Paris Metro by Karie Luidens

Motorbikes, languages, the sharp wind loaded with perfume and exhaust: Paris was rubbing itself all over me. After turning a few more corners, I spotted one of the famous Art Nouveau signs that mark the métro stations. Its green-painted metal curled over the entryway with such thin grace that it seemed organic, but it was also cold, imposing; like a praying mantis, it arched its neck to gaze down on me.

I paused before it. It guarded the gate to anywhere. The stairs descended into darkness. I fingered the strap of my bag as I stepped down into the gaping mouth.

Underground the station festered with the dry heat of electricity and metal and bodies coming and going. I found a map on the wall and inspected it: colored lines threaded their way through pale blue geometry. Who knew which way was best? When the next train pulled into the station, I stepped inside.

Airplane Stickiness by Karie Luidens

I unzipped my luggage: there was a bit of rearranging, a bit of shaking out wrinkles. Finally, with a pouch of miniature soaps, a towel, and a fresh change of clothes in hand, I quietly turned the knob and stepped out of the bedroom. 

The hallway was shrouded in shadow as I crept down to the shared bathroom. It was a cubby of a room with a toilet, a sink, and a shower neatly fitted under a fluorescent light. The lock bolted with a reassuring kachunk. Although the hot water never quite heated beyond lukewarm, the stall was clean and in working order. I shivered through the stream and let the sticky feeling of airplane wash down the drain. Finally, dressed and with my wet hair wrapped in the towel, I crept back to the room. 

Well. My eyes squinted blearily. The day was upon me. I locked away what I wouldn’t need and ran my fingers through my wet strands in an effort to untangle myself. Then I slipped out and headed down into the world. 

The Acrid Smell of Their Smoke by Karie Luidens

The world seemed to be exploding with all the glittering colors of fireworks and the acrid smell of their smoke. Yes whistled in my ear, up and up and up, then shattered into No!

Yes to that soft, precious press of a moment.

No to the way he gave me a squeeze the moment after and told me he needed to think about it for a few days, that he wasn’t sure he wanted anything right now.

Yes to the way his face hovered before me and his voice shivered all down my skin. Yes to the way the warmth of his hands felt its way into my dreams that night, vague and fitful.

No to waking up and remembering the indecision of it all.

I told no one about the note, and I told no one about the kiss to follow. Let them be my treasured secrets, tucked away safe from the whirlwind of voices that tried to blow my life in all their little directions. Let the pleasures be mine alone.

But then they were also my own tortures to bear, because even as the fireworks dazzled me with their unexpected spectra and their sparks of energy, their fumes wafted in insidiously with each burst. The smoke of uncertainty slithered around my hair. I smelled gray doubt. Particles of it settled onto me: my anxiety doubled, my guilt tripled. I could taste it in my mouth; my tongue rubbed it into my gums. 

The Handwriting Penned There by Karie Luidens

That afternoon he knocked on my door. He held my note in his hand. “Hey. I never came by like I said.”

“No, you didn’t.”

He raised the piece of paper and tilted his head slightly to one side; he said nothing more. Nor did I. My blood was pounding so loudly in my head that its sensation was my only thought.

He stepped into the room, and the door fell shut behind him, and it was only us. He lifted both hands to either side of my face and gently placed a palm on each of my cheeks. Then he pressed his lips to mine.

Later, when he had left and I was alone again, I saw that the note had dropped to the floor. The piece of paper lay forgotten at the edge of Heather’s crumpled mess. From where I stood I still couldn’t read my words, but I recognized the handwriting penned there. It looked exactly like the paragraphs scrawled in page after page after page of my journals. 

Faded into Paper by Karie Luidens

It was about this time that I sat Jesus down on a couch in the study lounge and told him that really, after all, he needed to go back to his century, and die.  

Our relationship had gone on longer than it needed to, I explained.  It was okay while it lasted; I thought I had felt him there when I prayed for love and forgiveness on the carpet of my room in high school.  At the youth conferences with the concert-style music and the flashing magenta lights, I had tried to get hopped up on the energy of the crowds around me to feel his blessing.  I always believed he was there.  But, in the end, was that Jesus, really?  Or just my own feelings of yearning, guilt?  Need?  When had Jesus ever stroked my face and told me I was alright?  

And honestly, the relationship had gone on longer than it should have.  It was based on the Bible.  Jesus loved me, this I thought, for the Bible told me to think so; but my Bible, the one I had been presented by the church at the age of nine, had somehow changed over the years.  The more I read it, the more the gold gilding rubbed off the pages; its tissue-y paper grew creased and greasy, its words were heavy and strange.  Later, the more I read about it, the more estranged I was.  

So Jesus, how could I have worn through that book and pushed it further and further down my desk behind the textbooks, and still let you sit on the desk chair with me in my mind?  How could I not see that our relationship was growing worn and creased too?  

You faded into paper, Jesus, and then you dried up into paper-dust and blew away with the wind.  I wrapped myself up in a coat and scarf and set out into the late afternoon, and all your bits of white got mixed up with the falling snow and were gone.  I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss him; I just walked along with my hands in my pockets on my way to another class with my book-bag over my shoulder.  

He Crushed Me Deeply by Karie Luidens

We tried to make each other laugh. I tried not to let him make me nervous. But he did, even after a month of talking and walking around town together. My hands trembled every time I waited for his footfalls on the front steps. My stomach tightened whenever the phone rang; sometimes I almost hoped that he’d need to hang up early because I was deeply afraid I’d run out of clever things to say to him. He was so lovely and charming! He crushed me deeply, and it was sweet and hurtful at once. What if one day I didn’t interest him anymore? 

Obscured Oblivion by Karie Luidens

Looking up that night, we should’ve seen the Milky Way. Instead we saw only clouds, and more clouds, hanging low and drawing the horizon closer. The mists on Second Beach obscured oblivion. They wrapped close like a blanket and hushed any thoughts of the infinite black beyond them, of stars far larger than we can comprehend, of the fact that even those roaring behemoths are silenced by the hollowness of space and eventually scattered out of being.

Last year I could see the galaxy from here. It was stunning; I was humbled. This year the mild damp that is planet Earth muffled the universe with clouds and swaddled us inward, letting us humans stay focused on ourselves. 

Radiant and Rainbow by Karie Luidens

At youth group we talked about how much God loved us and how we could show God that we loved him back. We would respect our brothers and sisters and help our parents around the house; we would not cheat on our schoolwork. We talked about how to keep dating relationships pure, which was as exhilarating as it was irrelevant to our days. Being Christian meant we were about love and helping others. We especially wanted others to know how much we were about love and helping them, so that their hearts would be won over and they could be just as loving and helpful with us. With this bright vision, radiant and rainbow inside of me, we could save the world. All I needed to do to start was read my Bible with a highlighter in hand and never forget that life is about God. 

Balls of All Sizes by Karie Luidens

Every fourth day we sixth-graders were required to participate in physical education in the giant gymnasium complex at the far end of the school. Girls and boys funneled into separate echoing locker rooms for a few harried minutes before spilling out again on the other side, changed and tensed for action. Adult instructors stood ready at the door to yell for stragglers. Whistles shrieked. Sneakers squeaked. In my haste I sometimes pulled my hair into too tight a ponytail and the edges of my forehead ached and sweated throughout class. The forty-five minutes were miserable: bodies ran in all directions, balls of all sizes bounced about and the boys hogged them, yelling at each other in an unrelenting cacophony. 

Muffled by Rushing by Karie Luidens

My prayer, fervent to the point of chest-wrenching, brought me to my knees. I bent double in the half-dark until my forehead pressed into the carpet. Words formed on my lips, mouthed silently in the stillness of an old house settling. 

For all my efforts I heard no divine whispers in my ears. They must be there, I knew—I believed—I had to believe. I had to believe God was speaking to me. He loved me, he loved me. Maybe his truth was being muffled by the rushing of all these other voices and the wind that rustled through pages of reading. But it was there. 

God. God, have mercy on this, your sinful world. Please, please God. Please don’t punish us for being human. 

Darker Curves by Karie Luidens

As she sat there the night’s shadows played across her cheeks, her soft nose. We had the same nose, though her cheeks were longer than mine. Her skin was dotted with freckles and little moles that sometimes caught the moonlight and sometimes faded into darker curves. Sometimes the clips she wore in her hair would glitter a little. Sometimes her eyes would. 

Muddy-Minded Fools by Karie Luidens

What fools we are, what muddy-minded fools, sludge-hearted and heavy. What lives we live, lolling in some swampy current with closed eyes, hardly aware enough of ourselves to know anything beyond our bodies. Our bare bodies are all we know, and barely.

What do we choose? We don’t choose. We groggily found ourselves to have been born into this brown Earth. We’ve slowly grown like gnarled tree branches, which know nothing, which pick no direction, but merely follow nature’s inevitable arbitrary course. The branches grow, crooked and spindly; they blossom blindly; petals peel away to leaves; leaves ripple into red, then rot. And we? We grow, we act, we are amazed by mysterious passions that thrash us like winds from within… these passions, too, must follow their course… they must rush and curl away, fade to gray… our flowers too must fall.

We are as passive and patterned as trees, then. What difference does a mind make if it can only watch and wonder at its own nature? 

The Infant Thing by Karie Luidens

A cut commentary on how a baby comes into being.

Look at her, the newborn, the infant. Little thing. 

A year ago she was nothing. 

She was not. 

A year ago the skins of her limbs and the still-soft bones were elsewhere in other forms, soil and mushrooms and wind. Only gradually did her scattered bits begin to gather. A year ago the fibers of her veins-and-arteries-to-be were the xylem and phloem of celery. Her cerebrospinal fluid rained on the cornfields of the Midwestern plains. Farm animals were fattened on her. Soda bottles bore her blood. Her proto-fingernails were milked from northeastern dairy cows and pasteurized and put on sale for her parents to purchase. As months passed, her wheat-hair was baked into the bread they bought. The mother chose and chewed the material that would be stitched together in her womb. Only there did all these moist molecules morph together. They merged. They took on a life of their own. 

One day—one specific identifiable date—a tiny tiny tiny heart began to beat. Urgently. And it beat beat, beat beat, beat beat, without a hesitation. A single hesitation would have ended the whole thing. No, it did not hesitate; the same heart is still beat beating even as these words are written, it is beat beating these words. 

Night-Daydreams by Karie Luidens

Night Daydreams.jpg

A cut description of evenings in elementary school.

Emily fell asleep quickly, I think, based on her breathing. Some nights I did too. Others, though, my mind was too full of story to slow down. I lay awake lost in dreamy visions. The world was full of voices, real and imaginary; I listened to them all. 

I might imagine the tinkling voices of fairies who lived high up in trees. Fairies wore tiny little dresses and flitted between leaves in the dappled light that came through branches. Even with my eyes closed in bed I could picture how sundrops must sparkle on the edges of their wings. Perhaps they used tiny spears to hunt the frogs that loitered groggily by the fence posts of our backyard. I touched one once, and its skin felt thinner and slipperier than it looked. I shuddered beneath the sheet.  

Elementary Pencils by Karie Luidens

A cut description of childhood days.

I kept my own Elmer’s glue and Scotch tape in my desk, as well as a boxful of yellow pencils. If we raised our hands and asked permission we could grind our pencils in the big sharpener mounted on the front wall next to the chalkboard. The sound was intensely satisfying; so was the scent of the curly wood shavings, whose earthiness mixed with the bright odor of the paints at the craft station. I liked to keep a sharp pencil tip for writing stories on the lined paper that filled our folders. 

At 2 o’clock each afternoon I found Emily again on the marigold-painted school-bus that took us to Barbara’s daycare. There we joined David and the other littler ones, Kate and Emaline and the twins, and played away the late-day hours outside with them. The air was sweet still, wet and fresh. We embarked on long quests for four-leaf clovers in the sprawling yard, then pushed each other on the tire-swing amid the blowing golden rain of leaves. As September ended we raked this fallen foliage up in piles and took turns jump-scrunching into them one after another. 

Bug-Eyed Boys by Karie Luidens

A cut description of the boys in seventh grade.

The trouble with the boys in my class is that they were attractive and repellant all at once. Their voices were abrasive, they liked to drone on about themselves, and sometimes their jokes really stung. They bugged me—they went out of their way to bug me. But pheromones must’ve been at work in my stick-straight body as it grew taller, because I was nevertheless drawn moth-like to their pettiness.