Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sky of Wonder

by Jasmine Simpson

The snow was falling softly when the plane pulled out onto the tarmac. In the dead of night, not much was to be seen save for the blue runway lights lining the path ahead. Resting my head against the stiff cushion of my seat, I eagerly settled in for the long flight to Seattle. My row, positioned next to the wheels of the plane, provided me with the perfect window for watching take-off. I slipped on my headphones to drown out the obnoxious noise of my fellow passengers. At last secluded to my own little world, I resumed the music playing on my phone. The sweet, melodic symphony of Yo-Yo Ma’s remastered Gabriel’s Oboe resounded through my ears. All the tension previously stored up in my shoulders evaporated and my breathing steadied.

Here comes the best part.

With my eyes glued to the tarmac below, my heart happily raced as the pilot pressed on the speed. Below me, everything began to flash past my eyes in a tumultuous blur. The snow swiftly disappeared, traveling too slowly to catch my eyes. The plane reached the fastest speed required for take-off and with a soft lurch, the wheels parted from the ground. A weightless emotion stirred inside me and I grinned as the lights from the tarmac disappeared from my sight. Now my adventure could begin. 

The ground descended further below me with every foot of altitude the plane gained. A sudden shroud of darkness enveloped the windows and faint traces of grey clouds mingled with the heavy black of the night. The entry into the dense layer of the storm instinctively made me want to worry. Yet, I realized I was not afraid. As we traveled through the gentle storm, a surreal sense of solitude enveloped me. There would be no turbulence. There would be no lightning. This storm was a quiet and discreet entity raging in the night. Here I was, in a plane full of strangers bustling about, the only one entranced by the mystical tint to the nothingness outside. 
Still, as alone as I felt, nothing could draw my eyes from the beauty. At last, the plane gently emerged from the denseness of the clouds and my breathing hitched. The vast expanse of ground below left me speechless. Marked in sporadic spots, the lights of the city shone through the dark blanket of the night. Every streetlight, every porch light, and every dwelling lit up the blackness with a vibrant yellow glow. Here I was, traveling further and further from home, and yet the light seemed to shine for me with a fond farewell.

We traveled further from my hometown and a blue midnight hue took over the expanse of the horizon. As lovely as the color was, the suppressing shade dimmed all the earth. For thousands of miles the darkness stretched, parallel to the black void of outer space. Lit only by the scarce light of the moon, snow-capped mountains hungrily reached upwards for power. The dominance I had once seen from those mountains below seemed so weak in comparison to the supremacy of the sky. 

“Attention, all passengers,” bellowed a voice over the intercom. I almost jumped out of my seat at the sudden noise. “The plane will be preparing for landing in twenty minutes. Please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats to their upright positions. Thank you.” With an annoyed huff, I glared at the flashing seatbelt sign above my head. I never took my seatbelt off during flights, having not once seen the point of doing so. Desperate to escape the harsh interruption of reality, I switched the music track to a romantic classic, Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. The harmonic tune never failed to set me at ease.

Once again, all commotion in the plane ceased to register in my mind and I returned to my window. I was lost to the immense span of the approaching Seattle. Thousands upon thousands of pulsating spots crammed together for what seemed like hundreds of miles. The downward trajectory of the plane brought me closer to all of the glorious detail. Above the plethora of lights flickering throughout Seattle, every skyscraper glimmered with a dark sheen of silvery gloss. With a menacing power of their own, the buildings captivated my eyes. The city seemed deceivingly alive, yet I knew from past visits that once I entered the streets, all would be quiet. The world inside the confines of this city would be fast asleep at this late hour. 

My eyes followed the view until they caught the start of the landing tarmac. Eager anticipation swept through me. Shifting in my seat, I peered down at the wheels and awaited their reunion with the ground. With a relentless approach, the ground expanded below me. White lines on the tarmac whizzed past me in a blurry streak. The plane softly collided with the ground and was bouncing along once more. Falling into a smooth drive, the plane reached the terminal and parked. 

Lights flickered on inside the aisles, bringing my eyes to the passengers around me. Everyone was up and moving, some reaching for bags overhead and others collecting their trash. Disappointment flickered through me. The mystical and dreamlike stupor I had fallen into was disappearing. A brush of reality forced me to stand and remove myself from the window’s view. I couldn’t help but continue to replay all those sights in my mind. The soft glow of the city, the infinite darkness inside the clouds, the snow-capped mountains; they were all so unforgettable. Rarely is there the time in this tumultuous world to stop to remember the splendor of the earth. At that moment, I vowed to myself I would relive this experience again. No matter what price I had to pay, I would live this again.

Which way to home?

by Emma Petersen
I’d become accustomed to his ability to roll a cigarette and drive at the same time, but this time, I watched him with a certain awe. I remember the moment like the flash of a camera that burns into your eyes. We were the only car on those barren roads at 4:00 in the morning. Roberto, my host father, sits almost silent in the driver’s seat next to me. The only sound he makes is a short grunt as he licks his cigarette paper to secure the tight roll. I watched the slight roll drift slowly from his right hand to his left. He always smoked with his left hand when we were in the car so the smoke never stuck to my clothes, but I knew he preferred to smoke with his right hand. My host father was the greatest tour guide I’d had in my entire time on the island of Sicily, and I had taken nearly every important tour of every building in Catania. Roberto always spoke to me in Italian, not because he was unable to speak English, in fact he spoke over 7 languages close to fluently. When I arrived at the Di Giunta home, I asked to be spoken to in English only for emergency. What better way to learn a language, right? However, Italians liked to show off whenever possible, and so when they meet an American it is common to speak in proper English in order to display your knowledge base and fluency. I rarely got to have conversations in the native language because of this, except with Roberto. He was the one of the two people who spoke in Italian first, and translated if I needed it. Nobody can truly be themselves in another language, and I wanted to meet everybody as they were. Roberto was a business man, and he dressed like one: tight fitting suits, designer shoes, oil slick hair. He never said what he truly did for a living, all he’d say was “I work in business with a lot of people around the world.” It seemed rehearsed and almost robotic when he said it. I ended up creating the fantasy of him working with the Mafia, and I never heard him deny it. He’d just shake his head so that the thick black locks on top of his head would graze his brow, which he quickly slicked back with the comb which was always at the ready in his back pocket. I had become enthralled with watching the smoke trail out the window as the man I had come to call Papa exhaled, that I hadn’t even noticed the Jeep stop.

“Attendere per Mario”, he said under his breath. 

I inhaled his words alongside his second hand trail. The words burned far worse, and deeper than the smoke ever could. 

Mario lived on my favorite street in the entire town of Catania, it led to everywhere. I stepped out onto the cold bricks made of black volcanic rock, my own personal wonderland. I had walked this street up and down at least 100 times, but this time my heart throbbed at the sight. There was a lump in my already dry throat as I glanced down the road and saw the gelato shop that I went to almost every afternoon that summer. However, when I looked at it this time I didn’t see bright colors and familiar faces, instead I saw a closed and lonely store lit only by a dim street light 10 feet away. 

Mario was Roberto’s best friend and colleague. I had spent an abundant a bit of time sitting on the patio floor listening to their conversations shift between Italian, German, Russian, and English as though there were no difference in their minds. It was striking. I’d close my eyes and imagine the words coming to life in the air, each dialect a different color and font dancing though the air only to be swept upwards to become the clouds. 
I am hauled out of my focus when Mario comes down to the street and greets me with the usual “Ciao, Beddo!” and a kiss on each cheek. I responded with a fleeting kiss in return.  

We’re back on the road which means that any moisture left in my throat travels instead to my eyes. I will not cry, I promised myself. I remember passing Alberto’s house in a quick blur. Alberto’s first words to me were “Welcome to the jungle, baby.” After he leaned in for what looked to everybody else like a customary kiss on the cheek, but only he and I know that he’d leaned a bit too far to the left and quickly stole a kiss.
I’ve never met anybody quite so American as Alberto, he knew every word to every Axl Rose, Stephen Tyler, and Ozzy Osborne song. He always talked about is dream of shipping off to America. It was impossible for him to get more than five sentences out without at least one lyric slipping into the conversation.
“I could go home with you, and finally see America!” He was hopelessly romantic for a seventeen year old, but then again, I suppose Italians are inherently so. Alberto insisted on being called Albert because it felt more American, but I always called him Berto just to see the corner of his mouth curl up like the end of a wave settling into shore. He hated it, but never forced me to stop. 

I had just told Berto goodbye the night before. We drove through Catania listening to Gun’s and Roses at a volume so loud our ears should have bled. Afterwards, we went to the beach behind our favorite club, and ate burgers while talking about nothing, and if you’ve ever been to a Sicilian beach at midnight then you’d know just how possible it is to get so caught up in the nothingness of your life. When we finished eating we must have walked half a mile down the shore. We re-set up our makeshift picnic brought out some beers, and listened to the waves lap late into the night. We talked about how it might feel to be thousands of miles apart after becoming so close. We talked about how he wanted to go and how badly I wanted to stay.
When I think back, I remember how little I truly got to do. The exchange program came with copious amounts of restrictions. “No leaving your designated town without permission from your region chair, no drinking, no dating, no driving, never be out of the house without a host family member.” I could go on and on forever with my recitation of the rules. I memorized them. I’ve always followed the rules set before me, but it wasn’t until I met my new, Sicilian self that I wanted to break them. 

I set my own rules so I didn’t get out of hand: always stay with somebody I know, no hard liquor after midnight, keep my phone on at all times. I realized that this could be my only chance to figure out who I am inside. 

“Travel broadens the mind” my parents told me, “Just go and have a blast, this is your chance.” I took a leap of faith right off a cliff and into the salty sea water of the Mediterranean, and we I touched the water for the first time I realized that they were right. 

I flashed back to my current reality of Mario and Roberto chattering on in Italian. I caught flakes of the conversation of the conversation, but ultimately wasn’t listening. I was focused on trying not to feel. I would never look at home the same again. My heart belonged to two places, and I could never fully belong to once place again. My family was split between two groups of people that didn’t know each other, and their only connection was me. 

Suddenly my heart bolted up to the peak of my throat and I realized that I could never stay home because my home was split in half and each half lived on a different side of the world. I could never be content in just one place.

How My S5 Came to Be

By Jasmine Simpson

I cannot quite recall the exact day that I first got a cell phone, but I certainly do remember how cool I thought it was. Sadly, as I look back on it now, I see it for what it truly is. A piece of prehistoric junk. Don’t believe me? It was a flip phone. For the longest time, I had felt like such a loner while all my friends whipped out their shiny new blackberries. Yeah, remember when those were a thing? 
When the iPhones first started off, I hadn’t felt like I should care much. Then I went through high school and realized how wrong I was. Still behind the times, I switched over to the slowly declining Blackberry. It was a great little thing and lasted me a while. For one year, to be precise. I had quickly tired myself of having to replace that infernal rollerball. Really, it was such a pain in the neck!

Eager to join the rest of the world in the smart phone mania, I ditched the Blackberry and finally switched to HTC. My very own Droid DNA. That was indeed a beautiful phone. I cherished it for almost a year and then the cruelest, most despicable thing happened. One week before graduation, in the girl’s locker room, my phone was stolen from my bag. For many months, I searched, begging it to return to me. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. 

In a false-hearted attempt to ease my sadness, I switched over to Samsung with the S3. I was partially comforted, after a while, I grew to accept it as my own. The S3 quickly became my right hand and life was good. Until, I accidentally dropped it. First flight of stairs: BANG! Second flight of stairs: BANG! With every bit of dread and apprehension, I picked my phone up to discover the screen completely shattered. Once again, I was heartbroken.

All was good again when I discovered I still had an upgrade waiting for me. I contemplated long and hard, eventually deciding the S5 was meant for me. Here I am now, almost two months later, as content as I can be. For the present, at least, I have found my loyal comrade.