Planting Good Relationships

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Photo by Samuel Alvarado

By Samuel Alvarado

Relationships between people, whether platonic, romantic or even with oneself, are like plants. Relationships and plants both require care, maintenance, and space lest they stagnate and die. I have had a wonderful “garden” of relationships for a while, but it is no easy feat to maintain.

I find that relationships and plants share several key characteristics, and I have noticed these similarities throughout my life. A plant or relationship can grow only when it is properly taken care of with the necessary sustenance, room, and care. Our relationships provide us with the steady stream of care, love, and motivation needed for us to grow.

Plants need the right balance between rich soil, sunshine, and water as their primary sustenance. Relationships between people also require sustenance by having substance in shared experiences. The parallels are clearly seen when the sustenance of relationships and plants are taken away, as neither a relationship nor plant can last long without attention and care. Sustenance for a relationship comes from being rooted in the lives of others, just as sustenance for a plant comes from being rooted in the soil.  Just as plants need water regularly, relationships need regular attention to ensure their longevity. With sustained maintenance, relationships can last a lifetime.

Most plants need space to expand, or they will stagnate instead of growing as they should. Without space, plants may be forced to recede into corners or against walls while trying to grow in what little space they have. Relationships too need space, as every person needs the opportunity to grow personally and, by virtue, grow the relationship with deeper self-knowledge. Most people need some time alone to better understand themselves so they can better function with others. At times, a person may pull or push away from those closest to them, and this new space may make it easier to focus on deep personal issues. The time alone, however, should not be extended without purpose because the need for social engagement is just as important as the need for space and privacy. A little self-care can help a person thrive in relationships because better self-awareness can allow for greater contributions to the group of relationships.

Plants need care when they grow unevenly, have been hurt, or become diseased. By the same principle, a relationship needs care when it has been stressed, damaged, or unloved.  Care for a plant may involve adding more nitrogen, adding a splint, or transplanting it after its pot broke. For relationships, people need to communicate effectively about what has strained the relationship and what needs to be done to rectify any damage. It does not bode well when one friend pours out their heart to another with little reciprocation or recognition. This apathy, however, broadens a growing divide in a relationship. When trust is broken, promises are left unkept or feelings are hurt; these issues need to be remedied promptly for fear that they ruin both relationship and the person who had been cared for before. When properly implemented throughout the life of a plant or relationship, the effects of intentional care can be seen clearly. Intention care is a necessity to foster our health and the health of the natural specimens we foster.

Callous handling of plants and relationships leads to the ruin of each. Therefore, I hope people learn to treat their relationships as plants. A plant may provide fresh oxygen and fruit, just as a relationship may provide companionship and love that every person yearns for throughout this journey we call life.

I could say that my garden of relationships has always been calm and full, but that would be a lie. Coming to college, I came in knowing one person, and I felt more alone than ever. My garden was nearly empty from relationships falling into disrepair or being intentionally burned. Now, after a year in Pensacola, I have a garden of flowers, cacti, and herbs that I love to see grow as they have helped me grow.

Decisions

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Photo by Rachael Whitlock

By Rachael Whitlock

A thin veil of smoke curled around her fingers before dissipating into the air. She held the cigarette loosely to her lips and felt the warmth of its tip radiate towards her skin. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks as she inhaled once more. For a moment, as smoke filled her nostrils, she relaxed. Then, with another exhale, she began to heave in quiet sobbing.

She brushed her black bangs out of her eyes before picking her head up and taking another hit of the fast-shrinking cigarette. Sitting on the edge of the sandy cliffs, she watched the sun – a fiery ball of orange – as it began to disappear beneath the horizon. The entire city beneath her was bathed in the pink glow of the sunset, and as the darkness slowly enveloped it, yellow squares of light began to brighten the buildings.

Behind her, she heard light feet kicking the gravelly sand; sighing, she knew exactly who was about to sit down. Part of her leapt with elation as the boy sat next to her, but another part recoiled in pain. She yearned to speak to him him, but she also didn’t think she could bear to see his face. “I knew I would find you here.” he said quietly.

His soft voice made her wince. She thought the pain would subside with time, but it seemed to loom over her, completely enveloping and suffocating her already broken heart. “I haven’t changed my mind, you know. I can’t keep it.” she said while brushing tears off her cheeks. He sat next to her silently with his blue eyes staring at the city lights. After a minute, she stole a glance of his face and saw the shine of tears rolling down his cheeks.

“But why not?” His words were barely more than a hoarse whisper; his pain was evident. In hushed desperation, he pleaded, “Let me have it. You wouldn’t have to do anything after…this part. I’ll take care of it myself.” and it hurt her to hear the desperation in his voice. A piece of her wanted the child.  She ached to keep it and raise it with this boy she loved, but she knew it was just a fantasy that would play out differently in reality.

“I told you already. I can’t do it. I just can’t.” Even though she said this with certainty, her mind was twisting with indecision. They loved each other, and it was as if she was ripping his heart out and watching him bleed. No one does that to someone they love, she thought silently. She couldn’t look at him, even just a glance at the broken boy would prove devastating. She could hear him crying quietly and knew comforting him, even just looking at him, would only bring her more misery. Her heart was being squeezed, tighter and tighter, until it was nearly impossible to breathe. She turned her face to the sky and stared at the moon, full and bright, surrounded  by thousands of twinkling stars. Please, tell me what to do, she thought emptily. She didn’t truly believe there was anything in the stars that would help her, but she figured she’d try.

Still sitting next to her, the boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver ring. He turned the jewel over in his fingers and let the moonlight shine on the cluster of diamonds on the top. After a minute of staring at the glittering silver, he held it out to her. “I got this for you. I don’t know why. I guess I thought it would help change your mind.” He continued to look at his hands, at the ring, and at the ground – anywhere but her face.

She held her breath in uncertainty. In her chest, she felt an almost overwhelming urge to reach out and grab the ring from his hand to put it on and never take it off. Instead, she simply sat there. One then two slow minutes passed before she even moved. Finally, she pulled her eyes away from the shining metal and looked up at his face, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” It wasn’t until she had gotten up and walked away from him, out of earshot, that she began to sob.

***

A week later, she took a deep breath before dialing the number of her doctor’s office. A cheery nurse answered her on the first ring. She spoke to the nurse with certainty, for she knew   what she wanted. “Yes, I’d like to cancel the appointment I have next Tuesday.” The nurse asked her if she was sure and reminded her of the consequences of her decision. In two weeks, she could no longer change her mind if she decided she didn’t want it anymore. With an upbeat positivity, she exclaimed, “I know, but I want to keep it. I’m not going to change my mind.” A minute later, she hung up the phone and relaxed for the first time in months.

Then, she dialed another number. She wasn’t sure he would answer, but, after the fifth ring, she heard a sigh  with a strained “Hello?” that was a question more than it was a greeting.

She steeled herself for what she was about to say and decided to start slow. “Um…hey. I know this is hard, but can we talk? I have something important to tell you.”

The Squirrels, The Myths, The Legends

 

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Photo from the Pensacola News Journal

By Jade Jacobs

For years, there has been lore on the University of West Florida campus regarding the existence of rare albino squirrels residing between the Information Technology building (79) and Math/Engineering building (4). Many students have their own theories about why the squirrels are here or what their purpose is among us. Although up to two have been seen at the same time, no one knows if there are more out there. A sighting of even one albino squirrel is said to alter a person’s mind and enlighten them to a bit more of life’s grand story. In hopes of gaining more insight to the mysteries of these aloof animals, students were asked to share their beliefs and myths about these legendary squirrels. These are their stories.

Long ago, the 6 colleges educated students as a university; then, everything changed when the funding arrived. Only the albino squirrel, master of all 6 disciplines, could divide funds. But when UWF needed him most, he vanished. Years passed until students discovered new albino squirrels living near building 4. Although the squirrels’ finance skills are great, they have a lot to learn before they’re ready to give any money. But I believe, they can save UWF.” – Albino squirrel advocate.

The white squirrel is a vengeful demon whose physical body was used in a ritual on UWF campus. He now roams the grounds looking for the people that caused his transformation in an attempt to repay them for their kindness.” – Jerrad H.

He’s an international squirrel from Antarctica here to study human behavior” – A friend from afar.

Not only are there rumors as to how the squirrels came to call UWF home, but mystery also surrounds exactly where the squirrels live on campus.

I heard it’s responsible for the weird missing reports on the nature trail.” – Patrick L.

It has been said that if you rub its head 3 times and scream ‘Yahtzee!’, class grades will improve miraculously.” – A believer.

Seeing him is an omen that you’ll make an A on your next test” – Brianna M.

Even further speculation has gone into why the squirrels have their prominent color in the fur-st place.

Supposedly, he jumped into a highly chlorinated pool. Some humans think it’s a ghost, but it’s far from dead.” – Anthony N.

The albino squirrel is the embodiment of unfulfilled wishes and dreams of all college students. That’s why it lacks color, with inadequacy and disappointment comes loss of wonder.” – A student in search of hope.

He was caught in a hurricane and the salt from the sea water turned his fur white.” – Jamar G.

Some students are firm believers in the existence and powers of the albino squirrels, while others just think it’s a tall, fluffy tale. Though it’s true that there is no conclusive evidence to back up these reports, the fantasy alone is enough to keep the dream alive. Whether you choose to believe these accounts is up to you. However, one thing is for certain: the imagination of college students knows no bounds in cases where oddly pigmented animals come into play.

Living in a World on Demand Part One

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Image by Netflix

By Jay Ayer

How are you reading this article? Odds are you came across it while browsing the internet. This article could have been published today, yesterday, or even a decade ago, but that would not make much of a difference to you. Why? We live in a world on demand. Anything we want to watch, read, listen to, and buy, is at our fingertips and  only a press of a button away. Only a few short years ago, few people had access to this on demand world  as we do now. I am a part of the last generation that began life without most of the services we use today. I am amazed by the fact that most people who grow up from this point onward will never know a world without smartphones, without Facebook and YouTube, without Netflix and Spotify. When I was younger, just before the boom of on demand services, I would always dream of having the ability to watch any movie I wanted at any time, but now that I currently have that ability, I rarely use it. Recently, I have begun to wonder why I don’t use these services, and why I don’t take advantage of the uncountable forms of entertainment I have access to. I believe that I do not use these services as often as I am able to because I am still used to a life without them.

I believe that because I was raised mostly before on demand services were readily available to me, I am used to watching just what was on TV. I often find myself catching the middle of a movie like Forrest Gump (a movie I have seen over thirty times in my life) on TV and staying on that channel until the end of the movie. However, at any point in time I can switch to a new movie on Netflix, one that I have been wanting to watch for years, and I can never push myself to watch it. Odds are, if I come across a movie that is already playing, I will finish it, but I find difficulty in choosing a movie to begin and finish in one sitting. I spend most of my time on services like Netflix and Amazon Prime looking at the seemingly infinite number of shows and movies to pick which ones look interesting, and I end up spending two hours not choosing anything. For me, the library of films and shows I have access to is overwhelming.

The best comparison I can make to an issue in the real world involves money. Many people dream of having an infinite supply of cash all their lives, but if we did have infinite money, eventually it would grow tiresome. There would come a time when we would either get bored of what we have or get overwhelmed by the number of things we could buy. I have reached this point of overwhelming when it comes to media like music, television, and film. Because we live in a world on demand, there is so much to watch and listen to that we often take the endless supply of entertainment at our disposal for granted. I recognize this modern technological age for what it is, and I personally take on demand services for granted by saying, “I won’t start this now. I can watch it whenever I want.”

Living in a world on demand is not necessarily a bad prospect. On demand services are some of the best modern marvels of our world, but the ability to watch anything at any time leaves me with the inability to ever actually choose something to watch. As I have said, I am a part of the last generation that will ever probably know of another life before the rise of on demand services, and we know the difference between the world we were born into and the world on demand.

 

Long Lost Friend

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Photo by Joseph Cox

By Sabrina Corbin

Day in and day out I feel her drawing me in. Whispering repose in my ear as she asks me to come visit, but I rarely can. The work must get done, but the cunning deception of work is that it’s unending. The daily pressures of my life wear and tear at my entire being. I’m constantly exhausted both physically and emotionally. Everywhere I go, I’m always carrying a load on my shoulders. No matter how large or small the matter may seem my anxiety will make it appear at large. If I am to achieve the serenity I so desperately crave and escape the daily anxieties I endure, I must accept the invitation she whispers to me.  The ocean calls my name, and, ignoring my troubles, I tell her that I’m on my way. The moment I step out of the car and breathe in the air, my attitude changes. The closer I get to the shore, the more my worries get quieter and quieter in my mind. The cloud of troubles that shields my view rolls away with the sunlight pouring in.

Every aspect of the beach is beautiful. The sand is as soft as the light ocean breeze kissing my skin with salt. All the seashells are tiny, artful, masterpieces just waiting to be found, although nothing compares to the ocean itself. The sound of the waves brings about a feeling within my chest that is difficult to explain. Peacefulness, wonder, respect, curiosity, and a hint of danger; all these things well up in my chest. Here I am standing before this momentous body of water that covers ¾ of our planet, and I can’t help but feel such wonder and respect for the incredible nature before me. I can look out to the horizon and, as far as I can see, the ocean is unending.

The water. Almost in a trance, I walk in to my shins. As I go deeper, I feel the water get colder. The drop in temperature sparks a sweet clarity in my mind. The water is at my hips. Before I know it, it’s up to my neck. I realize I shouldn’t go any farther, but the currents are arguing with me and try to pull me out more. It’s almost as if the they’re taunting me as the currents rip around my legs. With each movement, the sweeps prove to me that they’re stronger than I am, and the sea gives me a feeling of revere. These currents could break my balance at any second and pull me out to open ocean, but they don’t. I ignore the currents’ swift pulls and go underwater where the most beautiful part lies: silence. More specifically, a different version of silence lies within the depths. The only things that can be heard are the waves above me and the water around me. My thoughts are void of my troubles, which is unheard of if you have anxiety and know how it works. There are no worries, yet one simple thought remains in me: “peace at last.” It’s such an elegant thing to take a break from sensory overdrive to hear only water If I could, I would stay under the surface for much longer. I don’t know if I’d ever leave the ocean’s depths if I had the option, but my lungs protest. I give in and break the surface while heaving a big gasp. I reach for the sandy floor with my feet, but my head goes under again. The sea has brought me out a little farther than I need to be, and my heart rate quickens in slight fear. I swim back to where I can reach the ocean’s floor and can’t help but get a little annoyed. The ocean is greedy in the way she constantly wants me, and everyone else, to go out farther when she’s well aware we can’t do that. I look out again to the horizon to watch the tops of the waves forming and breaking in constant rhythm. I think to myself, “What’s out there?” Thinking of the ocean’s many secrets ignites a spark of curiosity within me. I don’t think of the dangers, like sharks, rip currents, or jellyfish. I think only of the positive possibilities of what I could find in her depths.

For some unexplained reason, the ocean makes me fearless, and I always want to swim out farther than I know is good for me. I always keep my cautious attitude, but I never want to listen to it when I’m surrounded with liquid courage. At the end of the day, still at peace, I sit on the shore caked in sand. My hair remains a salty mess throughout the day, and I’m loving it. Watching the sun set on the horizon, my eyes are rewarded with a conglomeration of the most beautiful colors that fill the sky and reflect off the water. Sharp reds and oranges guard the sun with soft pinks trying to calm them down. Crisp blues and purples bring up the rear as the moon pushes the sun out of sight over the horizon. However, a feeling of melancholy sweeps over me, as I know what comes next. It’s time for me to leave and return to reality after my day of relaxation. I gather my things, go back to the shoreline, and let the waves touch me to say goodbye for now. Silently, I thank this marvelous piece of nature for taking care of me and helping me relax. I thank her for allowing me to find an escape in a world where it’s next to impossible to breakout. As I drive away, my serenity and repose flicker away as the cloud of worry rolls back into the home it’s found in my mind. “Until next time my friend.”

The Sound of Goodbye

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    Art by Felicia Wahlstrom

By Rachael Whitlock

The machine’s steady beeping was the only sound I had heard for the last week. Everything else, the other machines, all the voices, the scuffling in the hallway, I couldn’t focus on any of it. I could only focus on the rhythm of the machine. This sound kept me from getting lost in my head. The rhythmic beating was all that kept me grounded.

I couldn’t touch her. Her hands were so cold, and I couldn’t bear to reach out to her. The blue veins crawling up her arms were sickeningly prominent; the chipped red nail polish on her fingertips was a painful reminder of our life before. Every time I summoned the courage to rest my hand on hers, I drew back as soon as I grazed her skin. Every time, I looked at her face afterwards there was no movement. Not even so much as a flutter of an eyelid escaped her body.

Her still face was smooth and, although her cheekbones were sharp underneath her skin, she was still beautiful. Her once-soft skin was pale and took on a bluish tone, her honey-blonde hair was no longer there, and there were small clear tubes that snaked into her nostrils. To me, though, everything about her was still perfect.  Even though her eyes were closed, I could still picture them: a light blue the color of a tranquil sea hiding beneath those dark lashes. What I would’ve given to see those eyes bright with life one more time.

I knew, though, that seeing that sea again was impossible because about a week ago, an insincere doctor had said so. I didn’t understand most of his words, but I picked up enough, enough to lose hope. After this news, I started focusing on the beeping.

Even with the machine’s calming rhythm, though, I was not calm. I couldn’t help but stare at the wedding band wrapped tight around her finger, and that was more painful to look at than her still body. The way the diamond mocked me as it glittered, and the gold metal took on a rosy tint in the pale blue light. The scene reminded me of what our life used to be. The ring that once symbolized love, hope, and progress was now nothing more than an artifact with the capacity to drudge up painfully sweet memories. I stared at the diamond until it was just a blurred shape in my vision, and my thoughts took over. I was no longer in the hospital room, but in a memory, I would give my life to go back to one more time.

I stood under a giant oak tree with the wind whipping my dress around my legs, and I was smiling as I watched her walk towards me. She was absolutely stunning- white dress glittering in the sun, honey-colored hair falling in rivulets down her back like a waterfall, red lipstick outlining her smile- I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She walked down the pale blue aisle slowly while holding an overflowing bouquet of wild flowers loosely at her chest. After she reached me under the oak tree, she read the vows she’d written nearly a month before she had even proposed, and then I read mine. Her smile got larger with every word, and tears began to spill down her cheeks behind her veil. Before I knew it, I gently lifted her veil over her face as she threw her arms around my neck. Then, her red lips were on mine, so warm and soft–

The frowning man with the lab coat pushed the door open to break me from my thoughts. He opened his mouth and sound came out, but I was trying to focus on the noise of the machine to keep from hearing him. I knew why he was here. I had signed all the paperwork yesterday, but I just couldn’t bear to hear him say it again.

The doctor continued to speak until I finally heard what I’d been waiting for: It’s time to say goodbye now. Right then, the crack in my heart that had been slowly growing the last few months broke open into a giant abyss that left me teetering on the edge. I took a deep breath and, with a shaking hand, finally reached out to her. I grabbed her icy hand and held on like I would never let go.

The slowing of the machine’s once-steady beeping threw me off rhythm. After a minute, the sound was replaced by a single drawn-out flat-line. Then, silence ushered its way into the room as the doctor turned the monitors off. He walked out.  He had left me alone in the room with nothing more than an empty shell of the woman I once loved. I stared dumbly for what seemed like an eternity before finally standing and wiping away the tears that had begun rolling down my cheeks. Without the machine, I had nothing left to focus on, nothing to hold on to, and nothing to keep the thoughts at bay. The silence was deafening.

Towards Change

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Photo by Jade Jacobs

By Jade Jacobs

I know where I am, because I’ve seen where I’ve been. Although I’m not sure where I’m going, I know I won’t be back again. The past has snares that bind, and the future’s high beams blind, yet I leave footprints behind me as I move forward towards change.

The path I’m walking is far from straight. Some stretches have holes hiding as they await an unobservant foot. My gait becomes awkward when I wade within the water, waist deep, wishing to wash me away. The undertow shifts underfoot and undermines the purchase put beneath my own weight. The surface of this cypress swamp sits still. The mossy haze mocks me as a woven wood of roots wind the path into a maze. Still, I move forward towards change.

Occasionally the sun beats down, providing my head a glistening crown and sheaths my body in a crimson cloak. Each step another hot coal stoked. The arid climate a threat to choke me of the breath I hold so dear. Mirages taunt of oasis near but sand sweeps, serpentine, and swirls to sear my sight. Still, I move forward towards change.

Clouds converge to cover the sky, while lightening crackles and creatures cry curses to the storm that soaks them and soils their shelters. The path becomes soggy and seeps to my bones. There’s no place to dry in and no hearth to make warm. Yet frogs plop into puddles and worms rise from the earth. Unbothered by the torrential pour, they spring forward to embrace the storm, and I move forward towards change.

When darkness falls on an open sky, the stars glisten and remind me why I march on. For just as they sail through celestial seas, I too feel a burning need to strive for whatever lies beyond what can be seen. Through the cosmos waltz flaming ships that never settle, but take their risks so every petal blooms into constellation. Thus, we all move forward towards change.