Cottonwood Seeds en Route: II. Crystal Coleus

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2020.

This is the second entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part I. Violet Caligos.

I. O, n.

When Violet says
she got accepted into the program,
I squee.

Not new-One-Direction-music-video level—
we’re in class— but
I squee,

and hug her
until she sputters,
“Crys. Please. My ribs.”


II. Mauvais Quart d’Heure, n.

I hated my red hair
for years.

In third grade, the boys
whose parents let them watch South Park
started calling me soulless,
a monster.
They said it was a joke,
but after 50 times,
it started to sound like
a fact.

If another white guy tells me
media doesn’t shape culture,
I’ll scream.

So, a week before 7th grade,
I dyed my hair black.
Dyed it every time
it started to show again.
Kept it buried.
It took me until last year,
when I started going to ER,
to dig myself out of the shame I felt.


III. Zeuxis, n.

At lunch, Suri shows us
a piece she’s working on for an art contest
through the Pierce County Library System.
“Well? What do you think?”
Her eyes bounce from face to face
hectic as reporters after a press conference.

I’m not good at art.
I can type 800 words on
the implementation of meatless Mondays at lunch,
but I can’t even draw trees.
What Suri’s done—
the shading, the soft details,
familiar, intimate,
“Stunning.”

“You really think so? I mean I know I spent a lot of time on it, but, like, it’s just us, you know, but as like a hydra, and instead of elemental powers or whatever it’s writing and art and science and stuff. It— it’s dumb. I don’t know.”

“I love it,” Violet says,
bringing the cuff of her hoodie to her eye.


IV. Religieuse, n.

As a
Mormon,
I don’t consume caffeine.
I drink La Croix for the kick, but
I recognize
my body shouldn’t be exposed to addictive
substances—
I should be able to stand and breathe on
my own.

It doesn’t make sense to
me to block
gay people from
Heaven, from
God.
I don’t think
I am less of a
Mormon for that belief—
our church was founded on the
principle of standing up for what
you believe.


V. French Cut, n. and adj.

“Looks like Jaime Smith is running again,”
Mom says at the dinner table, spinning spaghetti noodles in her fork.

“Oh? That’s good. She got close in the midterms, right?” Dad asks, dabbing his mouth with his napkin.

“Mhmm. Only lost by 600 votes.”

“Your office gonna doorbell?”

“Probably. Depends on how much Jennifer wants to organize.” She shakes her head. “We should do it, though. We can’t have another term of Chambers.”

Dad nods, tightens his hair tie. “I’ll probably not have this by then. Better curb appeal, I guess.”

“Dad, no one is going to care if a grown man has long hair anymore,” I interject. “It’s 2020.”

“It’s Puyallup, Crys,” he responds. “Plus, someone’s gonna need it more than me by then.” He smiles, drapes his ponytail over his shoulder. “A couple more inches, I think, and it’ll be long enough to donate.”


VI. Letterato, n.

Violet came over to
study for the SAT.

Digging a notebook out of her backpack,
she asks,
“Are you sure
you need to take it in March?
Can’t it wait
until June or something?”

“You need to make sure you get a great score to have a great application so you can get into a good college with the best professors and good programs so you can get a good job and have a fulfilling career to be able to afford a good house and provide for your family and your parents when they need you and you need to prepare for a good retirement yourself—“

“Crys.
Crys.
Pause.” She interrupts. Her hand
on my knee. Her steadiness
makes me realize how much it was bouncing.
“You have to live in today, not 50 years from now.”

I close my eyes,
try to still the tremors in my fingers.
“But you can’t just live in today,” I say slowly,
“You need to think about 50 years from now today to be prepared.”

“You shouldn’t
let tomorrow consume today though.
You need
balance.
You need
to breathe.”


VII. Kirkify, v.

I love history.
So, when I find out
we’re going to do presentations in civics
about how religion has shaped politics,
I go all in.

Our group gets assigned
Presbyterianism.
Violet and I agree to do research,
Suri says she’ll draw some pictures
to make our slides unique.

I love history,
because the closer you look,
the more complicated everything gets.
There are nuances on nuances;
no one’s great, no one’s evil.

Mark. A Matthews,
First Seattle’s longest-serving minster,
backed progressive ideals—
fought against governmental corruption,
helped create Harborview Medical Center.
He even went to Congress to argue
on behalf of Japanese immigrants
during World War I—
before the whole
putting-them-in-concentraition-camps period.

But Mark A. Matthews
argued against women’s suffrage,
argued against unionizing workers,
argued that Jewish people were the real menace
to the United States.


VIII. Literose, adj.

Revision
is the hardest part of
the writing process.
For me, anyway.
Mostly because
I tend to go a bit
overboard.

I’ve been practicing
college application essays
whenever I can,
and
I keep doubling the maximum word count.
And,
when I go back to see what to cut,
every word, every detail,
seems important.


IX. Mug, v.

Over the last few weeks,
we’ve had rain pretty much every day.
Slick roads, large puddles,
perpetually obfuscated sun.

Over the last few days,
we got hit with a rainstorm.
Torrential downpour,
power outages, floods.

It made me think of when
you have four projects due
the same week, because
teachers don’t coordinate with each other, and
you have to stretch
your time management/organizational skills
on top of what they already expect of you;
how overwhelming all that is;
how those weeks
make you appreciate
times when there’s
only an occasional worksheet due.


X. Crimp, v.

A part of our presentation grade
is everyone speaking in front of the class.
Suri thought
if she put extra effort into her drawings,
it might be excused.
It won’t be.

The day before our presentation,
we practice
after school
in Ms. Hendrix’s room.
Suri mindlessly riffles through her notecards
while we plan and organize.

First few run-throughs,
she riffles between every slide,
reads word-for-word from each card,
never looks up.
She asks us (Ms. Hendrix included)
if we can sit in the audience while she reads.

After seven times,
she looks up at the end of her sentences,
thwaps her cards with her thumb
when she finishes her slides
without looking down a second time.
Ms. Hendrix changes seats each time,
says when she can’t hear us,
applauds at the end every time.

In the last run-through before the activity bus,
She glances only at the beginning of each slide,
adds hand gestures,
ad libs details about what she drew.


XI. Ice Bolt, n.

When it’s our turn,
we get up to the front of the room,
stand just like we did when we practiced.

It all flows, smooth
as the extra milkshake from the cool tin cup.
Violet and Suri kill it.

I
say Matthew A. Matthews
instead of Mark. A Matthews,

and I try to go back, correct it,
but my mouth hangs there. No sounds—
my notes become doodles.


XII. Missment, n.

I look at Violet,
try to talk with my eyes.

She shuffles her notecards,
continues, “Mark. A Matthews was a minister…”

Suri carries the last slide
until the lunch bell rings to end the period.

I walk to the bathroom,
sit in a stall, my face in my hands.

Violet knocks on the stall door,
says, “Crys? Hey. We’re here.”

Suri scoots her sketchbook, opened to a page which
says, “It’s ok. It happens. We still love you.”


XIII. Bastle House, n.

“You know,
a bad presentation isn’t the end of the world.”

“It’s the grade
that UW is going to see, Violet.
That
is the end of the world.”

“... You ever think about those houses
they’re building over by Glacier View?”

“… What? No?
What does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s just— like,
there are all those people
building those houses, right?
They’re all responsible for something,
the job has to get done, and done right
or the people living there won’t have
power or flushing toilets and stuff.”

“… Yeah?”

“Well, so—
it can’t be possible
for all of those people
to be perfect all the time, you know?
There has to be a misplaced nail somewhere,
a loose cabinet door.

“But the house is still there, Crys.
The house still has lights.
The house still flushes poops.
Even if one of them messes up a little bit.

“I don’t think one bad presentation
would make UW hate you.
And,
if it does,
we can egg their admissions building.”


XIV. Bae, n.

There’s something in
how she rustles her notecards,
how she says “poops” to make me laugh,
how she comes up with metaphors for everything.

I don’t know what this feeling is—
my stomach hurts.

She’d say that I’m just like Chidi,
and I think
she might be my Eleanor.


XV. Home-Along, adv.

You know how when cottonwood pollinates,
its seeds fall everywhere
like a switch is flipped—
one day there’s almost nothing,
the next it looks like a blizzard?

That’s kinda how I’m feeling now— everything flying in all directions,
no navigation.

I usually talk things out with my parents,
but I’m afraid.
They’ve always said they love me,
they’ll support me in whatever,
but there’s no guarantee
their actions will match their words.
We are Mormon, and
we’ve all sat in the same sermons
with the same old rhetoric.

We go on a trip to the San Juan Islands
for mid-winter break—
a four-day weekend around Presidents’ Day.
Dinner is awkward— for me;
they all seem normal.
I don’t know if now is the right time, but
what would a right time be?
There’s no universal 
tell-your-parents-you-might-be-gay
scenario.

We’re in a public place,
a brewery with a local guitarist playing “Homeward Bound.”
I think now is
as good a time
as I can get.


XVI. Deek, n.

They say the right things
like they’re reading from a script.

But, it’s the way
they avoid eye contact
for the rest of dinner
that shows their discomfort.


XVII. Gribiche, n.

The next night,
we eat at a French restaurant
overlooking the sound.

My mom
lifts a spear of asparagus,
scoops the spread from the dish
on the platter.

“It’s not that we don’t love and support you; it’s that the you we thought we knew is gone.” She dabs her lips with a maroon cloth napkin.

“I’m not gone. I’m still here.”

“But the you that was in our heads, the future-you that we imagined, is gone.”

“I don’t think my future-me has changed. She can’t be gone. I’m not even sure what I am or what I may be.”

“So it’s possible it’s just a phase?”

Silence.

“It’s just a lot to process, Crys. Nothing like this has happened in the Coleus family before. It’s going to take some time for us to get used to it. I’m going to pray on it, I promise.”

“You shouldn’t need to pray on it,” I wish I could say out loud. “I’m your daughter.”


XVIII. Gype, n.

Violet and I
go out to watch Birds of Prey
Monday night,
the end of Mid-Winter Break.
Her second time—
she couldn’t shut up about it.

Absentmindedly
I put my arm on the armrest
where hers is.
She nudges her arm to share.
Our elbows touch—
my skin’s on fire.


XIX. Hailsome, adj.

She rests
her head
on my shoulder.
I hook
my pinky
around hers.

I feel
so warm,
so whole—
like I’m home.


XX. Hake, n.

Back at Edgerton,
when they taught us how to watercolor—
second grade, I’m pretty sure—
I always used the thinnest brush.
I focused on each detail—
small, smooth strokes.
Yes, even the sky;
I rarely completed a painting.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say
I continued that pattern—
focusing so much on school, college, the future,
I never stopped to breathe.

So, it feels big
that in this breath,
the warmth in my chest
when Violet swooped her hand under mine,
interlaced her fingers in mine,
is still there the next morning
when it’s so cold even the clouds stay home.


XXI. Overton Window, n.

A few days later, when we get to my house after school, Violet kisses the back of my hand, which she’s been holding since I shifted into drive (not the best driving practice; sorry, Mr. Williams).

Violet sees my mom’s Outback parked in the driveway. “So, have you told them?” she asks, leaning her head against the headrest.

I sigh, close my eyes. “No. I haven’t.” I look at my Tetris keychain dangling from the ignition, afraid to see her disappointment. “I’m sorry.”

Her voice is soft, starts as a half-whisper. “It’s alright, but why not? I thought you said they were cool with you being gay?”

“That’s what they said, yeah, but the way my mom tiptoes around me now… She hasn’t told the rest of the family yet, and she told me to not say anything to them either, because THEY wouldn’t be ready for it yet… I’m not sure she’s really ready for me to be dating someone. Like, I’m afraid she’ll antagonize you, and that would kill me.”

“Okay.” Another half-whisper. She nods, thinks for a bit, tapping her fingertips on my knuckles in a rhythm I can’t follow. “So, how many points do you think you lose if you antagonize a queer teenager? Like, a thousand, right? Because of the increased risk of depression and stuff?” Her smile is sad, but still warm.

“Yeah. Easily,” I chuckle. “A real dick move.” I kiss the back of her hand.


XXII. Bloody Caesar, n.

Saturday morning,
I wake up
more tired than when I went to sleep.
I sit on the top of the staircase,
my body not wanting to move anymore.

Mom sits
at the dining room table,
Warren and Sanders pamphlets
litter its surface.
The smell
of the cocktail
she drinks on weekend mornings
wafts up the stairs.

“You think we should
drive or take the light rail to the rally?”
Dad asks.
He places his mug on the table,
takes a seat,
grabs one of the Warren pamphlets.

“Traffic in Seattle is going to be awful.
Especially
if the protests at Kennedy Catholic keep up—
I can’t believe
they would force
teachers to resign because they’re gay.
So, I think the light rail might be better;
her campaign’s said
they expect a large crowd.”
No hesitation in her voice,
no doubt.

I exhale,
head against the railing,
elbows on my knees,
face in my hands.

Her pastime seems to be
comfort at a distance,
like a church dance
where you need to leave room for Jesus.


XXIII. Swellegant, adj.

My parents leave early to get to the rally,
wanting to be first in line for volunteers.
I thought about going, but decided
to stay home
to work on an essay for civics on caucuses.
Plus,
if Lexi can’t even manage to focus for algebra,
she definitely wouldn’t survive political speeches.

When I think about Seattle,
I see people free
to express who they are, open
and accepting and weird.
No closets there,
no skeletons hidden in old Ikea bags.

I know it’s not true; it’s a fantasy. But,
I see myself
walking across UW’s quad some spring morning
as the sun meets their cherry blossoms—
quiet, peaceful.


XXIV. Yes But, n. and adj.

family is important and you shouldn’t upset them.

yes but i deserve to be true to myself.

yes but that is selfish, crystal. you have to consider what other people need.

yes but hiding myself for the sake of everyone else means that i’m not even worth my own respect.

yes but you need a place to live until you graduate high school and you shouldn’t risk that kind of stability.

yes but being with Violet makes me happy. 


XXV. Dicker, v.

I hate
hiding from them,
feeling ashamed.
I hate
hiding my relationship with Violet,
making her feel like I’m ashamed of her.

Dad’s family
comes over after church every Sunday.
Maybe
I should tell them then.
I can figure
out a way to ease them into it—
I’ll write
a hasty Facebook post in case I chicken out.

Violet will hold me to it.


XXVI. Swinehood, n.

After church,
aunt Clara and uncle Wyatt arrive.
Five children
flood out of their Expedition
into the driveway.
Clara balances a bowl of orzo salad
in the crook of her left arm as
she waves at my dad.

Their kids run around the yard as
we eat brunch.
After covering pleasantries, the work week,
Wyatt steers the conversation.

“Did you hear about the new Supreme Court case?”

“Oh yeah!” Clara answers, “The one about whether gay couples can adopt! Can you believe it?!”

“Right,” My dad nods, coughs. He and Clara were raised to never discuss politics, so they rarely ever talked about the news. “That’s a big deal.”

“It IS a big deal!” Clara agrees. “They’re trying to restrict that agency’s religious freedom! They can’t do that!” She waves her arms, gesturing at the obvious oppression.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Wyatt adds. “I mean, there’s plenty of research that suggests that kids need a mother AND a father.”

Both of my parents politely nod. I burst.

“So what, I shouldn’t be able to adopt a kid if I want? You wouldn’t trust ME with a kid?! Are your kids messed up from all the times I babysat them?!

“A person’s orientation has nothing to do with their parenting ability— are you kidding me?! I cannot believe how intolerant you are, how willfully ignorant you are! It’s obscene!”

My fork clangs as it hits my bowl. I feel tears boil on my cheeks. I gasp for air, stand up. “Excuse me.”

There’s silence as I walk into the house. The tap of my shoes on the hardwood floor bounce off stunned walls.


XXVII. Twite, n.

I lay on my bed, stare at the ceiling—
gray as wintry clouds.
I imagine a small bird,
brown like Violet’s eyes,
flying south to escape the frigid breeze.

Cold and alone,
lost in the current,

until she finds a flock of birds,
different colors and shades and hues
like the intricate, harmonious patchwork of a quilt,
that welcomes her with ease.


XXVIII. Yevery, adj.

What is a family that doesn’t see you?

I won’t let them
dig a hole in my heart.
I won’t let them
make me feel empty.

I want more than that.
I want
to come out
to everyone,
to get a bold haircut,
to be with Violet with no shame,
to demand more diverse books in ER’s library,
to demand representation in history and English classes.

They will not hide me.
I will not be erased.


XXIX. Resiliating, adj.

Monday morning,
I text Violet
that I want to tell our friends about us
if she’s okay and ready for it.

My phone clacks
as I put it on the bathroom counter
to brush my hair.
In the mirror,
there’s a fire burning on my scalp, tendrils
try to reach the ceiling.
My brush was
like a helicopter with a water tank containing
a forest fire.

Last night, I told her about what happened
with Clara and Wyatt.
I ugly-cried on FaceTime and everything.
My parents didn’t came to my room—
still haven’t talked to them.

A post-it note I find
on my door when I leave my room
in Lexi’s handwriting reassures me
everything’s going to be alright.
She wrote:

“Crys—
ur the best big sister ever
ur the bravest person I know
love u forever!
- L”

Continued in Part III. Suri Dihan.

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