Lot 7

“So, Vron asks me if she can borrow my grinder the other day.” Bevin pronounced it like vee-ron, a nickname for her friend Veronica.“And I’m like yeah, sure, why not? Right?”

“It must be nice that you guys live so close together, so you can share stuff like that.”

“Yeah, it’s dope. She lives right down the street. But, she can’t keep any weed or anything at her house because her mom is batshit. Anyways, I give her my grinder and she comes back over after smoking. And she’s high as balls, right? And she’s smiling and she goes, ‘I have a theory… that the dust… gets you higher…’ And I open my grinder. This bitch smoked all my fucking kief.” She opened the top portion of her iridescent purple grinder, as me and the guy sitting next to me leaned in to find the top compartment that usually holds resin completely empty; we were both already laughing.

“Fucking kief thief,” the boy chuckled, head back, face flushed with a heavy red. The three of us were all sitting on the side of the curb sharing a bowl.

Bevin introduced me to Lot 7 that day. It was a student parking lot at a community college. It didn’t look any different from the college’s  other 8 lots, but once we pulled into a spot, we could see closely the wealthy Menlo Park and Palo Alto suburbs, and just past there, the salt flats and the San Francisco Bay. Up there, we could see everyone and no one could see us. 

There were several spots we went to smoke and drink at, and we could see most of them from the parking lot. Handley Rock was to the east, up on a different hill. It was cavernous and each crater was filled with layered graffiti and empty, plastic liquor bottles. On hot summer days, it was nice to hide in the caves’ pockets of shade. The view from there was less far-reaching and mostly of a valley of trees and hiking trails. We could only see in one direction, so, whenever we heard a car park behind the rock, we had to pray that the footsteps crunching across the dead leaves were just those of an amateur rock climber or someone with a bag of weed and a handle like us, instead of a furrowed-brow police officer.

To the west of the lot was The Cross, which boasts a similar view to the parking lot, but still was not as high up as Lot 7. No one knew why there was a giant white cross and a water tank up there for all of Redwood City to sin under, but it was always empty and we could spot cops rolling up the hill a bit ahead-of-time, giving us a few minutes pack up the goods, scramble into the car, roll down the window, and say we were just on a scenic drive.

To the south, there was an abandoned tunnel under a freeway with writing on the walls that read “Please let tomorrow be better than today.” Even farther south than that, there was an empty pool misplaced in the midst of a large field, also clothed in spray paint. Once, we found a couch off the road in San Carlos and smoked there too.

I lived in a very northern suburb compared to everyone else, and, whenever people came over, they slept in my away-at-Johns-Hopkins-University sister’s bed. Those nights, we’d walk down the street to the Crystal Springs Cross Country Trail, past the tennis courts, and slip through a gap in the fence. The trail was beaten down by the sneakers of college-bound athletes building their applications and running harder past the chunks of sideline filled with recruiters. We called it The Shack because we walked the beaten path to an old concessions stand, which we assumed sold candy and soda during cross country meets in the daylight. We sat along the wall with our legs stretched across the wooden deck. It wasn’t a good place to get too fucked up at because the unbeaten parts were a lavish nature preserve: big and empty and tucked in the suburbs. When the tired moms turned their lights out, it was pitch black and populated with coyotes and bobcats, and I could feel their there-ness, although we never saw any. Once, I took an edible and thought I saw a coyote walk right past the The Shack in a quick, white flash, but I was probably just too high. The cops never rolled by there, probably because we were the only group of teens who sat in the miles of nature preserve to smoke weed and drink wine. There were no abandoned bottles or lost lighters to be found.

The areas heavily populated by high schoolers were labeled “hot.” These included many state beaches and a creek bed that cut through Palo Alto which sits dry in the summer. It was littered with mattresses and shopping bags, but none of the people who lived down there ever bothered us. Once, some of us were sitting down there – it was one of the first times I ever got high – and we heard a voice call out, “Hey, guys!” We looked up to see two police officers staring down at us with their hands resting on their belts.

 “Why don’t you come on up?” We started to stand up when they asked, “What’s that next to you? A can of beer? None of you look twenty-one.” We were fifteen. We looked back down by our feet and laying between smooth, dry creek stones was a smashed beer can, full of spiderwebs.

“It’s not ours. It was here when we got here,” I said. I was surprised at how calm I sounded. I was surprised at how calm I felt.

“Alright, just come up here,” the officer conceded.

“Do you want us to bring the can?”

“No, it’s fine.”

There was a rope someone had tied to a tree up at the top and we grabbed onto it to pull our sideways selves up towards the cops.

I had gotten high and paranoid minutes before the police arrived and told everyone to put the bong, weed, and grinder back into the backpack that one boy had picked up from a pile of leaves behind a fence. He and his friend shared the paraphernalia and left it in a backpack around town for each other, since it was hard to come by a smoke shop that sold to minors, and they could only steal so many twenties from their moms’ wallets before they noticed. At the time,  my anxiety had annoyed the circle of smiling, red-eyed friends.

“You’re way too sus,” one said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Suspect, suspicious,” he replied.

When the cops showed up, they burst our bubble of euphoric high, found no evidence of drugs (California law stated they couldn’t search us without probable cause), and asked us what towns we were from. Most of us replied “here,” meaning Palo Alto, but I had to be honest: “not here.” The badged men smiled, “Where then?” 

“Oh, sorry. Belmont.”


The cops acted like they just wanted us to be safe and warned us about the “transients” that live down there, even though they never so much as glanced up from their camping areas when teenagers came stumbling down that ridge. Everyone said my paranoia had saved us. 

“We can’t go back there. That spot is too hot nowadays,” one boy said, as we walked past long, suburban driveways.

“The cops always treat white girls like they’re our, like, awkward Uncle, or something. You know? ‘Be safe, girls!’ C’mon. We are the ones breaking the law,” my best friend, Gianna, reasoned.

Lot 7 was densely populated at all times of day, but especially after 3pm, when school got out. I’d commonly run into people I knew from school there, and so did my other friends. I only had a few friends that attended the same “alternative learning” high school as me, but I liked the anonymity in the refurbished warehouse’s hallways. Jessie was the only one from school I ever really spent time with and, before I had my license, she would drive me up to the lot after school. Sometimes, she’d even take me to Taco Bell afterwards, when our eyes were red and her car’s A/C swirled a tornado of her Pink Sands scented air freshener and the warm smell of weed. She loved to paint wings across her eyelids and hated that girls felt ashamed for burping. Once, under the beating sun, in the passenger seat of Jessie’s car, I asked if she could pull the car up to one of the college’s buildings so that I could look for a restroom.

“Just piss in the bushes over there,” she told me.

“What if someone sees me?”

“They won’t.”

When we found other cars full of familiar teenagers, we’d pass bongs through rolled-down car windows. The only reason Lot 7 wasn’t hot was that it was a community college. Bevin told us that the campus security guards couldn’t arrest us. They could just ask us to leave, and maybe call the cops if we were disrespectful. They’d come up to windows during the day and ask us to open them, feel hot smoke rush across their face, ask what we were doing, to which we would reply, “Just chilling.” They never called the cops, even on Friday evenings at sunset, when the 50-something parking spots were full of people drinking whiskey out of the bottle in truck beds and hotboxed compacts.

Bevin knew all this about campus security because she went to the college part-time, and Lot 7 was technically a student parking lot. She took half her classes at the college and half at a public high school in a special program for “independent, self-motivated learners.” She didn’t go to class much but claimed she could transfer her college credits to a UC and be ahead when she was accepted as a freshman. She was the first person I knew with a nicotine addiction and taught me how to replace the coils and cottons in a box mod, carefully, wrapping metal around a pencil and pulling apart her bathroom’s cotton balls. She drove a twenty-two-year-old Volvo – half a decade older than me, four years older than she – and named it Thelma. “There is only one rule in Thelma,” she told me the first time I pulled hard to open the stiff door, “and it’s that you can’t say anything bad about her if you want a ride.” She strung fairy lights along the inside and always had a speaker sliding across her dashboard because there was no place to plug in an aux cord. I later learned that Thelma was named after Bevin’s babysitter who abruptly died from cancer; she left the car Bevin’s family had lent her full of hidden McDonald’s french fries and for a 16-year-old Bevin to inherit.

The first time I smoked a cigarette was at one of the picnic tables before the parking lot’s dirt drop-off. Gianna was there with pink wine, plastic cups, and her turtle-shaped pipe (I had a matching dolphin). She didn’t smoke cigarettes because her mom always did and she hated the smell, but she stood next to me while the older boy we were with helped me light the right end of the Marlboro Red. We played “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage the Elephant and looked at the sea of lit-up towns as the lyrics played from an iPhone speaker stuck in a disposable cup: a scratchy “cigarette daydreams… you were only seventeen.”

After that, I made a pact with her that I would only smoke one cigarette per year for the rest of my life. Word of the pact spread amongst our friends and every time I’d smoke one more they’d ask: “What about the pact?” to which I’d reply, “I’ve got sixteen years of not smoking to make up for.” I never thought of death more than when I smoked cigarettes and that was only about seventeen times before I left the Bay Area. Mostly, I wished for time to move faster.

Jessie stuck around in the Bay Area for a while after everyone went to college and told me she found my pink, lacey underwear abandoned among the shrubs and crushed beer cans in the drop-off. I had gone down the hill like she had advised, pulled up my skirt and started to pee without remembering my underwear’s grip. I had to discard them, back in 2015, before going back to Jessie’s new civic.

Thelma doesn’t run anymore and Bevin and I both went to school out of state. When I was 18 in New Orleans, I met some girls and we made a routine of sitting at wood tables in a parking lot behind a college bar. We called it The Nook, which reminded me of The Cross and The Shack. I didn’t know what the word “nook” meant until today: a corner or recess, especially one offering seclusion or security.

By the time I turned 19, The Nook was blocked by gates at night and cars parked where tables used to be during the day. I asked the bar’s manager why they’d closed it and he told me they couldn’t watch people out in the back – that it just wasn’t safe.

I never asked anyone why they closed Lot 7; no one was around when I found it covered in caution tape.

Published in Edition 4 of The Dilettante.

In favor of voting third party: a post-Bernie manifesto

Since Bernie has left the race, I’ve participated in a lot of discourse with other disappointed liberals and leftists, many of whom are planning to stay home from voting in the 2020 general presidential election due to the inadequacy of the candidates. I would urge everyone to, at least, vote for House and Senate seats and your state’s ballot measures, even if you must leave your presidential selection blank. I, too, am utterly disgusted in the options voters have been given by the United States’ two major political parties, which is why, since losing Bernie, I have been considering voting third party. My reasoning is as follows.

If you supported Bernie, our current political systems will not facilitate the kind of revolution you want. The Democratic National Committee has never and most likely will never support a socialist or a “democratic socialist.” They are a group of democrats – of centrists – who represent far too many progressives. One could argue that, by voting for the candidate they have handed us, we are permitting them to continue to confine us to likely criminal centrists. I don’t think we have to put up with that.  By re-registering as third party (even if the third-party candidates are unlikely to get enough momentum during this election to win), it is possible to send a message to the DNC that they are losing support by nominating subpar, inadequate candidates such as Joe Biden. On the whole, good people do not make it on the presidential ticket,Democratic or Republican, and that needs to change. This is why the counterargument that a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump is short-sighted.

The only way to vote for Trump is to vote for Trump. If someone is choosing not to vote for Biden or Trump because they cannot morally bring themselves to vote for either, that is far from a vote in support of Trump. Quite literally, not voting for either nominee is not voting for Trump and not voting for Biden. 

This idea can be harmful. The claim that not voting for the Democratic nominee is effectively the same as voting for the Republican one passively accepts the completely undemocratic two-party system that denies voters a true choice. While it is evident that American politics are dominated by a bipartisan system, this is only true because voters decide again and again that this is how it has to be by discouraging voting outside of these two parties. The political systems under which we are asked to vote do very little to represent the broad views of all Americans, as reflected in the huge policy differences between the most supported Democratic candidates in 2020: Sanders and Biden. This one-or-the-other argument between Biden and Trump perpetuates the divisive two-party system and ultimately prevents progressive change. Discounting minor parties is what keeps us choosing between the lesser of two evils (or, in this case, two assailants). 

I see this claim as following directly from the electability-concerned Democrats that aligned more with Sanders during the primaries, but publicly supported Biden because they perceived him as having a better shot at beating Trump. Voting based on who you assume can beat the “other team” does nothing to advance your own political views and, in fact, serves to erase your own voice. Not to mention, voting based on this strategy clearly did not work in the 2016 election, and refusing to nominate the “riskier” candidate is potentially what cost the Democrats the election. Stop voting to win a game and start voting for what you politically and morally agree with. This is the most likely way to create change in the systems that continue to produce incompetent presidential candidates.  If you have read and agree with Biden’s policies and would like to see him as president, vote for him. If you don’t and you are feeling unrepresented by the DNC, below are some alternative candidates to compare your values with and to consider.

Third-party candidates for post-Bernie supporters

Gloria La Riva
Nominee from the Party for Socialism & Liberation and the Peace and Freedom Party 

Gloria La Riva is a socialist activist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is first and foremost a vocal activist for bettering the lives of minorities; she can be found at rallies and protests across the nation, although she is currently based in San Francisco, California. She has spoken at marches for immigrant rights, helped organize a movement of Black San Franciscan firefighters against racist and sexist policies in the workplace, has participated in many LGBTQ+ marches and was an adamant adversary of Prop 8 (a California proposition created by opponents of same-sex marriage), and can be found on the picket lines defending women’s reproductive health clinics. She has held leadership positions in the Workers World Party, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Peace and Freedom party. She is the nominee for the Party for Socialism and Liberation in the 2020 presidential election and won the Peace and Freedom Party’s primary, over Howie Hawkins (Green Party candidate discussed below). Her running mate (vice-presidential candidate) is Leonard Peltier, an American indigenous rights activist.

La Riva’s policies follow a 10-point socialist campaign program that emphasizes the importance of human rights, climate change, ending racism, and ending wars. She is more focused on Native rights and mass incarceration than most mainstream candidates and holds different ideals than Democratic candidates on issues regarding gun control. Her major platform ideas include the following:

  • Racial issues: Pay reparations to Black and Native communities. End mass incarceration of oppressed and working-class people. Prosecute all acts of police brutality. Free all political prisoners. 
  • Climate change: Re-organize under socialism to slow climate change and assure the future for the planet. Seize coal and fossil fuel companies. Stop the destruction of Native lands.
  • Healthcare: Create a completely free and public healthcare system and make healthcare a constitutional right.
  • Workers’ rights: Make jobs/income a constitutional right and support the rights of all workers to join unions. Rebuild a fighting labor movement.
  • Immigration: Abolish ICE and all anti-immigration laws. Amnesty and citizenship for the undocumented. Dismantle the border wall.
  • Guns: Defend rights to self-determination and self-defense for oppressed peoples. Demilitarize the police and the state. Get gun money out of politics and ban marketing of firearms. Require proof of training in gun safety (not mental health checks as they are believed to deepen discrimination). Use socialism to end the systems that fuel violence. 
  • Foreign policy: Use the military budget to provide for human necessities. Abolish nuclear weapons. Right of return for Palestinians. End U.S blockades. Independence and cancellation of debt for Puerto Rico.
  • Women’s & LGBTQ rights: Pro-choice. Close the wage gap and end the gender division of labor. Employment, housing, healthcare, and educational equality for members of the LGBTQ community. Reject religious exemption laws that permit discrimination.
  • Education: Make education free and cancel all student debt. 
  • Housing: Make housing a human right and end all foreclosures and evictions.
  • Big money: Seize the assets of billionaires and redistribute the resources to the majority. Jail wall street criminals.

Learn more at: https://www.larivapeltier2020.org/

To join the Party for Socialism and Liberation online, speak to a PSL representative, or get involved in their organized revolution:https://www.pslweb.org/join

Howie Hawkins
Nominee from the Green Party

Howie Hawkins was born in and raised near San Francisco, California, and became a political activist at age 12, angered by the denial of democratic recognition of a minor, multiracial party: Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. He was the first U.S candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010. He is running for president in 2020 as the Green Party nominee to build the party’s momentum against the two-party system and to introduce their eco-socialist ideas to the public.

Hawkins’s platform is mostly focused on the ideas of the Green New Deal and eco-socialism. Eco-socialism is the idea that climate change cannot be mitigated under capitalism. His eco-socialist Green New Deal begins with a bill of rights for citizens including an employment guarantee, a basic income guarantee, a national health service, and free public education, and then moves onto environmental changes in energy, transportation, and agriculture. His most nuanced ideas fall under the categories of racial issues (police control), education (media reform), and healthcare. His ideas are complex; the following is only a breakdown. His major platform ideas include the following:

  • Racial issues: Economically empower oppressed communities. Consider reparations for African Americans. Disband the hierarchies of capitalism that keep oppression sustained. Create a police force that is community-controlled through elected neighborhood review boards (a Black Panther model).
  • Climate change: Move towards 100% clean energy. Implement a progressive carbon tax and a land value tax. Reconstruction of the agricultural system. Nationalize big oil and gas companies. Build an interstate high-speed rail system.
  • Healthcare: Create a community-controlled national health service. Make the clinics and hospitals publicly owned and governed by a federation of locally-elected boards. Provide secure retirement to all citizens.
  • Worker’s rights: Guarantee jobs and an income above poverty. Guarantee housing and universal rent control. 
  • Immigration: Open borders. Legalize undocumented citizens and speed the path to citizenship. Abolish ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Control) and replace with an open borders-based administration.
  • Guns: Convert arms companies to non-profit public enterprises.
  • Foreign policy: Implement deep U.S military spending cuts and reinvest the money into clean energy. Recommit to nuclear disarmament. 
  • Women’s & LGBTQ rights: Employment equality for members of the LGBTQ community. Separate social and economic benefits from marriage. Confront violence against transgender people.
  • Education: Free public education from pre-k child care through college. Establish a public wifi, phone, and TV service at lower costs with net neutrality. Reform and control media outlets based on a decentralized, democratic system of public funding, making media sources non-profit and de-commercialized. Re-establish media diversity and break up media monopolies.
  • Housing: Support homes for all in walkable communities.
  • Big money: Socialize the big banks. Do not allow the banks to create money for loans. Nationalize big oil and gas companies.

Learn more at: https://howiehawkins.us/perspectives-and-policies/

Find out more about registering Green here: https://www.gp.org/register

I encourage you to reach out to your representatives about structural alternatives and democracy reform including: implementing a national voting day to reduce voter suppression, instant-runoff voting or ranked-choice voting, abolishing the electoral college, and/or abolishing the U.S Senate. Pay attention to which politicians are funded by the public versus funded by the richest in their parties. Research other ideas for creating a more just system that would not pump out candidates like Joe Biden and stay politically active on social media while in quarantine. Vote in the general election, even if it’s only for seats and ballot measures.


The first week of January is miserable nationwide, I noted as I shivered in my suede boots, staring at a set of Greek letters and awaiting movement. I thought maybe winter in New Orleans would be gentler – it’s not. “I think the humidity makes it worse,” I’d say to the girl who brought me into the warm house, although I wasn’t sure if it was true. The houses were over-heated and over-crowded with legs in skinny jeans and high heels. All of us freshmen girls forgot that anything but these hot, scary moments existed, played them in our heads until we fell asleep and again when we woke up. The rest of the campus filled in with all the other students the next week, but some of the girls couldn’t seem to remember anything but themselves and the girls they now looked like too. Everyone in the sorority house was buzzing – not just in the house: around rented-out bars, across sticky fraternity floors, between classes. A month filled quickly with the blaring hum of shallow conversations. I kept trying but couldn’t buzz the same.

With my last trying breath, I spoke to two women with the same shirt as me, the same letters stamped across their chests. All of a sudden, everyone around me wore labels, but I wasn’t sure what they meant, if they meant anything. They stopped to evaluate me and, for a second, the tall dormitory I’d called home for four months felt like a sweltering house during rush week. I was shivering and sweating at the same time.

The two girls called me as their best friend after only a few days, introducing me to others like them. Some wore the same letters and some wore none, but they all wore either black or red nail polish: our own stamp of approval. In a second, we were buzzing too. We buzzed around metal tables outside the campus bar on Wednesday evenings, splitting cigarettes and secrets. We begged for extra toppings in our dirty Shirleys and fed each other the fruit, heads cocked back, jaws wide open. That whole spring tasted like too many maraschino cherries, sweet and easy with no substance.

The static sat in a box all summer and, when it opened in August of our sophomore years, it filled every room we walked in. One of the girls brought Natalie to our metal-grated table on a Wednesday night in September, drenched in thick air and sour mix. I felt the sorority house again, shivering and sweating at the same time. She was mysteriously letter-less – I couldn’t place her. Her petite figure seemed to hold so much, but her contents only spilled out in drops of water like a leaky faucet. I got unsatisfying morsels of her at a time. The adrenaline that sewed my mouth shut let itself unravel after a few more triple-shot drinks, and I asked about the tattoo peeking out of the hem of her mini-skirt. I revealed my fresh ink (the first tattoo I ever got), pulling up the side of my shirt to show the little sun on my rib cage, like a third grader during show-and-tell.

We got closer just like that: an ember of information given by one, a dissection of the coal performed by the other, and our mouths both curving at the edges, sometimes splitting open completely. I picked her apart, made fun of her for listening to hard rap on the way to her early morning classes and for how often I caught her looking at me. She picked softer sound clips to taste from my playlists, moved them to hers, and began to blush whenever we locked eyes. Once, we shared a bathroom stall and I told her I thought her body was beautiful and it felt like throwing up, letting too much out at once, and staring at the puddle of it on the linoleum floor. The next Wednesday she looked at me the same and I forgot all about it. That bathroom stall was the first place we were alone.

The inside of the parlor was dark and empty. It smelled like cleaning products that had been trapped between floor tiles. An artist with nickel-sized holes in his ears and black crows inked up and down his biceps approached us and I recognized him as the same aloof, slightly predatory man who did my first tattoo. For that one, I was all vulnerable, sprawled out across the table so that my ribcage could lay flat. I held my breath in three-minute increments as the needle drew straight lines in a ring, eventually forming a sun. The star was put there to remind me of early mornings and my mother calling me her “sunshine girl,” the first week I moved to New Orleans and the brass band teaching me the words to “You are My Sunshine,” and how it always rises, even if I’m nervous it won’t.

She got a snake and told me her grandmother would call it a nasty, demonic animal. I asked if her family was Christian, and she said, “Catholic.” The snake didn’t mean anything either, but she said she was planning on getting a cherub next and that meant something.

“You don’t need to hold my hand, just talk to me. I’ll keep looking at you and that will distract me.”

“What does the cherub mean? Or what will it mean?”

“In Greek Mythology, a cherub was one of the first beings created. It symbolizes love as the force of the universe. I think that makes sense and so that’s what God is, to me.”

“I really like that idea.” I felt like the stabbing across her bone was making more of her spill out than unusual. I wondered if I was taking advantage of the situation.

“Yeah, I think we’re pretty similar about stuff like that.”

“Like what?” I didn’t know what a soulmate was, but the word crossed my mind because I thought my soulmate would be pretty similar to me too.


As the days got shorter, so did our stamina. We started to leave the bars earlier – not all of us, just Natalie and I. We picked out juicy, acidic, pink apple beers from the freezer case, and she always picked the movie. She wanted to show me everything she’d seen and I thought that would be nice. My apartment didn’t have a TV, so we sat huddled around my laptop, placed on the coffee table but never between us on the couch. Jennifer’s Body was beautiful and stupid. The curve in her calf brushed mine as Megan Fox held a lighter up to her tongue. I thought of what it would be like to kiss Natalie’s full lips: would there be sparks? Fire?

When we walked home that night, we held hands and used the empty ones to push open the gates of my apartment complex. I imagined that we lived in a simulation that was completely coded by the most superlative computer scientist she could imagine. Parts of my complex, I thought, looked copied and pasted: the slightly mismatched walkways, the jagged edges barely fitting into each other like broken puzzle pieces, the unsettlingly mirrored bedroom windows. I imagined the scientist had a wife and kids and had spent too many late nights in the lab. I forgave him. I liked to think that someone was watching an aerial view of us. They could see the outline of my head on her shoulder, her hand on my thigh: an omniscient audience of our own to which I didn’t have to explain anything.

The pink apple beer’s acid lined the inside of my stomach and I thought I hadn’t drunk enough yet to fill the crane in her neck with the top of my head. I drank more than my portion of the pack of glass bottles – four out of six. We watched Jane Doe get peeled open and rummaged through, watched her turn from a body into a character. Natalie filled my fried insides with pink-apple-beer infused stories.

I noted that she also looked beautiful inside out.

They played my favorite song in the fraternity that night and the group buzzed hard. Natalie’s stone face silently screamed, green and gray like she was going to throw up or cry or purge somehow. No one asked why when I grabbed her hand and carried it all the way home. They were used to us leaving early. That night I wanted to show her everything I’d ever seen, so I picked the movie James Franco wrote about my hometown, about a girl, about getting drunk in a parking lot. The boys on-screen split a joint and discussed time travel and feudalism.

“If you were king, I’d fucking kill myself,” one looked out the window.

“Then, you better die, motherfucker,” the other exhaled and ran his tires into the end of his parking space and over the wheel stop; he said that it felt “so fucking good.” She waited until the second scene to start crying.

“Do you ever think about how you’re going to die?” She pressed the space bar to stop their dialogue and start ours. We had spent more hours than I could remember sitting parallel on that couch, but we rarely faced each other for more than a few seconds. I watched her look at me and wished I had picked a different movie and a different color of lipstick.


“It’s just places like that – the frat house… I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even exist.” Her shoulders stuck up above her spine to form a canyon and I started to trace the closest overhang with the back side of my thumb. I searched for something good to say, but my head was empty. Not empty. Full, but of words that I couldn’t draw constellations between in order to produce an actual sentence. I just pushed my knuckle in a little deeper. She continued.

“I don’t talk to anyone about this. I’m surprised I’m telling you.”

Finally, I had something to say. “You can always talk to me…about anything.”

“That’s the other thing,” she said quickly and then waited. Her head fell into her hands, so I could only barely hear her muffled voice explaining, “I haven’t even told my parents I’m gay. I keep thinking I’m going to and then don’t. Wherever I am, I’m ugly stuck.”

I thought about those last few sentences for a while. I’d pick them up like an old crossword I couldn’t solve and put them back down, but I never forgot they were there. Between “You can always talk to me… about anything” and “I haven’t even told my parents I’m gay,” there was something I missed: a transition, a bridge, a constellation or a worm hole. I wished I could climb into her head and pull it out, put it in the puzzle and make it fit just right.

Sometimes looking at her was like gazing into the sun. My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough or enough at all. They ached with the desire to take her all in and it hurt so badly, it was easier to stay in the dark. I didn’t notice when we passed out in each other’s arms with my bedroom light still warmly glowing. I woke up hazy at three in the morning, shook her arm, said, “You fell asleep,” turned off the lights as she let the front door slam.

I couldn’t hold the humming, the static, in the pit of my stomach all summer. Our playlists had grown into fraternal twins, so I made an excuse out of their similarities to go see the artists in New York. We listened to indie in the morning and rap at night. She held my hand across the bridge and off the island, when the festival was over. We couldn’t find the subway. We took the train away from the city in mini dresses. I was sticky all day and now that coat of moisture was freezing into a casing around my arms. I put them around her waist and my head across her thighs.

“I’m sorry I’m touching you so much.” I had dyed my hair purple for the festival, which made me feel even sillier, like a foreign object in her space.

“You never have to apologize for that.” I felt better.

I missed a call from a boy in another country and felt bad that he had wasted money on the telephone fee. She told me that he was a waste.

In a small town in New Jersey, sprinkled with rainbow flags, we bought mood rings. I spent the rest of the trip with an ache in my neck from trying to see if the colors wrapped around her fingers changed when I touched her shoulder or moved her hair out of her face. I got drunk, after my flight landed in New Orleans, and the whole party called her from my living room couch. I pretended to leave the room while the birthday girl asked how the trip went, if anything happened. Natalie told her we were just friends. When I got back to California, my friends told me that not everything holds meaning.

“We’re supposed to talk on the phone tonight,” I confessed.

“You need to stop speaking to her.”

“I think you should tell her.”

“I wish I did before. We’re best friends now.”

“Why didn’t you do something in New Jersey?”

“I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.”

“I’m too nervous.”

“One of my co-workers had feelings for her best friend and roommate. She tried to keep it in, but one day it slipped out.”

“What if she doesn’t like me back?”

“That’s it. At first, she said she didn’t like her back. It was really awkward.”

“That would kill me… her, too, I think.”

“But then, after a little while, she changed her mind.”


“And they lived happily ever fucking after, Rachel. I’m telling you… you could have that.”

“She’s texting me more now and saying nice things.”

“Since you got eyelash extensions?”

“Yeah, but maybe it’s just because we’re going back to school soon.”

“That’s what boys do too.”

“I don’t think she sees me like boys do.”

“I think that’s impossible.”

I broke my mood ring that summer I spent at home: got drunk at the restaurant my best friend works at and watched it shatter against patio pavement. When she got off of her shift, she said it was symbolic and I stopped thinking about it until the first night I saw the blue and purple dart across Natalie’s finger: late August.

The buzz was back and we all were too. Back in our position around a grated round table. We all signed leases junior year but called that set of bar stools home. My head was woozy and my legs were wobbly and the only thing stopping me from draping them heavy over hers was the familiar sticky coat of my own heat I didn’t want to layer.            

I think I let too much joy drip off of my face when she started making the wrong turns back to her house, which were the right ones to mine. Romeo and Juliet weren’t supposed to be in love, but when I drink, I forget the rules. They kept all the original dialogue in the 1996 version, and we sat on the couch like it was my old apartment, my old couch. It was the same blanket covering our legs, but it felt different when we could control the temperature of my living room: making it colder, creating a reason to lock our knees together. Leonardo DiCaprio cleared Clare Danes’ face of any distractions before leaving his lips on hers. Shivering and sweating at the same time, I kissed her Megan Fox red lips, pulled her Clare Danes smooth hair behind her ear, watched a short color show play across her ring finger.

We started smoking in September and it is a bit harder to keep up the habit now that it’s winter and the cement porch steps are cold against the backs of our thighs. The two-story stucco houses across the street from hers stand still against the sky. Broadway Street is quiet at this late hour, and I silently pray for something to move or talk or breathe, so we can discuss it.

“Look what I did,” I show her an ember wrapped in black tar marks, like a scarf.

“How did you?”

“It was an accident.”

“But how, physically, did you?” She asks me questions like she wishes to replicate the mistake.

“I put the flame too close to the cigarette.”

I smoke ones with white ends, and she smokes ones with orange. I used to call them cancer sticks but now that I’m addicted to them, that seems too morbid. Hers are blended heavier than mine. Sometimes I smoke two, she points out, when she smokes one. She says she doesn’t know what it means.

“It means I’m going to die,” I half-joke.


“Yes. You will live and I will die.” I’m more serious this time. There is a pause and I notice the buildings again: how they just stand and stand and stand.

“I don’t want to be alive for a second on this earth without you,” she says and then takes another drag.

She continues, “I want to die the second I forget your name for the first time.”

She’s always very worried about forgetting things. I’ve told her about every time I wanted to kiss her before I finally did, and she’s told me she doesn’t remember whole nights, so I have to describe them for her sometimes. It doesn’t bother me.

“I’ll remind you of it.”

Published in Edition 3 of The Dilettante.

Alternate Universe in which I Grow Up in a Small Town

My bones stay still when a man offers me the passenger’s seat of his truck; I accept and I am not even surprised when he brings me there safely, spilling details of my father’s elementary school bowl cut.

My breath stays level when the boy in my bedroom offers me the words “lovely” and “enough.” I accept those too, without crosschecking against white scars that mark each inch of my limbs.

Correction: I do not have scars. The basketball court gave me one across my knee once, but it healed. The blood creeped down my leg and I cried at the sight; the drop that stained the fog-colored pavement reminded me to be more careful. In the alternate universe, I never wish to see myself bleed.

The schoolhouse is built of red brick and no one is afraid that it will fall down with a tiny shift of tectonic plates. We open the bar-less windows in my house when we cook on Thanksgiving. Everything smells like sweet potatoes and tastes like vanilla ice cream. It doesn’t matter if I forget my house key because we have weak locks and I keep a bobby pin clipped to the pocket of my blue jeans.

People have faith in God and other uncertain things, like soulmates or their children.

I fall into the habit of loving puppies and girls with bleached hair without fear of their bite. I learn the word “slut” over popcorn and soda instead of over an empty stomach and a classroom desk. One matinee and one late-night show, a PG-13 film, a drought for bad dreams.

The train tracks are lined with sunflowers instead of suicides and all of my classmates live to graduate high school. We have to be home by dinner.

In my real universe, the small town sits in the bowl of my stomach, carrying borrowed nostalgia up and down five-lane roads, bearing the weight of all these overdue memories.

Artist spotlight: DRTY BLND

ember warm by Rachel Kirkwood

On Thursday, DRTY BLND released her latest single “Bedroom”, which features an electronic pulse that will make you want to dance around your house in pajamas. The song was inspired by a night she spent with a lover, sleeping together on a mutual friend’s bedroom carpet while on a trip to Boston. As she further developed the lyrics, the song took on a more generalized narrative, becoming less about a particular instance and more about the exhilarating feeling of sexual tension and desire. Moreover, it addresses a commonplace dilemma for young adults and college students: trying to find intimate spaces while living an often communal, slightly nomadic dorm-to-dorm, lease-to-lease, hometown-to-hometown lifestyle. The echoed lyrics “Take me home tonight / I don’t want to leave this carpet / but I want our own bedroom” provide the song’s namesake, communicating the struggle of wanting to be alone with someone but not having a space that is fully yours.

DRTY BLND is a rising indie pop artist who can be found playing venues around Nashville, Tennessee. Gianna and I grew up together in the San Francisco Bay Area and were rarely seen as one without the other (except for her summers spent gigging around Barcelona, Spain with her high school band). Our friend group gave her the nicknames G and Bones, but she has chosen to go by the moniker DRTY BLND for all music purposes. DRTY BLND not only refers to the color of her hair throughout her childhood (and now, to an extent), but also her presence: reckless and fiery, with a hint of mystery.

She currently resides in Nashville, where she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology from Belmont University. While I often replay memories of her popping bottles of rosé Moscato on Northern California beaches and giggling at the dialogue of various sitcoms, I also have memories of her engaged in deeply analytical conversations, constantly dissecting topical concerns with each and every one of our peers. We share a star sign and the defining quality of a Virgo: completely unpacking and hyper-analyzing every situation, which is to say I’ve been on multiple ten-hour road trips with her and I can’t recall ever having a silent moment.

Matt Fox

My poem about her and us, “ember warm,” carries themes of neglect and the idea of home. The question posed – “what is home?” – is meant to contrast the typical conception of a home with the conceptions of home that Gianna and I share. The poem concludes that one definition of home, for me, is being with her – listening to music too loud, searching for the most striking Bay Area vistas we can find, and generally stirring the pot. I am not sure what her definition of home is, but she has expressed that her upcoming work will address more difficult topics, and I have good reason to believe her childhood experiences may be one of them.

DRTY BLND hopes to release a full-length album by summer 2020.  For now, you can stream “Bedroom” on Spotify and Apple Music

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Misplaced Artifacts

The only one of the family home that morning was Cathy. It was one of those strange days where the sun’s rays looked like a small opening to heaven, emerging through a blanket of dark clouds. She knew it would rain, but for the few moments before it did, the light poured in through every window. The shower caddy was full of products that no one had used in years: her father’s fine-tooth combs, her niece’s bubblegum-scented shampoo, and a bar of dried-out, unscented soap.

By the time she had gotten out of the shower, the hot rain had begun to fall, and she went to wipe the condensation off of the mirror with her towel. The first thing she noticed in the clear streak in the mirror was the creases between her brows and just below her eyes, where wrinkles had formed from years of laughter. Her reflection looked back at her, their eyes glued to each other, as she reached for her toothbrush with her right hand and the sink faucet with her left. Before she could find either, her fingers touched something small and metal. Her eyes were forced to detach from the mirror to look at her hands running across the counter, the valleys of wrinkles that littered her skin more prominent in the pale morning light. In her right hand, she now held a hairpin that she had failed to notice sitting on the white-tiled vanity when she had entered the shower.

Her fingers gripped the pin harder, carefully bringing it closer to her aging eyes. As it came into focus, a silvery strand of hair revealed itself, stuck perpendicular inside the clip. She let out an involuntary sigh and through her lips slipped the words “mom’s hair,” as if needing to explain her astonishment to her mirrored self. She gingerly placed it in the middle of the white tiles. On the barren vanity, whose shelves and drawers had been cleared out long ago, the dense, brassy, metal clip sat in contrast with the rest of the room, which now seemed hollowed out and devoid of color. She went to the kitchen to search for a bag or box that could hold it securely. This may be her mother’s final heirloom to give, she thought.

The kitchen’s linoleum floor was sticky, and her clean feet pulled against it, making a soft ripping sound with each step. The drawer under where her mother’s phonebook always sat opened with some resistance; it had been coated with so many layers of off-white paint that it didn’t fit correctly in its socket anymore. Where she was expecting a plethora of organized storage bags, she found only two loose gallon-sized Ziploc bags.

She stepped lightly as she walked back across the kitchen, trying to keep the freshly-cleaned bottoms of her bare feet smooth. The gallon-sized bag was much too large for its contents – a small hair clip and a strand of a dead woman’s hair. The treasure would drown in the emptiness of the plastic, she thought, like one girl in a four-bedroom house. Her busy mind ceased its murmuring the second she returned to the vanity; the clip was gone. She visualized herself, less than three minutes ago, placing it in the middle of the pearly countertop. She remembered the contrast of the dark brass against the white tile. Her hands began to crawl through every fiber of the bathmat and in and out of each cabinet. She found only rusting pipes and a wet, hard floor. In a puddle of her own bath water, skin cold against the unwelcoming flooring, she began to cry.

About three hours later, she returned from the market with enough groceries to fill the dated refrigerator for the first time in years. The paper bags she carried home were filled so full that they threatened to rip, but no one was around to hear her complain about her shoulder pain, so she kept quiet. Sliding a rotisserie chicken onto the bottom shelf, she suddenly remembered the pin she had spent hours trying to forget. Leaving the refrigerator door open, lights on and internal fan humming, her neck craned towards the bathroom. She thought to herself how crazy she must seem and then remembered there was no one there to notice. Walking towards the light blue bathroom, her pupils contracted in response to the bright sunlight that shone through the window by the mirror. The door was halfway open, but she thought she might have left it that way. Pushing it all the way open, she saw it from feet away: the tiny scrap of metal, smack-dab in the middle of the white-tiled counter. She could feel her heartbeat in between her ears as she picked it up to find the shiny hair sitting perpendicular to the brass.

That afternoon she drove to see her father. The building he lived in was filled with paisley carpeting and beige furniture skins, which all seemed to hold the stench of aged coffee breath. The archways and mahogany tables gave the space a manufactured elegance and familiarity. The same set-up was copied and pasted throughout this national chain of nursing homes. It seemed like the people were too: a few women with red lipstick sprinkling their front teeth, a tall man with a much-too-short walker, someone from the fourth floor constantly cradling a plastic doll.

That morning was the first time in years she had been awake before her father. His sleeping frame sported a generic, white, cotton t-shirt and she was surprised by the measly circumference of his biceps and forearms. His papery skin was wrapped around his veins so delicately she could almost see the blood coursing through them and worried that if she touched him, she might leave a bruise. He sat up quickly, as if he had just realized he overslept his alarm by five hours.

He began rambling with an inflection and tone she had only ever heard from behind the doors of his home office. For the first time, this stream of consciousness seemed to need validation: her validation. Her ears perked up as if just realizing she would be tested on the material.

“There was a market, Cathy. You would have loved it. You had to stumble down a long pathway from the villa. It was made of cobblestone, so, you know I had to watch my feet. But once you got there it was all open air and white tents and women who looked like your mother ten years ago, selling fruit. We have to go back, you and me. I liked it even more than Naples. Do you remember Naples?” He paused for a second, but barely waited for a response. “Verona…Italy,” he sighed, and a pleasant smile dashed across his face. Watching the square rug go out of focus, Cathy unintentionally smiled too. Snap out of it, she thought to herself, and blinked back into reality.

Reminding him of his dementia was her least favorite responsibility and probably a key reason she hadn’t visited in months. She spoke as if she was reading a script: “While these fantasies are nice, and we would love them to be true –”. He cut her off. “I know. I know they are not. You tell me. The nurses tell me. Your brothers tell me. I know,” he spoke quickly and firmly.

His voice softened. “I’ve had dreams before. I mean, I’ve had them all my life, but, nothing like this. I feel like I die every morning. There’s another world and it’s going on without me. I travel a lot there. One day I’m in Spain and the other in Thailand. Some days I’m the President of the United States during a nuclear war; your brother will tell you, that was a bad one. He drove me all the way to the Los Angeles Airport so I could get on a plane to Cheyenne Mountain. Sometimes I’m home, instead of this god-awful place, with you kids instead of the nurses. Every time I come back here it feels like a dream. I’m just waiting for it end so that I can come back to reality: to Italy, to Cheyenne Mountain, back home.”

Cathy’s mind was frustratingly blank. After a moment, she broke the silence: “Maybe it is real to you. There isn’t much research about dementia. I don’t know, Dad. Maybe in some way you really are in Italy, or Thailand, or back home.” They looked at each other for a minute, communicating an understanding that words couldn’t quite convey, before he changed the subject, asking, “How is the house?” She listed the things in need of repair: paint to spackle and floorboards to replace. She thought of the clip and the mysterious return of it. The room filled with dead air for a moment, and she clasped her hands together in her lap. She hesitated for a moment, before murmuring, “I think Mom is haunting me.” Then, she recounted the events of her morning. She waited for a logical response from her father, an atheist and a scientist. To her surprise, he sat quietly through the entire story, looking up at the popcorn ceiling above his bed. When she finished, he turned his head to rest sideways on the pillow in order to look into her eyes. He responded, “Maybe I am haunting you.”

She quickly scoffed; the claim was ridiculous. It was compulsory that she dismiss it. The two were silent for a full hour after that. She considered his proposal and his stubbornness about the realness of his daydreams, grasping the brass hair clip in her right palm the whole time.

Published in Edition 2 of The Dilettante.

Refinding Voice

The bright California sun burns the space between where your
knotted hair scratches the side of your cheeks:
sweating tears.
Your throat silently screams for water, but your
parched lips have grown shut from mornings
just like this,
where his preaching plays loudly over sleepy memories of
the dreams you didn’t have time to write down,
and today your lips close like a dam holding back water, pressure building as he tells you not to
speak to him again.

But those lips were not always sewn shut like the bottom of your mother’s jean skirt you tore as
he pulled you over a barbed wire fence.
You came out of her shrieks in bloody sheets,
screaming in a language no one could understand yet.

You grew out of sundresses every month, barefoot under canopies of redwoods,
putting your face against the bark, breathing in pure oxygen.
Your lungs filled with cold, ocean air, so when you spoke,
it sounded like waves crashing, pulling in the body standing before you.

You were forced inland, where you sat in hard, plastic chairs, goosebumps forming beneath your
ironed, uniform skirt,
told to listen under fluorescent lights, breathing in leftover chemicals.
The other girls in ironed skirts reminded you of the pulsing in your throat in shallow
conversations, and you began to look just like them.
Your arms ached from raising your hand as a request to speak, and so the waves that filled your
lungs stopped in your mouth, leaving it salty and dry.

One day a boy looked at you like you spoke in currents again,
and you breathed oxygen straight out of his lungs, full of the smoke of his favorite brand of
cigarettes you promised your mom you’d never smoke and you felt anything but pure.
But you loved like an artist – painting every muse on the edges of your waist and the sides of
your thighs.
He covered every paint stroke with a new uniform that hid the half-moons residing in the borders
of your body which you used to love,
and you grew your knotted hair into two braids for each of the men that still wanted you to be

So now, with the sun beating down on your disheveled braids, tangled after nights of restless
you are sweating and crying a whole body of water out of you;
Empty legs in a tattered uniform sprawled on the clean sheets of a silent room.

But with every July sunrise your legs will stretch longer.
fill your body again with water;
and you will start to grow under a new canopy of oak trees that hold you like your mother on
warm afternoons.
Becoming, at first, in spite of him, and then without him,
beginning to paint again, but this time with words meant to send the storm back to sea.
You will fill a windowsill with every small bit of oxygen you can find in a nursery, so there is
growth in every corner of your room, and you breathe again with the tides:
your lips wet with anticipation by the end of August,
seeing before you every sunrise you will watch on an overgrown rooftop,
speaking to those whose words atone the washed-up parts of you,
and let the dam break
over a city who only knows new eyes

because this is the redemption of your voice.