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A Meditation

by Toni de Bonneval

When I was six, I gave up on the God stuff. My sister and I sat, knees clutched. We looked out from the stoop of Dad’s summer cabin, through the clearing to the far side of the valley, to a crouch of blue hills. “Faith can move mountains,” the priest said in the drafty church in the valley. In the kitchen, Dad made scrambled eggs. We sat on the stoop.

“Move.” We were polite, a request. They didn’t. “Move,” this time not so polite. We waited, but the hills didn’t get up, didn’t galumph in all their blueness up the cleared swale from their place to ours.

“Breakfast, girls.” We stood. A final shout, a challenge, “Move.”

After breakfast we went out back to work on our hole to China. We didn’t really believe that. If China was just below us on the other side of the world then people were either standing on their heads or they’d be dropping off.

The still air encloses. The trees are motionless. I’m frightened when that happens. The nothingness. A young plant stirs, tosses its leaves in childish glee. The aspen giggles, while the white birch bows. The old oak doffs its topmost branch. The hemlock shrugs its dolor and observes. I close my eyes and hear the shush of tiptoes in the uncut grass.

Give thanks.


Toni de Bonneval earns a living writing institutional histories and enjoys living writing fiction and short non-fiction.

The Perfect Day

by John Taylor

The other day, I was invited to a very dear friend’s wedding. At 48, I don’t go to many weddings anymore, but seriously, I love weddings, and I don’t say that with any sense of irony or sarcasm or even humor. Weddings are awesome. Weddings are a terrific party. And more than that, weddings are one of the last bastions of ancient tradition in an American culture devoid of customs and a sense of connection to the past. I love the ceremony, the vows and the ritual that underlies every part of it. Weddings are the ultimate “uniter” (to get all George Bush on you) in a society that almost embraces its divisiveness; it uses traditions as old as human civilization to unite two different families, two sets of friends and two souls into one.

And you get to eat and drink on someone else’s dime.

It was, as all brides desire, The Perfect Day. The bridesmaids were perfectly beautiful in their perfectly tailored dresses. The Bride was perfectly gorgeous and glowed like a bride, while the groom, though admittedly bearing the pall of a man ready to blow chow, looked perfectly studly in his Ricky Ricardo tuxedo. The ceremony was perfect, as two people so obviously and madly in love with one another made their vows of devotion.

Love, you see, is a commitment to a person, while marriage is a commitment to a process. The promises we make in a wedding ceremony are our way of saying, “Look, I love you and you make me happy and I want to feel this way for the rest of my life, so here’s what I’m willing to do to make that happen.” So we make vows. We vow to honor, to cherish, to respect both our identities as individuals and as a couple. We commit not just to one another, but to a set of ideas that time has proven will help nurture a lasting relationship – one that prevails through sickness, poor times and the worst life has to offer, until freaking death.

And so, the perfect day continued. The food was perfect. The beef was perfectly beefy and the chicken was perfectly chickeny. The cake was perfectly delicious, the wine flowed perfectly and when “We Are Family” blared from the DJ’s speakers, everyone hit the dance floor in perfect unison. And when the bride and groom whisked away to their perfect honeymoon spot, they did so under a shower of perfectly spherical bubbles blown by the guests. It was…perfect.

I was solo that night, as my Beleaguered Wife drew the short straw when the babysitter flaked out an hour before the event. Though she left the porch light on, the inside was completely dark, so I stood at the entry and took off my shoes and socks so I would be quiet as I walked across the hardwood floors to the kitchen. No sooner had I started tip toeing than I stepped directly in a warm, mucoidal substance, the viscosity and soft-chunky texture of which could only be dog vomit. So as not to smear the Cocker Spaniel effluent all over the living room, I hopped on one foot across the floor towards the kitchen to get a rag. On my third hop, I landed directly on an up-turned 3×4 inch House Builder Barbie Block, shooting a searing, Roman crucifixion-style pain blast from my arch to my frontal lobe. In an effort not to wake the family, I lunged face-first into the couch and screamed into the pillow like the three-year-old girl who left the block so inopportunely placed in my path.

As my eyes started adjusting to the darkness, I could see that in fact the whole living room looked like Hurricane Katrina had landed at Toys r’ Us, so I decided not to risk the potential mine field to the kitchen. I took my shirt off, cleaned the bile and half-digested chunks of Hap-E-Hound Dog Food off my foot with it, and threw it in the general direction of the laundry room. Hey, that’s what washing machines are for.

I had taken a small, wrapped truffle from the wedding and was going to leave it on my three-year-old’s nightstand, because she just goes crazy-ass happy over that sort of thing, so I made my way down the hall to her room. The kids had been sick, because kids are sick EVERY DAY, so I could hear that the humidifier was running in their room. When I slowly opened the door, I was greeted by the putrescent smell of a diaper that my Beleaguered Wife had most probably forgotten to throw out in the sheer anarchy of trying to put two kids to bed. Combined with the warm, moist air of the humidifier, the smell showered on me like a fecal monsoon, and had I not developed an iron clad gag reflex through years of having a nurse as a wife (“You want to know the grossest thing I saw today??”), I would surely have joined the dog in downloading the entire contents of my stomach. Holding my breath, I quietly placed the truffle next to my daughter’s bed, grabbed the guilty diaper, threw it the hall bathroom and shut the door on it like so much radioactive waste. Note To Self: Take Morning Pee in Master Bath.

I opened the door to my room to find the wife dead asleep on the bed, the covers pulled over to her side. All the covers. My side was barren like the Sahara, her side was all cozy like..like..like when your wife takes all the damn covers. I slipped off my pants and crawled in, performing the timeless ritual of Repossessing My Fair Share of the Blankets Without Waking The Wife. Finally and safely ensconced, I curled up next to her and listened to her breathe for a while, my grown-up lullaby for the past ten years.

“I do,” I whispered, though I knew she was sleeping. “I do.”


John Taylor has been writing about wine since 2012, but his meanderings on life began way before that. Born and raised in San Diego, California, John moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to pursue dreams of screenwriting and filmmaking. John’s writing career started in earnest at this point with blogs, essays and short stories appearing in various publications. John began working full time in the wine industry in 2011, and is currently the Director of Consumer Sales for a winery based in Napa Valley. He’s a Certified Sommelier and WSET Level 2. In May of 2017, be completed his first full-length novel, The Flight of The Dolphin, and is currently at work on novel version of Pairs With: Life.

Life After Debt

by Derek Hamilton

As of this week, I’m officially debt free. As a millennial, just saying that feels unnatural.

I must have logged into my student loan account three times per day this week to be greeted by the “Congratulations!” zero-balance notification. It’s a celebration GIF that makes confetti rain down on my screen. I don’t get any satisfaction from it, so that’s not why I keep checking my non-existent balance. I keep logging in because I’m afraid the bills are going to somehow re-materialize on my account.

It’s like I’ve become so accustomed to student loan dread that I’m filling the void with my own fabricated version of the anxiety it caused. It’s debt-related PTSD.

The journey started at the low point that all new grads experience: tallying up the bills and realizing what I’d gotten myself into at the behest of my teachers, family members, and even my own overly-idealistic self.

Student loans felt like an anchor. They felt like a prison. They felt like a tombstone. Here lies: my financial stability, and all hope of establishing personal wealth. It was like being in an abusive relationship – where there was a domestic disturbance every time my paycheck was deposited.

Throughout my repayment process the past five years, I realize that I became financially anorexic. Even now, knowing I’m in the clear – it’s incredibly difficult to splurge or treat myself to anything. I’m such a fiscal fascist that I can’t even justify my own celebration. After years of practice, I can tactfully convince myself to avoid any non-essential purchase.

The only glimmer of assurance in this story is that I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She had her own set of student loans that needed to be addressed as well, so the threat was on both of us. We’ve kept a running tab in our minds of everything else we could have spent this money on. It has been painfully unmistakable to us.

Paid in full. That’s the only concept we’ve been focusing on since we graduated. Now that our student loans are gone, we’re finding ourselves becoming more and more debt averse. We don’t even want to purchase a home unless it’s with savings and we pay for it outright. We’ve already experienced the smothering curse of debt.

We have drunk from that cup, my friends, and it is bitter.

We keep asking ourselves how we feel about all of this, but we still don’t know what to make of it. It’s insane that we’ve joined the minority of Americans who have paid back their student loans without defaulting. It’s sickening to think that we’ve paid off the equivalent of a 30-year mortgage in five years and have (basically) nothing to show for it. We know it’s for the best. We know we did the right thing. We know we finally achieved what we set out to do – but we don’t feel any relief from it right now.

Paying back student loans is a personal victory that has all of the symptoms of an absolute defeat.


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

The Epiphany

by Nelia Aboagye

It is January, it is a new year and suddenly I realize that what was once my last year’s resolutions are creeping up in my mind, screaming out to be let out into my new year planner/journal. It suddenly dawns on me that I never accomplished my last year’s resolution.

The guilt fills my chest and my heart begins pounding, my palms are sweating as my eyeballs push out of their sockets and are ready to pop out. I rub my sweaty palms on to my arms and my panic is disturbed by the goosebumps all over my arms and my ice-cold feet. Wait a minute, I am having a panic attack!

I run across the room searching frantically in my desk drawers, looking for my last year’s journal. Documents, bits and bobs fly out of the drawers as I throw them out in search of my old journal.

“Aha!” Found it, I quickly find a spot to sit while I flip through the pages in search of that long list of old resolutions.

With my face buried in my old journal, my eyeballs swing from left to right, back and forth hoping to see a tick reflecting an accomplishment – but no chance. A rush of sorrow fills my heart followed by disappointment. My body slouches as I exhale letting out a big sigh.

I sat in my home Office feeling disappointed in myself, I look around and I see a lot of things I have accomplished, a happy home, beautiful healthy children and suddenly I have an epiphany. New year’s resolutions are overrated and exaggerated. I was being harsh on myself and had false expectations of myself merely based on what others expect.

I realized that I owed no one but myself I answer to no one but myself, I realized I am happier having forgiven and loving myself. I suddenly realized I achieve more goals by doing what I love and happier at this.

The Epiphany is profound happiness in loving self.


Nelia Aboagye loves herself and her family (husband and four children, all boys) give her joy. She enjoys writing children’s books.

Mugged

by Dustin Pellegrini

The night I got mugged was a Monday. I had only been up at school for about two weeks and I remember not realizing that until other people pointed it out and kept repeating it. Like it made a difference somehow. Like it mattered. I remember getting sympathy for it from people I didn’t even know. Feeling uncomfortable at their touch, the hugs they forced on me. Their knowing looks they tried to pass over to me. Like they understood. But they didn’t.

I remember feeling the bite of the gun barrel as it made solid contact with the back of my head, smashing down clean like a hammer driving a nail in one swing. I remember not telling people about that part after hearing my brother’s reaction to it. Dad translated it to me first. How Tyler was a hair’s length away from driving up here with every hunting rifle he had to take revenge for me. I remember thinking this was just something dad had said, but then believing every word of it when it was said in my brother’s heavy, panicked voice. How I had to calm him down, convince him not to want to kill on my behalf. How his voice came out in screams between buckets of breaths. How it sounded on the phone like he was driving with the window open and I was afraid he was already making good on his word.

And as I was talking him down, I remember thinking, ‘Let him do it.’ Part of me wished he would, but I let that sink back down into my guts. Now, I only wish I could have responded with his anger, his pure frustration at how unfair it was, instead of with my silence.

‘It’ll be okay,’ I told myself. ‘Turn it into writing. Make it something. Rise above it.’ But I couldn’t help but want to sink. It’s hard to hold it in and just try to float up, it would have been nice to just tread water at their level or just dive down further and hold my breath for a minute or two like Tyler could. I just wish I could give in and do something like him.


Dustin Pellegrini is a writer living in Chicago. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, has had his work read at Chicago’s Story Week Festival and currently works at a nonprofit. You can find more of his writing at dustinpellegrini.com