Friday, May 26, 2017

Dear Corey

            Dear Corey,
I was na├»ve enough to thing you could be “the one.” Of course, you were the only outed guy in town that was actually attractive. As usual, I was wrong about you. I’m mad at myself for taking so long to realize this.
            Part of the reason I feel I latched onto you was because I had searched so long for another guy and we ended up working together. I was so stupid for thinking you would ever feel the same way about me. After all, you’d previously had a relationship with another boy in school and had already felt what I was so desperate to feel myself.
            You were probably the biggest reason why I applied at the same restaurant you worked at. I wanted to get to know you and possibly have a real relationship for once. It’s pathetic, right? My thinking at the time made sense to me, for some odd reason. I must have thought you were as desperate as I was.
            I suppose I’m still glad I got to know you. We had some similar experiences: coming out to our peers, which is an arguably difficult obstacle. I finally started to feel comfortable talking about my sexuality for once when I was around someone else who had been through a similar journey. I’m still amazed by how accepting all the other employees were, although everyone that stayed employed for a significant time was under 25.
            The fact that we had different experiences with finding out who we were still baffles me. For your whole life, you’d knew you were gay. I discovered I was bisexual at age 13. You’d had more negative responses from your peers when you came out of the closet (of course, you did that by kissing another guy at school in front of everyone). I did over Facebook and had only a few misunderstandings.
            At work, you were such a dork. That’s what made you even more attractive to me. You would always talk about a new video game were playing or the dirty joke your friend said that day in school. And you were cute. That’s why I fell for you, I suppose. For some reason, the combination of characteristics seemed to make up the perfect guy to me.
            It was really hard for me to tell if you expected me to come forward and confess that I had a crush on you. I hinted every now and then by giving you a hug or something. But you still seemed a little blindsided when I told you that night when we were closing the store together. You were preoccupied with wanting to get back with your ex. I respected you enough to encourage you to say something to him, because I wanted you to be happy.
            You never directly responded to my confession to you. That caused so much uncertainty that my anxiety skyrocketed. I remember waiting the next day for you to text me to talk further, but you didn’t. I knew I fucked up. Later that night, I decided to text first, to ask how things were going for you and you unexpectedly replied, saying you were still trying to figure it out. I gave you advice to say something to your ex. I knew once you knew if he wanted to make up that you wouldn’t suffer from the uncertainty that I was feeling.
            The night I found out you both had made up and had gotten back together, I was absolutely destroyed. From what you had previously said, he didn’t seem interested in you anymore, especially when he seemed to be avoiding you in school. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out the other way. When I drove home that night, I cried so hard I practically had to pull over. It didn’t help that I had sad music blaring (Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You,” to help you get an idea). You were finally happy and had the courage to speak up, the same way I had to you earlier. But the fact that it wasn’t me that was making your dreams come true gnawed at me until I was raw.
            The one thing that I hated about you is how you continued to talk about your boyfriend in front of me. It was as if I was just another one of your many lady-friends for the next few weeks we worked together.  Did you have any idea how much it hurt me? I had just professed my feelings for you not long before and you acted as if I had never said anything.  
            It also baffled me why you’d gone back to him. He would act like a dick to you at school, mostly in front of his other friends. Not to mention the occasion when you told me that he would have rather spent time scrolling though straight porn on Tumblr than spend a night with you. I couldn’t imagine why you wanted someone who acted like they didn’t want you, when I wholeheartedly wanted to be with you.
            As you remember, we both coincidentally quit our jobs on the same day. You’d stormed out earlier in the morning due to the regional manager’s bad scheduling and I put in my two weeks notice a few hours later. I was later persuaded to stay until one individual who we both disliked pissed me off enough that I put my notice back in.
            I didn’t see you since you left until I was hired at a different establishment. You had actually been hired there earlier. If I had known you worked there, I might have actually applied somewhere else, to avoid reliving what you had put me through.
            My feelings for you had returned after a mutual friend (who also worked at the same store with us) told me you had broken up with your on and off again boyfriend. Maybe I still had a shot; who knows?
            We actually didn’t work together until a few weeks after I was hired. Probably because of all those damn training videos about cashiering I had to watch. There were so many and the technology in the back room kept freezing up or failing to load. Once I was finally up front with you, we still talked and joked around. It was almost like our last job, only there were more customers and less time to goof off. I was actually happy to know someone else that worked in such a gigantic store.
            After almost two months, my feelings for you started increasing. One day, I thought about straight up asking you out and getting everything off my chest. But last minute, I couldn’t work up the courage to speak up. I kicked myself for not doing that.
            During the middle of June, my family and I left on a camping vacation to the northeastern part of the state. I couldn’t get you off my mind. The uncertainty of what you would say if I ever said something again was eating me alive. That whole two weeks affected me so badly that I never wanted to go on a vacation with my family again. The stress was impacting my interaction with them because I was so focused on constantly wondering what would happen if I explained my feelings for you again.
            Through the last week of the vacation, I had made up my mind that I would finally come clean with you and say something. I practiced how I would say it when I took walks alone around the lake. But I then saw when scrolling through my Facebook news feed that you were traveling to look at a college in Colorado. At that point, my heart sank, because there was a chance you would be leaving.
            On the day after my family got back, I went through your checkout lane and you confirmed you would be moving during the upcoming fall out of the state so you could attend that college so far from here. I was disappointed and knew I would have to give up.
            Just seeing you at work was enough to depress me. It was a constant reminder that I had waited too long, that I would never know if you would ever consider being with me and that I would probably never see you again. Then, you got fired in July because you had called in too many times. Not seeing you anymore allowed me to heal somewhat. I started feeling a little better about the situation and started forgetting about the unquenched loneliness I had been feeling for so long.

It’s been a few months now and you’ve since left the state. I’ve made so many more friends at work and I can comfortably say I have gotten over you. I don’t think you’ll ever realize how much you affected my life, for better or worse but I hope you’re happy in Colorado and doing well at the school you chose. There will probably always be a special place for you in my heart, but I have since moved on to pursue bigger and better things.
This post is a true story that I wrote for a creative writing course in my sophomore year of college. Due to privacy reasons, certain details have been changed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Unfortunate Tale of Orange Socks

This post contains graphic content, including, but not limited to, strong language and sexual assault. It is based on a true story, inspired by an unidentified woman bearing the same nickname.
Artistic rendering of "Orange Socks" by Carl  Koppelman

            I’ve wandered my way through Oklahoma mostly by walking, occasionally trading rides for sex, the distance that tuckers would take me would represent the distance I’d go to make it happen. My last customer wasn’t particularly gentle and I’ve spent the past two days walking along the roadside with bruised thighs and an aching groin. Even if I was up to prostitution at that moment, I couldn’t because there are so few cars that pass me. The occasional breeze is nice when each vehicle drives ahead of me, yet they ignore my outstretched thumb.
           The mosquitoes are particularly bad in this part of the state. I can’t stop scratching all the bites I’ve gotten from being out in the open for so long. I reach down, feeling my fingers move across the bumps on my unshaven legs and sense my long, dirty fingernails scrape away at my swollen skin. It’s so hot outside and I regret the fact that I couldn’t afford to buy new sandals. My feet are overheating in the pair of tattered Nike Bruin sneakers I have worn for the past two years.
          I’d left home at sixteen and spent time under bridges, in vacant buildings and cheap hotels before I roomed with my grandma in Tulsa until she got sick. She died in November of 1978, almost a year ago. I honestly think she was the only person who ever gave a rat’s ass about me. I run my fingers through my wavy, reddish clumps of hair, which I often do to calm myself down when unpleasant thoughts come to my mind.
          I always remembered being called by the nickname “Socks.” My neighbors told me a story that one day when I was real little I’d run from our trailer to theirs, wearing nothing but the stockings on my feet. They said I wanted to get away from my drunken father who was fighting with my momma that morning. I don’t remember that day or ever having a real daddy.
          It’s late October now and I haven’t been able to afford a hotel room in a few weeks and generally spent nights on quiet roadsides or under bridges. I’m usually able to make up to fifteen-dollars a pop for each trucker who’d me suck him off. I never really liked hooking, yet it was the only honest way I could come across money.
          When I start feeling fatigue as the night approaches, I find an overpass to sleep under for the night that seems less busy with traffic. The last time I ended up waking every twenty minutes because a damn truck would drive above me. I plan on heading to a gas station in the morning. Its sign peeks from the trees not far from where I rest.
          “Can you wait a fucking second?!” I shout.
          I’m in the bathroom of the gas station I observed last night when a violent, angry pounding interrupts my thoughts. A man shouts a series of insults on the other side of the door, apparently in desperate need of a midmorning piss.
          I wring out a dirty towel I stole the week before from a clothes line over the sink and place it underneath the hand dryer nearby. Once it’s moderately dried out, I place it along the front of my underwear. It’s “that time of the month” for me and I have to save what little cash I had for food. I can’t really spend much on tampons when I have been trading my body for rides, rather than for money. So far, my towel method had worked decently, when you consider the circumstances of my lifestyle.
          I jump when I made eye contact with myself in the dirty, cracked mirror. This is the first time I have seen my reflection in months and I’m surprised by how dirty my hair had gotten. It gives me a much more feral look to match my wide-set hazel eyes and thick, bushy eyebrows. I ain’t what lots of people think of as pretty, but it don’t always stop the horny truckers who’ve been traveling for days who are eager for any kind of pussy. I was often told by one of my momma’s many boyfriends that I was too ugly to ever be a whore, but I guess I proved him wrong. I never ended up saying anything back to him, because he drank himself to death the next night.
          As soon as I unlock the bathroom door, the man on the other side barges in with a scowl. “About damn time!”
          “Fuck off, man!” I scoff as I size him up. I’m tall for a lady and I look him square in the face, meeting his angry eyes. He wears a dirty work uniform with “Jim’s Hauling Co.” embroidered on the breast pocket. Dark, abundant chest hairs peek from the wife-beater he wears underneath.
          Minutes later, he is on the floor groaning as I increase the speed of my hand around his rager. Despite the fact we got off on the wrong foot, he decided it was worth eleven to get a hand job from me. When I finish, he lets out a deep breath and lay back, his head and rests it against the edge of the toilet.
          I raise my eyebrow and he caught on after a minute and pulls out his worn wallet from his back pocket and pulls out two crisp ten-dollar bills. He outstretches his hand with a casual smile.
          “You have change?”
          “No,” I reply as I stuff the money into my bra.
          I push open the door soon afterward, greeted by a young woman’s high-pitched gasp as she sees my latest client stuff his manhood back into his pants behind me. Her eyes are wide with surprise and I tell her to get out of my way. She looks as if she’s never seen a man naked. I feel kinda sorry for her if it’s true.
          I spend the next hour and a half on the streets in town trying to hitchhike. I was about to admit defeat when a blue truck slows as it approached me. I looked up as the man driving flicks his cigarette at my feet and laughs when I jump away. I retract my thumb and extend my middle finger, which makes him guffaw into his beer.
          When I was in my early teens, I actually saw some value in a life with a roof over my head with my mom’s abusive string of boyfriends living underneath it. Since momma worked most of the time, it allowed most of them to stay home and drink. She didn’t pay much attention to me and the father figures in my life often paid too much, usually spanking me for leaving my few toys lying around or forgetting to clean the house. My mind wandered so often that I forgot to run after it when I should have.
          After I’m done fuming over the ass who laughed at me, I sew a homeless man on the sidewalk and sit down next to him. He looks about forty, but by the way he’s been living, he could have been a lot younger. He strums his guitar and sings about city life and his missing dog. A few people passing by throw change into his guitar case. I kind of wish I had enough to give but I need to make the twenty dollars I made this morning last as long as I can.
          The man reminisces about a long-lost love he had as a teenager and it reminds me how I never got to have that sort of thing in my life. The only people who had ever wanted to fuck me were the old janitor from the high school or my mom’s ex who ended up getting his ass whopped for molesting one of the neighbor’s kids.
          None of the boys my age were interested in the stocky, tall-for-her-age girl who could knock around anyone who pissed her off. I’d started hooking by twelve in exchange for cigarettes and then money. What I lacked in attractiveness I made up for with my handwork and whatnot.
          After a week in that particularly unremarkable town, I have decided to move on. I spent all of my money on as much cheap food as I could find. I sit under my bridge and dip the long nail from my index finger into a near-empty jar of peanut butter and observe one last glance at my home for the past seven days. I take a deep breath and prepare myself for a day of finding a ride – and a client that can get me out of here.
          The day has already been hot and sticky and it’s still morning. I haven’t bathed in I don’t know how long, yet it’s a sacrifice I didn’t mind making when I decided to live on the road again after grandma died. When I was little, I went long intervals without being washed by my neglectful momma and her boyfriends, so it was something I was used to, anyway.
          After a few more hours of walking the streets and attempting to flag down drivers, I got another man to pull over and told him I need a ride. When he asked for what I’d give in exchange, he lit up when I explained I’d go all the way for some additional cash. He was middle-age and wore a long beard, his head balding a little at the top of his head. No ring was on his finger, so there’s no surprise he was so open to this opportunity.
          I open the passenger door of his semi and he soon drives me to a secluded, wooded area he said he’d passed earlier this morning and we undress. A few minutes later, I lay in the back of his vehicle gazing out the window, ignoring his attempts to make eye-contact as he thrusts on top of me until it’s over with.  I cringe when he pulls out and kisses my neck tenderly. After that, he tosses a crumpled fifty on my uncovered chest.
          “You wanted that ride now, right, hon’?”
          “Yeah,” I muttered.
          The ride feels like hours when I think it was probably only twenty minutes. Time passes slowly when you watch all the trees out the window as you move alongside them. I get out of the truck when he stops in Georgetown, a city outside of Austin. I leave without saying a “goodbye” or a “thank you.” He waves when I catch a regretful glance back, but I ignore him. I’m a transient prostitute, not his wife. I know I ain’t the only hooker who resents every man who thinks there’s more to a single-time screwing.
          The streets are densely populated with people. I feel like I encounter a few hundred in the first few minutes I scope out the downtown area. I smell the all-too familiar odors of urban city life – cigarette smoke, bad restaurants and exhaust. I think about settling in an alleyway nearby, but I decide against it, not knowing who or what I might encounter once night arrives.
          After few hours I spend of walking, I discover a bridge that seems unused and I quickly sit down, relaxing my aching body. It has been yet another, unsurprisingly humid and miserable day. I hope that in a few more hours, it will be dark again and the city will quiet down a little. A bag I carry since I went shopping last is running on empty. I knew need to do more shopping again the next day. I yawn loudly and my eyes close. I decide to do it the next day, as I’m too tired to do much of anything. I curl up into my usual position and rest my arm underneath my head. I always got teased by grandma for being a side-sleeper.
          “What the fuck, Roger?!”
          “Don’t you give me none of that, you miserable little cunt!”
          “How dare you talk to me that way in front of the kids?!”
          The couple’s arguing shakes me from my slumber. It is so dark around me; I can only see a few feet in front of me. I’m facing away from where the city’s dull lights shine in the distance. The shouting is coming from directly above me, on the bridge. I lay, huddled in the brush below, out of anyone’s sight.
          “I told you not be talking to that sumbitch!”
          “He treats me a helluva lot better than you do, you asshole!”
          After the woman spits her last line of venom, I hear a loud, quick noise that must be a slap. I cover my left ear with my hand and I press my other ear into the ground to try to drown them out, frantically stroking my hair with my free hand. Hot tears start streaming from my eyes as I remember the turbulence of my childhood.
          “Why isn’t Socks ready yet? I fuckin’ told you to have her ready by ten o’clock!”
          “I could care less! She ain’t pretty enough to get her damn picture taken anyway!”
          “I’ll do it myself, you useless piece of shit!”
          The next morning, in the early hours of dawn, I find myself staring blankly at the gray sky above me. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Too many bad memories got stirred up when I heard all that fighting. I think it’s gonna rain, based on how the sky looks.
          I get up and eat my breakfast of saltine crackers. I toss the empty bag into the weeds, forgetting all the badmouthing of litterbugs in grade school. I have  finished all of what I had to eat and plan on heading to the store I saw on my walk yesterday. It looked pretty big compared to the gas stations I’d usually frequent. I hope I would have a better selection to choose from than potato chips and peanut butter.
          I wince as I stand up. I have had pains in my pelvic area off and on for the past few weeks and they feel twenty-times worse this morning. I have a feeling it’s related to my line of work, which I admit, isn’t the cleanest. Most of my clients didn’t use protection and I sure as hell can’t afford to buy some for myself.
          I wonder what passing drivers think when they watch me limp toward my destination. The short walk is nothing compared to what I’m used to, but my ankles are little sore, though, especially when I walk upward on a steep hill.
          I push open the doors of the chain supermarket and a rush of cool air welcomes me inside. It’s so great to be someplace where I could enjoy air conditioning. Shelves line the floor with stacks of food. My stomach growls loudly at the sight, despite that I ate the full pack of crackers minutes earlier.
          A few people stare as I make my way down the aisles. I’m unusually self-conscious about my appearance. My greasy hair falls in tangles at my shoulders, my legs look hairier than most of the men walking past me.
          I see a man whisper to his wife standing next to him. I’m able to read the word “trash” from the movement of his lips. He had just caught a glance at me and chokes down what I recognize as laughter. I stare him down and keep walking until I’m inches from his beady little eyes. I raise my shoulders high to make myself bigger.
          “You better stop that,” I growl.
          Undaunted, the man glares back, unblinking. “Or what?”
          “I’ll fucking beat your ass.”
          I walk away before I’m sure I’ll start throwing punches. It really pisses me off when people talk shit like that. The man snickers when I limp around the corner, thinking I was out of earshot. I’m proud of myself for not kicking his as. It took a lot of courage not to turn around and start wailin’ on him. Dumbass deserves it.
          I find a reasonable supply of food for the money I carry safely under my shirt. I had to grab a shopping basket because my arms got too full. The young man at the checkout totals my order and when I absent mindedly hand him the fifty, he stared back, confused.
          “You’re thirty-one cents short, ma’am.”
          “Ugh,” I say. ”Take the last thing back.” He reaches down and grabs a box of cookies until I abruptly stop him.
          “No, no, no. I don’t want the apples.”
          “You’re holding up the line,” snarls a familiar voice from behind me. I look back to see the same man I encountered earlier. He sneers as his wife looks away, trying to avoid confrontation, apparently embarrassed.
          With that, I abruptly step away from the register and hobble quickly out of the store, ignoring the stabbing pain coming from my hips. I’m already sick of the damned town. I need to get out of here. Hitching a ride would be so much easier, since Georgetown is more heavily populated.
          After fifteen minutes on the street, I have a guy opening his door for me. As I climb into his pickup, he asks me where I want to go and I responded with “as far as you will take me.”
          “It’ll cost ya,” he replies. It somehow doesn’t alarm me when I see him narrow his brow and grin wickedly. I’ve had a few folks look at me that way before I fuck them.
          “Fine.” I say.
          He pulls over by the trees and he removes his clothing. I slowly do the same, watching him as I move. He slyly asks if I needed any help and I shake my head.
          “Lie down.”
          Obediently, I submit to my usual position, staring at the sky to try to focus on something other than a stranger’s presence in my body. I’m looking up for a few minutes and nothing happens. I sit up and he hits me square in the face. Blood starts pouring from my nose and I’m about to cry out, but he covers my mouth.
          Instinctively, I bite down, hard and he rips his hand away. I’m punched once more and he knocks the breath out of my lungs with a kick to the gut. I scramble away, trying to escape toward the sound of moving cars in the distance. He grabs me by the ankles with unexpected strength and pins me to the ground. His eyes are savage, devoid of any humanness.
          I start screaming. Blood-curdling shrieks echo through the trees. My attacker, somehow fueled by this frenzy, grabs a nearby rock and smashes it against my forehead. I black out shortly afterward.
          Hours later, I drag myself upward, my head spinning and throbbing. I’m still nude and judging by the dried blood caked on my inner thighs, the man who attacked me got what he wanted without having to drive me anywhere. Out of habit, I start to bring my hand upward to run through my hair. I stop when I see half of my fingernails are broken. I really put up a hell of a fight.
          My clothing is nowhere to be found. He must have taken it as a souvenir or just to get even with me for fighting back. My feet sting every time I take a step, since the trees around me are mostly pines. A glimmer of hope appears when I see my socks a few feet from where the trees end. Nothin’ else is there.
          I inhale sharply, bend down with a jabbing pain in my lower body and slide the worn, orange socks over my feet. The nails on my right foot poke out from a large hole near my big toe. I limp forward, covering my groin in the fading daylight as I emerge from the woods with the dread of flagging down a driver who might have a set of spare clothing.

Copyright 2017 Ashton Furler

Friday, November 6, 2015

Beth Doe Hits Home

The images shown in this article are not photographs and serve only as estimations of the subject in life. 

It was late December 1976 when a young woman's body was found in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. It's been nearly forty years and nobody has any idea of who she was. Nearly forty years. Nobody has ever answered for this savage crime. She's known posthumously  as "Beth Doe" and is buried in anonymously in a pauper's grave. She was no older than 25 and may have been as young as 14 when she was murdered. She was most likely born in a European country before moving to the United States, judging by scientific experiments conducted on her bones.

I'm not going into detail. The description of her case is horrifying and unthinkable to me, even though I've spent the last half of my life watching true crime television shows and spending hours every day reading about these crimes. Beth's is different. There have only been about five cases that have shaken me so heavily - and hers is at the top of the list, surprisingly being above the Jack the Ripper victims and the Black Dahlia.

What remains such a huge factor is her young age as well as the circumstances surrounding the case. Two days ago, a partial mortuary photograph surfaced. It wasn't like the two renderings shown above that are nothing more than an artist's guess of how she looked. The photograph showed only half of her face, yet it was enough to bring forward the sheer reality of violence that ended this young woman's life. I had read details about her case before and I was prepared ahead of time for what I would see. I never had a complete understanding of the disgusting, unsettling and gruesome murder that someone was actually capable of doing to another human being.

I knew I would cry when I saw the face that countless artists tried to recreate over the past four decades. I knew I would be angry and I knew I would feel grief. Frankly, I should have seen this coming, yet reality never hit me until a fragment of a faded photograph leaked online from a person on a photo-sharing website that carelessly made this excruciatingly graphic image public for all members of society to see.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My struggle with self-harm

This post received an Editor's Choice award on TeenInk. 

Last month, I sat in bed one night, having the usual symptoms of being a night owl. It was late at night and I was running out of things to do to stay awake. I walked as noiselessly as possible toward my bookshelf where I grabbed my freshman English class' publication of journal entries detailing events that "changed them," inspired by The Freedom Writer's Diary. I began paging through and suddenly, a small object slipped out from the book onto my pillow. I looked down and countless memories began flashing in my mind. It was my razor, long since forgotten, hidden from my family during some of my darkest days. It was one of the instruments that has literally left countless scars across my body. If you haven't guessed already, I'll confess that I have had a long history with the "phenomenon" of self-injury.

I began this traumatic journey at the age of eleven. It was the fall of 2007 and I had a shouting match with my mother. Out of anger, I had the idea to cut myself by using one of my pocketknives that I had stashed away for Boy Scouting events. I dragged the blade over my shin in several rows and watched tiny beads of scarlet liquid form at each small canyon in my skin. It was something that I thought I had invented, just another random impulse that I acted upon.

Months passed and I was living a dramatic life as an obnoxious and sensitive sixth-grade boy. I had gone through a bad breakup with my "girlfriend" of three months, whom I'll call Darcy. I was hurt that she had dumped me for some other boy in our class that she had little involvement with before he asked her out. The members of my posse of friends were polarized on which side to take on this ordeal. Some were angry with Darcy and others were angry with me for how I continued to harass my ex-girlfriend whom I thought I loved. The drama worsened to the point where I wanted to teach Darcy and her friends how much their words hurt me and I showed up to school one winter day wearing a short-sleeved shirt, exposing the various cuts in various stages of healing on my arms.

Things changed somewhat after this, as Darcy and some of her friends were upset about what I had done and I was sent straight to the guidance counselor's office. The woman assigned to work with sixth-graders was out of the office, so I was assigned to speak with the individual that interacted with seventh-grade students. Mrs. Poole hadn't come across as friendly when I had seen her before and she certainly didn't appear thrilled to be dealing with an angry four-foot-seven eleven-year-old. I answered her questions about why I had cut myself and even had to show her some places on my legs, which weren't visible. She asked me to take off some band-aids on my wrists, which I did grudgingly, to reveal nothing underneath. I had intended to give the impression that I had attempted suicide, along with cutting myself, to increase my chance to stop my constant conflict with Darcy and her friends.

I admit, I was looking for attention. I was going through a phase in my life where I craved sympathy from other people and would occasionally show up to school with cuts in order to restore the drama that had begun to settle. I know for a fact that everyone around me was tired of this, as I would always head down to the counselor's office to show my scarred arms and legs and my mother would have to drive fifteen minutes to bring me a long-sleeved shirt to cover my wounds.

The next year, I transferred to a nearby charter school to escape the trauma from the mainstream middle school. It was a new beginning, although one of my classmates whom had befriended me and did what she could to convince me to stop self-harm had also left the traditional school setting. I didn't relapse until the middle of my seventh-grade year. I had thrown away my last few months of "sobriety" after my depression returned. Surprisingly, I remember few details about this time, likely because of how insignificant my triggers were, such as getting yelled at by my teachers or having a squabble with my family members.

Eighth grade was a completely different story than my last two years of self-harm. By then, at the age of thirteen, I was beginning to struggle with my sexual orientation. Currently, I am living as an out-of-the-closet bisexual, yet at the time, I had the most difficult time to come to terms with myself. Every time I noticed I had desires toward other boys, I would cut, which eventually turned into a daily ritual. In the middle of the winter when my condition was at the worst, I was inflicting over fifty cuts across my body for each occasion that I felt was wrong to feel. I knew my family wouldn't be upset if I was to come out of the closet, yet I wasn't ready to accept myself for who I was. By late January, I made my first of six visits to a psychiatric hospital.

As usual, I would recover and stop cutting myself by spring and I soon began my freshman year of high school. My depression worsened to the point where I relapsed and spent every other week at the psychiatric hospital I had visited in early 2010. I eventually transferred in the middle of the semester from the charter school to the local high school, which was completely unfamiliar. Personally, I felt that I needed to move away from a learning environment that didn't quite work for me.

A photo of me in 2010, which illustrates my feelings at the time perfectly

Once I left, I had little to no friends and I kept to myself for the majority of the year. I appeared to be the average shy kid that nobody ever thought twice about, yet inside, I was screaming. I was stressed over a large workload of homework assignments and some harassment from bullies that had nothing better to do. I started pleading to return with a resounding "no" from my parents. I had already relapsed for the umpteenth time and there were new wounds every night. At several different times, I had attempted to take my life, thankfully by trying to cut my veins the wrong direction, as I was unaware of the lethal way to do so. Unfortunately, many weren't able to take my situation as seriously, as they believed I was simply a habitual cutter instead of a suicidal freshman.

The year passed and I eventually moved on with my depression and reduced my self-harming greatly. I was now a sophomore who was now used to the life of a high-schooler. There were still days where I cut, yet my mood began to improve once I began to show promise in my schoolwork. By the end of the semester, I had an excellent grade-point-average and my problems seemed to decrease as my grades got higher. I'd have to admit, my change for the better was by far helped by some encouraging new teachers, one of which was my open-minded English teacher, Mrs. Ryan.

Immediately after I wrote my first essay, I was complimented for my writing, which made me want to learn and do better. I'm proud to say that I aced every major essay for the two semesters that I had with her. Without having such a person as an instructor, I'm not sure if it would have been possible for me to change,

My junior year was more like my freshman year. Mrs. Ryan, along with another of my favorite teachers, Mrs. LaGreu, had been laid off due to budget cuts, which left me frustrated with less faith in the high school I had learned to love. I first noticed that this year was different once I ended up with a C in my chemistry class. I was used to getting mostly A's, and B's. My self esteem subsequently crumbled further when my grade deteriorated and I was soon slacking off in my other classes because my depression had returned with a vengeance. This was the year that fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd from British Columbia, Canada. The thought of suicide resurfaced and I soon became obsessed with "bullycides," which consisted of teenagers who were bullied to the point where they decided to end their lives. The case of Jamey Rodemeyer hit me the hardest, as he was a person in the same situation as I was, growing up as an LGBTQ student, although he was out of the closet some time before I would eventually have the courage to do. Jamey had a history of cutting and was open about his sexuality with his classmates, which resulted harassment that ended with him hanging himself in September 2011. I began expressing my feelings on an online blogging platform known as Tumblr. Surprisingly, there was a tremendous amount of other teens that suffered from depression, many of which I befriended.
My Tumblr picture (censored)

Self-harm is a very popular topic on Tumblr. Many have posted photos, videos and gifs (moving pictures) of self-inflicted injuries. It was then that I discovered new items to use for my own cutting; ones that would go deeper and draw more blood. Soon, I became like many others on the website. I started posting my own photos.

Cutting was my escape from reality. Scientific study shows that it released endorphins ("happy" chemicals) in the brain, similar to crying. It was my way to let my problems bleed out of the gashes on my legs and arms, some of which left puddles on my floor that were larger than my feet.

On a day in late 2012 or early 2013, I decided to post a self-portrait of myself with my cuts  and to write about my history with cutting. I was then overwhelmed by the amount of people who "rebloged" or reposted this insignificant-seeming image. As of two years and two months, the post has  had 3,600 reblogs and likes. There was so much popularity that even some of my peers at school saw. 

I deleted my Tumblr within months after my story was published. I decided that the only way I was to get better was to leave all of the negativity that I could in my environment. This choice may have even saved my life, as I still wonder if there would eventually come a day where drowning in my own and other people's sorrow would have been too much. However, I returned in late 2014 with a vow to refrain from getting involved in what had unknowingly caused me so much pain. Currently, all I post about includes Orange is the New Black, Jennifer Lawrence and various other popular topics in the young adult world.

As of my second semester in my first year of college, I am proud to say I have gone over a year without relapsing. The temptation still exists, yet I continue to remember that I owe it to myself, and potentially my children, to stay "clean" and live life to the fullest. It's not easy, I must admit, as there are always times where my depression overwhelms me and I am constantly looking for ways to relieve my stress.

My advice to current or recovering cutters: cry. It's easy to become numb when you've resorted to hurting yourself to feel better. I've found that one of the best ways for me to release my pain is to simply go to a quiet, locked room and to allow myself to deflate into a mass of tears. As I mentioned before, tears release endorphins, just as the pain inflicted from a blade will do. Another method? Draw on yourself with a pen or marker. By feeling the pressure of something or by moving something across where you would cut could somewhat simulate cutting without doing bodily harm. If it works for recovering smokers to hold straws or pencils between their fingers, it may help for a cutter to approach their problem in a similar manner, Recovering isn't easy, obviously, but it is definitely more realistic than it may seem.

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's personal: The Walker County Jane Doe

2015 reconstruction of the victim by NCMEC

This post contains sensitive details of violence that may be disturbing or triggering to some individuals.

In Huntsville, Walker County, Texas, on November 1, 1980, the face-down, naked body of a teenage girl was found lying near a highway. She'd been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. The victim's face was bruised and her mouth was ajar, as if her jaw had been broken. It's been thirty-four years and nobody knows who this arguably stunningly beautiful young woman was.

I usually refrain from writing about violent cases such as this on this blog, but this case is perhaps the closest unsolved murder to me and has made a significant impact on my life ever since I discovered it. I've shed countless tears and spent hours researching, hoping that we will someday be able to call her something other than "Jane Doe."

Walker County Jane Doe was a teenager, approximately fourteen to twenty. Upon the time of her death, she was at a healthy weight and appeared to have been raised in a middle-class household. She was found wearing a "smokey glass pendant" on a gold chain around her neck and a pair of reddish sandals with high-heels were carelessly thrown near her body.

The age and beauty of this victim is definitely a major factor to why I feel so close to this case. I am also determined to see it solved due to another thing - that she was brutally murdered. Walker County Jane Doe was beaten severely, as I mentioned before, but there is another gruesome detail - her killer had bitten her near the back of her shoulder. I'm disgusted by this; as it obviously wasn't enough to sexually assault and savagely abuse this poor girl. I hope one day I'll know who the son-of-a-bitch was, so I can see him pay for this heinous crime.

Researching about the unidentified fascinates me, as I crave to learn more about these mysterious people and to possibly help others find out who they were.The down side is that I often times come across images of bodies, many with strained expressions, such as this victim. For the longest time, I couldn't bear to see the face of this girl's body, which appears peaceful from the nose up, but illustrates a damaged neck and a gaping mouth, slanted open toward the left side. Some color photos are also available, which adds more grief, as anyone can notice the bruises. I often times cry when  I see these pictures, as it is truly horrifying how Walker County Jane Doe died.

A peculiar detail in the case is that it is believed that Walker County Jane Doe was seen alive the night before her murder. A girl matching her description was seen being dropped off by a man in a blue truck at a gas station.

The girl appeared to be a runaway; she appeared to have been sleeping in the clothes she was wearing. She carried high heeled sandals, similar to what were found next to the body of the Jane Doe. The girl spoke to the manager and requested directions to the Ellis Prison Unit, where she claimed she wished to visit a friend. It is unknown if this "friend" was a prisoner or a staff member. Either way, nobody could identify the girl when pictures of the victim were shown in the facility.

The girl had also been seen at the Hitch 'N' Post truck stop, which no longer exists, where she asked a waitress to draw her a map to the same prison unit. The waitress asked her age and expressed her doubts when the girl said she was nineteen. After the waitress asked where the girl's parents were, she was given the answer "who cares," which indicated that the Jane Doe was a runaway who was angry at her parents. The waitress also stated that the girl could have been from the towns of Aransas Pass or Rockport, both of which are located in Texas.

Debbie  McCall compared to a reconstruction of the Jane Doe
I personally am blown away that no missing girls were reported missing from either location that bore a resemblance to the victim. In fact, there are no missing girls from Texas at the time period that the Walker County Jane Doe was found that match her description. Those who did have long since been eliminated from the case as potential identities.

Awhile back, I came across the case of Deborah "Debbie" McCall from Downers Grove, Illinois. She has been missing nearly a year before the unidentified body was found. She matched the physical description, apart from eye color and even wore a gold chain around her neck, like the victim. The difference in eye color could be due to a mistake made by either the medical examiner or by the missing person report as well as clouding that may have occurred in the eyes after death, which does happen. Sometimes, eyes change color due to lighting, as I experience myself, as my eyes are blue but have turned green in bright sunlight.

Second comparison (middle image by Karen T. Taylor)

Debbie has been excluded from the case, yet I still believe there could be a chance that she could have been accidentally ruled out, as I've seen such a thing happen before. I'm not sure what method was used for the exclusion, but I believe that DNA should be compared between the two if it hasn't been already, as this method is the most precise way to exclude individuals.

I hope one day I'll be able to call this girl by her real name. I know thirty-four years is a long time, but old cases aren't hopeless. Most recently, the case of Tammy Alexander, which I've written about before was solved after thirty-five years. Another includes a man, Robert Daniel Corriveau, identified forty-four years after his death in 1968.

One thing that everyone needs to realize is that missing people need to be reported. Countless cases have been solved after someone makes the decision to file a report years and sometimes decades late. If you've lost touch with a friend: look for them on the web. If you're estranged from a family member whom nobody has heard from in a long period of time, do the same. If all else fails, file a report. You might just put to rest a mystery that appears unsolvable.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tammy Alexander: Anonymous No More

It's definitely peculiar when the body of an unidentified person is discovered. This occurrence happens all across the world, especially in populous areas. There are an estimated 40,000 unidentified bodies in the United States alone. Many of such individuals remain unidentified for years. That's what happened when sixteen-year-old Tammy Jo Alexander in November of 1979.

Tammy came from an unstable household in Brooksville, Florida. Her mother abused drugs and often times erupted into furious tantrums, which many could agree was an undesirable way to grow up. This led Tammy to run away from home, hitchhiking as far as California, where her family would eventually pay for a flight to bring her home. Then, there was one time where she never came back, sometime between 1977 and 1979.

After her final disappearance, a teenage girl's body was found on the side of a corn field in Caledonia, New York on November 10, 1979. The victim was shot twice - once in the head and again in the back. Her killer then dragged her into the field, where she was found about a day later. Authorities were called to the scene but found no identification documents in her possession, possibly  being removed by the perpetrator, as her pockets were turned inside out. Days passed. Then months. Years. The police realized that they were dealing with a Jane Doe, later known as the Caledonia Jane Doe or as Cali Doe.

I first learned about this case in late 2008, when I began reading about murder victims, which became a fascination of mine. I then discovered that it was possible that a victim would not identified, including that of Cali Doe and Princess Doe, who were estimated to be only teenagers when they were murdered. Eventually, my interest with homicide victims as a whole began to fade away, as I chose to pursue more positive interests.

Five years passed and I stumbled once again on an unidentified person case when researching about forensic facial reconstruction,  which I was used to seeing on ancient mummies, such as King Tut. I then searched for more cases of unidentified individuals, which led me to discover The Doe Network, which is a database that covers cases across the world. I came across the file of a girl found in New York in 1979, which I eventually found out was the Caledonia Jane Doe. I found this very interesting, as I had read about this case before, but had never come across reconstructions of what she may have looked like when alive.

I read more about the case and discovered more information about the girl. Testing on her bones and clothing indicated that she was from Arizona, California,Northern Mexico or Florida, judging by the pollen found clinging to her clothes. This was  I also learned that she was likely to be a runaway - since she appeared to be wearing secondhand clothing and suffered from tooth decay and acne.

I soon began reading more about unidentified persons cases on the Doe Network, which covers thousands of cases worldwide. This led me somewhat astray from that of Cali Doe, but I definitely never forgot about her. Later in the year, my final project for creative writing was to create a play, which I eventually decided to write a fictionalized story about several unidentified persons with Cali Doe as a supporting character, who was a runaway from an abusive stepfather in Arizona. I was certainly a bit off with the actual location, as Tammy was from Florida, but I believed at the time that she was from the southwestern part of the country, additionally because of the Native-American-appearing necklace that she wore.

By January 2015, my hopes for the case being solved were dwindling somewhat. I knew that there would always be cases where a victim wouldn't be identified and was starting to believe that this case, which was quite close to me, wouldn't have a happy ending. She could have been from anywhere in the country and fit the description of countless missing children, many of which were excluded as possible identities.

While scrolling on my Facebook news feed, one of the pages dedicated to the unidentified posted photo of a smiling blond teen who was recently reported missing by a childhood friend. It was Tammy Alexander, who had likely run away from home in the late 1970s and would have her sister's mitochondrial DNA compared to that of the body of Cali Doe. I figured this was going to be another exclusion, as Tammy didn't look exactly like the body or the reconstructions of the unidentified victim and had a different hair color and style, although traces of blond were found in Cali's hair.

On the morning of January 26, 2015, I was scrolling on my Facebook news feed once again and saw a headline reading: LIVINGSTON COUNTY OFFICIALS TO IDENTIFY THE CALEDONIA JANE DOE. My eyes grew wide and I couldn't help letting out a short "oh, God!" and clicked the link, which stated that the DNA was a match with Tammy Alexander. I called for my mother who presumed something wrong had happened. I ran out of my room and into the hallway, where I embraced her and collapsed onto the floor in an explosion of tears.

I'd told her about my passion for unidentified persons cases before, but tried to cut back, as it wasn't exactly a cheerful topic to bring up. Nonetheless, I quickly told her the story of the Caledonia Jane Doe and the events leading up to the discovery of her identity. I knew she wouldn't exactly understand, but I didn't care. The mystery had been solved, in part, as we now knew who the Jane Doe was.

Although Tammy's body was identified, the individual who took her life has never been charged or identified. A man who was seen with Tammy at a diner has been named a person of interest, but the only clue we have is a rough FBI sketch of a young man wearing glasses. Now, authorities have decided to post billboards detailing the case on highways, which has proven to be a good way to find important evidence. Who knows? The case may eventually be solved.

This post received an Editor's Choice award on TeenInk. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My first job

I walked in to Happy Harry's Pizza on March tenth, 2014. I was excited and nervous, as it was my very first job interview. Dressed in a green, flannel shirt, I nervously walked to the front of the restaurant and in a faint voice, I told the cashier what I was there for.

"What?" she asked.

"I'm here for an interview," I repeated, my voice croaking.

I was then ushered back behind the kitchen area, to a windowless room  where my future boss, Carlotta, sat calmly.

"I know you're here because you want the job, but why Happy Harry's?" she inquired.

Crap. I didn't prepare for this question. "I... well, it's better to work for a local place instead of one of those chain restaurants," I spluttered.

Agreeing with me, she moved on, reading off of the application that I submitted last week.

"So, you've done a lot of work in Boy Scouts and youth group. And you're an eagle scout."

"Yes," I repeated.

After forty-five minutes, Carlotta decided to hire me on the spot. "You seem like a really awesome kid," she smiled, "I'll have you start Monday at three-thirty."

Excited, I pushed my germophobia aside and shook her hand, even though she was suffering from an obvious cold. I did it. I got my very first job; a home run. I left with a huge smile on my face, but quickly wiped it off and, once I got in my mother's car, I told her I didn't get it. After she expressed her sympathy, I could no longer control myself and I grinned and told her I was just kidding.

"I can't believe it. You're a working man," she said.

Monday came along and I was supervised by a classmate who got the job two years before. She also happened to be my brother's girlfriend. We hadn't talked for several years, until recently, after we moved from grade school to middle school, as our learning environment got much bigger. We worked well together, despite that I'm quite shy. The day went well and I was excited that I had made my first $32. Sure, people complain about minimum wage, but I was grateful. At least now I could stop begging my parents for money to buy junk at Walmart.

The next day, Carlotta was working alongside us, with her husband, Ron. Soon, the time came to fill the cheese bin inside of the station. I retrieved a large, white bucket of mozzarella and returned. As I began adding to the supply, a large amount escaped my grasp and landed on the ground.

"What a waste," Carlotta complained, "pick that up."

Thinking nothing of this, I quickly grabbed the ruined cheese and returned after washing my hands.

Within a few weeks, I learned that Carlotta's mood was unpredictable. Some days, she would be quite chipper. When I would make a mistake, one day, she said, "Oh, no, don't apologize. It's alright." The next, she would tell me off. Most of the time, I would move past any negative statements she made and would continue working.

In late May, work became nearly unbearable. Two of Carlotta's star employees were quitting, as they needed to work at a summer camp or find a higher paying job. On top of that, one of her new employees was fired after he failed to show up for work. Because of the shortage of workers and the ever-growing amount of customers, my boss began to work alongside me. Now, she had only one mood. Anger.

The rushes gave me a lot of anxiety, which led to me working frantically, consequently resulting in a messy station. "I can't work like this! I'm cleaning up your mess." she barked. My face turned red and I continued on the order as she wiped the olives, onions and cheese onto the floor. Later that day, I was confused with an order. Somebody didn't want their garlic bread  baked. Most of the time, they were, or another employee would package the item after I finished putting it together. I made the garlic bread and then placed it on wax paper, accidentally bumping it into one of the pizzas nearby, which caused some sauce to smear on the wrapper. Once my monster of a boss saw this, she was quick to criticize me. "Unacceptable."

I then asked a quick question on how exactly to wrap the bread with the nearby plastic film. Carlotta grabbed the item and wrapped it herself. "You've worked here how long and you can't wrap a garlic bread?" she mumbled, loud enough for me to hear. By now, I was shaking. By the look of my hands, it seemed like I had just downed half-a-dozen energy drinks. As usual, I forced myself to continue.

By midday, there were more orders coming in. Carlotta even placed her own, which was currently in the oven with six other pizzas. The timer rang, and because I was impaired by the panic, I grabbed her meal from the ancient stove and placed it in the back, where the employees eat.

 After processing more orders. I glanced up to see her walking swiftly toward me. "I want my pizzas cooked!" she snarled.

Right now, I was at the point where I should have thrown my apron at her feet and said "fuck you, I'm out of here." But instead, I whimpered "do you want to spray that sheet with the cooking oil before you put it in again?" She responded by repeating what she said earlier.

The next day, I snuck into the back and placed my resignation and my two-week notice on her cork board. I was sick of her and Happy Harry's and needed to get another job that made me feel like I was going to relapse in major depression. I made it through within fifteen seconds, avoiding any confrontation from my verbally abusive employer.

Since my departure, at least three more people have left. It sounds bad, but I always liked driving past the restaurant and seeing her tacky HELP WANTED sign posted on the door, for the umpteenth time. Truth be told, she deserves it.