Maija Haavisto

How to Enter Your Lover’s Brain

TW: paranoia, failure, existential dread, tangled neurons, fangled neurons, viscous boundaries, dystopian landscapes, parallel universes, unspeakable horrors, heavy breathing, breath-holding, death-beholding, go away go away, I told you not to enter, what the fuck is even wrong with you?

did I say unspeakable horrors?
because we’re going to talk that shit
and it’s going to be nothing
because words can’t capture
unspeakable horrors

how to enter your lover’s brain
to perform maintenance and exorcisms
in a corny plumber suit
looking like the clown you are
to dust cobwebs and scribble a note:
“please take out the trash x”

how to speak with utter conviction
in front of a grand jury of the past
all jumbled up in REM sleep
and twitchy hypervigilance
and it all contradicts you (as in, me)

how to enter your lover’s brain
and get the hell out
(abruptly, without trace
preferably in one piece)

spoiler alert: you don’t, you never do
the melding of souls is final

how to love a messy clump of synapses
that neuroscience pretends to fathom
but you can’t understand
brains with brains
or with anything
sans God the Almighty
and she hasn’t been here
in a long time
if ever
what fires together wires together
lights tire fires together
the wires: all tripwires

how to enter love with brains
a disaster that makes no sense
evopsych is rabid nonsense
unspeakable horrors
just wetware zeroes and ones
inexact approximations
of biological waste
if you caught a molecule of trauma
what would you do
wear it as a necklace?

how to:
you don’t, you never do
so many cavities to lure you in
but no exit, that’d be too easy

did I say unspeakable horrors?
it’s going to be
a long night


Maija Haavisto has had two poetry collections published in Finland: Raskas vesi (Aviador 2018) and Hopeatee (Oppian 2020). In English, her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in e.g. Topical Poetry, Wondrous Real, ShabdAaweg Review, Asylum, Eye to the Telescope, Shoreline of Infinity, and Kaleidoscope. Find her on Twitter at




Jesslyn Whittell

ASMR 99% of You Will Fall Asleep to This Confessional Poem

           Posit climate change as the hand from a person’s warmth taken out 
           of context and uploaded as healing over several types of distance.

           The instructions are as follows: Relax. 
           Be hypothetical. 
           Her touch is the best metric for tired. 
                                                                                 Her mouth is a bubble ceaselessly replayed. I know
                                                                       everything she could tell me. 
           Thank god I have a body to tell me that nothing has changed
           and nothing changes, 

           empathy as ambient noise 
           in a video game 

           trauma as compulsive

                                                                  on the couch with a please-touch-the ache, tracing the dotty
                                                                  lines that are everywhere, things inter-measurable and
                                                                  commiserating. I say body but that’s never what I mean.

You could substitute other abstractions for it, make a variable of me, make gaping that explicit verbal arrangement we have to write about each other while our clothes and sheets dry. This is not a love poem because I have a sense of my body as both a solid object and a vulnerability, it’s a love poem because I kinda love it, the rapid simplicity of unit, of my atomic aura hovering around me like a factual tractor beam, and then the miracle of a hypothetical touch dissolves it all, dissolves me, distance refracted into dissonance of lazy invocations, an association who’s heels get stuck in the fresh-mowed neurons patrolled by the cop in my head, my mouth slack with its own sweet pollution, pollination of literal garbage in the sewers of the cities in my Brita water filter called “low-grade euphoria.”

I didn’t think I’d like being healed but I do. It’s surprising because there is no curse on my lips or stone in my eyes or any other clear demarcation of before and after. I am clotted full of thresholds that don’t lock, cured and recovered. Updated. You can measure the damage, but first you’ll have to coax it out of hiding. It cowers in the weeds of infinite growth, it trembles with deceptively original timing. 

This is a terrible confessional, I’m sorry. I haven’t done this in a while. What else should I tell you? Someone builds houses, and the rent goes up. I’m fumbling the format for intimacy: it looks so like exhaustion here.


Jesslyn Whittell is a grad student in English at UCLA. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Lammargeier, b l u s h, and The Rambling.




Adedayo Agarau

fine boy writes a poem about anxiety

i ask my girlfriend to pray for me & she pulls my name in a two minutes voice note
throws me towards heaven & receives me with gratitude

i miss everything i worship:
                          a.      my God
                          b.      my woman
                          c.      my mother & grandmother
                          d.     the music flaming from rooms we bless with the heat of our bodies

the way i desire her body is the way anxiety desires me
               i am wanted by all the things that haunt me in my dream

my grandmother, my grandmother
pulling me out of air


                                 on a sidewalk on 7th street
                                 a dead cat is someone’s pet

in ibadan, a dead cat
is someone’s grandmother


                    as a fine boy ko ye ko ni anxiety nau
                    o ni everything to fe, o ye ko ma dupe ni

i thank my God who puts sunlight on my table
who wakes me in the morning & offers me to trembling

who sits outside the apartment near River Landing
smoking a stick of cigarette with menthol switch

who asks me how Nigeria is
who, when i say dáadáa ni,

does not ask what i mean

there is little i can tell you, the anger is towards the door that never opens inside me; i make
eba in the morning & vomit everything later & when my mother calls, she asks why i’m thinner
than h/air

        1.    where will all fear go when god takes over the city?
        2.   whose gratitude will drive the lambs into the swine?
        3.   what am i without the dream where i am gasping for air?
        4.   what name do we give the fire that eats my fingers?
        5.   my mother beads a basket & fills it with water,
        6.   who does she mock if not her son that cannot hold water?

they laugh at me
when i run in 
the blues of

they laugh at me
when i run in
the grey of

i hear their shadows
& dream of their socks

a lizard crawls towards a car
& the driver halts.

i’ve witnessed a car run into a pack
of boys walking tiredly from 

your god is everything 
that lets you come inside.
mother, lover.

this trembling is
not without a destination.
i dance towards fire—

fuck memory.
fuck everything.


Adedayo is studying for MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’23. His manuscript, The Morning The Birds Died, was a finalist in the 2021 Sillerman Prize. His chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020, while Vegetarian Alcoholic Press published his chapbook, The Arrival of Rain in January, 2020. His poems are published or forthcoming in World Literature Today, Frontier, Iowa Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere. Adedayo is the Editor-in-Chief at Agbowó: An African magazine of literature and art. He is the editor of New International Voices Series at Icefloe-Press. Adedayo edited Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry.




Darren Donate



white + splain, after mansplain. 

whitesplain (third-person singular simple present whitesplains, present participle whitesplaining, simple past and past participle whitesplained)

    1. 1.      To explain to the Mexican: they haven’t had
               the real      authentic pozole,

                    the kind
               with bits of     brain, hominy.

    2. 2.      To explain to the Mexican: they haven’t picked
               their teeth clean, the cerebellum

               hanging from a finger nail like
               a true Aztec, Mestizo.          Lifting the

               bowl with both           hands, gulping
               down blood—coming to       gray matter,

               the chunks that     contemplate
               quantities of melanin—suddenly

               molting,     shedding the ivory of
                     your skin—becoming brown.

    3. 3.      To have a white man call you beaner. To have
               a white man tell you not to use that word.


Darren Donate is a first generation Mexican-American and visual poet. He previously obtained his MFA at the University of New Mexico. Darren is currently teaching high school and coaching wrestling in Tucson, Arizona. His work has been most recently featured in DIALOGIST and is forthcoming in Berkeley Poetry Review.




Laura Da’

Why Lazarus

Because a woman was disinherited 
            by a disinterested witness
            in Turkey Ford, Oklahoma
            because she married 
            in the Indian way 
            and zinc was found 
            on her allotment.

For the sake of the sixth born child.
            Last of the animal surname, 
            son of he named 
            for the third son 
            of Jacob and Leah, 
            who ran from home chased 
            by a flickering length of leather.
            Like a contrary land breeze 
            from mountain to sea, 
            not stopping until he 
            hit salt water.

Because my own father’s father
            was made citizen 
            at age fourteen. Beneath the land 
            he tended for his children 
            covered rivers flow 
            under suburban foundations.

Because a park, reservation, or monument bears the same official 
            symbol on the map:

Park, reservation, or monument     .   

            A lonely figure surrounded by endless fields.

Because in removal, 
the Shawnee were not permitted 
            to carry any tools
            that could be used 
            as weapons.

So Lazarus broke ground 
            with his fists and toes, raked red earth
            with a gar’s jaw. Peeled limbs
            from the trees to burn for warmth, 
            slid corn kernels down the side 
            of his forearm into holes 
            quarried with his bare hands.

Because the cougars extirpated 
            from Shawnee homelands 
            track me in my sleep 
            and a knot in a tale 
            shows that the story could go either way.

For the sake of the words of faith:
            no talk, instruction, or translation 
            in native language was permitted
            to the daughters of Lazarus
            at the Seneca Indian School
            even for the youngest pupils. 
            The Shawnee bible 
            being the only exception.

Because an ancestor was the twelfth 
            child of that year 
            and the missionaries 
            tallied the twelfth letter 
            of the alphabet
            and went thumbing 
            through the bible for a name.

Because the etymology 
            of the word martyr is to bear a witness:
            Indian trails holding steady 
            under concrete highways.

Because Lazarus made Jesus weep 
            as a friend and call him 
            back to the world.

For we, the resurrected, 
            so solitary in our vast fields
            need to call out to one another
            by name in this new territory 
            where the fee simple is neither.


Laura Da’ is a poet and teacher who studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is the author of Tributaries, American Book Award winner, and Instruments of the True Measure, Washington State Book Award winner. Da’ is Eastern Shawnee. She lives near Seattle, Washington.




Diamond Forde

Poem in Which I Was Supposed to Write about Cain and Abel, But I’m Tired of Writing about Death

So instead, a houseplant
arching a trellis of its own strong stems,
elephant ear, Colocasia, what my aunt called
Alice, ready for the inevitable mothering
of her own mother, she tended Alice
with the surgical precision of a woman
seaming silver to the sharp ends of the moon,
and even when she yelled at my cousins
for crawling through the jungle-mess
of its large leaves, scattering soil so far
she could find the hard balls of Perlite
trailing, trailing, sometimes she’d let me
water or cull the gold and ghostly curls
of a dying sprout, hung like a wrung-out
washcloth, and in my hands
I like to think she saw a potential to dig,
to muck deep into the manure 
of my imagination, sprout offshoots 
I hope to plant in someone else someday
when I am no longer afraid
to think of myself as a god large
enough that every heart-shaped leaf
dicing light to dust could beat in my own chest,
and I have never made a life 
but I’ve reached into the refuse
they make of our stories and found hearts
hardy as crocus bulbs, and in this poem
I am planting a world for gxrls to live
where kudzu climbs, and is welcomed.


What I Wish I Said When My Stepmother Asked Me If I Planned to Go to My Grandmother’s Funeral

You tell me I’m selfish—it’s true. I’m particular, too—toast my bread on one side, pluck my toenails in my plush-down bed, sneeze and shout so loud our small hound slumbers with an eye transfixed

on the pollen pilling the sill 

and martyrdom, that supposed mechanism of motherhood, won’t tick in me, but there’s a fig tree feathering behind the old brick building at work, and each fall it droops with newborn fruit, green bulbs purpling like bruises, flush with fresh meat, seeds pink as flagging tongues, and there’s a cove cratered beneath the broad leaves, large enough to sit in, to reach for every wine-dark drop, eat, cream its custard against my teeth, and isn’t it divine to hide behind fig leaves? 

or that for each fruit to bloom, a mother dies—a wasp slipping into the fig’s snug end, wings clipped in entry, antennae ripped from their stalks—blinded by a need to breed, which is not a metaphor, just an insect giving body for brood, because love is a force greater than grief 

and we weren’t meant to mother 

but I know love, found it in the joyful tunes of my own breath, in my hands clapping verbs to thunder, in my thigh’s singular notes, and maybe if you’d listen, you’d hear it as my grandmother heard it, 

in her last pulse, that thrum not swan song but a mulch-womb buzzing to fruit.


Diamond Forde’s debut collection, Mother Body, is the winner of the 2019 Saturnalia Poetry Prize. A Callaloo and Tin House fellow, Diamond’s work has appeared in Boston Review, Honey Literary, Obsidian, Massachusetts Review, and more. She serves as the Fiction Editor of Nat. Brut, and she lives in Asheville with her partner and their dog, Oatmeal.




Amy M. Alvarez


from the Tagalog bundók & Cebuano bukid: 
each meaning mountain, rurality, folded-up
land far from ocean, from Proto-Austronesian
bunduk: higher ground. When American

soldiers menaced the Philippines after
the nation declared independence from Spain,
Filipinos used bundók as cover, descending
on an army used to prairies, to brown faces 

protecting sacred ground raging across 
open field instead of behind trees raining
fire down the bundóks. Those soldiers 
birthed the bastard word “boondocks” 

in these mountains, migrating meaning 
toward remote country, hinterlands 
where the people, in their estimation 
(and what is the estimation of a nineteen-

year-old American boy worth?), were less 
civilized or civil. I imagined a boondock 
being watery wasteland and didn’t expect
it to mean “mountain” in my stepfather’s 

first tongue or in Cebuano, Cebu being part
of the archipelago I know well from my time
with church folk who proselytized to the choir,
molding Protestants from Catholics, but also 

running clinics, providing materials to teachers, 
giving teens community, inviting young trans 
women to hang out, delight in sisterly love. I met
my first out trans friend in Cebu at fifteen; 

she taught me the Cebuano word 
for cockroach as a gag: uk-ok. Bakla 
is Cebuano for gay man and transwoman.
bakla     bukid     beauty    bundók 

Jennifer Laude was a bakla, Filipina beauty 
murdered by American marine in a bathroom
stall because his own desire was distasteful 
to him. He could not understand the forests 
of her bundóks. The murderer was released 
after five years of a ten-year sentence. He—
and I don’t bother naming the man from
the boondocks because names are themselves

honorifics—had AC in his cell, was paid a quarter
of a million dollars while he twiddled the thumbs 
that held Jennifer’s head in a toilet. The US military
will remain in the Philippines in exchange for vaccines. 

Babaylan: from the Austronesian balian—
a word for shaman from the pre-colonial 
Philippines. A babaylan was almost always
a woman like Jennifer: shamans by nature,

guided by spirits of ancestors who brought
them back to their bodies after traveling 
to astral boondocks until colonizers drove
them into the mountains. I wish a medium 

beyond words to guide Jennifer back to her 
body. I wish an army of bakla babaylan: 
beautiful, fearless, thundering down the
bundóks, fire streaming from their painted lips.

Amy M. Alvarez is a Black Latina poet, educator, and scholar. Her work focuses on race, ethnicity, gender, regionality, nationality, and social justice. She has been awarded fellowships from CantoMundo, VONA, Macondo, VCCA, and the Furious Flower Poetry Center. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, New Ohio Review, River Styx, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Alaska Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Born in New York City to Jamaican and Puerto Rican parents, she now lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, and teaches at West Virginia University.




L. Nichols




L. Nichols is an artist, MIT-educated engineer, and father who has been writing and drawing comics for over 15 years. Their debut graphic memoir, FLOCKS, was published by Secret Acres in 2018, was named one of Publisher’s Weekly’s “Big Indie Books of Fall 2018,” and was featured in the NY Times article “When Comics Writers Defy Gender Norms.” FLOCKS is a memoir about growing up queer/trans in rural evangelical Louisiana. L was awarded a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, a residency at The Studios at Mass MoCA, and a residency at Hewnoaks Artist Colony for work on The Reciprocal.




Matthew Klane & James Belflower

Birch in His Cottage


Matthew Klane is co-founder of Flim Forum Press. He has an MA in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His books include Canyons (w/ James Belflower, Flimb Press 2016), Che (Stockport Flats, 2013), and (Stockport Flats, 2008). An e-chapbook from Of the Day is online at Delete Press, an e-book My is online at Fence Digital, and a chapbook Poetical Sketches is available from The Magnificent Field. He currently lives and writes in Albany, NY. See:

James Belflower is Teaching Assistant Professor at Siena College. As an interdisciplinary poet and critic, his work investigates how language mingles us with matter. He is the coauthor of the graphic novel Hist (forthcoming from Calamari Archive, 2022), and the multimedia project Canyons (Flimb Press, 2016) with Matthew Klane; The Posture of Contour (Spring Gun Press 2013); Commuter (Instance Press, 2009); and Bird Leaves the Cornice, winner of the 2011 Spring Gun Press Chapbook Prize. His work appears, or is forthcoming, in Postmodern CultureJournal of Modern LiteratureDiagramand Sleeping Fish, among others.




Cassandra Lawton

Two Truths

*Choose the method of reading the truth as you see fit

Once you were gone, our—my—mother secluded herself in the master bathroom. At 16, I acted like a child tiptoeing through mom’s room; more worried for her than myself. In the darkness, I remember her purple silk comforter tossed across her bed from a poor night’s sleep. She’s never been one to sleep well.

I sat against the door on plush red carpet, listening to mom crying. She would suck in the air, and it would come out in rasps one after another. A debate to go in ensued, but I knew she was waiting for you and not me. Somehow, I worked up the courage to knock on the door.

“Come on in,” mom’s voice reverberated through the door. With the noise of toilet paper twirling and being ripped, I knew she was preparing to present the face of a strong mother. 

I ambled across each bathroom mat as if I moved toward something foreign and terrifying. The light glistened on mom’s tear-streaked skin. Despite her attempts, one tear after another slid down her cheeks. I worried the streaks might be permanent at the end of all of this.

Ash from the joint resting between her fingers fell onto Ozzy Osbourne’s face in the ashtray below. With a sigh, she lifted it and took a drag. The smoke blew out in broken wisps. I wondered if anything would be the same now. We said nothing. After all, what was there to say? If I was you, it would have been different. I could have reconciled everything. But I was not you, and you chose to fall, taking us down with you.

~ ~ ~

Once she left, I steadied myself on the edge of the large plastic bathtub across from my mom who sat on the plush toilet seat in the master bathroom. Just two hours prior mom had been smiling, laughing, but now, the bags around her sunken green eyes looked cavernous. The tear-streaks coating her cheeks threatened permanence. 

“Did you know?” Mom asked, her gaze pleading me to have the answers—asking me to make everything better. 

I wouldn’t lie to mom like she did. I wouldn’t make the same mistake. 

“I had no idea.”

With a nod, mom’s gaze returned to the ground as ash from her joint dropped into the ashtray that rested on her lap. At that moment I wished she would be angry, throw the ashtray—scream curses. I wanted her to show the same emotions that were building inside me. Confirm rage was a solution and that my anger was justified. 

But she did nothing more than lift the joint slowly, laboriously. Sucking in the toxins, she held them in for several moments. I worried she would suffocate, until she blew out the smoke in one smooth motion. It filled my vision, trying to cover up everything that happened. 

We sat in silence, listening for the door to open—for her to come back. But it was all in vain; she would never come back. 

  ~ ~ ~

Surrounded by foldable dollhouses, poorly proportioned dolls, and small plastic boomboxes, we crafted the lives of others.

“This is Robin.” You flailed around a doll with brown hair and Sharpied nose ring. “She lives with her mother and three siblings. Her father’s a drunk and left.” You were drawn to tragedy even back then. “And she’s in love with Dave.” 

Dave wore black cargo pants and a tight London T-shirt. He was a Christmas present from your mother last year, not that it mattered which doll was yours or mine; we never used to care whose was whose. 

“Mandy also loves Dave.” I held up a doll, dressed in an orange dress and black plastic heels.

“And Robin hates Amanda.”

“But Dave loves them both and has to choose.”

We played for hours—teetering between happy endings and false beginnings—before my mom honked her horn from the driveway. 

“Come on girls, pack it up.” Your mom hurried into the room as if two seven-year-olds would know the dynamics of time. 

“Just a little longer?” you begged. 

Your mother frowned; the eyeliner unable to hide the deep circles beneath her eyes any longer. She was going through a hard time since your father left. 

With our request denied, we packed up begrudgingly, throwing the dolls into their designated tubs. You grumbled, “I wish we lived together.” 

“Me too.” I believed that things would be better if our dream came true. Did you?

~ ~ ~

I prepared an excuse as my mom’s car rumbled into the driveway. The white two-story home came into view, and the sparkling, blue four wheelers sat in the driveway like trophies. As a child, I never understood how my cousins could get new things while my family still had an ancient box TV in the living room. 

When my excuses failed, I said goodbye. I was greeted by my aunt as my cousin, Lori, proudly showed off the gap between her two teeth. We were only a year apart and had been best friends for as long as I could remember. 

As she led me to the game room, we passed the massive fish tanks, a small shark turning around and swimming toward us as if it was ensuring its presence was known. Before we got to the game room, I eyed the massive TV that took up nearly the entire wall in the living room. Once inside the room, she presented their newest pinball machine and bean bag chairs. 

I pretended to be excited, faking a smile and pressing the buttons. I followed my script and ignored the knotting in my stomach. I pushed aside the voices in my head that begged to just go to Lori’s room and play with dolls like we always did. 

I didn’t want to see her family’s newest things. They were intimidating, and the jealousy gnawing into me was hard to contain.

~ ~ ~

The hospital smelled of chemicals and my grandmother’s laundry soap as I moved across the tile toward your mother’s room. I only visited her a few times when my mom and dad made me. 

I disliked the abundance of loud noises: the beeping, the machines, the people. I hated the sight of your mom thinner than ever with wrists even my child fingers could fit around. The machines hooked up to her, the hair falling from her scalp, her sunken in eyes lacking the color they once had.

I told myself I didn’t want to see her, that I didn’t even like her. It was terrible, really, to say such things about your mother. But to me, she was the person that would force me to eat onion-filled goulash and called me “turkey.” I found the nickname horrible and never quite understood what she meant by it. 

More than that, the fact your mom was in the hospital meant you didn’t want to play with me anymore. That you were sad. And I wished things would go back to normal again. By visiting her in the hospital, I was admitting things weren’t normal. That there was a chance that things would never go back to the way they were. And they didn’t. 

When your mother died, we got our wish. You moved in with me and we became sisters. 

~ ~ ~

I forced myself to cry at my aunt’s funeral. It’s horrible really, but when my aunt’s remains were buried, I was excited. 

My aunt was young when she died—in her thirties. It was a surprise for everyone. “Candle in The Wind” by John Elton played in the background on a cheap speaker.

Tears streaked down my father’s face as the black casket was lowered into the ground. Beside him, my cousins sniffled into tissues, sobbing. My mother and grandmother wept. I stood with my father on one side and Lori on the other, begging the tears to come. I didn’t want to look insensitive.

Even though I was young I understood that my aunt’s body was in that casket. That meant I wouldn’t see her anymore. It meant Lori and her siblings were parentless. I knew it was a sad moment. I willed the tears to come, managing to pump out a couple. I hoped the tears were enough to make everyone believe I was sad. I hoped they covered the smile threatening to tug at my lips.

A couple days before the funeral my parents asked me how I felt about Lori living with us. It was a dream come true. We’d finally become sisters—spending the night together, always. We’d be closer than we ever had before. 

~ ~ ~

I scampered across the blue carpet toward the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’d only been a little over a year since you moved in, but you were failing in school, getting into the wrong friend group, and drifting away from me. We barely talked anymore. Your lamp was on and I stopped to listen. You whimpered, taking deep breaths one after another. 

I can’t remember if I knocked or just walked in, but I recall the sight on the other side of the door.

Knife still in hand, you hunched over your bed, your arm laying on the side table as if it were art on display. Blood bubbled up before curving down your arm, forming a path to the carpet below. 

“Don’t tell her,” your voice was hoarse. You never called her mom even though I thought of her as our mom back then. 

I shook my head, the picture of you etching itself deeply into my memory. “I won’t.” 

I don’t think I said anything else, but I remember grabbing the knife and forcing you into the bathroom. My fingers shook and you held back a scream as I washed the cut, pouring hydrogen peroxide over the wound. The chemical mixed with the blood, leaving an odd pink color streaking the sink. 

The carving itself was indistinguishable, but I bandaged it up before we returned to your room. I told you I wouldn’t tell anyone each time you asked. We fell asleep back-to-back in your bed together that night. 

~ ~ ~

Despite living in the same house, we were more distant than ever. At first, I tried to play and talk with Lori as if everything was normal. She didn’t want to play or talk or sit together. She was hurting, and I didn’t know what to do. 

In the middle of the night, when I would wake to use the restroom, I recall several nights where I’d pause outside her door, listening to her sobs. I’d debate if I should go in and try to help. But each time, I’d wonder how I was supposed to help her. I’d keep walking, use the bathroom, and return to bed. 

The alarm went off at an ungodly hour, and I wished I didn’t have to go to school. Begrudgingly, I slid out of bed, threw on clothes, and walked to the kitchen. I made peanut butter toast and checked the time. As I sat in the dim light—the sun not even awake yet—I waited for Lori.

Eventually, she emerged. We said nothing to one another, as she prepared a Toaster Strudel for breakfast. I was observant and noticed the fresh cuts and gashes on her arms. They were puffed up, parts of it turning white and oozing, smelling of chemicals. I almost asked if she washed it or what happened—but I settled on saying nothing. It was better not to bring attention to it. 

We walked to the bus together but sat in different seats. I sat in the hallway for lunch, while she snuck out to try the next drug her newest friend group got their hands on. We had separate classes and didn’t see each other again until the bus ride home. We walked back to the house, side by side, saying nothing. We let the suffering fester.

~ ~ ~

Before our—my—mom was crying in the bathroom, we were playing cards with the family from Norway. It was my 16th birthday. Great grandma made my favorite cake, and we all gathered around the table. Everyone but you. The relatives from Norway just happened to be there that day, but it made me feel special. Like they also wanted to celebrate with me.

You wouldn’t leave your room since that morning. I remember feeling disappointed that you hadn’t been there to sing happy birthday or for the cake. I tried to be happy, knowing if I wasn’t that it’d look bad in front of the company.

They spoke in Norwegian and I asked what certain phrases meant. We laid down our cards and mom had won the round. She smiled, taking the pot of quarters and dollar bills in the center of the table.

The dog began barking as a car pulled into the driveway and stopped part way down. We tried to figure out who it was when you stormed out from your room, three garbage bags in hand. Everyone’s gazes locked on you, but it was mom that stood up, her chair slamming against the wooden frame around the window.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m leaving.” Your eyes were red from crying but you acted confident.

You and mom began screaming. She told you to go to your room; you refused, saying your boyfriend was waiting for you. Mom followed you down the driveway as the shouting got worse. The Norwegian family asked what was happening. I didn’t know what to say. I had been kept in the dark. 

You hadn’t told me of any of this. Of these plans. Of your unhappiness all along.

~ ~ ~

Two hours before mom and I were crying in the bathroom, we were playing cards on my 16th birthday. Lori chose to spend the day in her room instead of celebrating with the family. We had my favorite kind of cake with fresh strawberries in between the layers of cream and rolled almond paste on top. The relatives from Norway happened to be there. It felt special to have company over that day, with everyone sitting around the table together.

I was grateful Lori hadn’t come out of her room. She’d been in a poor mood all week and I didn’t want her to ruin the party. I was worried about her bad attitude and dramatic nature embarrassing my family while we had company. 

As we laid down the cards, my mother won the round. She grinned, explaining that she was keeping the pot in the middle of the table so we could all play again. Before we could deal another hand, the dog began barking and a car pulled into our driveway. The timing was too perfect as Lori rushed out, three large garbage bags trailing behind her. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” My mom’s voice was harsh as if she expected an attack.

“I’m leaving,” Lori stated simply as if she had been planning it with us for weeks. 

She stormed out the door and down the driveway. My mother followed, screaming at her to come back. I wondered if she did it purposefully at my birthday party when company was over. It wasn’t sadness that came, it was rage that bubbled deep in my chest. It stung as tears swept down my face.


~ ~ ~

After the night I bandaged your cut, I remember being closer to you. We sat together on the bus, joking and laughing. We parted ways only for the classes that we didn’t have together. Every other moment we were together, even at lunch.

I thought you’d abandoned the drugs, the poor decisions, the bad friends. I thought we were okay.

I dreamt of graduating together. Of us walking across the stage, smiling just at one another. You used to say you’d become a model, a singer, or a makeup artist. I believed in your future. In what you could become. We’d go to college together. We’d stay best friends. I’d talk to you every week, sometimes more. We would heal together.

Did you dream of anything like that? Did you think of me at all? 

~ ~ ~

The lights flashed one after another off the boy’s car as the police officer stepped out. I stood on the deck and grandma left with the Norwegian family; they were going sightseeing. 

I did nothing as you and mom destroyed what remained of the relationship between you two. You were 17, and the officer said he couldn’t stop you from leaving. Our—my mom—was holding back the tears, begging you to stay. You didn’t even look at me as you loaded the bags into the trunk and got into the car. As the cars left, mom’s shoulders sank as she retreated into the house. She’d lost. 

I wondered if you even considered telling me your plans. If you’d planned it this way purposefully so it would hurt us more. I questioned why you had to drag us down with you. 

You never came back, and we haven’t spoken since.

The blue and red lights flashed off the boy’s car as the cop stepped out. The Norwegian family had left with grandma so they weren’t subjugated to the screaming any longer. I didn’t go with them and stayed behind. 

I watched through the kitchen window as my mom and Lori destroyed what little remained of their relationship. The officer said he couldn’t stop Lori from leaving because she was 17. My mom said she was stupid for leaving, I agreed. 

As she loaded her things into the trunk and the car left, I’m certain she didn’t look back. I remember wondering if she ever cared about us. Once mom returned to the house, I could hear her crying from the kitchen.

Lori never came back, and we haven’t spoken since.

Cassandra Lawton is a student in the NEOMFA program. With a Master’s in social work and an MFA, she seeks to research the healing benefits of writing in therapeutic and community spaces. She has served as the Assistant Editor, and later, Editor-In-Chief of Jenny Magazine. She has flash fiction published or forthcoming in Bridge: The Bluffton Literary Journal and Rubbertop Review, nonfiction published in Entropy, and poetry published in Volney Road Review.