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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.

It’s Not a Phase, Mom, It’s a Season

Once the heat slowly fades away and the cold starts nipping at my nose, I know that autumn has begun, despite what the calendar might say. Even when the weather doesn’t come soon enough, September comes and we all break out our jeans and leggings. (Unless you’re the kind of person who ignores all seasons and wears shorts into winter, you do you.)  

With the warm clothing and feeling of the debatably best holiday (Halloween) nearing, dark fall colors come out too. Bright summer colors and florals fade into black and maroon layers and dark lipsticks. Here’s the season to express a darker aesthetic without your parents thinking you’re starting a goth phase in college. 

Faux-goth aesthetics are also perfect for farms and fall festivals, day and night. For me, autumn isn’t complete without the fall festival at Fairfax’s Cox Farms. Pumpkins outnumber the crowds of people, from huge orange beasts to cute tiny ones. In the day, kids run across the colorful leaves and fallen hay, racing to feed the goats and other farm animals. The smell of homemade BBQ and fresh caramel corn wafts around the corn fields, slides, and country bands.  

When the family hay rides and BBQ end, the sun goes down, the bonfires are lit, and the farm becomes its own Halloween paradise. Festive teens and adults fill the now “haunted” trails and corn mazes. Peaceful hayrides now swerve around the fields to avoid sprinting zombies in the dark.  

After letting volunteers scare and stalk people around the farm, each bonfire is surrounded by people taking shelter from the chilly air. The festival also isn’t complete before we fill up on the warm fall-fuel of fresh cider and at least a dozen apple cider donuts. Once we’re warm enough, my friends and I take advantage of the silly photo-opps and dance to Cotton Eye Jo on the lit-up dance floor.  

At the end of the night, my friends drag me out of the peak of my favorite season, but not before I grab as many apple cider donuts, bags of caramel corn, and tiny pumpkins as my arms can hold.  

In N.C.

 Fall only happens in Corolla. It’s when I smell sea salt; it comes to me in gusts of wind and kisses my hair. I go there when I’m cooking, when I smell stuffing and when the leaves turn brown and embrace the ground from where they grew. Sea salt means autumn, which means Ocean Arch in Corolla. 

 It’s a different kind of beach there, one with lighthouses and rowboats, with duck-hunting marshes and humble folks. The sky is grey and bursts with storm– the water putters and smacks and sinks into the sand. Fall is a muddy beach.  

 It’s where my grandma sips dry champagne by the window and deals blue playing cards. It’s where my father pours me watered down Merlot and where my mother brushes strands of hair from my face, hardened with sea salt.  

 I learned to drive on the two lane roads in the pouring rain, squeezing the wheel as I accelerate to 45. Fall is an empty road in Corolla.  

 Corolla has always been the perfect place to run and hide– the seafoam piles up and up until the beach is a cloud and everyone is floating and enveloped in its moisture.  

 It’s where my cousin and I curled up on a couch as children to watch “A Haunting.” Corolla is the place where, in soggy salt and sand, we grew up.  

 I can smell the briny air on bridges and highways– seeing water for the first time in months, breathing in the sun’s tinge as it sets on the bay, the minutes withering away between me and Corolla, everything I know and have ever known waiting for me past the pastel stilted houses and brush.  

 Four years, 240 miles, and no swimsuit. The mountains shrink in the Appalachia when I drive to Corolla. The mountains shrink in the fall.

Fall Feelings

This school year was the first year I felt unprepared to go back to school. I was enjoying the sun beating down on me every day, and the lack of papers I needed to write. I’ve always been someone who was ready to get back into the swing of the semester, but this year, I was dragging my feet to restart. I spent my summer abroad in Ireland, and visiting family and friends. Going back to school seemed like my fun was ending. That being said, being back on campus, and feeling the air around me grow cooler, I await the change of the season excitedly. I can’t wait for the trees to burst with color and for the endless events that seem to emerge during this time, like football games, bonfires, and Halloween.

Some love the blistering heat, and others enjoy watching the snow fall, but my happy medium comes from the beautiful balance between the two extremes. Beginning a new season means the start of a new wardrobe. A wardrobe with layers. The endless options of scarves and boots and long-sleeved shirts are among us. It also means legging-season for many JMU girls, myself included. Comfort is the best way to enjoy this season. Having the temperature drop also means a substantially decreased amount of back sweat after all of the walking students do on campus.

Although the three beautiful months of summer included no homework and a lack of responsibilities, fall is the time to get back together with good friends and enjoy another wonderful year at school. I have so many great times to think back on because of hanging with friends on the JMU campus. There are so many events that take place when school is back in session and it’s a fun way to meet new people and make new friends. The nostalgia wrapped in the season of fall brings back fond memories and makes room for new ones to prosper.

Snowfall will be coming soon on the heels of autumn—white, and beautiful over campus.  As the nights begin to darken quickly, I will snuggle into my bed as the air outside grows crisp; happy with the wonderful medium between too hot and too cold. To watch the incoming freshmen take in what has become my home, and to enjoy this campus alongside them is something I look forward to. This is my last year at this school, and I want to enjoy every changing minute of it.

Technology and Design, Tommy Koehler

A genie grants me three tiny wishes. What are they?

Well, firstly I’d have to ask my genie what they were doing inside my electric kettle, as that’s the closest thing to a magic, golden lamp that I currently have in my college apartment. After hearing their tale of woe about how they were trapped inside my electric kettle by an evil kettle scale-r (see “limescaling” that gross white stuff that collects on the inside of your kettle for no apparent reason even though you washed it) a few years ago, I would then begin to think about my first wish.

Now I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty up-to-date with my cautionary tale reading about magical beings. I know the rules about wish making: that you get punished for exhibiting the seven deadly sins, that you must have exact wording, and that you can’t wish anyone to fall in love with anyone else. So, with that in mind I would introduce my genie to the wonder of modern TV streaming capabilities, aka Netflix bingeing as I pondered my predicament.

The real struggle here is figuring out how good of a human I am. Is my first and only wish to set them free? Obviously my last wish will be to set them free, but is that enough to solidify my status as a Good Person? The point in mythology and literature is for the genie to tempt the character either into darkness or to reveal their internal light, as most fantasy creatures do in their various plot structures. And, it is so tempting.

I could wish for my family never to be sick again, and heal my dad and I, along with preventing anything happening to my mom and sisters in one fell swoop. But what if this means that everyone I ever love outside my family is constantly plagued with sickness and disease?

I could wish to be able to lose weight just by thinking about it, but I am always thinking about making myself thinner. So what if this one day just leads me to disappearing in a puff of flesh colored smoke never to be seen again?

I know better than to wish for money, no matter how much easier that would make my life, so I’m safe on that front. So the real question still is there, laying across the roadmap of my thoughts like guilty road kill: Do I set the genie free with my first or third wish? Do I continue on with the narrative of my life and form my own character arcs, twistsnd falls? Or do I chance fate and seize this apparent easy pass to my deepest flaws?

 

I set the genie free.

 

I have no wishes, only a smile in a shower of stars as the genie leaves my bedroom through my open window.

I of course, still hold those unspent wishes close to my heart, yearning for something to have a magical fix. But life, family, money, self-love – those things aren’t easy. They aren’t a gentle reward to moving across the “Pass Go, Collect $200” spot on the great monopoly board of life (get it, I put TWO board game references in one heartfelt metaphor), they are the ultimate goals of this humanly existence. There is a reason that all those famous fantasy novels (r.e. “The Lord of the Rings,” I’m looking at you Tolkien, a bazillion pages of walking, we get it) are based around long journeys. We need those long struggles to crack like geodes and reveal our truest and most beautiful inner character.

So set the genie free on the first wish, and maybe you’ll get a bit of extra luck here and there from your multi-dimensional mythological friend along your great tourist adventure of life.