The Feminazi Movement: Why Adolescents Don’t Want to Be Called “Feminists”

Her rhetoric is aggressive. She champions women for president. Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March Organization can count on her steadfast support. She fixates on the sexual victimization of females and is compared to Rosie the Riveter as an icon. Her presence is boisterous, demanding, and inescapable.


She is Gloria Steinem: a stereotypical feminist.


“Nowadays, they’re just pushy and mean,” says Newton South High School senior Cameron Gilchrist, when asked to describe feminists. For Gilchrist, who is not a feminist, shining a light on their movement reveals little more than a group of angry women. “People don’t want to associate themselves with that type of woman,” he states.


As a man, Gilchrist is not alone in his attitude toward feminists. Fifty-six percent of millenial males in a recent Washington Post poll responded that feminism has a bad reputation (Washington).


“Parts of it are authoritarian,” offers non-feminist Jake Levy, another Newton South senior, in an effort to explain how the women’s movement earned its criticized status. His friend Mathew Huller, who also does not identify as a feminist, agrees: “the feminist movement today is much more radical” than its historical suffrage beginnings. “On some level,” says Levy, “men can be worried that it affects their position in society.”


And yet, these three highschoolers don’t believe that men and women should be unequal. “By the dictionary definition,” which describes the movement’s supporters as advocating equality of the sexes, “yes, I’m a feminist,” says Levy.


The issue for most youth – not only males, but females as well – isn’t that they oppose gender equality. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe in equality for women (Allum). At Newton South, ninety-five percent of students also share that belief – and nearly half of that number are non-feminists (Binns).


The problem lies with the interpretation of feminism’s definition.


“The traditional definition of feminism no longer accurately represents the movement that has assumed the title ‘feminism,’” says Levy. Fellow classmate Stephanie Luiz, a self-described egalitarian, but not feminist, agrees. “I think that feminism has moved in a direction that doesn’t actually promote equality anymore,” she says.


Their claim that the movement has changed is credible; at the core of traditional feminism, also known as first-wave feminism, was the vote. Since suffrage has been tucked safely under the female belt for a century, the question becomes: what does feminism stand for now?


To Huller, the movement has extended past the long-established, equality-of-the-sexes principle. “It means being in favor of abortion. It means believing in the gender wage gap and solutions to try to stop that. It means, in many ways, being in the left-wing politics,” he says.


Levy agrees that there has been a politicization of feminism, noting that “people on the far right have spoken out about it.” More importantly, though, he notes that they “have used outliers like people in the UC Berkley window-smashing to paint everyone with the same brush, while in reality this is a movement with millions of people,” not just the radical few.


This is the crux of the modern tendency to shy away from identifying as feminist: prominent coverage of the “outliers.”  


“People get distracted by those few individuals who might be hardcore or militant,” explains Robert Parlin, who has taught a class on gender at Newton South High School for the past twenty years. “They have misinterpreted a few strident voices to represent all feminists,” he says, “and unfortunately, I think that has taken away power from the movement.”


Context is key to understanding the present climate surrounding feminism. Today’s youth spend more time than ever in cyber space. Mobile devices allow ninety-four percent of teenagers easy access to the internet. For those who use social media, seventy-one percent use more than one platform, increasing their chances of viewing articles and videos that pop up in their Facebook and Instagram streams (United).


At their finger tips is a universe of information, with no barrier to separate what is factually true from what is not.


“I’ve seen, like, YouTube videos,” says Gilchrist, referencing what has shaped his perception of feminists as “pushy.” However, he cannot provide details or verify the authenticity of what he has seen on the internet.


Gilchrist’s online experience is not uncommon. With forty-nine percent of social media users reporting fake news sightings at least once per day, any topic – including feminism – can show up, facts unchecked (To).


The same is true of people. Helpful and convenient though the internet may be, it can also be a mask. Online, anyone can classify their words as “feminist”.


For those who use online experiences to defend their views of the women’s movement, Parlin says that the question becomes, “Who are they citing? Who are their referring to?” Although he admits that “there are some voices online” that support the stereotypical feminist image, his rationale remains: “You can find anyone online who’s shrill.”


“Because of that,” says teenage feminist Jessalyn Kaur, “people will say, ‘I’m not a feminist,’ when really, if you want equality, then shouldn’t you be a feminist?”


The issue, it seems, always circles back to feminism’s definition.  


With a concept so broad and complex as feminism, finding one phrase capable of encompassing everyone’s sentiments about it proves difficult. “Just because you define a word in a certain way doesn’t mean the whole movement acts in conformity with how it’s been defined,” says Huller.


Professor Robert Selman of the Harvard Graduate School of Education believes in a flexible, individualized interpretation of feminism. “To understand what each person thinks feminism means to them, they ought to debate and discuss concrete topics with others. It’s only then that one would really have an understanding of what each of us believes the concept is,” he says. Selman, who specializes in the psychology and social awareness of adolescents, says it is for this reason that “the dictionary definition [of feminism] is very weak and unimportant.”


Perhaps there is no singular definition, but the traditional dictionary definition can still have a stranglehold on the movement, ultimately excluding those who would rather not identify with it at all than have to conform. For those people, the side effect of shying away from one title is to be marked with another: the anti-feminist. As Levy puts it, it is this “either you’re with them, or you’re against them” characteristic of feminism that is so detrimental to the movement. It is simply inaccurate.


Luiz does not identify as a feminist because of the “negative connotations” associated with the modern movement, but her rejection of the feminist title does not mean that she is anti-female. “I one-hundred percent believe in equality between men and women,” she says. “That’s not even a question.”


Levy, Gilchrist, and Huller have the same opinion. Each has his own critiques of the movement as a whole, but none opposes equal rights and opportunities for women. Says Levy, “I absolutely support gender equality. For me, it’s just a question of the methodology.”


The number of young adults like these, who prefer to refrain from associating with feminism than to claim it and its accompanying negative reputation, is climbing. But members of this group call for feminists to acknowledge the pro-female beliefs shared by both parties rather than ostracize and condemn each other.   


“Understanding feminism is a shared burden,” says Huller. “Non-feminists, on one hand, should seek to understand the specific issues and see past the connotations of feminism. Feminists, however, should not be dismissive of opposing views, and shouldn’t silence opposing views based on gender.”


On the “Busy Trap”

Say, for a moment, that you can read everyone’s minds. Before we get too excited, let’s disentangle ourselves from the myriad ways this skill might come in handy and instead, zero in on one. We may be the most educated, interconnected band of humans to walk the planet yet, but we are not doing right by each other. To prove it, take your newfound telepathic talent, set off on a stroll down the street, and ask your neighbors what’s most important to them.

Chances are, the word “family” is going to roll off several tongues.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Not really. We organize our lives around the grand societal pillar that family has become in so many cultures, so it isn’t news that Mom and Grandpa are important. Rather, it’s how we then go on to treat these relatives after professing them as such.

We are the generation of busy. We are on the go nonstop, tossing sleep and peace of mind out the window without taking stock of what their loss means. “Busy” has become, as Tim Kreider puts it in The “Busy” Trap, the “default response” for your average greeting. But, while busyness may masquerade as a surface issue, or simply a convention of the time, destined to slowly fade from use, like drive-in movie theatres or bell-bottomed jeans, its roots are deep.

After all, what does “busy” mean? Merriam-Webster dictionary calls it “involved in often constant activity,” which we can boil down to “out of time.” Decrypting that code phrase, you understand it to mean that there was time, it just wasn’t spent on you.

There’s where our interpretation of busyness is distorted. It’s this “you,” or really we, that lies at the heart of the busyness crisis, because just as often as someone is too wrapped up in work to deal with us, we too fail to find time for them. No one bullies us into taking the lead in that group project. Earth will not fizzle into nothingness if we don’t sign up for that 5k, or don’t make dinner from scratch. Like Kreider points out, “it’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed,” which begs us to wonder why, if we can take on more work, can’t we also rid ourselves of it?

We have spent too much time toying with this “why” and postulating “hows”. It’s what I’m doing right now, and maybe you are too, and certainly what Kreider’s article has taken a stab at. What we aren’t talking about is what our “busy” means for our loved ones. Look outside yourself, busy person.

The truth is that as much as being swamped is a “copout” for friends, Mekita Rivas notes that it has become equally commonplace “when doling out reasons for […] neglecting loved ones.” The National Council on Aging has placed family members at fault in 60% of elderly neglect incidents, which is not to say that each of us is the agent of our elders’ distress, but it should be a jab into our subconsciouses. As much as we find the busy excuse to be “a direct slap in the face,” it is equally so to those we release it upon – a category which we have lumped our relatives into. Most of us would affirm the statement “family is important.” Most of us, however, would not be able to avow that we had never postponed a dinner with Dad, rushed through a phone call to finish AP Chemistry homework, or canceled a casual family get-together because work came up.

“Life is too short to be busy” may be Tim Kreider’s way of topping an apparently unsolvable social dilemma with rainbow sprinkles and leaving it be. Or, it might have merit – just not the kind you’re expecting. It’s one thing when the life you’re talking about is your own; it’s something else when that ticking clock belongs to another person. I’ll never be too busy to regret what I missed when I’m no longer here to miss it. So this weekend, I’m going to brunch with my grandmother. Everything else will wait.

Dear Leana

Dear Leana,

This is not to say that you did something wrong, but I think you killed my brother. I’m not sure yet, but once I am, and once you are holding this in your hand, it will hopefully read with firmer conviction.

Again, this is still up in the air.

I’m curious about what happened to you. We saw each other on one of June’s stickiest, most unreasonable days to date. I walked into town for ice cream, because to suffer in the heat is more endurable when you shake up what activity you pair it with. You biked across the street in front of me with some purple flowers in your pocket. I was a speck, a little, moist sack of air with a chocolate cone; you did not see me.

In retrospect, that was the last time I saw you.

So when did we last lay eyes on each other? Interact? Note, here, that I mean to emphasize the mutual nature of ‘we’. Could it, perhaps, have been in one of the four classes that we have shared in the past few years of schooling? Well, that would make sense. One room, discussions bouncing off the walls, partnerships…It really does go on.

Or! An even grander possibility: the Science Team. You are a member, or you were, and so am I. What better place to connect to someone on a more personal level than a (sparsely-populated) room of kids who all share your exact same interest. What better environment to engage in the social norm of “making friends”? Think on that, Leana.

Think on it.

Well, actually, I could be wrong. If we had ever interacted, I would cue your intake of air at my admission of mistake now. I’m hoping you might be starting to get the gist of what I’m telling you.

Jonny was a good kid. He took tough classes but still smiled. Sincerity radiated from his palms like a firework spitting lithium salts at the sky.

On a Tuesday last February I was chewing my pencap and reading over the history of Hannibal when Jonny brought you home. You stayed for the afternoon. You didn’t say hello.

Most days afterwards were borishly identical to that Tuesday.

You were the rudest person I had ever met. That, in itself, is a false statement, because never did I have the displeasure of making your acquaintance.

But I don’t blame you for that.

Several months of The Identical Tuesdays blended together before I caught Jonny fumbling with the latch to his bedroom window at two one morning. He never knew, but I caught him. Just like I did with the you-know-whats in an old framed picture from Little League. Just like I did every morning that he slumped over the kitchen table, looking at his cereal as if it were about to fly out of his bowl and bite his nose.

That I blame you for.

So my truth is that I know what you did. But I still want to know where you went after my brother turned up in the street, ribs broken, no more air in his lungs. Had you been in that car?

Did he save you from what happened to him? Tell me.

What I know is that, before you came home that first Tuesday and chatted with my mother and scraped balls of cookie dough out of the tub in the refrigerator, Jonny had nowhere to be at midnight. And after you, he did.

After you, he died.

Did you put those purple flowers on his grave?

I am still at Lernon Street should you decide to let me know.


Questions to question

Don’t you know I’m not moving?

That’s what I want to say, when I’m with you.

When we ride the train into the city while night beats its wings at our backs.

When there’s a lull in the conversation, or when that second passes when I scramble to reach the door you’ve held for me, arms outstretched.

Don’t you know?

When I think about the moment I stopped, the moment I first heard your voices swims up into my consciousness.

You know, that night I woke up because you were screaming again.

It turned out that you weren’t.

(Maybe that was a trick from slumber?)

Or should I really ask you,

“Do you know?”

Because I peel seconds away from myself, whole minutes where I know that we are clear.

Crystal, in fact.

I won’t ask you, I promise. Even though I’m still not moving.

Even though the fingers at the edge of my mouth make it smile.

Even though I woke up that night and heard you screaming when you weren’t.

I love you, but I promise.

I won’t ask you if you know that I’m not moving.

The Science of Passing

Humanity is a learned species. It can calculate the curvature in the paths of celestial bodies, or decipher the meaning behind wheelbarrows and chickens with scratches of graphite. It goes as far as to explain its own many attributes with the help of karyotyping and Punnett Squares. We, humanity, divide ourselves into the havers of hitchhiker thumbs, the brunettes, the left-handed scissor-strugglers, and the unfortunate sunburners. Every characteristic has a biological explanation; there is no room for interpretation. Still, the nucleic acid in our cells cannot summarize the parade of humans who pass each other by on the street. Our species observes itself and sees what biology has bestowed upon it: curly hair, blue eyes, skin color. What it doesn’t see is what biology cannot explain: the inexplicable beauty in motivation, thought, and dream. Humanity may take one form as a struggling single father of three children, or another as a rags-to-riches businesswoman, and while science can measure their persons using the genetic code, there is no formula to tell the one craving pizza from the one reliving a children memory.

Thus, the human species has taken up the art of “passing;” we have decrypted our chemical makeup, but not our motivations. The ever rapidly-advancing technology that has offered us space travel, internet, and medical breakthroughs just isn’t certain about what goes on in those fantastic, intracranial organs we have. So we may have a disconnect between measurable facts and hypothetical assumptions, science and thought. In that space, passing emerged. Previous American societies, encouraged by humanity’s refusal to be restrained by limits, latched onto passing. The fragmentation of cell bars, bars that extend past biological prisons to include those of social status or wealth, is what passing embodies, and what gives it such enticing potential. It allows any passerby to wear a mask, and by doing so, enlarge their world. While it originally referred only to the subject of race, as it does in Nella Larsen’s Passing, in which antagonist Clare Kendry “passes” as Caucasian, the meaning of American passing has expanded. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, in his masquerading as a man born from wealth, represents the development of passing’s definition. As American culture gravitated toward self-reinvention, passing, in its expanding forms, took root in our society.  

Many of us might argue that we don’t “pass” at all. After all, doesn’t the very concept suggest that we aren’t satisfied with what we are? No, the human species cannot define passing just as a way of creating new identities for itself, because while we do have the power to dictate who we are, passing can be more than just that. Humans, as sentient beings, “pass” every time they tell a lie, keep a brave face, or pretend. We pass not to escape what we are, but to protect it. United States citizens, having lived in a country with an overall upwards trend in divorce rates over the past century, have come to use passing to protect themselves and their loved ones. In this form of passing, which has sprung from crumbled relationships, children of divorce take on the roles of the adults who look after them. While these role-reversals prompt children to mature early, they also represent an alternative form of passing rooted not in personal betterment, but in compassion.

The United States, as well as most of humankind, has only recently in its history become open to divorce. The revolutionary thought and development that makes our country unforgivingly American pulled the illicit subject out of the shadows of disgrace and blanketed it in modern values. Since 1870, national divorce ratings have surged from near-zero to 800,000 per year, a number representative of the fact that more Americans are unwilling to spend their lives dissatisfied with an irreconcilable spouse (Swanson). But, for Americans who are parents, their children remain a permanent obstacle that keeps them from cutting ties with their former spouse. For lucky children (and ex-spouses), parental contact remains cordial enough for the divorce not to disrupt the lives of the children. However, in many cases the “the less you have to do with your ex, the better” mentality takes over and leaves children stranded between two parents harboring negative emotions (Balduf).

When we’re kids, we read storybooks with anthropomorphic tigers that talk to us about prime numbers and how to tie our shoes. Once in a while, we play four-square at recess, or look through I–Spy books, or make domino chains at after-school. We’re children. We’re children, and forty-percent of us have divorced parents (32 Shocking). The most mild, even “pleasant” of divorces impact children. The human species’ brain continues developing into the twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth year of life – or beyond (GLOOM). Unsurprisingly, in comparison, the highly impressionable brains of children are even more succeptible to change, being at earlier stages of development (Hamilton). Children of divorce not only find that their allegiances are tested, but that their parents’ sporadic, unpredictable behavior starts to mirror their own. In place of mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner, children are fed nasty information about their other parent (Sedacca). Innocent and trusting, some find themselves confused when Daddy won’t make friends with Mommy.  

Because parents can stoop to a level of adolescent pettiness and discourtesy, children of divorce must pick up the slack. In most cases, that doesn’t quite mean paying taxes or doing the dishes, but sacrificing their innocence and becoming an emotional pillar of support. Exposed to a fragile, even bitter side of adulthood that their parents never intended for them to see, children of divorce tumble out of their protective bubbles. There, in a more honest, shocking environment, they come face-to-face with real-world problems that many of their peers have never imagined. Because of these situations, it’s no surprise that “research has consistently shown that children from divorced families exhibit […] greater maturity and greater independence” (J Am). Children whose parents have divorced see that the world around them does not always lie on stable ground. They know that their parents are hurting, and so they learn not to bring up their other parent, not to show preference, or even – as a form of emotional support – to show preference only to the parent they’re with at the time. They make these sacrifices as they become attuned to the separate wavelengths their parents run on. Just like Robert Weiss suggests, their demonstrated maturity in learning at a young age to cope with problems that they have no tools to solve confirms that “divorce makes children ‘grow up a little faster’” (Kirkpatrick).

The word “divorce” has been circling in my head since I was ten. My dad moved out when I was in fourth grade, and it took a year for me to realize that he wasn’t coming back. There was a final piece of blissful ignorance still holding on inside me, helping me to overlook what I would have seen if I had let myself. I didn’t want change, but we all needed it. In the past eight years that I’ve lived two separate lives, in different homes, as disparate versions of myself, I’ve come to understand that my experience having divorced parents wasn’t unique; we all saw and felt and hurt. For each of us, divorce stained our childhood.

I don’t want to be angry with my mom and dad for what their divorce did to me and my little sister. I don’t want to be angry because I know that it was not meant to hurt us. I don’t want to be angry because I have thirteen years of pent-up anger, and the people around me have already soaked up enough of it. But I also know that a lot of who I am is because of the sacrifices that I made for my parents. When I was nine, I stopped mentioning my parents’ names. I saw a counselor as a part of my parents’ divorce agreement for five years, and each time that I went, I did it with a little voice in the back of my head, whispering to me that if I could set an example for them, maybe they would go too. It seemed crazy to me that they didn’t think they had any issues to solve in counseling, that it was just me. That outrage, of course, stayed quiet and confined in my head.

A lot of me stayed quiet and confined. Fear of a raising a touchy topic became a fear of speaking, and eventually manifested itself as stage fright. I was nine the first time that I danced in the Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House; I quit ballet before the end of elementary school. When I was thirteen, I would wake up at five every morning to bike between my parents houses for school supplies or track uniforms. I had started to notice how much they hated when I asked to be driven between the two homes, how they grimaced at the word “dad” or “mom.” At night, I held my mom’s hand while she cried on our kitchen floor, asking for her own mother. One blistering summer afternoon she told me that she didn’t know if she could do it anymore. Five years have passed since then, and I still don’t know whether she meant fighting in court to keep us in her life, or fighting for a reason to keep her life at all.

My form of passing is one that many people – many children – experience, have experienced, and will continue to experience. But, unlike Clare Kendry’s racial passing to live an upper-class lifestyle, or Jay Gatsby’s form of it to reunite with the love of his life, this type of passing isn’t something I chose. When I heard my parents’ ugly words, I gave up my blind trust in them. When they lashed out at me, I let my reliance on them disintegrate. When I saw them hurting, I disregarded my own problems. When they were small, I promised myself that I would be the bigger person for them. By safeguarding their feelings at the expense of my own, I surrendered the innocence that, as a child, I was owed. Still, while some of my actions may seem voluntary, I never consciously decided them. Even as kid, something in me was programmed to respond. Biology kicked in. The human species – amazing, sentient beings as we are – has an inherent compassion waiting on the sidelines, ready to trigger our protective instincts. The biological prison in which each of us lives may just be our greatest asset. It’s true, humanity is a learned species, but it hasn’t figured out everything. There’s a gap between decoding genes and solving the scientific puzzle behind motivation and thought. When we cross it, we might find that passing was inherent all along.

A Week in Lonely Eyes


The girls on the corner gave him a hard time. He dropped his ice cream.


His mom made his brother’s favorite dinner. Saturday Night Live was on, but he didn’t watch.


On the bus ride home, Tommy and Jess pulled up at the same red light in a dark blue SUV. He pretended not to see them.


He slept in to avoid everyone.


He slept. There were birds outside his window in the afternoon.


Five kids in Chemistry raised their hands to talk about the semi-formal dance they had gone to over the weekend.


School skipped him over a day.


The Color Red and a Russian Accent

Part One


He holds the door open for her. It smells, aside from coffee, like pine cones inside, and cloves and cinnamon, and a little like how he imagines frenzy would smell. A soothed frenzy. He does not have a nose for this sort of thing.

The room feels like some sort of lackluster indoor block party. Adults and their laptops line the café bar, neglecting their drinks, enthralled by the troubles of suburbia emblazoned across their web pages. Infrequent chats are wars about suffering: whose ink jet printer is broken, who scraped someone else’s BMW the other day.

He sees someone he’s noticed there before, and smiles to himself. The place is a community, however laughable. They are all here to enjoy the atmosphere, or ambience, as he would say, if he were speaking. It’s a word he likes.

“Two small green teas, please.” He takes out his wallet after she has left for the bathroom. Sometimes she hides from him when they are out. She shields her face with her hair, or lowers her eyes, or leaves altogether.

He spits out his gum and picks up their drinks from the bar. The cups get sleeved in cardboard and one gets a straw as a joke while he waits. He takes a couple seconds to notice her standing by the exit, waiting for him to join her. She holds the door open for him with the edge of her sneaker.

They walk by a nail salon and a Thai restaurant and a clothing store and two banks, one drive-through, on the way to the lake. They pass the music store he used to work at. They try to hold hands, but her fingers are cold, and the tea sloshes too much when they walk with their elbows hooked together. It has become a running joke that she always burns herself. When she does, he kisses the fleshy part of her hand, the L that runs from her thumb to the tip of her pointer finger.


She almost left him the past July. He was in France.

“It’s a good time.”

She was 3,500 miles away then.

“What do you mean?” All the wind in Nice was choking him.

“We’ll have the summer. You know…it will be easier.”

Then she was a thousand times further.


They come closer to the lake, and she asks him to speak Russian. She asks again, and he can’t say no. She wants him to translate what she says. Then she requests French instead. Then just the French accent, then the Russian one. Then Italian. “Baba di boopy,” he says. Then British. He watches her squeal, and he kisses her cheek until she squirms. Even then, he can’t stop.

It took him almost four years to speak to her. He’s told her that he has memories of her from before then, but she can’t say the same. He remembers a time in his yard when he saw her. Dana was a puppy. He was sitting on the grass tossing a ball into the air when she ran by. She had headphones in and her cheeks were red, as though some jealous giant had reached out of the sky and pinched them. Their eyes met through the trees and the palms of his hands felt her disgust drift across the foliage.

This is not something she remembers.

She was always leaving him. The first time was before he had even held her hand. He asked her to see Joy in theatres. They went ice skating a few days later, and then a blizzard kept her indoors, and then, before he had hardly realized it, she left to Europe for three weeks. It was as though they had never sat, shoulders pressed together, in front of an outdated projection screen before. Those two hours in the dark, breathing in popcorn, his heart hammered, and from it came possibility.

The possibility of Her was so close to reality. It had felt as though a gust of wind had blown toward him and paused for a moment. How inexplicable, this random, absurd, marvelous mistake on the part of Fortuna. It had all the open sky to choose from.

Looking at her, there was some drive pulsing through the id of his psyche that breathed in his subconscious, crying for him to reach out his limbs and capture her. She was next to him but she filled his thoughts. The scent of her skin cartwheeling in the October breeze. Shadows of her smile becoming bruises on his jaw. Her laugh, grimace, violent eyes, quiet and disquiet, absence, quirks, care, and distance rang in his chest. She had punctured his world and flood it with images of her.

Some days he’d start skipping alongside her and there would be no better moment than that one, with her hand in his, to be children together.

Her bliss was his drug.

There was a morning when the world rolled out of its star-studded sea and was hung, unmoving at the outskirts of its universe, so that he could spread a single minute over hours. He met her early, like every other day, only on this one, when she saw him she tossed off her jacket and bags and barreled toward him like some cannonball out of a falconet. Her fingers met the back of his neck and her arms, his shoulders, and her legs enveloped him, but where his hands held her at the small of her back, she was air. He carried her for days, unmoving, hardly breathing, until she became conscious of herself, disentangled from him, and left him.

He stops short. Some minutes ago, they had started jogging, but he can’t remember why. The air is thick, picking up, preparing to carry over to some nearby town. He leans against a fence lining the lake to catch his breath. His lungs are several paces behind his legs.

When he first met her he had developed a plan, or more a strategy. He wouldn’t approach her unless she hinted it was alright. He wouldn’t touch her, hold her hand, unless she told him she wanted him to. He slaved over his effort not to embarrass her. There were topics he learned not to discuss and people he learned not to bring up. Each joke was a risk.

She was unmovable, so he practiced flexibility.

“I’m coming, wait a second,” he stretches his arms over his head and jogs over to her, trembling in the wind. The cuff of her sleeve is soaked with tea.

A year ago it would have been everything to stand next to her.

They round the corner and he has his breath back. He takes her hands and rubs them between his. She curls her palm around his pointer finger like an infant, and they walk. His airway burns from the wind, but it’s becoming more of a deep cleaning than pain. He walks with her, letting her hold onto him, and knowing that he could run, if he wanted to.


Part Two


It hurts, having him order for her, pay for her. Her dad would make her order by herself if he were here, just because he knows she doesn’t like to. She’s a child.

“I’ll be right back. Bathroom.” Her feet trail away from the smell of coffee.

She presses down on the door handle to the bathroom, covering by her sleeve. What a relief that it doesn’t stick. She locks it behind her, and then checks it. Twice. There’s a bucket with Lysol and a roll of paper towels on a stool next to her. The soft kind of paper too.

She puts the bucket next to the wall and stands up on the stool. The mirror watches her fingers slide down her waist, over the curve of her hips. It eyes her hands lingering over her pelvic bone. She turns sideways and lifts up her shirt. Her jeans don’t have loop holes for a belt. She has started to fold them down from the top. First once, now two times. Her doppelganger meets her eyes. What would her doctor say if she couldn’t explain her weight loss? No dieting, no eating disorder. No excessive exercise.

Strange, how thrilling it is to pretend there’s something wrong.

The toilet flushes. Three gallons of wasted matter drain back into the universe. But washing her hands is better. Cleanliness is better. Her fingers shake in the water.


“Damn it, damn it! Get in here!”

Every time, his tone was the indicator.  Like any tone could be. Tone in poetry. Analysis of the author. The way an elderly couple says, “I love you.” Someone’s snarky comment in Calculus. The condescending whines in a household of adolescents.

Or her father’s voice three years ago.

“Do you know who made this?” Dinner.

His face was also an indicator.

Red was love. Confidence strutting out of a successful job interview. Action, the drive of a body in motion, and lust. The most visually stimulating color. Passion.

“Yeah,” his tongue curled against his teeth, “me, and who helped?”

Was it just heat, in that moment? Or intensity?

“I cannot get you girls to do a single thing without asking. Nothing! What, do I have to start fucking paying you to do the dishes?”


“Goddamn this house.”

More of it.

She cut her finger picking up the wine glass he had broken. Funny, how her pulse had slowed, seeing blood flicker in the water under the faucet. The only red brighter than his face had been.

Her sister learned how to put a door back on its hinges that night. What pride.

Violence? Brutishness.

Her father came back when she was asleep, fished an “I love you” and an “I’m sorry” out of his mouth, and then left.


Was red love?


She dries her hands with the paper towels from the bucket. A little girl in a blue tutu sprints by her when she opens the door.

The café seems emptier than it was before. Maybe the lighting dimmed, or someone left the door to the outside propped open. Most of the warm smells have wandered off.

She stops herself from calling out to him. He’s struggling with his wallet. The dollar change he keeps, the coins he leaves as a tip. Every time. Every place he goes.

He might be a miracle.

She watches him put cardboard heat protectors around the cups and pick up a straw. Every person in the room must be falling in love with the smile on his face, his careful hands, the aura diffusing off of him. The room is fuller again.

Neurons erupt in her brain.

“The lake, maybe?” Her offer as she holds the door open on the way out.

Her drink is green tea. Coffee is nauseating. Caffeine, actually, which includes black tea. She knows that he knows.


Subject: The reason why

July 6, 2013 at 4:38 PM

Found in Inbox

You asked me why I love you a few minutes ago. It’s a difficult question, not because the answer is unclear or vague, but because the real answer is simply that I don’t have motives or reasons for loving you. That’s not how it works. Obviously I don’t love any old passer-by on the street, so I’ll try to give a better explanation.

I think the biggest cause is the time I’ve spent and the experiences I’ve had with you. Just remembering times like the MFA, sitting with you by the lake, kissing you for the first time, eating melted ice-cream bars with you, walking around the Rose Kennedy Greenway with allergies (and still loving it), or meeting you in the break during my math class at night overwhelms me with how much I love you.

The memories don’t even have to be big things. Something like going to Whole Foods with you that time we didn’t buy anything, or waiting in the airport for you to come online (and the feeling of absolute happiness when you did), or meeting you instead during a “lunch break” at work can make me feel that way.

Also, I think a subclause is how comfortable you make me feel when I’m with you. Or how well you complement and counterbalance my personality with yours. I love you, and I also love your temperament and your personality and the aspect of you that some people might call “straight-edge.”

I don’t think I even skimmed the surface of all my reasons for loving you, but I can’t explain it any better. This email was difficult to write just because it is such an impossible thing to examine for me. I hope it helps.

I can’t wait to see you. I miss you. I love you.


They make it to the lake in five seconds. That’s how time works with him.

With him, she’s younger. She can be eight, before she was conscious of her body. Eleven, when she wasn’t afraid to dress up in her mom’s work tights and scream along to Dancing Queen in her room. Four, when all it took to make her happy was someone’s smile. Or six, when her dad was her superhero.

He’s leaning over the fence trying to slow his breathing. Her cup is empty. Most of the tea has spilled over her arm. The stain runs down her elbow and the chill in the air steals away her heat.

Once he rejoins her, she holds onto his finger. It’s something they’ve laughed about, how his hands dwarf hers. Her eyes flicker across his raincoat, the slope of his shoulders, his jeans, down to his red laces, and hopes that she hasn’t stained him.

Nick at the Window – An Imagined Great Gatsby Moment

It wasn’t curiosity that inclined my ear towards the two bodies inside; I was doubtful that, after my time on West Egg, I would ever find myself ravenous in that sense again. It was by the window that feverish day that the first breeze in hours rose up from the beach and grazed past the brushwood and white flora to coax me closer. Even from inside Daisy seemed startled by the stirring in the air  – for a moment she drew her hand away from Tom’s and peered outward into the balmy darkness, her expression searching for something I could not detect.

“What is it?” Tom demanded.

“Just some air.” Her response wafted out to me on the fragile breath that she had produced.

“I’d rather something other than this,” he gestured towards the bottle in front of him. “It’s sweating almost as much as I am.”


“Alright, one for her too,” he called.

“No, it isn’t that,” she murmured. Tom and I both sensed the unusual depth in her words, sad and insubstantial though they were. It was the first time that I saw Daisy tethered. Even her speech, the weightless form it took after leaving her lips, could not keep her aloft. Rather, it may have been those four words that drew her back towards Earth. “It’s that… it’s about today–”

“We won’t get into that.”

“But Tom…” This time it was her hand that was outstretched across the table, even harboring hesitancy.

“Daisy,” his voice rattled out from between his teeth.

“I think it’s worth discussing…I want to discuss it and…” her mouth fell open, twitching at the corners at she gazed fearfully past her husband, grasping for words. Daisy must have felt the absence of the breeze in that moment just as I did. There was a second that I thought that Tom, his breath hot with liquor, might chuckle. It occurred to me that he knew his wife well in spite of the fact that he had known so many others during their five years together, and that what he had ascertained during those years was that Daisy was not the defiant sort, and never would be. Neither would she be worth the effort – however slight – that it would take to distress her, although that is not to say that Tom never indulged in that effort. Perhaps that is why he eased out of his chair, finished off his drink with an extended gulp, and strode out of the room with the two untouched bottles of ale, leaving Daisy’s unfinished sentence swirling in the stagnant air.

The Itch

It was a little prickly there. That kind of spiders-on-the-skin, tangible uneasiness.

It came across me at noonish some weeks ago.

I had a navel orange for lunch. That in itself was odd, because citrus and I have been enemies for years.

My sneakers drew me along the sidewalk while I tossed piece after piece of sweet, vibrant peel over my shoulder.

Then the itch wiggled up under my pant leg and ferreted around a while before settling in on my shoulder.

Maybe it wanted a vantage point. Optimum access to my ear, for secret-spilling and gossip-having.

Yes, behold the All-Knowing Itch!

It was either that, or my shoulder had a decent view.

We’ve spent a little time together since. Sometimes it vanishes when I’m holding a door open, or in the middle of an episode of The Office, or during a math test.

Sometimes it isn’t there for days.

I’ve found that without it I’m nearly as off-edge as I am when it is there.

After all, what is the use of something bothersome? Well, to keep you on your toes.

Nothing that might deserve the title of vexatious?

Well then that, right there, is a lie.

We all have one of these

There’s a little monster in my chest.

(No, he’s not my heart; he’s underneath my rib cage. He might nibble on spleen, I wouldn’t know.)

Sometimes I don’t notice him.

On Sunday I got bad news, and I felt him jump.

One could draw parallels between his movements and the stomach butterflies that we all get, but his fists are no wispy wings.

I worry that if ever he were to ever dig a tunnel through my stomach lining, he’d come across one of those fluttering insects.

What do you call an introduction where one party munches on the other?

My little monster has no manners.

I’ve become suspicious that he’s cancerous.

(This is the type of thing that students learn in Biology these days)

He doesn’t grow much except to puff out his chest, but if the definition of malignant means he’s moving around my body through the circulatory system (yes, this is the definition), then he’s surely metastatic (oh, I know he is).

It’s true that when he moves it’s never down my legs or arms. He could be smart that way.

But then again, that wouldn’t exactly qualify as spreading, would it?

Perhaps he has a mind of his own. Just like me.