First Person: Full Circle

By Staff

by You: the Reader

A collection of first-person, non-fiction essays written by you, the CATALYST reader.

firstpersonFirst Person was a popular occasional column that ran in CATALYST in the 1990s — a collection of nonfiction short-short pieces written by you, the reader. We have resurrected the concept for your writing (and reading) pleasure.
Tell your parents; tell your kids. We want everybody’s impressions and perspectives. You need not be a pro writer. (Though, of course, send us your best shot.)

First Person was a popular occasional column that ran in CATALYST in the 1990s — a collection of nonfiction short-short pieces written by you, the reader. We have resurrected the concept for your writing (and reading) pleasure.

Tell your parents; tell your kids. We want everybody’s impressions and perspectives. You need not be a pro writer. (Though, of course, send us your best shot.)

Pick a topic (see list) and write from your own experience. When we reach critical mass on a topic, we’ll print what we can fit. Entries should be 100-400 words (yes, shorter than most in this month’s collection; longer items will be considered only if they just knock our socks off).

Send entries to For more details and guidelines, visit

Upcoming topics include:

Nothing Like it

Losing Control

Inner Light


The Right One

Saw It Coming

Snow cones were a Sunday treat at Amache, a “relocation/concentration” camp for Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Colorado during World War Two. We scraped small blocks of ice on Japanese ice shavers, one of which was ours. Did my mother pack that as an afterthought? A whim? The ice shaver was coveted here in the midst of the desert. In the blazing sun we carried it to the rec room at the end of the laundry barrack.

Shhh, shhh, the blade sang, and beneath it, slivers of white flakes mounded into bowls. We poured on red or green Kool-Aid, and reveled in our Sunday specials. On particularly windy days we nicknamed them “dusties” because if we didn’t eat them quickly we found ourselves crunching a mixture of sand and ice. The best part was the soupy cold at the bottom. We slurped and licked and ended with red or green lips and tongues. We laughed at each other’s remarkable faces.

Recently I brought out our new automatic SnoCone machine (super deluxe, guaranteed to produce fine slivers of ice) to make snow cones for my granddaughter, Autumn. I set it on “fine texture,” added ice cubes and watched as chunks of unevenly crushed ice clinked into the dish. Perhaps I was doing something wrong. I tried again. Same result. Autumn chose green syrup to pour over her portion. She bit into the ice. Her expression said, “disappointing.” Then I remembered the antique ice shaver tucked away on a shelf, saved as a tribute to my mother’s odd foresight. We froze a block of ice and made snow cones the old fashioned way.

“Look, Autumn, this works better than the machine.” Autumn and I both had big grins on our faces as we savored the syrup at the bottom. It was as sweet and icy as I remembered it many years ago.

—Lily Havey

I haven’t seen my father for years, and the journey to his bedside is short and exhausting. He is happy to see me, and as bad as he looks, as pasty and pale, I’m glad to be with him. The old man is bedridden and breathes through oxygen tubes. His wife, a saint, does her best to care for him, but because she works, the old man is left alone most of the day. The blinds are shut, the room is stifling in the drone of endless TV chatter. As we small talk, I’m especially sad that he doesn’t have the energy or will to sit outside in the fresh air, that he’s missing out on birdsong and cicada and stars. I don’t have it in me to stay long, and understanding why, he takes my hand and places it against his swollen cheek as I bend to kiss his bald, chafed head.

Back home, a thousand miles from my father’s deathbed, I have planks to cut. Normally I go for the power saw, but on this day, listening for the phone and news of my father, I don’t want the noise, choose a hand saw instead. I mark the boards, create a kerf, fold my arm into the cut. I remember how all hand tools work best when they become an extension of the body. It feels good to use this saw, to renew an old friendship. I bought the saw 30 years ago, at a time when a lot of folks were weighing the satisfaction of handcrafts against the efficiency of power tools. The goal was to simplify life, live close to the earth, dependent on one another, for sure, but independent of technologies that separate us from the forces of nature. Hard as I tried, I failed, a shop crowded with power tools a constant reminder that I did.

Many years ago my father walked away from a family with five kids, and because of it, has no real relationship with any of us. My guess is he believed the choice would better his life. Whether it did or not, I can’t say. What I can say is, regardless of his efforts to reconcile the past with my siblings and me, the bridge was too far to cross. Even so, I hold no blame, and pray when his body gives out his spirit meshes with wind and rivers. In the moment, I carry an old hand saw, a tool that cuts cleanly when made an extension of the body. To touch the earth, to live more simply? For now, I listen for the phone to ring, and when it does, I hope the voice from the other side speaks the truth of our separations. And if the truth be told, I hope we believe it, and in belief, may we learn, may we forgive, may we begin again.

—Andy Hoffmann

The ambulance pulled in front of my home, sirens blaring. Third time this year. I was eight. My parents were going through a bitter divorce. I believe my mother had a series of nervous breakdowns, but at the time thought they were heart attacks. Thus instilled the extreme fear of death in me.

My mother promised she would never die. I wanted to believe her, though I knew better. Fourteen years later she was murdered.

A decade later, two of my brothers committed suicide and another died of a heart attack. Prior to my birth, my only sister died of cancer at the age of five.

Where do we go when we die? Is there really a heaven and hell? What happens to those who choose their own death?

My mom taught me that life is karma. We are here to learn. That is what karma is—our lesson. She never could explain what happened after life, though she believed in reincarnation.

We go to bed thinking we will get up tomorrow. However, we all die. And we do not know when. It could be tomorrow.

I learned about impermanence as a child, but was frightened by it. Three years ago, I discovered Buddhism. I no longer live in fear of death, or am even baffled by it. It really does not matter as long as I live in the presence fully.

This is where I have come full circle.

—Ann Clark

It has been 26 years since he has spoken with her, his ex-wife, and when he hears her voice over the phone it sounds like a confession. There is no salutation, as though, he imagines, she thinks he has thought of her every day. It seems, to him, there is still a touch of anger, no, jealousy, at the back of her throat, stuck.

“I have some old photographs of you from when we first got…” there is a broken pause, that feels like an olive branch. For him, the war has been over for a very long time. “Anyway,” she clears her throat, “I was cleaning out the office…and there are some great pictures of your mother and father…”

“Yes,” he says, cutting her off without meaning to. “I’d love them.”

To him, it is a gift and he is touched by it. His children, when they were younger, and still now, but less frequently, had asked, “Did you ever have any hair? How come you don’t have any pictures when you were young?”

“Yes, of course I had hair,” and he would move the question along, like so many other things about his past.

There is something about the phone call that seems completely final. He knows this, he senses it, but can’t, at this moment, work it out clearly. It is so unexpected. Out of the blue.

“If you’d like, I could drop by your office and pick them up.”

“I’ll send a messenger.”

“Okay,” he replies. “But I’m happy to just swing by. It’s not a problem.”

“Our law firm uses messengers.”

“I remember.” An awkward beat, “I remember.”

He hangs up the phone, closes the door to his university office and begins to do the math, work the equation of this gift, hypothesizing in Xs + Ys.

Photographs – X= phone call (Nothing)

26 years – phone call = pictures (Blank)

He is not a mathematician, he teaches literature and playwriting. It makes no sense. Not now. After all these years and he wonders how those photographs could have survived.

When he arrives home, his daughter is in the kitchen preparing a light dinner, pouring a glass of wine. His son lumbers into the frame. They both have questions. It is in their eyes.

“Dad, you remember my friend Andy?” his son asks.

“Of course,” his father says, trying to find the face.

“He brought by an envelope for you today…from your ex-wife.” Then, adding quickly to help turn the corner, as if it could explain all, “…he works for a delivery service.”

“Andy was surprised,” his daughter said, “when he found out you’d been married to…”

“It was a long time ago,” he replies, picking up the package and going into the den and again, closing a door.

Delicately, he places the envelope on his desk, pausing for a moment before taking out a knife and carefully running a sharp blade along the seam. The photographs have a rubber band loosely wrapped around them. He sensed they had been arranged in a particular order for him, a code of sorts, the langu­age of a gesture. Twenty pictures in all. Two for every year they had been married.

One photograph in particular, the only one out of order, of him, 22 years old, the same age as his daughter now, in a dark green v-necked sweater, a white polo shirt with the collar turned up, his left arm leaning against the driver’s side of their first brand new car, a yellow Volkswagen convertible, his right arm comfortably resting over his left, his hair gently blowing in the wind, a wonderful smile on his face, at the house they had first lived in, on Grace Street.

He remembered the picture always. Wondered, perhaps, if it too had disappeared in the seam, discarded…dissolved. The eyes had always puzzled him though, still did, something in the gaze, the dark brown intensity of his gaze, laser like, piercing through the camera lens. Those eyes were not of him.

Slowly, he gets up from the desk and walks to the mirror in the corner of his office, leans over and examines the face. There are scars and lines. He has lost his hair and his face is heavy, eyes weighted by the years, by the stories he carries. Holding the photograph against the mirror he studiously takes inventory. He would have to admit, he’d grown out of everything and finally, at last, grown into those eyes.

—Jeff Metcalf

I love driving to work. During that short 20 minutes, the world unfolds before me, and almost every day I see something that surprises me.

One day last fall, a 10 or 11-year-old boy appeared at the end of a driveway leading to a group of apartments. He was chasing a basketball around despite the giant backpack he carried.

Each morning from then on he was in the same spot, always with the basketball, and always moving. The days became shorter and colder and he moved around even more, running after the ball, always wearing just a long-sleeved shirt. I watched him play and shiver and after a few weeks I began to really worry about his lack of a coat. I even considered buying one and leaving it at the end of the driveway for him to find.

Then it snowed. When I reached his road he was there, standing stock still, wearing the most yellow coat I’d ever seen. It practically gave off heat it was so yellow.

I was terribly relieved, but the look of mortification I saw on his face kicked an old memory out of the well I’d thrown it down. A memory of a passionately desired down ski coat; a memory of my single mother trying to accommodate that wish with a homemade version; and a crystal clear memory of proudly wearing my perfect coat for about five minutes until one of the cool kids asked what brand it was and I didn’t have an answer.

Right then I wanted to stop my car and go hug that boy. I wanted to tell him I knew that pain, knew that fear, but also that warmth. But I didn’t. I kept driving.

—Corrinne Lewis


“Day Job Samsara” by Amie Tullius

This article was originally published on November 30, 2009.