Archive for September, 2013

September 27, 2013

A Surprise Reading from Brian Doyle

Maybe I just don’t pay attention enough to what’s going on around campus, but apparently the Clark Library Open House is this afternoon. This was a rare opportunity to see the wonderful individuals responsible for making the renovation possible. Alumni, donors, and friends of University are still wandering through the new-and-improved space. Having been here for over a month now, I’ve gotten used to that “new library” feel that all these people are experiencing. I can still marvel at all the beauty, but not quite in the same way that these newcomers. It’s a wonderful thing to watch someone light up as they enter a room, overwhelmed by all the new and beautiful sights.

I’ve settled into a cozy chair here on the main floor. I’ve been quite content to sit here for the past hour or so. But about half an hour into my study session, an eccentric looking man with a salt-and-pepper beard walks over to me, smiling profusely. It was Brian Doyle. As fate would have it, I happened to be sitting in the section of the library that he was doing his author reading in.

Before he began, he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry for intruding in your circle, but I’ve got to do this reading. So if I start yelling, know that I’m not yelling at you.” Rather than quietly pack up and move to different part of the library like the other students in the area, I decided to stay and listen.

You know how listening to an amazing storyteller can bring you to tears? Well, Brian did precisely that for everyone in attendance, himself included. You could feel his love for the University in his voice as it quivered through each sentence.
Afterwards, he turns to me and says, “You can get back to studying now; sorry for yelling in your ear,” handing me a copy of the Autumn 2013 Portland Magazine. It’s people like Brian that make me glad I decided to come to the University of Portland.

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September 27, 2013

“We’re Women”

We’re women.

Even if we don’t like something they do,
we have to pretend to, for the sake of their machismo.
We have to constantly apologize
for not being what they want.
We’re not allowed to say “I don’t like that.”

Because we’re women;
we like everything that a man does.
Even if he’s an idiot.
Even if he hates us.

Every man I’ve met was a narcissist,
even if he didn’t know it.
Because he subscribes to and benefits from
a societal notion that the dialogue of every woman is
one big apology.

And he accepts it,
because we’re women
and that’s what we’re supposed to do.

We’re created with men in mind.
We’re made to serve their egos.
And if, God forbid, we don’t live up to their standards,
we’re cast out like lepers,
doomed to live alone forever.

And that’s wrong.
Because we’re women.
And what are women without men?

September 13, 2013

“The Unlucky Ones”

“I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”

“I heard. You wake up in the middle of the night and leave. What’s going on?”

Adrienne stood silent for a moment and thought carefully about her answer.

“I’ve just had a lot on my mind. The cold air helps me clear my head.”

Suni nodded. “I do that sometimes. Although, when I go outside, I don’t usually just walk around. I take my bow out and hunt nutria. They’re surprisingly lively this winter.

“Oh, well I go out past the marsh. I like to lie in the field at night. There are so many stars when the clouds clear enough.”

“That’s pretty rare, though. Isn’t it?” Suni asked.

Adrienne sighed, “Yeah. It’s always cloudy.”

The conversation died down. Suni rolled over on her cot and switched on her lamp. She grabbed her journal off of the low shelf next to her cot and began to leaf through it. She kept drawings of the local game like nutria, snakes, and mud crabs. She also kept clippings of plants that she’d identified. She knew which ones were safe to eat and which ones to avoid. You could tell she had experience with some of the more dangerous plants from the rash scars on her hands. She was also short a thumb. She considered it her hunter’s badge of honor. The gator may have taken it, but she got it back once she cleaned the bastard out.

Adrienne rolled onto her stomach and stuffed her cold hands under her thin pillow. Unlike Suni, Adrienne was more of a homebody. She did most of the cooking, cleaning, and upkeep of the shelter’s defenses. She also took it upon herself to set traps around the entrances. Adrienne prided herself on being very adept at making chemical traps, just like her father did. Her newest trap, when triggered, sprayed the animal (or intruder) with an aerosol that quickly turned to a sticky, dense gel upon contact with the air for a few seconds. If the gel finds its way onto the victim’s mouth and nose – as it probably would with any four-legged animal with its belly to the ground – it would suffocate them. The gel also proved dense enough to incapacitate a person when sprayed at their feet (Suni was kind enough to act as guinea pig, which resulted in several hours with her boots stuck to the ground). The trap, placed carefully under a tree by the rear entrance, hadn’t been set off yet. But Adrienne was anxious to see the results of a successful trigger.

Suni clicked off her lamp and set her journal back on the shelf. The lights-out was a silent signal for the two to go to bed. Over the past four years together, the pair had developed a comfortable routine. It didn’t used to be this way, but nowadays, they even got tired at the same time.  Adrienne closed her eyes and began to drift off.

Her eyes shot open a few moments later. She’d almost forgotten. She turned over and opened a panel on the wall. Behind it was a small screen and several old looking buttons. She switched the screen on. The salt and pepper crackled for a moment before straightening out to ant’s eye view of the clearing outside. This was the front entrance camera. All clear. She clicked the Camera 2 button; all clear. Cameras 3, 4, and 5; all clear. She sighed. None of her traps had gone off yet. It had been a few days since she’d set a new trap; she was beginning to think she had scared off all the game. Adrienne switched the screen off and closed the wall panel. She slumped back onto her stomach and fell quickly into a dream.

Leaves rustled beneath her feet. It was autumn here, and there were reds and yellows everywhere. The rays of sun came through the falling leaves like raindrops. She heard a child laughing somewhere in the distance. But that’s not right; we haven’t seen another person for months. We haven’t seen kids for at least a year. That’s not right —

An alarm shook Suni and Adrienne into sudden readiness. Suni shot out of bed and shoved on her boots. Adrienne sat up and threw open the security camera panel. The Camera 3 light was flashing red. She flicked the alarm off and the blaring sound was silenced. She hesitated for a moment before switching on the screen and clicking the Camera 3 button. The screen was fuzzy at first, but as it cleared, she could tell something was wrong. Camera 3, which was situated in a small hole carved into a tree just outside the rear entrance, was tilted, like something had disturbed or tampered with it. Along the ground, she saw holes in the grass. Someone had been digging. They were looking for an entrance.

“What is it?” Suni shouted from the other room. While Adrienne was watching the security screen, Suni had been grabbing her bow and sidearm. Her boots thumped heavily on the metal floor as she reentered the bedroom.

“Someone is or was out there. They were digging.”

“Did any of your traps go off?”

Adrienne responded quickly, “Not at 3, but let me check.” She sped through the other cameras. The two at the front entrance seemed undisturbed, but the screen went black when she clicked 4. “Looks like something took out Cam 4.”

Suni frowned. “Well, there hasn’t been any noise at the door, so whatever took out the camera must have also taken out the intruder.”

“Shit. I knew I over-packed that capsule,” Adrienne cursed.

Adrienne climbed out of bed and pulled on her boots. She grabbed her leather jacket off the end of the cot and went into the other room. Suni had left the weapons’ cabinet open, displaying the various short bows, crossbows, and small arms they had at their disposal. Behind a piece of glass was Suni’s special sniper rifle. Adrienne knew better than to touch that. She grabbed a small Ruger 9MM and stuffed it into the front of her pants. On her way out to the rear entrance, she also grabbed her pocket knife off the island counter top.

She shuffled through the bedroom and met Suni at the door. Suni gave her a short glance, silently asking if she was ready. Adrienne nodded. Suni retrieved a key that hung around her neck on a thick twine string and slid it into the massive metal door. She spun the lock, pulling the bolts out of the wall and door frame until they clicked into place inside the lock. She then pulled the heavy door open. On the other side was a metal ladder going up about eight meters to the surface.

Adrienne went first. She pulled her key (which was also on a string around her neck) up to her lips and held it between her teeth as she climbed. As she got to the top, she flipped open another metal panel on the wall in front of her. She reached through the rungs of the ladder and flipped on a switch. A screen, similar to the one by her cot, flickered on. Mounted on the rear entrance hatch, the camera showed most of what was outside; a smudge on the dome of the camera was obscuring some of the view. Adrienne held a button with a right arrow and watched as the camera spun slowly to give her a 360-view from the hatch. About halfway through the full cycle, she saw what caused the smudge on the dome: a still body crumpled in a heap a meter or two away from the hatch. The image was black and white, but she knew blood when she saw it.

“We got a body,” Adrienne mumbled, still holding her key in her mouth.

Suni, who had been waiting patiently at the bottom of the ladder, let out a loud sigh. “Human?”

Adrienne closed the camera panel. “Looks like it. I need to go out and check Cams 3 and 4. Guess you’re looting.”

Adrienne listened as Suni’s boots made a distinct, heavy clunk on the metal rungs. Once she could feel Suni just below her, she grabbed the key out of her mouth and reached up to insert it into the hatch lock. She turned the key and heard the soft click as the bolts fell into place.

She pushed up and felt a short rush of “fresh” air come down the tunnel as she opened the hatch. She finished her climb and felt morning dew soak through her gloves as she pulled herself out of the hole. She spun around to take a short glimpse at the body, then walked over to Camera 4. It was mostly intact, but the lens was gone and the wires had been yanked out. She put the camera into her jacket pocket and made her way to the tree. As she walked off, she heard Suni rolling the body over.

Camera 3 was tipped sideways, but it looked to be a completely separate incident. Probably a squirrel. She readjusted the camera and walked over to take a look at the kind of damage her trap had done.

Suni grumbled something under her breath.

“I didn’t hear that,” Adrienne said.

Suni spoke up, “I said this guy is fucked up.”

“How old, would you say?”

“Probably around twenty-one, twenty-two.”

Adrienne sighed. She was twenty-six. Suni was thirty. Poor kid, she thought to herself.

Adrienne picked up the remnants of her trap. Need to come up with a different word for these, she thought. But she didn’t like the word “bomb.” It sounded too aggressive. But then, blowing up a person sounds pretty aggressive. The trap consisted of a short, stout piece of plastic piping, packed full of metal shards and homemade gun powder and capped with pieces of scavenged aluminum. A simple pressure trigger set off a spark inside a small glass enclosure made from a Christmas light bulb, which lit the very short fuse. The fuse ignited the packed piping. The rest doesn’t need much description. I guess it is a bomb, she thought. 

“Anything interesting on him?” she inquired.

Suni shrugged, “So far, a bit.  A silver chain around his neck and a pocketful of .45 rounds. But there’s a pack over there I haven’t checked. Blast must’ve thrown it out of his hands.”

Adrienne wandered over to the pack. It was a small, heavy black canvas pack. It was in relatively good shape, all things considered. She opened the flap, revealing several cans of chili, a small bag of rice, and what looked like blank papers rolled up together with a rubber band.

“Got chili and rice. Some blank paper too,” she called.

Suni replied, “Sweet. I need more pages for my journal.”

As Adrienne pulled everything out of the bag, she noticed something at the bottom. It a black box, camouflaged against the black canvas. She pulled it out and set the pack down. She opened it to find a thumb drive and a few photographs. The photos were of a young man and a little boy. They looked like brothers. She wondered which one the dead guy was. She grimaced at the thought. She snapped the box shut and stuffed it back into the bag, along with the chili, rice, and paper.

“That’s it. I’m going to take this all back down and try to fix this camera,” Adrienne said monotonously.

Suni, who was currently salvaging the boots off the body, responded without looking up, “Right behind you. I’ll lock up.”

Adrienne threw the pack over her shoulder and felt the damp canvas against her jacket and thin shirt. She climbed down the ladder and kicked off her muddied boots at the inner door. She walked through the bedroom into the kitchen/living area, where she replaced her sidearm and threw the pack onto the island. Listening to the distant clunk of Suni’s boots as she climbed down, Adrienne set the cans of chili and rice on the top food shelf. She threw the paper on a desk nearby. Then, she reached into the bottom of the pack and retrieved the box. She opened it and set the thumb drive on the desk, next to the papers.

Suni walked in and shed her jacket, revealing her tattered, stained white tank. She turned on the kitchen sink for a few seconds, letting the basin fill a little. She started rinsing the dirt and dried blood off her hands and arms. As she did this, she looked over her shoulder at Adrienne. “What you got there?”

“Just a couple photos.”

Suni nodded. “Well, tack them up with the others.”

Adrienne walked over to the desk. She aimlessly shuffled around the papers and books on top of it, trying to avoid looking up. She sighed and raised her gaze to the cork board hung in front of the desk. She grabbed a thumb tack off the board and pinned the photographs up. They’re in good company, Adrienne thought. There were dozens of other photos. Families, couples, children. She didn’t know them. But she recognized some of them. She called them the “unlucky ones.” Though, the more she thought about it, the more she felt that this was a misnomer.

September 11, 2013

Twelve years.

Twelve years is a long time. My sister was two years old in 2001 and  now she’s fourteen and worrying about things like makeup and high school. I was in fourth grade in 2001. Now, I’m finishing my final semester in college and preparing to enter the workforce with a fancy new degree. What I’m saying is that time flies.

Twelve years.

Today, twelve years ago, I remember sitting in a dark classroom, huddled around one of those mobile media stations with the crappy televisions. I didn’t even cry until I got home. I guess I was too confused and no one was explaining the news to me. I was only nine years old.

When I got home, my parents hugged me tight. It was like they were afraid that if they let me go, I’d fly off somewhere. That’s when I cried. I knew then that something had changed. Something in the world had become vastly different than it was the day before. Suddenly, you could see the battlefield right outside your door. Everything became so immediate.

I think most people cried that day. Twelve years later, I don’t think we cry as much. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still break our hearts. We’ve made a point not to forget about it. And I think that’s good. A lot of heroes were made that day. A lot of friends were lost. And we keep them in our hearts.

We have a lot to be grateful for. We have a lot of people to thank. We won’t forget about the ones we lost.

In twelve years, this world has made a lot of progress. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I think we’re getting better. We’ve learned to love more. In the end, I think that’s the most important thing. It’s important to love and to have no reservations about it.

So, what did you learn twelve years ago? And what will you carry with you twelve years from now?