Ants (a nonfiction memoir)

I wrote this nonfiction piece during my junior year of college. It seemed like the perfect essay to post in memory of my grandfather, Robert Awes, who passed away on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015. I will always cherish my memories of him, and our time feeding the ants.

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Source: thisisreylo.com

Source: thisisreylo.com

It’s early October, sunny, and a perfect day for a walk. Grandma and Grandpa Awes have traveled the five hours from their house in Chicago to visit my family and me in Wausau. I’ve just watched “Pinocchio,” my current obsession, and I sit on the edge of the flowered couch waiting for Grandpa to end the conversation with my mom so that he and I can walk to the nearby cemetery, a tradition my grandfather started a couple years previously. I remove my white hat with a blue bow from my head (which I call my “Pinocchio hat” because it resembles the puppet’s hat perfectly) and hold it in my tiny hands, trying to wait patiently, but I know that when it comes to Mom and Grandpa, I could be waiting a while.

Swinging my legs while slouched on the couch, Grandpa and Mom’s conversation sounds distant, but they’re standing two feet in front of me. Grandpa wears what seems to me to be the only outfit he owns: black pants, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a black hat. He has even sported this outfit when we venture to the beach in Chicago on summer vacation. My mom always laughs before reminding me that Grandpa is adamant about protecting himself from the sun, and in later years I will come to wonder why he chooses to wear black, a color that absorbs the sunlight more than any other. It could have something to do with the fact that he’s been a pastor for so many years that he’s grown accustomed to wearing the color. I pull my hat over my head once more, and bring my attention to Mom and Grandpa’s conversation.

“And how much sleep do you get regularly a night during the week?” my grandpa asks my mom, and she sighs before answering. “I don’t know, Dad. The normal amount, I guess. I’m not tired, you don’t have to worry.” Evidently Grandpa has been badgering my mom, drilling her with questions about her sleeping and eating habits. At five years old, Grandpa does not yet interview me like this, but in time he will make sure to check that I am maintaining my health when he calls or visits.

Grandma ambles into the room and sits next to me, gives me a small smile, and looks from me to Grandpa and Mom.

“Bob, cut it out; Mary’s fine. Why don’t you and Becky go for a walk to the cemetery to feed the ants?” Grandma says.

Grandpa glances momentarily at Grandma, looking a bit irritated, but then looks at me and asks if I want to go feed the ants, his tone changing to something more enthusiastic, much better than the nagging tone he uses when he talks to my mom.

I nod my head vigorously and jump off the couch.

“Let’s go get a couple pieces of bread; I’m sure the ants are hungry,” Grandpa says to me, and we walk together to the kitchen and Grandpa helps me take the twisty tie off the loaf of bread, and we take the two pieces from the two ends of the loaf: the pieces that nobody eats.

Grandpa reminds me to use the bathroom before leaving, and then I run to the front door and grab my bright pink fall jacket. I call goodbye to my mom and Grandma (my dad’s still at work and my brother and sister are busy playing in the backyard), and we leave the house, walking down the three front steps and taking a right. I look up at the blue and cloudless skies, feel the wind whipping through my hair, and crunch some of the newly fallen orange leaves. I reach up and take Grandpa’s hand, and I skip a little.

“I hope we see lots of ants,” I say excitedly.

“There will be plenty of ants; they should be hungry right around now, so they’ll be happy to see us,” Grandpa reassures.

Still holding Grandpa’s hand, I swing my arm and his, skipping once more in an attempt to quicken our journey to the cemetery. Grandpa takes small, quick steps, but in his old age each step is an effort, while I am able to skip several steps, feeling completely unexhausted. When I feel that Grandpa is too far behind, my hand almost slipping from his, I halt in my tracks, glance back, and wait for him to catch up.

“You’re going to have to slow down a bit; I’m an old Grandpa,” he jokes, chuckling. From then on I keep to his slightly slower pace.

Grandpa and I reach the entrance to the cemetery and stroll through the open gates. Leaves litter the dirt path and our footsteps frighten nearby creatures; they scurry up the trees. We walk deeper into the cemetery and search for the concrete bench located just feet behind an immense oak tree, where we know thousands of ants roam during the summer and warmer days in early autumn.

Suddenly a chipmunk runs across our path, and I jump in surprise. The chipmunk (I decide that it’s a male) stops and looks back, black eyes frozen on my grandpa and I. Letting go of Grandpa’s hand, I slowly creep forward, hand outstretched towards the creature, but he darts away, up a tree.

“We should leave food for him, Grandpa,” I say, and Grandpa tears a piece of bread and hands it to me to place at the bottom of the tree for the chipmunk to eat when he was hungry and willing to venture back to the ground.

Grandpa and I decide to name the chipmunk Chipper, a name easy enough for a five-year-old to remember, and we plan to feed him whenever we see him during our walks through the cemetery. We continue strolling along the path and finally find the bench. Grandpa and I sit next to each other and stare down at the ground; I lean forward to watch more closely for the ants. At first only two or three ants scurry through the dirt, but once Grandpa and I begin to throw bread crumbs onto the ground, ten, twenty, a hundred ants emerge from nearby anthills, and some seem to appear out of nowhere, thrilled at the sight of food.

The ants’ behavior enthralls me: they scuttle past each other, and when one ant attempts to carry a piece of bread twenty times its size, other ants come to its assistance and in groups they carry off the bread, forming a line. The ants resemble an army, large in numbers and working as a team to achieve a common goal. As we toss more pieces of bread onto the ground, the ants come back for them, and I see that the ants have a leader. The leader ant marches in the front of the line, reaching one of the bread pieces first, and takes it himself, refusing help from the other ants who come forward to assist. The ants appear tireless, carrying bread crumbs off and coming back for more.

“It’s a good thing we came here today while it’s still warm. The ants aren’t going to be around later on because it’ll be too cold for them,” Grandpa says. I imagine a below-zero December day, and while I’m making snow angels with my best friend Maggie in our winter attire, the ants are in their anthills underground, keeping warm and feasting on bread crumbs they’ve saved for hibernation. I cannot imagine how boring it would be sitting underground, trapped for months at a time with nothing to do.

“Do ants get bored being underground during the winter?” I ask Grandpa.

He laughs and says that he doesn’t know, because he’s never hibernated during the winter months.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring for them because they’re not alone,” I decide, and Grandpa agrees.

After we run out of bread, Grandpa and I say goodbye to the ants and leave the bench. Not yet ready to go home, I suggest trying to find Chipper once more. I sprint to the tree where I had left the piece of bread for him, Grandpa ambling behind me. The bread is still there.

“He’s not hungry yet,” I say. Grandpa assures me that Chipper will eat the bread once we leave, and we continue walking on the dirt path. I glance left to right as if watching a tennis match, searching desperately for any sign of Chipper, or for any animal for that matter. At the sound of rustling leaves to my right, I turn my head to find a chipmunk sitting near a grave.

“It’s Chipper!” I shriek, but instantly regret screaming so loudly. The chipmunk jumps a foot in the air and scampers away into a mass of trees. Feeling disappointed, I trudge a few paces back to where Grandpa is standing, and I take his hand once more before continuing in our walk.

“Chipper’s just shy,” Grandpa says, and after pondering the statement, it’s understandable. I know that I wouldn’t take food from someone I’d never met, and I surely wouldn’t talk to a stranger walking down the street, unless the person was friendly, of course. Chipper must not have taken me to be a friendly human being at all, screaming so suddenly the way that I did.

Grandpa and I walk hand in hand along path while black, grey, and red squirrels climb up and down the trees, the robins chirp, and the sun begins to fall lower in the sky. Sunlight peeks through the trees, but the cemetery grows slightly darker as time passes. Grandpa suggests that we walk home, and I follow his lead as he gently pulls me along in the direction of the gates from which we entered.

Walking along the sidewalk, the atmosphere has changed in the hour and a half that has passed since Grandpa and I were walking here. We left the house at past 4:00, (thanks to Grandpa and Mom’s ability to talk way more than necessary), while the street had been empty, and there was a palpable humidity in the air. Now, walking while the sun begins to set, cars whiz by, drivers on their way home from work, and the air is no longer humid. It’s still comfortable, but the temperature is gradually dropping. I grasp Grandpa’s hand more tightly, feeling slightly nervous at the sudden rush of cars, and I notice the almost leathery feel of Grandpa’s skinny hand compared to the smoothness of my own. At this moment I think to myself that I don’t ever want to grow old.

Grandpa and I walk up the porch steps and into the house, which is louder than the noise of the cars outside, and I call “We’re home!” to anyone who will listen. My siblings Katie and Luke are watching Luke’s favorite movie, “Michael’s Jordan’s Playground,” while attempting to shoot hoops, using a miniature plastic basketball hoop in the living room. I can hear Mom, Dad, and Grandma talking in the kitchen while my mom cooks dinner, and my mom and Grandma emerge to greet us. The four of us sit at the dining room table and I tell Grandma and Mom of the adventure Grandpa and I had at the cemetery. I talk excitedly about how many ants we fed, and then Grandpa says, “And we saw a chipmunk today, didn’t we, Becky? And we named him Chipper.”

While I continue to babble about Chipper the chipmunk, Grandma leans towards my mom and says into her ear, “Grandpa really does love going on those walks to the cemetery,” and she gives my mom a smile.

Once Grandpa and I finish our story, Mom returns to the kitchen to finish making dinner and Grandpa and I wash our hands at the kitchen sink. Mom calls to the rest of the house that dinner is ready, and Grandpa, Dad, Katie, Luke, and I join Grandma at the table. We all take our sits and I sit next to Grandpa, and since he is a pastor, he leads us in a prayer, which begins with the line, “Be present at our table, Lord,” and at the time it is the only line I know. I sing it loudly with the adults, but abruptly stop and watch them sing the rest of the song, eyeing my siblings and giggling a little at the slight awkwardness of sitting silently while our parents and grandparents sing.

While eating dinner, Grandpa and I retell our story to Katie and Luke.

“Grandpa, I want to see Chipper!” Luke shouts, and Katie nods her head in agreement, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement at the idea of seeing a chipmunk. Besides that, however, feeding the ants is an activity that Grandpa and I do together, and Katie and Luke wouldn’t find it as entertaining as running along the path looking for animals. Perhaps they are too young to appreciate nature on a scale as small as the size of an ant.

The next day, before Grandpa and Grandma drive back to Chicago, Grandpa takes Katie, Luke, and I to the cemetery. Grandpa and I make sure to take a couple pieces of bread to feed the ants, but during the walk, all Katie and Luke talk about is Chipper. Luke asks where he lives and when I say that I’m not sure exactly, he decides that we’ll just have to search the whole cemetery until we find him (not realizing that Chipper could not possibly be the only chipmunk residing in the cemetery).

Grandpa, Luke, Katie, and I enter through the open cemetery gates and Luke and Katie run ahead to find Chipper. Grandpa calls them back, and we all walk to the concrete bench where Grandpa and I ritually feed the ants. Katie and Luke stand while Grandpa and I sit side by side, dropping bread crumbs on the ground. Within minutes, ants emerge from their anthills and march toward the pieces of bread, taking them away to store for later. I lean forward as I always do, once again fascinated by the way the ants move as a unit, but it is evident that Katie and Luke are not amused. Luke stares up at the trees, calling, “Here, Chipper, come here,” while Katie walks around the circumference of a tree, humming.

After Grandpa and I throw the rest of the bread crumbs on the ground, he says that we should go look for Chipper. We rise from the bench and walk away from the ants still retrieving the bread crumbs, and I look over my shoulder at them as Grandpa, Katie, Luke and I walk back onto the path. I long to go back and observe them, but the thought that reassures me is that when Grandpa and Grandma visit again in the spring and summer, Grandpa and I will be able to feed the ants again.

Female Expectations: What’s up with that?

Men and women have always had different expectations in society. That’s the way history has played out, and continues to play out today. As women gained more equality, doors were opened to more opportunities.

Source: heragenda.com

Source: heragenda.com

Despite the advances women have made, there is obviously more changes that need to happen. One of the many expectations that needs to change is the idea of “having it all.”

What does that mean?

It appears that the phrase could have derived from author and Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 book entitled “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money…Even if You’re Starting With Nothing.”

The title wasn’t Brown’s idea, and she actually hated the title. But it appears that society has ran with this idea that women should chase after “having it all.”

The first thing I want to note is that “having it all” is a phrase not directed at the population at large. It is specified to women, and women only.

Why?

I’m honestly not sure. I’m assuming because society believes that men already have it all. So someone concocted this idea that no women “have it all.” Thus, society needed to dish out advice to women on how they too can “have it all.”

But first, society needs to define what they believe all women in 2015 must have in order to truly “have it all” and have succeeded in life:

1.

Source: hercampus.com

Source: hercampus.com

College degree.

2.

Source: davisvision.com

Source: davisvision.com

Career.

3.

Source: playbuzz.com

Source: playbuzz.com

Marriage.

4.

Source: mothersniche.com

Source: mothersniche.com

Kids.

Are there women who do in fact want everything on this list? Of course.

But does every single woman on the face of the planet want all of these things?

Source: memecrunch.com

Source: memecrunch.com

The problem with the phrase “having it all” assumes that all women, all over the planet, have the exact same list of dreams they hope to accomplish in life in order to feel like they’ve “made it.” This isn’t the case. We are human beings. We are not one size fits all. We aren’t robots.

I believe that just like men, women should feel free to live their lives as they please (as long as they’re not hurting anyone or committing crimes, of course). We don’t see articles about men struggling to “have it all,” yet throughout the years, there have been many magazine covers like this:

Source: washingtonpost.com

Source: washingtonpost.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

All of these magazine covers are debating about what’s “right” for women’s lives. These in-depth articles explore “nontraditional” decisions some women make. These articles dissect the statistics of how many women aren’t having kids, what happens when women have a career and kids, and explores the reasons for women parenting the way that they do.

Do magazines study and write extensive articles like this about men? No. Men have never been involved in these repetitive discussions that seem to be never-ending.

My question about these debates on women’s lives?

Source: troll.me

Source: troll.me

Honestly, why does any of this matter? Should it?

My theory is that the media and society make it appear like it matters because women are still consistently judged by absolutely everyone. It’s a fact of being a woman in the world.

Our appearances, life choices, goals, dreams, and opinions are all dissected, picked apart, debated, questioned, and judged. We are judged by the media, society, our teachers, our families, churches, doctors, and strangers. We cannot escape judgement.

The problem with this is that society has made it impossible for women to “have it all” because society has a specific opinion on what “it all” is. If you haven’t checked every box on their list, then you don’t have it all according to society.

When there is a trend of women making decisions different from society’s expectations of them, like opting out of parenthood, for example, the media and society freak out like the world is coming to an end.

Source: searchbuzz.co

Source: searchbuzz.co

“Oh my gosh, why are less women having kids?!?’

“What’s wrong with these women?”

“How can we change their minds?”

“Are women who don’t have kids selfish?”

Women still have narrow expectations in society today, even in America. When we travel our own paths and make our own choices, there is an absolute frenzy from, well, everyone. Women are still expected to check every item off the list of the “To Do List of Every Woman on the Planet,” and when women don’t, there are debates about why not.

Newsflash: It doesn’t matter.

If women aren’t hurting anyone, who cares if some women don’t have kids?

Or don’t get married?

Or don’t go to college?

Or don’t have a perfect career?

Women are human beings, too, and not all women have the same brain, the same values, or even the same interests. Shocking, I know. Women are (GASP!) free to make choices. Just like not all men have the same ambitions in life, neither do women.

This idea of women “having it all” seems to give women the message that they can never have “it all” because it’s impossible. Evidently they are saying, “It’s possible for men to have a college degree, get married, have kids, and have a career, but women, you just can’t do that. Sorry!” It’s the assumption that all women everywhere want all of these things, and that it’s automatically an impossibility.

My version of “having it all” may differ from another woman’s version of it. Also, I don’t even believe in the phrase “having it all” because I believe that the phrase is just agenda pushing. It’s pushing the message that women are set up to fail and that they should be fighting their entire lives to achieve “it all.” It’s just forcing women to continue being “good girls” and following what society expects from them. Men are judged slightly for not achieving these things as well, but not even close to the degree women are judged. Women are judged so harshly it’s fulled worldwide debates.

As everyone continues to debate if women can “have it all” (or if “having it all” should even be discussed anymore), I hope that more people start coming around to the idea that women can make individual choices and that the only thing that should matter is that women are happy and fulfilling their own personal dreams.

Let’s talk about cops (and racism)

*DISCLAIMER: This post does not mean ALL cops. It means SOME cops. But there is no denying that SOME cops have done what I am about to discuss.

Source: politicsrevealed.com

Source: politicsrevealed.com

Racist emails, unnecessary violence, and gunning down unarmed black men. No, I’m not talking about the KKK. I’m talking about some cops in America.

Like many other Americans, the series of widely publicized shootings of unarmed black men has made my blood boil. I don’t believe that these eerily similar shootings have necessarily increased over time, but I think that the advancement of technology has allowed us to document and display the violence to wider audiences.

Keeping this in mind, the events of these horrific shootings involving white cops gunning down unarmed black men proves that not only does blatant racism still exist, but it’s alive and well in many police forces.

The most recent event is the shooting of unarmed black man Walter Scott, aged 50.

Police officer Michael Thomas Slager shot at Scott eight times as Scott was running away from him. Three of Slager’s bullets hit Scott in the back, and after the eight shots were fired, Scott dropped to the ground, and died.

How do we know this? Because a witness caught it on video. The video not only captures Slager shooting Scott in the back as Scott was running away, but it also shows Slager possibly planting evidence by dropping his Taser near Scott’s body. The footage shows that when Slager fired the shots, Scott was far enough away not to be a violent threat to the police officer.

This video is crucial to the case because it led to the arrest of Slager. His original police report suspiciously differs dramatically from the actual events captured on the video. Slager claimed that there was a struggle over his Taser and that there was a struggle before the shots were fired.

Clearly, the video evidence shows otherwise.

This case is different because the cop in question has been arrested and will be tried for first-degree murder.

It’s about time we see this outcome after a cop kills an unarmed black man.

Unlike the cases with the high-profile shootings of Trayon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, there is the possibility that Slager may be imprisoned.

Even though Eric Garner’s death was also captured on video, there was no indictment against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner, despite the fact that chokeholds are banned by the New York Police Department. Many were outraged by the outcome of this case, myself included.

With the case against Slager, the Supreme Court’s ruling proves that the officer’s actions were illegal. According to the Supreme Court, using deadly force is only legal if “the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.”

Was Scott armed? No. Were the crimes he was suspected of crimes that involved violence or physical harm? No. In the moments before Slager opened fire, was Scott threatening him or anyone else? No.

The evidence against Slager is damaging, and it seems unlikely that he will be found innocent. However, with the history of these cases, police officers somehow manage to walk away free after murdering unarmed black men with not so much as a slap on the wrist.

Technology is crucial in keeping police officers with this track record in line, but it’s depressing to me that even with video evidence, police officers somehow manage to avoid prison time or even an indictment at all. Police officers are in positions of power, and officers accused of crimes can use this power to their advantage. Jury members may have the mentality that most cops are truly abiding by the law.

Yes, there are “good cops” and “bad cops.” But this fact shouldn’t mean that there is no justice for the men who were killed by those “bad cops.” Police officers who disobey the law should be held accountable, just like every other citizen of the United States.

Video cameras should be used more widely among police departments across the nation, and investigators are beginning to crack down on the corruption among police departments across the nation. Hopefully, this means justice. Hopefully, this means that police officers will be held accountable. Going forward, America will hopefully become more united.

Someday (Letter Three)

Someday, this will be a memory. Someday you'll be okay.

Someday, this will be just a memory. Someday, you’ll be okay.

This is my third letter to myself. I know, I write letters to myself a lot. But writing in itself is cathartic, and this letter-writing technique has proven to be just what I needed.

Letter One

Letter Two

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Dear Me,

Maybe one day I’ll stop writing you letters.  Right now, I haven’t yet said enough. It’s crucial to communicate with you.

Today is one of those beautiful “good” days. Your thoughts are clear, and you feel in control.

I cannot, however, explain why your negative thoughts surrounded you a couple of days ago. They swarmed like bees, stinging you again and again. They made their way into your mouth, down your throat, and suffocated you. You collapsed, succumbing to these thoughts instead of controlling them. That day, your negativity controlled you.

At this point in time, I still cannot pinpoint what causes these turbulent meltdowns. Thankfully, they are rare. The clear days seem to outweigh the ones clouded with questions, judgments, and labels.

That most recent dark day was darker than usual. The negative thoughts surrounded and stung so quickly, it made more sense to stay still, hoping they’d just move on. Swatting them away would only make them more aggressive. But on this particular day, they were relentless. You had no defense to guard yourself from the attack.

No matter how painful those thoughts stung, and no matter how unexpected it was, one thing is certain:

You made it. You made it to a day in which you feel in control. Do you know what that means?

It means that someday, you’ll be in control. Someday, your realistic thoughts will outweigh the negatives. Someday, these thoughts that drive you to a meltdown will no longer matter. They won’t sting. They will roll away to the back of your mind, and slowly fade.

For now, you are stronger than I ever thought you would be. You have been fighting against those negative thoughts with all of your being. Instead of surrendering to the questions, obsessions, the insecurities, you are challenging them all. This is a strength you didn’t possess four years ago.

This strength takes work. Every day. You work every day to treat yourself with respect. To be realistic. You know that the dark days don’t happen often anymore, but they aren’t over for good.

That’s okay. I mean it.

Acceptance is the most difficult part of moving on. I don’t mean acceptance of the situation. That may never happen. It’s my belief that while you can acknowledge what happened to your relationship (an arson set fire to it), you may never “accept” it. Maybe you will. That remains to be seen.

What I mean by acceptance is your acceptance of your mistakes and emotions. I want you to accept your occasional meltdowns. The bad days. The missteps. They happen. I want you to accept that just like perfection doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, you aren’t perfect, either. Expecting perfection from yourself is setting yourself up for disappointment.

I also ask that you strive to be patient. You are coping in a healthy way this time around, but please don’t beat yourself up on the dark days. Accept them as a part of the process, and know that these days will become significantly fewer in time.

Trust me, it’s okay.

I want you to accept yourself because someday, you will be okay.

Someday, none of those negative thoughts will even be thoughts anymore.

Someday, you won’t have meltdowns over this. They will be memories that shaped you.

Someday, you will be apathetic about this time period of your life. You will no longer hate him, or her, or yourself. You will understand that this was just a part of your life, but you won’t be angry forever about this.

Someday, you won’t blame yourself. For now, please, even on your darkest days, STOP.

No matter how confused you are, no matter what dark corners of your mind those negative thoughts drive you to, just know that it never was your fault. You couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, you aren’t the one who caused him to hurt you, and you did not deserve it. Please, no more “Why me” or “What’s wrong with me” or “What did I do.”

“Why me?” It could have happened to anyone. Honestly, it’s just a shitty reality in life.

“What’s wrong with me?” Nothing. At least, speaking in the terms of this situation, nothing. Do you have flaws? Yes. Does everyone have flaws? Yes. Did your flaws drive him to sleep with someone else behind your back? No. Hell-to-the-no.

“What did I do?” Nothing. In terms of what I know you mean, you did nothing to deserve someone to lie to you and betray the relationship you thought you had.

Every thought you have should help you, not hurt you. Obsessing hurts, anger hurts, insecurity hurts, negative self-talk hurts. While I know that it feels impossible on the dark days, but you have to just stamp out these behaviors. There’s no other way around it. I will not allow you to accept these behaviors, because they cause you pain.

Ask yourself, “Is this helping or hurting me?” If it’s an obsession, angry or negative thought, or an insecurity, it will automatically be hurting you. In these times, it’s crucial to pull away and distract your mind.

Just know that I love you, I’m proud of you, and you are amazing for your strength right now. You have progressed so much, and you are coping with this better than I ever could have imagined.

You’ll be okay someday.

Love,

Me