Strings of Fear

Michael Marano, 129 TESS


45 Seconds of Terror

I feel another spoonful of curry-soaked rice drop onto my thigh. My legs are crossed at the 1-foot kitchen table we eat at every night and Apple is perched on the edge of my knee. Name and I wait for him to finish eating so we can go to bed. He examines every bite, his eyebrows furrowed as if he’s never seen rice before.

He takes a gulp of water straight from the pitcher, signifying he’s full. Name looks around to make sure no one is coming and scoops the rest of his food onto my plate. We all flinch as the barking and squealing begins, shaking the cobwebs on the windowsill. The neighborhood dogs have chosen our backyard to brawl in this month.

I take all of our dishes outside and rinse them with the hose next to our house. I can’t see the dogs, but I can hear them. It’s the scariest 45 seconds of each night.

I turn around and Name is standing behind me. I jump because he’s never come outside after dinner before. He smiles, one front tooth coming in faster than the other, the stars I hadn’t noticed rest their shine in the mischief of his dimples. He reaches out a hand and says, “you don’t have to be afraid when you have a friend.”


Play-Doh in an Open Wound 

I’m squatting on the floor as my host sister cleans Play-Doh out of the stitches on my thumb. I look away, not wanting to resurface any memories from the night it all happened. Nan asks me if I’ve been keeping the wound clean, using the same tone she had the previous three nights after unwrapping my bandages and finding the contents of each day’s activities. My laughter dances around the kitchen on its own before crashing into her sigh of exasperation. I feel Apple lower the weight of his body against my back, little fingers coming into focus, a different color wedged under each nail. He jumps to reposition himself on my head for a better view of the cut he loves squeezing for the reaction. I keep us both upright by slamming my hand onto the ground. Another contamination. I place my thumb back into Nan’s care. “Tomorrow, I will keep it clean.”

Apple leads me by hand to my room. He stands on the tips of his toes to turn on the lights, says good night, and shuts the door behind him. I sweep my bed for scorpions, having been stung the Saturday before, one night before slicing my thumb open on a piece of bamboo. I’m tired. Really tired. It starts to rain and I’m reminded of my host mother standing on the porch, a stream running through the middle of her forehead, telling me that she’s taking me to the emergency room after hearing that I had planned to treat the cut on my own. I imagine Nan trying to clean Play-Doh out of an open wound and have flashbacks to the scrubbing it received from the nurse. These memories push me closer to remembering the rest of that night. I fight for as long as I can until the exhaustion wins and carries me back.

I’m sitting on the edge of a bed, one out of four in the emergency room in the city outside of my village. Ten feet across from me six doctors are trying to keep a teenager alive after crashing his motorcycle. They’ve placed me to face his bed, no curtains, nowhere to divert my gaze. They stop working on him as my third stitch is tied into place. I’m filled with hope for only a moment. The sounds of grief from the waiting room infiltrate all of my senses, bury within me, anchor themselves  to the droplet of blood on the corner of my shirt, to the taste of the snack I’m forced to eat on the way home, to the hook shaped scar on my thumb, promising to be found in these unexpected places whenever I think they’ve finally gone away.

This scene fades into another that I haven’t thought about for years, unrelated memories tying themselves together with the strings they share in common, conspiring to show me the world tinted by the fear and pain they invoke. It’s six years ago, a half-eaten plate of food is left sitting on the table at a Chinese buffet. My hands haven’t gripped the steering wheel this tight since the first time I drove when he stuck his head out the window yelling at the car behind us with my best friend in the backseat doing everything she could not to burst into laughter as we puttered down the road at 15 mph. My knuckles are as white as the snow being sung about on the radio, I’m trying to figure out how one prepares themselves to welcome death into their family in the void left by a member. Everything fades to black before the trail of ice from my boots reaches the door of his hospice room, my body coming to the rescue of my soul.

I awake to the sound of a toddler driven vehicle slamming into my door. Cards with pictures of dinosaurs bounce off my toes as I step towards a little face pressed against the ground screaming, “good morning.” He walks me by hand to the kitchen. I lift him up to open the cupboard and he grabs my instant coffee. We sit on the ground as he measures out the amount that I like and we press the hot water button together. I take in the scent of the coffee mixed with the prickly heat powder on his cheeks, the force of his fingers pressing into mine, not yet strong enough to do it on their own, the “uh-oh” we exclaim in unison when a drop splashes onto our hands. My senses overpowered again. This moment is real, only this one. I settle into it, no room for fear of the pain waiting in the future or its remnants from the past. Love bursts all around me. I collect as much of it as I can, tie it to the string of memories from the night before, take away all of its power.



I’m looking in the mirror. My cheeks are tan from the weekend before. I like that.

We body surfed and played beach volleyball. The wind, the sun, the sand, the salt my own personal glam squad.

I got busted for looking in the mirror in our living room. Over and over and over again. “It’s not perfect, but I’ve found all the things to like,” I joked.

But it wasn’t a joke, I meant it. It took a long time to find them, to bring them into focus, but I did it.

And I found a friend. I’m my own friend. Not in a sad way. I’ve been over blessed with quality relationships in my life. In a freeing way.

No matter what I go through, I will always be there. I will always have a friend.

Sometimes I have to look in the mirror to remember I’m here. Sometimes I’m just having a good hair day.

Read Michael Marano’s previous articles A Big Gay Peace Corps Spiritual JourneyOne More Time, See You Again on the Next TimeFalling in Love in the Peace CorpsRiver RiseNot Taking It OnLoveThe Mystery of the Tooth in the Sock, and An Island Curse.

4 replies »

  1. “Beautiful, tangible and thrilling…..” How is that quote for the back cover of your book?;) I really love your style and vulnerability you bring to each piece.


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