Where There Are Moutains

This story is the winner of Campus BluePrint’s first annual creative writing contest, and is also in our print edition out now.

BY HEATHER WILSON

The brother is always the first to wake up in the morning. When he wakes up the mini blinds are not yet white with the glow of morning. His mother is curled up on the couch, still wearing the starched white khakis she wore to work the graveyard shift. His little sister sleeps on a futon in the other room. She snores and kicks at her covers and calls out softly in her sleep. The brother is nineteen, and the sister is only ten. They call her the little one.

He stands in the doorway of the trailer, eating cheerios dry from the box and watching the dogs that run in packs through the trailer park. These dogs are filthy, light-footed scavengers. One ragged looking dog—all bones and greed—roots through the plump black trash bags that line the streets. The ragged dog finds a bag of stale bagels and the other dogs circle round. They bare their teeth at one another and cut savage lunges towards the bagels.

 

This family lives in Laredo Texas. It is a town emerged of dust, gardens of dust. They live on the outskirts, right on the border between Mexico and America, in a neighborhood called la colonista. Except it is not exactly a neighborhood. You cannot find la colonista on a map.  The trailers and shanty houses do not have street addresses. The streets themselves are dirt roads. The water comes from wells, and is not safe till boiled twice. None of the trailers have heat or air-conditioning. In the summer this family puts fans in every window and keeps the door propped open with a cement block. In the winter they insulate the walls with newspaper. They tack blankets over the windows and wear layers on layers. La colonista is not Mexico but just barely America. This family can look out their window and see their old country across one hot flat stretch of land, one thin strip of river. They say, we have not come very far.

 

The brother does push-ups and sits-ups on the kitchen floor. He is strong and every day a little stronger. When the father returns to la colonista the brother will be strong enough and will look enough a man to quietly tell him to leave. He will not have to say it twice. He will not even have to roll his fingers into a fist. The father will want the little one. He will say, she is my child. The brother will say, she is no more your child than I am.

Now he fries eggs in the cast-iron skillet for him and the little one. He flips the eggs and peppers them black and scrapes them off the pot and onto plates. He looks for bread but the bread is gone. There are tortias thawing on top of the ice box. He heats two up on the burner until they are ringed with golden spirals. The little one wakes up. From the kitchen he watches her watch the dogs fight over bagels. She props open the screen door and sits out on the stoop. She wears red overalls and a white baseball cap colored from the dust.

There is a wooden baseball bat propped up beneath the coat rack. The brother takes this bat and goes outside and beats the bat against the white metal siding of the trailer. The dogs scatter, tails tucked. He tells the little one to go inside, her eggs are getting cold. And, he says, we’ve got an adventure to go on.

What kind of adventure, she asks.

I’m going to take you to see the mountains, he says. Now go eat.

 

The brother stands out in the sun and smokes a cigarette while the little one eats. The mother wakes up, stands in the doorway tucking her hair into a bun and looking at the brother.

She says, I keep thinking one of these mornings I’m gonna wake up and you’ll be gone.

I wouldn’t leave her, he says, even if I had a way out.

Even when he comes back?

The brother flicks his butt into the weeds where the bent sunflowers grow. Even then, he says.

Are you going somewhere?

Into town.

Take the little one.

I am.

 

The brother and the little one walk the dirt road into town. The sun is high and white above them. They pass by the children who kneel in a circle shouting and shooting marbles. They pass by the dogs who lay huddled in the shade of a trailer, mouths gaping, tongues hung to the dust. From far away both the dogs and the children look black as silhouettes.

Just beyond la colonista is a pit about four feet deep and twenty feet across. It is usually caked dry. When it rains though, the pit fills up with water, and the water mixes with the dust and thickens to mud. The children of la colonista wade across this lake of mud in their shorts and shirtsleeves. They come out covered in mud, with mud in their pockets and stuck to their legs.

The brother and sister spit into this pit of dust as they go by. The children say it is good luck to spit here as you leave la colonista. To spit is to leave a piece of yourself in la colonista with the ones you love. The brother no longer believes in luck or ceremony. He spits because the sister spits. The little one believes. She plants her feet and spits for her mother, for la colonista.

The brother hopes that the children are right.

The father will come south soon. He will want what he left behind and he will promise what they do not have. He will say, nothing that came before was real. He will say, I can get you out of la colonista.  The mother will agree, she will think it is best. The brother will say, you are walking into another hell. They will live in some apartment in town and in the evenings the father will sit back in his armchair with a strip of cloth tied tight just above his elbow. He will be the same, an awful man, an awful charming man. The mother and the sister, they will dream of the look of the sunflowers bent against the trailer, they will dream of the dogs and the dust and the hunger and the heat and the cold. Nothing and no one will bring the old world back, not even the brother doing sit-ups in the kitchen, not even the brother with murder in his heart.

 

They spit and then they go on. The sister runs ahead, looking back at the brother through the dust she kicks up. She asks him, where are we going?

He says only, we are going to see the mountains.

Laredo is as flat as the palm of a hand. In the country there is nothing to mark the horizon but telephone poles. Further south, where there are no telephone poles, it is easy to believe that there is no such thing as movement.

There are no mountains, she says.

You’ll see, he says.

 

He takes her to the clothes warehouse. This is where the Salvation Army and the Good Will send all of the clothes unsuitable for resale. Jeans without zippers. Shirts stained beyond salvation. Shoes with the tongues cut out. These clothes end piled up in hills and mountains, nearly to the top of the warehouse ceiling fifty feet above. The brother calls it the cotton landfill. People buy these clothes in bulk. They pay 35 cents a pound. What the warehouse cannot sell they compress into cotton blocks and ship to Mexico.

The little one has never seen this place. She stands at the foot of a cotton mountain and looks up in awe. Men and women hike up and down these mountains, sorting and untangling the clothes beneath their feet. They look for things that they can use. Shirts that can be washed and mended, leather coats that can be cut into strips, cloth aprons that can be cut up into dish rags, little shoes to fit a child. All the while the children run in ones and twos up the slopes and then tumble down, doing summersaults till they hit the floor and roll to a stop.

The brother begins the climb. He digs his feet into the cotton slope for traction. He stops ten feet up and calls down to the sister.

El nina, he says.

She follows him. A few times she loses her footing and slips earthward. He grabs her by the wrist and pulls her up onto his shoulders. They reach the top and he sets her down next to him. He looks across the colored hills.

This is it, he says. The mountains. You didn’t believe it, did you?

Yes I believed it, she says.

No you didn’t, you said there are no mountains in Laredo.

Well I believe it now, she says.

If anyone ever tells you there are no mountains in Laredo, you can say, yes there are. You can say you know where there are mountains.

No one will ever tell me there are no mountains because everyone can see Laredo’s flat as a map.

Even if no one says it you’ll still know better.

I don’t see what good that does, she says.

It’s worth something, he says.

The mountain shifts beneath them. The children on the slope yell, landslide, landslide. The brother and sister hold hands, not out of tenderness but to defy the steepness and the instability of the ground beneath them. With his other hand the brother grabs at a tattered pant leg. This is not enough. The pants fly loose and brother and sister are slipping, they are falling, they are carried down the mountain. The little one calls out and the brother takes her other hand and holds her close, so close she can see nothing but the blue and white patchwork of his plaid shirt. The landslide slows, they tumble forward to the concrete floor. The brother stands up and pulls the little one to her feet. She will not let go of his hand. The brother laughs. The little one laughs until she is breathless.

Again, she says.

And again they climb the mountain, and again they tumble down. Again and again, until the little one tires.

 

As they are leaving the brother sees a man in a jean jacket faded to white at the elbows, a man who looks like the father. He is standing in the shadows near the scales where people weigh what they salvaged. His face is white and worn-looking beneath his beard. He is smoking a cigarette and rocking on his heels. But it is only a moment’s fear for the brother. Then this man who looks like the father walks into the light of the warehouse door and it is not the father, it is some other white man with a beard. And they—the brother and the little one—are together, and safe in their togetherness. For now there will be no end to what they have which is one another.

 

Why It’s Important to do a Little Soul Searching in College

BY ALLY MICKLER

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I mean, I made it, right? I worked hard in high school. I was editor-in-chief of the yearbook, senior class secretary, and graduated with straight A’s. I got into every single college I applied to. I was loved, I had an exceptional group of friends, I went to parties, and well, everything about high school was great. I guess you could say I was part of the “in crowd.”

So from what you can tell, you would probably say I’m a fairly normal girl, right? Wrong.

Before I begin to explain, let me make this clear. Part of me loves where I came from, I really do. But there has always been something missing, and it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized what had been lost all along.

To put it quite simply, it was myself.

I feel like high school was this constant blur of always waiting for the next big thing. Here’s how it goes: get good grades, join as many clubs as you can, sex, drugs, and alcohol on the weekends, apply to college, graduate, and then what? What happens next? For those of you who already know, congratulations, you’ve managed to solve your never-ending mystery. Want to solve mine?

But that’s the thing, you can’t. It sounds so simple, but it can get pretty complicated, so keep up.

Let’s just say I’ve got these friends, and I love them to death. But it’s not their ideal Friday night to sit in bed writing up poetry, thinking about how great Eddie Vedder used to look with long hair. Normally I get the whole “Eddie Who?” or “Writing?………But we don’t even have a paper due?”

It’s also probably not their ideal Saturday morning to get up and do some exploring.

“Wait, you want to wake up before 1 p.m. and do what?”

“But it’s $3 Fireball shots tonight!”

And don’t get me wrong. I love having drunk dance floor competitions to Rihanna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” as much as the next person. But there’s this part of me that feels like college has amounted to this constant need to get plastered and make bad decisions. And somehow, that’s what’s supposed to help you figure out what your next big move should be.

Something about downing tequila shots every Tuesday-Saturday night doesn’t scream self discovery to me. So that’s why it’s important to have a balance. You need to do things for you.

It’s hard. Trust me, I know. Because it’s easy to take the next step while looking to what your best friend is doing. But instead, take a step back.

It took a long time for me to realize the importance of a little a-l-o-n-e time. Take my advice. Alone time IS HEALTHY. And sometimes we need it, not only for our sanity, but also for self-realization.

So, in my own attempts at this foreign concept of alone time, I’ve come to the realization that this is my next big step:

Read a biography about one of my favorite lead singers. Walk down to the farmer’s market every Sunday. Go to as many concerts as I can, and get high off the adrenaline from the crowd. Write. And don’t just write because I’m assigned to do so, but write because it’s what makes me feel my purpose. Go on nature walks, and ride bikes with that best friend who gets what no ones else does. Travel, and travel a lot. Study abroad. Have a GOOD relationship with my family. Become vulnerable to my sister. Let her fill the holes, and patch up the broken pieces. Take care of my body and be happy with it. Eat 100 mini M&M’s and feel no pain. Light candles when I’m feeling blue, and take long hot showers because it’s the only thing that can drown out the moments of self-defeat. Reason with myself, and then unreason with myself. Be confident, be gentle, and be bold. Try every single food place I can, and more. Don’t be afraid to ask for what I want. Stop thinking I deserve less and, start thinking how I can deserve more. Do everything I never make time for. Do ALL of this. But more importantly, do it for myself and no one else.

This is MY recipe for how to get lost in a little soul searching.

What’s yours?

Voter Turnout in NC Hits Record Highs

BY: SAMI LACHGAR

It’s finally done. Students at UNC can finally walk across the pit peacefully, without the fear of a random stranger popping up out of nowhere whispering the words: “Have you registered to vote?” or “Have you voted yet?”

Although most people find them annoying, these volunteers work tirelessly to ensure that people’s voices are heard in North Carolina. That being said, voters just broke the state of North Carolina midterm voting record that had been established in 2010 by getting more than 2.7 million citizens to vote. Early voting also played a large role in this increased number by increasing by more than 20 percent from the 2010 election. Even with the controversial voter regulation laws that make the voting and registration process more arduous, North Carolinians decided to exercise their right to vote in unprecedented ways for midterm elections.

On the flip side, however, the turnout for the midterm election is still truncated compared to the population of North Carolina and even compared to the general election. In 2012, 4.5 million ballots were cast in the state of North Carolina, which accounted for 68.3 percent of the registered voters. With a population of almost 10 million people, North Carolina should undoubtedly have more voters, or even citizens that are registered to vote. Democracy is an institution that lacks validity and reliability when less than half of the population takes part, so something definitely needs to change in order for the American people to be heard.

Many countries, such as Australia and Chile, require their citizens to vote, which adds to trust levels in their own government. If they decide not to do so, a relatively small fine is imposed, so the opportunity cost of voting is generally justified. The majority of European countries don’t even require citizens to vote, and yet they have over 75 percent voter turnout. This is a trend that the United States is attempting to create, but the current numbers don’t suggest any change in the near future.

Ultimately, the definition of voting is: “a tool that is used to express a wish to follow a particular course of action.” The use of this tool is entirely reliant on whether Americans believe their vote will matter, and this is a problem that must be tackled by progressiveness in the government.

Sexual Assault Laws: Does Yes Mean Yes or No Mean No?

BY CAROLINE WORONOFF

Definitions are crucial in politics. The debated definition of conception is why no consensus can be reached on abortion, and the placement of “a well regulated militia” in the second amendment is the difference between the right to bear arms and gun control. More recently, the definition of consent has been up for debate.

One in five women experience sexual assault during college. That number is frighteningly high. Scarier still is the treacherous judicial system that victims of sexual assault face once they attempt to seek justice. It’s part of the reason why UNC is one of 85 universities currently under investigation for sexual assault policies by the US Department of Education.

Sexual assault policies are difficult to construct in a fair manner. Either someone has to be able prove that they were assaulted, or someone has to be able to prove that they did not assault. However, California has taken a step towards making the judicial process following a claim of sexual assault a bit easier for the victims.

All sexual acts must have some form of consent. Most people can agree on this. However, the definition of consent is where things get hazy. At present, consent is defined as the absence of a ‘no’. However California just passed a law that defines consent exclusively on college campuses as a clear and verbalized ‘yes.’ UNC has adopted the same definition in its new sexual assault policy. The shift in wording has led to the colloquial phrases ‘no means no’ and ‘yes means yes’ laws.

In many ways, the change makes a lot of sense. By putting the burden on the accused, it gives urgency to the need to ask for consent. Now, when a victim claims that they did not give consent and they can prove some kind of sexual act occurred, the courts will lean their way. This change has the potential to help more victims and encourage more victims to report.

On the other hand, there are two major criticisms of the policy change. First, for all other laws in the U.S. people are innocent until proven guilty. With the ‘yes means yes’ definition, the accused are guilty until proven innocent. When someone claims they did not give consent, the accused are forced to prove their innocence.

Additionally, critics argue that having to ask for consent is not reasonable in all situations. This critique has been met with much skepticism. The overall point, while maybe not be reason enough to revert back to the old definition of consent, has some merit. It might not be reasonable, and in many ways not enforceable, to regulate what happens in the bedroom. Arguably, many times non-verbal cues are used in sexual acts, so demanding verbalized consent could be a big change. But, if more people are safer for it, it certainly seems reasonable to require a quick verbal confirmation that everyone is consenting.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that only three percent of sexual assault accusations are fraudulent, according to the FBI. When people report sexual assault, we should listen. California makes it easier for us to believe victims in a legal sense, it makes the judicial system easier to navigate, and it makes it more likely for offenders to receive consequences. The ‘yes means yes’ policy change is new and frequently debated, but overall, I think it makes a lot of sense.

Erosion

The following is the second of two runners-up from Campus BluePrint’s inaugural fall creative writing contest.

 

BY MASON BOYLES

 

We found him like that.  What I mean is, he was dead.

This was on the beach, in the middle of the sand dunes where we weren’t supposed to be walking, but my wife and I were walking there anyway.  And here was this corpse.

“Jesus!”  Mary said.  She was a military brat.  It took a lot for her to appeal to any authority higher than herself.

“He’s dead,” I said.

“It’s dead,” Mary said.  She was right.

I looked at him, half-burrowed under a blanket and a pile of grocery bags.  “Was he homeless?”
“Must have been.”

“Should we call someone?”

“No,” Mary said.  “We really shouldn’t.”

Then she wrapped her hands around my neck and kissed me.  I still wasn’t used to the slick feel of her wedding band against my skin; this was our honeymoon, after all, and we were only two days married.

The part of the Outer Banks we stayed on that November was skeletal.  The pastel beach houses were sparse and empty; everything had already closed down for the winter.  This was how we’d wanted it—an entire town to ourselves, sand and water and air for us to grow into each other.

But here was this dead man tucked against the dunes.

For the rest of our time there we didn’t talk about it.  We stayed on the beach to the north of the house Mary’s parents had rented for us, smoked cigars naked on the porch and tried to plunge into an ocean so cold it was sticky.

We would mention him later, but only peripherally.  It became a kind of prayer that we recited to each other.

“Remember him?  Like that?”

We only ever said ‘like that’ because both of us had been there and we didn’t need to try to describe it.  After a while we stopped even saying ‘like that’, and we would just give each other a certain look across the kitchenette or a touch on the couch, and that would be enough for us to know: now.  Remember it.

_____

The first time we talked about it was after the divorce.

Our house was barren—me leaving, Mary selling—and we stood in the middle of the living room with the last of our boxes, sharing one more six pack of Fat Tire.  There was a feeling of ending but also of opening.  The walls were down.  Now we could breathe.

“So the dead guy,” Mary said.  She was sitting cross-legged on the carpet where the coffee table used to be.  I had stayed standing.

“Yeah,” I said.  A valve cranked loose somewhere deep in my grey matter; I was relieved but I wasn’t surprised.  “Do you remember how blue he was?”

“Like a bus sign.”  She smiled at that like she meant it as a joke.

Maybe she had—sometimes it was hard for me to remember how much I used to know about her.  Eighteen years of marriage and I had more questions leaving than I did when we started.

“It’s weird,” she said, “how many times I’ve thought about it since then.”

I nodded.  “Every day.”

“Every day.”

My wife—my ex wife—sat down her beer.  Mary.  Forty-two and still saline, she had a kind of rippling prettiness that made you think you were seeing her through water.  Now I’d started to wonder whether I was drowning.

“I have dreams about him,” she said.

_____

After I’d finished the beers I drove down Carolina Beach Road slower than I should have, slower than I wanted to, even.  A Dominican couple had just closed on the house—I didn’t have a reason to go back there anymore.

There were only a few things that scared me; starting over was one of them.

Mary and I had spent the last five years growing apart together.  Neither of us wanted to be the one to admit that it wasn’t working, I think, so she did the brave thing and gave me a reason to leave her: an affair with her quivering boss at the real estate company.  She did that for me, and even when I filed for separation at the county clerk’s office I knew she’d only made me love her more.  Maybe it was just a different kind of love.

Now—alone in my empty rental house, waiting for the end of Sunday—I had to decide what I was supposed to do.  I thought I might build a shed in the backyard, ask the landlord for permission.  I could start drawing.  Take salsa lessons.  But all of that seemed forced.  Those were distractions, not desires.  What did I need?  What did I want?

I looked out the window and thought about Mary on the beach, the sand and the wind trickling around us, the things we’d thought we shouldn’t say.

I wanted to drive to Cape Hatteras and find out about the dead man.

_____

Hatteras was a stretched out sand dune.  The trees were stretched out shrubs.  The people—the few folks who lived here year round—stretched out their hopes for fall, for spring and for the first part of summer before the tourists and mosquitos.

There was a Ramada Inn on the south side of Buxton.  I checked in for two nights and sat on the edge of the bed while I called my wife.

“I’m in Buxton,” I said.

“Why?”

“I need to find out about that dead man.”

She sighed—behind the phone filter it sounded more like a curse.  “Charlie.  Is this about what I told you yesterday?  I was drunk.  It wasn’t important.”

I laid back on the bedspread.  The ceiling was painted with a kind of distressed pattern, I guess so you wouldn’t notice mildew stains.  Looking at it sent anchors through the backs of my eyes.

“No,” I said.  “This is about me.”

_____

When my wife and I bought a house together we hadn’t known what we were looking for.  This was before she got her real estate license, back when she was in art school and the only things that made sense to us were Cheers and the Sudoku puzzles we kept on our bedside tables.  We’d go to open houses and listen to realtors talk about floor plans or down payments, trying to look like we understood.

What my wife wanted most were spare bedrooms.  She was twenty-six then; she still thought she wanted to have kids.  We never talked about it, but I could tell by the way she chewed on her thumbnail every time we found out one of my old college friends was going to be a dad, like any child that wasn’t hers put her farther away from getting pregnant.  I should have brought it up myself but I was afraid to ask her.  I didn’t even know what I wanted yet.

The thing that finally convinced us to buy our house—her house, now, but the one where we’d spent sixteen years together before that—was stupid.  It was the kind of idea that might seem logical in a dream, when you weren’t thinking linearly, but as soon as you woke up you could see all the ruts in the train tracks.

We’d decided to marry each other in a dream, I think, because now when I look back those wedding rings made no more sense than the baby or the dead man that we never talked about.

We bought that house because of a skylight.

It was in the master bedroom, right where you’d be looking if you laid flat on your back in the middle of our king sized—this was under the assumption that you put the king sized up against the far wall where my wife wanted it, but for me that had been less assumption than fact.

“I like it,” my wife said.  “We can stargaze.”

We’d been on the market for three months by then; I was tired, whittled all the way down to the marrow.

To my wife I said, “Sure, yes, okay, very good.”

To the realtor I said, “How much?”

A month later we were lining up the king sized under the skylight.  Pretty soon after that I started sleeping on my stomach.

_____

Monday morning it was raining.  I woke up at nine and laid there, not moving, trying to imagine what it would be like to die.  I pictured a spiral, a set of concentric circles dropping down toward the south side of infinity.  A pairing down of motion.  A stillness of thought.  Meditation in theory, not in practice.

When I couldn’t make my heart beat any slower I rolled out of bed and checked the clock: 9:03.  Death got boring pretty quick, I guess.

I went to the library first.  There would be old newspapers, I assumed, some kind of archives.  The woman at the counter pointed through a door that looked like an emergency exit.  “Record room.  Check the file cabinets.”

The cabinets sprouted all the way up to the ceiling.  They looked like someone got paid to polish them regularly.  I walked down to the end of the wall.  I walked back to the other end.  I walked down again, then back, then stopped somewhere close to the middle.  I still had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for.

I stood there looking at my reflection in the front of the cabinets until I felt stupid.  A librarian stuck her head through the door.  She wanted to know if I needed help.

“No,” I said.  “I was about to leave.”

Outside of the library there was a tent full of Baptists.  They were handing out cookies and scones, selling them for some charity I didn’t recognize.  There were pictures of smiling African children hanging up in the tent.  I guess those kids needed the money more than they needed the baked goods.

“Want a muffin?”  A lady said.

“No thanks,” I said.

“But they’re for charity.  What about the children?”

I stopped at the curb and so did she.  The edge of the asphalt must have been some kind of invisible barrier.  “I never had any,” I said.

My wife had never gone to church, so I didn’t go either.

_____

Back at the hotel it was still raining.  It felt like rain might be all there was to this place, water and sand and wind all tugged down by gravity.  The idea of going to the library seemed ridiculous, driving up here to look at a row of file cabinets—and I didn’t know where else to look.  I didn’t know anything.

The hotel lobby was full of men in business suits.  They were talking about portfolios and waiting for the elevator; I took the stairs instead, got to my room and turned on the TV.

My wife would be at work by now, in her office or in her car on the way to a house she was selling.  If she was in the car she would be listening to a book on tape, a Tom Clancy novel.  If she was in the office she would be doing Sudoku.  Her boss would be leaning on the edge of her table trying to flirt with her.  Sometimes it scared me how beautiful she still was—it was the kind of thing that could scare anyone.

I picked up the phone.  I was starting to get an idea of what I was doing.

“Hello?”  My wife said.

“Hey,” I said.  “It’s me.”

“Are you still in Buxton?”
“Yeah,” I said.  “Still here.”  Someone was yelling in the hallway.  Not words—not syllables, even—just sound.

My wife breathed gut-deep; this must not have been a good time.  “Did you find anything?”

“There were scones,” I said.  “And church people.  But no, not really.”

“Church people?”
“Outside the library.”

“Oh,” she said, and she made that one word a sentence.

Silence, five seconds.  I needed to ask her things.  “Have the people signed the deed yet?”

“Yep,” she said.  “Just this morning.”

“So that’s it?”

“It’s done.”

I knew she was right but I couldn’t feel it.  I had to keep pressing.  “You never told me where you were living.”

“Stuart—I have to go.”

“I wish you hadn’t sold our house.”

“Bye,” she said.  The buzz of an empty line quivered through my phone.

It didn’t mean anything, I told myself.  It was just sound.

_____

On Wednesday I checked out of the hotel.

“How was your stay?”  The clerk at the front desk asked me.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  I sounded like an asshole but I was just being honest.

It had dropped below fifty overnight.  I had to smear my hands over the windshield to clear away the condensation.  My wife had chosen this car for me because it was fuel efficient.  She was my ex wife now, but I still had this car.

  I turned up the heater until my fingers were sweating.  There was one more thing I had to do.

I drove to the last beach access with a cigarette and the windows down.  Before I left Buxton I’d stopped at an Exxon for a pack of Marlboros; I hadn’t smoked since I asked my ex wife to marry me.

The road split south down the beach, dark and smooth and basically straight even though the coastline was puckered with divots.  Purple storm clouds lumped together over the ocean.  Rain was coming.

I stopped when the road did.  This was the edge of the island, the channel where the waterway slopped into the ocean.  It was two miles past the place where we had found the dead man.

I took off my shoes.  I started walking.

This beach ran north for fifty miles.  I looked and looked for the other end but it was tucked somewhere behind the horizon line.  Up there the dunes and the tideline and the ocean all converged, twisting together into something impossible.  I’d heard that the earth was actually an oval; to me it looked triangular.

I didn’t notice the rain until my shirt was stuck to my chest, until my feet fit into the sand a little easier.  Here was a flat topped sand dune.  I had no way of knowing if this was really the spot where we had found him, but I told myself that it was.  I got on my hands and my knees and I crawled to the crook where the dune met the beach.  The dead man had been lying on his side.  I lay on my side.  The dead man’s eyes were open.  I kept my eyes open, too, and I waited and waited to feel something.

The rain fell.  The wind trickled grains of sand across my face.  Nothing was happening.

I didn’t call my ex wife.

 

end

 

The Fight to Serve

BY LAYLA QURAN

Isabel Chavez was a first year student at Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina when her teacher asked her a question: what do you want to do when you graduate high school. She didn’t have an answer then, but later decided to become involved in her school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. By the end of the year, she was the top performing freshman in the program. She would later become recruiting officer, then first sergeant. Today, she’s the unit commander of the program.

“Most of the freshmen are like, I wanna be a commander like you. So it’s really fun doing that, just seeing that people look up to you”, Isabel said in an interview with Campus Blueprint.

Isabel came to the United States when she was three years old from Veracruz, Mexico. The youngest of four daughters, Isabel lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Isabel, like over 11 million individuals in the US,  is undocumented.

Thanks to a Pentagon policy unveiled in September, Isabel may be able to apply to serve in the United States military. In late September, the Department of Defense unveiled it’s new policy to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the military for the first time in decades. Through the new policy, undocumented immigrants apply to the military through the Military Accessions in the National Interest, or MAVNI program. The program is now open to immigrants approved under Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Child Arrivals policy, also known as DACA. Undocumented immigrants, like Isabel, who came to the United States before the age of 16, can now apply for the MAVNI program.

But the new rules will only allow recruiters to target foreign nationals with particular skills, including specialized health care training and rare foreign language fluency. Although there are nearly 2 million individuals in the US with no legal immigration status who meet the criteria for the DACA program, the expansion to the MAVNI program will allow recruiters to target those specifically with language skills like Arabic, Farsi, or Chinese.

The Department of Defense began the MAVNI program as a one-year pilot in 2008. Its aim is to allow not only green card holders, but individuals holding non-permanent visas in the US, including students and health professionals, to serve in the United States military. In turn, the immigrants are offered an expedited path to citizenship. The MAVNI program accepts 1,500 people per year, but officials say it is unclear how many of those allowed in the program this upcoming year will be DACA-status immigrants, as opposed to other immigrants who are eligible to serve in the military under MAVNI. The MAVNI program was discontinued in 2010, but was later re-launched in 2012, and was set to last for two more years. Although it was set to expire last month, the same memo that allowed DACA recipients into the MAVNI program also set to prolong the program until 2016.

But this October, the MAVNI program entered a new phase: suspension.

Army officials confirmed in October that the program, recently open to DACA recipients, would be canceled until the service attempts to finalize screening procedures for immigrants who want to enroll. Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer and former lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who helped create the MAVNI program, said in a POLITICO interview that, “The MAVNI program is not designed for DACA at all”. A new 2012 requirement for MAVNI mandates that all applicants have to go through a single-scope background investigation, or high-level security check, and have an I-94, which foreigners complete when permitted entry into the United States. However, DACA recipients who were brought to the US illegally here as children or teenagers, would not have the card. The program is now stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, but policy makers say they hope to open it again to undocumented immigrants by the end of November.

DACA-status immigrants are still eligible to apply to the US Navy, Airforce and Marines through MAVNI, but the vast majority of applicants to the program have been accepted to the Army in past years. The military is not required to admit members under the MAVNI program, but since its establishment, 2,900 recruits have signed up for the military through the program. The Army accepted the 1,301 out of 1,303 recruits last year (the remaining two applicants were accepted into the Air Force), and the Navy and Marines have not accepted any MAVNI applicants since the program‘s inception.

This new policy may be part of a broader Obama administration effort to create new paths to citizenship in the face of a stagnant Congress, unable to pass any considerable immigration reform. At the  Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala this year, he vowed to use his presidential powers to take action on immigration powers, assuring activists that immigration reform is “not a question of if but when”. Just last year, the  Department of Homeland Security announced it would halt any deportations of relatives to US military members and veterans.

But DACA-status immigrants like Isabel will only be accepted after successfully completing a 127-page form, asking them what type of degrees they hold, if they can speak certain rare languages, and whether they have been terrorists.

UNC History Professor Emeritus Richard Kohn specialized in military history in his time at Carolina. He says military recruitment “depends on the personal needs of the individual services. And if their recruiting is low, as the economy improves, they might expand the program in order to get the quality people they need.”

He says immigrants in the military “are likely to be highly-motivated young people, who have more of the typical reasons to want to serve in the military and to do a good job, and many of them may stay for military careers.”

For Isabel, serving in the military is about the opportunity to “give back to this country that has given so much to us”. She has plans to attend a four-year university after high school, and wants to join the Airforce as a paramedic.

“It’s a feeling that, when someone is hurt, they’re reaching out to you, you have their life in your hands. The passion for helping someone, and knowing that they’re doing something for you as much as you are for them.”

“And if the decision expands, I’m going for it.”

 

Weekly Wrap-Up

So the new week begins on Sunday, which means this Weekly Wrap-up is technically a little late, but in some cultures the week begins on Monday… So let’s all pretend we’re in China for a little while, okay?

Obama was a key player in this week’s news. First, he struck a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan with China. Then, despite the GOP gains in Congress, he has reaffirmed his plans to overhaul immigration policy. Dude is definitely on a roll.

Soon the decision on whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson with shooting teenager Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, MO will be made, but cities are already bracing for protests.

UNC ethics professor Jan Boxhill continues being shady in the news following the aftermath of the Wainstain Report on athletic academic scandal. Meanwhile, all graduating seniors are crossing their fingers that this bullshit won’t affect how our degrees are judged.

Since Kim Kardashian’s ass broke the internet last week, butts have been all the rage, but consider this article on one of the first celebrity butts to put things in perspective.

Get our new issue coming this week, y’all!

2008: an Epic Love Affair with Capitalism

The following is one of two runners-up from Campus BluePrint’s inaugural fall creative writing contest.

BY HANNAH JONES

In 1986, the Tax Reform Act eliminated the tax deduction for interest paid on credit cards, encouraging the use of home equity through refinancing, second mortgages, and home equity lines of credit by consumers. My dad worked as the pastor of a small, Nazarene church in Ohio and my mom made beans and cornbread three nights a week.

The young couple’s first chance to entertain could not have been passed up, no matter the modesty of the house or grocery budget. My dad had invited one of the church’s elders to his home for dinner out of what most of us kids now attribute to ambition. My dad approached all things with drive and entitlement. He always rose through the ranks of churches like others would rise through prestigious law firms. In pursuance of this goal, he had acquired a thin, blonde, pregnant wife and placed a Bible on his nightstand. He was living a Midwestern American dream.

My mother was a long time reader of Good Housekeeping and, on the night of visitation, chose to attempt her most ambitious domestic feat yet: a homemade chicken noodle soup. By 5pm, the young couple’s house was filled with twenty servings of homemade noodles, due to a misreading of the magazine’s recipe. They were hung over the bannister, covering every counter and tabletop in sight, and even hanging from the dining room ceiling fan. From there, my mother opened up the discounted package of four chicken thighs she had bought in result of another misreading of the recipe. Not ten minutes of work revealed the extent of the chicken bounty that would have to suffice for the meal: two handfuls of shredded thigh meat. There was no time left to go shopping. Further, there was no money left in the budget.

Upon this realization, my mother did what all strong, adult women would do: she curled up on her bed and cried. She clutched an old, handmade doll from her childhood and allowed herself to revisit a habit she had thrown off in adolescence: complete emotional awareness of her failure. She had failed in her parentally-dictated household role. The Nazarene Church would not be proud. Her parents would not be proud. Her husband would not be proud. However– and this is the only explanation for my father’s uncharacteristic reaction– at that time, the newly married couple must have retained some vestige of spiritual and emotional closeness that had not yet been beaten out by the rough world of American capitalism.

Upon arriving at home, my father went to my mother and wrapped his arms around her. He held her for hours, allowing her to cry and responding with silence that conveyed his empathy, back when he had any. The story my mother told me never included what they actually did for dinner that night; I doubt she even remembers. She remembers the last time that my father cared more for her than wasted money, and it came when they had the least. It was the apex of a time in which my mother and father had nothing more than what could satisfy their basic needs; luxury was eating a meal with meat in it. Sometimes, in all their scrimping and saving to just get by, they failed. In those times, as in all great marriages, they grew inwards, and took solace in each other. The night of the ill-fated soup, my father didn’t worry about the church elder he had to entertain, he simply comforted his wife. His former sentimentality had already become merely lore by the time I was born nine years later, but it remains my mother’s favorite story to tell to this day.

Several years after that night, my father was asked to leave the parsonage. The head pastor’s wife had famously told him “I don’t think you were necessarily called to lead the world from a pulpit. I think you can do God’s work from anywhere. I think you’d make a great businessman.” In 2002, my father got his real estate license.

In 2003, the mortgage denial rate was 14%, half of what it was in 1997. Housing sales were climbing and my dad made standard 6% commission, with which he bought a seventeen-foot sail boat, graciously classified by coast guard standards as a “yacht” due to its ability to sleep six– a quality which we found to be false advertising.

The sleeping space consisted of a triangle room, a restaurant-style booth that could apparently convert into a bed (that feature might have been left out on our model), and a back room we avoided due to its three-foot ceilings and well-developed roach colony. The triangle room was roughly equilateral and barely five and a half feet long on the sides but my mom and I voluntarily squeezed in, heads at adjacent corners, feet getting caught together at the tip. There was no air conditioning and no straightening out our legs, but we treated it as a sleepover, and gossiped about my dad’s irrational love of boat culture late into the night.

“He spent 3 hours tanning today. That’s not a tan, that’s a written request for skin cancer.”

“He’s not satisfied with being able to afford a Fossil wallet; he wants to become one.”

Meanwhile, my dad was engaged in a wrestling match with the table top of the “dining room” area, attempting to turn it into a third bed. Whether or not he was successful in the endeavor we did not hear before drifting into a sweaty and restless sleep, broken at 6am sharp by the sun shining through the one window in our “bedroom.” When we emerged, my dad was sitting on the top deck looking pleased with himself, a well-trained façade that left his actual success with the bedding situation ambiguous. Questioning him on the matter would have been perceived as an attack on the very vessel itself, and thusly not taken well, so each night my mom and I retired early to the triangle room and each morning we lied about how well we slept. We said we were proud of him and of the boat, though the two were becoming nearly one in the same. He dragged us out to Wrightsville every weekend of the summer, going by himself whenever we refused.

We took the sailboat out once in the early days but my father hated sailing. The boat’s true value came in the specific dock it afforded him entry into: the Wrightsville Yacht Club, an exclusive group of hundred or so southerners even older and richer than he was. $800 a month was all it took to mingle with old money, parking our dingy, second-hand sailboat in between two full-blown TLC special yachts that cost more than $800 simply to fill up with gas. There, he would drink $2 Trader Joe’s wine and reveal his barbaric, lower-class roots, asking them impertinent and personal questions. “So how much does a pediatrician in Charlotte make?”

“Oh, you know, not much in this economy,” the doctors would whine in reference to the most inflated period of the US economy in decades.

“How much does she take to fill up?” my father would ask.

“Oh, you know, too much,” the doctor would respond in reference to US gas prices which had been relatively stable since 1996 at the destruction of entire communities in the Middle East.

Here, the doctor’s wife would chime in to end the conversation. “We need to grab some dinner sometime, Matt,” then skillfully drag her husband away before a time or place could be named. My father was not oblivious to these slights, but he did not give up, and he eventually gained the court’s approval the same way he gained their audience; with lots and lots of money.

In 2005, mortgage fraud had increased from 1997 levels by 1,411 percent. My dad bought a 5 million dollar house for 3.5 and didn’t pay any income tax that year. The house was in Forest Creek, the nicest neighborhood that Fayetteville’s strip-joint charm had to offer. Our neighbors were now child doctors, tooth doctors, eye doctors, and the owners of a local chain of Mexican restaurants. It was easy to see why we and the Martinez’s were the only ones whose invitations to neighborhood pot-lucks always seemed to get lost in the mail.

When we first went to examine the house, my dad was visibly displeased by the fake wooden floors. The real estate agent explained they were real wood that had been dipped eight times in a protective plastic coating, so they only looked fake. My father, however, should he choose to buy, would know the truth of the real oak that rested beneath. Seemingly satisfied by this answer, my father bought the next day.

Our neighbors to the immediate right were the Risks, aptly named for their economic decision to purchase the most expensive house in Fayetteville during a bubble. However, Mr. Risk was a licensed ophthalmologist who worked out of Wal-Mart and didn’t need to worry for his job security as there was always a market for selling expensive glasses to poorer people who didn’t need them. The Risks had two daughters and one son. Each one played a different sport and ate kale and would most certainly go to college, a fact driven home by the 500 vocabulary flashcards they memorized by the end of every summer. Still, the best Adrian (the daughter closest to my age) could say to summarize her personality on the day I met her was that she was “totally random.” This was not surprising, as all of her modes of self-expression had been eliminated by the proverbial suburban straight jacket, leaving her with only a weak ability to parrot back the media which she spent six hours a day consuming and to worry about her parents getting mad at her for something. That day she showed me around the neighborhood, pointing out the Martinez’s’ tacky sculpture in the front lawn, cracking an offensive ethnic joke, and then showing me to the creek for which the Forest was named.

The Creek was the social hub of the younger residents of the neighborhood, and it functioned the same way that my father’s yacht club did, but with a marginally more explicit hierarchy: Adrian was Queen, Victoria (her younger sister) was Princess. The Indian kids from down the street and I were their faithful subjects. The Martinez’s and the autistic Chinese kid two over were the enemy. Not knowing the rich kids’ operations manual, I accidentally asked them uncouth questions like “Can I ride on your scooter for a moment?” and “Why do you get to decide who plays the mom?” These were serious breaches in order and had me quickly relegated to enemy status.

During my time as the enemy, the Risk daughters executed such diabolical plans as creating an I Hate Hannah Club (with membership of three and only two meetings, neither of which made quorum). I found these actions to be nothing but helpful in the end, as it is easier to attack from the outside. After gaining friends in the lower ranks, I committed a successful mutiny. This was accomplished with logic (“If there’s an I Hate Hannah Club how do you know there’s not an I Hate Rannisha Club, huh?”) and lies (“They definitely just started an I Hate Rannisha Club and I would never do that to you.”). The last tie-breaker was that my father had just bought me a cell phone, a trump card in the land of New Money.

In 2007, The National Association of Realtors had the largest drop in existing home sales in 25 years. My dad had moved on to selling lead-catching technology to real estate agents, merely postponing his contact with the ripples of the housing crash. The Fayetteville FireAntz (a local semi-pro hockey team) had a regular season record of eighty-two fights, and we watched them all from a private box in the Crown Coliseum.

It was the perfect space to entertain, he said. His new Friday night ritual was wine-sodden spectatorship, surrounded by a host of cohorts one glass of Merlot behind him who laughed at all of his racist jokes and, on an unrelated note, received their salaries from him. The luxury of the private box was garish and frightening. They cleaned up after us on the week days, stocked the mini bars, polished the leather couches, and, during every game, they sent the mascot up for a few minutes to entertain the drunken beneficiaries. As treatment towards childhood pets can be a large indicator of children’s aggression, the mascot was a gauge for my transition from Forest Creek’s Enemy rank to Queen. During the first game, I got the mascot’s autograph. At the second, I avoided him. By the end of the season I was actively antagonizing the poor mascot, hardened by my days in the upper class where we used our money to post bail on our empathy. For one game, we invited the Risks. At this point they had already long been my inferiors. Then, I only tried for their loyalty and continued admiration. I earned it that night by holding my foot by the door and tripping Anthony the Ant on his way to make a living by dancing for the King and his court. The same night, my father got drunk and decided to fire his accountant, a sixty- year-old man with a wife and two kids.

In 2008, a total of 3,157,806 foreclosures were filed on 2,330,483 properties during the year. My dad ran six miles a day and slept three hours at night, only sometimes in our house. Mary Shelley ran half marathons and whenever we saw her he talked about how they should go running together sometime soon. When I was twelve I didn’t get innuendos like that.

In 2013, the house in Forest Creek entered into foreclosure proceedings. The Coliseum box had been sold; the sail boat was listed on Craigslist. My mom filed for separation. I entered UNC Chapel Hill as a freshman with full financial aid, the last of his kids to become financially independent. My father’s crashing economy was self-contained.

The Future of Clean Energy in North Carolina

BY KELLY HUGHES

“All-of-the-above energy” has become a repeated catch-phrase of Governor Pat McCrory, who espouses the need for both renewable and traditional sources of energy. McCrory has played a controversial role in debates over energy, criticized by some for his support of fracking and lax approach to cleaning the Dan River coal ash spill, yet still praised for his support of renewable energy. He portrays his end goal, the diversification and expansion of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANorth Carolina’s energy sector, as key for economic growth and job creation. This diversification is already happening as renewable energy has gained a stronghold in North Carolina. Debates over energy have likewise expanded with renewable energy capturing attention in Chapel Hill and around North Carolina, sparking discussion over practicality and environmental impacts. Solar energy in particular has gained momentum, becoming an increasingly important component of North Carolina’s energy development. Meanwhile, wind energy remains promising but faces an uphill battle for acceptance and expansion. The outcome of these debates will play an important role in the sustainability of North Carolina’s energy future.

  North Carolina has transformed from a fossil-fuel dependent state to a renewable energy contender in the last couple years due to investment in renewable energy and a change in policy. Recently, North Carolina emerged as one of the top ten solar-producing states. Think Progress reported that last year alone North Carolina nearly doubled its capacity in solar energy with an increase of nearly 335 megawatts. This success story has been fostered by policy; solar energy has become increasingly affordable with tax credits that cover 35% of the cost of new energy projects and reimbursements for individuals producing solar energy. Another important development is the enactment of North Carolina’s 2007 Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to get 12.5% of energy needs from renewable energy. These measures have motivated companies to shift their attention to alternative energy sources. This month, Duke Energy announced plans to invest $500 million in constructing three solar farms in North Carolina.  This plan is directly linked to the Chapel Hill community through its partnership with a local solar company, Strata Solar. According to its website, Strata Solar is the sixth largest overall solar contractor in the US with over 70 solar farms.

 Behind solar energy’s apparent success is a continuing debate over solar energy’s practicality and future policy support. The result could be that the very energy policies that have promoted solar production could become a limit to its future growth. On the practically front, opponents argue that solar energy is too limited and intermittent to be a long-term solution for sustainable energy in North Carolina. However, the main point of contention is financial feasibility. As mentioned above, solar energy is supported by tax credits and subsidies, which raises questions of its ability to compete against sources such as natural gas. These policies, although currently secure, will soon begin to expire as many argue they are no longer needed and have outlived their purpose of jumpstarting the solar energy industry.  Duke Energy has recently requested a reduction in the amount individuals are paid for excess solar production. Similarly, although voicing support of the solar industry, McCrory quipped that solar energy is going to have to learn to “stand on its own.”   It’s ability to do that remains to be seen.

      On the coast, the focus has been on a different renewable energy: wind power. Wind energy will be an important factor for North Carolina’s renewable energy expansion as 1400 square miles off the coast of North Carolina have been pinpointed for potential wind farms. However, wind energy has been subject to a more intense scrutiny than solar energy, causing its realization to be limited despite its potential.  As close as 11 miles from the coast, turbines will be visible at least 35% of the time according to the News Observer, leading to a debate over the “aesthetic problem.” Coastal towns such as Kitty Hawk have reacted with opposition and attempts to restrict wind farms to at least 20 miles off the coast, fearing detrimental impacts to the tourist industry that makes up the base of their local economy. Like in solar energy, objections to wind energy have financial roots as wind energy is also supported by heavily debated subsidies and tax credits.  However, objections to wind power have expanded beyond pure financial considerations, ranging from potential environmental damage to navigational problems.  Although McCrory declares wind energy “vital to a prosperous energy future” in North Carolina, these debates have delayed the development of wind energy and will continue to do so. Already under progress for three years, bidding for federal leases is at least two years away, although five developers have expressed interest. It is clear that before experiencing the same acceptance as solar energy, wind energy must first overcome a number of obstacles and provide satisfactory answers to these objections.

           The debates over renewable energy occurring across North Carolina have materialized in Chapel Hill and the UNC community and have been translated into noticeable action. Grassroots organizations such as Solarize Chapel Hill seek to make solar energy affordable for local communities and businesses, providing free assessments for homes and group discounts. Similarly, they seek to raise awareness about solar energy’s potential, holding information sessions around the local community. Similar programs have occurred in neighboring towns such as Carrboro and Durham. Likewise, efforts are occurring on campus to hasten the shift from unsustainable sources of energy to renewable. Activist organizations such as the Sierra Student Coalition bring attention to environmental issues and challenge traditional energy sources with campaigns such as Beyond Coal. The impact of debates on renewable energy are apparent on campus. Recently, the board of trustees has requested that the fund managers research and focus on clean energy investments. Meanwhile, UNC has focused its attention on decreasing its energy usage and investigating which buildings can accommodate solar panels.

           Although renewable energy has made great strides in North Carolina, its future is far from secure. Current discussions will shape the future of North Carolina’s renewable energy story and determine whether renewable energy will become a norm or an idealistic experiment.  These issues will soon play a key role in North Carolina politics, and public opinion will help determine the future course of energy.