The Inspiration: This annual contest celebrates longtime Gotham student and writer Norma Crosier who died a few days short of her 91st birthday.
The Challenge: Tell a story from your life in 91 words or fewer.
As the sun peered over the horizon, I waded out knee deep into the azure ocean, toes melting into sugary sand and dialed a number that would ring half a world away. The cresting waves muted the conversation to ears on shore. “Please believe me. Rescue me. Before he kills me.” I peered into the sherbet colors of the sunrise, then glanced at my bruises as scorching tears made tracks down my bloodied face. The purple and pink bruises matched the sky. He finally believed me. I got a ticket home.
“Can I trim my hair?”
My mother, a steadfast Pentecostal, denies my request without hesitation. No pants, no makeup, no jewelry, no haircuts, she lectures. Such pleasures are displeasing to the Lord. I am thirteen years old, defiant, confused. Slamming my bedroom door, chestnut hair brushing my ankles, I pull gleaming scissors from under my bed. One clip and I will be shunned from my Church, scorned by God, and sentenced to eternal damnation.
A soft thump echoes the room as four feet of glory falls to the floor.
New York, New York
I was too starry-eyed at the prospect of simply having a job that I didn’t see the warning signs right in front of me. Rush Limbaugh was on the radio, his verbal diarrhea cascading over the tiny windowless alcove that would be my new office. There were autographed photos of George Bush on the wall, a belching fax machine that had been laying there since the Louisiana Purchase, and a Ronald Reagan doll. That talked.
I apparently didn’t hear Morbid Angel playing “Welcome to Hell” when the door sealed me inside.
Bronx, New York
My dad told me Alice lived in our backyard, beneath the grass, and we could write each other if I kept it secret.
I spent summer skipping across the dewy lawn, leaving and receiving letters, beaming at Dad with each one: Alice had a white rabbit, too. She loved writing, and me.
She stopped responding the day I slipped and told my aunt about us, the day Dad stopped coming home.
For weeks, he lay in the hospital, dying. While I lay in the lawn, whispering “I’m sorry” at the dirt.
New York, New York
I sat next to my brother as he lay on the bed in his boyhood room. I was aware of his every breath, like footsteps on hardwood floors in a quiet house. My parents’ arguing echoed through the house. Even in the darkness I could make out his lanky frame, flesh and skin sagging now. HIV had placed his body under siege, devastating his internal shield.
“They’re fighting about me.” He said.
“Not really.” I replied.
“Are you scared?” I asked.
“Yes.” He replied. “But no one will talk about it.”
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
Everything felt so apparent, eyes closed. My cousins’ ribs distinct, countable; proud smiles; the weight of the heat curling beneath the tin ceiling. I regaled them with stories of life on a coast they would never see—bottled lightning and lecture-halls-like-cathedrals. They mapped the universe with marbles in the dirt lane.
Eyes open: the house is blurred, their goodbyes are blurred.
Concrete floors polished by wear, the fan limping through its rotation.
Crowded backseat, the airplane ticket between my fingers. Santiago de Cuba to Miami. One way.
River Edge, New Jersey
I’m looking at a little blue sign on a stick that says: +
I found out at three. Weeks that is. It was early but I knew.
Now it’s Week Nine, and I don’t know why I kept the thing. The cap is stained with piss and the + sign is faded but six weeks ago it was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.
The prettiest lie.
Today, the technician was too quiet. The + was right, but everything else was wrong. The screen was black and white and silent.
Where we were, the towers fell in the afternoon. It didn’t help us that our Italian was at best conversational, that the closed captioning was halting and uncertain. The pictures told a pretty strong story, though.
We ate bruschetta and sought sleep—wondering what the hell we’d seen, fearing what we’d missed.
The next day, my dad bought a paper on the piazza. My parents sat, read, sobbed. Eight and unaware, I heard tidbits and connected nothing.
I remember it as the only day on the trip when we skipped gelato.