Our second challenge of the year for the Young Minds of Medium was themed: What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic? The young ones came through as they always do and I wish to feature a few from that challenge. This post focuses on the second featured piece which is from one of our most recent contributors added to A Cornered Gurl.
Bebongchu Atemkeng is a twenty-year-old young man unafraid to share his thoughts, feelings, and heart’s work with us. He is a regular in our A Cornered Gurl Six-Word Story Challenge hosted every Sunday and he encourages others by reading their work and responding. He is a joy to have in the publication and I am happy he’s around. His piece, Two Sides of Silence hits straight to the heart of the matter and leaves the reader feeling connected and (un)alone. Everyone, encourage his heart. I am hoping I’ll have him in YMOM for the next five years. He brings such a bright light to our community and I am sure you will feel it as you read his piece.
Two Sides of Silence
Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call
I miss the solace within these walls; the peace and quietude that used to reign here was one of quintessence. Those nights with just me, my book and pen, and a warm cup of tea at my study table were truly special. The sight of my bed neatly made up after a long and tiring day at work was enough reason to still find happiness and courage to carry on in a world that drains you of more than it gives; the bed didn’t complicate life—it only demanded that you lay down and rest in its embrace, satisfied to have satisfied you. I miss that comforting silence.
Within this space, I was free to be me. It was just me but I didn’t feel alone—I felt at home. I was free to dream and to explore my being. I discovered the things that made me happy, that sparked that zealous fire in my bones. Writing is one of them. The words always seemed to come easy then. Writing out my truth, I wasn’t scared of the prejudices of the world. It was just me and mini-me writing our souls out hoping that it inspired someone, somewhere, somehow to break the chains holding them down and to live out this passing existence free as the blowing wind—at peace with self and with the world. The tranquility was my source of healing.
That was a different time, a different world; that was six months ago when the world was still sane. The confinement within these walls doesn’t feel all that blissful anymore. Now, a different silence seems to beckon from beyond, from the most unexpected of places, telling of a peace I had but failed to see. The solitude is poisoning; the silence, deafening.
With all the time I have to myself now, I seem to be doing nothing. The bed has grown weary from carrying my weight; she doesn’t say so, but I know. Mini-me keeps reminding me of all that I said I’d achieve during this quarantine but haven’t started. He reminds me of the books I wanted to read—Chimamanda Ngozi’s Purple Hibiscus; Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God; Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas. He reminds me of a zeal grown cold. The stories I have not written haunt me—I want to tell them but the words don’t come easy anymore. WhatsApp has had its fair share of uninstalling and reinstalling. As I fall deeper into this lonely void, I wonder if this place ever really made me happy. Where is that harmony I once shared with life?
Now I realize that there was order in the chaos, poetry in the pain, music in the noise, comfort on another shoulder, and lessons to learn from the mishaps of life. Isolated from the rest of humanity, I am nothing more than walking flesh and bones; my room was never enough of a world. Within the walls of honking cars, boring lectures, singing birds, dancing children, open skies, swaying leaves, humming bees, feeding ruminants, and busy humans is a serenity of its own, a silence more profound. Now I know it was from all these that I found the inspiration to write and the courage to live.
I miss my friends. I miss the long, warm hugs and brotherly handshakes, the heartwarming smiles we shared over a plate of hot fufu and eru, the toasts we raised our glasses to, and the wishes we made over fine wine that our good God would bless us with happier days. I hope that he’s still listening.
What is left of me is emptiness and restlessness. There was an existential equilibrium I failed to appreciate: that between my world and the world. One cannot be beautiful without the other. The interweaving of the two strings produced the sweet symphony of life. I believe that better days lie ahead; I believe that after this pandemic, we would be more grateful for the opportunity to still be alive.
I miss the balance between the two sides of silence.
“Quintessence” is a literary magazine to be published yearly in the Spring. The writers you see featured in this literary magazine are contributors to A Cornered Gurl and have been faithful in their support, encouragement of others, and submitting strong and poignant work to be read freely on the platform. This is the first issue.
A Cornered Gurl Presents QUINTESSENCE: A Literary Magazine of Featured Medium Writers was published on April 10, 2020 (Good Friday), and is ready for your purchase, perusal, and praise. We will take your constructive criticism and pointers too, as we intend to grow each year. I plan on keeping the published writers in each issue to a minimum of around sixteen to eighteen.
In this first issue, there are fifteen writers, including myself. The magazine has three sections: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry. It is an “8 X 11” full-color and glossy print layout, consisting of 42 pages. It includes four of my original photography prints as the images accompanying the beginning of each section. We have sold over forty copies and we are hoping to sell at least forty more. I never envisioned we’d meet that goal, but since we did, meeting another would be quite the achievement. Here’s hoping you will help us do that.
We look forward to your support and your wondrous eyes gracing our work. We hope that you are pleased with our efforts.
Thank you for your support!
“Jenna, get up here and get these toys off this floor right now!”
The pulsating voice of my mother thundered from blocks away. She was a Navy officer, an OF-2, Lieutenant well before I was born and hadn’t shaken the orderly and methodical ways of doing things from her life. She’d wake me up at the peak of dawn’s light, order me to “rise and shine,” promptly shower, put on my clothes, and meet her downstairs in our kitchen for breakfast. All of this, she expected in twenty minutes.
She said before I came along life was punctual and fully functioning, with no possibility of error. I often wondered about that — living such a life with no risks or deviations seemed strange to me. It still does.
The morning my mother yelled at the top of her lungs for me to clear my room of disorganized toys, I was eight years old. I lived freely in my imagination. It was the safest place to be. I played alone. I walked to school alone. At recess, I made up games on my own and did not invite others to accompany me. In solitude is where I wanted to be.
During that time, Randi Rocketeer was my favorite t. v. show. Randi Haltman, the show’s protagonist, was a trans woman with dark pink hair, rosy cheeks, and eyes of two different colors. She had the most amazing spacesuit! It came fully equipped with a water compartment, visors for protecting the eyes from direct sunlight, and custom-designed gloves monikered with Randi’s initials. Strapped to her waist, Randi had a can of compressed air, for what, I never knew.
Not only was the suit prepared for the dangers of space, but it was also tie-dyed the following colors; purple, pink, blue, and yellow.
I found myself mystified by Randi Rocketeer. Every day, promptly after doing my homework and eating dinner, I plopped my bony hind-end on my mother’s shiny, hardwood floors and switched on the television. For forty-five minutes, that’s where I’d be — taking in Randi Rocketeer. My mother would howl from the kitchen as soon as the credits began for me to wash the dishes and clean up before I went to bed.
Clockwork. Everything was clockwork.
“Jenna, right now!”
I thought about Randi Haltman. Did she have chores? Was her mother ever in the military? How was she a man before and a woman now? I asked my mother the last question one Friday after our school’s PTA meeting and the only response I received was, “Do I look like Randi Haltman?” I didn’t know what to say to that. I shrunk in the backseat of my mother’s Cadillac Seville, littler than I was before we left the house. I didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.
Randi Rocketeer’s motto was “Shoot for the sky and land on the moon.” They tasked her with the job of fighting crime in outer space and she did so with courage and a high success rate of capturing perpetrators and criminals. I begged my mother to buy me a spacesuit like Randi Haltman’s. Every Halloween, that was my request. By the time I was thirteen years old, I stopped asking for one. I thought — didn’t get one last year or the year before or the year before that, so I probably won’t get one this year, either. I was right.
I believed having a spacesuit like Randi Haltman’s would make me courageous — would help me be less me. Instead, I continued to feel as useless as the compressed air strapped to her waist.
“Don’t make me come down there, Jenna! These toys have a place to be. Put them there!”
I sat with my legs folded one over the other right in front of the t. v., mesmerized by Randi Rocketeer. I heard my mother. I tuned her out. Her voice was a nagging pang one couldn’t rid oneself of if the prescription was an equal dose of morphine and oxycodone.
My dad left when I was five. He took his four work uniforms, church shoes, a box of 1970s Playboy magazines, and a pack of cigarettes. Nothing else. I glued myself to his legs as he walked toward our door and begged him to take me with him.
“Your mother said I can’t, kiddo.”
And just like that, he vanished. No phone calls. No letters. No visits. The only thing I remember about my dad is the look on his face when he uttered, “Your mother said . . .” It was like he was being commanded — as if he had enlisted in my mother’s own form of a naval academy and was dishonorably discharged for lewd and lascivious behavior. My mother told me later on, “I don’t need anyone who weighs me down. I can do bad by myself.” I get it now, I didn’t then.
Self-Sufficiency, learn it.
Mother taught me how to cook, clean house, make up a bed “the Navy way,” change the oil in her car, and harvest our garden’s vegetables. By the time I was eleven, I was mowing our front and back yards. We hardly ever left the house unless it was to go to the grocery store or the gas station. Mother made all of my clothes, even my jeans. She bought fabric from Tina’s Fabric Shoppe on Fairview Avenue.
I had a favorite baseball cap I wore everywhere. One day, I misplaced it. I looked all over our house for it, even in my mother’s Cadillac. No luck. I ran to my mother, plump tears filling my eyes, and moaned, “I can’t find my ball cap anywhere, Mom.”
“That sounds like a personal problem. I can’t keep up with your things. You’re old enough to do that on your own.”
And that night . . . I left the toys out on my bedroom floor. I ignored her as she called me to tidy up my room. I turned the volume to our t. v. up louder, letting Randi Rocketeer drown out the droning of my mother’s voice. I sat there — simply sat there and dreamt of being far away from her. Far out and away from her.
I wanted to live in the sky. And so I did.
In 1996, Jenna Knight fulfilled her dream of becoming an astronaut and lives and works in Washington, D.C. She is married to her loving husband Jacob and has two children. In her spare time, she watches reruns of Randi Rocketeer and no longer feels as useless as the compressed air strapped to her favorite television superhero’s waist.
when I die, let me #become
the scent on my lover’s
lips, the sway in her hips, the
bounce of her hair,
the magic she feels
in a warm bath after
a long day
the moon hanging low & near her windowpane
let me become the wish
she wishes when she’s granted
in a warm bath after
a long day
the moon hanging low & near her windowpane
she wishes when she’s granted
A response to the #vsspoem Twitter prompt. The word: “become.”