Storytime- “Who Is This Kid?”

Before we begin, a little background:

Along with a myriad of other gigs, I am a barista.  I serve both coffee and connection.  In exchange, I have the flexibility and freedom to pursue my education and creative side projects.  This story begins at the small coffee shop where I work.  There are all sorts of random things adorning the walls, desk area, lobby, and even in the espresso bar area.  For instance, to many of the customers’ wonder, an unknown person managed to reach the rafters of the high ceiling and place four cups of descending size.  Side by side, they remained for many years until recently when my store was remodeled.  The store scavenger hunt also includes tiny stickers of adorable dogs and the store logo hand drawn in several inconspicuous places.  I got accustomed to the random wall coverings.  One such random artifact is a tiny black and white cutout photo of a nameless baby.  It’s been there long before I starting working at the store and survived two renovations.  Last year someone taped up a note near the picture begging, “Who IS this kid?”

I thought it was interesting that other people noticed and wondered about the baby as well, so I posted a follow-up note.  A proposition.  The note invited people to create a short story about who the baby might be.  Much like the art assignment (mentioned in my last post; link here), I gave my fellow partners some homework.  Use an old photograph to tell a story.  Without realizing it at the time, I stumbled upon Ransom Riggs thing and stole it for myself.  It was an extra credit assignment so not that many people took part in my little “short story contest” (there was no prize).  Two other people besides myself wrote stories.  One was written as a fairy tale, but when she couldn’t finish it, she revised it down to a one-sentence story.  It read: “Decafaniquequa.  The End.  I WIN!”.  I found it clever and hilarious.  The second entry was a haunting tale about the disembodied cry of a baby that was heard each night as the baristas closed up shop. The following tale is my contribution to the collection.  A narrative.  The story itself is fictional, but many of the people and details are real.  Most of the drink orders are authentic too.  It is kind of historical fiction.  I wrote it to seem true to the partners and customers who read it and from the point of view of my store manager who has been at the store for over 10 years.  Her name is Jennifer.  I leave it up to you to ponder which parts are truth and which parts are make-believe.

I Hope You Enjoy,

-Bryanda Minix


Who Is This Kid?

written by: Bryanda Minix

(February 4, 2014)

The Barista

     They say nature abhors a vacuum, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the faded black and white photograph, which to me became as much a part of the structure of the building as a load-bearing wall (but to the other baristas was just a question mark, an open-ended question unanswered), elicited curiosity.  “Who IS this kid?”  “LOL, that kid stares at me while I am on my break”.  “Whose baby is that!?!?”  “What’s the deal with the creepy baby on the wall?”

     The years sneak up like pounds on a scale, before you know it, you’re looking down like “who added all these numbers?”  Have I really been at this store for over ten years?  I am the only one left who knows that the faded picture, the “creepy baby”, has a name.  I know the story very well, though part of me wishes I could forget.  The other more sentimental part chose never to take down the picture.  I guess someone had to remember.

     The story goes back pretty far, back to when I first came to this location.  I can’t tell you who the baby in the faded photo is without starting there.  Not without telling you about my first regular customer… the first person whose name and drink I memorized.

The Customer

     Her routine was dependable.  Monday through Friday, I could set my watch to her arrival.  I always knew it was 6:30am because she’d be there: her hair gathered loosely in a bun on top of her head, a bird’s nest of long red curls; the laces of her running shoes never tied; always paying with five dollar bills and always leaving a tip.  Her drink was dependable too: 1 pump vanilla syrup, 1 pump hazelnut syrup, non-fat misto topped with creamy foam and cinnamon.  I always had it ready for her.

     All it took was three visits.  The first visit, I learned her name and could recall 50% of her drink order.  The second, I remembered her name, nearly forgot the cinnamon, and learned that she worked in the Medical Center as a nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital.  On her third visit, I had her drink ready for her as she pulled into her usual spot in front of our store on S Rice Ave.

     She was the first customer to mention how this location use to be a hardware store.  I joked that we still sold tools… battery packs and generators in the form of caffeine.

     It took a few weeks before I realized another favorite customer, equal part nerd and rock star (tortoise shell P3 glasses, Cary Grant hair, and lots of tattoos: the Pythagorean theorem and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 among them), was her husband.  He usually bought a pound of Verona on Thursdays, because even thou they came every morning, they still made coffee at home, enjoying one or two cups before hitting the road.

     Some mornings he’d be with her at 6:30, his running shoes also untied.  They came together the morning they announced they were expecting their first child.  They would also stop by our store after each visit to their OB/GYN who was another regular of ours, who always got a grande non-fat, no whip mocha… in a personal cup.  The couple became everyone’s favorite.  They continued leaving generous tips even after every barista, seeing the increasing growth of the belly bump, insisted on giving them decaf (her, because she was pregnant and him, because it wouldn’t have been fair).

     Her routine changed a little after the baby was born.  She started getting sugar-free syrups and opted for breve instead of non-fat milk; she miraculously learned how to tie her shoelaces; and she showed up at 6:15 instead of 6:30, toting a wide-eyed red-haired baby girl in one arm.

The Baby

     The baby had her mother’s red hair but lacked her mother’s punctuality; she arrived nearly two weeks past her expected due date.  I lost $20 dollars in the pool we had going.  She had her father’s nose and his family’s forehead, but her eyes, neither mother nor father’s, seemed to belong to someone 60 years her senior.  An older retired regular, venti-extra-hot-two-Splenda-cappuccino remarked, “Oh my, why, it’s like she’s been here before… just looks at yah so… just like she’s gettin ready to tell yah the answer to a question yah hadn’t even asked yet”.

     That was it.  She had an old soul.  She was a very quiet baby who seemed to pay acute attention to everything.  She didn’t smile at everyone, but the whole team knew how to make her laugh.  All we had to do was hide behind the register or espresso bars then pop back out looking lost or surprised.  It always worked and we never got tired of the sing-songy coos that followed each giggle.

The Day

    I made her coffee like I always did, had it ready at the register before 6:15, but she never came.  Her coffee got cold.  Days later, it was Ms. Melanie, another regular, who enjoys her coffee with a newspaper, no cream, no sugar, had brought me the newspaper clipping.  I didn’t need to read the article thou, I already knew what happened.

     She had been up all night with her baby girl who, sick with fever, kept waking up wailing.  You see, it was his turn to sleep.  The day before, he got a call from the daycare informing him that his daughter had a sudden high fever.  They requested that he pick her up immediately.  He dropped everything and cancelled the rest of his day, so he could care for his little girl.  He never got the chance to stop by our store for his pound of Verona.

     Her routine was off that day, from the start.  She woke up with a stiff neck, having slept in the rocking chair next to her baby’s crib.  The baby’s fever broke around 3am.  Usually, she naturally woke up at 5am, but the clock on her coffee maker read 5:45am.  Though intellectually she had done the math and figured she had about two hours of sleep, she felt as if she had only rested her eyes for a moment.  There was no coffee.

     In a fog, she tried to recover her routine.  She had already called out for the day, with the intention of bringing her baby to the doctor, so she allowed herself little cheats.  She threw on a sweater over her pajamas and shoved her tired feet into her running shoes; she didn’t bother tying the laces.  Afterward, it was that small act, the image of her untied shoelaces, that haunted her with regret.  She believed it evidence of her distraction and neglect, a red-flag that had she taken notice of, could have rescued her.  She never stopped blaming herself.

     Still in the brain fog, and purely from muscle memory, she strapped her still sleeping baby into the car seat.  She took her familiar route, driving the 5 blocks toward the place she felt could make everything better.  Her favorite coffee shop.  Our store.

     Two seconds.  Had it only been two seconds?  She drifted to sleep at the wheel, and into the intersection of S Rice and Bissonet, for maybe two seconds.  But that is all it took.  She blinked back into consciousness, having enough time to see the grill of the dairy truck and the terror on the face of the driver trying to make is delivery on schedule, but not having enough time to avoid the impact.  The clock on the dashboard stopped at 6:13am.

     Inside the store, four men we nicknamed “The Board Members” (due to their diligent attendance, “reserved” seating, and lively discussion) had an unimpeded view of the intersection.  Myself and the one other barista on duty could see only the lights from the vehicle headlights as they reflected through the windows, creating a grotesque dance of shadows on the walls.  We could all hear the tires screeching, the metal crushing, the glass shattering.

     It was Gil, at the time just a rookie officer, that regretfully informed us that the impact had ejected a baby and her car seat from one of the vehicles, killing the tiny child instantly.  The baby had been sleeping the whole time; she never woke up.

     In the officer’s hand was something he retrieved from the wreckage, in the hopes of making a quick ID and gathering eye witness accounts.  I saw what was in his hand, and immediately thought about the now cold cup of coffee at the register: I pump sugar-free vanilla, 1 pump sugar-free hazelnut, breve misto topped with creamy foam and cinnamon.  A shiver shot through my spine, blanketing me in an icy numbness.  He handed me the personalized Starbucks mug, remarkably still intact, all the baristas had gotten it for her as a shower gift.  On the cup were two messages: “No more decaf, we promise!!!” and “You’re gonna be a GREAT mom”.  We had all signed it.

The Photo

     I carefully cut out the photo from the article Ms. Melanie gave me and taped it to the wall near my desk.  Our store baby.  The baby who we had observed as a growing belly bump, the bump we took care never to give caffeine, the baby with red hair and an old soul whose eyes were her own, was gone.

     Her picture remained, even after two remodels.  I knew she was there.  I simply allowed her to fade into the background.  However, human nature abhors vacuums too, the cavernous voids left behind after someone we care about is lost, as well as the empty space behind a question mark.  So this time… rather than let you fill in the blanks, I decided to fill the vacuum, answer the question, and tell you what really happened.

     And I’ll go ahead and answer the other question you’re probably about to ask anyway: what is the baby’s name?  That, I could never forget, for it is the same as my own.  But we all just called her Jenny.


Thanks for Reading!!!!! 

Let me know what you think.  Should I post more of my short stories more often?  Any feedback from fellow writers is welcomed and appreciated.


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When April Fool’s Joke Goes Wrong

I started writing a screenplay once.

It happened last April.

On April Fool’s Day, I posted to Facebook something I thought would be ridiculous and obvious and that everyone would just have a good laugh at.  But something unexpected happened… most people didn’t realize it was a joke.  They didn’t realize that it was an April Fool’s joke because they accepted the story I made up as plausible.  They believed in me.  So the joke was on me.

Here’s what I posted:

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The title was foolish yet believable enough to pass as a Tyler Perry movie, so that even after I revealed the status was a hoax, I kept having to explain to people that is wasn’t real and that there was no forthcoming Tyler Perry production titled “God Don’t Like Ugly”.  The majority of the Facebook comments were super encouraging regardless.  I thought about it, and decided if they believe in me, perhaps I AM capable.  I thought, “why not write the screenplay… just as a joke”, but then I decided maybe it could be worth something, so I decided to write it for real.  The big problem was that I am just not a connoisseur of Mr. Perry’s work (no shade), so how could I write an honest spec script?  Understand, it’s easy to be a critic, especially when one is not putting his or her own work out into the world; I choose appreciation rather than criticism.  I appreciate the work for what it is.  I appreciate Tyler Perry for working hard to make his ideas happen, carving out a market for himself, persevering in the face of criticism, taking risks and constantly putting his work out into the world, and being the best at what he does.  His plays and movies make his intended audience happy.  I do not fault him for what his work is not, most of the time, it is just not for me.  I haven’t seen most of his body of work simply because it may not showcase characters I most relate to or does not reflect the kinds of stories I am drawn to.  Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”.  The onus is on me to start telling stories I want to hear… yet, I still wanted to prove something to myself, or at least to the people who believed in me, so I still set out to write someone else’s story: Tyler Perry presents “God Don’t Like Ugly”.

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The screenplay I wrote was pretty raw: I never came close to completing it; the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, and the plot lacked clear direction.  However, I was content with what I did.  I finally stopped because I realized I wasn’t wholeheartedly invested in it.  My heart wasn’t in it and my initial motivation couldn’t sustain me.  I was only writing something I hoped to sell off to Tyler Perry productions and then remain hands off.  Just take the money and run.  I was not even concerned with my name being attached to the project.  If it actually did get produced and did terribly, I would have regretted receiving credit.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with an unfinished screenplay collecting dust.  Two unexpected things happened as I wrote the screenplay.  First, I had to confront the things I did not know.  I was unskilled at writing a feature length screenplay.  I was both naive and arrogant for thinking that I could quickly write something that takes years to master.  I did not even know where or who to submit my work, even if I had finished.  Secondly, I began sneaking into the story.  The type of story that more closely related to the kinds I like to see started edging it’s way forward and demanding to be heard.  All the late nights I spent writing and all the daydreams I devoted to sculpting the story and characters got me attached.  It was no longer okay with me to ghost write a script, to give birth then give it up for someone else to raise.  I was going against my nature.  I am a nurturer, and nothing I do is purely motivated by money.  Money is a tool to me.  It has influence to provide needed resources.  It keeps me from going hungry or naked.  It is instrumental in the fulfillment of goals and detrimental to them when you don’t have enough.  I have never felt comfortable doing something simply because the money might be good.  There was very little chance of selling the screenplay or earning any money, yet even if it was a possibility, I couldn’t pretend that I was willing to do that.

I couldn’t pretend that I was doing it as a satire either.  I had thought about it too deeply and invested too much of my creative energy.  Parts of me, my own style of storytelling and the things I value, kept slipping in.  The project was becoming less “Madea’s Family Vacation” and more “The Diary of a Precious Black Women” based on the novel “Move or be Pushed” by Aquamarine (my birthstone *wink*).

I learned a lot about myself last April.  One was that I was serious in my desire to make a living as a writer, and two, that I had done little about it and was clueless as to how to make it happen.  I enjoyed the challenge of learning what I could and developing the story.  I stopped writing the screenplay and started looking for more ways to write for myself.  I also started seriously thinking about what I wanted to say and the type of stories I wanted to tell.

When you tell people that you love to write and that you want to be a writer, one of the first questions is… “Oh, what do you write!?”  It is a genuine question, but it stumped me one too many times.  My previous attempts at answering this question lead to ambiguous responses like “nothing” or “everything”.   Response A: “Oh, unfortunately I’m not writing anything right now; I am still figuring it out”.  Instantly AMATEUR was stamped across my forehead.  Response B: “Oh let’s see… I love to write poetry, and short stories, I am working on a play, I also love screenplays, eventually I hope to write a book, and…”.  CLUELESS AMATEUR gets stamped on my forehead.  I am sure many other nascent writer’s can understand the struggle: when we are still discovering our voice, figuring out what we want to say, but are forced to vocalize to people what it is we are doing or hope to do.  What we know is that we want to write, that the unspoken words eat at us, and that we have an itch to write which unlike in real life doesn’t go away when you ignore it.  As for the continued plot and details of our future… they are unwritten, and we hope that they will reveal themselves as we edit the next draft or write our next chapter.  My advice for the loving and curious friends and family of an emerging creative artist is to “wait for the book to come out” and “don’t skip ahead”.  This is a period for me to not only discover what I want to say and what mediums I wish to use to share it, but also to develop the creative habits necessary to build and sustain a career as a professional writer and creative artist.

Please wait for the plot to reveal itself; everything will make more sense in the end.  (At least I hope it will. *wink*)

What Took You So Long

When I first realized I loved to write, I was 10 years old.  I was suffering from early on-set adulthood (my childhood began to erode years before it should have), I felt unheard and invisible, and I needed a place to keep all the thoughts, secrets, and events I could not say aloud. It was easy to write then; I wrote for my survival and sanity; I never questioned whether it was good.

Writing became increasingly more important to me.  Several teachers told me I had talent, yet when I first started college, as an English Major, I failed several courses.  I could not produce the written work by the deadline. I accepted failing grades rather than turn in assignments I viewed as mediocre. I did the work but never received credit for it, because I was so fixated on editing out all the perceived imperfections.  I spend hours, days, and weeks perfecting my work, going over it with a fine-tooth comb, restyling it, and constantly critiquing it for worthiness.  I edit myself before the words ever reach the page, and then again after I have written a paragraph or a page, and several times more once the first draft is complete.  Because my process is so tedious, I hardly have anything to show for my effort.

I have another, very different passion.  In a studio, the full length reflection of vibrant tribal patterns clash each other like waves, sweat drips heavily from every orifice of my body, my lungs protest adamantly for more air, and even so, I wear a smile as wide as my face, ignoring discomfort to focus solely on the rhythm which calls to me from the drums.  I am dancing, and when I dance, I am free.  Writing and dancing are two very differing passions of mine, and I thought I approached them differently, however, like the lapas worn for West African Dance, there is a pattern.

At the end of many African dance classes, there is a drum circle.  Dancers and drummers create a circle, and individual dancers enter it to have a conversation, in movement, with the drums.  As a novice, this was most intimidating for me.  I would worry about remembering what I had just learned, staying on rhythm, and whether I was skilled enough to dance in the spotlight.  Usually, I would forfeit the opportunity to step forward.  From my spot in the circle, I remained animated, sharing my joy and mirroring steps.  As long as I did not feel pressure, I could perform.  An intuitive and observant drummer discerned my hesitation, and gave me advice that I now apply to my passions and life.  He told me that I was missed in the conversation, that as a drummer he needed my energy, that my spirit, the joy I exude while dancing, motivated and compelled him in his drumming.  He advised me to never hesitate.

I am capable of dancing with reckless abandon and writing in the flow.  How is it then that I can experience complete creative paralysis?  I think back to the missed classroom assignments and missed conversations on the dance floor.  I hesitate.  I fixate on perfection.  I fail to produce or neglect to engage.  Ultimately, they are all forms of fear.  And the only way to conquer fear is to face it.  Never hesitate.

It took me a long time to publish a second post, because it took me a long time to connect the dots.  I thought starting this blog was the difficult part: navigating the technical elements, developing content, sharing the first post.  I was naive.  What I recently realized is that the truly difficult part of becoming a professional creative artist is constantly silencing the inner critic and soberly facing fears.  Now that I am familiar with the pattern, and I am aware of what is really holding me back…  you won’t have to wait so long between reads.


What area of your life are you most critical about?  What obstacles are stealing your time and keeping you from creating?  What dreams and ambitions have you been hesitating on?  What’s taking you so long?


-Bry

The Weight of Silence

In my bedroom, on a bookshelf, there is a box, dusty with neglect, which holds journals filled with my broken dreams, secrets, fears, stories, and ideas.  Each volume acts as sedimentary rock layers carbon-dating a specific moment in time and preserving the stages of my growth.  I fancy myself a writer, but usually I hesitate at admitting it out loud.  It seems almost childish, to still hold on to dreams, always hoped for yet never actively pursued.  My passion includes many creative forms: storytelling, acting, crafting, teaching, serving my community, and more than anything I want to help people.

So…what happened?

Why am I not doing what I love most?  Why am I not sharing my gifts with the world?  What happens to the dreamer deferred?

I’ve stayed as quiet as kept when it comes to the dreams I truly desire most.  I keep them for myself and hold on to them like they’re sacred artifacts that become more and more fragile if exposed to the light.  I often worry that if I tell people what I really want to do then they’ll be there judging me, reminding me of all the things I’ve failed at so far, and of the things I have yet to achieve.

Remaining silent about my heart’s desire was protective for me at one time; silence is a learned defense mechanism.  However, silence doesn’t serve me well anymore.  Yes, I don’t have anybody looking down on me for my achievements (or lack there of), but I don’t have anyone looking up at me either.

Silence is not always golden.  That’s why I will share my work within this blog.  My gifts can help someone, so no more keeping them to myself.  Here I will share what I’ve been hoarding exclusively in journals for years.  Here are my stories, my struggles, my successes; here are my fears, my failures, my foolishness; here are my wishes, my wins, and my wisdom.

I invite you to share in my journey.  Each week I will have a new challenge that keeps moving me forward in the direction of my dreams.  I honestly believe that there is no expiration date on our dreams.  However, I also believe that dreams remain just dreams, if we sleep on them.

It’s time to dust off that box of broken, deferred, and forgotten dreams.  It’s time to pick up and get moving.  The journey begins again.

Come in, you are welcome here.

-Bry