Story Time: Going Home

Warning ahead of time: This is going to be a long and sappy one.

Yesterday was my first day of spring break and after a funky chain of events involving yet another dermatologist appointment and my mom needing to get back to work, I ended up with her minivan and the task of getting myself home in one piece.

Although I learned to drive a billion years ago, I didn’t get around to getting my license until the very end of 2014, and since then I haven’t been home enough to really use it. Until yesterday, I’d only driven by myself once before and that was entirely on surface streets that I knew like the back of my hand, making the trip to a friend’s house New Year’s Day in a compact, easy-to-maneuver Jeep.

So there I was, in Mom’s massive, headstrong minivan, driving for the first time in a month and for the first time by myself in two. On only my second solo trip.

Mom had rattled off a series of directions for getting home as we pulled up at her office, but I didn’t trust myself to remember anything (I was a little more focused on, you know, not killing anyone), so I opened Google Maps on my phone and told it to guide me home.

The first bit went all right. I turned where I was supposed to, merged onto the highway without too much trouble, and was even feeling so good about my prospects of surviving that I turned on the radio.

Then I realized which way home Google Maps was taking me.

There’s this terrible stretch of highway I’ve taken a thousand times as a passenger, but had never driven before, where a bridge breaks up the monotony of patched pavement. On one side of the bridge is an entrance ramp, always clogged with road rage-y drivers trying to force you out of their way, and on the other side is an exit ramp that sometimes gets so backed up, the line blocks the entrance ramp.

Here’s a problem with Google Maps: It told me what I needed to do. I even recognized what I was speeding towards. But it didn’t click until I was like twenty feet from the exit ramp, the entrance ramp people crowding me out of the far right lane and trying to force me even further to the left, that it really clicked that Google Maps was instructing me to take the exit that has made my mild-mannered mother mutter expletives on more than one occasion.

I can’t remember ever once going past that exit—I don’t even know where that highway leads past that exit—but as I tried to merge into the right lane, the car in that one pulled up beside me and tried to merge into mine. We were barreling towards the exit I needed and he clearly didn’t want. And somehow magically, magically, I managed to slow down without the pickup truck on my tail rear-ending me, giving the car to my right just enough time to pull ahead and into my lane while I swerved into his and straight down the exit ramp. A ballet of sorts.

Heart pounding, palms sweating, I made it down the exit ramp (which is actually an entrance ramp) and onto the connecting highway.

Slowly my heartbeat slowed. I recognized the backs of strip malls as I passed. And I stopped needing Google Maps because I was back in home territory, on streets I had driven before although never alone, and I made it home.

It was a beautiful day out, all clear blue sky and sparkling snow. Heat pulsed through the vents and I yanked off my hat and scarf. Unzipped my heavy down coat.

I pulled up outside my house and realized I didn’t want to go in.

So, after sending a quick text to my mom to let her know I was still alive, I pulled away from the curb and made my way to a nearby nature trail. I had to use a traffic circle and turn left into the parking lot—both things that terrified me just a couple months ago—but I made it fine. I sat in there in the warm minivan for a little while, letting “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers wash over me. Then I headed out on the trail.

The snow was about a thousand inches deeper than the last time I’d gone hiking there, a few days before Christmas with my family, and I wasn’t dressed for it, with only a light sweater on under my coat and heeled, knee-high faux leather boots. But I made it a decent way along the path, stopping to watch a churning river flow under shiny, clear ice and following deer tracks along a side path. After a while, I found what I was looking for: a pair of benches out in the sun, their snow melted so long ago they were dry.

I sat down on one, pulled the book I’d brought from my purse, and read.

hiking and reading 2-27-15

I don’t know if you’ve ever just sat out in the middle of nature without another creature in sight for an afternoon, but it’s one of my favorite ways to detox, especially on days like yesterday when it was cold but not too cold. (No bugs, no other people, but also no hypothermia.)

At one point an old man walked by and we exchanged hellos, but otherwise I didn’t see a single other person the entire time I sat there.

Growing restless after a while, I got up and hiked a couple more of the side paths, then came back to my bench and lay down with the sky so blue, blue, blue above me and the sun warm on my cheeks and birds calling to each other somewhere high in the branches, and read for a while longer.

At which point I realized I had no idea how much time had passed (it could have been two o’clock or five) and my phone was dead, so I pulled myself up and made the trek back to the minivan.

It wasn’t TOO late (only like three thirty), so I drove from there to Barnes and Noble to pick up a few more books, relishing in the fact that I’d managed to turn left out of the nature trail’s parking lot despite heavy traffic and I parked between two cars at B & N without straying outside my spot’s lines. (Also the fact that I drove past the pet store without stopping, despite my realization that I was an adult with a credit card, a car, and no one to stop me from going in there and adopting a hundred kittens.)

Perfect. The afternoon had been perfect.

Then I tried merging into the right lane to turn towards home and the car beside me wouldn’t let me over.

This was no complicated, lucky dance like had occurred on the highway. This was someone who clearly didn’t want to let me ahead of her, with another car right behind her.

This time, I missed my turn.

It wasn’t devastating or anything. It was only another mile to the next turn towards my house, so I’d barely lost any time or gas. But it was disappointing for an entire afternoon of doing well behind the wheel to end in this.

Except, wait—I saw a street sign coming up that I recognized and had forgotten about. My old street, the one my family lived on until I was around six, that also connected to where I needed to go. A shortcut.

I turned onto it.

I’ve been on my old street plenty of times since we moved. We still know people in the neighborhood and, as mentioned, it made a nice shortcut. But I’d never driven it before, not even with an ever watchful parent in the passenger seat, so it was strange to guide the minivan up the road, drawing closer and closer to the house where I’d learned to ride a bike and had countless playdates and first fallen in love with make believe and stories and symbolism.

The backyard’s full of fruit trees—cherry and a whole row of apple. There’s a maple tree that my brother and the neighbors and I climbed constantly and bled all over almost as constantly from scraped palms and knees. We had a sandbox shaped like a tugboat that my brother used to grow maple saplings from seeds and a play gym my dad built himself.

This was the house where my brother and I built forts in the living room with cardboard bricks and couch cushions to keep the monsters away while watching Scooby Doo. This was the house where I had “tea parties” with countless babysitters with my pink plastic tea set full of hot water from the bathroom sink, and made up complicated, endless stories about my collection of toy horses.

This was the house where I terrorized our cats by zipping them into suitcases and yanking them out from beneath furniture. This was the house where my brother once shattered the bathroom window by hitting it at just the right spot with a toothbrush while trying to kill a fly. This was the house where my parents left a TV on in my bedroom all night long for weeks on end in kindergarten because I was afraid of the dark and sleep and everything in between.

I have so many wonderful and terrible memories of that house, all so lodged in the past, buried under more recent things, more relevant ones, I hardly ever think about them anymore.

As I pulled near, I spotted movement up the driveway and I realized there were three little kids racing toward the garage with backpacks that were far too big for them bouncing, two boys and a teeny, tiny girl, dressed in head-to-toe pink.

It’s funny how life goes on. How one day you’re five years old, living in one house, and the next you’re twenty, just driving past it on your way to another. It’s funny how hard I cried when my parents made us move, how we panicked when we thought the movers had let my cat out and he was lost forever, but we found him and everything was okay and he made it all the way to my senior year of high school instead.

It’s funny how now I’m a junior in college, contemplating where to go, what to do after I graduate, and how those kids were still so many years away from existence the last time I was inside the house that is now theirs—and it’s funny how then, by chance; thanks to a jerk not letting me turn when I wanted to—there we were in the same place at the same time for a moment, a flash as I drove by and they hurried up the driveway, these kids who will never know who I am or what they have in common with me and probably didn’t even notice the minivan as it passed.

It’s funny how there I was, enjoying an afternoon of freedom on my first day of spring break—feeling it settle into my bones, this Being An Adult thing—and completely on accident, I drove past the house where my life took shape and didn’t see the place where I tore up my knees on the climbing tree or made up my very first stories in a cozy pink bedroom cluttered with toys, but three shiny new lives also just starting to take shape, another little girl in pink trying to keep up, life going on, on, on.

And it’s funny because symbolism. I’m in love with symbolism, and here was a whole bunch of it handed to me on a platter. A moment that would feel “too constructed,” not real, in fiction, but happened in real life.

I didn’t slow down or anything. Just kept driving. The kids disappeared behind trees and mailboxes.

But I pressed a little on the gas pedal and smiled.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Lesson of the Day: How to Torture Julia”)

We’re leaving for the Writer’s Digest Conference the day after tomorrow.

Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, somebody please slap me across the face, because I am FREAKING. OUT.

I basically just constantly look like this right now:

Snapshot_20130403

Two parts excited. One part scared out of my mind.

While we’re on the topic of WDC, just some quick housekeeping type stuff:

  • Just like last year, I’m going to be blogging from the conference throughout the weekend, so be prepared for a slew of extra posted over the course of the next few days.
  • Also just like last year, I’m going to be posting my notes from the sessions (although let’s try to abbreviate that this year so it doesn’t take two months again to post everything, shall we?).
  • Because I’m going to be posting conference notes for the next few weeks, our usual Wordy Wednesday voting process is going to be suspended until I finish with the notes, because those will be coming to you every weekend and Wednesday instead of my usual posting.
  • The next chapter of This Is a Book will be going up on Thursday, April 11th on this blog. Mel and I are super apologetic about all the breaks we’ve had to take from posting that lately, but it’s just been crazy trying to keep up with everything, between school and the conference coming up and, you know, all that other unimportant stuff like sleeping and eating and occasionally even socializing with other humans. (Craziness!)
  • While I obviously can’t say much about it (no details allowed en ze internet), I did want to let you know that I have officially begun querying Cadence, and so far it’s not going completely awful or anything. Which could change at any given point in time, but whatever. (And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.)

Okay, now on to this week’s Wordy Wednesday! This piece is a memoir I wrote back my sophomore year of high school for the unit on the memoir genre in honors English. We wrote a lot of memoirs. All of mine are fairly horrible. And this is one of them.

I give you: “Lesson of the Day: How to Torture  Julia”

**********

Probably the worst thing that can happen within a group of peers is for one person to turn on another, and for no one to listen to the innocent one. There’s no way out of that situation, and it hurts really bad to be the one who is turned upon. When it happened to me, it made me feel helpless, and worthless, and eventually, I began believing all of the lies, too. I mean, my friends were saying them about me, so how couldn’t they be true? And that belief just made the pain even worse.

            It was back in sixth grade… not the best year for me. Both of my parents went away on business trips; Mom to Sweden, Dad to Germany. This meant that I was left with only one or the other home for a week or so at a time. I wasn’t really used to that. On top of that, my beloved guinea pig, Diana, was really sick, and my last gerbil, Chewy, was starting to get old. My great grandmother was unwell and moved up to Michigan from her house in Florida, and more. There was a lot going on for me.

            So, in turn, I was pretty stressed out. It didn’t help that all of my best friends were in other classes, leaving me with no one to hang out with the entire day, including at Lunch and recess. But, lucky for me, pretty quickly a girl new to the district, Erin (fake name, of course) befriended me, and began hanging around with me more and more. We partnered up in all of our classes, sat together at Lunch, played together at recess, and talked in the hallways. We spent every moment of school together. She was new, and so didn’t have many friends. All of my friends were in other classes. We were the perfect match.

            That is, until about January. At that point, one of the other friends we’d made was discovered to have attempted leaving a hateful note in my desk… only that it wasn’t her handwriting, and Erin was the first to know it was there. Of course, I didn’t jump to the conclusion that Erin had done it to try to break the rest of our group apart or anything, because she had never been anything but nice around us, but as time wore on and we began holding our own “court” during recess everyday to try to figure out who the culprit was, it became more and more evident that she had done it.

            For weeks, I suffered on the inside, torn apart at the idea of my best friend doing something that cruel and devious. When I finally brought it up, with pain in my voice, I asked Erin, “You know, I’ve always wondered… why did the handwriting on that one letter look so much like yours?”

            As I soon learned, that was the wrong question to ask. She immediately threw a sort of temper tantrum, and turned on me, shouting for the entire playground to hear, “Huh! I don’t know, Julia! Maybe it’s because you’re trying to frame it like I did it, so you can have all of our friends to yourself!”

            “What? Of course not!” I objected, but it was too late. Erin had that sort of persuasive power… she could make anyone believe anything she wanted to. Starting that very moment, she spent all of her time avoiding me and spreading awful rumors, telling the entire grade secrets I had sworn her never to share with anyone.

By the end of the week, she had built up her forces enough that she was willing to approach me again, and decided that it was quite entertaining to come at me every day at recess. She would have her new friends form a ring around me, shouting out snide remarks about how I was dressed, about my family, about the words I said, and my dreams. She would threaten me, and ridicule me, and get everyone to laugh at me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away, and none of the adults ever believed me, because she was super nice whenever one of the teachers came within earshot.

I cried myself to sleep every night, and wondered why, when I was already having enough trouble coping with life, fate just had to throw another awful thing on my plate.

But, even that wasn’t the worst of it. When the rest of the friends I had managed to make that year saw what was happening, and they heard the words Erin was saying about me, they began joining her side. At first, one or two joined the mob, and then I suddenly looked up and there wasn’t a friendly face left in the crowd. I was all alone in the cruelest world I had ever known: being below the bottom of the totem pole of the sixth grade class.

At one point, I tried getting my mom to talk to Erin, to try to get her to leave me alone, but she pulled the same act as she had with the teachers. Mom still believed what I was saying, but the fact that Erin was never mean around her meant that she couldn’t exactly reprimand her for her behavior.

Then, the next year, Erin tried being BFFs with me again. Over the summer, her fire had died out, leaving her with no one standing beside her, either. Everyone else was bored with torturing Julia, and had left to continue on with their regular lives. But I had lost all trust in her, and refused her offer of renewed friendship. Eighth grade, Erin moved districts again. Her mom explained to mine that she had trouble keeping friends, and so every couple years they moved to give her a new beginning. I was apparently one of the longest lasting friends she had ever had.

It’s hard to look at someone like Erin and think that she’s anything but innocent, when in truth she was far from it. Sometimes I wonder what could have happened to make her the way she was. Others, I just let it go.

**********

34

Talk to you this weekend! (AHHHHHHHHHH!)

 

~Julia

Why I Love My Mom

I just found out that my memoir “On Seventeen” won an Editors’ Choice on Teen Ink! If you’d like to help me out by checking it out (pieces with more ratings and comments on TeenInk.com are more likely to make their way into the magazine), here’s the link:

“On Seventeen”

This weekend, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I suck at playing Scrabble (unless I’m cheating by putting down names instead of words), that my parents passed on a few more of their engineering genes than I’d generally like to admit (I’m currently trying to figure out what to take to college with me by drawing diagrams of my dorm room–you’ve been warned)… and that running and I really do not mix. Especially when I’m wearing flip flops and it’s dark out.

Because while I currently look like this when you see my face (please excuse the fact that I just woke up and therefore, you know, look like it):

… My left knee currently looks like THIS:

And that’s just ONE of my knees on ONE of my legs. Not to mention what happened to my feet (nail polish and nail and skin alike stripped off of my toes) and all of the bruising that those bandages are hiding behind them, along with the massive amounts of road burn.

Let’s just say that I’m never going to try running across the street at 2:00 AM in flip flops Ever. Again. I will be wearing my running shoes from now on, thank you very much.

Having this happen to me Friday night, and then considering the side effects of it (and my utter and unavoidable uncoordinated-ness) ever since, has definitely reminded me of what time of year it is, though. Because although I’m annoyed that this means I can’t go on water rides at the amusement park on Monday and I can’t go swimming while I’m camping next weekend, my main concern actually turned to, What happens if something like this happens while I’m at school?

Because, as much as I’d like to ignore college and pretend that summer will last forever a la Phineas and Ferb, it’s not going to. I’m going to move into my dorm room in twenty or so days, and I’m going to finally get to meet my roommate in person, and I’m going to say goodbye to my parents, and I am going to be a college student. Who doesn’t have her mother to baby her when she falls and scrapes all of the skin off her knees.

I’m going to have to learn to take care of myself.

And yes, I’ll have friends in college who can help me clean off my battle wounds and drown them in Neosporin (and thanks, by the way, to the friends who helped me at 2:00 AM when I first tripped and went sprawling across the cement). But they won’t be the same as my mom–my mom who has loved me unconditionally, through my highest highs and lowest lows and everything in between–for the past eighteen years of my life.

Ironic, isn’t it, how Teen Ink chose today, now, to bring my attention back to that memoir that I wrote the day before I turned eighteen?

So I’m going to enjoy the last of my summer, even though I can’t go near the water without incurring an infection. And I’m going to enjoy college, when I get to it, even though I’m terrified of the changes it’s going to bring. But I’m also going to hold a little closer to all the things my mother has done for me and will do for me, because nobody else will ever love me like she does. And I love her for it.

See you on Wednesday!

~Julia