Volume 43 ~ 2021     

Delaney Ham

 
 
 
 

Voice

If I could count the number of times

someone told me to slow down,

or commented on my voice,

or called me “innocent,”

I could list off each and every

star in the sky

by name.

Because everyone is supposed to sound

exactly the same

when they talk-

how did I miss that?

Ohhh, right-

I forgot that being happy

is a crime

and being nice

isn’t the norm.

Of course,

I should have known.

 

Because when you finally

break down your walls to participate

in a class conversation,

and your fifth-grade teacher

talks to your parents

about the recurring problem

of speaking in your “baby voice,”

and says that you need to “grow up-”

that’s a real confidence boost.

I guess I should learn to lower

the pitch of my voice,

and hide the words

that come with it.

These words are spewed

a mile a minute,

filled with the excitement

and exuberance

and the enjoyment

that comes with the love for life

I carry with me through my days.

But I need to “slow down,”

“take a chill pill,” and

“breathe a little bit.”

 

I’ve been gossiped about

and spoken to

and talked at,

all regarding

the repetitive question of

“How are you so happy all the time?”

Because positivity is annoying,

and smiling at people

I pass in the yellowing hallways

hoping to spread a little more light

is weird.

 

Being kind

is the equivalent

of a doormat

to be walked all over,

and a young voice

is meant to be talked over.

Having values makes me naive,

being naive makes me innocent,

and when you’re innocent,

you receive a response

with each and every use

of a word worse than “dang.”

 

But damn it,

I’m made of more

than these so-called “faults.”

The pitch of my voice

encompasses the height

of my happiness,

and as that love for life grows,

my love for myself

only becomes taller with it.

My voice is colorful,

added to by the blush in my cheeks

when I’m embarrassed,

or angry,

or warm.

This warmth extends

from my face

to my chest,

where I hope to help others

and spread the kind words

I wish I heard instead of longed for.

I drink absurd amounts of coffee

to make the words bursting

out of my mouth

bubble over my boiling edges

even faster,

and I hand compliments

out like candy

to my biggest critics

in hopes they just need

a little compassion.

 

I’ve been given this voice,

and until the stream of my words

runs dry

I will utilize every

glistening

ounce of it -

through the highs

and the lows,

through the fast parts

and the slow -

as my way to share

my own version

of myself.
 

Weight

     “You’re late,” I mumble to my father when he finally pulls up to the school at 5:07 PM.

     “Awhhh, girl, you just gotta be patient. Sweetheart, life isn’t always ‘bout bein’ on time -- ya just needta roll with it, go with the flow,” he replies with a slur.

     “Dad, this isn’t the time for all of this crap you have going on. I got out of school over an hour and a half ago; I had to wait for you around the side of the school so the principal didn’t ask me where you were, and why you hadn’t picked me up. Because the excuses ‘He had to run an errand,’ or, ‘He had an appointment run long, he’ll be here,’ don’t work forever.”

     This really pisses him off, and his volume increases just enough to keep me on the edge.

     “I told ya before, I had stuff to do. I left as soon as I could, don’t you try to put this on me,” he sputters through his teeth.

     No. He won’t push me around like this again -- not today, after I’ve already wasted enough time standing around and waiting for him to get his life together.

     “Having to sober up enough to get behind the wheel after another eight hours of day drinking doesn’t count as a reason to be late! You don’t have a job right now - your literal only responsibility is to pull your lazy ass out of bed and take me to school in the morning, then pick me up at the end of the day. THAT’S IT. So why aren’t I a priority? Why do I always come second to that awful--”

     He cuts me off, slamming his hand down and grabbing for my wrist. But I’ve seen this move plenty of times before, and I already have my fingers wrapped tightly around the handle to get myself out.

     “Emily, you get back in this freakin’ car right now. I’m your father, and you don’t get to--”

     This time, it’s my turn to finish the sentence for him.

     “Don’t get to what? Leave? Like Mom did? Well you know what, she was the smart one. You might be my father, but you’ll never be my dad. Dads don’t leave the imprints of their fingers on their daughters’ arms, they don’t spend their days moving from the bed to the bar and back again, and they sure as heck don’t leave their daughters at school past four just to finish their tenth beer of the day.”

     With this statement, I throw the door shut and run. In the car, I leave all of my weight behind: the pounds of textbooks in my backpack, the pressure of making sure my father takes care of himself, and the tons of guilt that were placed upon my shoulders for “making Mom go away.”

     Instead, I leave this weight in the hands of the man who should have been carrying it all along.
 

Beautiful Walls

I am from the state of radiant sunsets,

their pinks and oranges painting the sky

with the most vivid of watercolors.

I come from a place where time is measured

in the height of corn stalks,

and rain levels are reported by farmers

in terms of their moods.

I grew up with pulled pork celebrations,

Runzas on the coldest of Tuesdays,

and evenings at the movie theater

every weekend

as my only form of entertainment.

 

I come from a small town

where everyone looks exactly like me.

I feel like part of a plagiarized paper,

like someone clicked “copy and paste,”

altered just enough content

to make it “original,”

and submitted it solely for completion.

I’ve never felt exceptionally ordinary,

but I don’t look extraordinarily different.

 

I live in a place where gossip

spreads like wildfire--

the only thing hot enough

to spice up our daily lives.

Everyone has someone else’s story

to share as their own,

and your personal life becomes materialized

as their rendition of “People Magazine.”

 

I go to a school in which last names

are used as tokens of exclusion,

where athleticism

amounts to acceptance,

and where the path to popularity

is travelled in Birkenstocks,

Uggs, and Dudes.

 

I am from a place with radiant sunsets,

waving golden fields,

and the charming bricks of downtown;

a home for people with beautiful walls

and ugly interiors.
 

Where

In band class between songs

on Pep Band Fridays,

in the wings of stage left

and stage right

during late-night musical rehearsals.

In the presence of bears

and bridges,

among pickle jars

and other inside jokes.

At 7 AM for jazz band practices,

and two in the morning at Perkins.

In the red seats of the Tassel

during choir class,

on the cool silver

of football field bleachers,

and on tired gray bus benches.

Where aisles are filled with cowboy hats

and fanny packs,

where our mixture of laughter floats

with the smoke of bonfires.

“Where do you make these memories?”
 

Wilbur

     I open my eyes to the morning gold pouring through my window, droplets of light getting caught on the blinds. It casts its glow on my stark-white sheets, bringing warmth to the gloomy gray of the space surrounding me.

     I try to stand, but fall back onto my stiff board of a mattress as last night’s fits take their toll. My head throbs, and I weakly raise my wobbling fingers to feel the bump protruding from my temple. It holds the thoughts that course through my mind, aching to come out and share what they’ve seen. Memories come rushing in from the previous evening: banging my head on the worn walls of bricks as I prayed for the invasive shadows to go away, screaming for help, for someone to listen to me… but nobody came.

     Trying and trying again to push these thoughts away, I relinquish and lay there. I don’t try to stand, I don’t try to shout, or beg, or call for a friend-- I just lay there. And what’s worse, is that no one tries to check in on me, or even look into the circle of glass cut into my hulking metal door. A door meant to keep me caged like the animal they think I am, a door used to hide my insanity, a door they installed and locked up and now keep closed in hopes that keeping the crazy inside for long enough will just make it go away. On my door, I read the words, “You are here because the outside world rejects you,” etched into the charcoal by the room’s former resident.

     After hours of staring through stagnant tears, I pull my eyes away. I look to my small window, the only sliver I have left of a normal existence, before closing my eyes and wishing for sleep.

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     I’m startled awake by the faint sound of a whisper, like a cool breeze blowing past my ear. I sit straight up and frantically search for the source, until my eyes land on an irregular shadow. Slowly slipping off the side of my bed, I crawl over to it, and leap back when it darts up to the circular window. With the sight of it gone, I begin to head back towards my bed until I hear the voice. The voice that fills my head, dreaming or not; the voice that made them lock my door.

     Come, and follow me, the voice whispers with the same cool breeze.

     Fear fills me, and although it begs me to hide, I urge my body to step forward. I begin to follow the chill, past my door to the shelf on the wall-- the shelf with nothing to hold, its purpose stolen from it at the same time my freedom was. I stand there staring at the ledge, waiting for something to happen, but nothing does. I begin to turn away, but the breeze sweeps behind my neck to twist me back around.

     Look. Look for the details, the voice suggests.

     I struggle, wanting to discover what the voice has to show me, but also wishing I could escape.

     Look. Pay attention, the voice speaks again.

     So I turn my focus back to the shelf, observing each and every crevice and crack. I scour its top, the bottom, the edges… until something catches my eye.

     Just to the side of its leftmost edge, I see a ripple in the wall. I reach out to touch it, the breeze reassuring me as it pushes my hand forward; touching the wave, I realize that the walls aren’t made of stone, but instead are covered in thick wallpaper. As curiosity and the voice get the better of me, I begin to peel back the corner. The more I peel back, more is revealed, and my interest only grows; I see spotty lines of red, patches of mud to cover up holes in the drywall, and burgundy handprints scattered about. After stripping off the entire section stretching from the door to the shelf, I step back to read the faded lettering:

 

The end is near -- Born to be murdered -- We get treated like dogs here

 

     Clusters of phrases upon more phrases cover the walls, and worn pencil sketches of eyes, crosses, and smiling faces fill the remaining area. But in the boldest of writing, taking up most of the space, one sentence stands out:

They are among us.   -W

 

     I stare at these words, trying to decipher what they mean. My eyes focus on the letter used to sign the last phrase -- “W” -- and suddenly my eyes are filled with the visions, the shadows that make up the darkest corners of my mind. Overcome by the stress of them, I fall to the ground, and give in to the voices. I listen.

 

     Let me tell you a story, the voice hoarsely whispers.

     “Okay,” I reply.

     My name is Wilbur. This room became mine after they said I did a very bad thing.

     “What did you do?” I ask him.

     One of my friends here, he framed me for murder, Wilbur continues. He came into my room one night, and did it with his own two hands.

     “Why would he do that? And why would he blame you?” I question.

     I don’t know. But after he did it, he disappeared, and of course they blamed me. They said nobody else came in; they said that the door was locked. But I swear, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it... The voice begins to fade, and then it leaves.

     “Wait, don’t leave! I’ll be your friend… you’re my only friend, Wilbur… please, come back…”

     I hear a knock on my door, and I look up from the floor to see my slot open.

    “Wilbur, are you ready for supper?” they ask me.