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By Adam

Everything I know about my maternal grandfather is based upon a story; George Paul died before I could remember him. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, and his plane was hit by German flak. He was a member of the Free Masons up to a point. He disagreed with one of their rituals and attempted to quit. Rumor has it he took issue with their racial policies. Years later, when he died, the Masons stepped in took care of all of the finances—the funeral, the coffin, and his old membership dues. Apparently, they took care of their own, and respected a secret taken to the grave.

My paternal grandfather, Vaughan Robinson, died long before I had a chance to meet him. After the death of my father’s mother, Vaughan, a truck driver, retreated into himself and died shortly after. A broken heart can be, and often is, fatal. After Vaughan passed, my father, only a teenager then, took it upon himself to care for his three siblings. He grew old and became a parent before his time, and it wasn’t fair to him. But there was a common thread among my forbearers: they understood responsibility.

Apparently, at the dinner table, George Paul would ask basic trivia questions to his children and grandchildren, and those who answered incorrectly were met with a rap from the handle of a butter knife. Why, after his heroic and selfless life, this is the only thing I remember about him, I have no idea. It just goes to show how death informs life, and how questions left unanswered remain mysteries. There is no denouement.

When I was a child, I used to ride my Big Wheel around the driveway, pretending I was Rodimus Prime or something. Kid stuff, I guess. One day, when I was too young to accurately remember things, I was adventuring through Cybertron when my father pulled into the driveway with a screech. He moved briskly and said little which was not unusual for him. But on this particular day, my brother, always the Megatron to my Prime, was poised on the deck overlooking the driveway, carefully lining up his shot. He was trying to drop an empty milk crate on my head. My father saw this, and, wordlessly, stormed into the house, emerged onto the deck, and grabbed Luke by the scruff of his neck. Luke received a spanking. At one point, Luke tried to block my father’s hand, resulting in a broken thumb. I can’t remember what happened after that.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned what happened: my uncle Sean, my father’s brother, had died. This came as a surprise, because I had no idea my father even had a brother! I had a good relationship with my aunt, Beth, and had spoken to my other aunt, Patti, on the phone. But, incredibly, there was another sibling. One day, when my father was at work, my mother took me into our basement and showed me some artwork. The photorealistic style was impressive, even to an amateur such as me. My mother explained that nearly all of the art that hung in my house was created by my uncle Sean, my father’s younger brother, whom he had taken care of since the passing of their parents.

No one had mentioned Sean to me because Sean died of AIDS. He was gay. My father, for all of his inherent greatness and faults, decided it was better that my brother and I just kind knew about this guy in the periphery of our lives. Dad was old-fashioned, and when he discovered Sean wasn’t “normal,” took it personally: he felt like he failed as a surrogate parent. I can’t imagine that: only 17 and thinking you had failed at raising one of your three children. Life is rarely fair.

And still, the idea of death existed tangentially. I knew neither Sean nor George nor Vaughan. Death seemed to be a vacation to me; you saw the time share and just bought unlimited access. Then I went to college and did what everyone does. I grew up.

While I never knew the person—male or female, name, age, whatever—when I saw that person jump from the sixth story window, an unknown gear turned. Things changed irreparably. Later, when I saw the picture in the school paper, I convinced myself that we’d never had an encounter in dining hall or the elevator. I convinced myself that I was still innocent. And then I went home.

We had had Beau since she was a puppy. Her name was delightfully ironic; a girl dog named after the French word for male beauty, she was rambunctious and loyal and she was mine. We grew up together. Beau was the only friend that made the journey from Alaska to Minnesota with me. She loved her new life, what with three acres of prime land to explore and be wild. One day, while walking to the end of the drive way to get on the bus, I heard a gunshot and, for a split second, a yelp. I knew immediately it was Beau. I ran back to my house and tearfully told my parents what had happened. They did all they could: they told me it was probably nothing, and solemnly drove me to school. Later that day, they took me from classes early. Beau had been shot, and was at the local veterinarian’s. We always knew who had shot her, and that it was done simply out of spite, but never took any vengeance. This is frequently something I think about before falling asleep; it is my private shame.

Beau survived the attack, but lost a leg. She lost none of her personality and spunk, however. We placed boxes all over the house so that she could jump to her favorite spots: the living room couch, my bed. She was more timid, and more reserved, but she was still Beau. And when I would leave my house to go to high school and later to college, Beau was on the forefront of my mind. Loyalty is, sometimes, just a word. And sometimes, it’s palpable.

When Beau was diagnosed with cancer, my parents again did all they could. They invited me into their home, and they gave me plenty of time to spend with her. And on that Saturday, they took Beau in for a routine appointment, but returned red-eyed and puffy-cheeked. We didn’t talk about what happened. I went into the driveway, sat down, and cried harder than I ever had before. And when the rain started, I walked back inside, and I gathered my laundry, and I drove back to college.

Today, I frequently think about my own death. I don’t think about taking my own life, but I often wonder what people would think about me. With Beau, I had lost a companion, and a pet, and a part of me, and in a way, my innocence. Will I be missed? Will I be mourned? Part of me, the shameful, tragic part, wants there to be a tearful woman in attendance at my funeral, lamenting my loss. But mostly, I envy Sean. Those who knew and loved him mourned, and those who didn’t were able to look back at his life’s passion and work, and be inspired. But I’ve grown up, and life is rarely fair.

By Adam

I fall in love on a daily basis, many times with the same person. This has been a constant source of personal turmoil for me. Much of the time, my love goes both unspoken and unrequited; this is to be expected, because I am cowardly and vainglorious and stupid. But girls don’t make it easy.

When I was in the third grade, the librarian at my elementary school, a warm but homely woman named Mrs. Adams, stormed into my class and sternly asked me to join her. Because I was a nerd, this immediately reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader unsuccessfully asks Luke to join him on the dark side—ha!—and rule the galaxy together. I was never interested in sleeping with my sister, so I would have gone with him. That inclination proved well-minded.

Our library was relatively small, but only when you weren’t looking. The stacks held all the usual suspects—Shel Silverstein, Bernstein Bears, etc.—along with a small bank of computers used primarily to kill daughters of dysentery in Oregon Trail.  Tucked away behind the furthest wall, past the “big kid books” like Dune and such, was a dusty old door. Through this door was a small, windowless room filled with ancient machinery used to test the senses; basic visual tests, hearing tests, and the like were performed in here. When I walked in, I was administered these tests, and I assume I had passed, as Mrs. Adams seemed coldly placated. She then sat opposite me at the tiny table in the room, and asked me some of the toughest questions of my life.

“What is a group of crows called?” She asked.

“Spell ‘garage’.”

“What’s the square root of 64?”

And so on. Although I spelled it correctly, the fact that I had to think about how to spell “garage” and eventually pinned my success on a guess wakes me in the night. After she was finished, I was sent back to class with a terse “Well done,” and that was it. Or so I thought.

The next day, Mrs. Adams appeared to me, this time much more excited to see me. After lunch, she told me to meet her in the library. Met with a brief wave, I was whisked to the opposite corner of the library that hid a massive staircase cordoned off with a velvet rope. How I had never seen this before, I have no idea. She led me up the staircase to a loft littered with real books—dictionaries, thesauruses, collections of poems—globes, maps, computers, and a large round table, around which sat five kids I had never seen before.

This was my first introduction to ELP, the extended learning program, a new initiative at our school that sought out the brightest kids and brought them together to thrive. It was in the fucking loft of our library! The librarian was the group’s administrator! J.K. Rowling would have creamed her jeans if she knew. It was incredible; we’d do mind-teasers, engineering projects, algebra, and general smart-kid stuff. We probably solved a crime or two, I don’t know. But none of that interested me. I was interested in Laura.

She didn’t exist in my universe before then. She had a soft personality, delicate, and freckles on her nose. She was constantly brushing her hair behind her ear. Almost twenty years later, I remember how she chewed on the end of her pencil, not out of frustration, but out of a kind of curiosity. She was quiet, and we had shared classes since kindergarten. During ELP, we would share jokes about transcribing miles to kilometers and planetary orbits. She would smile, and softly tap the back of my hand with her pencil. It was a whirlwind romance. It occurred during a single day.

The next day, at lunch, I looked for her, hoping to sit next to her and be smart together. And, from across the lunch room, we locked eyes. They widened slightly. Although I knew who was there, I couldn’t bring myself to look to her left. She said nothing, but her eyes desperately sent me a message, which I received. These unspoken things have a bizarre capacity to unleash oceans of pure pain upon a person.

At ELP, she sat next to me, took my hand, and squeezed. We never looked at each other, but she squeezed my hand the entire forty-five minutes. Third grade was psychologically destructive. I saw her everyday over the next four years, and every day I fell in love with her again, sometimes for weeks, but mostly for minutes. It was the same with Amanda, and Theresa, and Nicole, and Sara, and all the rest. The times I’ve been legitimately in love were similar, but stretched out over months and years. I like to think my real relationships could have worked, had I gotten the unspoken things. I like to think that.

I’m not complaining. I love the girls I’m interested in today, mostly because I can be myself around them. And that cowardly, vainglorious, stupid man will always love them, because he can’t help himself.

When I visited Alaska, two years after I had abruptly moved, I saw her again. At 16, she was industrious; she made sandwiches at Subway. She recognized me, she had to, but clearly she didn’t remember. I ordered my sandwich, and like always, she was delicate: tenderly laying the ham in the bread, spreading the mustard, sprinkling the lettuce. It was just like our first encounter, shifted a few degrees to the left. When I paid, she gave me the scripted “thank you” her employed required. The restaurant was empty, and I could have eaten there, but she didn’t want me to. It was in her eyes. It was one of those unspoken things.

Just like that: in love, and out. A terrifying oscillation.

By Ashlee

Oh for love lost and hope for the memories to remain.

“Dog-Eared”

He keeps a photograph

In his shirt pocket

It’s dog-eared, creased

And turning sepia-tone

 

He tells me that he has it

So he can remember

What she looks like

 

She keeps a note

In her coat pocket

It’s dog-eared, smeared

With ink and tears

 

She tells me that she has it

So she can remember

What love felt like

 

He keeps a dollar bill

In his pants pocket

It’s dog-eared, soft

And worn from the wash

 

He tells me that he has it

So he can remember

What luck he used to have

 

Companion Poem: “The Loss of Love” by Countee Cullen

All through an empty place I go,
And find her not in any room;
The candles and the lamps I light
Go down before a wind of gloom.
Thick-spraddled lies the dust about,
A fit, sad place to write her name
Or draw her face the way she looked
That legendary night she came.

The old house crumbles bit by bit;
Each day I hear the ominous thud
That says another rent is there
For winds to pierce and storms to flood.

My orchards groan and sag with fruit;
Where, Indian-wise, the bees go round;
I let it rot upon the bough;
I eat what falls upon the ground.

The heavy cows go laboring
In agony with clotted teats;
My hands are slack; my blood is cold;
I marvel that my heart still beats.

I have no will to weep or sing,
No least desire to pray or curse;
The loss of love is a terrible thing;
They lie who say that death is worse.