Chapter 1: Alice in Wonderland
Zach, age 16


            The door looks like an Irish decoration. Green and orange. It needs a fresh coat of emerald paint to replace the patches of bright rust that consume it. That’s the thing with rust: it only takes a small amount of it to start somewhere before it begins to spread forever changing whatever it is eating away.

            The door is all beaten up, scratched, marred. I feel somehow I can relate. Each dent seems to symbolize my pain and confusion. I think to myself that the last time I was in this park my ex-girlfriend threw a Slurpee at me. Why do I keep coming back here?
            I know why. It’s what’s waiting on the other side of that door. The beginning of something amazing, or the end of everything as I have come to know it. A wonderland waits where I will experience everything that has been rushing through my mind for some time now. As I look down at my powder blue shorts against my hairy, tanned legs all I can think is, “I always found myself to be a lot like Alice, a naïve child who looks great in powder blue.”
            Children run by startling me.
            Breathe. They don’t know why you’re really here.
            The kids run out of sight onto the soccer field. I realize my hands are so tightly clenched that at any moment my nails could break skin. Unfortunately, I can’t ease my intensity.
            The sun is hot. It beats down on me with a harshness. You would think being a descendant of the desert would make me immune to the sun’s wrath, but in this moment, I don’t know if the heat is coming from the sun or from inside myself. Every second I stand outside this door the temperature of my scalp increases exponentially. The string of deceit I have created feeds the blaze within my mind. My impending double life is shrouded in a trail of deception.
            It’s God’s wrath. I know it. My entire life has been dictated by the word of God and today I am breaking faith. Mom is going to be livid. She may actually die if she was to find out where I am and what I am doing. Since the days of Catechism and learning the words that Father Ibrahim teaches his flock, I knew that whatever it is I am feeling is wrong. I have watched Mom’s devotion to God. I have seen firsthand the hours spent on the couch praying. She has read the Bible so many times from cover to cover that I don’t think she could tell you how many times she has read it.
            Mom’s devotion to Christianity is admirable, considering our history, because we are not just Middle Eastern we are Iraqi. Being Iraqi in late 20th and early 21st century America has had its obstacles. Growing up in an all-white Michigan suburb has had its problems. My family is one of maybe two or three Middle Eastern families that live in this area and friends are not something I have come to know. I only have one friend, my twin brother Michael.
            As I stand outside of this emerald door that is going to lead me to the answers to some of the most burning questions in my life, I begin to wonder if it’s all worth it to defy my family, to trick my brother, to risk being more of an outcast than I already am, to defy God, and worse, to defy Mom.
            The only way I could start my double life was to start a fight with Michael. The ploy is to insult Michael and leave the house. I told him he’s the ugly twin, even though we are identical. Twenty-seven minutes my senior, we could be mistaken for conjoined twins because we are closer than close, but something in me is changing. I am the one who is starting to feel different and look different. I am the one who is becoming some kind of monster. I am slightly heavier than Michael. Slightly. No matter what he says, I am not the fat twin. Alice is not fat. Although just the thought of having to slide down a rabbit hole does make me feel more like Winnie the Pooh getting stuck in a tree looking for honey than a petite little adolescent running through nature with not one grass stain on her white stockings. But the time has come. It’s time to step forward and the only way to experience Wonderland is to follow this bunny hiding in the bathroom. I better hop to it.
            As I advance toward the door, my knees quiver, my thighs twitch. My entire body is numb. I could be mistaken for a statue that someone delivered and left at the door. A statue like the David except I am olive skinned and I have dark, wavy hair and a little more marble around the middle.
            I feel as if I am on the verge of a stroke. Perhaps I have already had one? Why else would I be standing here about to do what I know I am about to do? As I start to vibrate I think, Shit! I really am having a stroke! I quickly realize that it’s not a stroke, but a text coming from my powder blue shorts. As I pull my vibrating phone from my front pocket I wonder, “Would it be more fun to keep this in my back pocket?”
            The text reads:
            “U coming?”
Well here’s hoping.