Robert Tooke, BFR Staff

Driving town to town, I see little beauties and tiny facets that make and break the area: people, attractions, personality. It’s a nebulous idea and an easy ability being able to characterize an entire populace with a brief generalization in good accuracy, especially since road trips don’t offer much time and experience in three or four days, if that.

Social media, namely every youthful adventurer and their blog, helped breed this absolutely gorgeous idea for me that the Pacific Northwest is a lucid daydream where Evergreens, abandoned railroads, and delicate espresso shops lay along the coast, hidden in the fog as discoverable gems, waiting for wanderlust couples to find them.

Trekking up north from Berkeley during spring break, I realized it’s true. Actually, kind of. I spend some time scribbling down every detail and idea that wanders through my head about what I see, or what I wanted to see, because after scrolling through Instagram or reading way too many Gary Paulsen novels as a kid, I created this little monster inside of me that yearns to see everything that would make up the aesthetically pleasing Pacific Northwest.

It’s funny though because you also discover things you wish you hadn’t.

After a while, it became a routine to notice practically everyone staring at your racially mixed family walk into a hotel, restaurant, or gas station, and even worse, endure the occasional drive-by heckling, “Hey, boy! Look-y here…” It was frightening, disappointing, and wholly confusing. It was reminiscent of the antagonism in Deliverance and severely distorted my view of what I thought I could call an escape from school, ironically giving me more social anxiety than ever before. Before I make another generalization about what it’s truly like as an Asian-American spending his spring break in seemingly smaller, impoverished, and occasional racially driven towns, I guess I came to a conclusion the morning after I left Josephine County in Oregon that there exists a minute façade in front of every pretty idea. This time, it was that there was this heaven north of SoCal. I really don’t know how to accurately generalize the experience—I guess it wasn’t picture-perfect and I couldn’t exactly put it on a postcard.

The beauty of it is that I can always dream about the spectacular fantasies of driving by elk in Ecola State Park and meandering through the fog from Mendocino to Cascade Locks in my writing, but can never escape the reality of actually experiencing the living partition of racism up there in the paradise I used to speculate about.

Serge Balassian, BFR Staff

Fuck. Did you fall asleep? You did, you fell asleep. What an idiot. You told yourself you wouldn’t do it. A few hours ago, mom said everything would be fine; there was nothing to worry about. Surely she wouldn’t lie. You crawl out of bed. Just past 2am, Christmas is less than a day away, a time of happiness for a 10-year-old.

Something is odd. An unnatural silence lurks in the air. Yeah, everything seems quiet, but you know better than that. This is the silence you get when the entire world stops and sits on the edge of chaos, waiting for one domino to topple over and set ablaze a chain reaction of terror.

Time to investigate. To the living room you go. Your sister is sitting on the floor, eating Lucky Charms—an image forever engraved into your mind. Why on earth is a 5-year-old awake at this time of night, eating in the dead of darkness? More importantly, what’s all the commotion outside? Before you can even think about these questions, you notice that the windows facing the street are being illuminated by a strong source of light. You hear heavy footsteps and radios, lots of them.

If you take a peek, someone will surely see you. So you run off to your parents’ bedroom and take a glance from there. Squinting through the blinds, the first domino falls over; a long night is set to begin. Outside are more police cars than you can count. A big black van is parked nearby. The fucking SWAT team is here. Mom lied.

Did he pull out his gun? Your dad always had issues with alcohol and anger, but there was no way he was stupid enough to shoot at the neighbor that night, was there? It seemed like nothing more than a simple argument. You tried to stick your nose into the business, but your mom put you to bed before you could get in on the action.

Sprinting back into the living room, you hear voices near the front door. There are people inside the apartment complex. Are those your parents? Only one way to find out. Taking your sister into your left hand and turning the knob with your right, you pull the door and give yourself just enough room to wiggle your head through and glance outside.

As you scan your surroundings, the second domino quickly falls; you realize that Christmas won’t be the same for a while. Much too young, you’re forced into adulthood in this moment, the proverbial cherry on top to an overwhelmingly lousy childhood. You look down at your chest to see a scattering of red dots. Looking back up, you’re greeted by the SWAT team, and you loft your hands into the air, quietly mumbling, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.”

Hiba Ali, BFR Staff

Sitting in front of the computer, you’re only trying to finish that last assignment for the night. You have been struggling to keep your eyes open and can feel the heavy weight of your day slowing your fingers.

PING

You get a desktop notification for Twitter. You quickly look around to make sure no one notices you leaving your Word document. It’s a well-deserved break! You’ve been working hard and just need two minutes away from academia.

What is it? A funny video? A vine? 140 characters that speak to the very depths of your soul?

A hashtag.

#ChapelHillShooting

What? Wait a minute. You have to Google this…what are the facts. Is this some stupid joke?

Two articles. TWO ARTICLES.

This is all you can find.

Three human beings were executed in their home and that is all you can find. No mention that they’re Muslim Americans. No mention of how they were killed. NO MENTION. Jon Stewart is trending at the top in your area. People died and Jon Stewart retiring is more important in the media. Major news networks haven’t even reported on it! Where are the shocked citizens? Where is the outrage?

This was my Tuesday night. I’m a Muslim American, and I honestly thought that meant something. I thought being American afforded me the rights of protection and validation. That was until Chapel Hill. I realize I will always have to prove myself as worth it. Deah, Yusor, and Razan are still trying to validate themselves from the grave. No one wants to call this a hate crime or an act of terrorism. The world lost three people who exemplified what it means to be a good human being. Regardless of what you do or don’t believe in, never forget that they only got a line at the start of this. They weren’t afforded the basic human decency deserved by all. The rest of the world was outraged and I didn’t know until almost eight hours after the fact. My religion is not my only identity, just like it wasn’t the only identity Deah, Yusor, and Razan had. They were so much more than one word. I will never forget that moment Tuesday night when my stomach dropped, and my exhaustion was replaced by fear, anger, and loss. Incredible loss. Loss of lives and loss of security. That is what weighs heavily on my fingers now, and I don’t know if what I type matters or what backlash I will face.

Sean Dennison, BFR Staff

Jonathon joined the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday as a gift to himself. They shaved his bow of hair off and wrapped him up in MARPAT. They gave him combat boots that gave him blisters that calloused over. They taught him new things and new ways to do old things: shoot, dress, hump, drill, clean, scream, cadence, eat, sleep, breath, move, lie, win and lose. They gave him a new name, his last name.

 Johnson lived in two deserts: the first was Yuma, Arizona, the second was Kandahar, Afghanistan.

 Johnson got to Yuma and then knew what hot really was. He stepped out of the airport and felt the sweat bead up like shy jellyfish. He got to base and saw all sorts of uniforms going to and fro, fro and to. He saluted officers and gave the proper greeting of the day to senior Marines. He checked in to his new unit in his Service Alpha uniform. He got to his barracks room and said, “I’m a Marine.”

 Johnson saw two male Marines kiss at a bar. He heard they were administratively separated from service. “Cause they were fags,” an operations clerk told him. He decided to keep quiet about some things.

 Johnson stayed up until dawn drinking and consoling a friend who suspected his wife was cheating on him. He went to the same friend’s funeral after he shot himself.

 Johnson had a method that was less dramatic: pills and alcohol. He did not fall asleep forever but woke up covered in vomit and shit. He cleaned himself up and went to go buy a six-pack.

 Johnson had another friend who was raped by another Marine. He asked her if she wanted to report it to the command. “What’s the point?” she asked. “Then I’ll really be fucked.”

 Johnson had to take photos of a helicopter crash. Human chaos splashed across the desert. The wreckage reminded him of burnt trees. The smell previewed him Hell. He was out all day and got back at midnight. He slept with Euclidean dreams of fire, steel and agony.

 Johnson started talking back.

 Johnson started drinking more.

 Johnson got a DUI. He drove ten blacked out miles for a number one, animal style fries and burger but no pickles or tomatoes. They caught him at the base entrance. “Almost made it,” they said as he fell out of his car. They took him in, took his mug and prints. They gave him a form to write a statement down. He wrote, “I do not wish to give a statement.” (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha)

 Johnson went to rehab. He improved. He got deployed.

 Johnson got to Kandahar two weeks after bin Laden got his 72 virgins. He was scared for two weeks and for the rest of the six months he celebrated ennui.

 Johnson once felt the debris from a rocket attack. He was smoking outside and his friend came out to smoke. They said hello and joked that it was so peaceful that there had to be a rocket attack soon. They both laughed and then felt and heard it. They heard the alarm go off. They felt detritus of dirt, wood and sand fall on their heads. “Well, I’ll see you in the bunker,” his friend said, putting out his cigarette.

 Johnson helped carry a coffin containing an 18-year-old Marine. He buckled under the weight of it all. He thought he felt something move in the coffin and nearly dropped it. He got chewed out bad but never admitted anything.

 Johnson went to Kandahar’s hospital on a morale visit. “This is war,” his sergeant major said, leading him to the recovery rooms. His favorite: a man with one eye, hooked up to a catheter, his urine the color of sweet ice tea. “Oo-Rah,” the man said. “Oo-Rah,” Johnson said back.

 Johnson realized he did not want to live. He realized this at night, during an aerial resupply mission. He watched things fall into darkness, to troops, and thought how wonderful it would be to fall with them, to give himself to midnight and just be.

 Johnson found out his grandmother died three days before coming home. He got the Red Cross message waiting in Kyrgyzstan. He chain-smoked for hours in the snow.

Johnson came back.

Johnson had nights that were extensions of days. He thought people were in his room when he was alone. He cried alone sometimes. He once saw the Devil’s face in the popcorn ceiling.

Johnson got out.

Jonathon tells these stories to a doctor every week at the VA. He has beautiful stories, too, but the ugly ones get him benefits.