It became the most comfortable place for me to be a woman.

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Photo by Leon Martinez from Pexels

Three years ago I applied for a front desk position at a gym.

I am so overqualified, I thought. I have years of front desk administrative experience. I’m going to own this interview.

When I arrived for the interview, I noticed the front desk employees looked like fitness models.

They probably noticed I was wearing business clothes from Ross Dress for Less, and that it looked like my first time walking into a gym since high school.

It was.

I walked into the manager’s office bright and confident. She was so lucky to have me.

“Do you have any sales experience?” …


GIFTS OF THE MAGI

The gift I’ve always been desperate to give

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“If you were allowed to give only one gift this Christmas and money were no object, tell us about the gift you’d give someone (either anonymously or with a gift tag attached) on Christmas morn and why the recipient is deserving of said gift.”

I first wrote my submission as a poem.

I write things as poems when I can’t bring myself to say them straightforwardly.

The poems are never good.

Poetry and I don’t get along. I spent so many years averting my eyes that when I finally turned to look straight at life in all its ugly, beautiful, shocking complexity, I vowed I’d never break eye contact. Poetry feels like breaking eye contact. (I know good poetry isn’t. …


The austerity that governed my family’s shopping trips disappeared when we entered the library

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Illustration: Corey Corcoran

I knew the rule: Don’t take too much of anything, or you won’t have enough later.

At age six, I knew exactly what a dollar could buy at the grocery store: a bag of rice or a packet of ramen noodles for each of us or a can and a half of soup — the creamy kind (tomato, mushroom, split pea), not the kind with chunks.

Because a dollar could buy a whole bag of rice, it mattered a lot if you spent it on something that couldn’t be a meal for all of us. It mattered the day my dad bought a candy bar for me and my brother when we were hungry. It mattered enough for my mom to yell in the parking lot, “You spent our last dollar on a candy bar? How could you! How are we going to buy gas to get home? What are we going to eat? …


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Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

The first clue was the letters. They didn’t come as frequently, in their blue envelopes stamped with the Queen. When they did, the handwriting was shakier. When they did, they were now broken into two parts, divided by a line about needing to rest for a bit. Then they stopped arriving altogether. “Her wrist has been giving her trouble,” my dad said. “But really, she’s in remarkably good health.”

But when my birthday came and went, I knew something was wrong. Not only was she the only family member who sent a card on holidays, but she had never forgotten. 24 birthday cards, never age appropriate, always designed for someone a decade my junior, signed “xoxo” and carried by plane and ship across the Atlantic — but the 25th never came. …


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[Author’s Photo]

It’s been over two years since I last called myself a pseudo-pastor.

I couldn’t call myself a real pastor, because I wasn’t officially ordained. Also, I didn’t have a church. I just split my time between college students and sex workers. (This made sense to me. It’s a long story.) Also also, I’m a woman. The boobs somehow interfere with ordination in most denominations, though I never truly understood why. Probably the discomfort of the underwire in my bra would distract me from God.

Officially, I was called a “staff for a para-church organization”.

All this means, practically, is that I wasn’t supposed to distribute tasteless wafers and grape juice, dunk people’s heads underwater, or pronounce couples husband and wife, husband and husband, wife and wife, or any other combination — no pronouncing anything, really, just to be safe. …


Originally published in the Sunday edition of The Gainesville Sun and at www.gainesville.com. Later published in Braided Brook Vol. 3.

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https://www.pexels.com/photo/shells-clams-sea-beach-10834/

I don’t talk about H. I wrapped her memory up and tucked it gently in a corner of my body, somewhere between my lungs and my stomach. Sometimes it rises up and gets stuck in my throat or plummets down and buckles my knees, but it never leaves my mouth.

They found her body, murdered and set on fire, in an alleyway behind a Waffle House. …


And the people on the other side

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Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

I used to be scared of bonfires and banjos, and the people who gathered around them.

My parents had a patch of woods cleared in Florida, and a house built on it. It was close enough to Tampa for me to bus to a public school, and far enough away to see all the stars. The bottoms of my feet were permanently black from roaming two acres of pine trees and wild grass, calloused from sharp acorn shells and small rocks. My brother and I were enthralled with My Side of the Mountain, and any second we were free from school and chores we would strike out to survive on our own, hollowing a tree (our garage) with imaginary fire and huddling inside for warmth. …


Fixing an unhealthy relationship with my stuff

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Phase 1 —American Consumerism (Birth to 20)

Things made me happy. Or rather, new things made me happy, for about a month. The thrill of a fresh shirt with the tags still on, the endorphin bump of a new shade of nail polish.

I gathered objects around me to construct elaborate displays of identity. That identity was constantly shifting, so the things around me had to shift too.

How will you know I care about social justice if I don’t wear Toms? -2007

How will you know I’m edgy if I don’t have an ear cuff? -2008

How will you know I’m Welsh if I don’t drape a giant flag over my bed? …


Subconscious Bias in Literary Critique

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I only rate my favorite books on Goodreads. Just the four and five star earners. Sometimes I scroll through the books I’ve rated, partly out of a wish to remember what I’ve read and (mostly) from a vain desire to solidify my identity through my literary preferences. One Sunday afternoon, scrolling in bed after having just finished a book, I noticed something that forced a startled gasp. I was staring at a racially segregated list.

There was no way around it — nearly every five-star book was by a white author: Lauren Groff, Virginia Woolf, Donna Tartt, Victor Hugo... Every four-star book was by an author of a different racial or ethnic group than my own: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Haruki Murakami, Michael Chabon, Gabriel Garcia Márquez... I scrolled up the list and back down the list; surely there had been a mistake. …


This 4th of July, I Celebrated Anyway

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See that girl in the photo above? The girl who thinks she’s blending but looks painfully uncomfortable?

That’s me, pretending to be festive. I wasn’t always this uncomfortable.

In my earliest years we celebrated the 4th of July with families from my mom’s church. Latin music from a boombox, hot dogs on the grill, kids crowding near the fence to watch the neighbors’ fireworks while the dogs hid under the table.

When my dad started earning more, we decorated the sky above our patch of Floridian woods with fireworks that could’ve held their own above skyscrapers. Poppers, watermelon, champagne, barbecue and sparklers. …

About

Katie Hyson

Storyteller | Editor | Inquiries: hysonstories@gmail.com

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