All posts by ani0avakian

O Love

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My latest art project was a gift for someone very special. Love was once a four letter word to me: something I said to justify staying in a situation I should not have been in.  My entire life, I’ve had no idea
what it means to have a true partner. I’ve never been in a relationship where both sides have been on an equal plane –IMG_0032 mentally, emotionally, intellectually…and then I met someone, in  the most random way, at the most random time, and he revived the hopeless romantic in me that I thought had died.

I was done; I’d given up on the idea of ever making a real connection with anyone. I’d convinced myself that everyone in the world was shallow and stupid, and I was just different – an alien – someone who saw the world differently from everyone else. I’d convinced myself that I would never be able to find someone who saw the world the same way that I did, and that I was better off alone.  But I wanted so badly for someone to prove me wrong. I guess that should’ve been the first sign that my inner little hopeless romantic hadn’t died. My inner little cynic, however, had very little hope of ever being proven wrong.

But this one wonderful, kind, smart, funny, loving, handsome, amazing man managed to do it. “You’re not an alien baby,” he told me once, “you’re beautiful, and you’re brilliant, and I’m lucky to have you.”

So, I guess the lesson here is, I legitimately think that there’s someone out there for everyone: someone who thinks like you, is interested in the same things as you are, someone you can spend hours with and never have to feel like any action or conversation is forced; someone who can make your insides turn to mush with one look. That’s how a relationship should always feel when it’s right. Thank you, baby, for showing me what real love looks like. <3

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Espresso Yourself

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IMG_0039

I was feeling an interesting combination of whimsical, artistic, and perfectly caffeinated the other night, and this was the result.  One of the things that’s really suffered in the last few years from my busy life and constant changes is my art. I used to make it a point to work on a project at least three or four time a week, even if it was a simple, silly one like this; it was a perfect way to unwind and de-stress after a long day. I’ve since managed to drop the ball on too many things that have defined me all my life, but I made a commitment to myself nearly a year ago to start taking steps toward being myself again. Growing up is a funny thing – you start trying to figure out who you are, go through phases, change how you act, speak, and dress, recycle interests and hobbies, and, if you’re lucky, you realize that you were the absolute perfect version of yourself to begin with, and all the makeup was completely unnecessary. So that’s where I’ve been: taking off the makeup and trying to find the version of myself that I started with, the version that I liked best; trying to go back to doing all the things that used to make best version me happy, like drawing, painting, writing, running, etc. I’m happy to say that I’m making excellent progress.

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O Life

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I’m not going to call myself a writer, or a poet, or artist or anything to that extent. I’m just one small, insignificant person, and I want to tell stories and change the world. I’ve always loved stories. Even as a child, they had a profound effect on me. I used to make my poor grandmother sit with me and tell me every story she knew, untilcropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-10387617_575763275857307_3752086057097923723_n-1.png her mouth was dry and she’d fall asleep; then I’d wake her up to hear more. When I grew tired of hearing the same tales, I asked her to make up new ones. I proved to be better at this than she, so I became the storyteller and she the audience. I told stories to anyone who would listen. A neighbor of ours expressed once or twice that she believed I would grow up to be a writer. This meant very little to me at the time. I had decided that I was going to be a doctor when I grew up, so I could cure my grandfather of his diabetes.

At seven years old, I moved with my family from our home in Armenia to Pasadena, California. My father had obtained a ph.D. in physics in Soviet Armenia. Until  1990, he and my mother lived a relatively comfortable life. Immediately following my birth, however, the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia, who had been so dependent on Russia for all of its resources, tumbled into a decade of crime and poverty. Looting, killing, and robbery became an everyday reality. Water and power were turned on for only an hour per day, and gas lines didn’t work at all, leaving those who were unable to find firewood to freeze in the unforgiving Northern European-like winters. Food was non-existent, even to those who had money. I remember the potatoes; we ate potatoes three times a day – fried potatoes for breakfast, mashed potatoes for lunch, and potatoes roasted in our wood-burning stove for dinner. The roasted potatoes were a heavy favorite of both my brother’s and mine.

Dad came to the States first. His mother and brother were already living in Pasadena, and he joined them, hoping to earn a living and support his family from a world away. I didn’t see him for three years, but I never forgot him, and he was never absent. We always spoke on the phone, and he made sure we were never lacking in anything, from toys to clothes to Snickers bars and, of course, money. In those three years, my grandparents, my mother’s parents, became my life. I believe this was the first instance in my life where my creativity was fully nurtured; a few more would follow. I was my grandparents’ oldest grandchild and the light of their lives. As such, no rule ever applied to me. Their home was mine to do with as I pleased, so naturally I spent a great deal more time there than I did with my mother. Drawing, fashion, and, of course, storytelling, became my regular pass-times here. With no restrictions, a creative spirit blossoms; I was on loose reigns and at the center of both of my grandparents’ lives and attentions. And I blossomed.

Shortly before my eighth birthday, my mother, brother, and I moved to Pasadena to join my father. Though thrilled to be reunited with him, the adjustment to a new life was a difficult one for me. At seven years and ten months old, I started the third grade. I could speak, read, write, and understand English, but I hesitated to interact with my classmates. I felt like an outsider, like there was this profound struggle happening within me that my eight year-old mind could barely comprehend, and nobody noticed or seemed to care. That’s when I discovered books.

The first book I truly gave my heart to was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Oddly enough, my school library didn’t have any of the other volumes of the series, and I had no idea there were more. Harry Potter wasn’t quite the cultural phenomenon in 1998 as it is now. After finishing the third installment, I learned that it had two predecessors and asked my parents to take me to the public library so I could find them. I devoured them both, then read the third again. The fourth hadn’t come out yet, so I re-read the first three until I had memorized each. The story that would define an entire generation had taken root in me. I couldn’t imagine, at the time, that Harry Potter would become what it did, but the second I picked up Prisoner of Azkaban, it became the thing I wanted more than anything. Harry Potter embodied the world of wonder, adventure, and fantasy that I so fervently longed for when I fell in love with stories. I began to read more, anything from Animorphs and Goosebums, to Jane Eyre, to Lord of the Flies. I inhaled books as if they were the very breath my life depended on. And in a way, they were. I had become, and would remain until around thirteen years-old, a very introverted child. I didn’t fit into the physical world around me, so I found a home within the stories.

Early into junior high school, a few of my language teachers began to encourage my creative writing. This was the second point in my life where my creativity was deeply nurtured. My sixth and seventh grade English teacher in particular was quite an extraordinary woman. In place of textbooks, speech excerpts, and dull texts, she had us read actual books, some even far above our grade level. She pushed us to read and analyze novels like Catch 22 and 1984, to think about them critically and, what deeply affected me personally, to allow them to teach us to think about the world critically. I began to notice occurrences around me that had never directly caught my attention before – cruelty, injustice, greed, suffering – I wanted to put a stop to it all, to heal broken people and fix the world, but I didn’t know how. I was just a small, insignificant little girl; all I had were stories and big dreams. This teacher also assigned us a creative writing project each semester. My writing began to reflect my newly-developing world views, and she commended me for it. She told me I had a talent; she began submitting my stories to junior writing competitions. I even won a few.

A few years later, these talents became apparent to a handful of my high school teachers. Rather than force me to fit the “normal” mold that social expectations had carefully constructed for me, they encouraged me to be more. I was old enough, at this point, to understand that they were nurturing both my creativity and my dreams of changing the world; furthermore, they were teaching me how to use my creativity to accomplish my dream. So I listened; for four years, I absorbed the knowledge and wisdom they imparted unto me like a sponge; I read books, studied history, politics, art, music, philosophy…and they taught me how to use my studies to advance my worldview. A few days before my high school graduation, and AP English teacher told me I had the potential for greatness, and  the only thing standing in my way was my fear of the power of my own mind. I had no idea what she meant by this, but I would learn soon enough.

At seventeen years and ten months old, I started my freshman year at the University of California, Irvine as an English major. Within a year, I had pieced together my career path. Upon completing my undergraduate studies, I would go on to get an MFA in creative writing, then a ph.D. in literature. I would teach and publish books; I would inspire students the way that my teachers had inspired me throughout my life, and I would inspire the rest of the world with my stories. It all seemed quite simple to me then; until that point, I had been a child, a sheltered, somewhat spoiled child. The adults in my life had always trusted me, protected me, and continuously told me I was special. I had spent lunch breaks and gym classes, football games and school dances surrounded by friends. Despite having to move and adjust to a new country, my life had been a relatively easy one. And suddenly, I found myself growing up and having to step away from my comfort zone, from the places and people who were safe and familiar to me, and it terrified me. I was living on my own, shopping for groceries, doing laundry, choosing my own classes… Nobody told me I was special anymore; I sat in four lecture halls a day with a hundred other people who had been told they were special. I found myself drifting apart from my very large group of friends. I got my first job. I got a tattoo, because it somehow made me feel like I was in control of something. And I fell in love for the very first time. I would like to say that, had I known that that last first would shape and consume my life for five years the way that it did, I would have fallen out of love immediately, but I’m not entirely sure that I had any control over that one either.

I fell in love with a man who had not made very much of his life. I was nineteen, he almost thirty. The more time I spent with him, the more I became afraid of outshining him. I feared the power of my own mind, so I stopped shining and let my dreams wilt away. February came and passed two years year later, and I missed my graduate school application deadlines. And just like that, my meticulously-constructed house of cards came tumbling down. I graduated that June, moved in with the man who had knocked it over, and we got engaged; I took control of having to grow up. Grown ups worked and got engaged; they didn’t spend years in school chasing fantastic dreams of changing the world. For three years, I played grown-up. I woke up, sat in traffic, went to work, came home, cooked dinner, did the dishes, vacuumed, went to sleep, woke up in the morning, and did it all over again. I stopped reading, writing, drawing, painting, playing my guitar – I would say I didn’t have the time, but I simply for the life of me could not find the inspiration. I was a child; I should’ve been backpacking through Europe in the summers and studying and learning the rest of the year. Instead, I was wasting my life supporting a man ten years older than I. A professional would have likely diagnosed me with depression in those years.

I spent three years cutting out pieces of myself, slowly, in small amounts. I barely noticed in the beginning, but as the years went by and more and more pieces were cut off, the feeling that something was missing grew stronger, until it became so unbearable that the need for significant life changes became undeniable. It’s easy to make a mistake. It’s even easier, once you’re falling, to keep falling. Changing direction is excruciatingly difficult; it takes courage, strength, determination, and an inhuman level of willpower. I know this first hand; I’ve somehow managed to win the battle.

I can give you all the details and tell you all the changes I made, but the only thing worth knowing is this: no person or thing is worth sacrificing your dreams, and if the are, they will never allow you to make that kind of sacrifice. People who give up on their dreams are unhappy and unfulfilled. I almost let mine die; I allowed them to wilt away into almost nothing, but it seems that I started watering them again just in time. And now I have my stories again, and my dreams, the two things that I love more than anything in this world, and I will never again take them for granted. So many people gave me so much, and all they asked in return was that I reach my true potential. I owe it to them to try. I owe it to myself. I worked so hard for so long toward an impossible dream, and gave up just as it was coming into view. I’ve now been blessed with a second chance, and I don’t expect there will be a third. I don’t want fame, or money, though I wouldn’t necessarily turn down either. But all the fame and money wouldn’t compare to realizing the ultimate goal: leaving my mark on the world, making an impact. I want someone who is lonely and a bit different, who doesn’t quite fit in, to be able to find solace and a sense of belonging within my stories. If I can accomplish that, I will consider myself successful. There is a passage within the novel Choke by author Chuck Palahnuik which reads,

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think, the way they see themselves, the way they see the world, you can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”

I want to create that lasting thing, to be remembered long after I’m gone.

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Dear Mother

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Dear Mother,

I am the product of a great land,

Of one of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world,

Older than even the Romans.

The land of cities which once equaled, if not surpassed,

The grandeur of Athens,

Sparta,

Rome,

Cairo,

And Alexandria.

I am the product of a land which no longer exists.

I am the product of a rich culture,

With a beautiful language

Whose alphabet contained thirty-six letters by the sixth century.

A history filled to the brim with great heroes, and epic battles.

The descendent of the first people to accept Christianity.

I am the product of a culture which is slowly becoming extinct.

They stole it, they stole everything.

They stole the homes of my ancestors,

The childhoods of my great-grandparents.

They forced them to live in orphanages.

They stole my identity,

My culture,

My language.

I now identify with a different land,

I am a part of its culture,

I speak its language.

We all lost our identity, the children of my generation.

We never had the chance to intimately know our culture,

Our language,

Our Mother.

We were taken from Her long before we were born,

We were orphaned and given for adoption before we ever took a breath.

We were raise by Mothers who were not our own,

While the One who gave birth to us was kidnapped by a foreign foe,

And soaked to the bone with the blood of Her own children.

One and a half million children.

They spilled their blood right one Her body,

And they made sure that She never again saw the children who remained.

They made sure that the children who survived the bloodbath,

The Genocide,

Were raised by Mothers who were not our own.

And they never apologized for it, never even acknowledged it,

The liars, thieves, and murders who have held my Mother hostage for ninety-five years.

Now, because of them, our history is becoming void,

Because it once told stories of great heroes who fought epic battles,

In Ani,

In Van,

Grand cities which now lie in ruins on land which we can no longer call our own.

Devout Christians can barely recall Her Bible stories.

Remember Noah’s Ark?

Remember where it landed?

It was Mount Ararat, which holds all the blood and faith of the people from whom it was stolen.

And Armenia’s rich culture,

Her beautiful language,

Are slowly becoming extinct,

Because Her children were adopted by other cultures,

Learned new languages.

America has adopted me, and She has been good to me.

But I now call myself an American without a second thought.

I speak Her language more frequently and fluently than I speak my Maternal one.

I can’t help it.

I am the child of a Mother I have never laid eyes upon.

We all are.

We are Armenia’s deprived children,

Robbed from a cradle we never had the chance to lie in.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot be faithful to our Mother.

We have new ones now,

And we were never given much say in the matter.

We are the impoverished generation,

Armenia’s lost children.

But the fact that I am writing this must count for something…

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Chapter 2

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I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the sound of a very heavy grown man’s hand land on a pretty young girl’s face, but I can tell you with absolute conviction that it’s the most disgusting sound in the world.

“Where are the files?!” Scott had slapped the girl again.

Watching him brutalize her had made me want to kill him. Over and over again, for a week and a half, I had fantasized about wrapping my hands around this throat and choking the life out of him; of beating his skull with my bare hands until it was in pieces. How did someone become that angry and heartless? Disgusting, miserable excuse for a human being. One day, I’d kill him. That day, I’d had a part to play. That poor, sweet little girl had needed me to play it. So I’d kept my mouth shut, kept my hands to myself, and let Scott beat her.

Except for that night of course. For as long as I live, the image of that night will be at the forefront of my mind. It had been her first night here. I’d snuck to her cell late at night, long after I’d thought everyone had gone to sleep. I’d wanted to offer her a few comforting words, let her know everything would be ok, bring her some decent food and the teddy bear she’d dropped when we had dragged her out of her home.

The sight that had greeted me when I’d stopped in front of her cell had made me want to vomit.

Scott had been no small man – seven feet tall, and I would guess somewhere around three hundred pounds. He’d been built like a wrestler; a complete brute inside and out. We’d called him the garbage man of the squad. Whatever the rest of us couldn’t stomach, Scott had taken care of without blinking an eye.

I’d heard her muffled sobs before I had approached her cell. This hadn’t alarmed me much. Of course the girl would be scared and crying. I’d expected that. What I hadn’t expected was to be greeted by Scott’s bare ass, thrusting back and forth while a tiny, sixteen year-old girl sobbed underneath him.

I’d lost it.

In an instant, I’d been on him, dragging him off of the kid. My fists had taken on a mind of their own then, flying, one after the other, relentlessly into the pig’s face. By the time he’d gained his composure and flung me off of him, his nose had been broken, one eye had barely been visible beneath a bloody mess, and he’d lost a few teeth.

Still, he’d flung me off of him like an ordinary man would fling a fly. The bastard.

“What the fuck Frank?!” he’d exclaimed.

But my gaze had landed on the small figured huddled in the corner of the dirty cell, knees pulled up to her chest, and arms wrapped tightly around them, as if she’d been afraid that she’d fall apart if she let go. Her face had been dirty; there’d been a decent-sized cut underneath her right eye. That’ll turn into a nasty bruise, I had thought to myself.

I’d thought, even then, that she was a pretty girl. Her eyes were a deep, warm, chocolate brown, huge compared to her tiny face, and framed by thick, long eyelashes that gave her face an ethereal, almost angelic look.

Her hair was a long mass of curly blonde locks; even tangled and matted with blood, it had been gorgeous.

She was small, hardly more than five feet tall, with a slight, slender, but still somewhat shapely frame. She’d been a pretty girl, even then.

Of course I’d had no idea, as I’d rushed to her side to wrap her in a blanket and tend to her wounds, that that pretty girl would grow up to be the most beautiful woman who has ever graced my presence; that those big, warm eyes would one day look at me with so much love and devotion that they would pierce my very soul. No, I hadn’t known that one day I’d get to watch those eyes widen and close shut when my fingers tangled into that gorgeous mass of blonde curls.

How could I? She’d been just a kid then, and I wasn’t Scott. That night, all I could do was wrap my arms around her and help her hold herself together.

“What the FUCK Frank?!” Scott had repeated, louder this time.

“Get out of here Scott,” I’d breathed, as calmly as I could. I’d still had my arms around the girl, and I hadn’t wanted to frighten her even more by raising my voice. She had relaxed considerably in my arms.

I’d felt him lurking behind me, tense, trying to figure out if hitting me would be worth the court martial for insubordination. I’d decided to answer the question for him.

“O’dell. Your commanding officer just gave you an order.”

He’d turned and stomped off in an angry huff.

This had released whatever tension that had been left in the girl, and she’d slumped against me, unable to hold herself up any longer. I hadn’t lifted her. One day, she’d be strong enough to pick herself up. She’d have to be. Far worse things had been in store for her than anything Scott could have done. So I’d told her to get up.

“I have to get you to a medic princess, get you checked out. I need you to stand up. Can you do that?”

She’d looked up at me when I’d said “princess.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” she’d whispered, as if she hadn’t trusted her own voice.

This one, I had expected.

“I swear to you, one day soon enough, I’ll tell you everything. I’ll get you out of here, and I’ll explain to you exactly what’s been happening.” I’d taken her small face between my hands, looked deep into her beautiful, ethereal eyes. She’d seemed like so much more than a child then. She hadn’t flinched once under my gaze. “But for another couple of weeks, at least,” I had continued, “you’re going to have to stay here, and you’re going to have to deal with Scott.” She’d flinched then, though she had quickly attempted to mask it with a cough.

Brave, strong girl. Even then, there’d been hope for you.

“They’re going to ask you some questions Hailey. Questions you’re not going to know the answers to. And you’re going to keep telling them that, but they’re not going to believe you. They’re going to beat you, and they’re going to torture you. But I’m going to make sure that what happened tonight never happens again, ok? It shouldn’t have even happened the first time. I’m so, so, very sorry for that.”

“Why? It’s not like you’re the one who did it.” Her eyes still fully squared with mine, her tone defiant.

One corner of my mouth had twitched upward. Of course, I hadn’t known then that her strong, stubborn, willful defiance in the face of any adversity would one day be the thing I would love most about her; that the fire I’d seen blazing in her eyes that night could be directed at me, in a whole other setting, an entirely different context, as she wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled my face down to meet hers. All I’d known that night was that Hailey Morgan was going to be ok. And I’d been right.

“Can you stand?” I’d asked her. She had nodded, and had slowly, gingerly pulled herself to her feet. Her legs had been shaking violently, arms had shot out to steady herself; but she’d been determined to stand on her own, so she had succeeded. So like the woman I would grow to love – when she was determined to do something, come hell or high water, she was going to do it. 

The medic had been a nervous, nerdy kid, probably around my age; it had been clear from the second we’d walked in that he hadn’t seen too many girls in his lifetime. His knowledge of all things Lord of the Rings, and the very genuine care and concern he had shown her had seemed to put the girl at ease though, and for that I’d been grateful.

He’d given her a clean bill of health and had advised her to “get a lot of rest.” The latter hadn’t been very likely, of course, but I remember how grateful and relieved I’d felt at hearing that no permanent damage had been done to this pretty, strong, stubborn young lady.

After I’d locked her in her cell and given her a pager that would allow her to alert me in case Scott decided to pay her another visit, I had made my way back to the bunker, and tip-toed silently out of the back entrance. Jack had been waiting for me outside, growing impatient, as I had expected.

“What the fuck took you so long?” he’d huffed as soon as I’d emerged from the door.

“Something came up,” I had answered, “we have to get that girl out of here, Jack. Soon.”

“Jesus Christ Frank, are you seriously still on this? We have to get ourselves out of here, ok? It’s only a matter of time before they connect the dots and link us to Chuck. When that happens, we have to be far, far away from here. And without his precious little girl.”

“And what do you think is going to happen to his precious little girl if we disappear and leave here behind?!” I had exclaimed, then had quickly lowered my voice. Jack and I having a secret meeting behind an emergency naval bunker just outside of Los Angeles would have been rather suspicious, and the last thing we had wanted then was to elicit suspicion.

“That sick fucking bastard Scott raped her tonight, Jack,” I had whispered. “I mean I walked in and stopped it, but he’d gotten pretty far by that point. What’ll happen to her if I’m not there to stop him? How many more will be lining up? We can’t just leave her.”

Jack had sighed a loud, frustrated sigh. “Frankie, I know Chuck was like a dad to you. I get why you’re all mother hen now over his daughter. I get it. But we’re no good to her dead. Look,” he’d continued – every time Jack ever said look, you automatically knew that he was about to say something even he knew was fucked up – “life’s not going to be good for her here. They’ll beat her, starve her, rape her, and God knows what else. Eventually, they’ll figure out that she don’t know jack shit. Then they’ll give her to some nice kidless family, and she’ll go back to as normal a life as she was ever going to have in this world. We can’t give this girl anything Frankie. It’s only a matter of time before we become the two most wanted men in this country. What are we supposed to do for her?”

“When they figure out that ‘she don’t know jack shit,” I’d hissed through gritted teeth, “they’ll kill her, and leave her body to dissolve in a tub full of lime in a basement somewhere in South America, like I’m sure her dad’s is doing at this very moment. And I won’t let that happen. You want to leave? Go for it. I’m not leaving here without that girl.”

“You know I’m not going to leave without you. I wouldn’t last two fucking days.” Good old Jack. He’d always been a self-aware man, if nothing else. All these years later, though, I can’t help but wonder if he’d been right then.

Maybe.

God damn it all.

“We’ve got two weeks,” I’d told him then, “two weeks tops, to plan an escape. With the girl,” I’d added for good measure.

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Chapter 1

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I’m not quite sure when it became socially acceptable for a grown man to spend his entire day playing video games, but that was probably around the same time that evolution failed us; or we failed evolution, I don’t know. If you think about it, that moment – was it a moment, or did everything just somehow go wrong over time? I’m not too sure about that one either. But anyway, whatever it was, it sealed our fate as the saddest, most useless generation in history. Then came the Kardshians, the Real Housewives, and Bachelors, and Bachelorettes, and Teen Moms; the Twilights and the Christian Greys; it was the perfect plan, beautifully designed and executed without flaw: mindless entertainment to turn us all into mindless zombies. The idea of a zombie apocalypse became such a major cultural phenomenon in those years, and the greatest irony was that we were already living it.

I always noticed. Even at the tender age of sixteen, I was painfully aware that all was not right with the world, that nothing was really right with the world.

I didn’t have many friends. The kids my age were all sold on the Kardashians; they obsessed over Kylie’s new hair and what Kim wore to the VMA’s last night. They didn’t care that we were destroying the Middle East, spying on our own people, or persecuting the only man who had the courage to shed light on the fact. They had no idea what was even happening.

I saw, and they didn’t, so they were frustrating and I was weird, and we kept our mutual distance. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I heard the whispers: “she’s such a pretty girl. It’s a shame that she’s so strange.”

Yep.

I was the strange, pretty girl.

People told me I was pretty all the time. It wasn’t just Daddy either. His friends, random people on the bus, even some of the boys at school – I heard it all the time, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. I didn’t have self-esteem issues or anything. I didn’t mind what I saw when I looked in the mirror. It just never really mattered. Being pretty wasn’t going to cure cancer, or feed the hungry, or save the world.

Priorities.

You ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and the answers are generally the same: ballerina, singer, actress, model, maybe the occasional doctor or lawyer if her parents have done their jobs right. None of that was ever enough for me.  I wanted to be Supergirl, Batgirl, the first woman president, a UN ambassador. I wanted to be somebody who could do something important. It all seemed so glorious to me then, so simple. As if a few words spoken by a naive little girl were going to make any  sort of difference in any matter. As if it would take anything less than a bloody, violent revolution to scrape out the century of rot and decay that had shaped the fate of our nation.

But how could I possibly know, at sixteen, that my life would become what it did?

I was a child. I would have never admitted that then. I fancied myself fully-grown and wise beyond my years. In some ways I guess I was; in most, I was a sheltered, naive child.

I lost my mother to cancer right before my third birthday. According to daddy and all the photos and videos, she was beautiful, smart, and kind.

I can’t tell you I miss her. How can you miss something you’ve never had? Many, many times in my life I’ve found myself wishing I had a mother, but I’ve never missed her.

For thirteen years, it was just daddy and me in a big old house in the Hollywood Hills. I never wanted for anything. Daddy made sure I had the best of everything, from clothes, to food, to gadgets, and, of course, school. School was our priority. The only thing he ever asked of me was to excel; to be the best at everything I tried.

And I did.

Going into the eleventh grade, I was number one in my class, captain of my track and soccer teams, and first chair violin in my school’s orchestra. Daddy bought me a Mustang for my sixteenth birthday.

I never took any of this for granted. Daddy made sure of that too. We were very fortunate, he always stressed that. So lucky to have what we had.

But we had to work for it. That was the other thing he was always preaching. No one ever got anywhere without hard work. He never watched much TV, so I assumed he didn’t know about the Kardashians. But I kept my mouth shut and worked hard.

I was going to go to Harvard. Get a law degree. Become an ambassador. Change the world. How was I supposed to know, how could I have possibly guessed what fate had in store for me?

I had no idea what Daddy did for a living. We had money. We always had money. I knew he worked for the government to some extent, that’s all. He never told me the details, and I never really asked. I always just figured that if it had been important, if I’d needed to know, he would’ve told me.

The night the sky turned black and the world exploded, I wished he’d told me. That night I understood, perhaps for the first time in my life, that my father was more than just my father; that he’d had a whole other life outside of the bubble he had built for the two of us, just the two of us. There’d been this other world outside of our home where he’d been this other thing to a bunch of other people.

That realization broke my little sixteen year-old heart. I’d always told him everything; there was no detail of my life that he hadn’t known about. And all along he’d kept this huge, important secret from me, then left me alone to solve the mystery and pick up the pieces. Thanks dad.

That night, we’d been watching the Clippers game. I’d been working on my AP Chemistry homework, half-assing it considerably, because I had been giving a rather long speech about why Blake Griffin was the best player in the NBA. I’d known Daddy hadn’t really been listening. If he had, he would have definitely given me a stern lecture about not paying attention to my homework.

He’d been home when I had gotten home from school that day. I’d just figured he’d been feeling sick, or had a headache or something. I hadn’t asked him about it. Daddy hated showing any weakness, so I never let on that I noticed he wasn’t feeling well. I’d just gone about my afternoon as usual; I had finished most of my homework, gone for a run, then a swim, then we’d had dinner and sat down to watch the game.

As it had gotten darker, he’d started looking at the door. Every few minutes or so, he’d turn away from the TV to look at the front door. I’d tried to keep my attention focused on the game and my homework, but his actions had started making me rather nervous.

Something had happened in the game; the announcers had been excited. The replay had shown Blake Griffin dunking over the entire Spurs team. I’d grown excited. But Daddy had been up and pacing from the big bay window that overlooked our entire front yard to the front door, then back to the window, then the door.

Just as I’d worked up the courage to ask him what was wrong, the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life had erupted; I could not for the life of me have told you where it had come from. I’d thought, initially, that it had been from me, because my very bones had shook within my body. It had felt like every nerve inside of me was vibrating. Then I’d seen it, behind the drapes – the sky had caught fire.

Everything had happened so fast, yet I’d felt like I’d been watching a slow motion movie. I had heard people speak of out-of-body experiences; I’m pretty sure I had one that night. I’d felt like I had stepped out of myself and was watching the life I had so carefully constructed, splinter by splinter, go up in flames. Literally.

The sweet, naive sixteen year-old girl in front of me had been shaking. The noise had been so loud, she’d felt as though she would explode. She had fallen to the floor and had frantically been looking around for her father. Her arms had been wrapped around herself, as if she’d been trying to hold herself together, afraid that if she let go or loosened her grip even a little, she would fall apart.

“Hailey!” I’d heard Daddy call, “go to your room, lock the door, and get under your bed! Don’t come out until I tell you to! Go, now!”

I’d moved. Daddy had given an order. That had trumped my fear. Somehow, to this day I don’t know how, but somehow I had made it to my room. I’d locked the door and gotten under my bed. Like a good little girl, I’d done what my daddy had told me to do. And the sheer comedy of it all? He’d told me to not come out until he said so. He’d known he was never going to say so, never going to tell me anything ever again. Even then, even when shit had fully hit the fan, he couldn’t be honest with me.

I don’t know when they’d taken him. The explosions had persisted into the night and well into the next morning. It had been so loud, I hadn’t even been able to hear the sound of my own teeth chattering. To say that I’d been terrified would be a gross understatement. No words have ever been invented in any language to describe how I’d felt that night. I’d wanted my daddy. More than once, I had contemplated leaving my room to go find him. Surely we should be together. But Daddy had said to stay under my bed, so I’d stayed under my bed, arms around myself, holding myself together.

Sometime into the next morning, the noise had subsided. Still, the only thing I’d been able to hear had been the very loud ringing in my ears.

But where was Daddy? I’d contemplated, once again, leaving the solace of my room to go find him. But he’d said to stay. Stay until he told me to come out. What if I left and he got mad? But what if he was hurt and he needed me?

In the single greatest act of rebellion of my sixteen years, I’d crawled out from under my bed. I had grabbed my teddy bear, Dr. Ted, for moral support on my way under there last night, and I’d kept him close to me as I had turned the knob on my bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway.

Everything had looked the same. How was that even possible? It had felt like the world was ending last night, so how was the house still standing?

“Daddy,” I’d called out softly, tiptoeing toward the living room. “Daddy,” a little louder.

Suddenly, I’d been surrounded. Men with guns, in army uniforms. Maybe they’d come to take Daddy and me somewhere safe. Daddy did work for the government. But they’d been pointing their guns at me and that had made me very nervous.

“Are you Hailey Morgan?” one of them had asked.

I’d opened my mouth to answer him, but no sound had come out. My throat had been swollen shut – out of fear, from all the noise last night, I wasn’t sure.

One of them had grabbed my ponytail, yanked hard, and slammed me against the wall. It was definitely fear.

“Answer the fucking question,” he’d growled into my ear.

He had still been pulling my hair and it had felt like torture on my already-hurting head.

“Where’s my daddy?” I’d managed to cry out.

“Is Charles Morgan your daddy?” one of them had asked.

He’d walked up to the guy that had me pressed up against the wall.

“Scott, let her go.”

Scott had pulled my hair harder. I’d yelped.

“Jesus Christ Scott, she’s just a kid. Let her go.” There had been authority in his voice. Maybe he’s their leader, I’d thought. Scott had let go of my ponytail and stepped away from me.

The leader had knelt down next to me. He’d been quite tall. Kneeling, he had been at eye level with me. “Is Charles Morgan your daddy?” He’d asked again.

I’d nodded. He had handed Dr. Ted to me. I hadn’t realized I’d dropped him.

He’d sighed, as if about to do something he hadn’t wanted to do.

“Take her,” he’d said.

Scott had pressed a wet cloth to my mouth and nose, and I’d started to feel dizzy.

The last thing I remember is someone pulling a hood over my head. Then I’d blacked out.

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Intro

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The Sounds of Silence

Simon & Garfunkel

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed
By the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
And the words that it was forming

And the sign said
“The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence


Methadone

Rise Against

Love’s like a needle full of methadone
Potent but not real, left you wanting more

Lipstick track marks bleeding wet
Like Montagues and Capulets
For us child the stars refuse to shine
Oh why for us, child, do the stars refuse to shine?

Somewhere strung out on the lam
We wound up back here again
Like unstable chemicals combining only to explode

What will it take for you to notice?
I am a heart on fire, and all the world’s a fuse so don’t get close
Trouble and the worth
Am I better off on my own?

Contaminated, quarantined, then left alone
A shipment refused, address unknown
Damaged goods they soon forget
The choking dust that we got left
For us all, the stars refuse to shine

Tap the vein and light the match
We burn like stars before the crash
But for you there’s still a chance
Just let go

What will it take for you to notice?
I am a heart on fire, and all the world’s a fuse so don’t get close
Trouble and the worth
I’m better off on my own
On my own

Now there’s nowhere to run
And yeah there’s nowhere to hide
There’s nothing under the sun
We haven’t already tried

What will it take for you to notice?
I am a hand grenade, pin already pulled so don’t let go
As we chase the sun, my shadow slows us down
And without me along, you’re better off and I know
You’re better off and I know
And I know

 

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