Story Time: How I Met Darren Criss

I promised you the story… and I figured I should probably tell it before I abandoned the blog for two weeks.

So: How I met Darren Criss. And just my day on Thursday in general.

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(If you don’t know who Darren Criss is, he’s from Team Starkid (Harry Freakin’ Potter in A very Potter Musical, etc) and Glee (Blaine), and recently had a brief stint on Broadway as the lead character in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, taking over for none other than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). He’s also a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and an all around extremely talented musician-actor-dude. — And now, continuing on.)

Being the super lucky person I am, I’m currently a student at the University of Michigan, and my hometown isn’t too incredibly far from Ann Arbor, so making day trips there during the off-months isn’t a big deal. In honor of the time he spent at U of M for his undergrad, Darren Criss decided to make a stop in Ann Arbor on his summer Listen Up! tour and, you know, happen TO MAKE THE SHOW FREE.

As in: You could see Darren Criss. In concert. At U of M. FOR. FREE. (If I could put fireworks around those letters to tell you how exciting that was, I would, but WordPress is yet to come up with that feature.)

The only problem with it being free was the fact that they had 1,800 seats in the venue, and they decided to give out 1,000 Crissband-wristbands ahead of time, to those inherently lucky people who live in Ann Arbor for more than just the school year (or who at least had a way of getting to Ann Arbor in five seconds flat in order to grab a Crissband at one of the giveaway spots). Aaand then they up’ed that number to 1,100 given away ahead of time. And then, day before the concert, they announced that they had up’ed it again. To 1,350. WHICH MEANS THAT THERE WERE ONLY 450 CRISSBANDS LEFT FOR THOSE OF US COMING IN FROM OUT OF TOWN THE DAY OF THE CONCERT.

I found this out while two of the three girls I was attending the concert with were at my house Wednesday night for a “sleepover” (despite our best efforts, hardly any sleep actually happened–our driver only got two hours). So that was a pretty depressing and nerve wracking thing to happen, and we had several conversations throughout the night that basically went like this:

UMICH FRIEND #1: Should we just leave now? Should we just go to Ann Arbor right now?

ME: No, they said you can’t start lining up until 6 AM. We’ll just have to make sure to get there before that, so we can rush the front of the line the moment they start letting you line up. We’ll be okay… I hope.

DRIVER FRIEND: I WILL BE SO ANGRY IF WE DON’T GET INTO THE CONCERT. I SWEAR. SO. ANGRY.

… But, nonetheless, we did manage to drift off for a few hours during the night, and then we were up again at 4:00 AM in order to get ready. It was a mixture of exhaustion and adrenaline as we all got dressed and stuff bagels in our mouths–a wonderfully strange combination that continued throughout the morning, as we drove through darkness and rain so hard it might as well have been a tsunami in order to reach the Michigan Theatre by 5:45.

We figured, “Hey. We’re fifteen minutes early. That’s great. That’ll give us enough time to park the car and maybe grab some Starbucks before getting ready to sprint for the front of the line at 6:00 AM.”

But no. Lo and behold, the people running the concert (Sonic Lunch–they’re super cool, check them out) hadn’t managed to keep the fans at bay until 6:00 AM as planned, so when we showed up FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY, there were already over 100 people in line to get Crissbands. We sped off to the nearest parking garage and then sprinted for the line, and managed to get in it with about 150 people ahead of us. At 5:50 AM. AKA ten minutes before you were even supposed to be allowed to line up.

By 6:04, there were people walking away with their heads hanging, feet dragging, not willing to wait in line for the next hour and a half before Sonic Lunch started distributing wristbands, because there were already so many people in line there was next to no way these barely even late people were getting in.

The fourth member of our party showed up, the group-wide adrenaline rush began to falter, and the sun slowly rose behind the clouds happily peeing all over Ann Arbor. (Just a warning, if you didn’t already figure this out: This is going to be a long blog post. Like a REALLY long one. There’s a reason I’m a novelist; I can’t tell stories quickly to save my life. If you want a more condensed version of all this, just look at the pictures and ignore my rambling, gushing words.)

Finally, after standing there for about two and a half hours, it was our turn to pick up our Crissbands and move to wait in the next line,  which would determine where we sat in the Michigan Theatre.

The day wore on, it continued to rain, and rain, AND RAIN SOME MORE, and basically, we ended up having to stand in line for like six hours. And when I say “stand,” I literally mean “STAND,” because even after it finally stopped raining, the ground was still to wet to sit down on.

IMG_0392Check out dat Starkid swag.

Everyone took turns going to Starbucks and CVS to pee and get rations (hello, chocolate bars and Skittles), and about once an hour a dude with a camera ran up and down the line grabbing footage of all of us screaming ourselves hoarse and acting like we weren’t totally delirious from waiting in line for so long. At one point, he stopped to talk to our group, and the conversation went something like this:

UMICH FRIEND #1: Hey, what’s all the video for? Is Darren going to see it?

CAMERA DUDE: Oh yeah, it’s to advertise for Sonic Lunch. And I’m sure we’ll show it to Darren at some point. Do you want to say something to him? [held up the camera]

UMICH FRIEND #2: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome!

UMICH FRIEND #1: What do we say? What do we say?!!

DRIVER FRIEND: Yeah, I’m just going to stand in the back. Smile and wave.

ME: WHAT DO WE SAY???!!!

UMICH FRIEND #2: I DON’T KNOW!

[CAMERA DUDE slowly backed away and ran off up the line with a terrified expression on his face.]

So that was fun and not at all embarrassing.

Went and bought merch, received free merch right afterward (yay for spending almost a hundred dollars on t-shirts and posters and crap, only get a free Darren Criss postcard and t-shirt right afterward), and finally–after several delays because the sound system wasn’t working or something–they let us in around 12:00.

IMG_0394This was the point where we were like, “Oh my gosh, guys. We might actually get into the venue before we die of exhaustion.”

Of course, we had about 1,500 of the 1,800 Crissband-holders ahead of us in line, so we figured we were going to be in the really crappy seats at the back of the balcony, but instead, we turned out being super, SUPER lucky, because we were one of the last groups they let into the main floor. Our seats were about two-thirds back, center section, next to the stage left aisle.

The concert began promptly over an hour late, but we didn’t even care, because we were finally inside and Theo Katzman (the opening act, and another U of M grad) was SO. FREAKING. GOOD. He has some more concerts coming up later this summer, and we’re planning on going to see him again.

IMG_0402I give you: Theo Katzman. Enjoy.

Theo finished with his set, the stage lights went down, and the wait for Darren Criss himself began.

There was a pretty long break between sets, and I’m pretty sure they did that on purpose, because while they were prepping the stage for Darren, they kept the audience lights turned down low and played smooth jazz. At one point I looked around, and the entire row behind me was conked out with their heads resting on each other’s shoulders domino-style.

Time passed, we fought the urge to take a nap, and then suddenly the stage lights turned on and the audience lights went off. Then the stage lights went off and the audience lights turned on. Back and forth they went a few times, before we finally figured out: Darren Criss wasn’t entering from the stage. They were trying to confuse us.

We turned around to face the back of the audience just as a mob of security guards burst through the door on our aisle and the band began to play Circle of Life from The Lion King. In a matter of seconds, Driver Friend and I had squished ourselves up against the aisleway and watched in disbelief as Darren Criss (THE. DARREN. FREAKING. CRISS.) passed us, pink sunglasses and all.

IMG_0410Yes, somewhere in this ultra blurry shot is Darren Criss. You’re welcome.

Darren’s performance was even more incredible than I was expecting. The guy can sing, and he kept stopping every couple of songs to tell us how grateful he was for our support and how excited he was to be performing at the Michigan Theatre (he used to usher there, back in the day).

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He played an extra long set for us, bringing out Charlene Kaye (another Wolverine–everyone performing at the concert was a U of M grad) and playing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” from A Very Potter Musical, which became kind of really emotional when it hit all of us that this song that had first introduced the world to Darren Criss was also kind of about him being back at the Michigan Theatre, at the University of Michigan. Which was, in a way, Team Starkid’s very own Hogwarts, along with all of ours.

When he came out for the encore, he didn’t just play one more song, but several, including Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, which is the song that skyrocketed him into the stratosphere during his first episode of Glee.

IMG_0511Unfortunately, my camera died partway through the concert, so I don’t have any pictures from the later parts.

The instant the show was over, my group of four went racing out of the theatre in order to get around the block to the alley the stagedoor was in, where we then waited patiently for an hour for Darren to come out, to get pictures and autographs.

And then, you know, waited not-so-patiently for another hour for Darren to come out.

And then wait not-at-all-patiently for another hour.

What you need to know about all that waiting: We only got two or three hours of sleep going into the day. We had been up since 4:00 AM. We hadn’t eaten anything but candy since around 4:30, and we hadn’t had anything to drink since around 11:00. We had already been standing, between waiting in line to get into the concert and the concert itself, for a collected nine hours.

We were hungry, tired, and going more than just a little bit insane.

The nice people at Sonic Lunch eventually came out with a few bags of Skittles for the seventy five or so people waiting at the stagedoor to share, but that involved each of us only getting a couple of Skittles, so that raised our blood sugar for about point-five seconds.

We started our stagedoor vigil around 3:15 PM. We waited there until about 6:15 PM. Around 6:10, one of the security guards told us that Darren had just finished dealing with the VIP people inside and he’d be coming outside to see all of us devotees in just a minute. Everyone cheered and freaked out and peeled themselves off the ground in order to crowd around the stagedoor.

One minute passed. Then two.

Then another of the security guards got a message through his earpiece that made him pale and look around at the mass of teenagers standing around him in such a way that told us he was truly afraid for his life.

With a sullen look on his face, he announced that Darren had just made a very un-Darren-like move and snuck out the front entrance while we were all waiting at the back.

At first, nobody moved. We were all in such disbelief. We had waited there for three. hours. to see him, and he’d just blown us off? After making such a big deal over this particular concert, this particular group of fans, being so special too him, because we were Ann Arbor? What? Darren Criss wouldn’t do that to us. Darren Criss was a Wolverine. He was one of us.

But sure enough, it soon became obvious that he truly had left out the front door, through the venue’s lobby, and we weren’t going to be meeting Darren.

Angry and confused, half-dead and disheartened, my group trouped on out of the alley and went to move the car we’d left in the overpriced garage right by the theatre to the cheaper lot outside my old dorm. Then, still ranting, we walked back to the Chinese place by the Michigan Theatre that we had been salivating over during our entire time waiting in line in order to finally answer our stomachs’ calls for nourishment.

While waiting for our food, we found out via Twitter that the reason Darren Criss hadn’t come out to meet his fans at the stagedoor was because he was playing a “secret” show at the Blind Pig (a bar-performance venue-thing in downtown) at 8 PM, and he needed to go get ready for it. Which honestly just made us even more upset, for two reasons:

A) He had tweeted since abandoning all of us there, but hadn’t apologized for it (and the one other time during the Listen Up! tour he hadn’t been able to stagedoor, he’d apologized).

And B) We couldn’t go to the Blind Pig show, because people in our group needed to work tomorrow (AKA yesterday, at this point, as I’m writing this post on Saturday).

We sat there, eating and sulking and talking about how, if we ever had the chance to meet Darren Criss, we were going to give him a piece of our minds, when–in the middle of discussing the degree to which we wanted to slap him across the face–suddenly Driver Friend and I, who were sitting facing the window out to the street, stopped and stared in disbelief. Our mouths dropped. Our eyes opened wider than should be humanly possible. And I simply pointed.

UMich Friends #1 & 2 turned, confused, to face the window. And the group of us promptly forgot all about slapping Darren Criss’s beautiful face, because said beautiful face was walking past TK WU right that moment.

Darren and his friends spotted us through the window as well, obviously fans based on our reactions and Starkid t-shirts, and this is when the story really starts getting crazy: Darren turned and made these faces:

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Snapshot_20130615_1Obviously a lot better looking on him than me.

He was so unbelievably happy to see us, one of the very few groups of fans still hanging around Ann Arbor at that point, that our hurt and anger evaporated as quickly as my hunger had when a fly decided to kamikaze on my vegetable fried rice five minutes earlier (I am NOT joking when I say this sort of thing happens to me too much).

As soon as Darren was out of sight and we had recovered enough to stop screaming at the tops of our lungs (the other diners weren’t exactly in love with us, to say the least), UMich Friend #2 raised her hand the way people do in the movies, like “Waiter! Check please!” and–after squeeing some more with our very nice and chatty waiter (he asked us if Darren Criss was cute; we replied by screaming), we raced out of TK WU and down East Liberty Street towards State, the direction Darren Criss and posse had been heading.

Unfortunately, when we reached State Street, we then had the conundrum of which direction to go. Fortunately, UMich Friend #2 knew that Darren used to work at Potbelly, which was directly to our right, so we decided to use that as our deciding factor and headed that way, towards the Diag and Law Quad and all of that (here’s a map of the University of Michigan’s Central Campus, for reference). We figured he was eating dinner somewhere, so we peered in through all the restaurant windows like the not-at-all stalkerish people we are, until finally, while walking past Nickel’s Arcade (a covered walkway between two buildings with shops lining it), we spotted Theo Katzman (remember the amazing opening act guy?) and a certain head of dark, curly hair.

A couple of other fans had caught Darren in the Arcade to take pictures, so we took the couple of seconds they bought us to race crazily towards the group, iPhones at the ready, in hopes of getting a group shot with Darren before he ran off.

He finished with the other fans and turned towards us, ready to take more pictures, when he got the most confused look on his face, like he obviously recognized us but didn’t quite believe it.

Driver Friend quickly informed him that we were indeed the four girls he had seen at TK WU just five minutes before–and that fact, shockingly, seemed to put his mind at rest (let’s be honest–if it were me, that’s when I would have called for a restraining order).

He told us that he could only stay for a minute, because he needed to get to the Blind Pig soon for the secret show, and we said that was fine, we just wanted one picture.

At which point he grabbed UMich Friend #2’s iPhone and decided to take individual pictures with each of us.

Let me make this clear: Darren Criss. Took selfie shots. With each of us. Like he held the iPhones. While resting his head on each of ours. To voluntarily take individual pictures. He even hugged both UMich Friends #1 & 2.

Oh hey there Darren CrissCan we address the fact that he is somehow even nicer and better-looking in person than in interviews and on TV and all that, which up until now I’d thought was ACTUALLY AND LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

We all gushed about how much we loved the show and how much we loved him and how honored we were to meet him, and then skedaddled out of Nickel’s Arcade before we embarrassed ourselves too much, in absolute disbelief that we had just run into Darren not once, but twice in ten minutes (okay, so the second time was kind of totally because we were searching for him, but whatevs–there was a good chance we weren’t going to find him).

(Also, another little thing to throw in here: When we were heading out to find him, I brought up that if I were a famous person coming back to visit my alma mater, the first place I would go was the Diag, which is basically the center of campus-life and one of the most well-known parts of the university. A little while after getting our pictures, Darren posted two Vines from over near the Diag. I AM BRILLIANT.)

We almost headed back to the cars at that point, but then we remembered that we had been planning to get frozen yogurt after dinner, so instead we made our way back to East Liberty, where we grabbed mountains of yogurt at Yoggie’s, still spazzing about our Close Encounters of a Darren Kind.

I was right in the middle of joking about how crazy Darren Criss would think we were if the Sonic Lunch people decided to use the footage of us being dumbstruck in line that morning in their video when you’ll never guess who spotted us through the restaurant window.

THAT’S RIGHT. IT WAS OUR OLD BUDDY DARREN CRISS.

This time his expression was like this:

Snapshot_20130615_4Like, “HOW IN THE WORLD DO I KEEP RUNNING INTO YOU PEOPLE? THIS IS SO CRAZY!!!”

… Which brings up the very important realization of: Darren Criss recognized us. HE RECOGNIZED US. HE KNOWS WHO WE ARE.

After spazzing some more, laughing as we made faces at each other through the window while his group walked past (the rest of them seemed much more concerned by the way we kept seeing each other than Darren was), we then concluded that we had basically had the best day ever experienced by a human being ever. And that seeing Darren randomly around town three times in twenty minutes totally made up for the three hours we had wasted waiting at his stagedoor. And that we must be the luckiest group of Darren Criss fans alive.

Walking back to the parking lot across from our old dorm afterward (UMich Friends #1 & 2 and I are all a part of the same college within the university, so we all lived there), it was an extremely surreal moment of realizing that we had just met our idol basically at our home, and that it was his home too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used Nickel’s Arcade to shelter from the rain or snow; how many times I’ve walked through the Diag on my way to class, read the marque at the Michigan Theatre to see what was playing, sat snuggled up in my dorm room watching Darren Criss on Glee and in Starkid stuff.

I mentioned a year and a half ago when I went to see Darren in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway, during the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, that if I got to meet him, I would then be able to die happy. You don’t know how much I’d give to go back to my seventeen year old self and say, “Guess what. You don’t get to meet him at this stagedoor, and you didn’t get to meet him at the Glee Live concert, and you won’t get to meet him at the Listen Up! tour stagedoor either–but you will get to meet him. And it’ll be worth it.”

Because although that sounds dramatic and corny and immature, I really do have a lot to thank Darren Criss for, even though he’ll never realize it. I grew up a Spartan–hardcore Michigan State fan. The University of Michigan wasn’t even on my radar as a place I might go to college at someday until I saw A Very Potter Musical my sophomore year of high school. It was then that I began to think, “Hey. These Wolverine people might not be so bad.”

And of course it was then finding out that U of M had a great creative writing program, and the most amazing campus, and other people just like me that made me ultimately choose it. But if it weren’t for hearing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” sophomore year, who knows if I would have ever come to the realization that U of M should even be an option.

My life has changed so much because of Darren Criss, and Team Starkid and Glee in general. I’ve made new friends, pushed through some hard times, and had amazing, unexpected experiences. Getting to meet him in such a unique and spontaneous way was just the culmination of it all, and I still have a little flutter of disbelief whenever I see the picture of the two of us together.

If Darren Criss ever magically stumbles across this post: Thank you so much, for being yourself, and being such a big inspiration to me and countless other people, and being so nice to my friends and me despite the fact it was kind of obvious we were stalking you at Nickel’s Arcade.

Dear reader, if you pushed through this entire, novel-length post: You deserve to meet Darren yourself, you crazy, totally awesome person.

And if you just looked at the pictures: That works too.

Talk to you when I’m back from vacation! Have a good couple of weeks, and treat the guest posters nicely!

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~Julia

PS. This post has had absolutely zero proofreading. I apologize if there are any awkward typos, because knowing me there are. Just in case, here’s an, “Oops. Sorry ’bout that,” in advance.

Wordy Wednesday (“Touch”)

Today was my last day of school before summer vacation, which means that, yeah, I just finished my high school career — sat in my last classes, took my last exams, waved to my friends in the hallway for the last time.

It’s surreal. It’s bittersweet. I’ve been really nostalgic and sad about it for the past year or two (I’m not even kidding).

But then I also basically look like this right now:

(You tell ’em how it is, Puck!!!)

In other news, here’s your Wordy Wednesday for this week. 😛 This is a short story I wrote around this time last year for the Dystopia Contest with Lauren Oliver on Figment. It was the first contest I ever entered on there, and I was extremely honored to be awarded as runner-up/second place (despite the fact that I later realized this is basically exactly like Lauren Oliver’s own novel Delirium, which I didn’t read until after the contest — go figure).

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“Tara.” Ryan comes up right behind me, taking my hand in his. With the other, he sweeps my too long bangs out of my face and back behind my ear. His rough skin leaves a series of tingles behind and I look down at our intertwined fingers, mashing my lips together.

“It’s too dangerous,” I whisper.

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s the truth.” I shrug away from his touch and turn so that we’re face to face. “What if we get caught? You don’t even know for sure if They exist.”

“They do.” He takes a step towards me, but again I step back.

“Please, you can’t go –” I break off as my eyes reach his.

“Stop pretending like you have any choice in the matter.”

At first I think he’s joking, and I crack a smile, but his caramel brown eyes remain stony and I feel my muscles tense, my features melt back into a frown.

“I’m going whether you want me to or not. If you’re too scared to come along, you don’t have to, but I’m going to find Them, and then we’ll come back for you.” He takes several steps forward so that he’s so close I can feel his breath on my cheek, and he cups my chin in his hands. “I love you, Tara.”

There they are. The four words that started it all.

It had been an accident the first time, I’m sure. A test of authority. A brush of lips on pink cheek, faint in the twilight the academy building cast during lunch, his voice a whisper, “I love you, Tara.”

Ryan hated it then, hates it now. All of it. The rules – inside before sunset, silent before 10:00 PM – and the checks – breathalyzers at the door, do you look too happy? Quick, check your blood, run a scan, what are you hiding?

We are human, our very existence our demise. We live to crave touch, affection, longing, and this is our problem. Love distracts us. At times like these, when the entire world infrastructure is on the brink of collapse, we need to focus on furthering our knowledge, being innovative above the other cultures as they try desperately to be innovative above ours… not love.

There’s a purpose behind the documents and rulebooks, regulations and regulators, but Ryan has never seen it.

When we were twelve, he pulled me back behind the gym and pressed his lips, wet with mist, to my cheek.

“What did you just do?” I had asked, touching my skin, surprised by the warmth.

“I love you, Tara,” he said simply.

If he had been anyone else, I would have reported him to a teacher and they would have sent him to a reform academy – it sounds crazy, but societies need order, and order doesn’t come from letting people off the hook just because they don’t, can’t see the bigger picture – but Ryan and I were friends, best friends, and I couldn’t do that to him.

After that, there were more and more infractions; kisses, crooked smiles, long talks into the night as we lie under a canopy of treetops where no one could see us, while on the streets just on the other side of the woods regulators searched for delinquents.

To love is to commit a crime, and somehow we have become criminals.

There was a way out, Ryan said. They, the Resistance, living in the northern part of the country, the part that the government abandoned after stripping it of its resources – we could sneak out, join Them.

“We can go there and be safe. We won’t have to hide anymore,” Ryan whispers, now.

“You know I can’t go,” I say, my voice a sigh, a quiver. I rest my head against the hollow between his collarbone and throat and feel the beat, rhythm, pulse, that marks him alive, warm and constant.

He’ll come back for me, he promises again before leaving, disappearing into the tree trunks and foliage. I bite my lip, try not to cry.

I turn back toward the road, toward home, when suddenly an arm wraps around my waist and spins me to face its master. Ryan presses his lips to mine, pulls our bodies together so that his hands are in my hair and mine are looped around his neck; one last kiss that fades far too quickly.

“I love you, Ryan,” I whisper into his shirt.

“Don’t forget that,” he replies. “Whatever you do, don’t forget love.”

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This past Sunday was the annual awards gala for my theatre company. This is always a really big ordeal — all the girls wear their prom dresses and the guys wear their tuxes, and everyone walks around eating fancy desserts and stuff — but this year was particularly big for me since it was my last gala. And, as a senior and one of the leaders of the company, I was up for two really big awards.

I was completely blown away when I actually won both of them.

I got a fairly hefty scholarship from our drama boosters to spend on college stuff, aaand… wait for it… I WON THE OUTSTANDING THESPIAN AWARD!!!!!!!!! That is LITERALLY the highest honor the theatre company offers, and it means that my name’s going to be on a plaque in our lobby with all the other Outstanding Thespian Award winners from the past however-many-years we’ve been doing this award (along with the other two people who won it this year, too — who, by the way, it is A HUMUNGOUS HONOR to share the 2012 slot with! 🙂 ), and it’s just… incredible. I started crying. I never thought in a million years I’d get it, because there were a lot of other awesome and dedicated and talented people in my class, and they’re all a lot funnier, or more outgoing, or whatever-it-may-be than me. I’m just kind of there all the time, I’m not the kind of person who you really notice. Or who’s even really particularly likeable. And the Outstanding Thespian Award is based completely on the votes of the company, so it’s usually the really popular, I-am-the-face-of-the-company kids who get it.

And yeah. It was just incredible. IN. CRE. DI. BLE.

Anyway. I’m going to go rock out to more school’s out kind of music, now. 😀

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Reflection”)

WARNING: CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for the Future Problem Solvers Scenario Writing competition this year, on the topic of Human Rights (for all who don’t know what the competition’s like: they give you five different topics to write on, a word limit and the stipulation that your story’s set in the future, and that’s pretty much it) (oh, and they have a tendency of liking disturbing stories, for some reason, haha). My story got second place in the senior division of competition for my state! 🙂

Now, BEFORE YOU READ ON, please be aware of the fact that the following short story contains occurrences of abuse, thoughts of suicide, etc... so I wouldn’t suggest reading it unless you can handle that kind of stuff. Thank you!

 

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Tentatively, aware of the way her muscles turn to fire with every simple movement, she reaches for her lipsoother and forces the cap off the petroleum-coated applicator. The lipsoother comes to life in her hands, sending vibrations up her arms, and she touches it to her lips, barely a nudge. An audible whimper releases from her downturned mouth. Her hand reaches to cover it as the whimper begins to transform into a full out scream.

She shoves the agony down, buries it.

The lipsoother falls uncapped and unused to the tile floor, where it skitters and jumps away from her, and she sinks to her knees after it, letting the cool solidness of the white tile caress her aching, burning skin. She sits there for a moment, tucking her knees up beneath her.

Cool. Quiet. Peace.

Breathe.

She stands again and wipes the tears from her eyes, swallowing the murmur of pain that rises in her throat; it burns, everything burns, everything about her is on fire. Going up in flames. Dispersing as smoke on the wind.

She feels herself dissolving, and she clings to the counter so hard her skin turns snow white and her knuckles strain against their sockets, but at least she feels stable. She feels pain, the pull of her weary muscles, and that is proof of stability. Of life.

If she was dead, she wouldn’t hurt.

She can’t stand to look at herself in the mirror, so she touches the glass, whispers slurred words to it, and it grows dark, revealing the computer mechanism within. Program icons appear across the screen, but she doesn’t pay attention, as long as it’s no longer a mirror. She looks like death with her matted hair and mascara tears, too obvious and too real in a mirror’s clear reflection. But still her lips are dry as a desert and taste like some unknown ocean, and she reaches for the lipsoother. Steeling her nerve, she commands her fingers as they grasp and slip to put the vanilla-flavored balm to her lips and smear it on, embrace the vibrations it drills into her tissue that are supposed to be therapeutic but instead feel like a jackhammer.

Familiar. So familiar. She holds to that, running her tongue over her smooth lips until they’re dry, and she applies the lipsoother again, only to repeat the process.

Home.

She wants to go home, but she cannot. He has taken away her home, and her life, and her memories.

Her muscles spasm and make her elbows jump. Her knees knock together. She clenches the slick lipsoother tube the way she clenches her teeth. The pain is excruciating, but she must sustain. She must ignore the burning like it doesn’t exist. In her mind she pictures swimming through a cool lake… but she’s never been to a lake, so she substitutes it with the abandoned pool out back, only reimagining the pool clean.

She once heard that swimming pools were originally icons of great wealth, rather than the eyesores most people view them as today.

Clean, and Clear, and Large, and Cool. Cool. Cool.

Swimming.

With one hand still wrapped around the lipsoother, she forces herself to approach the giant, mirror-shaped computer screen on the wall over the sink and open the program for the cleansing station at the far end of the bathroom. She clicks through the calmest options she can locate, from first spring rain for the general washing at the beginning, to waterfall mist for her antibacterial cleansing. It will burn the least.

She goes to select summer afternoon for the drying sequence, but fumbles and must begin the process over.

Breathe. Breathe.

Cool. Quiet. Peace.

Once stripped of her clothing and shut inside the cleansing station, her thoughts alternate between speeding too fast and creeping too slow, like a clock as it nears a black hole, threatening to suck her in. Swallow her. Swallow time.

Before she can think of the pain, she forces the door and exits the cleansing station, her bathing incomplete. Warm water streams off her in little, snaking lines like veins. All she wants is silence, she thinks. The silence that comes with being underwater.

She feels herself drowning. The cleansing station behind her releases the minute yellow antibacterial vapor into the air. It swirls about her, out of the station and into the room. It coats everything, gets in her eyes, makes her lips tingle or maybe she’s crying.

The scream is out of her, out in the silence, before she can remember to hold it in. There’s a crash on the floor below her, in the other world beyond her own. He’s heard and he knows.

That’s it. That’s the end of it. The fire monster within her rears up again, burns in her chest, and burns in her feet, and burns in her fingertips. The sickly yellow vapor coats everything like sulfur dust. The unfamiliar taste on her tongue, on her cheeks, on her chest. An ocean that wells up within her, chokes her, leaves her gasping for water that is not full of salt.

She grabs the electric razor from its container in the cleansing station, meaning to release the burning so that she may fall cold, but before she can, the door to the bathroom slides open with a pop and he’s there. The razor is clenched in her hands. She bleeds although the pain isn’t substantial enough for her to feel. He is the only thing not yellow in this yellow, yellow room.

Where is the lipsoother? The lipsoother that she brought from home?

She is unsure.

The fire rages on. Her vision spins like she’s in a whirlpool, going around and around and around and she’s falling.

He falls beside her, brushes the dust from her hands, squeezes her rainbow-shaded fingers until they release the electric razor. Her last attempt at humanity. She slides to the tile.

He has stolen everything now.

She cannot breathe, but she cannot die. The world is no longer yellow, but red and then grey and then black. She suffocates in silence as the unfamiliar ocean solidifies, an iceberg, burning against her lips. She thinks of the swimming pool – abandoned.

Her last thought: She wishes she could swim.

**********

 

… So now that you’re all depressed and all that, you should listen to Lea Michele’s cover of “Cry” on Glee and, you know, cry through it with me:

 

IT’S JUST SO PRETTY AND HEARTFELT AND GAHHH!!!!!!!

 

 

~Julia

Five Steps to Being Amazed

Step 1: Drive five and a half hours to Chicago after not having driven in over a month, through rain and snow and hail and wind. Don’t make a single stop while doing this, between home and the city.

Step 2: Bask in the fact that you’re still alive.

Step 3: Go to your cousin’s high school show choir competition (which is why you drove to Chicago) and realize that:

  • a) High school show choir really is like Glee, believe it or not. (Well, the performances are any way. There’s probably way less drama in real life.)
  • b) High school show choir makes high school theatre look like a piece of cake. (Also Known As: Show choir would totally whip your butt into shape, and as a certified member of the Sit-on-the-Couch-All-Day committee, theatre’s suddenly looking a whole lot easier.)

Step 4: Get to the hotel you’re hosting an event at this summer (yes, all you WIC’ers — I’m totally at the WIC hotel right now!) and decide that it’s the most beautiful hotel you’ve ever seen, namely because the pool is the temperature of bathwater and there’s a way to — thank God — hook up your laptop to the room TV, meaning that the TV can be used like a giant computer monitor. Which saves a WHOLE LOT OF TROUBLE.

Step 5: Sleep all the way coming back home from Chicago, for five and a half hours through rain and snow and hail and wind, with a deliciously full stomach after eating at one of your favorite Chicago-area restaurants. (Bliss. 🙂 )

~Julia