Author: Sara Gilliam

Bad Street Food Nearly Killed Me Until Celine Dion Saved My Life

So this is how I die: assassination by brunch. Murder by poop. Wrung dry yet drenched in sweat. Alone. Cheek pressed against the cool tile floor. Whoever finds me won’t know who I am. I carry no identification. At the moment, I’m not even wearing pants. I miss my parents. I don’t want to die here. I want to hug my best friend. I want to see Nebraska again. I want to have sex again. (But maybe not in Nebraska.) Hours pass. I try to stand but can’t. With my fingertip, I seek my pulse. Still alive. I check my watch and calculate the hours until my bus leaves. The bus that will take me to a city, to an airport. Home. I am not going to make it, I tell myself. I’m not sure I’ll even make it out of this room. This is how I die. And then she comes to me. Hazy at first, a swirl of colors before my eyes. Soon enough, I can make out her angular face, the little …

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The Living Memoir of My Skin

It began in a high-rise shopping mall in Thailand, in a booth specializing in designer knock-off purses, Hello Kitty swag and tattoos. We were 22 and eager to assert our independence and hipster edge, belied by the fact that we selected nearly identical images. My traveling companion chose the Japanese Kanji character for happiness while I settled on the similarly shaped character for sea turtle. With the help of a dual-language dictionary, I politely confirmed in stilted Thai that the teenaged artist was using new needles and sterilizing his tools. Back in our apartment, we took a series of fresh ink photos with our film camera and waited impatiently for an overnight Kodak shop to develop prints of the very tats we could observe at any time on our right ankles. Damn, we were cool. And I was hooked. Next up, I stuck to my original sea creature concept with a large starfish on my upper arm in celebration of my 24th birthday. I was living in Washington, D.C., and my best friend — ostensibly …

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Why I Took a Trip to Greece to Help Syrian Refugees

Only once — when an overcrowded night ferry backed into Gate E7 at Athens’ Port of Piraeus — did my emotions consume me. My breath grew fast and shallow. I squinted through my tears and stammered, “There are so many of them. There are just so many.” There were more than 2,000 refugees on that ferry alone, 35 percent of them children. As a volunteer with the nonprofit Carry the Future, my job was to approach arriving families with babies and toddlers and offer them free baby carriers to ease their journey along the Balkan Route to Western Europe. The families I met were primarily Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans bound for Germany — as long as the borders stayed open. Over the course of their journey, they would cover 1,000 miles on buses, trains and foot. A structured backpack-style carrier or a cozy infant pouch would make an enormous difference to those toting children along with garbage bags and duffels of their belongings. There are just so many. “One baby at a time. That’s all …

Siblings at Odds: He’s an Evangelical Preacher, I’m an Atheist

Is he a good person? Yes. Am I a good person? I try to be. Do I love him? Yes. Do I like him? What, like all the time? It’s complicated. This is us, 38 years ago. Look at those smiles. They aren’t forced. There’s love there, connection. We were born six years apart, too far to be peers or really even friends. This photo may have been snapped during our happiest time as siblings. Once I started talking, I became annoying. I’d belt out the Annie Soundtrack at the top of my lungs and he’d grit his teeth, knowing complaints wouldn’t get him anywhere. I would rat him out for the tiniest indiscretions. He’d kick me in the back seat of our VW Vanagon camper then smile innocently and shrug when my dad met his eyes in the rearview mirror. We were essentially two only children living in the same household. One handsome, athletic and wildly popular. The other chubby, musical and an abysmal social failure. I do not remember us as close. Only …

I Hated Running… Until I Didn’t

Channel your inner Sophia Petrillo and picture this: Lincoln, Nebraska, 1989. A bookish middle schooler, flat of chest and round of belly, spends her summer secretly devouring The Clan of the Cave Bear novels and trying desperately to manipulate the TV antenna into delivering grainy episodes of General Hospital. Swimming? Only if someone offered a ride to the pool. Biking? Just to the gas station for 25-cent Little Debbie zebra cakes. Weepy anticipating of autumn, and school, and being picked last in gym class? Daily. Twenty-five years later, I remain an unlikely spokesperson for running. I should note that, mentally, I’m Flo-Jo. I fire off more emails before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, and as I feed my infant son intermittently throughout the night, my brain sprints around an invisible track, by turns solving global crises and menu planning for my family of picky eaters. [pullquote]I discovered the unlikely psychological alchemy of energy created by energy expenditure. The more I ran, the more energy I had for running[/pullquote] However, in the words …