Three Things I Wish I Knew as a College Freshman

Hey, it’s me again.  Sorry I’ve disappeared for such a long time, but I’ve had an especially rough start to college.  Anyways, a year ago this time I was looking forward to college with some apprehension, wondering how it would go and which mistakes I made.  As many people in the world are now in the same place, I thought I might share some of my rising sophomore wisdom.  So here’s to the rest of you making different (and hopefully less harmful) mistakes than I did.

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1. Don’t get in a relationship first semester.  During your freshman year, it’s probably preferable not to get in a relationship at all, but if things really come together for you, then I’m not going to stop you.  Just don’t do it during the first semester.  Why?  Because first semester is a critical period in getting adjusted and making your group of friends.  By concentrating on a new relationship, you limit yourself to focusing on friendship with one person.

If/ when your relationship ends, then you will find yourself alone and friendless because your significant other is gone and everyone else already has their group of friends.  I know more than one person who this has happened to, and it’s a lonely place to be.  If the person you’re interested is the right one for you, then they’re capable of waiting a semester.

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2. Watch out for toxic people.  This is something I really struggled with, especially as a naturally empathetic person and a listener.  If you’re the kind of person who attracts troubled people– and you know who you are– you need to be on guard to stay away from them.  Freshman year is a time when you have enough to focus on with an adjustment, and you don’t have the time or ability to be someone’s therapist.  In fact, you’re not licensed for that and can do someone more harm than good.

The truth is, colleges are full to the brim with struggling people.  Unless if you’re completely self-absorbed, you’re likely to run into that eventually.  I’m not saying to never help a friend in need, but if someone you know is struggling with something severe, it’s better for you and them if you refer them to professional help.

3. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.  Most people walk into college thinking that mental health issues and abusive relationships are things that happen to other people.  However, statistics show it is rather likely to happen to you and will certainly happen to someone you know.

Almost a third of college students report feeling crippling depression in the last year and over half report overwhelming anxiety (source).   In addition, almost half of college women report being abused by a romantic partner (source).  And don’t think this never happens to men.  Statistics are hard to find because men tend to stay quiet about this sort of thing due to pressures from society, but they certainly are abused as well.

These statistics aren’t meant to scare you, just to inform you.  If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health or abuse, please contact your school.

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That said, while there are a lot of difficulties to the college life, it’s not all dismal.  Some of the deepest friendships I’ve formed and my best life experiences happened in the last year.  I’m sure the same will be true of you as well.  So live your best life next year, and make the smartest mistakes possible.

Pictures from unsplash.com

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The Bench (A Short Play)

Well.  This is supposed to be a creative writing blog and I haven’t posted any creative writing for some time, so I decided to post a play scene which I wrote for a class.  And of course, being me, I had to make it… well, you’ll see :).

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ALLISON:

(Jogging through park)  Okay.  I’m okay.  I can do this.  It’s been six months, and it’s not like I can avoid riding by this spot forever.  Besides, just because he’s usually on his bench at this time of day doesn’t mean he’ll be there now.  But even if he is there, probably nothing will happen.  He’ll just ignore me.  Or maybe he won’t see me.  It’ll be fine… it’ll be fine… And oh gosh there he is.  So much for him not being here.  Aaaand he sees me.  Crap.  Crap.  Crap.

CHAD:

(Face breaking into grin and standing) Allison!  Is that you?  It’s been forever!  I can’t believe you’re here.

ALLISON:

(Continues on her way, muttering) Just ignore him, ignore him…

CHAD:

(Runs to Allison and throws arms around her.) Hey!  I missed you!

ALLISON:

(Wrenches herself away and shudders.)  Don’t touch me.  I don’t like hugs, remember?

CHAD:

But… I thought… I thought…

ALLISON:

Yes.  You were an exception.  Once.  But not anymore.

CHAD:

Umm… okay.

ALLISON:

Now let me make myself clear.  I did not run by here because I want to visit.  I ran by because this is public property and I have the right to it just like anyone else.  And because I was sick of the route I designed to ensure I would never run into you ever.

CHAD:

Oh.  I guess I was just hoping you coming by meant you were ready to be friends.

ALLISON:

How could we ever be friends?

CHAD:

Look.  I do care for you.  Deep down inside you have to care for me.  Isn’t that enough to be friends?

ALLISON:

No, quite frankly it isn’t.  No matter what, I can’t be friends with the man who abused me.

CHAD:

Allison, I never…  I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life but I’d never abuse a woman, much less you!

ALLISON:

See!  That’s just the problem.  You refuse to admit to what you did and you expect me to just get over it and have us be best friends?  I don’t think so.

CHAD:

I never hit you.  Hell, I never even yelled.

ALLISON:

You didn’t have to.  Abuse is never about what you don’t do.

CHAD:

I just don’t see what you think I did.  No physical or emotional abuse…

ALLISON

(Smirking) Did you forget the sexual abuse?

CHAD:

(Throws hands in the air) Everything we did was consensual!  I don’t know what you’re talking about!

ALLISON:

Was it, Chad?  Was it?  Because you pushed.  And I gave in because you promised you loved me.  That we’d be together forever.  Then you turned your back on all of that.

CHAD:

Look, Al.  I’m sorry things ended the way you did.  But none of what you described was actually rape.

ALLISON:

Then what was it, Chad?  Chronic lying?  Manipulation?  Using me for sex?  Because those things seem pretty abusive to me.

CHAD:

(At a loss) But… but… I’d be there for you for anything.  Promise.

ALLISON:

Then where were you when I was trying to get over this?  Where were you the nights when I stayed up at three am crying because I missed the man I thought you were?

CHAD:

I couldn’t be there.  Not when I caused the problem.

ALLISON:

And see.  That’s why we can’t be friends.  None of your promises are ever true.  I don’t need that in my life.

CHAD:

Allison, please!  Stay!

ALLISON:

(Starts jogging again).  Good bye, Chad.  I won’t be coming by here anymore.

Eros Explored

I saw you first after a war

Ashes, blood, and gunpowder

carpeting the battle floor.

And you were the pretty poppy poking through.

 

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Picture Mine

At night when I try to sleep

When nightmares come creeping in

I pass the time by counting sheep

And you’re every single one

 

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Picture Mine

Now I try, I try to write,

putting my story in ink

try to record my sad sorry fight

And you’re the inkblot on my quill.

 

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Picture Mine

 

 

I go up and I go down,

but the fall never leaves.

The change, the chill, round and round.

And you’re the crisp in the autumn breeze.

 

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Picture Mine

 

Though, I’m okay with the cold,

shivering dancing shivering alone.

Just watching how events unfold.

Because you’re when my favorite song begins.

 

 

 

 

 

So… I actually did NaPoWriMo

Hello followers!  Because I’ve been deadly quiet all month long, you’ve probably thought I wasn’t  doing NaPoWriMo.  Or thought  I was never going to write again.  Or thought I was dead.  Okay, probably none of you thought about me that much.  That said, after NaPo, I think I might have a handful of decent poetry to share with you.  If you  like them enough, maybe I’ll post more.  Enjoy!

Traumatic Stress

She closes her eyes

His hands on her again

She opens her eyes

Everyone still a predator

 

He closes his eyes

The guns sounding again

He opens his eyes

War still surrounds him

 

She closes her eyes

Her child dies again

She opens her eyes

Death still permeates

 

He closes his eyes

Blood pours out again

He opens his eyes

The wound still there

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Source: Google Images

 

Seven Out of One Hundred

Seven out of one hundred

Recieve a crown

Ninety three out of one hundred

Get knocked down

Seven out of one hundred

Respected for life

Ninety three out of one hundred

Only get strife

Seven out of one hundred

West and whitest

Ninety three out of one hundred

Best and brightest

Seven out of one hundred

Join the club

Ninety three out of one hundred

Ones they snub

Source: Unsplash.com

 

If You Stayed

I’ve looked at the world through this telescope, and it looks beautiful and bright.  Will it still look that way when I get there?

Yes, of course dear.  Your world will always look beautiful and bright.

I’ve gotten closer to the world now, and I can see some places that don’t glimmer.  Will I be able to make them shine again?

Yes, of course dear.  Your world will always shine.

I’ve reached the world now.  The sun was shining for a while, but now there are clouds.  Will the sun come back again?

Yes, of course dear.  Your sun will always come back.

The sun hasn’t come back at all.  Nothing shines and it’s dark and cold.  Will I ever feel warm again?

I’m sorry, dear.  But you’ll feel warm again soon enough.

The plants have all withered, leaving me hungry.  I’ve never felt so empty.  Will I ever feel full again?

I’m sorry, dear.  But you’ll feel full again in due time.

The world is ice, the world is cold, the world is storm.  I wish I withered with the plants.  Will I ever wish otherwise?

I’m sorry dear.  But please don’t go; you’ll be happy one day.

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I couldn’t make it because I kept hoping and you kept promising, but none of your promises came true.  So I figured nothing ever would.

I miss you every day dear.  So does the sun, which came back.  So do the plants, which grew back.  I think you’d be happy now, if you had stayed.  If…    

Source: Unsplash.com

  

Recent Readings

Greetings followers!  For whatever reason, I am in the mood to rant about unoriginal books.  Perhaps this has something to do with the dissatisfaction I’ve found with the books I’ve read lately.  But don’t worry, I’m throwing a good book in the mix, too.  In any event, enjoy! (pics from Google images)

  1. The Beginning of Everything

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Summary: Ezra Faulkner starts his senior year as a tragedy.  He lost his status as star tennis player and popular jock in a car accident that injured his leg.  Then he meets Cassidy Thorpe, an enigmatic girl who introduces him to a world with more exitement and heartbreak than he could imagine.

Review: Having just finished this book, I can’t quite place my finger on what about it makes me feel dissatisfied.  I mean, Schneider does make some meaningful points.  Good points.  And overall, it’s a fairly readable book.  But it’s like she tries so hard to write a deep, thought-provoking book that it just falls flat.  She’s trying to be John Green, which is kind of lame because John Green already exists.  (Brilliant point, I know.)  If you like this book, I certainly don’t hold it against you.  Maybe the style just isn’t for me.  But if I could describe it in a word, it’d be “forced”.

2. Independent Study

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Summary: This is book two in the Hunger Games– erm no Divergent…. actually, The Testing Trilogy.  Basically, it’s a dystopian world in which you have to win the Hunger Games instead of getting a good SAT score to get into college.  (Which may not be such a big difference.)  While in college, the world starts to look like you’re being sorted into your faction and learning how to live there.

Review: Okay, my summary was much meaner than it needed to be.  Especially considering that it’s a fairly good series.  The characters are well developed and the plot kept me intersted.  Or at least in the first one.  By book two, either I got sick of the unoriginality or the writing got much worse.  The truth is, The Hunger Games has already been written, and it doesn’t need to be written again.

3. All Our Yesterdays

 

 

Summary: Em’s world is a disaster.  She’s time-traveled countless times, trying to stop a horrendous and seemingly unstoppable chain of events from occuring.  In a different time, Marina, a naieve high schooler, strives to win the affections of James, her childhood best friend and renowned prodigy.  Then, in one disasterous night, everything in her world starts to crumble.

Review: I promised to mention an original book, and this is it.  In fact, I’d venture to say this is one of the most orignal books I’ve read in the last year.  Action-packed, mind-boggling, and heartwrenching, All Our Yesterdays is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat from the opening sentence to the final page.  Not only does it have a fascinating plot, but the characters are endearing and memorable.

So what’s the moral?  Well, if you’re a writer out there, don’t try to immitate someone’s style or story.  Shakespeare has already existed.  Hemmingway has already existed.  Jane Austin has already existed.  The only thing you have to offer that isn’t already out there is your ideas.  Not that you shouldn’t be inspired by other writers, but… be yourself.

Alive.

If you bleed when you fall, it’s just a sign of life

‘Cause we cried with our first breath, gasping for air ever since

Growing in and out of skins, just another strife

Four legs to two to three, that’s why we all wince


Sprouting wings, finding they don’t last long

Hitting hard ground, our faces in the rocks, the dirt again

Sages loosing mind, beauts loosing face, that’s our sad song

Running and running, Rover chases his rear, round and round, count to ten


Caught in the inevitable tide, bleeding against rocks

Trying to grow wings that last; that’s why we all strive

What’s urgent won’t matter, and what matters hides behind locks

Bleeding, crying, growing, flying, falling, running.  We’re alive.

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Write What You Know: Good Or Bad Advice?

One of my favorite things to talk about is writing.  I could daily give long (and probably rather annoying and repetitive) speeches on the subject, but since there are few people in this world who would be interested in such a monologue, I’ve decided to post my thoughts here, where I hope such people will find this and read it.

  (Source: Jantoo.com)

Here’s a piece of writing advice we’ve all heard at some point: write what you know.  Since writing has become a serious hobby for me, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering whether this is really good advice or not.  (That’s what everyone spends their free time thinking about, isn’t it?  No?  Just me?  Okay.)  If you write what you know, you will probably tend to do these three things: writing stories set in places you’re familiar with, writing about characters based on real people you know, and writing about emotions you feel/ issues you deal with.

One opinion  and another opinion

Obviously, not all writers stick to settings they’ve been to.  If that were the case, then we would be bereft of fantasy and science fiction, which would be a terrible tragedy indeed.  On the other hand, several writers have penned wonderful books set in their own hometown.  I don’t think it really matters whether writers choose to write in settings that they’ve visited or not, so long as they are familiar with them.  Regardless of what kind of writing you want to do, you have to know about your  setting.  If you write a book set in Portugal and get the name of the capital city wrong, then people who have actually been to Portugal will be disgusted and possibly throw your book aside.  If you write about a fantasy world and have no idea what it looks like, then you’ll run into several problems and weaken your story.  So in a way, writing what you know is good advice for setting.

If you truly stick to writing what you know, then all your characters will be based on real people.  This can be a little risky, as the models for your characters can catch on.  Again, this is something you can go either way on, and authors have been successful with both fictional and real characters.  Personally, I prefer to write about characters of my creation, although sometimes I may get inspiration from a character trait of a real person.  For example, if some one I know stands out as really caring, then I might try to work that aspect into one of my characters.

One thing that writers commonly do is base characters (especially protagonists) on themselves.  The advantage to this is that it can help you create a more complex character.  There probably aren’t many people you understand better than yourself, so it helps you understand your characters better if they’re like you.  The downside to this is that all your characters will start to sound the same.  You might be a great person, but your readers will get tired of reading several books populated with characters exactly like you.  Another risk (which becomes even riskier when you base your protagonists on yourself) is that you might be tempted to portray yourself without your flaws.  It’s hard to publish the ugly side of yourself  for everyone to see, and it will sound much more appealing to play up all your strengths instead, possibly even adding a few strengths you wish you had.  The problem with this is that you’ll end up with an obnoxiously perfect protagonist that your readers are more likely to want to throw up on than to admire or relate to.

So if you’re able to create characters based on yourself without avoiding these errors, then go for it.  Otherwise, I’d stay away from this.  When I create a major character, I always try to think of specific  things that make him/her similar and different from me.  I keep some similarities so that I can relate to them, and make some differences so that… well, I believe I’ve explained that.

So basically, don’t do this.

Now for the final part of my post: the emotions.  This is one area where I usually write what I know.  I do this because I’m afraid that if I write about an emotion or issue I’m too unfamiliar with, it will come out all wrong and people who have been through what I’m writing about won’t like it.  I also stick to feelings I know because I think my heart will be in it more and I’ll do a better job of making the reader feel the right emotion with me.  I’m not saying that’s the right way, I’m just saying that’s what I do.

But then again, it is possible to have success in writing about characters in situations you’ve never dealt with.  For instance, John Green has never been a teenage girl dying of cancer, but The Fault in Our Stars was still a bestseller.  Though before writing this book, he did spend time with cancer patients.  (You don’t have to write what you know, but always do your research.)

Well, I think that’s all I have to say.  If you’ve made it through this ridiculously long blog post, then here’s a gold star for you:

The Writer’s Warning

I’m participating in a writing challenge here, where you write a story based off of a picture.  I had kind of a different idea, so I decided to try it.

Evander sat on a moss-covered rock, removing his leather shoes to dip his feet in the cool waters of the gurgling creek.  Leaning his back against the red brick wall, he examined the surrounding scene.  The winding creek, the mist, and the birds could have come straight from his homeland of Edrana.  However, the brick walls possessed a queer foreign quality, especially with those peculiar lights.

Easing from his seat, Evander ventured forward, leaving his shoes behind.  He felt caught in between worlds—between nature and man-made structures, between dreaming and waking.  Something about the place made him feel more at peace than ever before.  A content smile spreading across his weathered face, Evander decided to explore this new world until he reached the edge of time.

“Evander.”

The young hero turned to face the soft voice, his hand flying to his sword.  With a shock, he realized he wore no weapons, leaving him vulnerable to any attack.  Although he never parted from his sword, Evander faced the situation with an eerie calm, putting up his hands in surrender for the first time in his memory.

“I’m not going to fight you, Evander.”  The speaker sat perched on one of the lights, regarding Evander with a sad gaze.  She wore clothes unlike any he had seen before, especially on a female.  Instead of donning the simple frock of a peasant woman or the elegant robes of a noble, she sported dark blue trousers and a loose red shirt.

“Who are you?” he mused.  “An enemy?  A friend?”

The strange woman continued to give Evander a gaze full of inexplicable compassion and heartbreak.  “Both, I suppose.  I love you more than any other could, yet I have harmed you more than any other could.”

“Are you… my mother?”  Evander shook his head in confusion.  It couldn’t be possible.  His mother died giving birth to him.  Yet he could think of no other who fit her description, and in this strange land, anything seemed possible.

She laughed softly.  “In a sense, Evander.  But not in the way you think.”

“You speak in riddles, my lady.”

“I always have.  And there’s no need to call me ‘my lady’.”

“Then what should I call you?”

“Call me Lizzy.”

Evander frowned, once again looking over the woman’s foreign clothing.  “I have never heard such a name.  Where do you hail from, Lady Lizzy?”

She gave him a sad smile.  “You never do forget your manners, do you?  If you must know, I hail from another land, the land of electric lights.”  She tapped the light next to her for emphasis.

Evander raised a brow.  “How would you know of my manners?  Perchance you could have heard word of my deeds or my skill with the sword, but few speak with me long enough to decide whether or not I am a well-mannered person.”

“I know all kinds of things.”

“Well then, lady of the land of electric lights, do you know where we are now?”

Lizzy drew her knees to her chest, letting out a soft, rueful laugh.  “Oh, we’re not here.”

“What do you mean, my lady?”

“We’re in a dream.  This, like every other land you know, is a world of my creation.  I designed it to be a cross between your world and my own.”

“So you are not real.  You are but a character in my dream.”

If possible, Lizzy’s gaze turned sadder.  “I’m quite real.  I’m afraid it’s you who is the character.”

Evander took a step back.  He couldn’t be a character in a dream.  He had memories, emotions.  He had a life to wake up to.  “I do not understand.”

She looked to the side, fiddling with her red braid.  “You’re my character.  I created you and everything you’ve ever known.”

His jaw dropped in shock and he found himself needing to lean against one of the red brick pillars for support.  As outlandish as Lizzy’s claim seemed, he felt deep inside of him that it was true.  “My lady… what gives you such power?”

“Simple.  I’m a writer, and you’re the protagonist of my book series.  Everyone loves you.  The readers, the critics, everyone.  I’ve never written about a character I’ve loved so much.”

“That could not be.”

“Every word I tell you is true.  I can’t lie any better than you can.”

“You know I can’t lie?”

“I know everything about you.”

Evander paced in front of the creek, trying to piece the new information together.  “But my lady–”

“Lizzy.”

“Lady Lizzy… if you are who you say—and I trust that you are—then what would cause you to seek me out?”

The smile faded from her eyes and her expression turned deadly serious.  Evander had seen that expression before on others.  He saw it on the messenger who told him his father had died in war.  He saw it on the healer who told him his companion was beyond saving.

“I have a message,” she whispered, tears forming in her eyes.  “I shouldn’t be here, and this will all amount to nothing, but I had to warn you—to see you—before I did it.”

A sickening dread filled him.  “What news do you bring?”

“I’m writing the last book of your story.  Millions have preordered it.”

“My lady, you speak riddles again.  Pray tell me what I need to know in words I can understand.”

Lizzy jumped from her perch on the light, landing with a soft thud.  She reached out her hand as if to touch Evander’s face.  Had there not been a river between them, he thought she would have.  “I’ve written you into a corner.  Only an unlikely miracle could save you.”

Evander’s pulse raced.  “Yes…and?”

“A miracle is on its way, but it will fail.”  Lizzy turned away, her voice dropping so low he could scarcely hear it.  “You won’t have a happy ending.”

 

Graduation Day– An Unfair Occassion

So this is part two of a series I’m working on.  The plan is to post one part each week.  You can find the first part here, although you can (probably) follow without it.

Fred

When I walked in the door, of course he had to be there.  “Hi Joe!” I called out, trying to act casual.

He turned around, giving me a glare with dark blue eyes.  “Hi.”

I started to feel my hands sweat, just like they always did when he was around.  It wasn’t just because he hated me.  It was because he knew the truth.  He knew what happened last year and how it was my fault.

“Joe!  It’s so lovely to see you,” my mom said, giving him a great big smile.  Joe didn’t bother to smile back, or even look her in the eye.

“Yeah… I didn’t expect you to come,” I said, which was true.  He stopped coming to any events last year.  After the school told him he didn’t have the credits to graduate, he hardly even attended.  So I couldn’t figure out why he showed up at the graduation of a bunch of people he didn’t like.

Joe’s expression when he looked at me made me want to bolt for the door.  “Well, we’ve known each other for an awfully long time.  Least I could do was come.”

“That’s right!” my mom said, not picking up the hint that Joe and I both wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible.  That or she pretended not to.  “You and Fred were in kindergarten together.”

Drew yawned.  “I don’t care about ancient history, mom.  Can we just go?  I want to get my tie off.”

“Young man, you will not have that attitude,” dad scolded.

I checked my watch.  “Right… umm… much as I would love to sit and talk about old times, I better be heading up.  See you around.”

I turned and started up the steps two at a time, trying to ignore Joe’s glare following me.  I’d forgotten that he was in my kindergarten class.  Our school was tiny back in those days.  There were only four people in my class—Joe, Ruth, Annemarie, and me.  We were all best friends back then.  Gosh, how did we get here?

Joe

didn’t expect you to come.  ‘course fred would say something like that.  no one’d expect the school looser to put his pants on.  forget coming to graduation.  i didn’t say anything else to him, his kid brother, or his parents as I pushed down the hall.

i swear, i really would’ve punched him if i could’ve beat him in a fight.  or if it would’ve done a thing.  ‘cause right then, I couldn’t think of one single thing worse than having to listen to that moron give some phony speech.  ‘specially if he fed us a load of crap about how much he loved school.

if there was something i couldn’t stand worse than fred, it was hearing people blabber about the holiness of our stupid international christian school.  there was a time when i actually believed that stuff.  back when i was a dumb little kid, but i knew better now.  i knew what lies were.  this place had taught me.

here’s the thing.  everyone has to learn at some point that life isn’t a pretty little fairy tale.  that there are more evil stepmothers than fairy godmothers, and when you do find a fairy godmother, she’ll lie to you and stab you in the back.  just like anyone else.  everyone has to learn that eventually.  it’s one of the stupid parts of life we all put up with.  but that doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t hate the person—or the place—that teaches that lesson to them.  that’s why i would always hate jude christian academy.

while i plopped down in my seat and pretended to read the program, i wondered if anyone’d mention all that happened a year ago.  then I almost started laughing like a phycho.  ‘course no one would.  ‘cause it was the truth, and everyone hates the truth.  ‘specially when it hurts as much as that did.

Annemarie

When Mr. Jacobson stepped on the stage to address the crowd, I expected all the old emotions to come back. 

Hot, boiling anger. 

Searing pain. 

Death wishes. 

Then I felt relieved to see that not a single one could come.  Only cool, refreshing forgiveness washed over me, the peace that only God could give.  I used to blame Mr. Jacobson for my Choice, but now blame felt foolish and childish, something to leave in the old world.

            Instead of thinking about my Choice, I thought about how happy I was for my old friends.  How grand it must have been to teeter on the brink of the rest of their lives, to have everything that I had given up.  Music played and they walked on the stage.  Although I couldn’t regret, I still felt that I should have been there, experiencing this with them.

            I wished I could have told them I was here. 

I was watching. 

I still cared. 

But they would never know I was there. 

Ruth

Every year at graduation, I wondered how I would feel when it was my turn to wear these funny outfits and hats.  I thought I’d feel so grown- up, so sure of my future.  Now that I would get my diploma within the hour, I still felt like a kid.  And I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.  (Well, I knew what college I was going to, but I had no clue what to study there.)

I smiled in front of the crowd, singing a song with my class.  It was hard not to wave back to my little brother, who was sitting in the middle with my family.  (All ten members, minus me)  To avoid looking at him, I searched for other familiar faces.  I found Joe watching us, which made me happy and sad at the same time.  I wanted him there, but I wanted him on the stage with us.

It was so unfair that Mr. Jacobson wouldn’t let him graduate with us.  I knew Joe failed his classes last year, but all of our grades dropped.  If my GPA hadn’t already been high, I would have failed, too.  And Joe’s suspension (which was unfair, too long, and unnecessary) had a lot to do with those grades.  In a way, I felt like a little bit of a traitor celebrating today.  It almost felt like graduation shouldn’t be happening, or that I should have been excluded like Joe.  (It would have been fair.)

As I kept smiling and singing, I caught sight of Annemarie’s mom.  It kind of killed me inside to see her.  I didn’t think she’d be able to come, after all she’d been through.  But she was there, smiling through the tears.  If she could do this, then I could too.  I forced a braver smile on my face and hit the high note.

But everything just felt so empty.  I wanted to grab the microphone and scream, “This isn’t right!  Just stop pretending!”  Sometimes people say there’s an elephant in the room.  I felt like there was a giant, stinking corpse of a dead elephant that everyone was trying to step over.

I swallowed the lump in my throat.  Nothing felt right without Annemarie there.