In New York City There is Nobody

Personal Essay

It was the beginning of January in New York City and I couldn’t think of any good reasons to get out of bed. In my defense, my mother and I were staying at The Plaza Hotel for the weekend so our bed was a chic king-size with satin pillowcases and warm cotton sheets; even the most dopamine-balanced mind would succumb to its bedridden pleasure.

My right ear pressed into the satin pillow. The hair around my temples grew moist from sweat. I was uncomfortable but unwilling to do anything about it. When we first arrived at the hotel, my mother noticed, as if by maternal instinct, that the bathroom had no counter space, only the slim, gleaming edge of an immaculately white sink which could balance one toothbrush and maybe a tube of lipstick. Despite the inconvenience, my mother was eager to bathe in the gold framed shower with a golden shower head and a golden soap holder. She showered every afternoon until her skin pruned. I, on the other hand, don’t remember if I showered once. I have no memory of the golden shower head or steam or stretching my toes against the mint tile. I just laid in our bed like a hopeless sweaty thing as my mother washed her arms and belly with the flower and herb scented soaps the hotel provided.

The shower water turned off. I heard my mother clear her throat and flip on the overhead fan. I imagined the hot steam as it began to melt off the mirror’s glass and evaporate into the ceiling. The thought of a wet, steamy bathroom depressed me more. I pulled my cheek away from the pillow and sat up. Sitting up was the first strenuous step in trying to convince my mother that I wasn’t clinically depressed. Mounds of satin pillows surrounded me. On the bed table to my right I saw a rectangular notepad with the hotel’s name curled into the top. I moved the notepad onto my lap. Then I reached for a black pen and began to describe the emptiness I felt. I was a shell. Tears swelled behind my eyes the way nail polish drops of the brush and onto a bare nail. At least I could feel something.

My mother came out of the bathroom wrapped up in two fluffy white towels, one on her head and the other tucked and hanging above her breasts. She looked like one of Mario Testino’s subjects for a towel series in Vogue. She sprayed her wrists and neck with perfume. By the time I wrote two full sentences on the notepad, my mother had already laid out her jewelry and heels for the evening and rubbed a coconut lotion into her chest. I stared down at what I had written and felt miserably worthless. I pitied my mother. She looked radiant and clean and ready to see the city. She didn’t deserve to be pulled beneath the concrete with me. Like any healthy woman would be, my mother had a thrill through her bloodstream. She was excited to call a cab and excited to eat sushi and excited to see Aladdin on Broadway. She took time to select her outfits and curl her hair.

As I watched her move about the room, I began to grow restless and jealous of my mother’s vibrant nature. I threw the duvet comforter to the side and swung my legs off the bed. Color and enthusiasm unfolded in my mind the way it always had when I believed that I could simply stand up and start anew. I thought about what I could do to get ready. Mascara, I thought, will liven me up. Perhaps some lipstick as well. I sat down in front of a full body mirror with my light pink Claudíe makeup pouch. In a slow, sickly manner, I set the makeup out before me. Achey and heavy, my arms continued to move the makeup out of its pouch until the products, like dominos, formed a straight, anticipating line. I looked at my face in the mirror and was horrified. There was no rosiness in my cheeks. My eye whites were dull and lonesome. There was no plumpness to my face. I looked flat and deficient and dead, but most of all, I felt pathetic.

Before taking the elevator down to the lobby, my mother asked me to sit in a teal velvet chair at the end of our hall for a picture. Like our bathroom, the chair had golden edges. Above the chair was a painting of a dark haired woman’s profile with pearls around her neck and a rose in her hair. I sat down and crossed my legs. For a while now I had stopped smiling with my teeth. I flattened my lips into a pink sneer and waited for the flash. Waiting. That’s all I knew. Waiting for sleep. Waiting for the next day. Waiting for our walk through Central Park to be through.

My mother showed me the picture in the elevator. The flash made every colorful thing more vibrant and every dull thing gloomier. I looked at my face and tried not to cry. There was no life behind those eyes. There was no passion beneath her chest. I looked and looked and looked until I memorized the face. There was nobody inside, I thought. There is nobody.

First Impressions: Capri, Italy

Personal Essay

There is no word for what it feels like to wake up on an island, but there should. I rested my head on Meg’s shoulder, mouth-breathing and warm. The ferry’s windows mocked us with their stiffness and immobility. I just wanted a breeze. I just wanted some relief from the feverish pink that doused my cheekbones like a rash.

When the ferry docked I felt Meg’s shoulder shift. I woke up and instinctively joined the stirring of eager travelers: collecting their belongings, stretching, craning their necks to see the new landscape. Meg checked our seats to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind. I like that about Meg. It reminds me of my mother. Then, like schoolgirls filing out of hot gymnasium, we walked onto the dock with our luggage thumping behind.

We paid a man to drive us to the city center of Capri. He helped pile our luggage into the back seat of a light blue convertible, the kind of vehicle I would expect to see in an old world like Cuba. The suitcases piled high. He asked for my bag but I told him I would hold it in my lap.

We drove upward. The wind flattened my bangs along my forehead and sent the rest of my hair flapping backward like a fibrous flag. Meg sat in the passenger seat. She was laughing and smiling. I felt the smile on my face too. It was like experiencing freedom for the first time. The other girls were laughing too. In all the wind and laughter and freedom, no one remembered to talk. I tilted my head back and raised my arms. The sky was blue like the terracotta statue of the Madonna and Child I had seen in Florence. The inscription read Della Robbia blue. I will never forget that blue.

Discussion One: The Historical Context of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Book Club

In this video, I provide an overview of the Regency period as it pertains to Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility. I discuss the characteristics of a patriarchal society, social structure, marriage politics, and other important aspects that will help contextualize this book’s setting. Whether you are reading for pleasure or academic purposes, it is essential to understand life in the Regency period. Enjoy!

Worth Keeping

Short Story

We planned it the day before. Coffee and then yoga. The pairing sounded awkward even over text. I wanted to, but restrained myself from suggesting a cup of tea or smoothies instead of coffee before a yoga class. I imagined myself in downward dog next to him, palms gripping the earth, toes scrunched, and feeling the urge to throw up. Not a good pairing. Not a zen-ful experience. I started typing. I crafted and deleted the text message over and over until it dawned on me that, if he is worth keeping, he’ll have the right mind to suggest this alternative in person. 

We planned to meet at 6:30 the next day. He suggested the time saying that it would give him enough time to stop home after his shift at the hospital and enough time for us to talk before the yoga class at 7:30. I agreed. I didn’t have a job or shift to influence the hour we met. I didn’t need to stop home. I would already be home. I would be in my pajamas researching secondary sources for a paper on religion and morality as it pertains to the Victorian era in Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I would be sitting Indian style on the couch all day with my laptop heating the upside of a pillow. One time my mom told me that resting a laptop directly on your skin causes cancer. She read it out of a Prevention health magazine. Now I use a thick pillow to separate my thighs from the laptop’s radiation. 

I do have a job but it doesn’t feel like it. I babysit for a few families in the area. One hour here. Two there. Sometimes, just to keep me busy, I think about applying to the Italian restaurant I worked at in high school. I couldn’t be a host again. No. If I applied I would want to be a waitress with a red bow tie. The servers were always on their feet and busy. I liked the idea of constantly walking for work. It was like going to the gym and making money at the same time. I remember one of the waitresses had an excellently toned butt. A small waist too. Her arms were full and womanly. I watched her from my host stand. Her legs plunged her forward. If I were to apply, I would only accept a position as a waitress. But then I think about the ten hour shifts and weekends and the desire falls out of me. Working in a hospital probably requires a lot of walking. Showing patients to their rooms. Retrieving paperwork and proper vaccines. In all the hospitals I’ve seen there is always a big staircase with an elevator beside it. I would use the staircase everytime. 

“Do you take the stairs or elevator?” I asked with a styrofoam cup of water in front of me. We were sitting in a booth, directly across from each other. He seemed to be leaning forward a lot. I pressed my back against the booth’s cushion.

“Stairs, definitely.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s faster.” He began to stir his smoothie with the straw and took a long gulp. I watched the lump in his throat bob up and down as he swallowed. I was impressed by how closely he had shaved. Maybe that’s why he had stopped home.

“What about you?” he said.

“I wouldn’t have asked if my answer was elevator.” His lips formed a silly pout. I laughed.

We walked down the street to the yoga studio. On my shoulder, I carried a canvas tote bag with a sports bra and leggings inside. He was already dressed for class. Cotton shorts. A sweatshirt and a bottle of Fiji water in the side pocket of his backpack. I considered wearing my yoga attire as well but then I thought about how we met in yoga. He’s never seen me in jeans, I thought. I took the liberty of selecting an outfit for the occasion. I stood in my bedroom for a while, pajamas thrown on the floor, and contemplated which shirt and pant combination would make me look thoughtlessly put together and a little sexy. The pants were easy. I wore black Levi jeans from the Salvation Army. They were snug but comfortable. Shoes were easy as well. White platform sneakers from Converse. I paid real money for those; they were irresistible, displayed in the mall like a prize. I couldn’t decide on a top. Something short sleeved seemed appropriate since my legs were covered. I liked how this seemed balanced. But what if it was cold in the coffee shop? I couldn’t take the risk of exposing how my dark arm hair stands erect in a chilly room. Maybe I could bring a cardigan? I fussed like this for a while. Shirts and sweaters piled on my bed, gradually turning into a heaping mound. In my discouragement I went downstairs to my parents’ bedroom. I opened my mother’s drawers. The first shirt I saw was long sleeve and black. There was a pattern of faint white stars throughout the torso. I think it was a pajama shirt with its soft waffle-like material. I put it on. It felt right. 

 

I spotted him the moment he walked in. I knew it was him, it had to be. He looked puzzled and kind of excited. His shoulders slumped. His eyes scanned the room. I felt nauseous all of a sudden but it didn’t worry me; nausea is a symptom of designating part of your day to a stranger. A symptom of hoping my hair doesn’t look greasy, of hoping we have something to talk about. I looked down when I saw his head swing in my direction. I pressed the home button on my phone, checked the time. It was 6:28. He set his backpack down at a small round table for two. He started looking for me. I lifted my head and stood up. How uncomfy, I thought. I hate this part. The initial meeting makes me want to roll myself in bedsheets and pray that no one ever asks about me again. I moved closer. 

He moved his backpack to the booth where I was sitting. I fumbled with my jacket for a moment, checking the pockets for no reason, trying to keep myself busy. I stopped moving so much and began to relax. He asked if I wanted anything. He seemed to be leaning forward a lot. I pressed my back against the booth’s cushion. My shoulder blades scraped the cushion. My neck felt warm, perhaps feverish. 

“A water would be great,” I said. We both got up. It felt stupid for him to bring me a water. I asked for the water cup myself and filled it. He ordered a strawberry smoothie. I waited for him to order a coffee. I waited for him to offer me a cup. He never did.

“We’ll call your name when it’s ready,” the cashier said. We walked back to the booth. I walked in front of him for the last two feet. I wondered if my waist looked small, if my butt looked toned. I wondered if he had even observed me at all. It saddened me for a moment, thinking about him not thinking about me. I convinced myself that this was the case. If only I had wider hips or a fuller frame. 

As we talked I thought less and less about my body. I noticed that our eyes seldom met. He looked past my shoulder when he spoke. I wanted to turn around and see what he was looking at. When we did make eye contact it didn’t last long. It was jumpy and brief. I started counting the seconds. One. Two. One. Two. Three. One. One. Two. Our record was five whole seconds. I had only done something like this once before when I attended a Catholic middle school. On Wednesdays the whole school walked to the church next door for mass. During the priest’s homily, I counted the seconds between his sentences. The moments he was silent, not talking. The dead moments. We are called to be servants of the Lord. One. Two. It is our duty. One. Two. Three. We must live in Christ’s image. One. Two. Three. Four. Amen. 

“Do you take the stairs or elevator?”

“Stairs, definitely.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s faster.”

“What about you?”

“I wouldn’t have asked if my answer was elevator.”

 

I went to the bathroom right away. After the tall styrofoam cup of water, I had to pee badly. My urine sounded like a healthy kitchen faucet. A steady, warm flow. I washed my hands and began changing. I don’t know why I felt rushed but I did. I had worked up a baby sweat from the brisk movements. Taking off my shirt. Unclipping my bra. Peeling socks off my feet. Once I had finished, I shoved my clothing into the tote bag and made sure that my underwear was locked somewhere in the middle of it all. 

We unrolled our mats next to each other. The floor was damp from the previous class. It could reach up to 95 degrees in the room. Sometimes the heat was too much for me and I would find child’s pose while the rest of the class held four arm plank. He brought a bath towel to class. It was folded into a neat square as if it were just removed from a linen closet. Instead of a towel, I used my shirt to dab the sweat off my face and neck. I never remembered to bring a towel. And a shirt worked fine anyway. The room was quiet except for the sound of water rushing through the pipes every time someone used the bathroom. I looked to my left. His body was flat against the mat. His shirt removed. I wanted to ask him something but I laid down instead. I tried to ignore my bladder’s second urge to pee. It felt like someone had set a paperweight on my crotch. The pressure. The filling up. I couldn’t take it. I went to the bathroom again. 

By the time I finished, class had begun. I walked through rows of motionless, spandex covered bodies to get back to my mat. The instructor, a tan pregnant woman, was dimming the lights and challenging the class to empty their mind. Deep inhales. Cleansing exhales. I could never empty my mind. Most people probably can’t. I thought about my empty bladder. I thought about the walk from the coffee shop to the yoga studio. We had walked side by side, talking the whole way. He kept his hands in the pockets of his cotton shorts. The strings on his sweatshirt bounced against his chest. At this point the nausea had settled. I felt frustrated instead. I felt like I was playing a character of myself. My words sounded foreign. My tone sounded morphed. My sentences were hard to recognize. How could he know? He didn’t. To him this was me. For all I know he could have been feeling the same internal frustration. Maybe I don’t know who he is either. 

I heard the instructor’s voice. Focus on the strong breath in the room. I thought about my bed instead. I imagined curling into my bed sheets and forgetting that I have a name or face. 

 

The class ended. Pools of sweat drenched the floor like a soupy marsh. I rolled up my mat and put on my shirt. Looking to my left, I saw that our movements were synchronized. He was wet with sweat and breathing heavy. It seemed intimate to see him like this. 

“Tough class,” he breathed. I nodded my head. 

“We should do this again,” he added. 

“We should,” I said. 

“But instead of coffee, why don’t we plan for tea?”

If you love her, I’ll see it

Personal Essay

Tonight, everyone in my family is having dinner with someone they haven’t seen in a long time. My dad and I. My mom and her best friend. My step-dad and his daughter. I don’t know my brother’s dinner plans for the night. His friends will probably order a pizza or maybe they’ll walk to the Mediterranean place down the street. My brother loves it there. I do too. The waiters are friendly and they hand out free samples of fresh fruit smoothies. I’ve been there twice with my brother. Both times he ordered the chicken shawarma.

My brother is coming home in the morning. My mom and I are going to pick him up. He brings a laundry basket full of dirty clothes with him every time. No matter what time it is or how early he went to bed, he always sleeps on the ride home. We are getting breakfast tomorrow. My mom and brother and I. My mom told him to invite friends; there are extra seats in her car. She’ll drop them off before we head home.

I met two of his friends about a month ago outside of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I spotted my brother in a wool lined denim jacket and dark washed jeans. He wore a hoodie beneath the jacket. And his white Adidas shoes. He was hunched over, shivering. Hands in pockets. Hood up. Knees knocking. His back was facing me as I approached. I could see his friends’ faces. The girl had auburn bangs. The boy had a mustache. I don’t remember their names or majors or how many layers they wore in the cold. But I remember the brides. I remember the photographer. He pointed to a rectangle of shade for the bridal party to stand in. Shade means good lighting. No harsh sun lines across the face. No shadows. There were so many shivering brides that day. Teeth chattering. Bouquets twitching. The groomsmen jumping. For the love of God, someone give her a jacket. 

We walked across the street to the library. Another bride in the stairwell, standing against a stained glass window. She had a white, fluffy shawl covering her shoulders like the fur of a Pomeranian. The photographer was squatting. He touched his fingertips to the floor for balance. A camera case sat beside him with chargers, lens caps, and reflectors protruding through the zippers.

From the top of the stairwell, I peered over the railing and watched the groom watch his bride. I watched him closely, waiting for some proof to cross his eyes or lips. If you love her, I thought. I’ll see it. His arms rested along his torso. He flicked dust from his left shoulder. He leaned closer to the photographer, trying to see the images as they flashed on the camera’s mini square screen. He started to sway. The photographer motioned for him to join his bride. He lowered his chin and skipped a little. I thought he might jog to her. His eagerness made her giggle like a stunted hiccup. If you love her, I’ll see it. With one hand on her stomach and the other on her back, he brought her closer. I saw his lips. He whispered to her through a full faced grin. Whatever he said made her quiet for a moment. Then she laughed and laughed and laughed, looking up at him, leaning into his body. I heard the camera shutter like a machine gun. This is great you two. That’s beautiful. Keep that up, keep that up, keep that up.