Personal Experience Narratives
Letter to a Young Girl From Another by Brooklynn Price (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)
Proud by Alice Lin (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)
Moments and Memories by Brianna Behling (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)
The Lip Virgin by Liz Walker (SEA selection)
The Rooms of My Life by Carly Rosenberger (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)
I watched you walking down the street yesterday, your backpack cradled on your shoulders like the weight of the world was upon you. You were hunched in on yourself, trying to become smaller than you actually were. A man passed you, considerably older in age, and I watched you tense up. Part of me tensed with you, knowing the nervous feeling that was building in your chest, the familiar pull of terror. He smiled at you, but it wasn’t a nice smile. It was a smile that chilled you to your bones, and you began to walk quicker, trembling as your hand clenched on something in your pocket, presumably your phone. I recognized the gesture, one I’ve imitated countless times before. Once past him, he stopped walking to watch you go, letting out a slow whistle. You were fifteen, he about forty five. You were wearing a coat with jeans, nothing special, yet the unwanted attention became wrapped around you like a coiling snake, going for the kill.
We made eye contact, my eyes flicking between you and the man, and our brief connection broke when he saw me watching. You gave me a slight nod, and I sent a grim smile back, a bond between sisters, a life we were given and learned to deal with; one we wished we never had to get used to. There isn’t much difference between you and me. Perhaps our ages at the time when the incident happened, and what we were wearing, but both of our feelings could wrap together and intertwine, as if they were hugging each other, holding on for dear life. I’ll never know you. I’ll never know your favorite color, how you like your coffee, the name of your dogs, and if that burnt orange color of your hair is really as natural as it looks. I do know one thing, though. I know that when you put those pants on in the morning, when you brushed your hair, smiling at yourself in the mirror, you might’ve felt pretty. You are pretty. You probably stepped out on the street ready for the day, and the second your eyes saw the man that just happened to be walking on the same side of the street as you, you began to retreat into your own body. Your toes curled in your Converse, adrenaline spiking your nerves. Your anxiety, always present, threatens to bring you to your knees. Not just because he’s a man, but because he was wearing the entitled, leering grin we’ve both come to know so well.
I know what it feels like to be scared like that. My day began like yours did, except my mom had to pick my clothes out for me. I was seven. I was excited because we were going to the dollar store, my favorite place in the whole world at that age, and I remember the feeling of my mother’s hand in mine. It felt like a promise. The feeling was of protection and love, something I knew so much about. It was warm outside, one of those days that felt golden and perfect, and as we stepped through the door to the store, my smile stretched across my face.
You’ll learn so quickly what losing your innocence feels like, in this life. You’ll be told to ignore stereotypes, to be yourself and to love yourself. In exchange, the world will teach you that boys will be boys, that your shorts are too short, your lips are too red, and that you were asking for it. Try to ignore it. I know it’s not easy and some days you’ll hate yourself. You’ll hate being a girl, and cruel words and straying hands will burn tears down your cheeks laced with fire. You are so strong. Your heart is so steady and pure, but you’re tough. The next time a boy tells you you’re a tease when you kiss him, let him know that a kiss doesn’t equal sex. Punch it into walls and let it be known that you’re a force to be reckoned with.
I wish I’d known how to be fierce at seven. I wish I’d known the things to say when the man in front of me reached out his hand to me, beckoning me to come closer. I wish I would’ve known what it felt like to find things out on my own, to learn as I grew up, the types of things that eyes older than mine would see. Instead, his pink tongue grazed his bottom lip, his eyes squinting at me as he opened up the long coat he was wearing.
Only too late did I realize that it was summer and he was wearing a cocktail of crazy things. A cap to cover his head, a dark coat, no pants.
Maybe this is how you feel when a man talks to you. Maybe you feel the burning, frightened feeling. After realizing that you can’t even walk down the street without being afraid, staring at your feet becomes natural. Remember this. Remember that when a situation doesn’t feel right, when it rubs you raw, when your eyes start to burn, it’s not right. When your lungs begin to retract, when everywhere you look, you see his smile. When you’re rigidly afraid, it’s absolutely wrong. Trust your gut, and when you finally find a way to approach someone and tell them what happened, know it’s not your fault. The ashamed and dirty feeling embedded in your skin might want to stay, to get to know you, but know it’s not your friend. Know it needs to go. You’ll be acquaintances for the rest of your life, but you can’t let it live in you like a home.
Don’t hide yourself. Not from yourself or from others. You’ll want to bury yourself in oversized hoodies, you might struggle to gain the confidence to show skin, always convinced that the low-cut shirt your friend picked out for you in your favorite shade of red will catch the attention of the men just like your childhood, because you were wearing that shade of red yesterday. Except it was a sweater, and you were completely covered, yet a man still had the audacity to let his eyes travel your body and then comment about it. You can’t run. You’ll be okay. You have to let your body become part of you.
Please understand that when a boy grabs you from behind in an embrace that is far less than kind, it can’t be tolerated. He might say sorry, but the laughter of his friends is much louder than the lies in your ears. As a female, you’ll meet others; other women who have stories so awful, they’ll give you nightmares. They’ll have you on your knees in the early hours of the morning, praying for a life where “No” finally means “No.” A world where you can breathe knowing that going to the store for a gallon of milk will be just that. You’ll be praying for a life where your daughter will be happy, where you can trust she’ll place her feet outside her house with confidence, hope, and freedom. A life where she’ll never know the confinement of a cage, one your heart has been locked in for years.
Endure. By this, sweet girl, I do not mean “Suffer quietly.” Quite simply, I mean “Remain in existence; last.” You will make it through this, you will discover that you can outlast, outlive, outlove the pain and hurt branded to you when all you wanted was to be happy. You are by far someone of importance, you are loved, you are beautiful, and I encourage you not to close your eyes to the world, just because it’s frightening and cruel. Demand to be heard, to speak up, to fight for yourself, for others, and for me. Someday we’ll see a world we’re happy with, where an innocent mind can stay an innocent mind, and where seven year olds and fifteen year olds aren’t forced to grow up.
Don’t lose yourself. Breathe in. Exhale. Know that yesterday on the street might not be the last time you’re exposed, but it’s absolutely the last time you bury your voice. I know you’re screaming inside there. I can hear you. Now you just have to let it out.
I always thought I was going to marry a man. I thought that I was going to find a perfect, attractive guy to take care of me, to make money for our family. A guy that was smart and would
get along with my dad. A guy to protect me, to keep me safe.
When two girls in my class started dating in seventh grade, I was absolutely disgusted. All my life, I had been told by pastors that homosexuality was forbidden by God’s will and that all homosexuals will go to hell. And I believed it -- until eighth grade. That’s when things got gay.
In eighth grade, I was reunited with one of my best friends from kindergarten. We shared a class together. Over that year, we grew close again. Some time toward the middle of
December, I realized how attractive she was. At first I thought it was just a typical friendly and platonic feeling, but then I started to wonder: am I gay? Am I bi? What am I? Confused as ever, I did my research. I found plenty of websites that said being gay is okay, and plenty that said the exact opposite.
Next, I approached a preacher and inquired what he thought about gay marriage. He told me that it was wrong, and that “the gays are going to hell.” When I asked him why, he said it was because that’s what the Bible said. So I went home and re-read the Bible. All 1,327 pages. I found nothing directly forbidding same-sex relationships, so I decided that if God didn’t love me unconditionally, then why should I trust Him? Why should I put my faith in a God who wouldn’t love his children no matter what?
The next few days I would wake up, stand in front of my mirror, look myself in the eye, and whisper “ You’re gay .” At first, I felt uncomfortable. I had never said the word before. The
word “gay” wasn’t one with which I typically associated myself. It took a long time, but after a while I became used to it.
But I was still hiding in that dreadful hole they call the closet. Hiding behind a door, too scared to open it. Not even a crack. I was too scared. Scared of losing family. Scared of losing
friends. Too scared to tell the world anything about myself. So I pretended I was straight. I lied about having a crush on a boy, just because I didn’t want anybody to find out who I really was. But then I just couldn’t hide it anymore. I wanted to let somebody know. I needed someone to talk to.
It was New Year's Day, 12:37 AM. My finger hovered over the send button. I hesitated before pressing it. A little blue box popped up on my screen. “im queer” was all it said. I put my
phone by the nightstand beside my head and waited for what seemed like an eternity. 12:42 AM. My phone screen lit up. I nervously picked it up and opened my texts. “coolio.” I sighed and laid my head back onto my pillow. I slept easily knowing that my best friend supported me.
Over the next 6 months, I slowly came out to more and more friends. I was glad that they knew, but I still wasn’t comfortable with myself. I couldn’t bring myself to reveal my identity to
other people. I didn’t correct anyone when they assumed I had a crush on a boy. I wasn’t proud of who I was.
Eight months ago I got completely distracted when studying for final exams. Instead of studying, I browsed through YouTube and saw a clip from the CW TV series, Supergirl. In the
clip, two girls, Alex and Maggie, were casually flirting with each other. I had never seen something like that before in my life. That representation changed my entire life. I realized that
being proud was so important to fully living my life.
Over the next summer I started watching many more TV shows that had positive LGBT+ representation, which helped me realize that I am not alone, and that I don’t need to be quiet
about being gay. When I got back to school, I finally came out to the rest of my friends. It felt like the scariest thing in the world, and I lost a few friends through the process, but in the end it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I can now talk freely about my sexuality in front of the best friends a girl could have. I know that my friends will support me throughout my life, and that they accept me and will always be by my side. The process of coming out is lifelong, and I will probably be doing it forever, but in the end, I am as happy as ever, and I can now live life to the fullest.
What I’ve learned from all of this is very simple:
People aren’t just made up of flesh, blood, and bone. They are threaded together with words and memories. Every moment lived builds a new piece of someone. The ugliest to most precious moments in your life make you who you are and determine who you are going to be. Every single moment you live, matters. Each memory that flickers before your eyes, types a new chapter in your novel. Good or bad, pure to wicked, black and white. Some memories you have leave tears scarred across your cheeks, others set laughter free in the air. The most touching, meaningful memoirs may leave bruises, but they also bring strength. The words inked across the soul has a different essence on each set of tiger eyes that prowl by. Now, today I am going to share with you a touching, uncomfortable darkness, my story.
Summer of 2012, when I was nine years old, my younger brother died. My grandma, who was watching us while our parents were at work, found him unconscious with his neck caught in the arm rest. I was in the sunroom when the sense of worry and panic flowed its way over to where I was sitting like a thick fog. I was a curious little kid, so my feet slipped across the floor and took me on a quick adventure to the unknown whimpering cries. I then found my baby brother, lying motionless on the floor with my grandma hunched over him. There was a lady on the phone with a calm voice, I heard her say, “Who is that screaming his name.” My grandma told her it was me, but I didn’t hear any voice besides hers. I felt stuck, paralyzed.The memory of Andy lying in a hospital bed, the smell of medicine and rubber gloves, the sound of monitors committed to keeping him alive, the sight of white lab coats gliding across the plain tile, the touch of a still, warm hand. My young, developing mind couldn’t twist its way through the thorns surrounding this rose. I didn’t know who to blame, so I began to blame myself. I witnessed an ugly, dark, veil slip over my seven year old brothers body as an adolescent. Death had overcame. I sat in his room in the house we grew up in. The walls were two different shades of blue, and trucks and cars lined his bedspread. The smell of insulin and sun, soon traded with dust and new paint. I lost distant relatives before, but this was different. Half of me was missing. The familiar loud voice swirled down the drain, leaving silence behind. I began to live my life full of “maybes” or “what if’s”.
After his wake when no one but close relatives were in the funeral home. My cousin, Parker, he was two years old when my brother died so he didn’t have the concept of death understood yet. However, when Andy was still alive, my brother and I use to play a small game with him were one of us would pretend we were sleeping, and the other would say “go wake him/her up” or “go get him”. And Parker would stomp over with his petite, chubby feet and shake us until we wake, filling the room with laughs. Again, after the wake, when no one but close relatives were left at the funeral home. Most were packing away food and preserving flowers, but I was in the main room with my brother. Two other people were the main room with me, my Auntie Jill and Parker. Parker was clutched in Auntie Jill’s arms. He leaned over Andy while he laid in his casket and whispered innocently, “Wake up. Wake up Andy. Wake up.” A tear sneaked its way down my face. I was now the sister of an angel. I saw death, the devil. I was standing eye to eye with the boogie man. Hidden in the shadows, lurking through my nightmares, tiptoeing along in the back of my mind. I still feel Mr. Chill making his way up and down my spine like a waterslide. The ill feeling evenly paints my body until everything in sight becomes blurred. Five years later and I still feel the bruises left from the summer of 2012.
It’s been hard, seeing siblings together or when someone asks if I have any brothers or sisters. The memory of him is all I have now, aside from a few shirts and a flip flop. He left me to young, but he taught me the reality of life at a young age. I soon realized that not everything is going to be easy. Everything in life has a twist, sometimes it may be good but it also can be bad. You never know where the truth of reality can take you. To be honest not knowing where life is going to take you next is the most scary thing on earth. As much as it sucks, you have to remind yourself everyday that everything happens for a reason. That is one of the only ways you will be able to get through the worst. After the phone call from the hospital, when he was officially gone, I was sitting in the sunroom with my grandparents. Ironically where it all started. They both just looked over at me, and then all at once I just knew. I knew he was gone and it was over. I barely remember this moment because your brain protects you from some of the memories you have. I do remember that as soon as they got off the phone, tears flooded down my face and I just couldn’t stop them. Immediately, I felt big, soft arms gather around me. One thing that is for sure, I would not be able to get through half the things I have gone through if it wasn’t for my family.
This all played a big role in molding me into the person I am now today. Except, I don’t want to be known as the girl whose brother moved to dance with the stars. I don’t want to be labeled or treated differently because of what I have gone through. I want to inspire people, and I want them to see me as a girl who decided to bloom where the sun refused to shine. After my brother’s death, I had two choices. Two totally different pathways I could take, and I had to choose which one to take alone. Either I could let this drag me down, or I could take this experience and build from it. Trust me, it is hard rebuilding a huge part of your life from scratch. But with some glue and tape, nothing is impossible. No doubt, I still miss him and cry because I just want his fluorescent blue eyes to bounce back into my life. Except some things just don’t happen the way you hope them too. You just have to keep moving forward, life isn’t going to wait for you.
“… and use that opportunity of taking a breath to look into your partner’s eyes. Real sexy. Be real sexy! And what you definitely don’t want to do is exhale through your mouth when you’re kissing your partner because you’ll blow a bunch of carbon dioxide in them… you might kill them…”
I’m sorry, what?
I almost knocked over my “Not Just a Pretty Face” OPI nail polish bottle over in surprise. Had I heard my “How to Kiss” video correctly? I expected a lot of negative things could happen when you kissed a person wrong, but I had never, ever imagined killing a guy. The blonde woman who claimed to be the love and dating expert started the sentence again, and I listened more attentively.
“Ok, ok. You may not kill them, but you might turn them off.”
Perfect. I sighed, waving my hands around, almost spastically, to dry the light pink coat of paint I had just applied. It had been three weeks since I started dating Will, and I wasn’t completely sure what was going on. Could it be real that I, Lauren McDuff, had a boyfriend? It honestly didn’t feel all that real to me. Until this year, I had been the awkward kid who used to be homeschooled, the girl who still had too much baby fat to be cute, the new kid at a small, well-established private school (If we’re being honest, it didn’t help that everything people knew or thought about me tended to be true. I was an awkward girl who used to be homeschooled, which made me rather naïve compared to all the other kids in my class. I still remember, in all its gruesome detail, the day I tried to make a friend during my first week of classes by starting a conversation about his “tiny nuts.” He was eating chopped peanuts on his salad. I regret everything…).
People didn’t seem to notice me until junior year started. I mean, I lost all my baby fat, — finally! — which definitely helped my situation. I started to notice this boy, Will Roberts, who sat in front of me in AP United States History. He was so sweet and was always ready with a witty, well-timed joke to lighten the mood after discussing things like the Trail of Tears. I like humor. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Plus, he liked me, which is always a good thing, right?
High school is so dramatic when you have no idea what’s going on.
3:43pm. He was going to be here at any moment. My stomach tightened and my hands became clammy at the very thought. He was only coming to hang out, so it was nothing extraordinarily special. But, I had a strange feeling that today would be the day I would have my first kiss. Hence the Youtube videos. Hence the constant feeling that I was about to fall over dead.
I had gone 17 years without getting as much as a sincere hug from a boy, let alone a kiss or something more. I’ve just been plagued with chronic awkwardness. I felt extremely unprepared, like I was falling behind. And there’s so much pressure! The girls around me constantly talk about how perfect their first kisses were—on beaches, when they were in love, in the snow, on playgrounds, yada, yada, yada. I want to be like them. I want fireworks!
Last night, my best friend Serena gave me all I needed to know about kissing. She and Alex have been dating basically forever, so she’s all-knowing when it comes to the boy department. Thank god I have someone like her around. She gave me all the tips I could possibly ever want, like “don’t lean to the left” or “make sure you always have mints.” With the tips she gave and the Youtube video that taught me how to practice on a cupcake, I was feeling a little better than okay going into the situation. That’s the best I could hope for, right? Gee, is this what everybody feels like?
Sitting up, I looked at the mirror on the mint-green wall across from me and made sure everything was put into place. I had curled my hair and was wearing a floral sundress from Target, so I was feeling good appearance-wise, at least. I stared into the blue eyes of the reflection looking back at me and mouthed “You got this!” before springing off the bed, into the hallway, and down the stairs to the kitchen.
“Will is going to be here soon. What are you two going to be up to this afternoon?” my mom asked from her usual spot by the kitchen sink. She was making some sort of cheesecake, it looked like. I could always find her in the kitchen working on some new recipe, blond hair tucked behind one ear, HGTV on in the background, my dog Darcy right at her feet. She wiped her hands on a towel and met my distressed gaze.
“I dunno, Mom. I’m kinda new to this.”
“Well, if you’re in need of something to do, Darcy needs new Dingo Bones! You can always run over to PetSmart for me,” she said, grinning at the absurdity of her request. The smile I returned was cut short by an engine roar outside our house. I walked to the front door to see a rusting, mustard Dodge Ram grumbling up the driveway. Besides the fact that it was a dull yellow color and older than both Will and myself combined, the truck was decorated with a hood ornament that looked like a Ram. Quality.
My heart raced as I saw him walking to the door. His blue and yellow plaid shirt fit him nicely and his hair blew playfully in the spring breeze. I waved to him as I opened the door.
“Hey” he smiled.
“Hi,” I returned shyly. I gave him a quick hug. “So… how are you?”
“I’m doing pretty fine. The horn stopped working on the truck today so that was pretty rough. I’m gonna have to work on fixing it later with my dad. You?”
“Oh crap that really sucks. And I’m good!” Good, fine, wanting to throw up, wishing I could hide in the bathroom and not come out until graduation. All synonymous terms.
I shuffled my feet and stared at my fingernails, fighting the urge to bite them. In no less than two sentences, it seemed we had exhausted all topics of small-talk conversation.
“MyDogNeedsNewBonesDoYouWantToWalkToPetSmart” I blurted in a haste to fill the widening silence. I couldn’t believe I had just offered to take us to freaking PetSmart. Anything to kill the void, I suppose.
He stared at me for a moment, trying to decipher the word vomit that I had just spewed at him. “Yeah, sure!”
We threw shoes on and headed right out the door. PetSmart was only around a ten-minute walk, and it was a nice day, so it wasn’t really a horrible idea after all. Walks can be romantic! The walk did force us to speak to each other, though, which was something new for the both of us. We had normally been together in settings where talking one-on-one wasn’t necessary. Like, our first date was our school’s Winter Formal. We were at a table of all our friends. Sure, we sat next to each other and talked a lot, but having 6 other people laughing and talking with you takes a lot of the pressure off. It was a great night! (That is, until Will accidentally got a substantial portion of his luscious locks into my dessert and neglected to tell me. I hear it isn’t custom to eat your date’s hair as a part of the last course…) Our second date was simply a movie, which luckily doesn’t require much talking. There was the added stress of wondering whether he was going to hold my hand, but he opted not to, so I was in the clear.
Oh. My. Gosh. What if he tries to hold it right now?
I hadn’t thought of that. Couples who walk together usually hold hands, don’t they?
“So, how do you think you’re doing in Mr. Richey’s class?” Will asked nonchalantly.
Ok. Ok. I can talk about school. This is something I can handle.
“I like it alright. Mostly ‘cause it’s the period when I can play games on my IPad or secretly text my friends.”
“Ha! I guess you have to keep up with the gossip somehow.” He grinned at me and we made eye contact. His eyes are rather nice. I hadn’t noticed before. Is that normal?
“I feel you, though,” he continued. “I’m usually on Ifunny or playing some games with Kegan. Or we’re making jokes. We gotta keep ourselves entertained somehow. Personal Finance. That class is a joke.”
But I saw it coming. The arm was brushing mine. A clear signal. It was happening. Is it possible to hold hands wrong? It should be natural right? His hand came closer to mine.
He grabbed it.
And apparently my hand spasmed and threw the entire interlocking of digits off-kilter. My thumb ended up between his pointer and middle fingers, with my middle three fingers jammed into the space between his pinky and ring fingers. My pinky was just hanging out on its own.
Oh. My. Gosh.
How does that even happen?
I yanked my hand away and stuttered, “Shoot, I’m s-sorry, I d-don’t really know why I’m like this—” In the midst of my stammering, I neglected to watch my footing and before I knew it I was falling down. The earth had decided to contract and expand during the brutal winter months, creating a massive pothole on the street where we were walking. I had the unfortunate mishap of falling into said pothole a day after a thunderstorm.
Floundering in a pothole filled to the brim with water, I emerged soaking wet and completely covered in dirt and mud.
Sorry Mom, we didn’t make it to PetSmart.
Ok. This is nice. This is good.
Changed into comfortable, warm clothes and eating the cheesecake my mom had made earlier, I was snuggled next to Will on the couch watching The Spongebob Movie. Sure, we could have made a more intelligent movie choice, but Will made a strong argument for simple humor. The walk home had been treacherous—walking in wet shoes is the absolute worst—but Will made it all okay. I was remembering why I liked him so much. He was so sweet through it all. He asked repeatedly if I was alright and helped me up. He even helped brush off all the bits of gravel off my dress. Of course, he did all of this before completely loosing his mind in laughter at the incident. When Will laughs, you just sorta have to laugh along. It’s infectious, in a way. I was still mortified by the event, but at least he helped me smile through it.
We quickly rectified the holding hands situation on the walk back to my house, and I was now protected from falling over by the safety of my couch. We had a fun ping pong competition in my basement and had a healthy fight on SuperSmash Bros. Everything had become normal. The stress was gone and I could be myself. It was turning out to be a good day.
I could see the sun setting out of the window, and the house was dimming minute by minute. My mom had retreated from her place in the kitchen to her bedroom to play with Darcy, who, because of my clumsiness, was lacking a bone to chew on. With only me and Will downstairs, the house was quiet, except for the loud chorus of “Goofy Goober” every now and again.
I was content there in his arms. Perhaps that’s why girls like being in relationships so much. I could finally understand. I finally fit in. I knew why Taylor Swift wrote so many songs and why Nicholas Sparks penned so many books and why Shonda Rhimes produced so many TV shows. Being with another person is a special thing, especially when they accept you for who you are. I had gotten that with Will all day. He didn’t seem to mind my crippling social cluelessness. It almost seemed like he enjoyed it. Or at least he didn’t care. He was such a nice guy, a good guy, and we were a good pair.
“Your hair smells nice.”
“Thanks, Will.” A strange compliment, but I took it with grace. And with a blushing smile.
He spoke softly. “Hey, it’s getting late. I’d better get going.”
“Oh yeah, definitely.”
We walked to the front door together, soaking in the last moments of being together. There were no lights on by the front door, so all I could see was his silhouette. He came up to me a swooped me into his arms for a big hug.
“I had an amazing time today with you. The whole thing— the the Smash tournament, movie, the ping pong game that I definitely won, you almost drowning in a puddle…”
“Oh shut up,” I smiled. He slid one of his hands out of the hug and onto the back of my neck.
Nope. Nope. Nope.
No amount of Youtube or best friend advice could make me feel prepared for this moment. I looked into his eyes, I saw it coming, and I wanted it, but—
“YouForgotYourHoodieInTheBasementLetMeGoGetIt!” I shrugged him off of me, totally ignoring his obvious signals, and ran away. I ran away from him. The boy I liked. The boy that was trying to kiss me.
You are so stupid.
I ran down the stairs and found his jacket under the ping pong table where he had left it. “Save me,” I whispered to the piece of cloth, clutching it to my chest like a child would clutch a teddy bear. This jacket was the one thing standing between me and my fate. I made my way back upstairs and found him exactly where I had left him, waiting patiently by the door. He looked baffled.
“Uh, thanks, Lauren.”
“Anytime,” I said quickly, without hesitation. “I can’t wait to hang out again! Today was great!” I thought that if I sounded chipper, the mood would be lost.
Since his sly approach didn’t work for him the first time, he ditched that tactic and tried a new, blunter one. He walked straight up to me, looked me in the eyes, and leaned in. I had no way of escape.
Our lips locked and my mind exploded.
Jeez, I’m so nervous.
What do I do with my lips?
OH MY GOSH YOU LEANED YOUR HEAD TO THE LEFT. SERENA SAID NOT TO DO THAT. WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU THE WAY THAT YOU ARE, LAUREN MICHELLE MCDUFF?! CAN’T YOU DO ANYTHING RIGHT?
We’re probably going to break up now.
He thinks I’m horrible.
Why am I thinking? I think I’m not supposed to think.
Is it supposed to be this wet?
Why are my hands dangling at my sides like this?
Should I be using my hands for something?
Are we supposed to be standing this far apart?
I should get closer.
NOPE. Too close! Code red!
Should I open my eyes?
Definitely not. That was creepy.
How long is this supposed to last?
Where are the fireworks?!
When he finally broke it off, after what seemed like 10,000 seconds in hell itself, I knew he was looking at me, I could feel the glance burning through the top of my head, but I was suddenly extremely interested in the faux wood floors. Eye contact did not seem like an option at this point. I did not want to see the disappointing look that was probably etched on his sweet face.
What kind of confusing agony was that? I had just willingly smashed my face on another human being’s and it was supposed to be romantic? I was in shock. What are the songs and movies and books and girls at school talking about? Kissing cannot possibly be fun if it always like that. Was it me? My entire face went white and I lost my train of thought before muttering stupidly,
I flickered my eyes up quickly to catch his reaction. He looked down at me, laughed a little, pulled me into a hug, and said, “Don’t be.”
After a minute or so, he let go to pick his jacket off the ground. I guess I had dropped it. Oops.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said softly, nodding his head a little.
I watched him walk out the door, but I didn’t follow him. I was paralyzed, stuck in the same place. I heard the whimper of the engine as it kicked on and watched as his rusted Dodge drove away. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. Why does life not go the way we planned? At what point do you just give up and let it happen? How do you even start?
Does it ever get any easier?
At least I didn’t kill him with my carbon dioxide or whatever.
A row of two-story brick buildings as old as this tiny Midwestern town stand tall along one side of the sleepy square. Among the collection of elderly structures lies one in particular, whose freshly-painted white-brick face and fiery-red trim suggest a much younger age. Shades are drawn over each pristine window, shielding the building’s mysterious contents from the unwanted glances of passersby. Locals claim to hold knowledge of the structure’s history; none of which have ever walked through its dark halls. Those who possess a key to the locked edifice know that its exterior is a stark contrast to its interior— a youthful appearance masking an old, beaten soul. Behind the fresh layers of brick, mortar, and stucco appear eighteen dusty rooms, each housing a sliver of the building’s brief history.
In one room, stiff flakes of faded wallpaper flutter to the ground, resting gently atop a broken record player. Crude scarlet and ebony streaks of paint form a phrase on one wall—a scar left by an untrustworthy tenant. A tattered picture rests face-down on the hardwood floor, surrounded by thick shards of glass and a shattered frame. Water-stains fleck the ceiling like dried tears that refuse to dissipate.
Further down the hall, an ajar door creaks open, revealing a compact bathroom. An unflattering fluorescent light shines harshly down upon the damp tile. A menacing mirror hangs above the sink, its cool, dusty glass a master at distorting any image. Old mascara tubes and foundation bottles litter the vanity, worn-out just like their once-self-conscious user.
All at once, seventeen doors close.
On the opposite end of the building, unshaded windows breathe daylight into a freshly-painted yellow room. A fresh record hums a simple melody while spinning on its turntable. To reach this last room, one must journey through the seventeen before it; no ordinary local could possibly comprehend the complex history of this living museum.