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Ruth Ticktin
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Wrong

 

by Ruth Ticktin

 

I said the wrong thing to the mom

with a kid who was sick

I say he will get better

He didn't

he succumbed

also, his Mom died

 

I said the wrong thing to

A neighbor who loved yoga

I say didn’t work for me

because of this and that

She had worse

then the neighbor was dead

 

Up the narrow attic staircase

I ascend seeking warmth comfort

 

Hearing birds scurry across the roof,

I say make your haven from the twigs

the rains beat down above my head

I try to hide under quilts and pillows

but the bird’s nest is destroyed

 

Mistakes come back to haunt

Laden hard they stick

I know nothing

I must exhale

forgive

so, I say Be gone

until beating myself up

is over and done

 

 

 



My First Apartment

 

By Ruth Ticktin

 

I’d left high school after three years, through a program called early entrance to college.  At 16, too cool for the dorms, I moved into an apartment building, close to campus, filled with students.  At the end of the hall lived Camille, in an efficiency apartment.  My roommate and I were in a one-bedroom next door, and the three of us shared the bathroom in the hall, just opposite our apartment doors.  Clearly, the building used to be configured so our two tiny apartments were actually space for a decent sized two-bedroom-plus-living-room apartment.  Unfazed by the space, I was convinced of my superiority living maturely in pure freedom, compared to those living in dorms.

Next door was Camille, living alone with her cat and lots of candles. Her room was dark, but warm and smelled like sweet incense.  There were two closets – one for clothes and one for a kitchenette, which meant a mini-fridge with a burner on top, next to a sink with cabinets above and below. The cozy compact efficiency impressed me as perfectly private and beyond cute.

I shared my space with an acquaintance I’d known slightly from summer camp. As we both navigated being college students, I grew anxious around her, convinced that she was prettier and more at ease than I. On the other hand, I was in awe of Camille, who was an art student and also a waitress. She wasn’t gorgeous but she thought highly of herself and that was pleasantly obvious.  That positivity and self-confidence helped those of us hanging around Camille feel her beauty, as well as our own.

Though at first, I was jealous of Camille—the apartment, the cat, her job, and her boyfriends—soon her energy boosted my morale from envy to respect. She was always busy with friends, work, or an art project like watercolors, crocheting, or clay, in a focused yet non-obsessed way.

A month or two later, when put to the test to see if I could be that kind of clear confident young woman, I failed.  One of my parents’ young friends gave me his brother’s phone number saying, “Since both of you are new to the University, you should go out.”  We contacted each other, met up, went out to eat, and then came back to my apartment.  My roommate was home, so we all sat in her room listening to music, smoking, and drinking.  I got up to go to the bathroom or get something to drink and when I returned, they were kissing.  I felt sick, beyond uncomfortable, and so awkward. I stood there immobile, noting the time, 2 a.m.

“Come on, hang out with us,” his flirtatious eyes and thick smile leered from her to me.

I couldn’t move, so I tried a joke,

“What is this, two-sided affection?”

He answered laughing, “Ah ha, good for my ego.”

A few days later, the guy moves into her room! No apologies, no negativity directed at me but somehow, I’m forced to be distressed.  I had no idea did they feel I interfered or did I intrude? I got no feedback. I didn’t know if my roommate hated me or liked me.

We’d been having an okay time one evening, when I assumed that I heard them talking about me after I left the room. It all seemed to be quite hostile.  I was sure they were saying,

“She’d just like to stay until she can lie in bed with us.”

“What?” I said aloud.

“Are you talking to us?” They called out.

“Yeah,” I was choking, “What’d you say?”

“Nothing,” he said, “just telling a story.”

“Yeah, I know what you’re telling,” I mumbled, but by then they’d raised the volume on the stereo.

My presence seemed to only make matters worse.  Possibly I’d assumed, but probably that conversation was about me. With expectations spiraling downward, I couldn’t resist thinking that uptight me was causing others to feel obligated. 

As sophisticated and independent as I tried to be, the apartment soon became totally uncool. My roommate insisted that everything was fine; we didn’t ever have to discuss, or get into anything heavy, she appeared to profess. I realized that I’d never be like her, I didn’t want to repress my feelings, or pretend to be someone I’m not. It took me decades to be able to assert myself, but my choice of role models became crystal clear to me.

Before moving out, I got some advice from Camille, who summed up the scene:

“To many, sex is a game. That woman’s game is to play and try to catch.  For some guys, the fun is in the conquering.”

“Yuck”

“Yeah, it’s disgusting but succeed or not, you can’t react. If it feels shitty, just don’t play the game.”

I gave her a puzzled look, and she continued.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure about this. You gotta know, soon you’ll find a good soul. You’ll have true friends who match your nature.”

     Camille’s words gave me the boost to move on and gather true friendships. The following years were filled with positive social action, pivotal to my leftist identity, and a steadfast sense of community. I no longer remember the names of the bitchy roommate and her asshole boyfriend. Looking back at my first apartment, I laugh and give Camille an enduring embrace.


An experienced adult educator teaching English language and creative writing, Ruth encourages sharing stories. She has coordinated, advised, and taught in Washington DC since 1977. Raised in Madison and Chicago, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, she co-authored: What's Ahead? Transitioning from Adult Education to Career (ProLingua Assoc. 2013) and published:

“Taking In” (www.englishclub.com/efl/tefl-articles/taking-in/) (12-17)

“When in High School” (RCC Muse Literary Journal) (Spring 2018)

“Brief Journey” (https://issuu.com/niveousmagazine/docs/edition_1) (9-18)

“Palma” (https://bendinggenres.com/2019/02/08/donde-crece-la-palma/)

“While Walking” (Genre Urban Arts. Print-No-7) (4-19)

“to Washington DC” (https://ThinAirMagazine.org/2019/09/30/to-washington-dc) (9-19)


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