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.

A Story Too Scary

Any basic scary story growing up involved the typical monster under the bed, or the boogey man in the closet. Although these didn’t scare me as much, I would still check my room before sleeping, to make sure I was safe. Being alone in your room, in the dark, though, is completely different than when having a sleepover with your friends. When I was younger, any time someone had a successful sleepover, a scary story was told late at night to keep the adrenaline at a peak as the sugar high wore off. At sleepovers, I was usually the one telling the scary stories. The classic, Bloody Mary or Redrum (spoiler: spelled backwards it’s murder) were my go-to classics to freak out my friends. Although telling these stories was fun for me, the scary story I couldn’t shake as a kid transpired from the movie: When a Stranger Calls.  

For those of you who are unaware of the plot, the story focuses on a high school girl who is babysitting two kids in a giant house in the middle of nowhere. The parents pay her to watch television and the kids are already sleeping when she gets there. Sounds like easy money, right? Oh, you’re so wrong.  

The babysitter gets creepy calls from a guy all throughout the night. His voice is scratchy and chilling, especially to me, as a thirteen-year-old girl watching this for the first time. He nefariously whispers questions through the phone like: “why do you have the lights turned off?” Or, “have you checked on the children?”  

Can you imagine being in the middle of nowhere, in someone else’s home, and a psychopath is somewhere out there watching you? That is equally as terrifying to me now as compared to when I first watched the movie. The babysitter calls 911, which I would do too, and they say if she can get this freak to talk to her for a certain amount of time, they can trace the call. So, the babysitter finally gets the psycho to talk for over a minute by asking him questions back, and come to find out he is in the house. This may sound lame to those who watch hardcore horror films, but as someone who grew up making her money through babysitting gigs, you can only imagine my dismay after finding out the killer is in the house. I was the babysitting guru back in my day, but after that movie, I changed to walking dogs during the day.  

After When a Stranger Calls came out, I swore off scaring my friends with my own shuddering stories. To this day, this is the tale that still frightens me. Although I don’t have sleepovers with my friends anymore, if I ever were in a situation that prompted scary stories, this particular one would be off limits. 


Things I used to be Afraid of or: Teen Wolf lied to me about what to expect with my public school experience with werewolves

I used to be terrified of the idea of things coming to life from my nightmares and walking around with me during the day. I would dress in my red, green, and black plaid jumper uniform, with a white button-down shirt and red snap-tie, and head into elementary school like everything was normal in the aftermath of a nightmare. In the watery sunshine of a Hampton morning, fog rolling in off the James River into the backyard, “older kids’ playground,” things seemed just a bit unreal every morning. It was just surreal enough to look like the opening to a fairy tale that nightmares seemed a plausible reality. Things would start to appear in the corner of my eye, the candles at mass seemed to jump and flicker just a bit more than usual when I walked by, and I kept thinking that someone was calling my name when no one was, keeping me in a perpetual half-turn. 

I have a vivid memory from when I was a kid about walking downstairs after a nightmare to get a glass of water. I walked into the kitchen after carefully walking across the creaky hardwood floor in front of the stairs, and just happened to look out the big floor-to-ceiling panel windows that looked out into the side-yard. There, perched in-between the softly swaying pines and bushy mint stalks, was a big, black, furry thing with glowing, red eyes, and what I’m sure were huge teeth. At this point my brain was screaming at me to FORGET THE WATER KID LET’S GO, but for some reason I stood there and stared at it until it lumbered off. Thus satisfied, I quickly walked-maybe ran-upstairs to bed and promptly fell back asleep.  

I had an active imagination as a kid. I read a lot of books that I probably should have waited until I was just a touch older to read. But, somewhere around sixth grade I had a revelation, and I’m not entirely sure but, I’m placing the blame squarely on Stephanie Meyer’s crappy writing shoulders with all the Twilight hype that was going on–all terrible middle school ideas should be her fault. Anyway, I had this idea that things only became nightmares because there was no one to love them wherever they were, you know, trapped in the liminal space between alive and somehow not, all alone in the dark only to interact with people in their nightmares.  

So, it became my little sixth grade mission to lucid dream in my nightmares and try to hug creepy demon-monster things, and then during the day try to put out enough “I am a happy and loving person who totally will be friends with anyone who needs one” out into the ether. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but I haven’t had many nightmares since then. I do sometimes catch myself skating my eyes over the corners of rooms, and almost turning to respond to someone saying my name.  

Harvest Orange  

“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter-often unconscious but still a faithful interpreter-in the eye.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

The car is running softly underneath my right foot, and the brakes clench up under my slightly to vigorous press at the top of the hill. The street is pitch black except for the blue-edged glare of the IHOP sign reflecting across my windshield. The red of the stoplight seems to be more faded than usual and the parking lot of the movie theater is an empty black stretch down the gently, sloped road. Hanging above the muted steel-grey of the stoplight cross-bar is an orange crescent moon.

Warm, low, and shining with left-over sunlight, the moon seems to reach for her left over piece in the Earth. The almost harvest moon, skinny before the flushed glut of the October fullness, pushes an ache in my stomach to the surface. Drawn longing sudden and violent to my fingertips, and for just a moment, I press my hands to the cool of the smudged windshield and think what it would feel like to touch the sharp edge of the moon.

It would feel desperately cold, I think. I mean we know, empirically, that space is cold, and thus with no atmosphere the moon is also cold. The moon, the no name moon, has no heart inside her to bubble up to her surface with tender heat. Has nothing to keep her from the cold clutch of space, inky black and full of faraway stars. I think that’s why she keeps drifting down closer to Earth. Spiraling slowly closer orbit-by-orbit, year by year. She was supposed to be a piece of Earth, supposed to have grass and heat, supposed to be named.

This feeling of namelessness, of desperation to become full and claimed, is what autumn instills inside me at times. A blanket desire for a warm mug of something sweet to be held in empty palms, cupped, curved, and dry around a heat found not within one’s self, to be famished and bursting all at once, to feel chilled and yet warm gently by flame.

A season of disparate dichotomies and shared nostalgic memories, autumn comes bringing winds through the mountain-valley trees. After parking my car, I turned the lights off and settled into the silence of a past midnight neighborhood, the pinging and groaning noises of my old car cooling off my only company. And as I step outside to walk into the little copse of trees guarding the entrance to my stairwell, I can see the orange moon and she can see me and we both smile, a little sadly and part as friends do, softly and with great promise.


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

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University