the ones closest to her are in her bed right now wailing in pain? Do we keep it private? Grieve internally? Or do I use the algorithm to get her story out? Share words about Irina’s ease of laughter and absurd allergies in the same digital sandbox that’s radicalizing young broken men to terrorize a sleepy neighborhood’s 4th of July parade. What would she want? What do I need? The answer, of course, doesn’t exist and never will.

I don’t post. Not yet. Some people do; uploading their feelings between photos of cocktails and children. I can’t stand the thought of unexpectedly seeing the same wedding photo that’s trending on Twitter, used in the news reports, and the GoFundMe campaign so I delete all my social media apps from my phone.

After the confirmation of her death, I stop googling and reading the news stories because they don’t have the information I want them to have. The answer doesn’t exist and never will. I want journalists to tell everyone how Irina had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I want them to tell everyone how we used to sit in her backyard and smush blades of grass between our thumbs to try to make them whistle. I want them to share the story about how we first heard “Doin’ It” by L.L. Cool J at her house and Irina, two years older and a preteen sage, explained what doing it actually meant. I hope I never hear that song again.  

Life goes on after death and, criminally, so does death. In the same minute I receive confirmation of Irina’s murder, I also get a text from my half-sister: her mom died after a month-long battle with an aggressively rare form of brain cancer. Sam starts looking at flights while I stare at our blank TV.

I take two showers, sleep for 7 hours (and not 72 like I was planning), eat two hard-boiled eggs, kiss my dog between the eyes, apply for a job, and go back to the airport. By next Wednesday, I will have made nine trips to the airport. I wonder if that’s a record.

Making decisions becomes impossible. What do you pack for a trip you don’t want to take? There’s not enough black clothing in my closet for back-to-back funerals. There’s not enough black clothing in the world to watch multiple bodies go into the earth.

Get ready for invasive thoughts at all hours of the day. Every time I close my eyes, I imagine skulls being blown open by military-grade rifles. I keep them open instead; staring at walls, a glass of water, the wrinkles deepening in my father’s forehead as he cries. He shared a park bench with Irina last week, while her baby played with my parents’ dog. They made each other laugh and then parted ways for good.

Your brain stops working in the aftermath of murder. Grief corrodes your synapses. So when you go through your own mass shooting, I recommend not operating vehicles for a while. No complicated tasks—although unavoidable when you must fly to the scene of the crime. My flight numbers have jumbled into a string of code, I keep flashing them at faces behind desks. Floating arms wave me through to other rooms and metal boxes.

You should make lists. I’ve found them to be helpful. My last list, written while standing at the kitchen counter, hair sopping wet from a shower, started with “dry off.”

Dates, times, and days all lose meaning. Is tomorrow the day after or yesterday today? It doesn’t matter unless you have a flight to catch. You have to catch your flight so you can be with your family.

In 2016, when a gunman entered UCLA’s campus, Sam was in his office in the Public Health building working on his dissertation. I got the text “gunman on campus” and stepped into that odd liminal period where I knew tragedy was hard at work before the rest of the world. But it was only a murder-suicide. Only. A traceable line from beginning to end, which didn’t intersect with anything else. That night, cradling Sam to my chest, I shuddered to think about how close UCLA got to becoming a statistic, a name on the growing list of school shootings. It missed us…this time, I thought. We are lucky.

It’s been about 36 hours since the massacre and the waterboard of horrors has slowed to a drip. I don’t know what’s waiting on the other side of day three, so I’ll have to leave you here. I’m gonna go explore how much deeper and darker this grief will go. At the end of this message, I’ll delete my apps, silence my notifications, shut off my phone, and disappear into my family for the foreseeable future.

Before I disappear, though, I want to share a prediction: I believe that as the beast grows stronger and the circle of destruction gets wider, there will be fewer and fewer lucky ones. Enough is not, apparently, enough. There will be more. There will be another. The list on Wikipedia will grow longer, with bullets adding bullet points. Our community of broken hearts will grow bigger, swallowed up by unrelenting trauma, until we’re a mass of zombies, shuffling through the streets experiencing everything and feeling nothing.

Don’t worry, though, when your time comes, my family and I will be here to welcome you into the abyss.

A Daytime Murder

Yesterday, while sitting on the couch, my toes tucked under Roz, I heard a series of loud pops slice through the sleepy afternoon air. “Did you hear that?” I called to Sam in the office.

“Yeah,” he casually replied, “Sounds like the construction across the street.”

“I think it was gunshots,” I said. Growing up in the doughy, liberal Midwestern suburbs didn’t make me an expert on what gunshots sound like, but being the daughter of a jeweler did. My dad and his employees were always packing heat, practicing at the shooting range and (occasionally) in our small backyards. I know guns…not well, but we’re familiar with each other.

Minutes later I got the Citizen alert on my phone: “Man Shot.” Sam came out of the office staring at his phone, “You were right.” The sirens came next, followed by the hovering helicopters. The shooting happened in the same spot Sam and I discussed pie crust recipes while walking Roz a few hours earlier.

We watched the live streams from down the street, then switched over to KTLA to see the helicopter footage. Our neighborhood looking sprawling and unexceptional from above. We watched the stream where a white sheet went down and a tent went up. The guy was 25.

After Sam went back into the office, I watched more news footage, hoping to feel something; Horror. Fear. Anxiety. Anything. But I felt nothing.

What an odd society we’ve created, huh? Where a neighborhood kid gets shot in the head and instead of doing something about it, we watch from a small electronic box a few hundred feet away. What can I say? I’m so used to nightmares being projected into my eyeballs from my phone, that it’s my instinctual method of ingesting horrific information. What’s the point of going outside to see the devastation when I can freebase it from the comfort of home?

Later that night, Sam walked into a room I’ve labeled my “studio” only to catch me staring off into the distance. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“A man was murdered and I don’t feel anything,” I told him. “It’s like my anxiety is a finite resource and I’ve used it all up.”

“You know, my dissertation was about that,” he told me. I nodded as if I’d actually understood a word of his dissertation, a paper that I’d read four to five times before confirming my suspicions that I am a Grade A dummy.

Sam went on to explain that when your body is exposed to too much stress, your hormones stop working properly. In other words, your body stops responding to fight or flight triggers as you become acclimatized to trauma. Putting a scientific justification to my lack of emotional response made me feel a little better. Maybe I’m not a soulless monster wearing the human skin of a grumpy thirty year old girl*.

Even though I couldn’t muster up any appropriate emotions to the murder down the street, I was able to find some organizations that are fighting the good fight. Ones that focus on de-weaponizing our streets and battling the gun violence epidemic in this country. I donated what I could to two of them and while I still didn’t feel anything, I grew hopeful that one day I would.


Everytown For Gun Safety a coalition that lobbies for gun control legislation on a local and federal level. They also provide a support network for gun violence survivors. I first heard of Everytown after the Parkland shooting and have been impressed ever since. (I also follow Everytown on social media to keep up with ways I can help.) Donate here.

Violence Policy Center VPC has worked on campaigns taking a stand against concealed carry permitting and has challenged the NRA head-on. I donated because apparently the NRA is very scared of the VPC and likes to smear their hard work in the press. Donate here.

*But maybe I am? HISSSSSS.

Confetti.

Late in the day on Wednesday, a loud pop distracted me from the job application I was trudging through. Sam and I were both in the living room squeezing the last moments of productivity from our respective days. Sam’s version of productivity involves numbers, schedules, research, and calls. My version of productivity involves writing, rewriting, procrastisnacking (a term I made up for when you choose to make elaborate snacks instead of doing a simple task), and staving off existential crises fueled by a crushing sense of failure.

At the window, I peeked out over the intersection in front of our house. It’s a popular spot for drug deals, loud u-turns, half-empty takeout containers, and loose dogs squatting in parking strips. But this time, there was none of that, instead I saw brightly colored, seemingly weightless strips of evenly cut paper spiraling through the air; Confetti. The evening winds caused the confetti to curlicue across the pavement. It looked like a piñata had been blown up.

I gasped with delight, so unaccustomed to seeing whimsy at the intersection. My gasp was immediately followed by a frown. It’s still trash, I thought, vivid, uniform, fanciful trash. I knew it was bound to blow into our yard and become snacking fodder for the stubborn puppy currently sleeping on the cool tile of our bathroom. I sighed.

A truck with balloons shaped like numbers and a hand-drawn birthday sign drove off. Sam saw it pass as he, too, got up to look out window. “One of those birthday parades, huh,” he said as the car disappeared down the street. Then he shifted his attention to the intersection.

“Hey! Confetti!” he exclaimed. “Ugh, what a mess.”

It was the same cycle I’d just silently gone through. We’d been circling through these types of emotions a lot lately. I laughed at our synchronicity.

“Feels symbolic,” I told him, “Like America is confetti; beautiful and fun in theory, but mostly chaotic and bad for the environment.”

“Ha, maybe,” he responded.

Sam watched the fluttering paper for a moment before getting back to his work. I returned my attention to the half-written cover letter on my screen. “In terms of what I could provide to you…” I typed and then stalled. The cursor impatiently blinked at me. “I am a skilled writer and editor who excels in concise messaging—” Blah. I deleted the sentence, shut my computer and walked over to the fridge.

“You want a snack?” I asked Sam.

“Always,” Sam replied.

I smiled and proceeded to delicately assemble a charcuterie plate made with an odd assortment of leftovers. It wasn’t the best, but it certainly felt like an accomplishment.

Feed Me

I was outside cooling off in the 100-degree heat when I realized I forgot to feed Roz. I tilted my head back and groaned, the sun assaulting my exposed face. “Rozzy, I’m SO sorry.” The five-month-old puppy chewing dried bougainvillea petals at my feet did not seem to understand.

Back in our un-air conditioned home, the walls held onto the heat like a grudge. I plunged my hand into an enormous plastic kibble container, blindly feeling around for the measuring cup buried inside. Roz sat studying my every move. As her dark eyes followed me to the fridge, where her precious cottage cheese was kept, my body vibrated with guilt. They (they being Google) say that puppies thrive on routine, and therefore it’s imperative to keep a rigid schedule—my negligence had broken the sanctity of The Schedule.

Had I been doing something useful like reading any of the books weighing down my nightstand, or researching Lebanese Relief Organizations to donate to, or applying to jobs so I could have more money to donate to Lebanese Relief Organizations, I would’ve felt less guilty. But instead, I was waist-deep in the comments section of a conservative YouTube video.

The video was sent to me by a family member, the subject reading, “Nancy Pelosi does not want you to see this.” I didn’t even use my time to feign moral productivity by picking futile fights with strangers, or my own family, I simply sat at my kitchen bar and soaked it all in; the idea that Nancy Pelosi was solely responsible for California’s homelessness crisis, the excessive b-roll of people living in encampments, the reporter’s forced expressions of alarm, the masked interviews, the despair, the fake sympathy, the sweeping generalizations, the pulsating graphs, the conclusion that all blue states were going to hell.

I searched the comments section for a voice of reason explaining the complexity of the crisis. Someone who could eloquently convey that this was not one person’s (or one party’s) fault but the fault of those who gleefully operate within a system of unchecked capitalism, the fault of those not paying attention, not holding accountable, not helping. No matter how much I scrolled, there was nothing aside from anger, threats, and digital fingers pointed at the other side. The outrage was never ending and I was insatiable…pools of sweat formed around my elbows as I clicked, searched, and scrolled for something to fill the internal hole. My chest grew tight, I held my breath, and then…Roz rang the bell to be let outside, breaking the spell. In my driveway, I inhaled sweltering air into my lungs.

Earlier in the year, when I was in the hospital after a car attempted to use my body as a speed bump, a nurse with short hair and stature, told me that my lungs were collapsing. I hadn’t even realized it. It seemed like something I’d feel, or at the very least, I’d find out about when a team of attractive doctors were screaming “HER LUNGS ARE COLLAPSING” to each other while trying to save my life. “Are you sure?” I asked the nurse, surprised I hadn’t noticed.

“This sometimes happens after major surgery,” she responded. Ah, makes sense, I thought, realizing that I now had a new, more distant, relationship with my reconstructed body and its mysterious inner workings. “You have to exercise your lungs so they don’t fully collapse,” she explained while holding a plastic toy-like contraption. She pretended to blow into the blue tube attached to the contraption, “You blow like this, to keep this,” she pointed to the yellow ball, “floating between here and here,” she said showing off an empty space between two lines. “Now you try,” she handed me the toy. I briefly considered screaming into the tube just to, you know, shake things up a bit, give her a story to tell her family when she was done with her shift. “I had the strangest patient today,” she’d say while pulling a $5 tub of spinach from the fridge. Instead, I blew into the tube, because I am forever and always obedient.

The ball barely made it into the chamber before crashing to the bottom of the contraption. A jolt of pain exploded in my chest, bringing with it a vision of my sad lungs limply hanging from my trachea like deflated birthday balloons. (I wanted to write “like an empty scrotum” but it seemed weird and inappropriate to compare the two. Still, I think that’s a more apt visual.) “Keep practicing, ten to fifteen times an hour,” the short nurse said before disappearing.

Sometimes, when I’m on the internet for too long. My lungs begin to feel like deflated balloons again, like they’re collapsing. I’ll be slumped at my computer, gulping in air, none of which seems to make it to my diaphragm. It’s only when something breaks me out of the trance, like a hungry puppy asking to go outside, that I remember to breathe properly, to keep the ball in the air.

I gave Roz her lunch an hour and twenty-four minutes late. She scarfed down the meal in a manner that implied, “This is the first time I’ve ever eaten in my whole life!” I will be better about what I consume and what consumes me, I promised her little back. After gently recommending that she slow down, I headed over to my nightstand and grabbed The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes.

I plopped onto the couch and cracked the book’s spine, the sound a comforting harbinger of peace. Moments later a cold, wet nose pressed into the bottom of my calf reminding me that not everything is always so hot and unbearable.


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Hi.

“Hi.” is the third title I settled on. First, I wrote “Hello?” but then couldn’t get Adele’s “Hello?” out of my head. Remember when everyone was titling things “Hello from the other side?” I miss that internet. You know the one where trolls just ate away at your soul and not the soul of society?

My second title was “Hey!” but that’s too casual and upbeat. I’ve never been a casual and upbeat person, though that’s certainly the personality I work hardest to project. So here it is, option number three: Hi. For the sake of blowing the dust off the mantel that is this blog, I’ll just keep it to that.

There’s so much I want to follow up with, so many stories and things that have happened in the four years since I’ve written. If I think too hard about what to tell you first, I’ll never say anything.

So for now, let me just touch base and say Hi. I’m not even sure if anyone will see this, but if you do I want you to know I’m thinking about you out there. There’s a lot going on and I hope that you’re okay. Also, how absurd is it to blog in your 30s?! Who cares about the heady ramblings of a sweaty chick in Los Angeles? Probably no one. But that’s the beauty of blogging, no one needs to care for you to do it.

Are you okay?

People who grew up with me know that I was an enormous fan of Michael Jackson. I built a shrine to him in my bedroom and sat humming his lyrics at it each night. One time, I climbed onto the table of my shrine to hang a new photo and fell through. The top was made of glass, you see, and I was a very heavy child. Not bright either. I wasn’t injured because there was a Michael Jackson table cloth covering the top which prevented me from bleeding to death. I genuinely believed that the spirit of Michael Jackson, who was still very much alive at that point, protected me from my own stupidity. Read the rest of this entry »

Barbie Girl. Barbie World.

“Nope. I’ll never come to LA.” My computer barks at me. On the screen is a friend who Skyped in to catch up. Her see-through, blonde hair is neatly braided to the side of her head. It falls across her porcelain shoulder, resting on her porcelain chest. When I ask her why she has such a distaste for Los Angeles she says, “It’s all barbie dolls and fake people.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jack in the Box

Be mean. Be mean. Be mean. I whisper to the mirror. My meeting with Marilu is in five minutes and I need to convert my anger into verbal fuel. I contort my face into the position I kept it in as a teenager. I look like a real B-I-T-C-H. Good. I grab my keys and head out the door.

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Good Writers Are In Danger of Becoming Extinct

Sylvia Plath would’ve killed herself sooner if the internet were around when she was writing her poetry. Can you imagine if her editor said she needed to have a larger online presence? So, being the passionate, aspiring writer that she was, she posted “Daddy” on her Tumblr only to receive a message which read: “u r a fat bitch, entitled cunt who should kill URSELF.” It’s enough to make anyone recoil from the internet, let alone an emotionally unstable writer months away from suicide.

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Random Internet Encounters

“I’ve had cyber-sex before,” my 10-year-old cousin casually stated while flipping her butt-length ponytail from one shoulder to the other. I was 9 at the time and my mind was blown. Someone I knew was having sex — and apparently, it was so out-of-this-world that it belonged in virtual reality. Read the rest of this entry »

Closure.

A year ago today I woke up in a hospital in Taiwan. I was in physical and mental pain. I knew that I would end up in there eventually and I guess, that day was the day. A big reason was because I worked for a person who told me I was a waste of time, wasn’t good at what I did and that I’d never find anything better than where I was. And I believed him. Another reason was the bottle of whisky I drank.

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The Hug Heard ‘Round The World

In the final installment of The Dear Diaries I graduate and “hug a lot of people and guys”. I also work up the courage to hug my long-time crush. Thank you to all of those who read these silly things. I hope you found them as funny as I did. Read the rest of this entry »

Corn Rolls

In the fifth installment of The Dear Diaries I survive my own death threats and find a graduation dress. I make yet another hair decision I can’t undo and I promise to “write later when sad”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meet my son, Agador Aspartagus

In the fourth installment of The Dear Diaries I still struggle with the spelling of tired and find a way to ensure neither of my metaphorical children will ever have sex. P.S. The best part is the P.S. Read the rest of this entry »

First Boyfriend

In the third installment of “The Dear Diaries” series I discuss my first boyfriend and what happened to us.

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A bunch of loosers (sic).

In the second installment of The Dear Diaries I bitch about my mom not letting me go to the mall and discuss a raunchy dream I had. I have yet to master how to properly spell “tired”.

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Homecoming

I was your typical miserable teenager. So when I stumbled upon a diary from 2002 I couldn’t help but recoil in fear of what my twisted young mind emptied out on to those pages.

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Give me a word, any word

If I’m ever on the cover of a magazine I’d request to get my armpits airbrushed, my left breast photoshopped so it’s even with my right and I’d possibly get some adult acne removed. But I know, for a fact, I would never want my words to be photoshopped.
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Home Movies

You really shouldn’t leave 5-year-olds on the roof of your car but my dad needed to get the shot. There I lay, one hand gripping the edge of his white suzuki, the other gripping a milk jug filled with water. My cousins began pushing the car back and forth, my uncle yelled “Action” and I began to make it rain.

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Top Down, Windows Up

Jason expectedly died earlier in the day and I was furious with myself for crying so much. I could tell my tears were making Allen nervous. I wish it were more socially appropriate to carry on a conversation while crying. Read the rest of this entry »

20. Tell a Story at a Moth Event [Theme: Home]

I was 16 when I tried to commit suicide. I remember standing on the edge of the roof of my family’s home, looking past my toes when my mom stepped out for a cigarette. She made eye contact with me, realized what I was trying to do and yelled:

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The Things I’ve Done

When I was in high school, I fell in love with a man named Lucas. He was older than me, wore all black and drove a motorcycle. But I knew Lucas and I would never end up together. For one, I was awkward and scared of anything I thought could get me pregnant and for two he was a fictional character from the movie Empire Records.

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Yes Smoking!

I am leaning out the window of my childhood bedroom. My hips are propped on the frame and my left hand is planted on the garage roof below. My right hand is holding a cigarette. I know that at any moment my mother may burst in and catch me smoking. If she does, she’ll probably slam the window shut; trapping my upper half outside and leaving my lower half exposed for a good ol’ fashioned spanking. But that’s just the risk I’ll have to take right now.

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P.S. A Break Up Letter

Dear Taiwan,

You’re so cute. Look at you, under all of your umbrella-riddled glory. Oh my god! Is that a peace sign you’re making with your fingers? Peace be with you too. Can a Jew even say that? This one can!

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Four Jokes and A Funeral

My least favorite time was when two men were performing sexual favors on each other. What they were doing didn’t bother me as much as the fact that they weren’t listening to me. They were in a dark corner at the back of the room, making sure third base was thoroughly satisfied before they’d leave the bar to hit that home run we all so desperately crave.

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Journalism is Dead (To Me)

I want to make one thing clear: I do not think “journalism is dead.” In fact, I think journalism is the ‘Madonna’ of professions; it will get face lifts until it outlives us all. This is a post about my decision to stop trying to be a journalist.
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Why don’t you write more?

Every morning around 6 am I get home from work. I shield my eyes from the sun and scuttle into my apartment. I stare at the computer for two hours before adjusting my glare to the ceiling. Sometimes I fall asleep. Most of the time I don’t.

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30 Before 30

We were going to be famous. We were so excited about our idea, a second bottle of wine was opened just for the occasion. “We’ll call it 30 before 30!” Tessa yelled as her wine sloshed back and forth in the glass. I was frantically writing everything down. Read the rest of this entry »

For the love of Brazilian waxes

I wasn’t sure if the woman about to go to second base with me spoke English or not, but she had delicate features and a nice smile so I trusted her. Read the rest of this entry »

DKK in NYC

“I’m not that kind of girl!” Dan squealed, his eyes twinkling under the florescent lights. We’d stopped for a couple of glasses of wine before heading to Juilliard. I felt like the Queen of New York. Lightly resting his fingertips on the rim of his wine glass, he leaned in to tell me something juicy and wonderful. Read the rest of this entry »

Note to self.

I found this note I wrote to myself: Read the rest of this entry »

FOUND&LOST

I am sucker for handwritten notes. Any kind, really, but especially ones I find in public. I feel sneaky peaking into someone else’s life through their writing. The notes are usually; grocery lists, nonsensical words, numbers, etc.

Today I found this little treat folded up on top of some moisturizer at a department store in Dazhi: Read the rest of this entry »

In a New York State of Mind pt. 2

I started writing here when I moved to New York with the intention of chronicling every lesson I’d learned after college, it wouldn’t feel right not to have a summary. Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

A Quarter-Life Crisis

“If you were stranded on an island and could only bring three things what would they be?” I hated playing this game in summer camp. Do your parents count as two things? What kind of outlets does this island have? Do they speak a different language? Will there be boys there? The answers didn’t really matter because I always ended up choosing the same things; my parents, beanie baby collection and stuffed dog, Lucky. Read the rest of this entry »

Playin’ Catch Up

Sprinting through the airport, I vowed to start exercising the second I got to Taiwan. There are multiple reasons why I hate running through airports, first and foremost: my travel backpack. As if my 5′ 2” frame and chronic baby-weight don’t already make me look like high schooler, running with a backpack surely seals the deal. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay’s Rules: A Father’s Day Eulogy

Five black dresses hung in my dressing room; two were too small, one made me look like a hussie, one had a curious stain on it and the other one was perfect for emulating the body of a pregnant woman. I went with the dress that made me look like a hussie. Exactly one day and a handful of hours later, I was tugging at that dress in front of 30 people I didn’t know, three people I knew, and a casket. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Months Ago

I didn’t publish this in January because I felt like it was too narcissistic. Now I’ve learned to be proud of the little things.

A 2011 annual report for this blog – by WordPress.
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Just Pray

He stuck his fist out in front of him and looked at me with a comical sense of seriousness, “Are you with me?” I’d never been in a bar fight before. The situation sounded anecdotally appetizing, but I’d never fully developed into the bottle-breaking, bar-fighting, bad-ass I needed to be for this situation. I clenched my fist even tighter around the little slip of paper as I shoved it into my pocket. Read the rest of this entry »

Career Day

“A TOAST!” Leslie yelled, smashing her butter knife against a mimosa glass. It’s 1PM on New Year’s Day and I have yet to go home and yet to stop drinking. “To the Apocalypse! Let’s quit our jobs, spend our money, and have the greatest year of our lives!” Read the rest of this entry »