life and death in one hour.

tiny book #1, ca. 2000 – 2006 // photographed by pan ellington.

i first wrote this line on the very first page of the very first tiny notebook i ever carried. begun years ago, the specific number of which i will forgo mentioning here. it was one of those lines that tend to pop into the mind of writers, seemingly out of nowhere, not related to or brought on by anything in particular, or so i thought at the time. i’d written it down for no other reason other than the fact that it sounded cool. and because it sounded like the truth to me. i see now that it more than sounded.


ordinary friday afternoon. i’m in third grade, preparing for our weekly jaunt down the hallway and around the bend to the music room for mrs. jennings’ class. which was at two, school let out at two-thirty, our teacher always had us get our bookbags ready to go home beforehand. i happened to glance out the window as i gathered my things and saw that harry’s van was parked outside.

“he’s a half hour early,” i remember thinking. “weird.”

and then. over the intercom. the school secretary’s voice,

“mandy young, please report to sister mary’s office.”

sister mary was the principal, so no surprise when a couple of classmates teased over my shoulder,

“ooh. busted.”

i walked the short distance from my classroom down the hall to the school office and remember the feeling of the secretary’s hand on the back of my shoulder, on the green plaid strap of my jumper, gently guiding the way.


ordinary sunday afternoon, this one marking the end of a local civic light opera run, one of the few back then i hadn’t worked. i’d shown up to work strike–dismantling rented scenery and set pieces after the last performance, then loading it back onto the truck. i’d taken a load off in the cage in front of the rails to peruse the show program, on the ogle prowl for cute chorus girls.


ordinary late night, riding an mta bus east on western, having decided “fuck it” after waiting too long for the train at willowbrook station. i was zoning out, people watching, grateful to be past usc, probably just ten minutes or so from home in ktown. we all might have seen it at once, a crowd of people spilling out onto the sidewalk and into the street. and then the bus slowed. and then the bus stopped.


ordinary sunday morning, woken slowly, puttering around, sipping coffee while waiting for my toast to pop when i checked my messages, “call me as soon as you get this.” variations on the same theme from more than one of my friends.


ordinary saturday morning. fallen asleep on the couch, i’d woke just after three and stretched myself up off the couch, stumbling off towards the bathroom.


rainy wednesday night. i’d shown up thinking it’d be a class, a seminar sort of thing in which they’d tell you what to put where and send you on your way, just the first step on a path made of many, then left knowing it was done, that it would be filed in two days, that there would be no court fees for me. my god. what?

i looked down at the time on the schedule. five minutes, the next bus forty-five later. oh, fuck. i don’t know the neighborhood, street names, which way is which, and the rain just makes it worse. with the way the ac’s been running i have no fucking time to spare.

rain is pouring down in sheets and i can’t see anything. across the street. yeah, that sign ain’t a bus stop. and there it is, my fucking number across the way, at the light about to turn green across my way. forty-five fucking minutes, there’s no way i’m missing this bus.

i wait for a break in traffic and don’t bother waving. there’s the break and i’m out in the street. and then. out of the darkness, parting falling sheets of water, this car. that stops short just in time. i know it’s close, too close. but i just have to get to this bus. and i do. and when i’m aboard i think to myself out loud,

“life and death in one hour.”

flashes, one right after the other.

finding elizabeth gone. life and death in one hour.

the news told to me that break had died the night before at nocturnal wonderland. the towers would fall the following week. life and death in one hour.

the driver screaming, “HIT THE DECK!!” before the big guns opened up on each other and the driver peeled out the tires on western. life and death in one hour.

opening the program for chorus girls and finding instead those words: dedicated to the memory of marc munoz. life and death in one hour.

walking into sister mary’s office, seeing harry, and hearing his words, “your mother’s died.” life and death in one hour.

the haunting nature of the words i never said.

i stepped out into the still falling sheets, ‘brella down, i tilt my head back and wept.

“goddamn.”

and then laugh my way up to the platform to wait for the richmond train home.


a not so ordinary wednesday morning when the phone rings.

“fuck. it’s the judge.”

we’d been playing phone tag the past few. i’d missed one of the signatures. i’d gone in expecting it’d be just another step out of, not many, at the very least, a few. i walked out, though, and it was done. three orders in my hands that said it was done, decreed it done. life and death in one hour.

decree, 10 april 2019 // photographed by pan ellington.

i stepped out into the sun that day, the hour still morning, holding myself from my want– to share this with them right away, them in my home waiting for my return, well nested in my heart, from that first glance i saw of them across shattuck.

those flashes, those hours propelling me forward, out of the blue and into the pink. knowing again that death is no end. that they all are a part of me now as i begin writing something new.

#amwriting // photographed by pan ellington.

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