Category Archives: Writing

A Magic City Grown From the Garden of a Female Visionary

“On February 6th 1895, Florida was visited by the most devastating freeze in the state’s history. Virtually all of the state’s citrus groves were wiped out. Coconut palms as far south as Palm Beach were killed. The freezing temperatures did not reach Miami, however, and Mrs. Tuttle, who lived at Fort Dallas, site of onetime fort on the Miami River during the Seminole Indian wars, was quick to seize the advantage. Snapping a twig of green leaves and fragrant, white blossoms from an orange tree in her garden, she sent it to Flagler, then in St Augustine, together with a renewal of the offer she had made earlier.” – Nixon Smiley, Yesterday’s Miami

In 1893, Julia Tuttle asked Henry Flagler to extend his railway down to Miami from Palm Beach. He declined at the time, as there wasn’t much in Miami aside from primitive landscapes and wilderness. But Mrs. Tuttle had a vision for Miami that was far greater than an old fort. 

Luckily for us, Mother Nature intervened in 1895. Even though she had already heard the word ‘no’ from Henry Flagler years earlier, Julia Tuttle persisted. The simple act of sending Mr. Flagler clippings from her garden in Dallas Park (photographed below) was the birth of the Magic City. It wasn’t as simple as that, though. 

Dallas Park, home of Mrs. Julia Tuttle, originally stood between Southeast Second and Miami Avenue facing the Miami River. (Public Domain Photo)

As part of their deal, Mrs. Tuttle gave Flagler part of her land on the north bank of the Miami river so that he could bring his railroad and the Royal Palm Hotel into the budding city. She died just a couple years later in 1898, so she wasn’t able to see her vision for the city come to fruition.

Even though she was friends with the famous Rockefellers and a true visionary, most of the credit of Miami’s founding is given to the men that she had to convince of its potential. The city was almost named after Henry Flagler, but the name Miami won by a slim margin when put to a vote. 

Why was there never a vote to name Miami after Julia Tuttle? Probably because she was a woman. After all, she didn’t even have the right to vote at the time. 

The north bank of the Miami River circa 1890 (Public Domain Photo)

Miami is the only major American city founded by a woman. Many of our would-be historic sites have been lost to industrialization and development, so we seem to overlook our own history. However, if there’s any color that represents our city, it’s green. After all, it was the green clippings from Julia Tuttle’s garden that convinced Henry Flagler that Miami was a gem hidden behind the mangroves between Palm Beach and Key West.

If you think about it, taking a selfie on Miami Beach in the middle of winter has some historical significance. Is it really that different from what Mrs. Tuttle did in 1896 to show the advantages of living in an American city with a tropical climate?

It’s important for us to remember that Mother Nature played a role in the birth of the City of Miami, because she can just as easily play a part in the city’s demise if we’re not careful. This city wouldn’t be recognizable to the mother that gave birth to it. What was once a crystal clear river with an old fort on its banks is now a murky waterway filled with plastic and human waste.

Miami is still a beautiful place that we are lucky to call home. But we have to bring the city back to nature, as it was before steam engines, cocaine cowboys and high rises took over the landscape.

An aerial view of the Julia Tuttle Causeway in 1960 (Public Domain Photo)

Every Miamian owes Julia Tuttle a debt of gratitude for seeing the potential of our city before anyone else. More importantly, though, for seizing the opportunity that Mother Nature presented her to make her persistent vision a reality.

You can pay your respects to the Mother of Miami at her final resting place in the Miami City Cemetery at 1800 Southeast Second Avenue. She might appreciate some fresh clippings from your garden or a shout out as you drive over the Julia Tuttle Causeway on your way to Miami Beach.


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Houseplants: An Affordable Way to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

At the beginning of the year, we want to detoxify our lives after the excesses of the holidays. We eat clean, exercise and focus on our health more than any other time of year. But one aspect of our overall health is often overlooked: the indoor air quality in our homes.

Indoor Air Quality and Why It’s Important

As we’ve seen in Flint and countless other places around the world, the quality of the water we drink is directly related to our overall health. That’s why we invest in water filtration systems from companies like Brita and PUR. But what can we do to filter the air we breathe every day?

We love our electronics and household products, but they emit chemicals that can be hazardous to our health. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) come from many unlikely sources, including air fresheners, cleansers and disinfectants. Exposure can cause short term and long term health effects as listed on the EPA’s website.

“EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” (Volumes I through IV, completed in 1985) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.”

The quality of the air we breathe directly impacts our quality of life. And we spend most of our time at home.  The Florida Department of Health recommends several companies that can check the quality of your indoor air. But most of us don’t have a budget for fancy air purifiers or new AC units. Luckily, NASA offers a more practical solution: add houseplants to the environment to process VOCs and pump out fresh oxygen.

A post shared by NASA (@nasa) on

NASA’s Clean Air Study

In the 1980s, NASA conducted several studies to find an efficient way to remove VOCs from indoor air. They concluded that root systems of certain houseplants do a good job of cycling the chemicals in the air and pumping out clean air naturally.

Thanks to NASA’s research, we now have an affordable (and aesthetically pleasing) way to purify our indoor air. Most houseplants cost as little as lunch at a fast food restaurant. Just one small plant can help purify the air in 100 square feet. They’re also pretty easy to take care of. How’s that for a value proposition?

Best Affordable Houseplants to Purify Your Indoor Air

NASA studied many different types of houseplants and determined that some do a better job than others. Among the top performers for air purification are the Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Spider Plant, Dracaena Janet Craig and Snake Plant.

Golden Pothos, Dracaena Marginata and Fiddle Leaf Figs are also great plants for air purification. These are used a lot by interior decorators, so adding them to your space will also bring some contemporary style to your home decor. You can find most of these houseplants at the garden center at your local Home Depot or Lowes.

If you’re in Miami, check out Midtown Garden Center in Wynwood. They offer a beautifully curated selection of affordably priced plants for inside and outside your home. It has a cool local vibe, with food trucks, classes and entertainment. Many of the plants listed by NASA to purify your indoor air can be found there.


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How to Fight Climate Change Using Social Media

I’m sick of hearing grim statistics about the oceans dying and biodiversity declining without doing anything about it. I figure social media is a good place to start since it won’t cost me much. Plus, I can reach more people there than I can anywhere else.

What Can I Actually Do to Help Protect the Planet?

Watching documentaries and hearing news reports about the effects of climate change can be disheartening. The oceans are becoming less and less hospitable to life. Sea levels are rising. We’re already experiencing super storms and record temperatures. 

As a Miami Beach resident, climate change is more than just a scientific theory to me. It’s a call to action. Most of this city will be underwater soon without a dramatic change in how we live our lives. Like most Miamians, I don’t want the city that holds all of my memories to be washed away with the rising tides.  

Mother Nature gave birth to the City of Miami and we owe it to her to pay it forward.

But what can I actually do to fight climate change? Being upset about the Paris Climate Agreement isn’t enough. The 2018 elections are still months away. What can I do now to help save Miami from being lost forever?

The CLEO Institute: Miami’s Only Climate Change Non-Profit

The mission of The CLEO Institute is climate change education, information and advocacy. It’s the only 501(c)(3) in Miami that is focused solely on climate change. Caroline Lewis, the organization’s Founder and Executive Director, introduces us to The CLEO Institute’s work in the short video embedded above. 

We all have our own reasons to care about the planet. For me, it’s to protect the beauty and the bounty of nature. The Industrial Revolution has allowed us to advance as a civilization, but it has also had an adverse effect on the environment. This needs to be addressed by our elected officials and business leaders.

I don’t want the coral reefs I saw when I went snorkeling as a kid to disappear forever. I want to be able to buy a home in Miami without worrying about its value plummeting or flood insurance costs rising. I want to live a sustainable life in Miami and have something to hand down to the next generation. 

My Social Media Initiative to Fight Climate Change in Miami

I decided to put up or shut up after watching The CLEO Institute’s YouTube video. Since it’s January and most people are paying off holiday debt, I came up with a social media initiative to help support the organization this month.

I just donated $25 (the cost of my average takeout order) to The CLEO Institute. It’s not much, but it’s an amount that most people can afford, even after the holidays. I’ve asked my friends on social media to match my donation.  And if money is tight, I’ve asked them to be generous with social media shares and likes. This is another form of currency that can be just as valuable to the mission of the organization.

The CLEO institute’s social media accounts are linked below. Please take a moment to like and share their content with anyone that wants to fight climate change in Miami and beyond!

Follow The CLEO Institute on Social Media

Thank you for liking and sharing! Click here to match my $25 donation to The CLEO Institute!


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16 Signs You Might Be Super Miami

We’ve all wondered it at some point. Whether you’ve lived here your entire life or moved here recently, the question will inevitably pop into your head: am I being super Miami right now? Millions of people call Miami home, but some of us are way more Miamian than others. These 16 signs will help you identify just how Miami you are.

16. You Use the Word Super for Everything

Many outsiders characterize Miamians by overusing the words bro and like, but like, seriously –  the word that really gives us away is super. In Miami, nobody’s gonna tell you you’re being wicked or hella loud. Here, you’re being super loud. Or super rude. You can pretty much be super anything here.   

15. You’ve Made It Through a Hurricane

Part of the deal that comes with living in Miami is coping with hurricane stress. It starts with local news stations go into 24-hour coverage mode while we all race to fill up our gas tanks and stock up on drinking water. And then, as soon as the winds die down, the real struggle begins – waiting for your electricity to come back on. This year Hurricane Irma ushered in a new group of locals that have weathered a storm together. And for those who evacuated – bro, what happened to ‘305 till I die?’

14. You Love Publix Subs

There’s a new staple of Miamian cuisine that the natives have an abnormal obsession with: Publix subs. There’s such a hunger for these cold cut sandwiches that you might even become a victim of online order theft if you don’t get to the deli quick enough to pick yours up.

A post shared by #Power96 📻 Miami (@power965) on

13. You’ve Made a Power 96 Mixtape

If you were listening to music in Miami before iPods and Spotify, you probably made at least one mixtape of your favorite songs on Power 96, 99 Jamz or 94.9 Zeta. Back in the day, you had to hold down the record and play buttons on the cassette deck at just the right time to add a song to your playlist. It’s probably why downloading songs on Limewire and burning CDRs as your computer was infected with a trojan virus seemed like a good idea in the early 2000s.  

12. You Once Loved Going to Sunset Place

If you lived here at the turn of the century, you witnessed South Miami become the epicenter of suburban entertainment. The Bakery Center, a mall that was torn down in the 90s, was replaced with the Shops at Sunset Place in 1999. With a Rainforest Cafe, a Virgin Megastore and a movie theater with stadium seating, it was a magical place to spend your Friday night as a teen.  

11. You Know What a Fifteens Is

Another interesting part of being a teen in Miami was dancing fifteens. No, this isn’t a drinking game. It’s how teenagers referred to taking salsa lessons on the weekends to dance a rueda at a friend’s Quinces – ‘I’m dancing a fifteens.’ Another way to celebrate turning 15 as a Miami girl back in the day was by booking a fifteens cruise. They became a big part of the teenage social calendar after school let out for the summer.

10. You’ve Gone to the Youth Fair

Nothing unites Miamian youth more than their excitement over going to the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition. You may have had a school project that won you a blue ribbon at the Youth Fair. Or maybe you just went for the elephant ears and carnival rides. Whatever the reason, it was the fair – be there. Extra points if you’ve spent a good amount of time at Santa’s Enchanted Forest – at Tropical Park, on Palmetto and Bird Road.

9. When Someone Says “The Bar” You Think “The Bar”

For tourists, checking out the local bar scene usually only takes them as far as Miami Beach and Downtown. If you ask a Miamian for a bar recommendation, chances are they will mention places like Bougainvillea’s in South Miami, The Bar in Coral Gables and Tavern in the Grove.

8. The Keys Are Still The Keys

DJ Khaled has put Miami back on the map when it comes to music megastars in residence. But when a Miamian hears you speak of keys, the first question we ask ourselves is: Elliot Key, Key Biscayne or the Keys, keys?

7. You Know Where To Cheat on Your Diet

You can find just about every fast food chain in Miami. There’s a McDonald’s and Taco Bell in pretty much every neighborhood. But if you’re looking for a Miamian eating a cheat meal, check Arbetter’s Hot Dogs, Taco Rico or The Big Cheese. These are the places you go when you want to indulge in local comfort food.

6. Kendall Is a Part of Your Life

For many Miamians, life begins and ends in Kendall. And if you’ve lived in this city long enough, chances are you’ve had at least one family member or one doctor’s appointment in the most Miami neighborhood of them all. Just like any other American suburb, it’s abundant in strip malls, hospitals and chain restaurants. What truly sets Kendall apart is the ridiculous traffic and attitude you have to deal with to visit any of these places.

5. Croquetas Come Before Cafecito

A cafecito from a Cuban bakery is as synonymous with Miami as the beach is. But the one thing Miamians long for more than sweet espresso is the deliciousness of a ham croqueta. Whether you prefer the ones from Gilbert’s, Versailles or Islas Canarias, you can’t deny that there’s nothing like a freshly fried croquetica.

4. You’ve Rented In the Beach

Miami Beach is a tourist destination for visitors from around the world – including mainland Miami. Our staycations, or renting as we call it, usually mark an occasion like prom, homecoming, a birthday, or any activity that seems like much more fun when you’re on vacation.

3. You Know Where Joe Robbie Stadium Is

You don’t have to know exactly who Joe Robbie was to consider yourself a true Miamian. But if you’ve never heard of the Orange Bowl or Joe Robbie Stadium, you haven’t lived in Miami long enough. These stadiums are a big part of Hurricanes, Dolphins and Marlins history before Marlins Park and Hard Rock Stadium.

2. You Have a Miami Accent

You can pass someone on the street here city and not really know where they are from. That is, until they open their mouth to speak. Like being from Brooklyn or the Valley, being from Miami is most easily distinguishable by the native dialect. So, if you want to know if someone’s from here, get them to say a word with the letters A and L in it. It’s a dead giveaway for someone with a Miami accent. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s pretty contagious.

1. Miami Traffic Is Terrible, But You Put Up With It

As Miamians, we’re usually proud to say we’re from here. Some would argue we say it too much. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a native that hasn’t had a meltdown while sitting in traffic on the Palmetto, US1, 836 or I-95. Miami traffic spares no one. No matter what app you use or how much you love living here, you will fantasize about moving to a city with better public transportation if you’re stuck in your car during rush hour. But as soon as you get home, you forget all about your empty threats to leave because you just can’t quit this Magic city.  

Being super Miami is something that most of us wear as a badge of honor. But if for some crazy reason you’re ashamed of how Miamian you are, stick a croqueta in your mouth. Nobody can hear your Miami accent if your mouth’s full of deep-fried deliciousness.


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Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve | Part 3: The Countdown | Any Other Way But Together

“The problem isn’t that we’re different from each other. It’s that we’re different from the people we were when we first met,” Isobel tells Caroline as they fill plastic cups with grapes. The New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square is playing on the TV in Caroline’s living room while the Rivas family prepares to ring in 2017.

The decor of Caroline and her wife Lisa’s home is in line with Miami interior design trends of the late 90s. The walls are painted yellow with large, colorful oil paintings by Cuban American artists. The floors are covered with terra-cotta colored ceramic tiles that match the ceramic backsplash and countertops in the kitchen.

“I mean, you guys met each other in college, so of course you’re gonna have changed since then,” Caroline says. “Not everybody grows at the same rate… especially men.”

Isobel laughs. “That’s for damn sure,” she responds as she pours a refill into her champagne flute. “Did you and Lisa go through this type of thing?”

“Of course we did. We still do.”

“But you guys look like you’re so together. Like, in every sense.”

“Dude, we go through our ups and downs just like everybody else.” Caroline takes a sip of her scotch and leans back against the counter. “You guys have been together for a while, but kids throw the original relationship equation out the window. It’s totally normal for you to hate each other some days. Especially when the kids are still little and driving you crazy. Most of the time it’s just the exhaustion talking.”

Isobel places her palm on her forehead. “Honestly, between my dad’s health issues and the energy the kids suck out of me on a daily basis, I literally just feel like crying whenever I have a moment to myself.” Her eyes water as she finishes her statement.

“Aw honey, it’s okay to cry sometimes. Life’s a lot harder than people make it seem – especially in Miami,” Caroline says. She gives Isobel’s shoulder a squeeze and begins helping her with the grapes. “You guys should leave the kids here and take off for a weekend. You need some time to relax and reconnect as a couple. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that sometimes you need to get away from the daily routine and look at your life from a different perspective. If you’ve had more ups than downs in the past year, you’re doing pretty good. If not, you got stuff to work on.”

Isobel thinks back on 2016 as Caroline organizes the cups of grapes on a pewter serving tray. She started it breastfeeding and trying to get rid of baby weight while Xavier focused on growing his business. The year took an unexpected turn when Esthie moved in, but the company was a welcomed distraction for Isobel.

Now that Esthie will be moving out again, she wonders what it’s gonna be like to when things go back to normal at home. With the amount of hours Xavier works, she feels so isolated most of the time that she can’t say she’s looking forward to things going back to the way they were.

Nonetheless, she has experienced more highs than lows in the year, so it can’t be too bad. And the fact that Esthie is going to become a mother in 2017 makes Isobel feel like she’ll finally have someone who understands her. If she could do anything to her improve her life in the coming year, she would go back to interior decorating in her spare time.

Even though guilt made her choose to become a stay-at-home mom over continuing her professional career, it didn’t erase her passion for decorating. But with no economic reason for her to return to work, she feels like she has to justify the pursuit of her passions to her husband – a source of tension in their relationship that has yet to surface as an actual argument.

“We’re doing fine. Your brother just doesn’t get the physiological difference between who I was before and after becoming a mother. Sometimes I envy the fact that you and Lisa each carried one of the boys.”

Caroline laughs. “Those years were a shit show. Trust me, you don’t even wanna know how crazy that was in this house. Not to mention what we had to deal with from society when we left the house. That was before it was even somewhat acceptable to be a couple of lesbians giving birth to baby boys.”

Isobel covers her eyes and laughs with Caroline, suddenly feeling insensitive. “Sorry, I know I shouldn’t be complaining about my life at all.”

“You can complain to me anytime, Hon,” Caroline reassures her. “You guys are gonna be better than fine. I know that he can be a handful, but Xavi loves you and those kids more than anything. I’ve never seen him look more proud than when he walks into a room with you guys.”

Tears begin to fall down Isobel’s cheek. “I know he loves us. It’s not that. It’s just me,” she says as she folds a cocktail napkin and dries her tears carefully, trying to avoid smudging her eye makeup.

“Like, whenever we do stuff with the kids I see these moms with their hair blown out and their outfits looking great and I feel like I can never live up to that. I’m always late, my hair’s always a mess. I just can’t keep up anymore. And I also feel like a terrible feminist for giving up my career to stay home with the kids.”

“Iz, you can’t hold yourself to an impossible standard like that. I know for a fact that you spend more time with your kids than those bitches who spend hours getting their hair and nails done. You’re a great mom and you are an accomplished woman. There’s nothing wrong with taking time off from work. Anyone who says you can have it all is leaving out the fact that you can’t have it all at the same time. Trust me, you’re gonna be happy you spent time with them at this age. When they become little monsters in their preteens you’re gonna be grateful for the warm and fuzzy memories you’re making with them now.”

Before Isobel can thank Caroline for the kind words, the kids run into the kitchen to ask if it’s time to start counting down yet. Xavier walks in behind them and asks Isobel if anything’s wrong.

“I’m fine, Babe,” she assures him and hands him his cup of grapes. “I’m gonna go check on the baby before the countdown.”

Part 2: Don’t Call Him Mr. President Tonight   Contents   Part 4: Fireworks

I Literally Turned Into a Mermaid With Dragonfly Wings

I

Something about the the orange Creamsicle colored sky reflecting off the dark blue water made me want to go for a swim. It was like I was hypnotized. Without even thinking, I took off my dress and stepped into the crashing waves. The salt from the cool ocean spray hit my naked body, making my pores contract and my skin glisten.

I released my hair from the top knot I had it in and the smell of my gardenia perfume added a floral note to the smell of seaweed mixed with wet sand. The setting sun made it look more silver than platinum blonde and it was just long enough to graze my nipples. Once the water reached my thighs, I turned around to face the rocky shore and let myself fall into the surf.

The cold water enveloped my body and I became weightless. My hair took on a life of its own, moving with the current in a fluid motion. I stretched out my arms and my legs like a starfish, letting the water caress my thighs and flood my belly button. My face was the last part to go under. I took one last breath before my nose dipped below the surface.

I could hear the buzz of the ocean floor and the waves crashing into the sand when I was fully submerged. That’s when my body began to transform. As if prompted by the seawater, the skin below my hips turned into turquoise scales. My legs were fused together, becoming a tail that propelled me deeper into the ocean than I had ever been before.

Before I knew it, I was a mile offshore. I came up for a breath and the strength of my fin propelled me into the air. That’s when I realized that I had also grown emerald green dragonlfy wings. I flew high into the sky and dove back into the water at a velocity that shot me deep into the dark water. The vastness of the ocean was terrifying at first, but my eyes suddenly began to radiate golden light, illuminating my surroundings.

There wasn’t any life to be seen around me, but I could hear the conversation of a pod of humpback whales in the distance. I followed their calls until they were visible by the light of my golden eyes. It was a mother with her calf and three more family members swimming alongside one another. Before I knew it, the mother was swimming underneath me.

I was brought back up to the surface on her back as she continued her journey. I couldn’t see land anymore when I was riding on her slimy skin. I let my hand hang off her side, just behind one of her fins. My long, indigo-colored nails sliced into the water while we chased the last seconds of sun on the horizon.

If I were brave, I would have swam with them forever. I never felt more alive. The ocean always seemed lonely to me, but that’s only because I hadn’t experienced it like this before. It felt like I had been gone for hours before I decided to head back to shore.

I thanked my friends for the company and flew up to the darkening gray sky to find land. I enjoyed every minute that I was able to soar, with the wind flowing through my hair and between my bare breasts. I knew it wouldn’t last, though. Once I was close enough to see the green canopy of the island, lit with the incandescent lights of the seaside village, I went back underwater to conceal my transformed body.

I swam backwards, peeking my head up every once in a while to catch the final dance of the sun. As soon as I reached the shore, my body was back to normal again. I could feel the weight of gravity on my hips as I got back on my feet. It took me a while to find my dress, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it back on. I wanted to enjoy every last second of freedom before becoming part of civilization again.

II

“I found her!” Liz yells as she walks onto the rocky beach to find her friend Ally lying naked on the shore.

“What the fuck, Ally? We thought you drowned or got kidnapped or something,” she barks as she picks up her friend’s white linen dress, stained with sand and seawater.

Liz walks over to help Ally get dressed before the rest of their friends get to the beach.

“Where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“You’re not gonna believe me if I tell you,” Ally says as Liz throws the dress over her head and tries to make her messy beach hair look somewhat presentable.

“Alright, get up and tell me on the way back to the hotel. We’re already late for dinner and you need to sober up.”

back to Short Fiction

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys Short Story (photo: Favour Omoruyi)

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys

It is just after sunset when Cynthia Smith and her boys walk into the efficiency she rents in El Portal, a neighborhood just east of Miami Shores in northeast Miami-Dade County. She immediately switches the air conditioning unit on high to get rid of the damp smell in the living area. Her sons, three and four years old, throw their book bags onto the old wood floors and jump onto the black canvas futon that sits in front of a large TV set that came with the place.

“What are we eating for dinner?” her eldest son asks as she sets her large black purse on the kitchen counter. She turns on the slow cooker and lets him know that they will be eating red beans as rice, same as last night. The kids groan at the prospect of eating leftovers of a meal they didn’t like to begin with.

“Alright guys, sit quietly and finish your homework while I take a shower. And don’t tell me you don’t have any because I spoke to your teachers today,” she says as the AC unit begins to make a rattling noise. Her lie about speaking to their teachers seems to do the trick, giving her at least a few minutes to unwind.

Once they have their workbooks open, Cynthia walks into the bedroom she shares with them and sets her smartphone on her white formica nightstand to charge. Under the dim light of a small bedside lamp, she takes off her white blouse and tosses it on the bed. Out of habit, she hits the home button on her phone to see if there’s a response from her estranged husband.

She had texted him while sitting in traffic on the way home from her office job about their children’s expenses. The only unread message she sees is one from the mobile phone company threatening to discontinue her service for lack of payment. Her heart sinks as she remembers the bills she’s behind on.The last thing she wants to focus on during her brief moment of solitude is the humiliation of having people call her mobile phone only to hear that it has been disconnected.

Sitting on the side of the messy bed, Cynthia throws her black pumps into the closet, then falls back onto the bed and rubs her eyes. Her next payday isn’t for another week, which means she may have to go a few days without a mobile phone before she can afford to get it reconnected. Even though her boy’s learning center has her office number on file for emergencies, she breaks into a cold sweat worrying about how her financial situation may affect her children’s well being in the long run.

Her worry quickly turns to anger when she imagines her kids’ father shacking up with his girlfriend in her Downtown Miami loft. She would love nothing more than to grab her phone and send him an angry text pointing out how his behavior is affecting their boys, but she knows that it will only make it harder for her to get him to co-parent in the future.

Frustrated and exhausted, she hangs up her black slacks, throws her bra and underwear in the laundry basket and steps onto the cold, cracked pink tiles of her small bathroom. She lets the shower run so that it isn’t freezing cold when she steps into the pink tub. The water in the efficiency never really gets hot, but it’s worth waiting a couple minutes for a luke-warm shower.

As the water runs, Cynthia pins her shoulder-length hair up and places a blue shower cap over it. She pulls a baby wipe out of the basket under the sink and begins to wipe off her makeup, revealing dark black circles under her eyes. The site of her tired face makes her feel even worse than she already does. The only thing she’s happy about is that she can’t see the stretch marks on her tummy from the same angle in the bathroom mirror.

Just as she pulls open the mildew-stained shower curtain, she can hear the television switch on. She knows that the boys’ homework is not done yet, but she isn’t in the mood to discipline them. The guilt of leaving them in daycare while she’s at work all day takes over as the water washes over her face. All she wants to do is clock out for a few minutes. Finally feeling a moment’s peace, she looks down at the shower caddy to grab the soap and nearly screams as a cockroach crawls out of the drain into the tub toward her feet.

Cynthia immediately jumps out of the shower and shuts the water off. As much as she wants to scream, she knows that it will be in vain. With nobody to help her get rid of it, she makes herself a glove out of toilet paper and flushes the roach down the toilet with it. Once she sees it go down, she sits on the toilet and begins to weep.

Not one to feel sorry for herself, she usually finds a way to talk herself through the difficult times, but she can’t help but feel hopeless and lost at the moment. She wishes she knew what to do to get out of this mess, but she barely has the energy to get through a normal day. The weeks just seem to meld together and her lack of sleep makes it hard for her to recharge her batteries and push through like she did in college.

Thinking about her goals and ideas for the future when she was completing her business degree makes her feel even worse in her current situation. Her parents are in similar economic circumstances, so she has nobody to call on when she’s in a bind. Taking care of her children by herself puts a strain on her low-paying job that makes it almost impossible to get a salary increase because she is always missing work to deal with sick kids and their disciplinary issues. 

After letting herself cry for a few minutes, an odd sense of relief comes over her. Even though she still feels helpless and alone, Cynthia decides to get up and keep going, not for herself, but for her boys. She uses a white hand towel to wipe her tears, then throws it over the drain in the shower and turns the water back on. She can taste the salt of her tears as the fresh water splashes on her face again. As she grabs the soap, she can hear her boys laughing at the TV and a smile finds its way to her face for the first time all day.

How to Outlast, Outwit and Outplay Cable News

I’ve been streaming my television content since I moved to Miami Beach in 2013, mainly because I don’t watch enough channels to get any value out of a cable package. In 2016, I decided to download the CNN Go app to follow the election because I felt like I was missing out on important coverage during such a monumental shift in American politics. I tuned out after election night, though, because I felt bamboozled with the election results and placed the blame on my reliance on cable news as a primary source of information.

I will admit that, at first, I tuned out in an attempt to bury my head in the sand and live in denial about our current political leadership. But then months passed and I didn’t feel any desire to check in with New Day or AC360, the programs I watched the most last year. Instead, I subscribed to The New Yorker and went back to reading The Economist and The Guardian to stay informed.

Current events seemed so heavy at the time that I frequently read pieces from The New Yorker’s archives to take a step back and gain perspective on the issues of the present. It was there that I came across a piece written by E.B. White in 1960, another election year, that helped illuminate my problem with cable news and television programming in general.

“If you open a copy of the Times to a page that has in one column a Macy ad displaying a set of china and in an adjoining column a news story about China itself, your eye makes a choice; you read about Macy’s china or about Mao’s China, according to your whim. It’s a free selection. But if you turn your TV set to a channel, only one image appears, and after you have watched for a few moments, an advertiser buttonholes you and says his piece in a loud voice while you listen or try not to listen, as the case may be. Thus, your attention is not just invited by the commercial, it is to a large extent preempted. Preemption of this sort does not occur in periodicals. It cannot occur. There, advertising matter competes with editorial matter for the reader’s attention, and it is fair competition,” wrote White in “How Television Has Changed Us“.

Reading his words, which could have been written last year without losing their effect, made me realize that my problem wasn’t with one television journalist or cable network, but with the business of television programming in general. While cable subscribers enjoy a sense of choice by being able to switch channels from one network to another, they still experience the effect that programming and advertisers have on the information they are consuming.

If there’s anything the 2016 election taught me, its the power of television networks to create and inflate celebrity. Gone are the days when we knew nothing about our trusted news anchors. These days, journalists and pundits make their careers based on Q Scores, not the validity of the information they are sharing. This issue was exacerbated when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.

While most of us were fixated on all of his gaffes and blunders on the campaign trail, Trump was fixated on the television ratings his candidacy generated (a fixation that has followed him into the Oval Office). He was the most covered candidate from the primaries through the general election and cable news has benefitted from his political ascent, even though neither networks executives nor Trump himself want to admit to their symbiotic relationship.

These days, I stream episodes of Survivor in lieu of tuning into cable news in my free time. I find the skills necessary to win a game like like that far more useful in my daily life than what I learned from watching pundits vie for a chance to shine on CNN.

On Survivor, you get blindsided if you’re too altruistic. You get voted out of the game if people see your leadership qualities as a threat early on. At the end, it is a jury of your peers that decides if you deserve to win $1 Million, usually based on your ability to make friends and gain influence while playing the game. I wish I had been exposed to these ideas before the 2016 election.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but maybe I wouldn’t have been blindsided by the election results and would have been better equipped to help my candidate win if I had tuned out of cable news earlier and focused my attention on how to outlast, outwit and outplay the competition.

Weighed Down By What-Ifs

Weighed Down By What-Ifs Poem (photo: Kelly Sikkema)

Weighed Down By What-Ifs Poem (photo: Kelly Sikkema)

you’re one of the few people
i’m glad i never confessed my love to,
not for fear that it was unrequited,
but because i’m not sure we could’ve
had a happy life together.

it was ultimately our ideals
that made us go our separate ways.
we wanted the same things
but on different terms.

i hope i never run into you again,
even though i secretly want to.
looking into your big brown eyes
takes me back to a time when
my love was pure but my heart was torn.

my spirit’s desire for freedom
brought me to where i am today,
a challenging but beautiful place
filled with solitude and gratitude
but sometimes weighed down by what-ifs.

i don’t wish to kiss your lips anymore,
nor take you away from the ones you love.
i think we may have already been together
in an alternate universe, where our love
knew no bounds and your kisses were all mine.

and that’s the only love we will ever share
because i plan to keep this selfish love quiet,
expressing it just this once,
to please my soul and lighten the load
my heart has to carry through this life,
even if only to prove to myself
that i’m no longer in denial
about how much i used to love you.

With Love and Style, Stella

I

Why the hell didn’t I park valet? Stella wondered as she combed the parking lot of the Bal Harbour Shops. And what the hell am I gonna do about a dress? My mother is gonna cut my tits off when I show up dress-less and dateless on Saturday night.

Her brother’s engagement party was only two days away and, after hitting up every mall in Miami, her options were to either go naked or get food poisoning. The latter was the most enticing, but Stella knew her mother wouldn’t be having any of that.

So it was back to the drawing board tomorrow, her last day of shopping, as Saturday was booked with hair, make-up, mani, pedi and helping her mom get their home ready for a hundred fifty guests.

Worse comes to worse, I could haul my cookies to Aventura to find that jade cocktail dress in my size, she told herself. If only she were still a size zero.

After five minutes of searching, she spotted her white SL 500 on the opposite end of the lot. She also spotted her brother’s fiancé, Vivian, waving and walking toward her. Stella tried to look as cool as possible when she walked toward her future sister-in-law (and her only female competition in the family), but a gust of wind blew Stella’s dark brown hair all over the place, revealing her track. Apparently, Mother Nature wasn’t giving her a break today either.

“Stella!”

“Hey Viv,” Stella said as she grabbed onto her hair (renegade extensions included) and draped it over her right shoulder.

Naturally, Vivian’s shiny black bob and blunt bangs were unfazed by the gusts. She gave Stella a kiss hello and pulled a dress out of her Neiman Marcus bag.

“What do you think of this for Saturday?”

Stella looked at the size zero ruche satin halter dress and wanted to kill her. She had to pick that dress. What was worse: she fit into that dress. Stella was fuming as Viv posed with the tiny jade dress in front of her.

“Isn’t that the Max Azria dress we saw in In Touch last week?” You know, the one that I said would be perfect for ME to wear to your stupid engagement party because I didn’t have a dress. ‘member?

“Yeah! I just bought it as an option for Saturday. I love the light chiffon one I bought with your mom last week, but it’s too bridal, you know? I mean, it’s beautiful, but I wanna save that look for my actual wedding. This weekend I wanna look like the sexy fiancé.”

You don’t wanna look sexy, bitch. You wanna look like me. God, when are you gonna stop trying to be me?

Sadly, though, you’re actually right about the other dress. It looks like a wedding gown for a midget and does nothing for your little boy body.    

“Plus, this one was the only one left, so I had to snag it. You know how hard it is to find a fierce dress in a size zero!”

I’ll give you a size fucking zero.

“Not as hard as it is to find a size four, apparently.”

Vivian’s big blue eyes opened a little more. Stella did not look like a size four. She did, however, look pissed. Her feline eyes were fixed on the dress, as if ready to pounce. Vivian quickly threw it back into her shopping bag.

“Sooo, did you find anything? Your mom told me you still hadn’t found a dress yet.”

Mental note: Remind my fucking mother to keep my name out of her mouth when she’s talking to Vivian.

“No, I found one already. I just came for a late lunch,” Stella answered, trying to play it cool. The last thing she wanted was for Vivian to know that she was going crazy trying to find a dress for her big night. She refused to give Vivian a one-up on her in any way.

“Oh my God, awesome!”

“Yup.” Stella replied as her Blackberry chimed. She reached into her red EPI Speedy for her phone. It was a BBM from Jordan, her gay boyfriend. “Give me a sec, it’s Jordan.”

JDN: We still on for coffee tonight, Bitchface?

“Oh, tell him I say hi and I can’t wait to see him this weekend!” Vivian insisted.

“Okay,” Stella said with a smile.

Stellar: Omg this nasty bobblehead just bought the dress I sent you

the picture of an hour ago.

JDN: I thought they didn’t have it in your size.

Stellar: I don’t care! She knew I wanted it and she bought it

anyway. She’s so jealous of my life. That’s it, we’re boycotting Saturday!

JDN: Ummm no we’re not bc I just dropped a wad of cash

at Ferragamo to make sure you have the hottest date there.

Stellar: Loves it. But I still hate her. Be at my

house around 9?

JDN: Yup. I’m gonna play football with Sebastian and

my brother at 6 so I’ll go by after that.

Stellar: Okay. Tell Seba I’m over his stupid little party.

JDN: Yes. I’ll remind him this weekend is all about you, not him

or his fiancé.

Stellar: Please do.

“He says ‘hey’ and he’s super excited for the party!”

“Yay!”

“Anyway, I gotta run. I have to go get ready for a date and I’m already like an hour late. I’ll see you on Saturday!” Of course, by a date she meant her coffee date with Jordan. But Vivian didn’t need to know that.

As soon as Stella got in her car, she switched her Tory Burch wedges for the spare ballet flats she kept in her glove compartment. She then wrapped her uncooperative hair in a Pucci scarf, put the top down and blasted vintage Madonna as she sped down Collins Ave. She was dying to get home to take her hair out. She didn’t want to deal with heels or hair for the rest of the day. She had enough on her plate as it was.

II

After quite the frustrating afternoon, Stella needed a distraction.

First, she picked up some purple hydrangeas so as not to get home empty handed. She couldn’t think of anything worse than spending the entire day running around and coming home empty handed. Plus, her room could use a splash of color.

Stella had never bothered making her room in this Miami Beach mansion her own. Moving there was her parents’ first step toward retirement. Thus, Stella’s room was decorated more like a guest room than their daughter’s room. She wanted to paint it a blue-gray color she had seen in a Hamptons beach house in Life & Style, but her mom vetoed it for a more neutral cream color. Luckily, they did agree on the traditional white beechwood furniture and mahogany floors.

The truth was that she didn’t really care what her room looked like when they moved in because she only thought of it as a temporary holding cell. She had planned to be married to her boyfriend before the paint would dry in that room. But, now that they had been broken up for a little over a year and she had yet to meet someone new, she figured it might be a good time to make herself at home.

She put her flowers in water as soon as she got to her room, but couldn’t find a clean surface for them. Her furniture was littered with empty shopping bags, receipts, unopened credit card bills and shoeboxes filled with more of the same. Every time her mom would come into the room, she would say that she spent too much money on this furniture for Stella to keep it like this.

Stella actually agreed with her mother on that one. She was determined to rid herself of all the clutter and throw out the trash in her room. There was no need for her surroundings to look as shitty as she felt.

It took her the better part of an hour to decide what junk to keep and what junk to get rid of. She got rid of basically everything except a shoebox of memories she couldn’t handle throwing away just yet.

She hid the shoebox behind her most prized possession – her first Chanel purse. Her parents bought it for her sixteenth birthday and she retired it a year later when she replaced it with a Fendi Spybag. She planned on giving it to her future daughter as her first vintage piece. Now she may have to give it to her first niece since there’s no telling when she might meet someone worthy of impregnating her.

Whatever.

Stella made her way out of her closet and noticed how beautiful her room looked. The purple hydrangeas contrasted perfectly with the neutral walls and the orange sun setting outside her window. She normally closed the blinds at this time to keep the light out, but this time she decided to sit on her bed and appreciate the beauty.

Stella couldn’t remember the last time she watched the sun set. Her ex was too much of a prima donna to have ventured out to enjoy nature, and she was fine with that because less time outside meant less time ironing her hair.

She had never realized that there was just as much beauty outside her window as there was in any fashion magazine. How could she have spent so much time blocking this out?

The tangerine colored clouds on the horizon that faded into pink, then violet, then cobalt. She was amazed that such a cloudy day could produce such a pretty sight. It was as comforting as it was beautiful. It had been a while since Stella felt this zen.  

As much as she was dying to wash the Miami street smell out of her hair, she couldn’t peel her eyes off her window. She dreamed up outfits and accessories in the colors she saw until there was no more light in the sky.

Stella added mood lighting to the darkened room to keep her evening as pretty as possible. She also decided to move some furniture around before her shower. She wanted her bed under the window where an antique chest currently sat. The bed should be the focal point of a bedroom, she thought as she pushed the chest to the other side of the room.

Once the manual labor was done, she burned some oils and soaked in a hot bath. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to change everything in her room. If only she could do the same to her personal life (and family life, for that matter).

She soaked for about fifteen minutes before getting restless. She couldn’t relax knowing that she had so much to do in the following days. The engagement party wouldn’t be so bad if she had something to wear. But my brother had to propose to her, and she had to buy my dress.

Uuggghhh!

III

Stella managed to finish her therapeutic bath more frustrated than when she started. She wrapped her hair in a towel and walked back into her room, where she noticed a scratch on the hardwood floor. Oh God, she thought, Mom’s gonna kick my ass when she sees this shit.

As luck would have it, her mom opened her door before Stella could do anything to conceal the damage. Thinking on her toes, Stella dropped her towel right over the scratch.

“Hey Mom,” she said as she made her way to her underwear drawer.

“Niña, por el amor de Dios, ponte algo! Your brother and his friends just got back from football.” Carola inquired.

“Whoops.”

“Yeah, whoops. I’ll give you whoops.” Carola said as she scoped out the new arrangement of the furniture.

“Stella, I told you I don’t like the bed on that side of the room,” she said as she grabbed Stella’s eye cream. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her short highlighted hair was a mess and the stress of playing hostess on Saturday had taken its toll on her deep brown eyes.

“Oh, but I do.”

 “Claro. If I say I like it on one side you move it to the other,” Carola said as the damp towel on the floor caught her eye.

Stella noticed her mom walk toward the towel and rolled her eyes.

“Pero sera posible? How many times have I told you to be careful with these floors!?” Carola began. Stella grabbed a paddle brush and ran it through her wet hair, trying to avoid an altercation with her mom. “No, no, no, y como tu no lo pagas, no te importa un carajo.”

“Oh God Mom, it’s not a big deal. I’ll buy you a square foot of wood, okay? You don’t have to cry about it.”

“It’s not about the money, Stella. It’s about respect, okay? Contra!”

Caro was less upset at the scratch on the floor than she was about Stella’s indifference to it.

“Whatever, Mom. It happened, okay? I’m sorry. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. Jesus.”

“You should have started with I’m sorry, okay? That’s what you should have done. You should have told me about it and not hid it. Dios mío, esta chiquita. No, and had I not seen it right now, you probably would have blamed it on poor Anita tomorrow.”

Stella rolled her eyes at her mother and took out her blow dryer. She couldn’t wait to drown out the annoying chatter.

“And preparate for when your father sees this.”

Five years earlier Stella might have believed that her mother would actually tell her dad, but she knew better now.

After making sure her daughter was sufficiently nagged, Carola stepped away from the scratch.

“Are you staying in tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Stella responded. ‘I don’t know’ was her way of telling her mother ‘It’s none of your business what I’m doing tonight’ without getting slapped.

“Yeah, you never know. Well if you do go out, remember to close the gate when you get in. I don’t wanna hear your father screaming at six in the morning again.”

Alright,” Stella responded. She had heard enough. Then she remembered her run-in with Vivian.

“Oh wait, let me ask you something. Why do you find it necessary to keep Vivian all up in my business?”

Eh?”

“I saw her at the mall today and she said that you said that I didn’t have a dress for Saturday.”

“You don’t have a dress for Saturday.”

“I’m aware of that Mom, but that doesn’t mean you have to go blabbing it to her. Now she’s gonna be calling me and asking me to go to the mall to find a dress…”

“And? I don’t see the problem, Stella.”

“I don’t wanna hang out with her! All she does is freaking copy me. First she buys my exact black Chanel purse…”

“Stella, don’t start. You have Chanel purses in every color!”

Again, not the point. And what about the clothes? It’s so freaking annoying. Jesus, why doesn’t anybody see this but me?”

“You wanna know what everybody sees? Everybody sees that you don’t cut Vivi any slack. You should be happy she loves your brother enough to have put up with your attitude for the past few years. She has been a saint to you since the day she met you.”

“She’s been nothing but bulimic since the day she met me. Actually, even before that.”

Carola shook her head in disappointment. Stella sat in front of her vanity mirror and started applying body lotion.

“Alright, you know what Stella? Go to sleep, go out, go wherever you want because I’m so sick of you.”

Caro made her way to the door.

“And listen to me very carefully. You had better control yourself on Saturday, you hear me? Because I don’t have time to baby-sit you and your mouth. So whatever you like or don’t like about Vivian, her dress, her make up, her parents or her friends, you keep to yourself.”

Stella responded by turning the blower on and pretending her mom wasn’t there anymore.

“I didn’t raise you to be so coldhearted.” Carola added just loud enough for Stella to hear.

IV

“Oh my God, I am so over my mother,” Stella told Jordan as they sat down at Versailles Café for some croquetas and café con leche.

The pair had originally planned on doing a Starbucks run, but Stella was in desperate need of comfort food. She also craved the nostalgia of the Cuban café. The smell of espresso and Cuban food reminded her of life before diets, dresses and drama.

“Uh-oh. What happened now?” Jordan asked. He did not sound surprised.

“It’s her same old obsession with stupid Vivian and Sebastian and the wedding. It’s all she freaking cares about.”

“Well, she is helping Vivian plan it, so I guess that makes sense. I mean, weddings are really time consuming, Babe.”

“What’s time consuming is all the ass-kissing my mom does to that girl.”

Stella dipped her tostada cubana in her coffee. Jordan rolled his eyes.

“It just bothers me. Like, she has always been obsessed with Sebastian more than me, but that makes sense because he’s a hundred percent useless and can’t do anything for himself. And I’ve never really been that needy, so she’s never had to do anything for me. But now whenever I need her for anything she’s all like ‘Vivi this’ and ‘Vivi that’ and blah blah blah. And that wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t hate on me so much all the time. It’s like, sorry I’m not married and you didn’t get to plan my wedding last year. Sorry for not finding a man. Sorry for thinking Vivian is an annoying ass bitch who copies every single outfit I wear, and then pretends to give me credit like I’m her little Rachel Zoe or something.”

“Jeez, tell me how you really feel.”

“Oh God, don’t tell me you’re gonna defend her, too.”

Jordan took a bite of his croqueta to buy time before he answered. He knew how Stella felt about the whole Vivian thing, but more importantly, why she felt that way. He wanted to be a friend but still tell her she was wrong without sounding like he was on Vivian’s side.

“I’m not defending her, Babe. And your mom wouldn’t have to defend her if you wouldn’t attack her. I mean, I know she can be annoying, but I don’t think that’s why you really hate her. And that’s what concerns me. I don’t care about her. I care about you.”

“I get that, Hon. And I appreciate it, but I still don’t understand why I can’t hate her. Why is that something I have to explain to everyone? As if there aren’t a million people my mom or my brother don’t hate.”

“I know but those people aren’t gonna be part of your family.”

“W slash E.”

Jordan laughed. He didn’t want Stella to feel bad. He just wanted her to admit what was really making her feel bad, but Stella wouldn’t give in that easily.

She would talk to him when she was ready. In the meantime, he would catch her up on all things Jordan.

While he was catching her up on the new guy in his life, Stella had noticed that the soccer moms to her left were eavesdropping on their conversation.

Both in their forties, one had a bad dye job that made her hair look Cheetos orange. The other was petite with highlights and roots that needed to have been retouched about three months ago. Both were in frumpy-mom gym outfits – an oversized t-shirt and faded black yoga pants. Their look – if anyone would call it a ‘look’ – alone offended Stella.

Then, to add insult to injury, she noticed that the topics she discussed with Jordan started making their way to the conversation at their table, only the soccer moms had a different take on things.

“I mean, imagine growing up with two moms or two dads. As if kids don’t have enough to deal with off the bat, you know? At least normal kids start off at zero. Kids that grow up with two dads start off with one strike off the bat. It’s not right,” stated the redhead while she stuffed her face with mariquitas. Her short friend nodded in agreement, her mouth full with about half of a Medianoche sandwich.

Jordan caught Stella listening and tuned in to the conversation at the next table, too. As soon as he got the gist of it, he rolled his eyes at Stella.

Feeling uncomfortable for her friend, Stella put down her café con leche and turned to look them up and down.

“What the fuck bitches?” she began.

Excuse me?” the redhead responded with a furrowed brow.

“I’m a lesbian, okay? So, if you have something to say about me, say it to my face.”

The woman looked confused. She turned to Jordan, who was rubbing his temples.

“She’s not a lesbian,” he told her, then turned to Stella. “You’re not a lesbian.”

Stella shot Jordan a dirty look.

“Hey, Benedict Arnold, what the fuck?” she asked.

“And you,” she began with her finger pointed at the ginger to her left. “You know what? I may not be a lesbian, but if I were, I wouldn’t wanna tap your giggly ass. Your husband probably doesn’t either, which is why you’re here devouring your feelings.”

The woman was shocked and furious. All she could do was turn to Jordan to save her from his friend.

“Control this girl before she gets you in trouble, okay?”

Although Jordan definitely agreed that Stella was out of control, he didn’t like the woman’s tone. He also didn’t like the fact that Stella was fighting his battle.

“Relax lady. If you don’t like what my friend has to say, you can get up and leave. If you don’t wanna leave, then keep your mouth shut like I did while you were busy spewing ignorance and perpetuating the negative stigma homosexuals and their children have to deal with from narrow-minded bigots like you.”

The redhead was taken aback by Jordan’s reaction. She threw a twenty on the table and left with her friend, shaking her head at Stella and Jordan.

“You people have no class and that’s why nobody respects you.” She muttered as she walked away.

“I’ll give you fucking class!” Stella hollered back. She then turned to Jordan, who was laughing and shaking his head.

“I knew those claws were just dying to come out,” she said, then lifted her coffee cup for a toast.

“To class!”

With his face flushed from embarrassment, Jordan giggled half-heartedly and lifted his cup.

“To class.”

Stella immediately noticed his lack of cheer.

“What’s your problem now?”

“Nothing. I’m just over letting people like that get to me. Now everyone in this restaurant is looking at us like we’re trash.”

“Oh God. You sound like my mother right now.”

Jordan laughed.

“I love your mom, so I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Umm I love her too, but I meant that in a bad way,” she responded in a playful manner.

He laughed and shook his head.

“Dude, we’re in our mid-twenties. We have to start acting like decent human beings, cause acting like shallow bitches doesn’t make us cute anymore. It makes us classless.”

Stella rolled her eyes. She was sick of everyone’s indictments. To her, these comments sounded less like constructive criticism and more like unwarranted attacks on her character.

“I’m not interested in acting like an adult. I’m not gonna become a boring ass bitch just because I’m twenty-five. Fuck that.”

Jordan wanted to roll his eyes at this dramatic overreaction, but he decided to laugh it off and rejoin team Stella instead. He remembered that his role was to be the supportive best friend, not the third parent. He also remembered what Stella was going through. It couldn’t be easy to be suddenly single when everyone you know is engaged, married or pregnant.

V

Stella had no idea what to do to keep from thinking when she got home. Against her will, the coffee kept her awake and alert. She couldn’t go to sleep and she couldn’t stand being alone at night.

In a last ditch attempt to make herself feel better, she decided to deal. She grabbed a tacky little notebook someone had given to her as a gift and started writing.

Dear Diary,

Sorry I’ve never written in you before but I’m not Ugly Betty or one of those dorky ass bitches in high school who wrote in diaries.

I was too busy fucking my boyfriend to keep a diary. And I wasn’t dumb enough to leave a self-incriminating diary for my mom to find when she was putting away my laundry.

But, right now I need to talk to someone that doesn’t hate me and I’ve run out of human beings, so you – as tacky as you are – will have to do…

Why the fuck has everybody decided to hate me all of a sudden? First Dad screams at me this morning, then I see stupid Vivian, then my mom tells me I’m a cold-hearted bitch, then the fat whores at Versailles…

What the fuck? When did I get like this?

I don’t get it. I used to love my life. Everything was so perfect.

Now I’m a potential spinster and I fucking hate it.

How the hell did this happen? And why the hell is stupid Vivian getting everything I was supposed to have?

These years were supposed to be about me. My engagement party, my wedding, my first pregnancy… Then this bitch comes along right after I get dumped and she gets to plan a wedding. That nasty bobble head is getting married and I’m getting fat.

How did this happen? What did I do wrong? I don’t understand. I was the perfect girlfriend. I gave him everything he wanted and that wasn’t enough.

I wish I could go back…

I would do anything to not feel this alone. I don’t care what it would take.

I think what hurts the most is that I still love him so much.

I would give anything to have him as my date for Saturday.

How pathetic.

God, why can’t I hate him?

Why do I hate everyone else but him?

Why don’t I want anyone else but him?

God, why did You let me make so many memories with him if You knew this was gonna happen?

That I was gonna be lonely like this.

I made him the center of my universe and now he’s gone and all I’m left with is a black hole.

I should have just been a bitch to him.

Maybe that would have made him love me.

Maybe then I’d be pregnant right now with our first child, picking out wallpaper for the nursery and Saturday would be my baby shower, not an engagement party for somebody else.

Maybe then I wouldn’t be sitting here, blaming myself for being alone.

I don’t want to blame myself, but I don’t know what else to do…  

It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to be this person that everybody hates.

I want to be the confident, capable and happy girl I used to be.

But I can’t do it without him.

I can’t do it alone.

I’m not strong enough.

I need someone to love me.

I feel like the oldest kid at the orphanage…

And I can’t blame anybody for hating me.

I know I’m a bitch, but I don’t know how else to be.

Nobody ever showed me how to deal with this hurt.

I’m dealing with it the only way I know how.

I wish I were stronger, nicer, sweeter…

But why can’t somebody love me the way I am?

What’s so horrible about me?

Or why can’t somebody just tell me why they hate me so I can change?

I want people to love me.

I want to be loved more than anything.

I would give up everything…

I just don’t understand why I have to.

I don’t understand why I’m stuck here, humiliated and living with my parents, while everyone around me is moving forward and celebrating the happiest times of their lives.

I’m alone and growing older with nothing to plan, nothing to look forward to, with no one to love me, no one to hold me, to think about me. And every time I see a happy couple it’s like salt on my wounds.

I can’t handle being lonely.

I can’t handle Saturday.

I don’t know what I’m gonna do…

VI

Stella closed her new diary, put her head down on her desk and sobbed for what felt like an hour. She hadn’t cried like that in years. Not even when her great grandmother died did she sob like that. She had always been afraid that if she let it out she would never be able to make it stop.

Miraculously, though, she stopped crying after a few minutes. She was still confused, but she felt less frustrated. She was shedding some of the weight she had packed onto her heart over the past few years.

It was a step. She didn’t know in what direction, but it was something. She was actually doing something. It was the most she had done to try to move on with her life.

Intent on moving forward, she opened her closet and pulled out the shoebox. She hadn’t actually opened it in over a year. It was the biggest skeleton in her closet. She knew it was going to make her cry, but she wanted to get it over with at this point.

Stella threw the box on her bed and sat in front of it with her legs crossed. She lifted the top and threw it to the side. It wasn’t as scary as she thought. Just a bunch of notes and little bullshit gifts he had given her for Valentine’s Days and anniversaries.

I guess one of the perks of dating a dick is that he doesn’t leave too many sweet memories to remember him by.

Feeling empowered by her benign reaction, she dumped the contents of the box onto the bed and continued to sort through them. She was relieved that there was so little meaning in most of the items.

She read a few of the notes, cursed the day he was born, and decided to just throw it all away because she was tired from all the crying and she was tired of giving that relationship so much power over her.

She tried to dump everything back into the box, but of course, not everything fit anymore. One of the items overflowing was a large white piece of paper folded twice. She knew exactly what it was. She didn’t even remember it existed until the sight of it pulled the memory back into her consciousness. She picked it up and placed it on her desk.

She sat in front of the paper forever, just staring at it. She was afraid that she would want to die when she opened it and came face to face with it. This piece of paper meant more to her than any of the mindless scribble that idiot wrote in his cards.

After much agonizing, Stella came to the conclusion that if she could look at this piece of paper and not die, she could deal with everything else that might come her way.

In an act of bravery, she opened the piece of paper to reveal the sketch of the wedding dress she planned to wear when she walked down the isle of the Church of the Little Flower on the perfect spring day.

It was the most beautiful wedding gown she had ever dreamed up: inspired by a Monique Lhuillier dress she had fallen in love with, the satin gown had a plunging neckline and a big ruffled skirt. She removed the detailed lace and organza in the original design and replaced them with very minimal beading. It was young, chic, and just slutty enough to piss her mom off, but not enough to get kicked out of the church.

She couldn’t help but cry again, this time in mourning for the dress. It was the most beautiful dress she could dream up. She spent night after night sketching until it looked perfect. It had to be perfect. It was her wedding. The day she had been planning since she had the ability to reason.

Her first inclination was to destroy it. She needed to let it go, but she couldn’t find it in her to destroy it.

Their love may have been a pile of bullshit, but the dress was still beautiful. Nothing could change that. Her tears came and went, but she kept staring at the paper. She didn’t want to put it away again. As much as it hurt to think about it, the dress made her happy. The design came from a good place in her heart and she couldn’t let that go because she had no idea how to get back to that place.

It took a while for her mind to return to her current reality. Stella wanted to bring the girl that designed this dress back to life, she just didn’t know how. She could frame it in her room so that she looked at it every morning, but then it would always be a sketch, never a dress.

And it would be too weird to make the dress and hang it up in her closet. She wanted to feel happy, not insane. She looked at the sketch and imagined how the dress would look going down the aisle.

The image made it clear to her what she had to do. She opened a drawer, pulled out a pen, and wrote at the top of the sketch:

To Vivian:

Welcome to the family.

With Love & Style,

Stella.