Too Young To Be Old

How can it be
That you and you and you
Possess the audacity
To flap your lips
With your tongue like a whip
In a loud self convincing
Another
“Try again please.”
Authorities
On hypocrisies
Across the seven seas
You’re like a kindergarten class
Adding peas
Like minds
Dyslexic logic telling me
That you agree you shine through me
And all of my overgrown
Invisibility.
How can you all count to three
And then like magic
Laugh into me
The impossibility
For my young and tired eyes
To have ever seen
Anything
Of substance
Anything of beauty
Any damn thing
That could ever
Mean a thing
For me
Or for you
Or anything
That could ever bring
A lingering
Important kind of meaning.
You say,
I haven’t lived enough to see
The life that lives outside of me
And I may never age to know
What maturity brings
What it really means
To be “old.”
But when the telling is told
And I’m the one teaching
The only one speaking,
The marks of my branding
Compassion and understanding
The crash of their landing
And force of their demanding,
Scotch-taped together,
The lone person standing…
You will learn what I say
That yesterday and today
Age is age
Just a measure to gauge
The years that it took you
To stay stuck on the same page
When I am libraries ahead
With the heart and the wisdom
Of an old soul instead.

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Maggie Bermudez, October 27, 2004

Maggie is a girl I remember 
most vividly from Cecil Ave Junior High School. 
I can’t remember if I encountered her first 
in the seventh or the eighth grade, 
though I think it was the eighth. 
I know that I first took notice of her 
in a Child Guidance therapy group 
that a handful of students were 
pulled out of class for on a weekly basis. 
I never could figure out why Maggie was in there, 
but I remember thinking it was something serious – 
and would watch her outside of group, on campus, for anything. 

My curiosity faded to intrigue of her 
awkward and unaware beauty that no one else 
seemed to notice. I remember feeling 
that her sadness filled her 
like a glass of water domed over her brim. 
Every movement was like a lesson in strength 
and control; like everything that she did 
was conscious of her domed sorrow and she 
would never let anything publicly touch her, 
lest the burden flood down her raw cheeks. 
It didn’t take a genius to know that she held 
and walked and breathed down something big. 

All of us kids sat huddled in a small intimate circle, 
in a closet sized room so insignificant, 
I myself never even wondered what lived on the other side 
of the door leading in. 
We were small in numbers and enormous in sorrows. 
Some of us acted out, 
some of us acted in; 
The Breakfast Club of Trauma. 

At the time, I didn’t yet know 
how to feel sorry for myself. 
I was only capable of primitive awareness 
of suicidal ideation 
and just starting to build the foundation 
for my angst. I only said things they expected to hear – 
nothing real. I only manipulated the process, 
never reaching to scratch unless I could dig deep; 
the big word whore for attention. 

I made part of the time interesting 
by keeping the counselors on their toes; 
made them feel like psychiatrists…all fancy 
and proud and diagnostic. 
I spent the rest of my time analyzing the other kids. 
Mostly, they were see-through and predictable… 

Then there was Maggie. 

Maggie spoke in a whisper – 
mainly okay’s but more so in nods. 
She wrapped herself in invisible introvertedness. 
She would cave her chest into her shoulders 
whenever the attention was on her. 
She had a nervous smile that never cracked for teeth, 
and curly untamed hair like morning wilderness; 
natural perm washed clean the night before, 
air dried in dreams and sorrowful tossing – 
too young to be more aware of the enormity 
which neglects from inside to out and top to bottom, 
and the abandonments that suffocate comfort. 

Never speaking, except the, 
“I don’t know.” “Uh, huh.” or “Okay.” 
safety net that squirmed its way through 
her esophagus; exhaling with jaws of life power, 
parting those teeth because she was 
caught off guard by friendly counselor inclusion, 
second chance banter. 

They didn’t ever try to address whatever 
was going on in her “situation” because they 
could never hold her hand tight enough to 
cross that question-answer fence. She was too 
sharp in her curt and uncomfortable answers. 
They tried everything to aviate those baby spoon questions 
into her starved love; but she never parted 
her lips long enough – too quick to seal her lips 
and the questions would just smear her cheeks 
with unwilling, yet polite refusal. 

Every answer could have been likened 
to a small child’s, “No, thank you, sir.” 
Too surprisingly uncommon; too respectful and proper 
to not forgive and respect the authority which 
she timidly demanded. They never pushed her more than one, 
“Come on.” Almost like her frailty was more than 
just inside her and even they knew with delicate knowledge 
that their words and enticements, if spoken too 
forceful or repetitious, had the potential to 
break even her skin before our very eyes; 
and she would fall apart like a puzzle, from a table, 
in that chair, in that tiny room. 

So she was left alone. 

I remember knowing that it wasn’t a show 
and respecting, even admiring that. 
She wasn’t looking for attention like most kids 
by avoiding it. She really was avoiding it. 
And she never concentrated stoicism. 
When she found comfort – her smiles were real, 
and I think surprised even her. 
And that made me smile; 
still, makes me smile. 

In high school, she packed the Tuesday group – 
fragile mute away and came out of her shell, 
to seem almost like the new girl in school. 
And in way, I guess, she was. New in her invisible 
scotch tape armor and subtle make up. With gelled hair, 
hard with Aqua Net strength; bigger than the concave chest of, 
*don’t look at me* that I remembered, 
still remember; 
am proud to remember. 

Five days ago though, while registering voters, 
she was murdered. 
They arrested the guy she was canvassing with. 
Nobody really knows what happened yet. 
Up until yesterday she was just a scorched doe – 
not even a definite “John,” or “Jane.” 

But as of today – the semblance of human gained identity, 
Magdalia Bermudez, 
21-years-old, 
mother to two small children; 
murdered, torched remains lifted from an orange grove east of town. 

Silent Maggie, 
surprised by her own smile, 
the eighth grader left alone 
in her feigned invisibility 
during those 
Breakfast Club of Trauma meetings. 

Maggie with curly hair 
like untamed wilderness – 
air dried in dreams.