The Build-Up.


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Twenty-three years old.

8-4. 11:30-4. 3-10:30. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Uniform tucked in, hair in visor, look in the mirror to remind myself I’m still a person, write on receipts to prove I’m still me. Panic attack in the office, he puts one hand on my shoulder, asks, “You all right?” I nod.

8-9, lift weights–everybody’s watching you build your life, get better, live stronger. Everybody’s watching. So I worked harder, went harder, went longer. Sixty pounds down in two months–almost lovable.

Turkey burgers, 99% lean. Sweet potato–no more than 6 oz. I’ll take my coffee black. Sugar-free syrup, Ezekiel bread and egg whites. Make no mistakes, make no errors. Everybody’s watching you become someone new.

“You’re my superstar client,” he tells me. I smile, work harder. I smile, eat less. I smile, drink more water. I smile, lift 300 pounds on the leg press.

Pull out of the driveway, white ’99. Early morning, counting money. Mid-afternoon, covering mid-shifts and late teenagers. Late evening, locking doors. All day, become someone better. I smile, work harder. Pull back in driveway, gray Nissan.

“Thank you for choosing—” I say, “What can we make fresh for you?” I say. “Thank you, ma’am,” I say, “Welcome to–” I shout, loud across hallways. Make no mistakes, everybody’s watching you become someone new.

He says, “You’ve come miles, Mandie. Who you used to be and who you are now is like day and night. You’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” She smiles, barely says, “Hey, Mandie.”

“Mandie!” they say, “Why are you leaving?” “My shift is up, guys,” I say, hat under one arm, “Hope you guys have a good night.” Clock always tick, tick, tick, tick, tick–how many minutes left? I didn’t know.

How many minutes left? I didn’t know. Clean tables, sweep floors, mop floors, clean up bathroom floors, flush toilets, inspect napkin dispenser, loosen soda dispensers, count money in the morning and afternoon unless it’s a slow day. If it’s a fast day, count money faster.

“Is there anything I can get for you?” “How is everything for y’all?” “Yes ma’am, how may I help you?” “Absolutely, I can grab some napkins.” “Absolutely, I’d be happy to.” Forced smile.

He says, “You don’t welcome guests enough. We want you to say it louder.” She says, mid-morning meeting, “She’s sweet, but we all know Mandie’s a pushover.” Smile, delicate little flower.

They said I wasn’t fast enough, assertive enough, firm enough, respected enough, tough enough–so I never sat down.Worked faster, spoke louder, ran faster, bagged faster, roped my authority, cleaned harder, spoke harsher–I never sat down.

Sit in office, breathe deeply–wonder how people can be so mean. Tears in my eyes, ask God why he left me here. Tell God to promise he won’t leave me here forever. But I worked harder, spoke louder, spoke actual words in spaces I would’ve left empty.

I felt the page turn when I reloaded napkins. Early February, bad cold–but I didn’t sit down. Walked in early on a Saturday, worked half a day. Walked back in at three to work another shift. Never sat down, never backed down, never left my team. But I felt a shift.

Week of Valentine’s day, they ask me to Starbucks, deliver the blow. I didn’t do anything wrong, they explained. “This is a hard conversation to have,” he says, somber, “Work through Sunday and that will be it.” “He really knows a lot of people,” she tells me later, “He can get you another job.”

“It’s not personal,” she says, “It’s business.” “We want to set you free,” they say, “To work where you want to in your field. We know you won’t be around for three or more years. We see this as mutual. Tell them what you want.”

I smiled. I talked to them for forty-five minutes, mid-February, forced smile. I didn’t let them see me cry–worked at my smile. Everybody’s watching you become someone new. Everybody’s watching you.

I spoke, but I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t say a thing.

I sat down.

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in my head.


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I had a gun.

I had to shoot the gun.

Bang, bang–outside Bilo parking lot, dark. Bang, bang–I had to shoot the gun. Bang, bang–he’s looking at me like he’s not afraid of anything, laughing face growing closer, growing wider. Bang, bang.

I look to him out of the corner of my eye. If I don’t kill him, the person I love will die–bang, bang. Bullets pass through him like air–bang, bang. I have to shoot the gun. He’s getting closer–bang, bang.

Wrestled with her all night, hold her to the ground–reach for a weapon. Look outside parking lot, my brother’s looking right at me–if I don’t keep her away, he will die. Bang, bang.

One am, flip off the dream–wake up in shock, holding my own breath, waiting for the boom to drop. It was all in my head–all they ever did, ever said. All in my head. Grasp blankets up to my chin, breathe a little slower–eyes adjust.

I’m awake now. I can be anything I need to be now.

Flashback.

Twenty-one, light-hair–he was a low talker, walked like he wasn’t scared of anything. Flipped the switch in my own mind, looked at him like all the things in my life finally made sense.

And it was all in my head.

But he looked right at me. He asked questions like, “What does your name mean?” He said things like, “I haven’t seen you in forever!” and, “You would do that.”

I told him things like the meaning of my name. I asked him questions like, “What does your name mean?” I told him things like, “Yeah, I would do that.” Real laughter, heart pulsing. (2)

My friends–they could all see how I fell hard, the girl who never felt quite right in her own skin. They  could all see it didn’t fit, wasn’t right–that it was all in my head. But it was like a dream I didn’t want to wake up from–didn’t see the bang.

In my head I could see it all so clearly–how the boy who felt a little lost found the girl who felt unseen. In my head the boy saw the girl whose mind felt so unbearable and the girl gave the lost boy a place to stay–end scene, cut to the credits.

In my head it all spilled out in front of me like a red carpet I just needed to step onto–domino effect, thank God at the door for the story. End scene before it all comes crashing down–end scene before it all comes crashing down. (0)

I caught hold of all the little things like fireflies, placed them in a mason jar–made wishes, told my friends everything I wanted, everything he ever did. First red flag–concern in their eyes, low discouragements.

To them he looked average, but to me he looked like a lighthouse–center storm, the only thing I couldn’t see myself running away from with everything in me.

But they said things like, “I don’t think he’s looking for a relationship right now,” and asked questions like, “Who do you think that girl was?” and said things like, “I don’t think he’s the sort of guy to be tied down.”

And I told them things like, “You don’t understand,” and “I just have this feeling,” and “I really don’t want you to be right.” And they said things like, “You deserve better,” but their eyes spoke words like, “It’s all in your head.”

(1)We found out who the girl was–it wasn’t in my head. They said things like, “You’re prettier,” but I stopped saying anything. Started speaking in terms of crying on the bathroom floor, wondering why I always wanted more.

She sat down beside me, quiet. Said things like, “Are you okay?” and I said, “Yes.” But it was all in my head.

May graduation, end scene. I watch him walk out in front of me, feel nothing at all. I passed him in the aisle and he smiled at me, said things like, “Hey, congratulations,” and I whispered, “You too.”

Hold the graduation cap a little closer, breathe a little slower. It was all in my head. Eyes adjust.

I’m awake now. I can be anything I need to be now. (5)

Broken Record


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I know I shouldn’t be out here alone–out on my own, tiny lightning bug in search of a dark place to rest the constant tick, tick, tick.

I know I shouldn’t do 60 on this curve, race thoughts with real time–fast thoughts, loose rhyme, little time,

And I know I shouldn’t feel like this, act like this, think like this–2,4,7,10,17,24,31,33,39,41,49,51–51,51,51

They say I’m a broken record. I don’t think like anyone else.

When I say broken record, I mean my mind gets caught up in little rhythms, this tick, tick, tick–I sing old songs, broken songs, low lullabies in the tick, tick, tick.

When I say I get caught in little rhythms, I mean my mind deals with anxiety by storing it in different boxes,

When I say my mind stacks anxiety in boxes, I mean that my anxiety early on was so big my brain stored it the only way it knew how,

When I need to escape, I build my own world. When I need to escape I drive same loops, same backroads. Tick, tick, tick.

When I’m stressed and driving, I count billboard words down the highway. When I’m feeling lonely, I picture myself in a love story. Tick, tick, tick.

And when my body needs to feel like something’s being accomplished, my hands tear hair loose from my head, drop them to the ground. Tick, tick, tick.

And when I tell you I need to talk, it means I’m asking you not to leave me alone in here–thick forest, deep mind–tick, tick, tick.

My head’s in a constant tick, tick, tick, tick–I’m always going to the same part, same song–same part, same song. S a m e  p a r t, s a m e  s o n g .

I’m a bird looking for wings, an ocean searching for shore, automated lullabies on repeat, on repeat, on repeat–repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’m a carousel of feelings, thoughts, words, going round and round. Sitting on the bench going round and round, little lights. But I want the white horse–I want the white horse. I want the white horse.

I open up about it, about what I’ve been wishing for in the tick, tick, tick–when you look at me with glazed eyes, I run for that door so fast I leave you speechless.

Glazed over eyes mean I’m crazy and being crazy means I’m too messy and being too messy means nobody will ever sit down with me in my own mind, sing new lullabies,

I repeat same song, old lullabies to you. You ask me where I get the words from. You tell me I made you cry with that letter I wrote you when I wanted you to see everything you were.

You ask me where I get the words. They’re old lullabies, still songs, broken melodies–I give you my own words, scripts I’ve asked to be sung to for years. I’ve asked to be sung to for years.

They say I’m a broken record. I sing the same songs, same parts.  

Hey, I’m Amanda Russell.


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Hey, there–I’m Amanda.

I’m 25, so that means I’m supposed to know the feel of holding someone’s hand, feel of flying, feel of having it all together on a Monday morning in December.

I’m 5’7″ so that means I’m average. I’m pale so that means winter is not my season. I weigh 286 pounds, so that means my body is really good at hiding away inside itself,

But every ounce of me wishes that number stood for the amount of times my body was called beautiful. Not sexy. Not hot. My body was not made to fill society’s empty words.

I’m a writer, so that means I’ll gladly show my heart to you. I’m an introvert, so that means I still don’t know how to show my face to you. Specifically, I’m an INFP. So logically, that means I’m introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving rather than extroverted, sensing, thinking, judging. Or any of the other fifteen MBTI combos.

I’m an INFP, so emotionally that means I live in a world my face will never let loose: I guard my own heart, drowning in emotions behind green eyes. You’d never know I’m just now learning how to swim.

See…my mental state looks a lot like scratched-up knees and burst bubbles. Anxiety keeps me drowning, but depression makes sure I’ve got a dry place to go to in the fall. It’s really more of a backup for my own brain. But I’ve got the map; I know where to go now.

Truth be told, I am lipstick-stamped coffee cups but I’m also lots of spilled things–spilled tears, spilled ink, spilled body splaying all over the ground after tripping over air. Truth be told, fear itself likes to tip me over and pour me out and I all fall down, but I roll with it: pick myself up and bandage my hands.

INFP. People like to focus on the feeling part–but I look right at them and know they’re underestimating me: this is my favorite part of the game, all the things they don’t see coming,

But hey, I’ve recently learned that words like sensitive, dramatic, and emotional aren’t really swear words for my actual name. They’re just words–isn’t that great?

Those words are code for, “I don’t understand you and that threatens my own intelligence, so I’m just going to use the only words I know to save face.” But I break the code, walk away, laughing,

I like racing bullies to the punchline–tag, you’re it. My mouth is like a shotgun: it’s always ready to go; I’ve got one hand on the trigger.

My words can bring you down faster than you know what hit you, but one look from my mother and I lower it to one side–let you see me as quiet. And when my mother’s not around, I let fear take the night shift: I never actually say what I mean.

I was taught to be polite before anything else–trained professional. The only notches in my belt are from people I no longer open up and spill my dreams to–check-mate, I won’t trust my heart to you.

But when I laugh, it’s like ocean breezes–a heady, light feeling that you ask for more of–and, yeah, I’ll serve seconds for you, babe.

My sister and mother both say, “I love you,” the same way. It’s wrapped up in packages of, “Button your coat,” or, “Did you grab everything you need?”

I’m learning the language, but I have more of a mint green chapstick sort of love–the kind you forget about until it’s freezing cold and you need it.

When you need chapstick you look everywhere for it, but never find it–glove boxes, sink cabinets, desk drawers, coat pockets–but it freezes in place, evades you, because suddenly it’s needed and it doesn’t know if it has what it takes to be everything you need it to be,

I always wanted to be a space-heater sort of love, where you land on me cold as a snowflake but I still take you in. I always wanted the sort of love that melts you–no worries, though. Being turned from a solid to a liquid can be a positive experience–ask any snowman; he’ll tell you what’s up.

I’m a writer…did I mention that? Building full worlds and living in them until I move them to paper is kind of a hobby of mine, but no worries: I wouldn’t know what to do with an actual, real world if you handed me the whole thing.

I’m kind of a harmless writer–my pen is the one you need to be worried about, traveling all over these pieces of coffee-stained paper like it owns the whole place. Voted most likely to go crazy places in high school–yeah, this pen will take you there. Bottled ink.

My books are graveyards full of old dreams I couldn’t hold up any longer–I tried holding up full worlds, but it forgot all about me when it walked away. That was fine; I built a new one. But I’ve always wondered how the old one would have felt long-term.

My poems are my own emotions on overdrive. I’ve always been better at drowning in my own emotions than swimming in them. My mother tells me to get ahold of myself, but I just grab my pen and sink down to the bottom of the pool to get a better view–I’ll send you a postcard. Just say the word.

They tell me I shouldn’t dream like this, want like this, feel like this–I tell them, “Absolutely,” in person, use my adult voice, nod firmly. Being seen as normal is really all about eye contact.  But secretly I still dream. I’m dancing in the dark to everything that makes me feel alive–midnight ballerina.

When I want to be alone, I immerse myself in as much country road as I can get my hands on–it can be 3 am and foggy, but I’m never afraid. Malls full of people with destinations scare me way more than roads full of people with no actual destinations, this wild, free feeling of being lost is medication for my soul.

I’m not all bad, but I’m not all good. I’m not all happy, but I’m not all sad. I’m not all adventure, but I’m not all late nights at Ihop. I’m not all backroads and empty cups of coffee, but I’m not all late-nights with friends and full glasses of wine.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: “Hey. I’m Amanda Russell.”

Snow globe.


 

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My sister’s got the jungle in her eyes, but my brother’s got the whole ocean.

You don’t believe it’s possible for the jungle to drown or the ocean to burn until you see them,

1992. 1994. 1995. Flash. Flash. Flash. The whole world’s waiting to see you, wanting to know what you’ll do.

Snow globe.

“We’ll have to let you go.” “It’s a policy update, across the board move.” “It’s not business; it’s personal.”

My father was never made for a corporate world. He filled  his pockets with dreams and watched them slowly die in office buildings, lonely wandering from county to county,

When they tell you you’re the best, you know you’re actually a threat–when they tell you you’re the best, you know your success is their death.

We got that call ten times or more–always waiting for the phone to ring,

One ring, slow words–dipped world, broken economy. We live in a snow globe, a conglomerate of broken pieces and almost theres,

One ring–house is still. Early evening. Tension high. He says, quiet,”Don’t bother your mom tonight.”

Bad things always begin with slow words, don’t they? A cold blur of words before the flurries begin,

Lorelei Gilmore would say, “I smell snow,” and see it, but I say, “I smell snow,” and feel it.

Two words, one look, and I know it: snow globe. We’re frozen in place being turned upside down, but not one bit of our world escapes the glass.

Two words, one look, and I know it: frozen expressions in place, they’ll never see the damage. Frosted windowpanes never look cruel.

I feel it in all the hollowed-out “how are you’s”–old pictures where I see my not enough standing right next to their good enough,

Their good enough was raised to live in white houses—live well and die, play golf with their spouses,

My not enough was raised to hold somebody’s hand, ask low questions at night–never see a life that is grand.

I can fill whole buggy carts with rants to God. I can fill whole buggy carts with sleepless nights and the question “why?”

But hey, come with me, take my hand–I’ll show you our world. Watch your step or you’ll fall into less judgmental feelings,

This world, laced with old whispers but we use them as a welcome mat. They fill old pails with moonlight and we lace them with gold.

Faces frozen in place, we’ll never answer questions like, “How are you?” honestly. Faces frozen in place, we’ll never flinch when you answer, “How are you?”

Back of the church, we got sympathetic looks in place of red carpet–shame in place of tithe and “how are you?” in place of “where are you?”

You know we’re not like you–cash in differences for lesser-than, this joint ache of never enough.

Have you ever been elevated in your shame, this quiet pulse no one can feel but you? I have.

They’d tell you you’re being ridiculous, ask you for proof that you’re not the same–I turn on them, say, “Snow globe.” I turn on them, ask questions like, “Why?” and they ask me, “How?”

I say I don’t know. I say I don’t know.

It’s a kind of funeral you attend while hanging your head–death of a job, death of almosts, death of dreamer talks,

This procession ready to bury the bulk of confession but aren’t you the only one who knows the story?

They don’t actually hear you ask that question until the moment you realize it was a silent scream,

When you realize it was a silent scream you realize you’ll actually need to open your mouth,

And when you realize you’ll actually need to open your mouth, you’ll look down at the time and it won’t be quite right.

yeah.

My sister’s got the jungle in her eyes, but my brother’s got the whole ocean.

1992. 1994. 1995. flash. flash. flash. The whole world’s waiting to see what you’ll do.

snow globe.

Part I: Timeline


Still got glass on the pavement from the night you wrecked,

Picked each other up and ran for your lives, grins bigger than anything life could’ve handed you,

You’ve still got dirt on your soul from that time you touched fingertips to adventure for the first time

You tried catching fireflies for light but they led you down a dark road–east Georgia,

She’s still got adventure on her mind from that first time she traveled to a world that was not her own

She tried writing her own story but got caught in all the white spaces, places the ink left empty

You brought your ghosts and she brought containers to organize them by shape and size,

She’s got a heart of gold—the one they put on display when they decided not to hear one thing she said,

And you’ve got that rock n’ roll soul–the one your daddy turned down before it drew her like a moth to a lightbulb,

Ten years later and the yeses have been given, the blueprint crumpled in a corner,

Working full time, they shake their heads, say to her, “You don’t have to do this.”

Listened to their words and then looked at pictures on the wall–one answer, her words,

We live a snowglobe life and I hate it, but I love them.

Tossing and turning, this is her road–our path.

Trace starlight home, we freeze in the winter breezes–but spring. But God.

Follow pulses all the way home–this is Russell. This is home.

Story Time: Chasing Dandelions Excerpt


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Hey babes–here’s part of the rough draft I’m still working my way through, Chasing Dandelions. Thought I’d share a little bit of the part where Charlie’s adventure begins. Basically what happens in these partial chapters is Charlie and his girlfriend are chilling out, maxing out, relaxing all cool….and then he gets in a life-changing accident and meets a metaphorical person who represents misplaced grief that’s turned into bitterness. CASUAL. It’s an everyday sort of event.

sidenote: all names, dialogue, descriptions subject to change. 

chapter four. 

“There’s this movie that I think you’ll like;This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City; This cowboy’s running from himself;And she’s been living on the highest shelf.” -Vance Joy

Our back-and-forth was really like a round of poker. She knew it and I knew it. We both were betting high, waiting for one to call the other out. Unfortunately for her, I had a poker face straight from hell, and sometimes I didn’t even know if I was bluffing or being real. That’s what we were there talking about, that night over vegetable lasagna and spaghetti, but neither of us wanted to spell it out. This deep part of me knew what she only suspected: I wasn’t really the sort of guy she needed. I didn’t really do this. Whatever this was. No one belonged to me and I didn’t belong to anyone either. Not that it was particularly what I wanted, but it was how I understood life and it was an easy formula to understand—business, really. Here’s how it works:
If you want to get hurt, belong to someone. If you want to live free and uninhibited, belong to no one.

But the thing is, life is one hell of a business man: it’s an even trade. You belong to no one, but in return you can never have someone. It’s cold and it’s cruel, but that’s what you accept when you’re afraid to lose control.

Our love story wasn’t quite what I expected out of love stories. It wasn’t kissing in the middle of a road, you know…in the rain. At night. After a blow-out fight. Or whatever it was that Nicholas Sparks inflicted upon the entire American population. Our love story was quiet. It looked a lot like coming home at the end of a long day, passing smiles and catching up with the person on the other side of the door. It was star-gazing and talking about everything—everything that hurt, everything that pulsed, everything that hoped. I was four weeks in when I knew it was official. I was four months in when I knew it was love.
As for Victoria, she probably knew the whole time. She’s always had a way of knowing these things.
The night it happened, well. . .it was late March and the whole world was holding its breath, like something big was about to happen and we were all just in the middle of the page-turn, waiting for something, anything, to happen. I’ve found that as a character in a story, we see more of the white spaces than we do the actual lettering and it’s beautiful, maddening, heart-stopping, breath-taking, all-of-the-above story-telling. It was a mad hatter sort of night—the moon dipped in gold and tilted to one side, the corners tipped into a mischievous grin. I swear the Cheshire cat was back there somewhere, daring me to dream. I was hand-in-hand with Victoria, beachside, watching the tide pool in and out. She was leaned into me, my arms wrapped tightly around her, neither of us saying much of anything. It was a “beautiful night” here and an “mhm” there, the sort of night where the sky does all the talking for you. I hadn’t meant to leave that night so wordless, but it seemed to be the only thing to do. Had I known what was about to happen, I would’ve filled the moments with words. I would’ve told her what she meant to me. Had I known how many moments were about to be empty, wordless, hopeless, I would’ve restored all faith. If only I’d known.
But I didn’t. In life, that’s the hand you’re dealt sometimes. The future, mysterious though it may be, isn’t ours to own, which is why we’re always reaching for it, always pressing into it. If we knew everything life would send our way, there would be no future, no passion, no hope, no game. On one hand, I wish I could go back and provide more closure for the following two weeks in Victoria’s life but on the other hand, I wouldn’t change a thing. What happened grew our relationship and how could I regret that? How does anyone regret growth, even if it hurts for a time?
So I sat there wordless, thinking through cognitive theories and mapping out what I had left to do for my exam Monday morning. Laced together, we watched the waves dance under the stars. I don’t know how many wordless hours passed, but eventually they were gone and we were left with the decision to stay or go. She elbowed me slightly in the ribs, “Hey Charlie?”
“Yeah?” I smiled to the dark.
“I have a pretty early morning tomorrow,” she began, trailing off.
“Mhm.”
“And…so do you…”she continued.
“Mhm.”
“So…maybe…we should start towards the car…” she tilted her head towards me.
“Mhm.”
“Charlie!” she grabbed her phone and smacked me with it.
“What?” I laughed, shielding myself playfully.
“All right, you lose your privileges. I’m making an executive decision,” she rose and grabbed her bag and my keys, “I’m leaving with or without you.”
I feigned a sad face, “How will I get home?”
“You’ve got legs, sir,” she said, starting to run towards the car. I caught up to her in a moment and grabbed the keys from her hand, “I call shotgun!”
“Charlie!” she tried to catch up to me, but I was faster. I reached the car first and hauled myself inside, “Sucker.”
“CHARLIE,” she was fighting laughter, pulling at the door handle, “Unlock the door!”
I rolled down the window, cocking my head to the side, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But hitchhiking is not a victimless crime. Might I suggest an Uber?”
“No thanks, I’m already driving home with one creep for free.”
“Who said this was a free ride? A guy’s gotta have his standards.”
She stopped, folded her arms, and gave me a death-glare, “Fine.”
Uh oh. I grinned at her, “All right, all right, hop in,” I leaned over and unlocked the door but as soon as she opened the door I shot off into the dark, with her running behind me.
“I am so done!” she yelled, “You’re such an idiot!”
I laughed, “Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
She stopped, “You promise?”
“On your life,” I said sincerely, giving her a puppy dog face.
Giving me a stern look, she finally blew out an exasperated breath, muttering,“Okay,” as she tossed her bag in through the window and started for the door. I took off again.
She ran after me, “I’m going to kill you!” I slowed down and she caught up, gripping the door handle and swinging herself in. Instantly I was being smacked, “You big jerk!” she laughed and gave me a final swat.
“I thought you were in!”
“Bull, Charlie. BULL,” she turned to the window with her nose up high, “None for you, buster.”
“Aw, don’t be like that,” I grinned mischievously, “You know you love me.”
“Yeah, yeah, love is patient, blah, blah, blah.”
I blinked, “Are you…quoting the Bible to me?”
“It gets me through the hard times.”
And that was the last moment I remember before it happened. I was laughing, looking over at her as I merged onto the highway. It was a truck in the far right lane that hit us and I didn’t even see it coming. I saw her face, mid-sentence, paused in shock, and turned to witness the bright lights as horns blared and darkness took me. Looking back, the scariest thing was I didn’t even have time to stop. It scares me how life works that way sometimes.
Slipping into darkness, I heard outlines of my own name, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie, wake up!” But it was too late; I couldn’t pull myself to consciousness no matter how much I struggled.

chapter five. 

“People say that I am heartless; I’ve just learned to use my heart less.” -Neon Jungle

I was riding a wave, hardcore, running my hand against the shield of water that was taking me somewhere. It was like I was lucid dreaming, that sensation where you know you’re not dealing in reality but something else. But I couldn’t wake up to save my life. At times it was like I heard hushed whispers, someone saying, “Charlie! Charlie!” But I couldn’t make it to the surface to save my life. Instead I went deeper in, following the rhythm of the waves, my board under my feet. But it wasn’t my board. I couldn’t feel anything. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was alive, but this wasn’t real. Something was happening and I could feel it pulsing in every vein. I closed my eyes for a minute, praying I woke up when they opened.
I opened my eyes and the pipeline was coming to an end. I came to the end and was quite literally spit out onto shore. I leaned onto my elbows, sprawled on wet sand, and looked around, “What,” I muttered, “the hell?”

Dusting myself off, I saw a gangly girl sprawled out on the sand several yards away. Facedown, she didn’t move a muscle as I cautiously approached her and nudged her with my foot, “Hello? Ma’am?”
She didn’t move.
Something had happened here. I surveyed my surroundings, carefully—wreckage was all around me in heaping piles of storm-torn pieces of wood, glass bottles, torn pieces of yellowed-cloth like from the mast of a ship. A ship? I strained my eyes, searching the horizon for any clues but the fog was too thick.
Turning my attention back to the slender girl laid across the sand, I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck, “Look,” I might as well have been talking to a brick wall, “I don’t know if you’re playing possum or if you’re actually listening, but…”
She woke up suddenly and stood to her feet, “Gone,” she said, “Where?” She turned and looked at me, her eyes growing wide in recognition, “No,” she said, “No.”
I took a few steps back, completely confused, “Uh…hi,” I extended my hand because what else was I supposed to do in this situation? “I’m Charlie.”
She stared at my extended hand and looked back up at me quickly, her gray eyes looking a bit familiar, “Not how things are done here. Wrong timing.”
“I…uh,” I didn’t know what to say, “I’m not from here.”
“Obviously.”
“Can you tell me where I am exactly?”
She picked up her bag that had been tossed, scattering scraps of paper everywhere, and I took a minute to glance over her. She was brunette, pale, tall, skinny, hardly any flicker of life behind a blank face, and dressed in all black. She dusted off her black jeans, dug her heeled-boots into the sand, and gathered the scraps of paper and placed them back in her bag, turned to me and folded her arms, “What?”
Stunned, I grasped at more words, “I…uh…”
“You said that already. Please just leave.”
As if I could. “Wait. What’s your name?”
She looked at me, “Penthos.”
Blinking, I asked as nicely as I could, “Penthos?”
“Yes. That’s who I am.”
“Well…I’m Charlie…” I trailed off, “Can you just point me in—”
She held up a hand, quickly running out of patience, “Look. I have things to do.”
“Believe me, I get it. I just need—“
“Go away,” she turned on her heel and stomped away.
I’d had enough of her nonsense already. “Hey!” I yelled, “I’m not exactly asking for much here. Just tell me how to get out of here and I’ll leave. Or did you forget the part where I’m not from here?”
She turned back to me and coldly responded, “There is no way out, okay? You’re in the subconscious, Chelsea, and whatever it is that brought you here is the only thing that can take you out. Got it?”
“First off, my name is Charlie and I think you know that. Secondly, what do you mean subconscious?”
She ran a hand over her face, “Look, Chad. I don’t have the time or the patience to run through all the inner workings of the human brain with you.”
At least she’d gotten the correct gender this time. “It’s Charlie and thank you for insulting my intelligence.”
“Well, Chuck, I just make observations. But I suggest you just suck it up, buttercup. Because life just dealt you a bad hand,” she made a small bow, “Welcome to the club.”
“Any club you’re part of I’m sure would be a real peach, but no thanks. I’ll just find my own way out.”
“Good luck and all, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I turned back to her for a minute, “What makes you say that?”
She turned coy, “You’ll see.”
I really hated Penthos. “See what?”
Penthos smirked and turned on her heel, “I have a feeling we’ll all know when you do.”
“Do what?”I ran after her and grabbed her elbow, “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
She stopped and turned to face me, eyes darkening by the second, “What you’ve been through? What. you’ve. been. through,” she spoke darkly, placing emphasis on each syllable, “What do you know about grief? About pain? Tell me what you know.”
Her rage startled me and I took a step back, still indignant, “About as much as you, I’d guess.”
“Grief,” she snarled, “is all I am. Tell me you know it like I do.”
The familiarity I’d once seen in her eyes was clouded over by rage, “I mean…I’m sorry. I didn’t know…what do you mean it’s all you are?”
“Penthos…” she stared at me in disbelief as if she couldn’t imagine someone not knowing all the meanings to all the names in the world.
I stared back, “Y…yes?”
“It’s Greek, you idiot.”
“Oh. For grief? I mean, it’s just a shot in the dark but I mean…”
“For the love of all that’s good and holy,” she muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“For the love of all that’s good and holy? Huh. That’s a funny name, but if you say so…” I grinned, watching her light up with anger.
“No, you idiot!” she snapped, “Penthos does mean grief. I just couldn’t believe your idiocy.”
“Well forgive me for not being fluent in an ancient language.”
Shaking her head, she looked me over, “Charlie…it means free man, huh?”
“I don’t really know to be honest with you.”
“Free man,” she sounded it out like she was examining it carefully, before tossing me a look, “It’s really all you are too, isn’t it?”
“Sure, whatever,” I rolled my eyes for the first time in years, “When I said I don’t really know, I guess I should have added that I don’t really care either.”
“Ah, I know,” she was looking at me like I had two heads, her gray eyes turning cold, “You never did.”
At the flicker of her eyes, I started putting pieces together—the face was distant, but the eyes were somehow familiar. Realization was hitting me hard and I looked deeper into her eyes, studying any signs of familiarity. “I’m sorry…do I know you?”

-Chasing Dandelions, Amanda Russell

Poetry | They Call Me Quiet


Weatherman said it would be foggy outside but I don’t mind—it feels like home to me,

Because if I were brave I’d tell you: I am a sponge and my thoughts are the sea,

So no matter what happens out there I go back home, throw back reality and settle into my skin,

But I just got up from a winter nap—this is just the home I woke up in,

See I wear dandelions around my neck because I don’t want them flying away,

See I fall in love with things that always fly away,

If I’m real I’d fly away too, but if I’m brave? My body is a feather stapled to a piece of paper,

And if I leave who would love the paper?

So I go on adventures in my head—that’s fine with me because I can see fine from here,

The view’s not great but the rhythm is clear,

I like my dreams up loud where I can see them,

They’re like a party in my own mind, a sound system turned up loud, my own anthem,

You’d know if you asked but you look right past,

Ask me questions like how are you?

How am I? I’m a library of adventures on mute—childhood on adult,

Shh, no talking please. Use your inside voice please.

If I’m brave I’ll tell you my inside voice is a volcano,

That’s a secret l keep to myself like a dinner party only I’m invited to—

But my mind knows how to throw a party let me tell you—

It stresses and picks me up and drops me off at my own door crying,

But I’ll smile and tell you I’m fine until the day I am dying,

My world is a plot twist but hey, I’m just along for the ride,

I’m the oldest reader I have—I started running away when I was five,

Now you peek into my world through peepholes, ask me if something’s special here,

But I don’t know the answer to that —I just live here,

Some days my nerves are like strung-out Christmas lights,

All lit up I fight silent fights—no silent nights,

But words are my heartbeat; I like them out loud,

Words have no meaning when they don’t have sound,

And I place them in packages I don’t even understand,

Speak them still, write them bold—it’s how I hold your hand,

Sometimes I write things and sometimes it stings,

But my mind’s on its mission: to say all the things.

Poetry| Found


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Hey friends! Adding some poetry to the blog this week. The first few are what I submitted earlier this year for a contest and they’re all about both finding things and losing things and coming to terms with the feeling of being a little bit lost.

|Solivagant|

There’s this really incredible word that I found recently, which completely fascinates me: solivagant. It means to wander alone. This short collection is a bunch of poetry that I’ve written in the past few years up until recent weeks and months, where I’ve been wandering by myself. In the past few years, I’ve fallen into the typical post-grad, twenty-something stereotype: a single, sweatpants-wearing, restless post-grad who hasn’t figured it all out yet. In fact, I took it in a totally new and different direction where I haven’t figured anything out yet. The only thing I know so far is that words captivate me and I’d like to use them to make people think about things in a different perspective, bring people together, and provide a safe space for people to feel everything or nothing at all. As I was putting this collection together I realized that there’s been a common thread in every emotion I’ve written about, which ties in beautifully with solivagant, and that common thread is this feeling of being lost. Lost in nature, lost in life, lost in relationships, a little lost in your own head and the list goes on and on. I think that when you’re younger you sort of dream about finding your place in this world, yes, but more importantly, we dream of being found by someone. And what I’ve found is that most everyone is still looking to be found again and again and again. If this little ten-page collection does anything at all, I hope it restores faith that whoever you are, reading this, you’re not alone and no, love, you’re not lost.

Here’s to being found.

I found my voice in brambles and thorns,
It sat in deepest forest, buried low,
I heard it crying, though no one was around,
It sobbed and fought the silence,
But no one heard a sound,
I sat there and I listened,
Though not for me it cried,
Nor for the life I had,
The rain came soon and its cries grew,
They grew until it was silent,
Fear and pain—the only melody it knew,
Suddenly I had no choice,
I rose.
And dug it out of the mud,
I turned it in my hand,
To see how it would fit,
How could something fit so well,
But yet, hurt so bad?
I tucked it away with whispers,
If nothing else, I hear you,
If nothing else, I won’t leave,
If nothing else, we’re together,
If nothing else, you’re found,
And so, in brambled wood we sit,
Making nothing but our sound.

Hey Babe: When You’re Drowning.


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“Sensitive people like you and me, we have stimuli constantly being funneled into our brains. We lead different lives, but interesting ones.” -my therapist

Twofoursevenfourteennineteentwentyonetwentyfivetwentyfivetwentyseventhirtythirtyfivethirtyninethirtyninefortyonefiftyfivefiftyfive. I’m counting street signs in the back of my mind, picturing myself somewhere different, somewhere I’m seen. 

Hands tap against the wheel to the rhythm, picturing myself somewhere else, doing other things. Red light. Can I turn right? No they’re too close. Oh no I’m making the guy behind me mad because we both know I could’ve made it. Please don’t honk at me. Oh no he looks mad. Oh no oh no they’re still too close. Tap, tap, tap. Okay, I can go. Okay, I made it. Oh no oh no, speed up or you’ll make him mad. No one likes a grandma driver. Music, loud. Stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking–please stop thinking. 

“Where you at, babe?”

Twenty-five, gripping the steering wheel, listening to music that fit the rhythm and speeding down a highway like I can outrun the ever-turning wheel that is my own mind. As if maybe I can outrun the stories, the words, the ever-present anxiety, the constant whir of emotions that comes along with being Amanda Russell. Anxiety is part of the small print that I must have overlooked when non-existent me was like, “Yeah, God, I’ll take the Amanda Russell package for nine hundred.” Because obviously I signed up for this. I mean like…GOOD GOING NON-EXISTENT ME; YOU LITERALLY HAD ONE JOB.

“Where you at, babe?” I’m finding my own self, lost in the dark of my own mind. Some days I feel like a teacher wandering down old, empty hallways, looking for the weeping child in the corner of the hall who can’t find her way back to the room. Some days I feel like I’m having to untangle myself from my own nerves, self-soothe my own self back to the light.

“Where you at, babe?” It’s the thought I think to myself when I’m having a moment or experiencing a deep emotion that I can’t get my grip on. Getting ahold of your own emotions is kind of like cleaning out a pumpkin sometimes: it seems like there’s always more and it seems like there’s always something to get your hands around, but it’s stringy. It’s messy. And you can never grab a handful of the pulp to save your life. Guaranteed.

There are days I wish I could just turn off my mind and think about nothing. See, if I could describe the sound my mind makes it would be simply: static. Echoes of lost sound scattering everywhere and I can’t find the mute button. I’m on my hands and knees wandering around in the dark, but I can’t find that mute button. It’s constant and my mind is constantly weaving stories, weaving words, thinking, rebuilding, counting, stumbling over itself. There is never a minute I’m not thinking, creating, or worrying over something I said, did, or didn’t do. There is never a minute I’m not feeling something and sometimes I’m like a stranger in my own mind, wondering myself what’s going on. And some days my mind is so fast-paced and feelings are so high (because…LIFE) that I can barely keep up. Those are the days I need support. Those are the days I need safe spaces and safe people. Those are the days I put my hands up, take a step back.

That picture at the top of this post? This was my moment for the day, sitting in a parking lot and letting a few tears stream down my face as I texted a novel to my therapist. Today was stressful. Today I was tired and over-caffeinated. Today I had too much on my mind. Today I ripped at the seams a little bit. Today I had to practice some self-care, some kind words for my own self.

Mental health is one of the most stigmatized issues in today’s society and moments like what I had earlier would be seen as weak and deduced to simply the sum of an overly emotional mind. This attitude towards sensitive people and individuals struggling with mental health is something serious and I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the presence of social media. The attitude of  indifference is what’s in and perceived as normal while everything else is considered weak, emotional, or attention-seeking.  And God help you if you genuinely struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or so on. Even cynicism is on its own platform that we call sarcasm or just being real. It’s not being real–it’s being afraid of dealing with emotions.We don’t know how to deal with emotions anymore or engage in honest community and we don’t know how to fix the problem, so we brush it under the rug. As a result, society is weeding out the dreamers, the sensitive, the kind-hearted and the honest. We’re placing more pressure on people to be perfect and that’s funneling directly into mental health issues and exacerbating the problem. We’re replacing real and honest conversations with filtered-over lives and isolated people who find fulfillment from a screen.

If you’re like me and a little tired of social media’s magic tricks where it turns real into fake and if you’re like me and ready to tackle some of these issues head-on, here’s what I do, how I take care of myself, and how I interact with others.

How I Deal:

Safe spaces\\ When it gets tough, I go somewhere beautiful. I want to feel fully at peace and fully surrounded by something bigger than myself. I go for a drive. I walk around the lake. And, of course, Gilmore Girls and a large cup of peppermint tea doesn’t hurt either.

Safe people\\On the days when it gets hard, I reach out. I used to go to anyone with a pulse who would listen and affirm me, but that turned out to just be more damaging because they didn’t know the heart of what I was telling them had to do with my mental health struggles. To be honest, I didn’t even know. But now that I’ve ripped the mask off of anxiety and look it straight in the eye, I know better. I know how it feels. I know the signs. I know where I’m at on the anxiety meter. I have better coping skills and I have a better understanding of what’s happening.

These days I have two contacts I know I can reach out to at any time, but even with them I do it sparingly because I’m aware of co-dependency and I acknowledge that’s not what I want for my life. I acknowledge depending on others for my own fulfillment is not part of the game plan. These two people are the only ones I trust with all the ugly, messy emotions and both of these people I trust explicitly with my feelings because a.) I know they’ll never give up on me or make me feel shame for the way I’m feeling and b.) I know they love me unconditionally and want to see me happy and healthy and c.) I connect with both of them in a way I don’t always connect with other people.

Kind words\\ I think one of the biggest issues with having someone in your life who struggles is not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to say is okay. Trying to get to a point of compassion and understanding is okay. Sarcasm, cynicism, or patronization is not okay. Invalidating someone’s emotions is not okay.

Here’s what we need from others:

  1. I love you.
  2. What do you need?
  3. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
  4. I’m here. I’m on your side. You’re not crazy.
  5. You may be feeling kind of crummy, but that doesn’t take away your value. You are loved. You are wanted here. You know that, right?
  6. I’m hearing you say this one thing–what do you think you mean by that?

Here’s what we need from ourselves:

  1. I’m feeling _________________.
  2. I’m feeling this way because ____________________.
  3. The root of this feeling is ____________________.

Make it gold\\ LastlyI turn it into something productive. I write it into an Instagram post. I blog about it. I weave it into part of my language when interacting with those around me. I’m not saying I have it down or I’m good at saying the right thing at the right time, but anxiety (for better or for worse) has made me into a better, more-compassionate person.

So hey, babe? I don’t know where you’re at. But your feelings are valid. Your mental health is important. It’s okay if you’re caught in a spiral right now because you don’t have to stay there. Reach out. Get help if you need it. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health per se, you still need to take care of yourself. You still need to find people who will always have your backs. If  you have reached out or gotten help and you still feel like something is off, don’t be afraid to go a different route. Find people who will take care of you. Find people who don’t view your emotions as a burden or make you feel like you’re too much. You’re never too much and people who can help you become the best version of yourself do exist. Keep reaching out, keep speaking up, and keep building on community. 

Because at the end of the day, we need to take care of each other. At the end of the day, right now, the only people you have for certain are the people around you. And at the end of the day, we all matter significantly more than what we know.