He Planted Roses

By Derek Frazier

Rest In Peace, Robert Frazier Sr.

My grandfather was a great man. He could’ve lit up a room with his laughter and smile. He grew roses, these beautiful scarlet blossoms that ringed the perimeter of his house. He also drank his coffee decaf, and played golf like a professional. Granddad also had a history with heart problems. Nine years ago he had a triple bypass surgery, out of fear that something would happen to him.

I got the text from my father during my Creative Writing class. “Mom and I are at the hospital. Nana took Granddad in an hour ago.”

“Do you want to come up so you can say goodbye?” my mother asked when she called.

An hour later I carpooled with my sisters to Bedford to be with him in his final moments. I held my breath in the elevator to his hospital room. My father told me what happened as we hugged. Granddad had a massive heart attack. He dropped to his bathroom floor and was rushed to the emergency room after my grandmother, Nana, heard him fall and called for paramedics. When we got there my parents and grandmother were already there. Their eyes were bloodshot and their faces were slick with tears. Granddad was wrapped in a blanket, poked in three different places with needles and tubes, and a oxygen mask was strapped to his face.

Each gasp of breath, every shudder of his body, felt like his last.

There were ladybugs in his room. Totally at home, their red carapaces contrasting with the white walls.

“You can talk to him,” my mother said as she pulled me close. “He can hear you.”

I didn’t know what to say. A part of me thought it was silly, he had trouble hearing even with hearing aids. What would you say to a man who came to every birthday party? And sent Christmas cards with checks tucked inside?

What would you say? To a man with milky eyes, and diagnosed by the doctor as brain dead?

“Hey Granddad,” I choked out, “Thank you.” I had to say it several times because I couldn’t hear it over the sound of my own sobs. “I promise,” I said, “I will be a man you’ll be proud of.”

I am a helper, it’s how I was raised. Being told, “There’s nothing you can do except sit and keep him company,” was the hardest thing I’ve ever heard. I held his hand, and I could feel the lead of his bones as his body twitched and spasmed.

And I prayed dozens of prayers that I didn’t remember learning. They spilled from my mouth like pennies.

“Be strong,” I kept telling myself. “Be strong for Nana.”

My father told me once that he was surprised I didn’t want to become a doctor. The reason is because losing people isn’t in my nature.

There’s so much I wish I could have shown my grandfather that now I’ll never get the chance to: my wedding, high school graduation, my first dinosaur discovery, his great granddaughter.

Granddad said he always wanted wanted to donate his body to science. Maybe the Buddhists are right: that matter and life are reborn for new growth or the next life. Even now, planning to tattoo one of his roses on my arm, I keep thinking about all the lives that he will save. It could be anyone; a teenager in Colorado, a transplant patient in New York, a little boy who needs blood. His very cells could cure cancer one day.

So with that thought at least, I am content. And I look forward to seeing him and his beloved roses in his next life.

 

If You Had Stayed

By Heaven Angleberger

I don’t have any memory of you. You are the one person who has been shut completely out of my life. You left because you couldn’t take care of me. You didn’t have the money or the time or the energy to handle being a mother. Dad says that keeping me away from you is better for my sake. That I am better off without you because where I am now, I can be provided with all the things needed to succeed in life. As I have grown older, I have developed an understanding of what really happened. I think a lot about the life you are living.

I have always wondered many things about you. What you look like. If you are short or tall. Whether you have blonde or brunette hair. Why you didn’t stay. I wonder about who you are and what kind of life you are leading without me. Do you think about me? Do you think about the way you betrayed my trust when you left me behind, how you put all the responsibility on Dad’s shoulders?

I always thought that it was my fault that you left. That I had done something that made you think your daughter wasn’t good enough. That I had not been the daughter you dreamed of every night. Would you have stayed if I looked differently or had been more like you in some extraordinary way?  

Dad and I have the same smile. There is something lopsided about it that can warm an entire room. I wonder if you have the same lopsided, warm grin. We don’t listen to the same music– he listens to heavy metal while I listen to pop, sometimes country. Do we have this connection? I wonder sometimes what little things that I didn’t inherit from Dad, I inherited from you.

If you could only see me now. You would see an intelligent fourteen-year-old who is the goalie for her soccer team. I dive and jump to block kicks and make my team the best in the district. I am a straight A student that has always been at the top of my classes. I stay focused on my work and set an example for my fellow classmates. I write days on end and get carried away into the world of my words. I set the goal of getting into Barbara Ingram, the ninth-rated school in Maryland. After working my butt off for a month, I received notice that I had been accepted in. I am daring for the time I cut off fifteen inches of my hair to show my inner self. I wonder if I am anything like you.

But I am more like my new mom than anyone else.

She is daring for going back to college to pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. She completed her many pages of homework each night while caring for four children. She is intelligent and has completed each year of college passing with an A or higher. She is everything that I have dreamt a mother could be. We go back-to-school shopping at Kohl’s, making sure that I start the year with the latest brands. She browses the store for hours searching for the exact style of jeans that I want, never stopping to complain about how long it is taking. When I am sick, we go to Chipotle to catch up on the gossip. I always order the burrito with rice, which instantly makes me feel better.  She makes sure my homework is completed and ready to turn in the next day. If it isn’t, we sit down together to make sure I have a full comprehension of the assignment. Sometimes she will sit down with me, on my bed, to talk about the important lessons of life. She doesn’t care that I am not “her own.”  She loves me as much as any mother would love her child.  That’s more than you ever did.

I guess I will never understand the reason why you left. But I am okay with that. Now that you are gone, I finally know what it looks and feels like to be a part of a family. My new mother takes your place as if you had never been there at all.

 

Something Like Larry

By Emilea Huff

In the morning, I see him. His hands are on the wheel, his voice greeting me as I step into the shuttle. He wishes me a good morning with a smile so endearing I feel like I’ve known him in a past life. There are wrinkles around his mouth, not from stress, but from smiling his whole life— just enough to leave a mark for every passerby to notice. I don’t know anything about this figure with the red baseball cap and the stubble that frames his aged face. I imagine his name is something like Larry, or Wayne, or George.

He could have a daughter— ten years old with pigtails and pressed-daffodil freckles. He could have a wife who spends her time drinking white wine and pasting photos of aunts and uncles and cousins into scrapbooks. Maybe his favorite food is lasagna, with the tiny leaves of oregano sprinkled on top. I have not known him long, but I imagine his younger brother has a wife and child, too. Some happy family that I’ve constructed in my head, all before I’ve even taken my seat.

Maybe he has a ranch-style house with blue shutters, like my own house used to be. The Larry in my head has a pug— not for him, but for his daughter who loves them so very much. He has a laugh that sounds like an engine starting, I imagine, something that makes his wife’s heart thump. He drives a bus because he loves the thrill of being on the open road, but now his brother makes fun of him because he’s going the same route every day. It may be the same route, he says, but at least I don’t work in a cubicle. Now his brother is laughing harder.

I wish I could say know him. I don’t know if he has a child or a wife or a younger brother that works in a cubicle. He is all a mystery to me, even his name. Whoever he is— whether he is Larry or not, I hope the life he lives is something he deserves. Nevertheless, I am determined to make him laugh. Just to see if he really does sound like an engine.

 

Reflections V.1

By Derek Frazier 

Growing up and recognizing that my high school experience is over because I am a senior, creates a looking-in-the-mirror kind of mindset in me. It makes me pause, and look back on the wisdom I have developed over the last four years, and what affected me the most. For me, it was learning the difference between a defeat and a failure.

I have a very disciplined work ethic, and that has bled into my personality as I have matured. If I am given a challenge, I will move heaven and Earth to accomplish that goal. I don’t feel satisfied until I have given it my one hundred percent, even if it costs me mealtime or sleep.

As I’ve grown, however, my self-doubt has almost manifested into a voice, one that I associate with Satan himself. When I did something that I knew I could do, such as brave my fear of heights on a zip line, or make a medical decision at work when a little kid is injured, the voice whispers “you can’t do this,” or “why are you even trying?”

I will not say I’m embarrassed that sometimes I gave into the voice, but I am ashamed of the effects. As someone who still strives to work hard, I melted down when I performed a job poorly. My anxieties would go into overdrive, and start to hammer a massive amount of stress into me. I would start to hyperventilate, pace back and forth, and talk faster than I already do. The voice would start to repeat, “failure, failure, failure.”

Even now, my brain is prone to overthinking. So when the voice got louder I started wondering, “What else can’t I do, what else have I failed to do?” When often I hadn’t failed or done anything wrong. Unfortunately, I am still plagued with the symptoms of overthinking, just not to the same degree.

Meditations on who I am as a person helped me quiet that voice, as did yoga and spending time reflecting in nature. There is something very intimate and enlightening about dissecting the things that make you who you are. It’s like standing naked in front of a mirror and recounting the stories of how you got all your scars. I’m not saying go into the park and everything will get sorted out, I’m saying it helps to close your eyes and teach yourself acceptance.

To me, failure isn’t a bad thing anymore, its an opportunity to improve, to accept that you didn’t do it right. It’s not an ugly “F” written in sharpie, it’s the universe’s way of giving you permission to try again. It’s okay to cry and admit that whatever it is you’re facing in life might just be a little too much for you. Just don’t give up on yourself.

That is defeat, that is letting something beat you. The red pill versus the blue. It’s the mental decision to give up and let that voice feed off you.

When I was younger I studied martial arts, and I had a very serious Sensei. He would always tell us that we weren’t trying hard enough when we were putting our everything into the forms and repetition of movement. Looking back, I see the point he was trying to convey about a lack of mental discipline. Karate was more than repeating a kick or a punch, you needed to look past him and prove that you could do it.

But it hurt nonetheless. And after deciding enough was enough, I gave up on karate, convinced that all dojos and martial arts were like that. And now I regret that decision very much. I have trained in other styles of martial arts, and self-defense since, but I regret not proving myself to my Sensei. I wholeheartedly believe that decision is where my voice of self-doubt started. If I had stayed and practiced Karate under a different tutor perhaps things would have been different. That was my first defeat.

I still have anxieties about whether or not I can do something, crippling as they were prior to my self-reflections but not as often as before. I learned to close my eyes, take a breath and clear my mind so I could enjoy a few moments in peace. If I had given into the self-doubting voice. I would never have been a writer. I would never have gained the self assurity that I will become a paleontologist, or dissipated my fears of being a terrible father one day.

This isn’t a statement of triumph, or a claim that I’m better than anyone, this is a reflection on the greatest chapter in the reflection of my life to date, and a hope that it inspires others to do the same.

 

A Eulogy for Nonfiction

By Heaven Angleberger, Autumn Thrift, and Alison Clingan

Thank you, everyone- classmates and genres alike- for being here today to honor this very unexpected demise. Although we were not exactly what you would call the friendly type, Nonfiction was a very important part of not only our’s but other’s lives as well. Especially yours, Creative Nonfiction. We know that your beloved fraternal twin meant a lot to you.

The first time we met Nonfiction was in our first grade class. Mr. Genre made us take hold of its hand. Although it was abnormally sweaty and disgusting, we held on tight. Throughout the years we learned to become one with Nonfiction. We learned to see Nonfiction for its true self; a know-it-all and not as a bother that always got in the way

We remember Nonfiction was always so strict, proper, and factual. We consistently found it horribly boring, yet they enticed me with their aspirations to entertain and inform, even if they could really only do one of the two. As president of their shelf, they upheld somewhat of a nerdy reputation.

We don’t exactly have much to tell you about Nonfiction other than the fact that it was extremely useful to us. It taught us the ways of DIY and astronomy over the years and we are incredibly thankful for that. Not only did Nonfiction teach us multiple things, but it inspired us to become the type of person that we are today.

We always had this dull fascination with Nonfiction. It was always dragging on about things that we seemed to think didn’t matter. It constantly was spouting fact after fact. Nonfiction and his followers on the shelf went by a motto that we feel the need to share with everyone; “Speak the truth and nothing but the truth.” They wouldn’t even tell a little white lie. So if you looked bad in those pants, you could count on them to tell you.

Even though Nonfiction wasn’t our favorite genre, all the other genres looked up to Nonfiction as a mentor. How they could stand it, we have no idea. Although Nonfiction, also known as “motormouth” was a pain at times we all were reassured by Nonfiction’s presence.

Nonfiction, we wish you the best in the afterlife. Rest in Peace, wherever you may be. Thank you to all who came, I’m sure Nonfiction is there looking down on us, thanking us for today and wishing us well on our next history test.

 

I Cannot Explain the Things I Fall in Love With

After A. Papatya Bucak’s “I Cannot Explain My Fear”

By Maddie Lynn

I am in love with everything I see. Dancing daffodils, daisies, dandelions that we make wishes on under the summer sun. Fireflies, mason jars, sidewalks that have been turned rainbow by gritty chalk and tiny fingers. Words, books, the way alliteration sounds as it slips out of parted lips.

I am in love with everything I see. Folded shirts, bright new shoes, packed suitcases sitting by open front doors, waiting to go on adventures. Open bags, cute mugs, travel-sized shampoo bottles from every hotel room. I am in love with the bright colors of horizons, and recyclable water tins, and big dinners with a mix-and-match family that was always too large to fit at the dinner table. Empty bottles of lotion, smooth skin, a hand to hold as we walk together, toes in the sand.

I am in love with everything I see. Soft features, marble eyes, a smile that only shows once in awhile, when ocean lines and late night chatter make him giggle. Oversized t-shirts, strong cologne, calluses on long slender fingers. Ripped jeans, dimples, freckles dusting his nose, when the sunlight hits it just right, to make a constellation. Stars, galaxies, the possibility of worlds colliding in outer space. Illumination, the way that vowels drag on, a simple metaphor. A writer’s heart learns to love these things over and over and over again.

The way clothing falls over coat hangers, and sweaters drape over cold shoulders.

How riding a bike is something you’ll never forget, and how my sister had to teach me because my father wasn’t there.

How sunlight feels on bare skin, and the way fireflies sound
tapping inside mason jars.

The way that teardrops are the perfect shape, and how mascara runs in perfect lines.

Big bellies and big hearts.

I am in love with everything I see. The color black, simplicity, the crinkling sound plastic makes. Keys on a keyboard, smooth pens, the way that nothing rhymes with purple or orange so they stand alone together. Sunglasses, melted chocolate, fresh fruit. Roses. Raindrops. Rhythm.

I am in love with the lack of religion. The lack of a string pulling us all together. The lack of control, rigidity, stiffness.

I am in love with freedom. Dancing. Movement. The way that water flows from river to river, stream to steam.

I am in love with the way we all flow together. People with a similar belief. I am in love with the way we fight together, fall together.

I am in love with democracy.

My love is every single inch of me. Every makeshift corner, under every layer of skin. I cannot explain my love, because I can not explain myself in my entirety.

I am love with being in love.

It Started With a Book

By Sara Malott

A new assistant pastor was hired at our church. He’s a small, older man with glasses and a bald head. He has a dry sense of humor, but he’s very friendly. He’s all dad jokes and pats on the shoulder. Typically, I don’t connect well with older adults. I have a handful of experiences when I have been caught in an awkward situation with an older person and they never end well. Usually I am just stuck staring at the ground, observing my shoes, and coming up with my best excuse to leave. I have a feeling this is why most adults write teens off as antisocial when in reality it is just a struggle to find common ground.

I assumed that the new pastor and I would have next to nothing to talk about, so I’d try to avoid standing near him for long periods of time. This was a tedious task considering our little church. I’d smile, wave and give an occasional hello, but the minute I thought he was trying to speak to me I’d dart off. Maybe teenagers are antisocial.

Last sunday, he had me cornered. He told a few others in the church that he was looking for me and he had something to give me after sunday school. The moment I got down the stairs he caught me.

To my surprise, he handed me a book. He patted me on the shoulder and smiled.

“I was cleaning out my library,” he said, “and I wanted you to have this.” The book was Why I Write by George Orwell. This man that I had never spoken to before had taken the time to learn my name and the fact that I was a writer. I was flattered, but I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I took the book back to my seat and thought about his act of kindness.

A few moments later I saw him stand before the pulpit. Coincidentally, he was preaching. I rested my head on the pew in front of me and closed my eyes. I wanted to take in everything he was saying. His sermon was about who we will become. He was talking about the people who get confirmed in the church and then never come back. He spoke about people who radiate goodness everywhere they go. He told a story about his old sunday school teacher and how, at ninety-two, the only thing left that she could do was pray.

I’m glad the world still has people who pray for the rest of us. Heaven only knows how badly this world is in need of prayer. But I’m also glad for people like this pastor who still hang around. We are so selfish in thinking only about what we need to do for ourselves. I’m not sure I believe in people who only radiate goodness; we all have our baggage. But I do believe that goodness is still here.

Do something nice for someone this week, but don’t tell anyone about it. Write a note to your best friend. Give someone a hug. Make a batch of cookies for your mom. Visit a nursing home. Take your little brother to the park. Help your dad move boxes in the garage. Your act of kindness will never go to waste. We are all on the same journey. It’s easier if we can manage to make each smile along the way.

Paleontologist

By Derek Frazier

My mother is the reason I want to be a paleontologist. I was raised in a very warm and comforting middle class home. No matter what my sisters and I wanted to do as an occupation we were never told “no.” We were always encouraged to follow our dreams and to focus on what made us happy. My mother has always claimed that paleontology is the only career she sees me doing. “You’re going to go and dig in China,” she told me once jokingly. “You’re going to play in the dirt and I’m never going to see you again.”

Beyond this, my whole life I have been surrounded by the Jurassic world. I grew up watching The Land Before Time, Dinosaur Train, and Walking with Dinosaurs. My favorite book besides The Hobbit was Dinotopia. To this day I have a giant plastic tub of dinosaurs in my basement and stuffed dinosaurs in my closet that I will never give away. I have cookie cutters shaped like a t-rex, stegosaurus, and triceratops for when I’m baking.

I don’t really know why I love paleontology. I just do. For as long as I can remember my childhood dream has been to go to college and study until I graduate with a doctorate degree. It’s all I’ve ever wanted and no one has told me no so my plan is to keep dreaming.

It’s somewhat ironic that my lifelong dream and goal involves heat and math. I’m not a very mathematically inclined individual, personally I believe that the Romans conquered the Greeks as payback for creating algebra. And my ideal temperature is mid sixties with a cool breeze. Yet there I will be six or seven years down the line in a 100 degree desert using calculus to plan an excavation zone to dig up thirty foot long reptiles while still being  paralyzed by my fear of snakes.

Fate has a sense of humor.

Also it’s a little mind boggling. I am a junior in high school, and in a few weeks I will be a senior, and then after that I will graduate and move onto college. I remember sitting in my elementary school classroom thinking “Man, I have to wait eight years for college?” And now, having only one year left to go is truly a surreal realization. I am so close to achieving my dream. It is the greatest tease, to be close enough to start planning colleges and initiating that part of my life, but remaining far enough out of reach that it is still an ambition.

Ambitious is definitely a word I would use to describe myself. I don’t want to be a celebrity I simply want to be recognized for my discoveries and for my assistance in making the Earth’s past all the more clear.

I have never met anyone who has told me that my dream to become a doctor or professor of paleontology is unreachable. I know that it will be challenging and that it will be a long road, but that’s what I signed up for the moment I held my first t-rex toy. I will allow nothing to stand in my way. I will stand among the mighty heroes of my childhood and smile because I was meant to be there.

Je suis prest, I am ready.

Dear My Itty-Bitty Self

 By Derek Frazier

Dear itty-bitty me,

Relax. Discover. Dream. And don’t doubt yourself.

Relax. Math will always be something that challenges and frustrates you, but it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle. Your anxieties will never go away. You will experience true and earth shaking anxieties. Anxieties about fitting in, and not making friends, whether or not you’ll ever fall in love. You’ll fit in just fine, you’ll apply to an art school where being goofy, tea addicted, and book obsessed is almost a requirement. You’ll make friends, lots of them. Friends who will always have your back and who you will always be there when you’re angry, sad, or lost in the world. You’ll never stop being a big softy, kind and polite, and there is nothing wrong with that. You’ll fall in love too, a lot. But that’s okay, because you’ll learn that to become the person writing this letter you’ll need to understand what it means to truly love someone more than life itself. And how much it hurts when you lose them.

Discover. Branch out. Pull yourself out of the fantasy-obsessed trench you’ll dig yourself in sixth grade. You’ll learn that you are a pretty good poet, that creative nonfiction isn’t as bad as you thought because you love journaling. You’ll learn things like how to find the volume of a cylinder, that weight is actually the amount of force gravity has on an object, and that your second favorite color is grey. You’ll learn about other religions, realize you want to be a confirmed Christian, you’ll learn that even though you’re terrified of being an adult you love the idea of being a father.

Dream. Dream big. Dream about owning your own brewery. Daydream about how good the way “Professor Frazier” sounds. Make being a paleontologist a life long ambition. Buy every fossil you can find and spend days covered in dirt. Imagine smiles on your future children’s faces when you read them The Hobbit as a bedtime story. These dreams will allow you to do incredible things, to keep going. You’ll get into an art school and study to become a writer , you’ll climb a waterfall, and you will spend sleepless nights writing poetry.

Speaking of which, don’t doubt yourself. You are stronger than you know, both physically and emotionally. You can do this. Sure, going to school for almost a quarter of your life sounds intimidating but don’t spend your time worrying about that. Think of the family you’ll create, the friends you’ll make and all the things you’ll accomplish. Don’t doubt your abilities, and don’t worry about what tomorrow brings. Because as Mom will one day tell you, “you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.”

Wishing you all the assurance in the world,
the much, much taller you

Drowning

By Claire Dever

When I was eleven, I had my first panic attack. I was on a mountain, hiking, when a daddy-long-leg crawled across my foot. My chest immediately closed up, as did my throat. I started to cry and it took everything in me to keep walking forward. My body kicked up the fight-or-flight instinct, screaming at me to run, run, run, but my body wouldn’t move forward. I now know I have a phobia of arachnids, but at the time, I thought that this was a normal occurrence. I thought that everyone had episodes like this, times when they couldn’t breathe or move.

A year later, I had another one in June. It was sudden and intense, but I didn’t think of it as odd. I had one more a month later, then another, then another. I couldn’t walk through the crowded halls of school without feeling the same panic. At this time, I had started worrying about everything. I was analyzing everything I said and didn’t say, I thought about worst-case scenarios until I convinced myself that they were real.

I finally told my parents, and they spent months trying to convince me to go to a doctor. I was firm on “no”. Finally, on Easter Sunday, they sat me down and said that I had to go.

When I was four, I was caught in a riptide with my father. I don’t remember much, just the sound of the rushing, black water, the taste of salt on the back of my throat and the feeling of being completely and utterly out of control.

When I got my diagnosis, I felt like I was back in the ocean. I was drowning, out of control. I was being tossed and turned in the waters of my own mind and the words of the doctor.

Two years later, and I’m still struggling with feeling like I’m drowning. Except now, my head is above water more than it is under.