Author Archives: DelicateStrength

About DelicateStrength

10th Grade Lit teacher at AHS 2 beautiful kids + 1 crazy husband + 145 high school students = 1 busy superwoman

9/11 — 10 Years


I was working at the local vet clinic, greeting clients, entering patients’ charts into the system, getting everything ready for the busy day of surgeries and appointments ahead.  One of our regulars called in while our waiting room was hectic and I was helping another client.  Now, this regular usually told outlandish jokes that no one found funny, so you shouldn’t be shocked when I told her, “That’s not funny,” and hung up on her when she began to tell me that one of the twin towers had been struck by an airplane.

I finished checking in my patient and had just waved her owner out the door when one of the technicians came running from the back, urging us to follow him – something big had just happened on the news.  I had already forgotten my crazy, unfunny client on the phone, and so there was no dawning of realization at this moment.  The other receptionist and I followed him obediently into the treatment area and joined the group surrounding the small portable radio sitting on one of the counters.

My client’s news was confirmed on the radio hastily by a big-sounding man.  He was reporting live from the scene, describing destruction and chaos we couldn’t imagine with something akin to excitement in his voice.

Then there was silence.

“Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Another plane has just hit the second tower!  OMIGOD!!”  Our reporter no longer sounded excited, but fearful.

Our office manager walked in as we were being told of this horrific tragedy.  We pulled ourselves from the radio and moved on with our own hectic day.  As the receptionist and fielder of phone calls, I received many from clients, friends and family of coworkers, and my own best friend, relating the news, worrying about loved ones who were currently in NYC or even in one of the towers.  News trickled in about two more planes.  By the time I left for my only Tuesday class at 1:30 p.m., I was in shock – I couldn’t believe such horrible things had happened.

On my way to campus, my best friend called again.  “Classes are canceled.  Wanna get some lunch?”  We ate our greasy pizza and drank our cold beer, as silently as everyone else in Little Italy, as silently as the whole town, as silently as the nation.


Little Deaths


She looks questioningly up at him.  She doesn’t understand.  He always wants her there.  He hates that she lives so far away.

So how can he be asking, pushing her to leave?  Yes, it’s late, and she has class the next afternoon, but that’s never kept him from holding her until the last possible second.

She knows this is best, that she should leave, because it’s the last week before finals, but she can’t help the crushing feelings from all but overwhelming her.  He walks her to her car, kisses her tenderly, and walks back to his apartment.

* * * * * * *

She’s eating dinner with her best friend and his buddy from high school.  They joke, laugh, and entertain her with stories from their past, but she can’t get past the feeling that she just doesn’t like Chris’s old friend.  He’s arrogant, somehow.

Midway through the pizza and wings, Zack looks up at her and asks, “So you’re dating someone at the Lawrenceville Friday’s?”

She shoots an annoyed glance at Chris who just gives a guilty, boyish grin.

“Yeah.  His name’s Tony.  Why?”

“Really?  I work there.  Tony and I hang out sometimes.  I didn’t know he was seeing someone at GSW.”  He has this smile that’s shifty, sneaky, satisfied, and gloating in one.  How could anyone truly like this guy?

She’s already decided to ignore him when she hears Chris ask, “What’s that supposed to mean?”  Apparently, he had heard the hidden implications as well.

“Forget it, Chris.  It doesn’t matter.”

Chris looks at her, says, “Okay,” then glares at his old friend.

* * * * * * *

“How was your trip?  Did you guys have fun at the bachelor party?  Where did y’all take him?”

“Vanessa, we need to talk.  Take a seat, I’ll order you some coffee.  White mocha?”


What had happened?  Was he okay?  Had they gotten into trouble?  She fidgets with the edge of her red skirt and the straps of her bookbag, worrying about the seriousness in Chris’s face.

Chris was always smiling – what could have happened?

He squeezes his way back over with two coffees, sits, and begins to nurse his own.

She blows to cool hers, waiting as patiently as she can.

Several minutes pass, and Chris watches people passing outside with dark clothes and umbrellas.  It’s not a pretty day.

“Well?” she demands.

He visibly steels himself, turns to look at her, and baldy states, “Tony’s cheating on you.”


“I saw him last night at Friday’s before we took Zack to the strip club.  He was waiting tables.  Every time he had a minute away from his tables, he and this girl were all over each other.  Zack caught me before I did something you might regret.”

“That’s not funny, Chris.”

He looked worn, much older than his twenty-one years.  He closed his eyes and nodded once.

“Why would you say that?  Tony loves me!  He wants to marry me!  I can’t believe you would do this to me…”

She storms out of the cafe, angry with Chris and his games.  Why couldn’t he ever just be happy for her?  As she passed the window next to their booth, she noticed that he hadn’t moved a muscle.

* * * * * * *

In the hour since she’d stormed out of Joe’s, Chris had called her ten times.  She was at the point of turning it off for awhile when “Brown-eyed Girl” sang from its speakers.

She almost dropped it in her haste to answer.  “Tony!” she breathed in relief.  She hadn’t even realized she was holding her breath until that moment.

“Ness.”  He’d been crying.

“What’s the matter, hon?”

“Ness, I’m so sorry.  I’m so stupid.  I’m so sorry.”

Cold fear spread from her fingertips and toes, up her arms and legs, through her torso and around her heart.  When it managed to pierce even there, tremors began racking her limbs.  How long all of this took, how long she sat shaking, she wasn’t sure.

“Ness?  Vanessa?  Oh, baby… Can we see each other?  I need to see you.  I’ll drive there-”

“No.”  She didn’t want him here, bringing his bad news to her warm, safe apartment.  “I’ll drive to you.”

She hit the end button and began throwing random things into a bag.  As she was locking the door, she realized she had no idea what was in the bag, because what could she possibly use from her living room to fix this?

The drive didn’t seem to take nearly as long as it should.  She pulls into a spot just below his stairs, grabs her bag, and is at his door with no knowledge of ascending the stairs.  She hopes she locked her doors.

He comes to the door, bringing a whiff of the cologne she bought him for Christmas, pulls her into his arms, releases her with something like fear or shock – she’s not sure which – in his expression.

They walk to his bedroom; he’s carrying her bag of miscellaneous items.  She numbly realizes he’s probably thinking she came to spend the night.  He places it on the chair outside his bathroom door, and they sit facing each other on his futon.

She uses all her self-possession to keep from jumping off this unfaithful bed, from spitting on its lumpy old comforter.

He pulls her hand into his lap, and he begins to talk.

* * * * * * *

She didn’t scream or rage, and she didn’t cry like she thought she would.  But her insides are still frozen, and she’s been pulling away physically every few moments.  He’s done.  He’s been done.  He’s waiting for her, and she thinks she sees a trace of that earlier fear before looking back at her interlocked hands.

“Is that all?”  He nods, tears escaping onto his khakis.  “Okay.  I should leave, then.”

She makes to go, and he clings to her.  “Wait!  Can’t we, can’t we talk?  You can’t just leave.  We have to talk.  We have to figure this out!”

She’s never seen him beg before, never seen such raw, yet boyish, pain.  She considers him for a minute, then gently unclasps his hands from hers.  She shoulders her bag and leaves, closing his bedroom door behind her.  She takes a moment, then makes her way through his now crowded living room, blindly nodding at who she assumes are his roommates, and she arrives at the door.  She turns the handle for the last time, pulls it to her, and slips into the chilling air.  Funny.  She didn’t notice the winter wind earlier.  She climbs down the first set of stairs before sinking onto the landing.

The gates are open.  The flood has come.  She succumbs.

Her arms wrap themselves around her knees, her bag is gone, her head falls forward.  She sits for days releasing her pain, washing her heart clean.

A distant jingle-jangle dances through the air, and she thinks of her cat, her furball, sitting at home waiting for her.  She’s almost to her feet, wiping her eyes as she pushes herself up, and “Vanessa!” cuts through the cold night and lands in her chest.

She doesn’t turn, she doesn’t answer.  She can only look down at the beautifully carved hilt sticking from her breast, knowing she won’t be able to remove it.

Tony picks up her bag from some three or four steps below, looks up into her face, then lifts her across his chest.  He carries her back to his room, murmuring sweet thanks into her ear, heedless of the blood and life seeping from under his hands.



He’s running late.  Or maybe my watch is fast.  Why did mother have to set me up on a blind date?  I’m not interested in a boyfriend, I don‘t have time for one with all my extracurricular activities and girlfriends.  Maybe she suspects.

There’s the door!  What will I say to him?  I hope he doesn’t want to go out – unless it’s a movie, then we won’t have to talk.  Ugh.  I reach up and touch my hair, then decide I don’t care how I look, not for him.  Without looking through the peephole, I swing the door wide, and I am momentarily frozen.  He’s gorgeous!

“Are you Sarah?” he asks.  I think I nod.  He reaches for my hand and introduces himself as David.

I clumsily gesture him into our living room and onto the couch, where I sit beside him in Daddy’s armchair, stupidly looking around as if I’ve never seen my own house.  He attempts small talk about school, the sports I play, “Your mom was telling me how great a shortstop you are,” and the construction of the new stadium in our town.  “I don’t understand why we’re spending so many tax dollars on such a grand stadium – we don’t even have a football team!  This has to be some sort of ploy to attract one, or maybe they’re hoping to be chosen to host the Special Olympics.  I’ve heard it brings in a lot of revenue.”  He’s a pretty good conversationalist, considering I’m still staring at the paintings and sculptures my mom has all over the wall and shelves above his blond head.  Why can’t I look at him?  This is silly.  I force my eyes to move down to his face, where they’re attracted to his full lips.  I watch them move, answering with, “Yeah,” and, “Really?” whenever I notice a small pause.  Something in my chest does a tight flip-flop when I chance a glance to his big, chocolate brown eyes.  The Clark Kent-style glasses he wears should detract from them, but instead magnify their depths.

This isn’t happening.  I’m not attracted to him.  I like girls.  I’ve always liked girls.  I think it almost as a little mantra.  I like girls.  I like girls.  My stomach is tightening with the knowledge I’m trying to resist.  Suddenly, though, I’m broken out of my stupor by his voice mentioning the loss of the Cubs last night.  I hear him say, “The Cubs will never make it to the play-offs if they continue with such lousy performances.”  My blood boils.  If there’s one thing about which I’m passionate, it’s the Cubs, and the way most of their fans are fair-weather.

I launch into a tirade about the depth of the talent we have this year, the great coaching skills, and the lack of support the rookies have from fans.  “Everyone should show up and support the team!  The half-empty stadium is largely responsible for the occasional bad games, and the mismanagement of the team is lowering the morale of the players.  If someone who was passionate about the Cubs went into the dressing room with confidence and positive energy, we wouldn‘t have ‘lousy performances.’”  I feel my face flush and my body tense, and I know David’s looking at me with surprise and interest because of the sudden outburst.  I try to calm myself so I may argue rationally about the Cubs’ chance for a playoff season, when he reaches over to pat my leg in an effort to pacify me.

The contact sends heat up my thigh and makes me tingle slightly, causing a new warmth to spread to my other limbs.  I jump up, knocking his hand from me, and march to the door, opening it.

The meaning is clear to him, so he slowly rises and straightens his jacket – which I realize I never offered to take from him – before walking through the door without so much as a backward glance.  It takes a minute for me to register that the door’s still open.  I close it and sink onto the glass surface of the coffee table, wondering where to file this new information about myself and what it means.



She pushed up her visor, brushed her hair impatiently from her eyes, and swung her new Epic bat fiercely.  It created a wide circle around her body, and she brought it back to position, swinging it a second time.  This was Jessica’s first game of the season, and she was determined to make her first at-bat count.

As she pulled the bat back around for a third practice swing, she caught movement in the bleachers to her right.  The bat slid from her hands as she turned sharply to peer at the short, portly man who had come up to the fence to yell encouragement to the current batter.  Jessica’s eyes were wide, as if trying to take in as much of the picture as possible, but she narrowed them quickly.  Berating herself internally for her intense reaction, she stooped to pick up her bat, trying to focus again on the game and her swing.

The damage had been done, though.  Jessica was now thinking of the man she thought she had seen, the person who crept unwillingly into her mind at inconvenient times, the jerk who had single-handedly destroyed her bright and happy world.  At thirteen years old, Jessica had moments when she felt and behaved much older.  In those moments, there was darkness, a heaviness, as if she were drowning in a dark pool.  Her mother never recognized these times for what they were, but her father was a little more acute, and he saw what others disregarded.  Only he noticed the fear, anger, and hate that swam in her big brown eyes.  Only he realized how much she still hurt.

“Jess, you’re up!” yelled the third-base coach.

Jessica quickly shook her head, realizing Brittany must have made it to first base, grabbed the pink bat her teammate had cast aside and threw it back towards the dugout.  She could faintly hear the cheers from parents, siblings, and players alike through the subtle roaring that rushed in her ears.  Get ahold of yourself.  Focus on the ball and the field, that’s all that matters right now.

She stepped up to the plate, dug the ball of her left foot into the dirt, and faced the pitcher.  Georgia had been her friend since first grade, when they first played ball together.  They had been on every basketball, softball, and soccer team together since then, and this was the first year they ever had to play against one another.  Georgia had been there for Jessica’s first slumber party, her first camp-out in the backyard, her first “boyfriend,” and she was by her side when Jessica first admitted what her uncle did to her.  It seemed as though they would always be friends; nothing could part them.  Eighth grade started this way, but things soon began to change.  Georgia was developing at a much faster rate than Jessica, so she, of course, became the most popular girl of their class, surrounded by the cutest boys and the silliest girls.

As Jessica glared at Georgia standing on the mound, she recalled lunch last Wednesday.  Jessica was sitting with a couple of her friends, discussing the new art teacher and the wild blue earrings he wore that morning, when Hank, Jessica’s boyfriend, strode over to thrust a folded piece of paper quickly into her hands, then practically ran to get away from her.  When she opened it, she read five little words that stabbed her in the chest like five tiny knives.  Hank was breaking up with her, on Valentine’s Day, in a note.

Jessica felt her pain and anger rise as she heard a peal of laughter from two tables over.  Looking up, Jessica saw Georgia, surrounded by her usual group of giggling girls, pointing her way with one hand and holding Hank’s in her other.

Focus.  FOCUS!  Jessica barely pulled herself from her reverie to watch the ball fall gracefully into the catcher’s mitt.  “Strike!”  She dug her foot into the red clay again, focusing all of her hatred and humiliation into the hands gripping her bat.  When the next pitch came, she slammed it, red crowding into her vision, the force of the impact so much that she almost stumbled.  She slowly remembered that she was supposed to be running, and by the time she became fully aware, she heard screams of pain and shock.  Halfway to first base, she turned toward the noise that had become a howl.  Georgia was crouched on the ground, clutching her face, her teammates and coaches circling her.

“Ohnoohnoohno,” Jessica muttered to herself.  Without looking around, she ran as hard as she could – losing her helmet and bat – towards the opponent’s empty dugout, through the gate, around the concession stand, and into the bathroom, only stopping once she had locked herself into the handicapped stall.  She would be in so much trouble now.  She knew from past experiences that things like this were always her fault.  No matter who Jessica thought was really responsible, or if things were simply an accident, her mother yelled at her.  Her mother had yelled when Jessica failed a spelling test, when Scratchy the cat ran away, if the water bill was too high, if there wasn’t any popcorn, and when Jessica told her dad what always happened when Uncle Steven came to visit.

Yes, her mother blamed Jessica for her brother’s imprisonment.  Steven was her favorite older brother, the one who always looked out for her when she was younger.  She called Jessica a liar, a bitch, a slut, every nasty thing she could think of, until Jessica’s dad finally told her to lay off, or he would divorce her.  But Jessica still knew how her mother felt.  Jessica knew who her mother would blame.  Jessica knew she would be punished for Georgia’s injury.

As she reflected on this, Hank’s and Georgia’s betrayals, and Uncle Steven’s roaming hands, she sank to the floor, her head between her knees, sobbing so arduously that there were no actual tears.



Shock.  Blank.  White cold.  This is what I felt when I turned the corner.  There he was, hanging from the door frame to what was once our closet, blue and purple, his face swollen.  I couldn’t move, though I wanted to touch him, to see if he wasn’t just conjured by the meth still racing through me.  I wanted to run, frightened by what hung before me and paranoid.  Did he do this because of me?  Is this some sort of sick joke?  What will the cops do?

I couldn’t just ignore this and turn towards the front door, my closest escape.  Should I dial 9-1-1?  It felt like hours, but I think it was mere minutes, before I decided to use a nearby sheet off the floor – probably dirty – to cover his limp frame.  That being done, I could think more clearly.

Questions circled through my mind, each presenting new questions to be answered.  I had no answers.  I knew I had to call the cops, but, Will they drug-test me?  If I wait, will they know I waited?  Will I then be questioned as an aide, or as a murderer trying to disguise this as a suicide?  Why would he do this?  Helplessness overwhelmed me, the weight of it forcing me to sit on the brown carpeted floor.  Just before the divorce, we’d talked about hardwood.  With trembling, pale hands, I fumbled in my large green bag, dazedly pulled out my phone.

I don’t remember the call.  Almost instantly, I was surrounded by men in uniforms, hauled to my feet by the closest of them.  The sudden activity forced my attention back to him.  Red pinpoints impaired my vision, but I could see the outline of what I was trying to reach.  I thrashed wildly towards his face, which they‘d now uncovered, managing to escape the hold on my right; just as I was striking out, I felt the grip tighten and multiply on my left.

As suddenly as my rage came, it went, though unspent and bound to return.  I sagged against the nearest dark uniform, unaware that I was thoroughly soaking it with my sorrow, and was “escorted” from the dimly-lit apartment.  I knew my former neighbors and friends were watching this last bit, quickly spreading rumors and ideas, speculations about what could’ve happened, their brows furrowed with worry, but their mouths and eyes hardly containing their excitement.  I didn’t care.  I only wanted a bit of sanctuary, a quiet, still place to cry.  This was granted, but not in a form I would’ve chosen.

Afraid of me, or what I’d do, the cops put me into the back of one of their cars.  The space was cramped, and I didn’t even have room enough for my feet in the tiny concave area in the plastic divider, so I curled into a ball, pulling an invisible wall, or bubble, around me.  I ceased to feel anything.  I could still register the happenings around me, yet I don’t remember thinking of anything, nor can I recall any more tears.  I was numb.



Tim’s sitting in one of the hard plastic chairs, shifting as he waits for his number to be called by the tiny old lady in the booth straight ahead of him.  He looks around at the others waiting and wishes there was someone close enough to strike up a conversation, but the room’s too quiet to speak to anyone more than five feet away.  “Dammit.  Should’ve brought in my Car and Driver,” he thinks.

“483,” the old lady calls.  “483.”

He looks at the little ticket he has in his hands and slowly releases the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.  Four more to go.

He watches as a young, Hispanic mother struggles to pull her child with her around the corner on his left, where the little stalls holding the DMV staff members are.  He wonders when he last saw an ass like that.  A businessman passes him without a glance, focused only on the exit door, probably headed back to some fancy office over on Main Street.

The old lady comes over the P.A. system, again, “487.”

He stands up, looks around, then mutters, “Wow.  Must be my lucky day!  Wonder why they skipped over the other people?”

He follows the path of the Hispanic woman with the nice ass and sees his number on a little black screen above a window with the most peculiar sight behind it.  Inside this stall is a very boxy person with short, spiked, jet black hair, a too-big, navy polo shirt, and a big-ass sparkly red bow—like the ones seen on tops of Christmas trees—on one side of her very round head, and the bow has to be the same size as its perch.  There’s no trace of make-up, and the unlined face could be feminine or masculine, but the bow makes Tim realize this must be a woman.

He shuffles closer to the counter’s edge, staring hard at that huge bow, momentarily forgetting why he’s here.
The bronze nametag indicates the woman’s name is Kelly, but Tim hasn’t noticed this.  Kelly smiles genuinely up at Tim, who stands a few inches taller than her, even though she’s on a raised platform.  In a rather deep, husky voice, she asks, “What may I do for you, today?”

Tim shakes himself mentally and focuses hard on Kelly’s face.  The glare from her bright red bow is glowing across one side of her face.  “I’m here to renew my biker license.”

Kelly smiles again and reaches for the form he filled out at the old lady’s booth, so he passes it to her through the little slit in the bottom of the plexi-glass.  While she’s looking over the information, Tim stares beyond the thing on her head and concentrates on the hideously cute pictures of various naked babies playing with kittens, flowers, bees, and St. Bernards.  Then, he notices a little brass frame with who must be her father and her as a little girl in the picture.  She’s sitting in his lap on a porch swing, looking up at him adoringly with a huge, green straw hat and a toy teacup dangling from her pinky.  “She wasn’t a very pretty child, either,” he thinks.

His eyes are drawn back to the glittering bow, and he quickly redirects them to her desk.  She has little knickknack toys, the kind you get from Burger King, all over the place, in no order he can see, and she’s written all over her desk calendar in curly handwriting different names and cities, little hearts and smiley faces, and flowers dotting every “i.”

Tim doesn’t understand how someone this girly, someone who’d wear a huge red bow on her head and scribble daydreams on her desk, could be hiding under this “Pat” appearance.  He feels something akin to shame as he accepts his form back from her french-manicured hands with a big red “APPROVED” stamp on it and walks briskly to his right towards the cashier.  He never makes eye contact with Kelly.