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What you see isn’t always what you get. MerriLee Anderson learned a number of lessons as a child when accompanying her mother to her Tuesday night bowling league, some less obvious than others.

Bowling Lessons

by MerriLee Anderson

On a Tuesday evening in 1969, Mrs. Donald L. Anderson was not making dinner for her three daughters and husband. She was not stuffing laundry into the avocado green washing machine. She was not sewing a dress from the McCall’s pattern book. She was not preparing a Sunday School lesson. She was not ironing dress shirts and pillowcases. She was not vacuuming the green shag carpet of her San Antonio home. She was not thumbing through Vogue pondering the latest dress style. Jeanne Anderson was bowling.

Tuesday nights were the only night of the week when the Anderson family’s plans revolved around Mom. League play started around dinner time, so Dad was charged with feeding my teenage sisters while I accompanied Mom to the bowling alley. She hoisted her gray hard-sided bowling bag with the gold “B” Brunswick logo into the Pontiac Bonneville and we headed ten minutes down the road to Oak Hills Bowling Alley.

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Memories without a Home

by Nicole Alexander

A disheveled man hobbles toward me wearing tattered jeans and a dirty cap. He holds a plastic bag, which I assume contains all his possessions. I become aware of the designer sunglasses on my head, keeping the hair out of my face. I push them down over my eyes. Disdain fills me and expands into rage. I lower my eyelids for a moment, and he disappears from view. When I lift them, our gazes meet and I peer into familiar, wounded eyes. They steal the air from my lungs. I never fully understood the phrase “It took my breath away” before a soccer opponent, back in high school, slammed into me.  I dropped to the grass, stunned and listless, as I waited for oxygen to return to my lungs. My own teammate, unaware of the hit I had taken, shouted at me to get off the field if I couldn’t play.

According to science, the brain stores painful memories to keep us safe so we can prevent similar experiences from occurring again. My teammate’s words stung more than the physical hit.

Get off the field if you can’t play.

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My Forgettery

by Paul Graseck

Born and raised in Brooklyn, my parents loved New York, and they knew the city from the inside, frequently taking me on outings throughout its five boroughs. In the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, we moved about the city underground, by subway.


Returning home from one excursion, the commuters on the stairs we climbed pushed passed us, seemingly unconcerned about me. On foot, New Yorkers move quickly from place to place; I felt small inside the horde of people on the move. Looking up at their feet racing ahead, I lost contact with my mother whose hand shortly before tightly gripped mine. Only four- or five-years-old, now suddenly alone and bewildered, I felt penned in, unsafe, nervous as I stumbled forward in the press of people. I panicked. Anxiety flooded my system. Lurching upward with the crowd, I felt a tug on the back of my shirt collar. I turned and saw Mom and Dad. Secure again, our threesome made its way to the top step where we stopped, and I cried.


Through the years, whenever I think of that period of separation—a brief flash in my life, undoubtedly no more than several seconds—I relive the experience in memory, adrenaline pours through me, my heart races, and my face broadcasts fear. I still recall with horror losing touch with Mom.


That scary stairwell moment evolved into a core memory, becoming a story I tell often in situations that provoke me to shake it loose from the filing system in my brain. It grew into a piece of my larger life story, the personal legends or lore that I use to help define myself.

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Breaking the Curse

by Sky Karam de Sela

When I see an old person sitting on a bench watching the world go by with a pensive smile, I find reasons to look in their direction. Their stillness, their attention, commands mine; it fills me with respect and longing. But I have to walk on. I am a descendant of travelers whether I like it or not. My childhood was filled with movement; stillness was a language I did not speak.

None of my grandparents ever sat on a bench and watched the world go by. If they had, they would have been frowning intently and it would have lasted a minute at most. A wild crossing of continents, languages, and social status is at the root of my grandparents’ creative strengths but also at the nexus of their restless inability to provide security for their families.

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Armed

by James McKean

The blast struck me instantly stupid, ears ringing. My cheeks stung from powder burns and microscopic bits of lead. Why did I need to peer down the bright rifling? Stupid. My friend Terry, who had wanted to show me his new pistol—worried as he was about prowlers—stuck his head out from the kitchen, a half-made sandwich in hand. “Didn’t I tell you it was loaded?”

I couldn’t talk, haunted by the image of a .22 slug traveling though my eye. At least I’d turned the barrel up before I touched the trigger.  I shook my head and pointed at his knotty pine ceiling. When I think back, the muzzle blast slaps my face again. Listen up, listen up, it says, you’re still capable of thought and by the way, what were you thinking?

Dumb luck convinced me to rethink my relationship to guns.  I’m still convinced it was a good idea to disarm my mother-in-law, for example, sequestering her .38 Smith and Wesson snub-nosed revolver and the far more dangerous .32 Browning automatic that her grandson thought she needed for self-protection. He gave it to her a few years after she had been widowed and was living alone. She was eighty-six. As instructed, she kept her guns under the vacant pillow next to her at night. I’m not sure her grandson, well-meaning perhaps and enthusiastic certainly, had thought this self-defense reasoning all the way through.

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Meander Is a Noun

by Erin Hemme Froslie

1.

On an otherwise pleasant late October afternoon, my phone buzzes from a local breaking news alert. The news: A couple taking a Sunday stroll finds a grim discovery—a body near the Red River, north of Main Avenue in Fargo, not far from my home.

This is newsworthy, of course; the dead in public always are. Still, I barely glance at the alert and return to grading papers written by my first-year students. I find the event neither alarming nor particularly attention-grabbing. I’ve lived near this river for nearly twenty-five years. In my former career as a journalist, I listened to police scanners and scrambled out of the newsroom when tidbits like this crossed the airwaves. Bodies in the Red River are an occasional fact of life.

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Two Truths and a Lie

by Sharman Ober-Reynolds

The arc of scientific discovery is long and bends slowly toward progress. Before “science,” the best physicians in England examined King George III’s poop and urine and blistered his back with heated cups. They tried strait jackets, arsenic-containing drugs, and soaking his feet in water and vinegar. Some of his doctors thought his illness resulted from wearing wet socks, eating peas, or “flying gout,” which flew to his brain from his painful feet. The King was psychotic, maybe from Porphyria; more likely, he had bipolar disorder and later dementia, and the battle for his mind was crude, frightening, and finally ridiculous.

We look back to the previous generations and wonder how they survived bleeding, animal dung ointments, or cannibal cures. Of course, many didn’t. And our children and grandchildren will look back at us, shaking their heads at the horror of our ways. Things do change, but the increments are sometimes too small for us to notice. The strength of the scientific process is that people who have different ideas do experiments, transcend prior beliefs, and build a foundation of facts. And voila, we’ve progressed from poop examination to brain surgery. And, if science is allowed to follow this proven path, imagine what physicians practicing 250 years in the future will think about brain surgery.

The problem is there are lots of people who no longer believe in science.

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Wichita 2:28 a.m.

by Mark Lewandowski

While Pamala and I waited for the host, we scanned the restaurant for empty places. Even at this late hour Denny’s was packed, mostly by youngish white couples like us wanting an early breakfast after the bars had closed. But just on the other side of the host station four tables had been pushed together to accommodate a large Black family. There were school-aged kids, and likely parents and grandparents. I assumed the booths behind them seated overflow members of the group, since one of the young girls occasionally looked back and laughed with a boy there. A cousin, perhaps? All were dressed to the nines: the men and boys in suits and ties, the women in full length dresses with the padded shoulders—a popular style in 1988—and the daughters and granddaughters with puffed sleeves on their bright yellow and red and blue dresses, hair pulled back with matching ribbons, legs and feet clad in white socks and blacked, buckled shoes polished to a glimmer. Were they returning from wedding?

Looking at them I felt like a slob: face pasty white from not only two months of reading and writing as a first-year graduate student, but before that three months sliming fish in Alaska. I wore cheap draw string pants from J.C. Penny’s and a thread bare Grateful Dead t-shirt with soggy pits.

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A Good Cup of Chai

by Hailey Duggirala

Making a really good cup of chai takes practice.

Ash perches on the countertop of our house-share kitchen, watching me work. It is one of those rare, quiet moments of life in a college town, when all of our roommates are out and we can play house; pretend that we are five years into some invisible, idealized future, in which my poetry and their novels can pay the bills on our own place. I toast cardamom pods, star anise, and cinnamon on the stove and imagine my father moving around the kitchen.

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