Before we move on to Anna’s latest compilation I’d feel remiss if I didn’t describe the circumstances.
Last weekend here in Columbus, Ohio there was a writing competition called “Power of the Pen” and she along with some her classmates decided to enter. All in all about 120 kids in her age group from around the city submitted entries. The rules were such that no kid had any idea of what kind of story they were going to write. They were given a topic and forty five minutes to complete their tales. The competition lasted three rounds and each story was graded on a scale of one to four with one being the best. They also threw in a poetry writing contest in which they had a half hour to come up something resembling a poem.
All in all she finished with three ones and a two. That was good enough to nab fourth place amongst her age group and she gets move on to the district finals in a couple of weeks. What follows is her words, ideas and expressions. To help the reader along, I’ve decided to include the topic they were given.
The first topic was called “What happened to make you never want to do something again?”
At first I bent the law a little and got away with it. After that, it didn’t take long before I broke it and snapped it right in half. See, right now, I’m sitting beside my best friend who had almost died because I did something stupid.
I never even liked the taste of beer. It’s bitter and burns a little bit as it goes down my throat. I don’t even know why I drank that night. Maybe it was because all my friends were doing it and I didn’t want to feel left out. Maybe it was because my math teacher, Mr. Hoffman, had given me a “D” on my latest assignment.
But since there was a party at Johnny’s house and everybody was going I decided to follow. They told me that having a few beers would make me feel better about things. Johnny was one of the “cool kids” at school so I pretended to enjoy the alcohol.
After I had a couple, we decided to get revenge on Mr. Hoffman by going over to his house and toilet paper it. Some part of my brain kept telling me that it wasn’t a good idea and told me not to go. Still, I found myself in the drivers seat of the car and before we had even gone a mile or so we were turned upside down in a ditch.
And now, hours later, here I am in the hospital, sitting next to Johnny’s bed and he’s barely alive. I couldn’t feel more guilt, more utter disgust that I had for myself and what I had done. I was a monster and no matter how much I regretted what I had done, I couldn’t stop the pain.
The hospital door opened and in walked Johnny’s parents. They had always liked me before and when they heard that I was the one who had been driving they couldn’t believe it.
”But he’s such a sweet boy!” they said.
Seeing them now made me hate myself even more. I didn’t think that was possible but in looking at Johnny’s mom with her eyes red from tears made it even worse. I wanted to crawl inside a hole and die.
”Ross”, Johnny’s mom said to me.
I couldn’t look at her, I just stared at the ground and nodded. She then moved closer to her unconscious son and stroked his hair and began to cry even louder.
I thought to myself that “I shouldn’t be here” and was getting up to leave when I felt on hand on my shoulder. It was Johnny’s dad.
”Sit down, we have to talk” he said with deep voice that sounded surprisingly understanding instead of filled with contempt.
”I’m so sorry” I began but he cut me off before I could get any more words out.
Look, I know you’re a good kid Ross. You were just being stupid.”
When he a said that I made myself look into his eyes. They were Johnny’s eyes.
”I was so stupid, so inexcusably stupid!” I said shaking my head.
”I’ll forgive you under one condition” he said. I was shocked. I hads hurt him and his family so much and now he wanted to forgive me.
”Sir, I don’t deserve forgiveness” I said as the tears began streaming down my cheeks.
”Some people would agree with you. Like I said before, you’re a good kid. You didn’t mean to hurt my son. So I’ll forgive under the condition that you never drink and drive again.”
His voice was firm and as he said those words they sounded like steel.
I made him a promise that day that would keep for the rest of my life.
”Now, you have to forgive yourself” he said.
”Maybe someday” I thought.
That one earned her a “two. The next topic was called “You can’t have one without the other” and here’s her take on it.
For the first couple of weeks I hoped it was a lie, that maybe it didn’t really happen but there’s no faking a funeral. Emily’s body was dead. I had seen it, even touched her cheek when no one was looking but it had been as cold as ice.
It was strange going to your identical twins funeral. In a way, it kind of feels like your own. Your own image stares back at you, silent and peaceful but definitely dead.
I would miss everything that Emily did. From the way she could make me laugh when I hated the world to when people mistook us for each other. It was like looking at my other half laying there in the casket.
After it was over, I found myself hating everything. I wandered the streets with hate for myself, my parents and everything I saw. But I could never hate Emily even though she was gone. She was like my safety net.
I wandered the streets not even knowing where I was going. When I got sick of one place I just turned the corner and kept moving. After what seemed like hours wandering around in a daze my feet began to hurt and I noticed that they had somehow carried me to within a block of Emily’s gravesite.
I didn’t mean to there but something in my sub-conscious musty have pulled me towards her. Then I realized that I was somehow meant to go, to see her, to say goodbye with just the two of us.
I reached for the rusty gate. The paint was chipped with age. It had gotten dark sooner than I expected and I now found myself alone in cemetery. Some people would be afraid of being alone in a graveyard but I knew I wasn’t. Emily was here with me.
As I approached the grave itself I started to feel a sinking feeling deep inside me. I realized how stupid I had been for putting this off for so long. The weight of everything was crushing in on me and I felt I would suffocate from the pain.
Her headstone was slightly gray with a strand of roses engraved around her name.
Beloved Daughter of Bill and Jean Cathaway
Loving sister of Megan
I read it over and over again. Without really thinking about what I was doing I sprawled out next to where her body lay and gazed up at the stars. It reminded me of when we used to do that together except now we were separated by six feet of earth.
I felt hot tears begin to cascade down my cheeks.
”Why God? WHY?” I screamed into the night.
”Why did you take her from me? Why did you take her to the one place where I wasn’t meant to follow?”
”I need her! I loved her? You can’t take one of us without the other!”
I turned my face from the stars and my body was full of sorrow, I couldn’t take this sort of pain and I felt myself slipping away. Maybe if I closed my eyes and went to sleep I could seem Emily again in my dreams. I would once again see my other half.
I let myself fall into a deep slumber and to dream whatever dream awaits.
That one got her a “one” and a 95 from the judges. For this last one, the main character in the story had to be a “survivor”. Here’s her take on it.
I looked at myself in the mirror trying to find the old me, the old Ashley. I was looking for the Ashley that had been there before, before the doctor had told her about the cancer. Before the pain of chemotherapy and before the humility I felt of losing my hair. She was nowhere to be seen.
Now all that stood before me was an imitation. It wasn’t fooling anyone. My once starry eyes were now blank and lifeless. Underneath them were massive purple and orange bags. I was beginning to look like a skeleton. My bones looked like they were stretching out from under my skin. But the worst part was my hair. It had been my best feature. It was long, almost down to my elbows, and silky. But now it too was gone, replaced by a baldness that made my head smooth but my feelings awkward.
I sighed at myself at I got ready to face the first test of my effort to get back to normal. It was the one moment I had dreaded after first walking out of the hospital. No matter how hard I tried to reassure myself that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, that maybe upon my return to my first day of school, that the cancer never happened and everything would fall into place.
It was a futile effort.
Butterflies danced in my stomach but they were soon replaced by a dragon breathing fire and clawing at me. I didn’t want to go in but I had made a promise to my mother that I would at least give it a try. We take our promises seriously.
After all, she was the one I owed it to. She was the one who had knelt by my bedside pushing away the tears. When I suffered from the after effects of the chemo, she was the one who reassured me. She said I would conquer the cancer and that I would be a survivor and an inspiration for others. I finally started to believe her.
Four months in the hospital. It wasn’t easy but I wasn’t ready to give up. I was thankful for every breath that I could take.
I gathered up my bag for school. My hand trembled as I reached for the door and joined my mom beside the old mini-van. It coughed and sputtered as it sat in the driveway and my mom gave me a smile. She shook her head back and forth and the breeze caught her own hair it reminded of how I now looked.
We climbed into the car and sat in silence for awhile. She glanced over at me and flashed me a worried smile. I returned her one that said the same.
”I can’t believe this is happening!” she said. I could tell the excitement in her voice was forced and muttered something underneath my breath. I sat gazing out the window as the miles drifted by.
”Are you okay honey?” she asked. She reached over and stroked my bald head as if it still held the hair that was once there. I sighed. Why did she have to ask that even when she knew how much my answer might hurt her?
”You know” I said, hoping she would answer her own question. I guess not.
”Mom, you know I don’t want to go to school. You know that I don’t want people to look at me like I’m some kind of FREAK!”
”Oh” she said. “Aren’t you happy you’re a survivor?”
I almost laughed. “Of course I’m happy. I just wish I didn’t have to go through the awkwardness of the going back going back to school stuff.”
I had hoped this would make her feel better.
”Well…” A long pause…”Honey, it’s just that….” pause again.
’Come on, spit it out” I said..
”You should be happy about this. Your friends have been so worried and going back to school is just part of being a survivor. You beat the cancer, now you have to face the rest of the world.”
I could tell that as she was biting her lip she was was wishing that she hadn’t hurt my feelings.
I knew she was right. I knew I should feel happy about this. We pulled into the school and as I was getting out she asked if I needed any help carrying my bags.
Since I was now determined to do this right I said, “No, I’ll be fine”
”Okay, have a good day”
I opened the car door and stepped out, ready for anything the world could throw at me.
That one also get her a one and a grade of 96. Last but not least and in keeping with the borgette tradition, we’ll close with a poem.
I look out my window at night with the curtains down
The wind is blowing so hard it looks like it owns the trees and telephone wires
I envy the people from across the street
With their smiles and their something to say
A voice from downstairs calls out “Hot chocolate!”
And in the moment I forget where I want to be and know where I am,
It’s the place where I’m supposed to be and we’re all going to be all right.
”Do we have any marshmallows?”
At least that one didn't deal with injury, sickness or death. She's actually a fun kid to be around.
That’s it folks. Sorry about the length of this node but I felt it’d be better to cram it all into one rather than separate it out. After all, these were written all in the space of one day so they probably deserve to share the space.