Category Archives: Non-Fiction

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.

He Proved I Wasn’t Bulletproof

By Sean Callahan

If I were able to say two words to him before I moved to Virginia, it would’ve been “thank you.” Not because he submitted to listening to my insane Transformer theories, dreams, and stuttering. Not because he played video games with me until eleven at night, and participated in plastic lightsaber duels with me on weekends. And it wasn’t because he was the only nerd who understood me for who I was. I’m thankful for all of those things, but they don’t compare to the truth.

I’m thankful for Joshua’s choice to break off our friendship. I’m thankful for the end of his visits, the declined PlayStation friend request on my TV screen. I’m most thankful for the day in sixth grade when he shattered my heart into glistening shards of frosty glass with his venomous parting words. Because it was the day I realized I had a heart all along.

I didn’t have one before that day. While we found joy in our video game nerd-outs and Lego wars, I didn’t know how much I’d been hurting him. His other friends slipped into the picture frame of our friendship, and I didn’t like it. For me, our picture frame could only hold only me and him, and no one else. I didn’t like how they’d tease me when I pronounced a word wrong, how they’d ridicule me for being too oblivious in a game of hide and seek. Joshua would join them, and I’d start crying. In the days that followed, Joshua would have silent talks with his father behind closed doors. Sometimes I heard him cry.

I wouldn’t find out until years later why Joshua had these talks with his father. He didn’t know how to react to my breakdowns properly without hurting my feelings, so he’d been consulting his father for advice. So he kept these feelings built up inside, until the day he decided to cut me out of the picture frame.

I’d been playing video games. My eyes were fixated on the TV screen, watching the PlayStation 3 brighten to life. I went to my friend list. Josh was not on it. I thought it was a small mistake, and restarted my PS3. The list loaded again, and my chest began to tighten. Josh still wasn’t on it.

After seeing my attempt at a friend request had been deleted, that’s when I wrote, “why did you delete me?” I wanted to be sure it actually happened. After all… Josh wouldn’t have dropped me without telling me why… right?

“We’re not friends,” was the message that proved me wrong the following morning. I tightened my grip on the controller and shivered where I sat. Already my fingers were slippery on the buttons as I responded. My anger increased as I got more and more negative responses. “Have you thought about the way you’ve treated me? Ever?” He finally messaged. I stopped messaging, turned off my PS3, and began to cry.

I then knew why he’d said what he said. Why he’d managed to penetrate my bulletproof ego with just a few digitized words on a TV screen. The times I cried when he or his friends would tease me, the times when I would break Joshua’s toys as a younger child when I got angry. The times I would embarrass him in front of his friends when I break down crying from the littlest joke. The time when he got me a book for my birthday, using the little amount of money his family had. And my ungrateful, venomous reply. “Uh… a book?”

My arrogant ego blinded by my lack of emotion was not compatible with Joshua. It only caused me to fade out of the picture frame even more, away from Joshua’s friendship, until I couldn’t see him any longer. Until he couldn’t see me as anything but an irritating little dot in the distance.

I wish I could tell him that he helped me learn from my mistakes. I wish I could show him that I hold no grudge against him anymore. I wish I could tell him: Thank you.

The Street Conquistador

By Sean Callahan

It’s September of 2015, and my cousin is determined to show me how to ride a longboard properly. I want to do it, but I can’t get my legs to come to an agreement with my body on how to balance before they send me falling to the pavement. I preferred staying on my bike, where I had the most control, and was least likely to become the next traffic collision. I’ve been practicing as much as I can lately. I’m trying to keep my balance on the longboard, but the little bruises on my elbows and knees reflect my repeated failures.

I fall again, and again, and again. But each failure let me see what I was doing wrong. As my mistakes go away, I’m finally able to get down our street without falling. My cousin decides I’m good enough for going down a hill. My nerves are tensing as we approach the dip of the hill. My brain is tingling with paranoia and my eyes are darting around in all directions. I can see straight down the path around the storm drain, the lines of pine trees, but I’m still worrying about running into an unsuspecting car. I grit my teeth together, hesitating, but forcing myself to trust my cousin. She’d gone down this hill plenty of times without accidents on her own longboard.

Sure enough, the ride isn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be. With the help of my cousin, we keep an eye out for cars, and I slowly glide down the hill. When I know no cars are coming, I close my eyes and feel the Fall wind embrace every inch of my face. It overwhelms the sun’s heat, making me forget that it was eighty degrees outside. The wind invades the inside of my T-shirt. As I slow to a stop at the intersection of streets, I sigh happily.

We do more streets, more hills around our neighborhood. Then, we came to a long hill leading straight down to a street on the right. In front of me, waiting at the bottom is the curb of the sidewalk and an enormous bush. Instead of making the turn my defective longboard decides to let me bounce off the sidewalk and hug the bush. My cousin laughs. I scowl, brush off the dirt and twigs, and go back up to do the hill again. Two more tries and I make the sharp turn. I feel childish, as if I am claiming every street as my own territory. I do the same thing with many other hills and streets, and I boast about it to myself. You can finally longboard without becoming roadkill! You can glide down hills and not die, yay!

When the sun is setting in the horizon, my cousin says she has one last hill she wants to show me. We stop in the middle of the intersection leading to my street, and I don’t see a street I don’t recognize.

“Here,” my cousin says, pointing up towards the line of houses.

But I know she’s not pointing at the houses. She’s pointing up a really steep driveway, leading to someone’s house. I cringe, and angle my neck up at the top of the driveway. I start to walk up the hill and my legs are only gaining inches as I reach the top, showing me how steep it really is.

“You’re not serious,” I say to my cousin.

She places her longboard down on the top of the hill. She demonstrates her going down, and I clench my teeth at how quickly she speeds into the grass of a neighbor’s backyard. She comes back to me. “It’s easy. See?”

I put down my board. My heart is beating faster. I’m certain I’m going to wipe out. I’m going to break my head, I’m going to do a complete backflip and splatter my brains all over the pavement.

“Just do it, it’ll be okay,” She says again.

“I’m not doing this,” I say, shaking my head.

After several frustrated attempts of trying to get me to do it, my outraged cousin takes back her longboard, and storms home. That night, I went to sleep upset, wishing I’d rode down that hill.

The next day, after school, I’m feeling the intense need to redeem myself. I go back to the hill alone. I pray and place my longboard down. I put my feet on both sides evenly, take a deep breath, and edge my way to the hills’ dip.

In seconds, I’ve landed successfully in the grass with both head and brains intact. And I laugh, thinking about how stupid I was to believe I couldn’t learn how to ride a longboard.

To the Boy Who Didn’t Love Me Back

By Taylor Bassler

What happened to spending every weekend together? All of the dates we had planned: Ice skating because our best friends both work at the skating rink, a trip to Build-a-Bear and making each other stuffed animals, driving to a flower field and taking pictures because I could never have enough pictures of you or us. What happened to all of the movies we were going to see?

I don’t know why you actually left. I don’t understand how all of a sudden you went from saying “I love you too,” to “love you too,” to “love you.” Each time, more letters got left out. You think we rushed things, but you were the first to say it. When you told me you knew the way you felt was different, and you didn’t think we rushed things, I believed you. You didn’t care what other people thought, and neither did I.

While we were watching a movie, you told me about past girls, you said none of them had a future with you. You said we had a future, so we planned it. Lots of dogs, a hairless cat, a hedgehog, a monkey, daisies in vases above the fireplace because they’re my favorite. Lots of pictures of us together, all over the walls and counter spaces, showing all the things we did and how much we loved each other. We planned all of the little things we would do when we had a place all to ourselves. Slow dancing in our pajamas in the middle of the night with no music. Me teaching you how to play bass or guitar. You teaching me how to play video games. It was everything I could have ever wanted, and more.

You told me I made you feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Your mom told you that she could tell you were actually happy, and she would know, she’s a psychiatrist, but you like to call her a “feelings doctor.” You told me when I met your grandparents, they remembered my name and who I was even though they’re both forgetful. We both had what we called “tunnel vision,” you told me I was the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen. So how is any of that supposed to tell me that you weren’t actually happy?

If you weren’t as happy as you told me you were, what else wasn’t true?

You told me you didn’t want to keep leading me on, that lying would only make it worse, saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I can’t believe you actually used that goddamned line on me. I didn’t think you were that type of person.

I may look like a bitch, with a nose piercing, dyed hair, and all of my black outfits and red lipstick, but I’m not. I still want you back. I still have all the notes, pictures, screenshots of texts, presents, your sweatshirt. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.

But through all of this, I’ve discovered that I don’t need you as much as I thought I did. I’m not over you, but I’m getting there. Losing you made me realize that I don’t need a boy to make me feel beautiful.

So thank you, for helping me see how beautiful I was with you, and how I am even more beautiful without you.

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Biohazards and Blurry Visions or Where I Thought Home Was

By Amanda Udy

Trigger Warning

For the first thirteen years of my life my place was with my mother. It didn’t matter where we actually were because I always knew home was wherever Mom was. Wherever my siblings were. Where there was an argument at least once a week. Where there was dog hair on everything. Where you could always count on dishes in the sink or hot water lasting for all of fifteen minutes. Where having friends over meant spending the whole time trying to see how grossed out they were. Worrying and wondering if they still wanted to be your friend. Despite all that, it was my best shot at home. I had my mom, my siblings, my dogs. It felt normal. We had enough money to get by, insurance wouldn’t cover braces so those had to wait. Other than that we had most things we needed and lots we wanted.

And then Alex moved out, he was only 18. He realized he was living in a house, not a home. The once-a-week fights were no longer his responsibility. Fast forward two years. Now looking into the house we have two kids, both kids are embarrassed, both kids get caught up in anxiety and stress. One decides to act on this. They can’t take it any more. In the middle of the night, when all of their loved ones are asleep, they attempt to leave this world, forever altering their family’s home.

Before that day I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Sure, there was a lot wrong, but it was still home. Now every time I walk into that house it’s a physical reminder of how bad everything got. Those stairs are the ones the EMTs forced their way up. That doorway is the one they threw clothes out of the way to get to a blood and puke-soaked teen. That bathroom is the one I locked myself in with my dogs to make sure they didn’t get in the way. That room is the one my mother held her dying child in, begging for them to wake up and breathe.

Some people say when traumatic experiences happen that they’ll get flashbacks, but instead of being forced back into that morning, I get a smell. The smell coming from blood, puke, and tears can only be described as death. It didn’t smell like a rotting corpse or anything like that but it was fresh and the air was thick with it. It’s how I knew it wasn’t a dream. How I know that it will never be just a dream no matter how much I wish it was. It doesn’t matter how elaborate my dreams are, they never have smells in them. But God was there a smell. The biohazard team has been through, destroying any and all evidence of that morning, of that smell. Still it haunts me, stinking up my once home.     

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Thoughts of that house as my home no longer occur. I’ve moved out into a new home. into a new family. I don’t think my dad will ever be able to understand how grateful I am that he came to the rescue. I don’t think my mother will ever be able to understand that it’s not her fault– I just can’t help but associate her with everything that went wrong. That’s the problem with having someone be your home. One thing can change, a slight shift in thought processes, a single night left alone with depression and anxiety, and boom.

Things will never be the same.


If you or anyone you know needs help, please visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255

 

Camp of Frozen Fun

By Sean Callahan

Be prepared, the Boy Scout motto said. I took this advice for granted when I entered the Boy Scouts of America a few years ago. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard about this legendary ‘Winter Camp.’

When I arrived to unpack the car, my hands were solid bricks of ice, despite my wool gloves covering them. Both my hoodie and winter parka were barely keeping my torso and back warm, while my face tightened from the chilly wind drafts. My feet felt so stiff that I couldn’t tell if they were actually cold by the time we’d finished setting up our tents (I casually wondered whether I had hypothermia at this point). When we’d finished setting up, it dawned on me: I would be snoozing inside a sleeping bag, on the frozen ground, in negative 5 degree weather.

Come next morning, with only five hours of horrible sleep, I’m on clean up duty for breakfast. The boiling water I’d just poured into our dish-washing basin is frozen within five minutes, and my bare fingers have turned blue as I desperately attempt to scrub the (half-frozen) dishes clean with a sponge. I’ve lost my patience after the third pot, and my fingers are pale enough to give the term ‘vampire’ a new meaning.

Although the cold and the cleanup had been atrocious, things began to improve with the company of friends. We spent the rest of the day there doing what teenage guys do best: Screwing around, snow-tubing (and falling) down steep, snowy hills, and drowning in cups of hot chocolate while sitting by the fire. After it was getting close to bedtime, four friends and I thought it would be a brilliant idea to slide down the longest hill in a snow tube together. The tube tipped over, knocking us off right as we reached the bottom of the hill. We laughed for a bit, then began throwing snowballs at each other all the way back to our campsite.

This B.S.A Winter Camp is a frigid wasteland at first glance, but I came to realize that it was more than that. It was a beautiful winter wonderland, full of fun opportunities waiting to be unleashed.

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