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Poem- Smoke

by Crystal Torres on January 23, 2018

I didn’t want to be a smoker
I wanted to be the smoke
Breathe me in, slowly
Come back for more
I want to be your addiction
the habit you can’t quit
the pleasure you look forward to
again and again and again
Hold two fingers to your mouth
draw the air in between them, slowly
and know it’s not the same
without me
Remember how I felt against your lips
Crave me
I want to be the smoke
filling your thoughts
but you are not a smoker
You have no addictions
You walk away
I become the smoke
fading like memory
When I was in junior high, I had this image of who I wanted to be when I grew up, which was pretty much nothing like me. I had no idea how to become that person, but I was sure that she would be a better person to be. I could picture her, leaning against a wall, outside of the party. I mean, she was totally a part of the party, welcome, popular, but she was just taking a break. I pictured her tall and thin, her hair short and sleek, like her little black dress. She was the kind of woman who people would describe as well-read, and she had definitely been to New York City.

I pictured her with her high heels in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. I think I added the cigarette later. People make me nervous. I used to overcompensate for my anxiety by trying to be funny, entertaining. I liked me more when I was on. I couldn’t hold it there though. It would rapidly intensify, fueled by social anxiety. I was a spaz. Now I try to excuse myself and take care of some sort of responsibility, find some way to be helpful, in the background, a step removed, invisible.

I tried to take up smoking in my teens. I was really bad at it. My lungs totally spaz out when I fill them with smoke. The thing is, smokers can take the time out when they need it. If a smoker steps away from the party, stands alone, quietly, taking slow, deep breaths, that’s fine. It’s cool. If a non-smoker steps away from the party, stands alone, quietly, taking slow, deep breaths, that’s a problem. Everyone and their cousin seems intent on asking what’s wrong. It was worse than being too on.

I smoked cloves for while. They smelled good and there was less pressure to inhale, which I’m really bad at. It wasn’t that I wanted to smoke, so much as I needed to pause, to slow down before I spiraled out into full spaz mode. I still like that image of the well-read woman, who has definitely been to NYC, exhaling animated, art nouveau, tendrils of smoke into a peaceful, starry night. I will never be that woman.

I am here, in this California desert, with my exaggerated curves, my long, wild curls, and my hippie clothes. I am not well-read, and I have never been to New York. I am overwhelming and enthusiastic and I say too much. I am full of foolishness and daydreams and insecurities, and I never could get the hang of smoking. This is just who I am.



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Last Christmas

by Crystal Torres on December 12, 2017

On December 14, 2016, I was studying for my Spanish 102 final. It was a night class, and I spent my afternoon studying. I’m not good at studying. My mind wanders and I have to constantly pull it back to the task at hand. Studying is exhausting, but not necessarily effective. 

Part of the problem with studying is that it seems to trigger a lot of my personal demons. I am quick to remind myself that I suck at this. I suck at school. I am not smart. I have no self-discipline. I don’t belong in college. I don’t deserve to be here. I am a fraud. All of this hard work is going to be for nothing. I am never going to graduate. I am wasting my time. I will only disappoint the people who care about me. Yeah, that’s what the inside of my brain sounds like when I’m studying. It can be maddening at times.

On December 14, 2016, my studying was interrupted. My father, who I hadn’t been able to get a hold of for a few years, called me from an unfamiliar number. He let me know he was being evicted and he had nowhere to go. He pondered aloud, trying to give an illusion of spontaneous thought, if maybe since I’d moved out of my ex’s four-bedroom house there might be room for him there. There wasn’t. In my absence, two other adults had moved in. So, I invited my father to come stay with me until his finances were sorted out again.

I didn’t post about any of this saga in my blog, because my father read my blog. That’s how he knew about the divorce. The short version is that he moved in with me on Boxing Day, in far worse health than I’d expected. With adequate nutrition, and other first world amenities, he seemed to be getting better for most of January and then he had a rapid decline. By February he was sick enough he could no longer refuse medical care. He was moved around from facility to facility, sometimes improving a little, sometimes declining a lot, until his death in April. As his only known kin, I got to travel to a lot of medical institutions and sign papers, in addition to answering consent calls at all hours. It was hard and it was lonely and I never wanted any of it.

I mean, I’m grateful for the time that I got to spend with my father. We had a lot of nice dinners. He really liked my cooking, even though it seemed to come as a surprise to him, night after night. He drove me crazy, picking fights about what toilet paper brand I bought, which way I turned the roll, what brand of ketchup I bought, where I allowed the cats to go. He wanted more control over how I ran my household. I wanted more effort from him to get well and seek out his own household again. I looked forward to bringing him treats and visiting him regularly, somewhere not my couch. That’s not how the story went.

After his death I was able to finish out the spring semester without anymore weekend trips out of town. When the semester ended I breathed an exhausted sigh of relief. Once my father’s affairs were settled, my life would be relatively calm again. I really looked forward to coasting for the rest of the year. I was still trying to figure out my father’s memorial when the management company let me know that my landlord was thinking of selling, and wanted to know if I was interested in buying. That’s its own saga, but yeah, the landlord sold my house. 

I found another house, a fine house, with a great commute. I’m living out of boxes and my father’s boxes are shuffled in with my boxes now, and it all just needs to be dealt with, but not until after finals. Today, I was studying for my Spanish 103 final. Studying brings out the worst of my self talk. I was dealing with all of the usual self-loathing, but with an extra helping of anxiety, ghosts of Christmas Past reminding me that this is when my life began to spin out of control. Everything feels so out of control, and still I sit here, just studying. 

I posted to Facebook. Writing things down helps me to process them. Posting them to Facebook means they come up in my memories and remind me that this is normal for me, and more importantly, fleeting. Posting also means that I can get some support and encouragement from loved ones.

Today a friend reminded me that there are way worse things happening to people than just worrying about their grades. He was trying to be helpful, by giving me perspective. I felt shamed. I was already struggling with demons of self-doubt. Cue the isolating thoughts. Nobody wants to hear about your problems. Why are you like this? You’re so selfish. It’s not all about you. You’re such a spaz. Shut up and stop bothering people. Nobody likes you. You don’t deserve to have it so good. People would be better off without you. 

Don’t vent on Facebook. This isn’t the time. People are dealing with death and fires and politics and the holidays. Don’t add anything to their burdens. Okay. Fine. I shouldn’t be whining anyway. What are my coping mechanisms? What are my coping mechanisms that don’t involve leaving the house? I need to study.

I have a crush that makes me happy. I considered telling myself a happy daydream about hanging out together after finals. That backfired quickly. Suddenly, my quick little trip to Fantasyland turned into a horror show of insecurities. So, to recap, I started with I’m not smart/I’m a bad student. I was easily nudged into I am a horrible/selfish person. Then I dragged myself through a tour of all the reasons I am undesirable/unlovable. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough.

So I took a shower. It was something I’d meant to do today anyway. Clean my body, clear my head, start over. I ended up sobbing on the shower floor, ugly crying. I cried right past my romantic insecurities. I cried deeper than my fears about being a horrible person. I even cried beyond any concerns about finals. I found myself shouting out to a mostly empty house, with the exception of my confused dog and the overwhelming stacks of boxes, “I don’t want to move!”

That’s all I said, repeatedly, until it faded from a roar to a broken gurgle, “I don’t want to move!” It’s a ridiculous thing to declare to the house I’ve already moved into, but I suppose it’s a tantrum long overdue. I didn’t want to move, but I was always focused on the business end, trying to save my home, trying to find a replacement in a hurry, trying to keep my life running through crisis. It’s too late, but it’s still true. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to move. And then I heard myself say, “I don’t want any of this.”

That’s when it sunk in. This has been a really challenging year, starting with December 14, 2016, when I was studying for finals and got a phone call from my dad. Life has felt beyond my control ever since, no action, just reaction. This year’s progress has not been a march, it has been a continuous stumble in more or less the right direction. It has been really, really, really hard and it has taken its toll on me.

I’ve cried it all out now and I am weary. I don’t have the energy to be angry anymore, not even with myself. I have a terrible headache, and puffy eyes. I feel very fragile and very alone. I still have my concerns that I am not good enough. I also have a final tomorrow, and work, and parenting and life to take care of. It helps me if I write things out. I don’t want to bring anybody down, or compete for whose problems are more important. I’m just struggling and trying to do my best anyway. That’s all.




December 10, 2017
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The best relationships I’ve ever had had to start somewhere, the worst relationships, too. Looking back they were indistinguishable at the start. Sometimes I really love being single. I love that I don’t answer to anyone. I don’t make my plans around anyone (other than my kids, my work, my school, etc., but close enough). […]

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Poem- In Movies

November 26, 2017
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I didn’t think any man could be more beautiful than Yul Brynner naked in his twenties You stood there more than beautiful trying to find your clothes and I had to let you go I don’t want to ask I don’t want to know that answer just in case you aren’t coming back It’s hard […]

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Poem- Love Poems

October 21, 2017
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I do not write love poems Love is an exchange If you are in it, you are in it together Love shows up takes energy makes time Love should be nurtured more than described I write longing poems I write desire which isn’t the same thing as saying, as writing, I love you This isn’t […]

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There’s No Place Like Home

October 11, 2017
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My first bedroom didn’t have a door. There was just this hole in the wall where a large piece of fabric, with fiery colors was hung. I remember that I could leave that bedroom very quietly in the morning, and go straight to the fridge. The bedroom opened into the kitchen, not into a hallway. […]

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Poem- Starting Over

September 28, 2017
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Maybe I was a whore in Babylon once upon another life It was with different lips that I fell in love with language and with kisses In this life, though I still count my first kiss in the back of an old Ford pickup with a teenaged boy who wouldn’t look me in the eye […]

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July 16, 2017
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I have never looked like the images that were sold to me as beautiful My curves are so full, they have curves of their own When I was younger my lovers tried to hold me while I tried to hold in my belly keep the lights low get under the covers Please, don’t touch me […]

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Major Possibilities

June 9, 2017
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My instructor is like a recruiter for some strange academic cult. I am not the first person to get a few weeks into one of her classes and seriously consider switching my major. She’s in love with her field and, for a moment, so was I. This past semester I was taking linguistic anthropology, which […]

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Poem- A Girl Shouldn’t Expect

May 12, 2017
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“Looking good,” he says leaning out over the rolled down window It doesn’t make me feel pretty I don’t look back Don’t engage Just keep walking Don’t let them see me listening Usually the car keeps going Just keep going Sometimes it turns around Another round “Hey baby, where you going in such a hurry?” […]

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