Weekly Featured Essay
In this week’s featured essay, Robert Dugan revisits the past, remembers an old friend, and imagines a life that might have been.
by Robert Dugan
I grunted while wrestling the heavy, dusty box wedged in crawl space of my apartment. I had outgrown the cramped place, and my teacher’s salary allowed me to purchase my first home. In preparation for the move, I divided my possessions neatly into two piles. One held the things I would take with me; the other I would donate to a local thrift store. The destiny of the current box was unknown as I dragged it from its lightless resting place. I pulled the box into the open air through a flurry of coughs and sneezes.
I opened the box, and a face stared up from a pile of crinkled photographs. The face was that of a young man who sat in a small plastic kiddie pool wearing torn Levi’s, an oversized belt buckle, and a camouflage ball cap. There was a scuffed, golden fishing hook bent around the bill. A cigarette dangled from his lip, and he held a beer in his hand. There was a pile of cash on the coffee table in front of him. He couldn’t have been older than eighteen or nineteen. I studied him for a moment, ashamed that it took me so long to remember a good friend.
Becoming A Real Girl
by Pam Munter
I was never much good at becoming a girl and I loathed every bit of the relentless indoctrination.
Early family photos either show me looking uncomfortable in frilly girl’s clothing or smiling broadly while wearing my preferred dirty jeans and tee shirt. My mother offered to teach me to cook, but I had no interest. Sewing was completely a non-starter. I wanted to be outside, hitting a tennis ball against the wall or riding my bike around the neighborhood. When my mother decided I had earned too many Girl Scout merit badges, she refused to sew anymore on the sash “because it might hurt the other girls’ feelings.” When I was in the first grade, I wanted to be called Phil. An outlier at an early age.
All this is coming up now because I’ve been having phone conversations with my junior high school Homemaking teacher. We first met over sixty years ago, a time when becoming a paragon of the socially acceptable female was a more urgent matter than it is today.
My White Tribe
by Vic Sizemore
On July 7, 2016, I forced myself to watch the video of Alton Sterling’s son breaking down and crying, “Daddy,” as his mom spoke to reporters about her husband’s death at the hands of the Baton Rouge police. The video was heartbreaking, but the endless cataract of online news almost immediately churned it under.
One of my daughter’s summer reading assignments for fall semester was Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Both of her older brothers had read it for English class as well. It was first published in 1945. In an autobiographical sketch, Wright speaks of the “dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun has set.” He says, “While white strangers may be in these neighborhoods trying to get home, they can pass unmolested. But the color of a Negro’s skin … makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.” Reading Wright’s book, my daughter will get a glimpse into what it was like to be a black boy in the United States seventy years ago.
I never read Black Boy in school. In fact, I cannot remember being assigned a single black writer until I chose an African American Literature elective my junior year in college. I was raised in a place that was not only lily-white, but white with a red neck. No black people lived up the Elk River until a woman moved her black husband and mixed-race children into a trailer beside North 119, between Elkview and Herbert Hoover High School in Clendenin when I was young. From passing cars, people hurled slurs and rocks at the children as they tried to play in the yard. Kids laughed about it at school. Eventually someone burned a cross in the trailer’s front yard—that was the story going around—and the family moved away. Nonwhite people did not often venture up the Elk River, not willingly.
by Paul Juhasz
On a cold, clear winter weekend morning, of the kind pictured on postcards and calendars, Derrick called to see if I had any plans.
“Why don’t you come over and bring your bike. There’s a park near me with some trails and a pond. There’s usually someone playing pond hockey, so bring your skates and stick.”
“Sounds great. See you in a bit.”
I hung up and went to ask my father for a ride.
He was, as always, lukewarm about any plan involving Derrick. To counteract these nascent reservations, I told him we planned on playing hockey, assuming his love for the sport would trump any misgivings he might have.
This turned out to be a tactical miscalculation on my part.
Fixing me with a piercing stare, he asked, “What are you really going to do?”
On Hitchhiking, Horses, and Heroes
by Joshua H. Baker
My wife and I were attending the western-themed annual banquet for the local fire department when a fellow firefighter greeted me and assessed my outfit, head to toe.
“Those aren’t cowboy boots!” He said as he took a gander at my second-hand boots. I knew what he meant, even as I felt defensive. The boots have somewhat rounded toes and low heels befitting a western work boot or Wellington, rather than the steep-heeled style so unpleasant for walking many associate with the vocation of cowboys. Having grown up in a small western town, Ron had redneck credibility as I did not, and his gibe crept under my skin. My defensive reaction may have been rooted in my history.
As a young man ready to graduate high school, I had made no plans for college or career. I’d pored over college information books, but nothing fit. I did not want to be a doctor, lawyer, or biologist. My dream had been more outlandish. I wanted to be a cowboy.
Hide and Seek
by Steven Wineman
I was sitting next to our cabin in a low-slung canvas folding chair, waiting to see what would happen next. It was the summer of 1962. I was thirteen, my brother was seventeen. He had called my parents from Detroit, saying he was going to kill himself by driving his car into a tree. It was over a boy, David, who apparently had rejected him. My mother told me all this. She spoke in an even voice, trying to be calm and matter of fact. But I had been reading my mother’s emotional state all my life, always on the alert for the next outburst, and I could tell she was using every ounce of strength to hold herself together. “I don’t think he’ll do it,” she said. “It’s a plea for help. If Jimmy meant to kill himself, he wouldn’t have called.”
It was a warm, bright day, and I maneuvered the chair into a patch of sunlight that managed to wend through the branches of tall trees surrounding our cabin. I felt the heat of the sun on my face, on my bare arms, and I listened for the approach of my brother’s car. Instead I heard the subdued voices of my parents from inside the cabin. It was a rare event for my mother and father to be carrying on a civil conversation. I couldn’t catch the words, but their tones said everything I needed to know.
by M.K. Hall
That August, the week I was supposed to deliver the baby I had miscarried, Joe and I went to Costa Rica to watch the turtles lay their eggs. The trip had been my idea. I wanted to both run away and press into my loss. “The turtles arrive in the rainy season with the new moon,” I had said, enchanted by the grand synchronicity of their motherhood. “They come out of the water all at once and dig their nests in the night.”
When we arrived, the sun was setting. Exhausted by our travels, we decided to forego the guided nighttime expedition into the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, opting instead to stretch our legs at the beach not far from our hotel. The formal tour was supposed to be spectacular. Our innkeeper told us that in a span of only four days between 150,000 to 200,000 olive ridley turtles visited the beach. It was a phenomenon, he assured us, “not to be missed.”
MORE RECENT WORK: Like what you’ve been reading? All the fine essays published throughout the history of the magazine can be accessed via the contributors/archives page.
Summer/Fall 2016 Issue Released
Nineteen essays from Volume 6, Issue 2.
New Anthology Released
We are pleased to announce publication of our new anthology Encounters, which features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.
Issue Reviewed at NewPages
Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.