There’s an insatiable hunger that food can never dull. It lives in the deepest crevice of your heart, and contorts your dreams till you’re sick. Feed it too much and the hunger spreads. Feed it too little and it’ll eat its way out. Feed it nothing – now that’s the trick.
Like a dog whose attention spans the world all at once, let the sky’s breath ruffle your hair. Stand under the sun till you ignite. Hold your mother’s hand.
Ignore the growl in your core till it turns into rhythm, a silk beat to walk in time to as you spread yourself thinner and thinner into dust because when you cease being wants, craves, and burns,
He held me on the sidewalk while bodies passed, dodging us like we were delicate birds in the middle of the road.
I stained his jacket like the rain looming above our heads threatened to stain the city.
We had been here before. Me grieving a loss of something I’d never had. Him towering over me like a building I could lock myself inside.
I used to think he waded in shallow waters while I sunk into the deep. I pictured his long tranquil body at the surface, a halo of sun emanating over the sea. I couldn’t reach it.
In the car I mourned the loss of nothing and felt myself sink. He held my hand just in time to keep me afloat. We locked eyes and fingers, igniting a forcefield to keep the world out.
Driving through the clutter, we escaped the muck that pressed onto our skin – mine always stickier than his it seemed.
When we were free I kissed him so he could feel the light he had left inside me.
It was then I knew we’d find our way together
through the rain,
and up towards the sun.
If only I could puke me out.
When I was done carving out my insides
I’d watch the ugly colorless excrement squirm on the floor.
No need to kill it.
It’ll just die starving, waiting for nourishment like a newborn
– reaching out for hands.
We’re all put off by our own vomit,
so I turn my back on it
because I’m clean now. I am.
a familiar acidic sting touches the back of my throat
– runs its fingers down my tongue.
When I turn around the waste is standing behind me.
“Is something wrong?” it asks
– a foul smile forming on its face.
And before I can answer I’m puking again.
My blood vessels burst all at once like a firecracker
And the lights go out for me too.
I’ve been thinking about friendship lately, the inconsistency of it, and the paths we take to certain people. They say you need to take time to work on yourself before you’re marinated and ready for the right romantic partner, but what about when it comes to making lasting friends?
When I was an introspective, moody, an ego-driven teenager, I attracted a group of misfits that matched my disfunction. Together we smoked weed in basements, lurked in city parks at night, navigated romance or the lack thereof without tact, and wore through the hot topics that occupied our world like the intellectuals we thought we were. If you had asked me then, I would’ve said I was certain these were my people. Now I understand why my dad rolled his eyes.
Meeting during the peak growing years meant that some of us grew apart. As our personalities came to the surface, college and distance punctured any of the consistency left. I was the first to leave, even before college. I wasn’t missed much, and didn’t think twice about the fact that I was always traveling to them and rarely ever visited myself. One friend from that era in my life stuck around and, to be honest, she’s the only one that was ever meant to, even as our paths tangled and diverged. She made the equal effort.
Nearly eight years later, and I still “keep track” of them through the lens of Instagram, which everyone can agree is a healthy and truthful peek into peoples’ lives. Who doesn’t love a charming scroll though someone’s filtered and seemingly perfect Instagram life? When you’re already feeling left out, these false fragments of your old crowd’s otherwise unbothered lives really taste like shit. But the lasting damage this media pattern has done to me is a topic for another time.
The lack of connection and intimacy that came from the inevitable falling out with my high school friends had me sprinting into college foaming at the mouth in desperation for something more. Desperation dug its claws into me and lured leeches into my world. I was too eager to please. I forgot to respect my own standards, which made it easy for me to fit into everyone else’s world without the satisfaction of anyone fitting into mine.
At that time, my priorities were getting around to validate my self-worth, getting fucked up because the feeling was still fresh and I thought I liked myself better that way, and searching for the right people. Blinded by the need to live what I envisioned was an adventurous and thrilling life, I neglected to nurture myself at all. As you can imagine, lasting, real, and healthy connections were nowhere to be found. I hadn’t even developed one with myself yet. It was a cripplingly shallow time in my life, the lack of depth contrasting humorously with how intense my experiences with the “friends” I had attracted actually were.
Though I would never willingly revisit freshman year of college, I occasionally look back through those journal entries and feel heat radiating from the pages. Those people and I, we were flames, untouchable and primitive like we had all dreamt we’d be some day. As short-lived and short of depth as it all was, I think I needed to get it out of my system. It was the scream I had been holding back inside me all through high school – guttural, dirty, and unapologetically loud for everyone to hear. It was a massive ‘fuck you’ to the time I had wasted living in a shell.
I eventually withdrew from that first college (ahem, flunked out) and from relationships that came with it. There weren’t many. I found my way out of the city and to the safety and isolation of my parents’ house in suburbia for a much-needed semester off. This location-shift brought my better high school traits back to the surface. Introspection greeted me like and old friend, and I learned to spend my days appreciatively alone. I watched movies, filled journals with poetry and art, played with my dog, talked to myself (a lot), read, listened to records for hours, and slipped away from time without any repercussions. While I was getting to know myself again, the fire inside lit up at the thought of a new adventure. This time I would do it right.
Through a lot of hard work, self-discipline, and time spent alone, I earned the credits I had lost freshman year after trading away my academics and intelligence for a good party. I emerged from the ashes like a phoenix and tore into community college like it was my job. While earning straight As and shooting my GPA up to a 3.9, I also helped publish, write poetry for, and contribute artwork to a literary journal myself and other writers built from scratch. After school, I would head to a full-time paid internship at an advertising agency nearby. I didn’t make many friends during the semester I was juggling all of this, but I remember being too busy growing up to care. It was a detox, and when it was all over I applied to another four-year college and got in. I left the safety of home and found myself in another world.
There I was, a junior transferring to a new school again, only I knew this time was special. I could feel it. You know when you find yourself somewhere, and you get that roller coaster feeling in your stomach, like something’s wrong down there, but it feels good at the same time? It hit me hard. The nerves, the expectations, the fear, the drive to make this experience count. To this day I still believe that feeling in my stomach set off a siren only certain experiences and people could hear, because everything that followed seemed to fit. Every passing friendship, acquaintance, relationship, hook-up, classmate, coworker, etc., left an imprint. There were long-lasting connections brewing and short bursts of passing intimacies, but they each held weight in my soul and made me feel so in-tune with the world. What had changed? Why was I feeling fulfilled?
It was the balance. The balance was everything. The ability to harmoniously feed your intellect, nurture your creativity, work hard, take a step back, take risks, or stay in. I was discovering my rhythm and certain people around me started to step in time to it with me. Their balance matched mine.
And the beautiful thing, which is also equally sad, is that the equation of your balance changes the more you grow and it starts to fall out of time with the friends you’ve picked up along the way. So, even those deep connections that you hold dear, start to unravel as you go in different directions. And while you may only see each other through a screen now, there was a season in your life when they were the exact fit you needed.
Friendship is inconsistent, messy, part of the continuous and ever-changing nature of the universe. But one thing is for certain, you can only guarantee yourself more love, more happiness, and more fulfillment in your life by taking the time to nurture those things in yourself above all else. That is and will always be the most important friendship in your life, and it’ll set off the siren when its time to call others onto you.
Stubbornness. I’m right, you’re wrong. You lose, I win. The classic draw between two; a never-ending battle to the death. We’re all familiar with this game, and though we play it more when we’re young, it never fully goes away. Take a look at the political climate we’re facing right now. These are adults we’re watching on our screens. Adults. It’s weeks like this, when I get into two big arguments with two big loves in my life, that I ask myself a very simple question: Why?
Why is it so hard to see someone else’s side in the heat of the moment? When that timer sets off in the depth of your stomach as a warning that a bomb’s about to blow, it’s as if nothing said by the opposing side matters. Your point and the feelings attached to it are worth watching someone burn over. Sure, sometimes you are absolutely right and the person opposing you is so wrong that you’d rather vomit than to hear the rest of their testimony. Arguments come to mind like,
“How could you do this to me?”
“I didn’t baby, I promise. It’s not what it looks like,” he retaliates while the person he’s cheated on you with is still naked in your bed.
This didn’t happen to me thankfully, but it does happen! While those black and white arguments exist, I’m interested in the ones where there are layers of hypocrisy coming from both sides. What if the lines are blurry? Times like calling someone inconsiderate for doing something that hurt you so bad in the moment only to realize later that you’ve done about five inconsiderate things to them that same day. It’s that good ol’ smack in the face that makes your eyes go back to normal after a blind rage. When you realize you’ve just been lecturing someone you love about how they have to be better and, yet, you still have plenty of work cut out for you too.
Why, even when we know there’s validity to someone else’s side, would we rather swim in acid than calmly hear them out? What is it about detaching from the thirst to be right that makes us temporarily inhumane? Although I pride myself on being a kind person, I’ve lost myself to this need to win many times. Call me a fire sign or a child brought up in a house where arguments were frequent affairs. Either way, I’ve been in the business of arguing long enough to understand that there are better ways to communicate even one’s strongest feelings. Ways that involve less screaming, less name-calling, and more empathy. There’s no victory in winning an argument if you had to say the worst things you could possibly say to your loved ones to get there. You can’t take back those words once they’re shot into the ether, and the psychological damage can last a lifetime. I think many of us know this all too well.
Arguments are a part of life, often even a healthy way for people to better understand one another if handled well. In romantic relationships, arguments can shed light on two separate people’s deeper and more intimate qualities – ultimately allowing the couple to get to know each other better and to discover if they’re a good match or not. Arguments can also help people become more open-minded, especially if it takes a lot of retaliation from someone else for them to accept their own close-mindedness. We tend to learn more about ourselves through this process and, while this can be eye-opening, I think we still have a lot of work to do. I’d like to see people listening more, a trait we desperately need more of in our nation – understanding that people are brought up differently, chock-full of their own demons and experiences, and that to argue is to first accept this and proceed with grace.
Think about the most recent argument in your life. How did you handle it? Were you able to empathize and listen? If so, how did that shape the argument in the end? Maybe you discovered something deeper about the person opposing you. Maybe you learned more about yourself. That’s kind of the beauty of human interaction and debate, isn’t it? We might come into an argument with our fists clenched and our tongues warmed up to verbally sting our opposer, but, if we’re able to listen, we might just as easily leave with insight into someone else’s story. This, my friends, is the secret to tolerance and acceptance. If we can’t achieve this, we’ll definitely win more arguments, but we’ll also get further from one another and the truth in the process.
I recently traveled to the Azores, back to the island I was born on for the first time alone since we immigrated to the U.S when I was four. I had visited a couple of times in the past with my parents and friends, each time as exhilarating as it was absolute chaos. We were always spread too thin in the short amount of time we were there – sights to cram into our schedule, relatives and my parents’ childhood friends crawling out of the woodwork for various get-togethers. The experiences pass in a flash and the scattered fragments of my memories there all blend together into a kind of fever dream. They always leave me wanting more.
On September 3rd, I embarked on my own to Sao Miguel – something I couldn’t fathom until I was sitting between strangers on the plane and not my parents. There I was, soon to be in the arms of my grandparents without anything or anyone pulling me away from our time together. It felt like I was heading home after an extended vacation in America or like I was leading a double life. Mariana in Sao Miguel: exclusively Portuguese-speaking, sun-kissed, nature-immersed, and temporarily anxiety-free, shedding the skin of Mariana in Boston: always on the move, Vitamin D deficient, and out-of-place. It was a difficult contrast to absorb, much harder to accept on the plane ride back.
It’s important to note that returning to the Azores always simultaneously contributes to my spirit and takes a piece of my soul away in the process. It’s nearly impossible for me to enjoy it lightly, as it probably deserves to be enjoyed being a tropical paradise and all. For me, setting foot on Sao Miguel soil is like an endless glimpse into an alternate reality where my life would have been opposite to the one I was allotted in America instead. While I’m grateful for this life, it’s too enticing to imagine the kind of person I would’ve been on the island that hosted the wildest and most magical experiences my parents shared from their youth. The friendships they made, the jaw-dropping natural beauty as a backdrop to their adventures, and the tranquility of it all – I envied this the most. Whenever I felt deeply misunderstood, I’d imagine myself as an alien who had simply been away from her planet for too long. Somewhere, on an island most of my peers didn’t know existed, I had roots to come back to that accepted me as I am.
For the short week I was in Sao Miguel, this was no exception and I felt my color return. My grandparents and I toured what felt like the entire island from the ocean to the mountains, but one day in particular stands out. In the town of Ribeira Grande, the three of us drove up the mountainside until the altitude set off popping in our ears. We traveled from one end of the island to the other, leaving behind clear blue skies and ideal beach-day-heat behind us to find ourselves under clouds full of cold rain. This became a theme of the trip, navigating the different weather conditions in various regions of the island and chasing the sun.
As we drove uphill, my grandmother, Rosita, filled me in on why the place we were approaching was special. High up on the mountainside, surrounded by forests flourishing with wildlife, was Lagoa de São Brás, a lake so tranquil Rosita had deemed it her peaceful place. Even though raindrops piercing the lake’s surface broke the silence my grandmother had promised, I felt my heartbeat slow down and settle into a steady beat for the first time in months. Anxiety couldn’t find me here. I wasn’t searching for more or better. We walked silently around the lake together hand-in-hand, just listening to the rain and the conversation among ducks. Eventually we found our way to a forest, a spot Rosita had saved for my eyes.
The second we emerged into the forest, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was transported into my childhood when my grandmother used to read a fiction book series to me called Anita. It was about a rambunctious young girl’s endless adventures, either traveling to different parts of the world and immersing herself in the culture or sharing experiences from her own backyard. Rosita read dozens of these books to me in Portuguese and I always imagined Anita’s life as a mirror for what mine might’ve been like if we stayed in Sao Miguel. In one book (my favorite of the series), Anita climbs into an old folktale. She jumps from page to page through enchanted forests maintaining her courage in a foreign place, at times afraid but mostly thrilled by the mysticism of it all. In this enchanted world, Anita finds a way to fit in, and her fierce empathy forces the inhabitants to miss her when she leaves.
I would often fall asleep with this book beside me. The forest and the magic inside felt like home to me. The same kind of home I later found in the pages of Harry Potter throughout my youth – another story to escape into that felt more familiar to me than my real surroundings. As my grandmother and I walked into the forest of Lagoa de São Brás together, I felt these worlds align. I understood why I had always been chasing magic; my roots were teeming with it. I took my time playing with the moss, running my fingers through tree barks, and climbing uphill as high as I could go. I was eight again and everything was alive.
I can’t put this entire week-long trip to Sao Miguel into words because it was a feeling I took back with me this time, not a random assortment of planned experiences that beg to be described. I held tight to that feeling of belonging on the plane, which left me empty when I arrived at the airport. I still feel the void heavily, and my heartbeat is already begging to beat faster again. For that five hour plane ride, I thought about how the kind of magic I wished was real as a child was actually symbolic for the belonging I feel when I’m home, surrounded by nature and the people who love me as I am. Now I know that places keep pieces of our souls and guard them. It’s important to rediscover these bits of ourselves and to soak in that fuel when the timing is right, especially if it’s waiting there for you in the very place you came from. Something tells me I’ll be back in Sao Miguel again soon, absorbing magic and chasing the sun.
“Bars are the places where life in the city reveals itself…where ordinary people go have a drink, ponder the weather, and are always ready for a chat. Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people.” -Paulo Coelho
Ah, the ebb and flow of people. Simultaneously enchanting and monotonous, especially from the perspective of someone partially responsible for the flow. Working on and off as a waitress for the past four years, a gig that’s helped me stay afloat through college and the aftermath, I’m no stranger to the bar habitat. I refill water glasses as strangers become friends, watch as people sip their first legal drinks, cut customers off who’ve been drinking for as long as I’ve been alive and behave like it’s their first time, clean up puke, watch break ups unfold, clear off plates at the end of a successful Tinder date, and so on. I play a part in the lives of strangers, peek into their existence, but only from a safe distance. I’m mostly a means to an end, but I’m used to it.
Last night, as I was asking a young man for his food order, he interrupted me mid-question to ask if he could take a photo of me. He was drunk. I was busy with other tables and didn’t feel like having my picture taken, not that I needed to explain myself. As I made my way to another table, I heard him say to his friend, “What else could she be busy doing? Making nine dollars an hour?” And much like those of us responsible for the flow often have to, I bit my tongue. I know how to pick my battles, and this newly 21-year-old wasn’t worth the breath – no matter how much I wanted to retaliate.
In the midst of my fury, my growing desire to tell him off, I watched his friends feel genuinely ashamed to be seen with him. I have to admit this felt good, but not as good as the choice to be bigger than them, to keep my cool under pressure. And that’s truly the key to serving it seems – keeping your cool, problem-solving with patience and empathy first. Skills that have taught me to understand why people behave the way they do. I often feel like a zookeeper tending to her animals, both maintaining a quiet sense of authority and assimilating to their energy. It’s intuitive and strategic, absolutely nothing like being a customer on the other side of the bar.
Funny how much a bar transforms when you’re shift’s over and you can finally have a drink. You’re primal again, free at last. These are the moments you really get to know the regulars, your coworkers, the locals and strangers who no longer expect anything from you. You’re a person again, as wild as the other animals on either side of you. This is when I find truth in Paulo Coelho’s words about life in the city revealing itself. All of that strategic patience and empathy displayed during the job bleeds into your off time and pays off. Suddenly, though you might never have imagined it, these “strangers” respect you, trust you, unload onto you, buy you shots in appreciation if you’re lucky. You’ve made an impact in their lives, however big or small.
For so long, I focused most of my energy during server shifts feeling angry and disappointed in myself for being stuck in a job that didn’t align with my passion or calling. I would overlook the experiences with strangers and coworkers, conversations that made me see life differently, and the day-to-day challenges that helped me grow up. As soon as I walked out of that world, I’d miss it. The people and the world they contributed to latched onto me.
My first legitimate serving gig introduced me to incredible people, which led to some of the best experiences I had in college: steak dinners and wine at my boss’s house, bringing out pancakes to fellow students and friends, blasting music and pregaming at the diner before party-hopping on campus. The fast-paced environment, the constant problem-solving, provided me with a new, thicker, and far more resilient layer of skin that prepared me for the future. I owe a great deal of my evolution to bars and restaurants – the truest union of souls revolving around our most constant and dire needs: food, drink, and companionship. What could be more human?
Painting 1: Michael Flohr
Painting 2: Alvaro Castaganet