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Jake

By: Corinne Jenkins

I don’t deserve you, 

I don’t deserve the way you look at me, 

Or the way you put me first. 

I don’t deserve how you handle me at my best, 

And especially at my worst. 

I don’t deserve the nights you stay awake for me, 

When you know you’ll have to get up at dawn, 

As you patiently listen to me go on and on. 

I don’t deserve the countless visits, 

Or the thoughtful gifts, 

And the way your family treats me like their own, 

You make me feel as if I’ll never be alone. 

But you always convince me 

That I do deserve all this 

Because you are my home. 

You are the reason I get up in the morning, 

The reason my heart sings, 

Lifting me up in thankful prayer, 

You hold my heart to the world and make me care. 

You’ve treated me so well 

That I assume I don’t deserve you at all 

Even under this beautiful love spell. 

 

But that’s just it, 

Because I do deserve your love,  

And kindness, 

Every bit. 

And you deserve mine, 

I’ve gone through my life 

Thinking just the opposite. 

And I do hope this will last for a long time, 

As I’ve explained through semi-rhyme. 

You’ve shown me what I am worthy of, 

By giving me what I deserve, 

Through love. 

The Sassy Best Friend

The time: 11pm on a crisp fall evening in the late 00s. 

The place: A quirky studio apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. 

The situation: It’s been three days and the bland but beautiful bachelorette whose name is “Jess” or “Hannah” or “Sarah” or something hasn’t heard back from Bradley, a rich hunk she met at the bar last week.   

 “Is it me?” bland girl asks, clutching her pillow while writhing on her couch in desperation.  

 “Well, he was wearing a ring…” She ponders.  

 Suddenly, a hand appears and smacks some sense into the generic woman.  

 “He’s married, dumbass! Now get showered and put on that sparkly red thing in the closet. We’re going out tonight, and both of us are going to get hit on by large men with defined jaw lines and no attachments.” 

 Who does this iron hand and crude tongue belong to?  

 I’ll give you a hint: she’s been played by legends: Zooey Deschanel, Lisa Kudrow, Christina Applegate, and, of course, Judy Greer.  

 She’s usually clad in some sort of ostentatious blouse, and always ready to party. She’s fiercely loyal to fashion and friendship. She has an inappropriate past which produces fitting anecdotes for the precise times when you need advice. You spilled wine on your dress? No problem. This girl’s spilled blood on her dress when she was enlisted in the IDF; she’s a stain-removal pro.  

 The teaser trailers are where she truly shines; her comedic timing and unrivaled wit break apart the whiny protagonist’s ramblings. Yet despite her memorability, she’s always conveniently left off of the promo poster, but, you always remember her.  

 You guessed it: she’s the sassy best friend 

 I know enough about myself to say that I check all of the boxes: I’m quirky, stylish, judgmental, and dang iconic. It doesn’t matter what story I’m in because I’m always the one kicking ass and taking names. Some call it conceit; I call it taking care of business.  

 If you’re ever in need of a sassy best friend, just shout your most pressing issue into the void and I’ll be right there to give you a backhand and a ride to the club.  

The Basement: A Mockumentary Sitcom of Collegiate Proportions 

The scene is utterly innocuous—a normal picture of life on a college campus. The camera tracks smoothly through the dormitory halls, passing students going about their days—some are yawning, sporting bathrobes and rumpled hair, while others rush outside with backpacks and books in tow. The camera enters a room and the motion-sensor lights come on, illuminating the space. The room is painfully average, with its maybe-blue carpet and cinderblock walls, faux-wood paneling and colorful accents interspersed throughout in an attempt at aestheticism. A smiling voice crackles in:

“This is the group study lounge in the basement of Wayland Hall. It’s not much to look at, is it? It could be any such room in any university anywhere in the world. But it’s not just any study lounge. It’s ours.”

In a flash, the empty room is full of teenagers, talking and dancing and studying as raucous rock music blares behind the bold title screen—this is The Basement.

This mockumentary sitcom follows an eclectic group of intrepid college freshmen (and one sophomore—the RA) as they adapt to college in the curious community of Wayland Hall, a dorm offering a specially tailored experience for students in the fine and performing arts. The titular basement becomes the locus of life for this tight-knit group as they rapidly establish dominance over the large basement study lounge, occasionally venturing out to the performance or art studios down the hall, upstairs to individual dorm rooms, or out back onto the patio or railroad tracks. Follow along as these crazy kids share their story, interspersing sitcom-esque action scenes with interview-style asides in which the ensemble cast offers frank commentary on their hijinks.

Picture of five girls with photobooth props and frame.
Photoshoots were par for the course in the arts dorm.

One often hears that all fiction is just creative autobiography—and this story is no different, based on my freshman year experiences in Wayland Hall. When first posed the question “if you had a TV show, what would it be,” my mind flew to a dozen different things—a time-hopping period piece, a travel show, a historical docu-drama—but none seemed quite right. Then I checked my phone, catching sight of a message in the still-active group chat from my freshman dorm, and it hit me—the basement. 

My entire wonderful, wild freshman year was centered around this one room in the basement of my dorm, where my friends and I spent most of our time. We did everything you can imagine in that room—studying, talking, crafting, watching movies on a TV we dragged down from someone’s room, and, for a while, even having sleepovers (though our Hall Director soon put a stop to that). We kept strange hours, often finding each other working or creating at three in the morning on a school night, or sitting in a dark performance studio playing piano into the wee hours of the morning.

Six students sit underneath some trees near a sunflower patch
We didn’t spend all of our time in the basement– sunflower picking was a favorite excursion.

It was not without its downs, of course—freshman year is, for many, about experimentation and pushing limits, after all. Some of us grappled with heartbreak, substance abuse, academic struggles, or mental health problems, but we all pulled through because we had each other. The ups far outweighed the downs as we learned to be independent and encouraged each other to grow as artists. Told through the sleep-deprived eyes of college freshmen, The Basement is a story about life—wild, rocky, beautiful, and full of surprises—and triumph—because everyone gets their happy ending.

Fantasy Meets Reality

Trash television is a way of life. It is now known as the era of reality TV, the time of true entertainment, and (presumed) no scripts. I am a well-known enthusiast of reality television; it is my home away from home, and my ultimate guilty pleasure. If I had to choose one of my beloved shows to star in, it would be a Real Housewives series, hands-down. These shows follow around a group of women who pick fights with one another about their latest Botox scandals and other deeply important topics. The Real Housewives series document women who live in certain states like: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia, and New Jersey. 

 

Real Housewives of wherever they are from, started on the Bravo channel many moons ago. It has grown so popular, that these reality stars are paid to clash with one another over who has the better car, bigger house, and prettier facelift. These women feed off of drama and the money that rolls in while they do it, so I ask you: who wouldn’t want that life?  

 

I imagine I would be a part of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills- a favorite among many audiences. They have the biggest diamonds, the flashiest handbags, and, my god, the shoes are worth more than my tuition at JMU. 

 

As I’ve watched this show for nearly a decade, I’ve imagined my own life as a real housewife, and boy is it fabulous. I have a pool the size of Kentucky in my backyard, a huge closet bursting with clothes, and of course, maids and a chef because I am just too busy to clean a house that size or even cook for myself. I mean, I most likely just had an extremely expensive manicure, and I’m expected to cook? I don’t think so. 

 

Each housewife on the show has their own tagline during the opening sequence, which is basically a 10-to-15-word phrase to describe themselves as human beings. Mine would be: “Caring about what others think is just as exhausting as counting my money.” I think that would sum up my outlook as a housewife nicely. 

 

Can you imagine being paid to live a glamorous life in Beverly Hills? It sounds amazing to me. Imagine the clothes you’d get to wear, and the jewelry! So, all I need to do is become a millionaire, or marry one, or somehow accomplish both of these goals, then move to Beverly Hills and enjoy my time in the spotlight. What could go wrong? 

Thankful

The day my parents dropped me off, I didn’t even let them stay for more than an hour. I rushed them out of Harrisonburg. I walked them down three floors and told them, “This doesn’t have to be a sad moment.” I hugged my mom and dad. They drove four hours back home. I went upstairs and cried alone in this new room that didn’t feel like my room quite yet. I wiped my face and walked across the street and bought a sub and ate by myself in a Jimmy John’s booth. Growing up was a lot harder than I thought.

I was still 17 that day– my 18th birthday would be the first Wednesday of class, but I still had to get through orientation.

I wasn’t sad about being alone until I realized that JMU was not the best fit for me. It took me about one day after moving in until I came to this conclusion– when the girls in my hall were still acting like girls and not women, when I wasn’t a part of the “cool” crowd, when I realized that people stay the same except for their bodies, and, depending on the body, it’s their bodies that allow them to stay the same.

Fit, nubile and playful, my hallmates were impatient to be used as currency by men in jerseys who would stare at them hungrily. I was, too– or at least I wanted to be ready for this. The tour of greek row, vodka in water bottles, hiding from the RA: these things were rites of passage for college women. I guess I never got there because instead of hitting the frat houses, I watched an open mic night with my new friends Cheryl and Tatum on Thursday of orientation week.

I remember seeing something in them that was so much like what I was feeling; they expected something much different from higher education, they wanted to become more of themselves. We didn’t hate the women in our hall– we just didn’t understand them yet, nor they us.

Instead of roaming dark, foreign streets pining for free Keystone and desirous glances we sat on couches and admired people with acoustic guitars who wanted what we wanted, who felt what we felt, this visceral desire for self-completion, self-actualization. After hours of sitting in a circle, singing and ripping grass out of Godwin field as we giggled and put on our own talent show, we sunk into our beds and I remember wondering how long it would be until I didn’t feel lonely anymore.

I don’t remember the first time I spoke to either of them; I guess you don’t often remember the moments you meet people– you just remember the moments when they made an impact on you.

After four endless days of orientation, school began and I sat alone every day to eat lunch, which was something I’d never done before. I would get pizza because it was self-serve and sit quietly in D-hall. The days all melted together and suddenly, I was 18. Oh yeah, it’s my birthday, the first Wednesday of classes. Yet, not much felt different. I was still just going to class, eating alone, missing home. Nothing automatically changed. I guessed this is what adulthood is, eating alone and sleeping alone and sitting in class alone, not saying hello to the people who live in my same building and screwing my earbuds so far into my ears that they wouldn’t come out, not even for sleep.

I climb the stairs lethargically to my bed after a day of long-winded thought in between classes, but I see Tatum and Cheryl, who usher me into Tatum’s room.

They bought me a cake. In the middle was a candle that we didn’t light. I was presented a red paper crown that I wore proudly during my little birthday celebration with Tatum, Cheryl, and two boys we had just met. The cake was chocolate and rich, and of course we had leftovers– it was only a few of us.

When I went to bed that night I felt something different. I still felt lonely, but something was changing– or, I knew it was going to change. The moment I walked into Tatum’s room and looked at the birthday cake, bought by strangers to celebrate my loneliest holiday yet, I began to think things were going to be okay. When we cut the cake and I wore the crown and we stood in a circle and talked about our new classes and new lives, I knew things were, eventually, going to be okay.

I’m thankful for my two sweet friends for giving me that moment.

I Sleep in the Ghost Room

Growing up, I played with toy animals a lot, making them talk and telling different stories through them. But even though I named them all and treated them as if they were living beings, I knew that they were not supposed to move on their own.  

Toys moving on their own was not the only reason I suspected that my house was haunted. I thought that someone had died in it, even though no one ever had and it was a fairly new house. I had several memorable dreams about this and even one instance of sleep paralysis where it felt as though something floated my body all the way downstairs and back up. Despite this and my spooky unfinished basement, the guest bedroom seemed the most haunted.  

I was scared of the guest bedroom even though no one ever told me that it was haunted. It was colder than the rest of the house, had creaky floors, and always felt eerily empty even when someone was staying in it. There was also an old mirror that scared me half to death, even though it should have been cheerful with its wooden-engraved parrot. The mirror could only show your face and neck, and every time I looked into it, I thought that someone would appear behind me if I stared for too long. Still, that room had the best space where I could create different scenes with my animal toys without having to clean up every time.  

On the day of the “incident,” I went into the guest bedroom to practice violin. Not only was it the best play space, but it was also where I was far away enough from my mom to practice in my screechy eardrum-bursting way. On that particular day, I brought one of my teddy bears in with me to keep me company. I sat it on the dresser facing away from me as I played terribly into the mirror.  

Even though I usually avoided the mirror, sometimes turning it away from me, on that day I stared into it as I played song after agonizing song. After a while, I decided to quit playing because I felt so uneasy. I packed up my violin and turned to take it and my teddy bear back in my room with me when I froze. The teddy bear was staring directly at where I had been standing, and I definitely did not move it there.  

I didn’t ignore it, scream, or even run. I simply dropped everything and sped out of the room, casually terrified. To this day, I know that the bear moved to face me and I still cannot find an explanation why. For years to come I would not play in that room alone, although I ignored the creepy feelings when I was with a friend. I did stop caring eventually though, because I moved out of my tiny twin-bed room into that bigger queen-bed room several years later. Now I share a room with the ghost that moved my bear.  

Toseph from Gym Class

Many memories from my childhood, after deep retrospection and reevaluation, turn out to be complete and utter lies. I was a gullible sprout; I believed every story, scary or fantastic, regardless of probability. But sometimes, my naiveté worked both for and against me in mysterious ways, like in sixth grade when a boy from gym class—we’ll call him Toseph– complimented me on my silver Asics.

Toseph didn’t say anything that could have been memorable to anyone but me on that September day in the gymnasium. I was merely minding my own business when the class clown and sixth grade heartthrob Toseph walked up to me and blurted “Hey Shelby, nice Asics.” He immediately darted back to his hairless and giggling 11-year-old friends. I wasn’t particularly into Toseph per se, but he was a popular boy. A popular boy who liked my Asics.

For the entirety of the bus ride home that day, the prepubescent ring of Toseph’s voice droned musically in my mind. Floating around in grey matter was Toseph’s utterance, repeating:

“Hey, Shelby…”
“Nice Asics…” 
“I love your Asics…” 
“I also love… you, Shelby.”
“Will you marry me?”

Yes, TosephI thought. What if… this is just the beginning of something… beautiful? 

Months passed and nothing but indifferent exchanges occurred between Toseph and me, but I made damn sure that I wore those silver Asics every single day. I wore them with all of the hottest trends of 2007: Asics with bell bottom jeans, Asics with ruffle skirts, Asics with those ratty basketball shorts that every middle school girl insisted on wearing with the t-shirt tied up like a rat tail in the back. I wore them in gym class, in English class, and on the way to dance class after school. Toseph wouldn’t have seen them anywhere other than P.E., but I wore them proudly, for they were Toseph™ approved.

The shoes eventually wore out, as nothing gold (or silver) can stay. Paint-splattered and hole-punched, the Asics were on their last leg (or foot). I retired them with much anguish, but took solace in the fact that I could– and would– build upon the fashion empire that I had created. Asics this year– flats the next. Who knows where that silly thing called life was going to take me if even my most daring fashion choices were landing me reverence from the elites?

It couldn’t have been less than six years later that I realized Toseph’s “compliment” was completely ironic. Should I have known? Absolutely. If not by the sardonic tone of his F-Sharp voice, then by the fact that he and his friends were laughing hysterically from the other side of the gym at my flattered and foolish reaction.

Asics were not cool as casual shoes at the time, and would never be cool within any 50 mile radius of Corporate Landing Middle School during the paradoxically short and eternal 3-year span of my time there.

How could I have been so blind? I thought, a 17 year old, still clinging onto the nearly half-life long lie that I made Asics cool in the sixth grade. 

I was a trend-setter, wasn’t I? How could this be? All this time Toseph was… lying to me? 

The Asics were a matte silver with purple stripes on the side. They were skinny and with that classic Asics netting on top of the toe. That year, I was very insecure about my shoes since what I really wanted was a pair of skinny Pumas. When my parents and I scoured the nearest Payless, the Pumas were 90 dollars– and Asics it would be for me that year.

Maybe Toseph gave me something good that year, I began to think.

As much as the current feminist in me dreads to say it, Toseph gave me a little bit of confidence to keep going– whether he intended to or not. And while Toseph did make me believe something quite scary (that Asics are a fashion statement), he made me believe something beautiful as well: that I was a darn cool 11-year-old regardless of my shoes.

And for that, Toseph, I thank you.