Something Borrowed: Something to Return

 

            Emily Grifin’s Something Borrowed depicts the love triangle between characters Rachel, Darcy, and Dexter. Rachel is the maid of honor in Darcy and Dexter’s wedding. Rachel met Dexter in law school and introduced him to her life-long best friend, Darcy. At the start of the novel, the reader is thrown into the situation when Rachel describes the first time that she slept with Dexter behind Darcy’s back. While Giffin illustrates problems and themes that are relatable to the readers, the characters lack likeability, making Something Borrowed something that I would like to return to the library.

The first chapter of Something Borrowed holds the entire premise of the book. On Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, Darcy steals the limelight from Rachel (as always) and in return Rachel has sex with Darcy’s fiancé, Dexter. What started out as a one-night stand apparently turns into something more when Dexter and Rachel begin to fall in love. During this affair, Rachel reveals to the reader the backstory between these three main characters. Darcy is Rachel’s lifelong “best friend”. However, Rachel continuously complains about Darcy being self-centered throughout the novel and still tries to insist that Darcy is a good friend to her. This is not convincing for the reader— this just gives the reader negative associations with Darcy because her good “best friend” side is rarely shown in the text.

In law school, Rachel acknowledged Dexter’s good looks and charm but thought that Dexter was out of her league. This gives the reader the impression that Rachel lacks self-confidence. Rachel then introduces Darcy and Dexter, which is also a display of low self-confidence because she is letting Darcy win everything that she wants. Rachel begins to have an affair with Dexter during the engagement, eventually breaking up the wedding and winning Dexter’s love. 

            Although this love triangle is a complicated situation, the characters do not seem to grow or learn from their actions in the story. The characters do not work for what is best for them, they all whine like children until they get their way. Dexter does not learn how to be a respectful man, for most of the story he was engaged to Darcy and having and affair with Rachel. He had everything that he wanted and lusted after without any consequences because Darcy was just as self-centered as he was and Rachel never stood up for herself. Rachel shows indecisiveness and does not make any choices that are good for herself; in the end, she is fulfilled with everything that she wanted without working for it in a proper manner. Darcy’s character remains superficial and flat. She is hypocritical, getting mad at Rachel and Dexter’s betrayal when Darcy had been having affairs during their engagement as well. 

            I wish that Something Borrowed had more depth in character development, and that the overall meaning of the story was different. The way that Giffin wrote the novel gives the reader the impression that cheating is okay and that it will all work out if you are truly in love. This is not reality; if Rachel wanted things to work out with Dexter, she should have talked the situation out with him rationally instead of expecting everything to magically fall together for them in the end. The novel displays the problems of complicated relationships and indecisiveness, but does not provide good solutions for these characters.          

 

Drunk History: Comedy Central’s Intoxicated Retelling of American History

Is there anything more American than getting drunk and retelling America’s history? Much like the Fourth of July, the premise of Drunk History is to get drunk and incohertently reminisce on our nation’s past. Drunk History is half-hour series which airs on Tuesdays on Comedy Central. Based on the popular YouTube series, the show features A-list actors such as Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle reenacting historical events. But these are not the textbook retellings from your thick-glassed elementary school teacher. The narrators of these “history lessons” happen to be extremely intoxicated. Host and creator Derek Waters, travels across America, employing a cast of comedians to act as the inebriated storyteller’s of American history.

The episode I watched retold the friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas during the Civil War. The show preludes by saying on March 22 comedian Jen Kirkman drank two bottles of wine and discussed a historical event. Crowned in a ridiculous top hat, Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln enters the scene. Kirkman, providing the voice of the actor’s, assumes the voice of Senator Palmer and says” Lincoln this guy [Fredrick Douglas] is talking a good game you should meet with him. “From there, abolitionist Fredrick Douglas, portrayed by an absurdly wigged Don Cheadle lays down his demands for equality. As Kirkman drunkenly puts it, Douglas longed for black soldiers to “1. Fight in the war and 2. Get equal pay and 3. If they become prisoners of war don’t effing kill them.”     

As the tale is being retold, there are brief comically intermissions in which the narrator stumbles to get more wine or simply asks “I didn’t take my pants off, did I?” Drunk history is a hilarious interpretation of the dusty stories of our past. The enthusiasm of the narrators, paired with their determination to get facts straight makes what should be a serious event into a comedic masterpiece.

Track 29: Bring a Variety of Artists to Our City

                                 
          Music fans, listen up! In case you haven’t already heard, the fabulous band Neutral Milk Hotel will be coming to Chattanooga on Saturday October 19th at Track 29. After 1999 when the band broke up due to lead singer Jeff Mangum’s mental breakdown, fans have been waiting in suspense for a reunion tour for the past fourteen years Well no more worries because the reunion is making it’s way to beautiful Chatty town.
            Other great shows are hitting up the Chattanooga area the rest of October. Country star Brett Aldridge will also be taking the Track 29 stage behind the Choo Choo hotel on October 17, following the group Beat’s Antique that will be playing at the same venue on the 16th. Beat’s Antique, famous for their interactive concerts that are typically played at festivals both domestic and international, will combine Middle Eastern sounds with that of hip-hop induced beats, and a splash of downtempo and dubstep. Datsik also is visiting Track 29 on October 23rd with his drum and bass influenced style. Datsik’s music caters to young dubstep fans, as well as electronic, hip-hop, and acid jazz fans. It seems to be a busy month for the Track 29 venue, especially with Neutral Milk Hotel making an appearance in Chattanooga for their reunion tour. In fact, many Neutral Milk fans will be traveling from far and wide to see Jeff Magnum and the band, as tickets sold out in just under two minutes. Perhaps this will bring some revenue to our green city of Chattanooga.

Burning Man: A Place You’ll Never Forget

      Burning Man is an experience not many get to enjoy and those that do have an unforgettable adventure. With the majority of the continually rising 100,000 Burning Man population coming from the west coast or other countries, it’s refreshing to see an increase in east coast festivalgoers. In fact, many from our own Chattanooga community traveled into the dessert to reach Black Rock City in the hot Nevada dessert this 2013 festival year. On the corner of Vine street and Lindsay downtown near campus sits a painted Man graffitied on the old Toast café’ that signals our own burner community’s presence in good ole’ Chatty. In case you’re unfamiliar with how a Burn compares from the average music festival, let’s just say this, it doesn’t. Unlike your average run of the mill music festival, Burns focus on art, community, self-reliance, and leaving no trace (no trash or anything for that matter is left after the conclusion of the festival). Typically speaking a Burn prohibits the selling of food or merchandise except for ice and coffee. Eliminating the sale of goods promotes self-reliance and encourages burner’s to interact with fellow burners and neighboring theme camps. Theme camps operate by the means of every camp bringing something specific that aids the reliance of themselves and the community. For example, a camp serves spaghetti at dusk each night, has an open bar throughout the week, produces buttons and stickers to hand out to the community, or offers lectures or lessons. Burns are successful because of the people they appeal into attending; at no point does a burner hesitate to ask another burner for food or goods. Black Rock City, built annually by hard working hippies who want to burn their problems away (literally as your skin is burning from the sun!), enjoy the time of their lives throughout a week long adventure on a dried up lakebed known as “the playa.” Actually adventure doesn’t seem to cover it, Burning Man has been continually listed on those “Top Ten Things You Should Do in Your Twenties” lists we’ve all been reading. I know what you’re thinking, what a long way from Chattanooga, I don’t know if it would be fun without any music (which there still is by the way), seems a bit pricey, etc. But with the energy of our twenties, our perseverance with alcohol as college students, and a rise in eastern seaboard festivalgoers, it seems like 2014 might be the year to establish our very own UTC theme camp. Any takers?

Default Now! A Case for Garamond

I imagine fear that, if left to their own devices, students choosing ghastly fonts such as Comics Sans, Arial, or Papyrus have led professors to dictate the use of Times New Roman as the preferential font. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to read submittals in the most childish, lazy, and hackneyed fonts ever set, either. But why not allow Garamond? Garamond is different.

 

French punch-cutter Claude Garamond invented the original serif typeset that later became Garamond in the 1540’s, and it was considered one of the highlights of the 16th century. (We’re talking competing with Copernicus, Da Vinci, the graphite pencil, and bottled beer here.)

 

Serif fonts utilize small decorative flourishes at the end of letter strokes (as opposed to sans serif, which utilize straight lines with no overhangs). Serif fonts make individual letters more distinct–and therefore easier to read–and the brain spends less time identifying letters. The touted Times New Roman of academia is also a serif font, but fades into the paper in comparison to the aesthetically-pleasing Garamond.

 

While APA style “recommends” Times New Roman, MLA and CMS only ask fonts be legible and readable. Garamond, the most fluid and consistent of all serifs, certainly qualifies. Its unique blend of personality, style, and professionalism are an added bonus to its merits.

 

Garamond is also the most eco-friendly font, using the least ink per page, as well as white-space placement allowing more characters per page. And it keeps good company–Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling chose it. The Hunger Games and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern also use it, with Editor Dave Eggers claiming it as his favorite font “because it looks good in so many permutations—italics, small caps, all caps, tracked out, justified or not.”

 

But instead, students are asked to use Garamond’s insipid, younger half-brother, Times New Roman. Showing up in 1931 and originally created for the Times of London, Times New Roman’s claims to fame are adoption by Microsoft products, and exclusive use by the U.S. Department of State. Much less inspirational.

 

So I say, be the change. Scroll through your fonts, select Garamond, and set the default. Open your printed pages to over 500 years of class and sophistication. Don’t let The Man keep you droll through convention… choose Garamond!

How to Make so Much Money Writing Books.

Hey you. So you know that highly pretentious social/cultural/economical/religious/post-post-modern commentary you’re writing into a very witty novel? Stop it. Stop that right now. Throw away all of your preconceived notions of these irrelevant things like “character development” and “plot”, and listen to your wise friends at the Sequoya Review teach you how to actually make money in the novel-writing industry (I would call it the literary industry, but you will soon see why these things are not related).

Fair warning: what you are about to read, nay, enjoy is not actual advice and is definitely not endorsed by the Sequoya Review. Also, you shouldn’t read this to children.

Alright strap in! Here we go.

Here are some straight facts from my face to yours: I recently discovered that romance novels comprise about 50% of all book sales.  They are the highest selling genre in North America. After a harrowing investigation during which I read one of these novels, I unlocked the great secret of these smutty little jewels – they are not hard to write. So here is a guide to writing a romance novel, which will make you filthy stinking rich.

1.     Start with an attractive man. He has to have a sexy name, and think old Victorian (because what’s sexier than men with grizzly sideburns and a waist coat, that’s right absolutely nothing). You’re safe with names like Victor, Lawrence, or Gabriel. Stay away from nicknames though – no one likes a Gabe.

2.     Whatever you do though, don’t let your main male character be unattractive. You have to add some sort of flaw though, because if he’s absolutely perfect you lose the game. For example, the novel I read featured a hunky blind man. He had a canon go off in his face. A canon that did not mar him at all. So he got to be blind and ridiculously good looking. Hurray! As for your male character’s flaw, you can never go wrong with a sex addiction.

3.     Make your female character relatable, maybe even to the point of being pathetic. She has to begin the novel having absolutely no chance with a guy like Nathaniel, or whatever you named him. Maybe she’s a peasant, or an orphan, or a girl who has spent the last two years of her life with Netflix as her best friend. She can’t be gorgeous. What you’re aiming for is a character that your readers can replace in their minds with themselves, so that they can have hot hot sexy time with Alexander. So don’t worry, you don’t need to develop her more than a victimizing backstory and maybe some dark secrets that will leave her oh so vulnerable.

4.     Plot is a joke. Who needs it! Just sort of move the characters around. If you feel stuck in the story, change location! Just have your characters keep doing stuff in their new location. Who doesn’t want to read about attractive people doing menial tasks? I love 10 pages about shopping.

5.     Don’t present too many problems!  What you learned as “basic conflicts that carry a plot” should now be referred to as “bummertimes”. Don’t have bummertimes. If you have to introduce a conflict, solve it almost immediately. I am talking within a few pages.

6.     My next few points are going to be about sex, and this is probably the most important one: you don’t even have to include a lot of it! The book I read only had two sex scenes, and the first was over 200 pages in. So if you think that’s icky, just throw it in there a few times and move on with your life.

7.     If you don’t think it’s icky, you’re in luck. However, if you’re one of those writers that love writing about nipples and whatever, you’re back out of luck. Your readers don’t want nipples. You’re definitely going to be writing mostly about firm abdomens and muscular arms and big penises. Speaking of penises, that brings me to my next point.

8.     You can’t use the word “penis”. I don’t know why. It’s apparently an unattractive word. You can’t use “dick” either. Or “vagina”. Instead, you get to just make stuff up and pass them off as sexual organs. Here are some classy (and real) examples from the novel I read: for penis, we have “shaft”, “rod”, and “erection” (apparently that’s cool but penis isn’t hey I don’t make the rules). Basically think of anything long, hard, and mostly straight. “Stick” would probably work. If you throw a sexy adjective in there it will totally work. “Throbbing stick” will get all the ladies going. Now, vagina synonyms are more difficult in terms of something realistic, but luckily you can literally throw random words together. My favorite was “core of femininity”, but “opening” also worked. It’s your ballgame (pun entirely intended).

9.     You should already know this, but make sure his penis is big. This is a real excerpt: “His arousal became almost painful. He wished suddenly that he was not so large. She was such a little thing.”

10.  There has to be a happy ending. It has to be rainbows-and-butterflies happy. At the end of the day, that’s what your reader wants: utopia. Give them something nice, because sometimes real life sucks and romance novels let people escape from that.

 

In all seriousness, romance novelists make so much more money than I do, and I acknowledge that. I’m a poor college student writing a blog. The woman who wrote the novel I read is a New York Times Bestselling Author. Which one of us is doing it right? You decide.

The Misery of Harlequin Romance Novels

            You can find them blatantly flaunting themselves in the aisles of bookstores, Wall-Mart, Target, airports and any other place that sell books; people nearly kissing and the author’s name in some incredibly large print that attracts the eyes of sexually deprived mothers in their forties; as students of literature, we scoff at these no-conflict, smut filled books we consider to be fake fiction like scholars who believe the fantasy genre isn’t worth looking into. What if I told you these books comprise of almost 55% of book sales a year? Clearly, no matter how much we scoff at the idea of harlequin romances filled with Victorian prostitutes or renegade cowboys, they make more money than we could dream of.

            The harlequin romance novels appeal to the fantasy of many women and even men. E.L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey series is in every house wife’s has cupboard (secretly hidden in the case of the Southern Belles). However, these books make so much money in the literary world it’s hard for us to even comprehend bowing to the demands of the public to write something we find mundane. Yet against all our moral fibers, who couldn’t be tempted to write these types of novels for the hopes of making big money? Beware there are dangers in writing harlequin romance that Stephen King warned us about decades ago.

            If you haven’t read Stephen King’s Misery or if you haven’t seen the movie starring James Caan and Kathy Bates you need to before deciding to join the crowd of harlequin novelist. The dangers are greater than being exiled from your own country like Salaman Rushdie. Crazed stalkers and people obsessing over you can become a major factor.

Misery focuses on a harlequin writer who wreaks his car in a snowstorm to be saved by a woman. Upon waking, he finds himself in a house and his legs shattered and everything that can go wrong does. His rescuer is his number one fan; and happens to be obsessed to the point of craziness (Kathy Bates was nominated for an Oscar for her role of Annie, the crazed obsessed woman). I won’t spoil the ending or the gruesome tortures our poor harlequin writer is exposed to but let’s say any time I think of submitting myself to the covers of people almost kissing I imagine Kathy Bates standing over my bed saying “You dirty, dirty bird you.”

Before laughing, think of it. People go overboard trying to get something they crave like a heroin addict craves more heroin, a pot smoker craves food after a bowl. Sexual Fantasy is being played to the public and they are feeding it through these romance novels. It’s like tween’s obsessing over Justin Bieber or One Direction; it just doesn’t end well. Becoming a celebrity of this sort can only lead to some Kathy Bate looking stalker trying to kill you for ending a series. Like an occult, or Hotel California, once you start the world of harlequin romance novels you never leave until you die. So before caving to try and make some big bucks, make sure to watch or read Stephen King’s Misery. You will change your mind for good.

The First Rule About Fight Club

The first rule about fight club is you read the book before the movie

Every writer or avid reader has a moral code to always read a book before watching the movie version. Some take this as a sign of respect to the writer or most have become accustomed to the book always being better than the movie. However, what if the author of the book you so adore says he or she believe the movie version their book is based off of is better than what they wrote? Would you feel apprehensive about wasting your time on something that even the author said did not par up with the book?

I have just finished reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel was one of the best things I have ever read. After suffering through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I gave the benefit of the doubt but had to put it down good after there was no rising action for an entire 300 pages plus), I needed a little pick me up novel that by the time I finished it and put the book down, I would say, “This is one of the greatest things I have ever read.” Fight Club was that book.

The story is about an insomniac who joins many cancer groups in order to escape his white-collar job life. The helplessness, hitting rock bottom feeling he finds at cancer groups helps him find the sleep and fulfillment he cannot find anywhere else. But his life finds new meaning and fulfillment that he never thought he would find when he meets soap-making, brawler Tyler Durden. The two start a fight club together to feel the sensation of being alive in a fight, but things get out of hand as more men join the fight club and Tyler begins to implement his own plans and motives.

In my opinion, the novel was just amazing. I have never read any writing like Palahniuk’s before (the majority of my reading previously being dedicated to long, drawn out novels like George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series).

With Fight Club, you do not have to for the story to begin. Page one; guess what, you are hooked in a conflict. This sounds weird, but there are those novels out there you have to commit to in the beginning because they will not become interesting until page 50 or longer, but right off the bat I was hooked by the scene of the narrator having a gun in his mouth by the man who is his idol.

Also, the writing was absolutely phenomenal. I have never read any writing like this before. Palahniuk’s writing style contained sentences that were short and bold. The writing, although containing immensely shocking subject matter, was entertaining and breathtaking at the same time.

And the ending! The ending was the most brilliant, tragic ending with a sense of hope and destruction mixed together that has ever been written on a piece of paper.

All that praise for Palahniuk aside, I was extremely excited to watch the movie version once I heard Palahniuk enjoyed the movie version more than his novel. And while I will give credit to actors Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, as well as actress Helena Bonham Carter, for portraying the characters very well, the reader (and possibly English major) in me must protest the opinion that the movie bests the book.

 It is an unfair argument to have from avid cinema watchers who have to hear the pestering from “the readers” because in all reality books will always hold seniority over the movies they are made into.

Movies based off books are, of course, born from books. The director and screen writers can interrupt the books and make them into a creative, diverse version, but at the end of the day, movies based off books are not born out of originality. Even though the movies may end up being extraordinary for the eyes (like Hayao Miyazaki’s movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle based off of the book by Diana Wynne Jones), there is nothing like picturing the characters in your head from scratch when reading a book.

The movie version of Fight Club was well done due to acting and unique cinematography, but the ending that I fell in love with in Palahniuk’s book was cut from the movie. The movie had a lot of hope for the main character by the end, while the book had a twisted hope and destruction combo that left me depressed, worried, and hopeful. Of course parts from books are always cut from movies and it always enrages readers and in this case, I can completely see why and be enraged along with them. For me, as a reader and an aspiring writer, that ending made the book what it is to me. It made Palahniuk’s writing, story plot and character development influential to me as a reader and a writer. If I would have watched the movie without reading the book, I would have done a disservice to my bookshelf. I would have thought the movie was amazing and should not waste my time on the novel that it portrayed. When avid readers watch the movie version of books first they often say, “Well what’s the point of reading it when I just watched it? I’m just going to read what I already saw and won’t be surprised by what I read.” And this holds true for some novels that are turned into movies, but Fight Club showed me a new writing style and a new author to read.

Novels, the birth of the creativity from the author, give you an experience that no movie it is based off of can. Readers get to experience those characters with a face the reader creates (not the director when looking for actors and actresses) and create a respect for the author with their story-telling capabilities and writing style.

Not to bash movies based off books because we all love to see the movie versions, but after reading Fight Club and then seeing the movie version, I have become an advocate. Read the book first when it comes to a movie you think looks interesting, because there are experiences that a movie cannot make for you that a novel so strongly can. Yes, the movie won’t have the same effect on you when you read the novel first, but I don’t think there has been any instance when someone regretted reading an amazing novel before the movie.

Dealing With the Critique Process

Dealing With the Critique Process:

 

If you’ve ever: participated in a workshop, done a reading, ever been surprised by the response you received after showing your writing to someone you know well, said something you meant to be serious but everyone assumed thought it was a joke (or the other way around), found yourself listening to a workshop criticizing “the masturbation scene” when you meant that part to be about your dead dog, been told a particular part of your poem was exactly what someone needed to hear that day, or come back to something you’ve written that was well received and 6 months later and realized how strange it was… you know how personal literary criticism can be. It can make you feel like you’re flying through mountaintops, the most beautiful you’ve ever been. Or it can make you feel like you want to throw yourself and your notebooks into a burning chemical plant. Or at least make you want to change your interests….

 

Either way, there’s not usually a very significant middle ground. Very few people don’t feel vulnerable in these situations.  Throughout my own learning process, I’ve come across all extremities of criticism, and it’s taken me quite a long time to figure out how to consistently take criticism lightly and constructively. Here are a few things to remember:

 

1.     Make sure you take notice of the fact that usually no one is addressing you directly. In workshops, people naturally just refer to certain lines, excerpts, words, or ideas. Even if you’re writing about yourself… they’re not talking about you.

2.     There’s not a single writer that hasn’t felt self conscious when receiving criticism. But there are countless writers who have gotten over that feeling.

3.     There are a lot more people who have improved from criticism and gotten over that feeling than there are people who have quit. Everybody usually gets there!

4.     The fact that you care means that you’re at least a little passionate about it—don’t give up on something trivial.

5.     If someone laughs at something you’ve written when critiquing, laugh at it yourself. It usually is pretty funny and everything’s more fun if you’re having a good time anyway.

“Birds” by Brooke Dorn

 

“Birds”

Fiction

Brooke Dorn

I always wondered if birds felt free. What it would be like to be that free. Did they ever wonder if they were being a bird right? Were they following the right etiquette that was being a bird? I wondered if they realized they had the power to go anywhere they wanted with a few flaps of their wings. That if they up and left, no one would stop them. Nothing would hold them back. There was no reason for them not to go.

I wondered if they looked down at all of us on the ground and wondered why we weren’t up in the sky. Why we weren’t feeling the ocean breezes on our faces or warming our bodies under the sun. Did they wonder why were we bolted to the ground? Why were we never trying to fly? Why we were so left out?

I stare up at the grey sky from my spot on the beach. I’m alone. The sand nearly matches the sky in its light shade of grey, but not entirely. There are still the remnants of the once golden hue that usually covers the beach. Today is the day after a storm. Not a massive storm, but one with enough power to suck the color from the naturally blue sky. And from the grains of sand that shine a mixture of copper and bronze and gold when the sun hits it just right. And from the cerulean water that laps up onto the shore, leaving behind white foam that reminds me of clouds that seem to have never made it to the atmosphere. They just stayed down here instead. This is my favorite kind of day.

Because this is the day I come out to watch the birds. The sandpipers. The beach is empty except for me, the sand just outside our yard. People think it’s a waste of time to sit on the beach in the middle of November when there is no sun to tan your skin and there’s a chilled wind coming in off the Atlantic. I move my eyes from the blank sky down to my toes. They’re freshly painted. A light green I found in a box of my mother’s old things. This was her favorite kind of day too. Eleven years since my mother passed away. I was nine.

We spent so many afternoons on the beach after storms had passed that I’ve lost count. She’d scoop me up from playing with my dollhouse on dreary afternoons and hand me a knitted sweater to put on to block out the chill. She’d bring a dark blanket reserved especially for outings on the damp sand and a book, although she’d never read it. Maybe she went without me before I was born or if I was in school and she read then. She’d sit on the blanket, the unread pages at her side, and watch me run and chase the birds and get almost close enough to the water for it to touch my feet, and then scurry away with a bright smile on my face as if I’d just narrowly escaped.

I was seven when she got sick. Part of me wonders if sitting out in the moist sea air, shivering under a thin jacket, made it worse, but I don’t know for sure. Her oncologist said it was stage four when it was first detected. Ovarian cancer. I remember my father crying the day she came home from the doctor. They didn’t tell me what was going on: I was hiding on the stairs listening even though I wasn’t sure what they were really talking about. I’d never seen my father cry. Not even at my grandmother’s funeral. But he cried then. Blue eyes always look bluer after crying. My father’s eyes resembled sapphires for quite a long time.

But my mother never cried. She took the diagnosis in perfect stride. Like nothing was different, nothing was wrong. Not the day she found out, not after her first Chemo treatment, not even when her flaxen locks started to dull and fall out. I found hair all over the house. I always just threw it away, praying my father wouldn’t see. I cried sometimes, but tried not to let my mother see. I didn’t want her to feel bad about dying. I wanted her to remember me like I was when we’d watch the birds. When I’d run and run and run and tease the water with my presence and fall dramatically next to her onto the blanket, my chest heaving with every breath I took. I wanted her to look at her little girl and remember her with big blue eyes just like her father’s and with hair so gold it resembled the sand on a sunny day. I wanted her to remember me as vibrant and playful and so full of love that it hurt.

I blink to regain focus on my blurring green toes. I lean my head back to keep the gathering tears from spilling over the rims of my eyelids. She would have never wanted me to cry. She would have wanted me to sit on this blanket with her and color the sky and the beach and the sea with my laugh. Everyone always tells me I laugh like my mother. High and shrill when I get really tickled. And that I have her smile, too. I pull my knees up to my chest, trying to warm them with my chilly, slender fingers. Those are hers too.

“Here.” I turn to see my father. He holds a white porcelain traveler’s mug out for me to take. I wrap my hands around it and sip. Sweet, rich hot chocolate slides down my throat, sending warmth to all corners of my body. My father sits down to my right and stares out at the ocean. We’re both quiet for a few minutes, just listening to the soft rush of the water on the shore. We’ve never been close, but I guess things are different now that I’m older. I feel responsible for him now.

Never in my life had my father sat out on the beach on a day like today. He’d stay inside the heat of our house arguing through his cell phone or dealing with deadlines for work. He was always working towards a bigger promotion. My mom didn’t have a job besides caring for my father, the house, and me. That seemed like a much bigger job than whatever my dad probably did. She was the best cook imaginable. I guess she just practiced all day while I was in school and dad was at the office.

“You’re more beautiful than she ever could have imagined,” My father finally says. I feel my cheeks flush more so than they already are from the wind and record low temperatures. I glance at him, then gaze into my cup of cocoa. “Hard to believe it’s been eleven years.” His voice cracks, making me tear up. They had never expected her to live that much longer than two months, maybe three, after the diagnosis. They clearly didn’t know my mother. She wasn’t going anywhere for a while. And she certainly wasn’t going to spend the rest of her time in a hospital bed, drugged and dependent. She wanted to be home with her family. She wanted everything to continue as it always had. She wanted to make us lunch on Sunday afternoons no matter how much it exhausted her. Or help me with my math homework even though she was no good at math. Eleven years today.

My father pulls an envelope from his jacket pocket. He holds it out for me. It has my name on it. Addressed from Yale University. I take it and stare at it in my hand. I never left for college. I applied to many places, got into most of them, but I never accepted. I didn’t know how my father would survive without me. First her and now me? I couldn’t leave him. So I stayed at home and went to the local community college. I had wanted to go to Yale. It was where my parents met. But I didn’t apply there. I didn’t want them to reject me even if I wasn’t going to accept.

I look at my dad, waiting for an explanation. He shrugs and tells me to open it. I set down my hot chocolate, trying to steady it on the rigid sand. I slide my finger under the lip, praying I don’t give myself a paper cut. I remove the letter, astonished by what it says.

“I’ve been accepted.” I look towards my father. He’s smiling at me, the close-lipped smile he always does. I guess that’s why people tell me I have my mother’s smile. She always showed every tooth in her mouth when she smiled. My father doesn’t. “But I didn’t apply…” I say, my voice so low it’s almost a whisper.

My father doesn’t reply. He just sips his cup of cocoa and stares up at the sky. A couple of birds chase each other above us. I watch them, wondering which is the male and which is the female. They hover next to each other, taking my father and I in as well as the grey sky and the damp beach, and the dull sea. My eyes hurt as I stare up at them. There may not be sun visible through the cloud-covered sky, but there’s an unimaginable brightness surrounding these two birds.

I replace the letter in the envelope and fold it, shoving it into the back pocket of my jeans. I grab my cup of cocoa and scoot closer to my father, entwining my right arm with his left before nestling my hand in the pocket on my sweater. I rest my head on his shoulder, exhaling deeply. I hear him do the same. We don’t speak. I feel him kiss the top of my blonde hair, my hair like my mother’s.

I watch the bird that I am assuming is the female remain ever so close to the male. It’s like he’s trying to push her away, on. But she doesn’t move. She has the freedom to go. To leave the beach, leave the lifeless atmosphere blanketing our town, but she doesn’t. She stays and does all the things a good bird should do if it’s being a bird right. And then she returns to their nest, hidden amongst the rocks down the beach. And they stay on this cool, muted beach because it’s home.