Categories
Creative Writing

The Elmo Tree

The endless sea of tall green pine trees had engulfed every aspect of the horizon. With each I passed, ten replaced it. Nothing seemed to change as the forest walls became a monotonous eyesore. I shouldn’t have been so focused on the pines, but rather the destination at hand. Which itself was nothing special, but returning to the parked bright red Saturn and turning on the AC was reward enough to encourage me to continue my hike.

The trails are the only place where I feel truly alone. The occasional bird chirping and rustle in the surroundings were a comfort in the desired loneliness. I can watch as the sparrows fly just above the canopy and see their small brown bodies through the thin canopy of needles and green leaves above the path. Finally away from the speeding cars on the paved road but accompanied by the songs of the branches and forest floor.

I have been on this path numerous times. Either joined by my father or brother who always made hiking more of a chore than a passtime. Dad wouldn’t talk much, but he always liked to be ahead and spoil the surprises of what nature had to offer on our adventure. Once, he had claimed to have seen an eight point buck before us. It had disappeared into the surrounding wild before I could see – the wonder was ripped away when he was here. Going with Nick was what I could only imagine handling a toddler was like. Though older than me, he would demand to come and then complain the entire time. He wanted to drive, wanted to go down the green trail, his legs were hurting, his shoe was untied, he wanted to turn around – he wanted to do the opposite of everything I do when set out onto the trail. 

Today, however, both had been reluctant to join me. Not that I had asked, but they had seen my preparations – filling up the water bottle, tying my shoes, putting a few small snacks into my backpack along with an extra water bottle and bandaids. Nick would’ve asked to join me then, but he walked past me with nothing more than a glance before he turned his attention back to his phone. Dad barely said goodbye since his focus was on the television in front of him, watching yet another rerun of Seinfeld. 

Hiking was an activity best done alone. I could walk at my own pace, take breaks, and choose which way to go every time. It was not nearly as fun when I came with my family. If I wanted to go down the red path, Dad would say it was too long of a trail and that we needed to get back home for dinner. Nick would outright refuse until I gave in and did what he wanted. Though it wasn’t often I loved hiking alone. Especially down the red path.

It was longer than the green one, and it was a trail that led back into the other after about four miles. I had never finished the red path in full. Dad was hesitant to cross over the three-mile mark, believing that it was out of range from any cell towers. His voice echoed in my mind anytime I saw the name of the trail: What if something happens? How will someone help us?

Nick never wanted to come down this way.

I was focused on finishing this trail, the goal being to make it around the complete circuit, rather than turning around and crawling back the way I came as if I was a scared child. The mileage wasn’t a problem for me, but rather the motivation to continue walking through a path that became repetitive.

The spot that Dad always had us turn around at came up ahead. There was a large spruce tree where he would lean his arm on and say the fatal phrase: Lets head back. I did not stop this time. Before me was an environment I have never seen before. The monotony was ending, and refilling my mind with the adventurous spirit that had been lost. My heart rate was quick while passing by the turn-back-tree and stepping onto the untouched trail. My eyes flicker back and forth across the land in front of me. The trees on the surface look the same as the ones now far behind me, but these ones were special. My eyes had never settled on each of their leaves, branches, or roots before as if they had just been placed there just now. My eyes were new as I explored further, eyes tracking over each divet in the bark.

The path curved ahead and left my field of vision surrounded by the towering natural wonders. These were new trees, their leaves seemed lighter than the ones before it. There were less pines and tall spruce trees encompassed more of the space. I stopped just before the turn, and I looked in front of me between the trunks and brambles and listened.

The classic chirps of the forest were familiar. I could whistle along to the calls, clicking my tongue when the birds would finish their songs. The leaves rustled in the cool breeze which fended off the blistering sun. The sound of brambles and bushes spread throughout the forest was like a choir – the tenors following the lead of the sopranos flowing along with the soft whistle as the wind conducted. 

There was nothing as relaxing and centering as standing surrounded by the giants of nature. I took a step off of the path, facing out at the forest, and sat down against the rough exterior. Everything before me had been here long before I had. As new as it all felt I wonder how long they truly were here – tens of hundreds of years, maybe. They have been untouched by the human inspiration and were left to be the bystanders as to what happened outside of the borders of the state park. 

Far before me was nothing but the same hills and valleys of the trees. It was quiet besides the soundtrack of the forest and I realized that I couldn’t hear the sounds of the cars passing by on the road, such as the honk of an impatient driver or the screech of a break being tapped just in time. There were no other hikers, no voices lingering behind nor echoing miles ahead. The empty air was replaced with what had been here before man. The earth was untouched and left to thrive alongside the animals that called the canopies and dirt home. How was it that something could be so fresh? Somehow, this space had been spared by humanity. Nothing was man made nor resembled something that had been left behind by a lone hiker than may have passed before me. I didn’t care if my phone was disabled, nor did I desire to check, as I wasn’t alone in these moments. 

The one difference between the trees was one in the distance ahead of me. It was as if there were red leaves fallen around the base of the tree, or that the bark was dyed to mimic a fire truck. The more my eyes focused on it, the more it stuck out amongst the greenery. I glanced behind me at the safety of the path and hesitated at the idea of investigating this possible miracle of nature. I had never seen a tree like that, and for a moment the thought that it may be a mirage.

Looking at the path behind me one more time, I set forth towards the oddity. How was it that there could be something so strange in the middle of this serene isolation? I had never seen anything like it, let alone anything such as a red tree. It was an image out of a preschool crayon drawing.

The closer I got, the more I noticed. There were white speckles, and it seemed that only the bottom of the tree was red. The rest of the pine branches above looked just as the others did – evergreen. There seemed to be fuzz, perhaps it was red moss – growing along the tree or even taking it over. This other form took over the base and was suffocating the natural beauty out of it.

It took until I was near the perimeter of the tree to realize that what I was staring at was not a phenomenon of nature, but rather a grotesque invasion of mankind. Surrounding the base of the tree and the majority of the exposed trunk were plush red creatures, with giant white eyes and strange dark smiles. These Elmo dolls weren’t just sitting against the tree, but they were nailed into the bark, rusting over the faded black metal that sat driven through the chests of the stuffed animals. Some were stapled there or hung from the lowest branches. Their pupils were long gone, worn away by the rain most likely, and the fuzzy red bodies sagged towards the earth.

The scene from a horror movie seemed surreal and took my mind a moment to catch up with my heart that was about to jump out of my chest. Who thought that this, of all places, was where they should have their occult shrine? Had this been the action of a cult, why did they choose Elmo? Why this tree? During the night when the moon is at its fullest and highest point, did they dress in thick black robes and dance around the base of the tree, torches in hand and chating ‘Elmo’s World’? Or, perhaps this is where they brought their sacrifices to suffer the wrath of their worshipped God in the middle of the woods where no one else could hear their screams?

A cult that worshipped Elmo would be too much for fiction purposes, let alone in reality. But I couldn’t begin to think of a logical reason as to why this tree, so far off the beaten path, was chosen for this shrine. Whoever decided that this was going to be their first public art piece hadn’t thought their actions through hard enough. This took stage fright to a whole new level.

Someone coming out here and deciding this was appropriate to do in this protected space bothered me the most about this. Not the horrific monstrosity in front of my eyes, but the individual who sat stapling and nailing the childrens toys to the tree. This was the one place I felt connected to my roots – the roots of the natural world and the beauty it could produce. This is where man was not supposed to be and therefore not interfere with the natural cycle. They would one day fall off of the tree, whether it be natural causes or my own hand, and they would be left to degrade in the dirt. Animals would take the stuffing and build their nests with the extra insulation or even attempt to snack on the innards. Elmo would never leave this place, plaguing the earth for generations since his body wouldn’t blend back into the earth. Maybe one day, someone would find them fossilized – and wonder what other odd creatures sat beneath the dirt. These weren’t supposed to be here. They tainted the wonder and freedom of the area which was few and far between.

The use of the Elmo dolls was the most concerning to me because it wasn’t something that an adult would lean towards when creating a distasteful art piece. Usually that fell along the lines of spray paint. Perhaps it was meant to be a disturbing popup in the middle of the premade tranquility. Someone believed that this was the perfect spot to show their creation. It was off the trail and only in view if you were looking for a difference in the sea of trees. This wasn’t supposed to be located easily. Had my curiosity not gotten the best of me, I wouldn’t have seen it myself. This was meant to be hidden from public view. The artist wasn’t afraid of showing their work, but wanted to have someone stumble across it and have the same reaction I was having.

That left more questions than answers. If this was an art piece it should’ve been seen – that’s what art was for. In the case of this piece, it was no different – something that should’ve been seen if it was what my mind believed that it was, not that I even wanted to believe that it was sitting there in front of me. If it wasn’t an art piece, then what was it?

I walked around the tree slowly, taking the time to scan over all sides and what kinds of dolls were on it. There weren’t just plush bodies, but plastic action figures that hung from the branches as well as Elmo’s dressed up in crowns or t-shirts. Though they were all similar, some had more damage than others. Perhaps someone’s child had outgrown their Elmo phase and they didn’t want any of the toys anymore, and the parent thought that this was a dump zone for the long forgotten child obsessions. 

This was too put together to be a dump. Someone took the time to nail the dolls to the tree, and arrange them around the tree. No one who just wanted to dump the toys would have put this much effort into the act of trashing the unused clutter. 

I had loved Sesame Street when I was a child, and Elmo was the staple of the show. He had been my favorite as well – my toy of choice to cuddle with late at night. I was attached for years until second grade when my friends had stopped watching the show. He was shoved to the bottom of my toy box and forgotten about until I stumbled upon the mystery in front of me. Maybe it was a graveyard for long lost Elmo’s of children like me. Ones that outgrew their childhood favorites and tossed them off to the next set of the obsessed.

Cousins of mine were still young enough to appreciate and love the singing red puppet. Seeing the show pop up on the television reminded me of preschool where I carried around my Elmo backpack every day. It was my most prized possession – Santa had given it to me for the holidays the year before. It was special – everyone loved Elmo, but no one else in my daycare class had a backpack like mine. I could remember how cute my aunts and uncles thought it was, his smiling red face on the back of the bag for the world to see as I skipped off to preschool. I would play with the bag and hold the face in my hands, singing “Elmo’s World” as I played with the ‘real’ Elmo that I could carry around everyday.

Now the only times I saw him or thought of him were when I got stuck babysitting while the parents of the family went out for drinks and dinner. One of my youngest cousins, Thea, slept under an Elmo blanket every night. She had had it as long as I had been babysitting for her. The brightly colored blanket painted with reds, greens, and yellows had his face smiling in the middle of it. She brought that blanket around with her everywhere that she went. Even when she was sick and stuck in the hospital for a week, the blanket followed her there. Laid out over top the off white excuse for a blanket was the colors and character that brought light into Thea’s eyes. 

She was no different than any other child, but she walked out of the hospital afterwards and continued as if nothing had happened. Maybe this was a tribute to someone, a child much like Thea, but not as lucky.  A family longing for their lost child could have come out here and hung the dolls in a way of remembrance of the death of their loved one. A life taken far too soon from the world memorialized in the forest where they would be left from the hand of man, forever thriving amongst the grasses and growth surrounding. 

It was a good thing that Elmo would not decay out here. The stuffing, whether it was packed into a new nest or left on the ground – Elmo would live on. His red body would stay on the tree as long as the staples would hold it there – and it would not be touched. This place was protected, and protected this memory. Even if I didn’t understand it myself, I knew that this was important to someone out there, someone who had walked the Red path many times before. Maybe it was the family’s favorite tree. Either way, Elmo would remain out here as long as nature would let it.

I looked over the tree for a few more moments. It was a melancholy realization that was I thought originally was a horrific cult symbol was possibly the memorial for a passed on child. Childhood was never considered grotesque, and in this untouched space it is the first thought that my mind towards. This was the perfect place for this memorial to be located – away from the trail where someone could come along and destroy it, but at the turn in the path, where one who was looking for it could locate it by walking straight through the small openings between the trees. This was just as natural as what grew around it – the earth didn’t know the difference.

I stood for a moment longer and watched the fur blow in the wind before I turned and began my trek away from the unknown. Getting back on the trail felt odd, looking down the section that I had yet to walk down yet. Maybe there were more Elmo’s further down, or one decked out in Barney merch. With the tree in my mind, I continued on.

Categories
Creative Writing

4:30 AM

It’s early enough to know that I shouldn’t be awake. There is no light aside from the grocery store night light plugged in by the doorway – casting a comforting orange hue onto the dark purple-painted walls. If I turn my head, the charging light of my lap top will shine in my eyes – the same orange color – and distract the mind from falling back asleep.

There is no particular reason that I should be asleep much like the house surrounding. Quiet wooden floors and plush white carpeting do not creak nor muffle the sound of steps – everything is as quiet as it should be at 4:30AM.

I sit up in bed, using the bottom of my palms to rub stars into the closed eyes they rested upon. The black faded once again as I rose from bed and moved into the hallway. A similar light is cast over the banister of the stairs that leads down into the dark abyss of the first floor just across from the canary red bathroom that I share with my older brother.

The door is half shut and remains that way. Turning the faucet on, I turn it to cold water and splash it on my face, leaned over the white Coca-Cola stained basin. It drips from my face back down the drain as I pick up the wool green towel crumpled up on the opposite side of the counter. I look at the person in the mirror before me as I pull the cloth away from my eyes.

It is hard imagining being the same person that has experienced their own fair share of trauma and life experiences as the girl who stands in front of a half-lit mirror wearing llama pajama pants and her fathers oversized t-shirt.

This was the same girl that had stood here numerous times before, face flush from the cold water resting on the surface, thinking the same exact thoughts over and over again. I had stood here nearly every day for 10 years – 11 in July – and each time my eyes locked with the light blue ones reflected back at me, I knew that this girl and this moment would just be repeated again. Not knowing what would be coming next, what life would be like exactly one year from now.

I don’t live there anymore. I am there visiting for the holidays and staying the night. I can hear my fathers voice down in the living room laughing at the Minions movie on TV, my mother’s fingers typing on the mechanical keyboard in front of her work laptop. My brother, still, is screaming at Call of Duty on the PS5 he plays in the room across the hall from mine. I wash my face and then sit at the top of the black carpeted stairs, listening to the sounds of the life I grew up with crawling over the walls of the house.

I still live at home, taking classes virtually from my desk beside the bed I sleep in every night. This is just another event that started the year before – waking up at 4:30AM every other day for no reason other than to get out of bed – and continues to haunt my nights. I haven’t slept through the night in weeks, waking up at least 5 or 6 times between the fall and the rise. I return to bed after closing the bathroom door, dreading my Spanish class that will test all of my knowledge at 9:30.

I haven’t fallen asleep yet – rather stayed up working on a project that I knew I should’ve started sooner but left until the last minute as always. I am at page 6 of 10 and if I take this one break I’ll be able to finish by 6AM and submit it. Whether it’s good or not – it will be submitted and I will rest, ignoring the rest of my assignments for a later date as I catch up on the much needed sleep.

Or maybe this is the last time that I look into the mirror. This is the last time that I can think back on all of the experiences of the girl staring back at me – the last time I can daydream about what could be coming next. The house could be sold in two months – the family could move and I would not be looking at the same mirror I did at 10 years old when the first gaze into it occurred, never thinking that she’d make it this far.

I drop my gaze and continue to pat myself dry. Leaving the towel in the same balled up position, I step out of the bathroom and close the door behind me. I decide that I don’t want to look into the mirror anymore tonight and I return to my imprint in bed. With the blankets lying over my frame, I shut my eyes and hug the extra pillow to the right. These thoughts will be left for another night – another 4:30AM.

Categories
Reflections

Accountability

Accountability: this is something that I have a problem with. I never seem to be able to hold myself to the standards that I set. Whether this be for my daily life or for my writing (we’re going to focus on the writing aspect of this today).

My freshman year of college, I told myself that I was going to write a book by the end of the year. I set a date for myself to publish on: December 19, 2019. I told everyone that I was going to self publish my book that day.

It’s June, 2020. If you can’t tell, I didn’t publish that book. So, what went wrong?

Well, I had a set schedule. I gave myself four months to write the first draft of the piece. April was going to be for my personal edits, the first half of May was rewriting the first draft. The second half of May was (you guessed it) editing again. June and July were set aside for test readers, and the rest of the year was not entirely planned, but I wanted to have my manuscript done by the end of October. 

The months came and went, and I had done nothing. My problem, consistently, is motivation.

I consider myself to have a lot of creativity, and that I am constantly flowing with new ideas. My first google drive I ever made has almost 100 folders and subfolders in it. I have vivid dreams that often result in becoming part of a new story I want to tell. Motivation is the problem here because once I have the main idea, it is near impossible for me to get myself to work on anything.

I decided that I just needed to work on things whenever I did have the motivation. After all, what was the point of forcing myself to work on something that I wouldn’t end up being proud of?

November 2019 happened. I wrote over 67,000 words that month. I wrote the entirety of my play Blue Ends and edited it twice. I also wrote the majority of my unnamed Sci-fi novel (17 chapters if I remember correctly).

Why did that suddenly happen? Because it was for a class assignment. My Fiction Writing Workshop class (ENG308, respectively) participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – November). I had never finished a piece of writing that quickly in my entire life. Blue Ends was written in a matter of three days – and edited within the first week. 

I held myself accountable because someone else was expecting me to do my work. Having my professor use this assignment to be the majority of my final grade made me write. Thanks, Tricia, cause without you I probably wouldn’t have started working on the skills that I’m developing now. 

How do I hold myself accountable now?

As of this week, I have started using a new planner! It helps me plan out my month, week, and daily schedule. Plus, it’s also super cute! These pages are designed to help you achieve your monthly goals. 

Planner by Rachel Hollis

Another way I have started to try and hold myself accountable is through writing down what I want to get done as much as possible. I have my quick ideas written down on my whiteboard on my desk – so whenever I’m at my computer, I have to look at it. At work, I’ll write down sentences or phrases I think of that I want to put into a story on a piece of receipt paper. I have a list of ideas scrawled in almost every notebook in my bedroom. 

I tell my friends about what I’m working on. Maybe not in detail, but they always check in on me to make sure that I’m A) doing well, and B) bounce ideas off of one another. A lot of my close friends also enjoy the arts, so it’s nice to be able to have this option to help my accountability. 

Lastly, though it may seem counter productive: I give myself a break. One thing I learned in the past year is that you shouldn’t be holding yourself to such high standards all the time. Everyone needs a break. I take time each week to self-care and self-soothe myself to ensure my mentality is the best that it can be. 

Holding myself accountable is hard, but I’ve found some ways to try and help myself. Let me know how you hold yourself accountable in the comments below!

Categories
Reflections

I Don’t Sound Like a Whiny Bitch

January, 2020:

I have no idea how to express the emotions that I have inside of my head.

            This essay has been written now a total of four times. Each time, I have attempted to write the same story of self-discovery and finding the word that describes me. Each time I delete the essay (well, not delete. But I delete it from my mind) and open up a new, blank document. I try to find the words to describe how I’m feeling again. As if the new, empty white landscape will somehow stir the correct word out of the hibernation happening in my brain. Each time, I’m shocked it doesn’t work.

            In the first attempt at writing this essay, I wrote about the label I put on myself in the first sentence. I use this word as an act of defiance of my fingers. They don’t want to type the word out. They want to type anything but that word. I wrote it in order to see the word written out in front of me and know that it describes me, but yet I am still so scared to say it aloud. I am scared to say it to the wrong group of people. I am scared that I will have to change my mind.

            I think that’s the worst part about putting this down in words. That I’ll be wrong and I’ll have to change my mind, yet again. The warring sides of my brain violently tear each other apart as I try to decide whether I want this label. The thought of writing it down in words is the worst part, I think. Writing it down on paper makes it permanent.

            Speaking it out into the world is different. When I speak them to myself alone in my room, they dissipate into the air as if they were never there are all. The hit the walls around me and reflect back on myself like a gleaming spotlight. I can be proud of knowing who I am in my room. I can walk up to the microphone and say with the prestige and poise of the Queen of England. In reality, my hairbrush suffices as a microphone and my crowd of applauding audience members is just my collection of Funko Pop figures.

            When I said it to the small group of people that know – not at the same time, of course – it was different too. Wrapped in the confined space of their endless support and appreciation. As the words fall out of my unprepared mind and into the shared space, their eyes light up with joy as I finally tell them one of the many secret aspects of my confined mind.

***

April, 2020:

I stopped scrolling. It’s May now. I am not afraid of the words anymore. I have come out to not only my family, but myself.

            There are a lot of things to unpack. Not only in this first section, but rather throughout the whole essay. I was in an insecure spot in my life in these days leading up to writing this piece. Thinking back to when my fingers flew over the keyboard, I think I was trying to reason with myself in this piece.

            I learned a lot after this. A now good friend taught me how to become comfortable with myself. I want to thank her for all of the support and love she’s given me after finally coming out.

            I know now that my feelings are valid, and I am not alone. I don’t need everyone to know and accept it. All it matters is how I’m feeling now. That’s what this text should represent.

***

I told my father first before anyone else. Before I even admitted it to myself, actually. Lying on the couch, listening to him make a comment about how one day he’ll be able to walk me down the aisle to my husband.

            “I don’t like guys, dad.”

            “Really? Not even a little bit?” He asked me with his full attention taken away from the television.

            “Not really.” I expected him to tell me that it was a phase, that it wasn’t right, or that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like guys. I had been raised that way. Actually, conditioned would be a better word for it.

            To my surprise, he only said “You can love who you want to love. As long as you aren’t lonely.”

            “I wouldn’t mind being alone. I’ll just have cats for the rest of my life,” I replied with a chuckle.

            He didn’t laugh but smiled wearily at me “That’s what you say now. But it sucks to be alone.”

I was left looking at him, having a newfound understanding of my father. The man who called himself a ‘Florida Cracker’ really did understand me. He wanted me to be happy. All of the offensive jokes he makes or the brutal slurs he yells while driving may start to define his surface, but deep down he cared. He always had.

As I smiled at him, my father, lovingly said as a Subaru commercial came on the tv “Do we have to get rid of the jeep and get you one of those now? Subaru’s are lesbian cars, you know.”

***

I had, and continue to be, worried about labeling myself. What if I changed my mind again? I thought at first that I just wasn’t attracted to anyone and that I never would be. I was okay with the idea of being alone because I thought that’s what my label wanted me to be, which is entirely not true. I focused myself on doing research to find out that the word didn’t mean ‘alone forever’ or ‘crazy cat lady for life.’ It just meant that I felt the way that I did when it came to relationships, and that I could still be loved and feel love.

***

            The first, and only, boy I dated – we’ll call him Al. We had been friends all of middle school. I never thought before him that I would ever have that moment where someone would have a crush on me. At the end of eighth grade, he texted me saying that if I didn’t feel the same way that he did, he wasn’t going to be upset. He still wanted to be friends with me. He liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

            My fingers went in circles around the keyboard buttons of my iPod touch. I eventually came up with the response: “My parents won’t let me date until high school.”

            In ninth grade, I thought that he had forgotten about that comment. I didn’t feel “butterflies” in my stomach, or my thoughts always revolving around the idea of being with him. I never wrote my name down repeatedly in my notebook with his last name plastered next to it. Besides, Johnson just didn’t roll off the tongue quite right.

            In the middle of the summer leading up to our sophomore year, he texted me again. It was practically the same message. He wanted to be with me.

            It took me a long time to type out the simple message. I wanted him to know that I cared about him and that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I had worked so hard on it, I wanted it to sound like I was saying the words. I wanted it to come from the heart. I told him I thought that I liked him too.

***

            It’s easy to look back at the time in my life and understand that this wasn’t just me wanting to please everyone. Being able to look at this situation four years after the fact makes it so easy for me to point out every single thing I did wrong in that moment. I confused what friendship and a crush were. Even then, I find that to feel like an excuse because I’m giving a reason as to why I wanted to please him. I honestly think that I did it because I truly thought I liked him, and because it was drilled into my head starting at a young age to please a man.

            He made me happy. He made me feel appreciated. We had the same sense of humor and we both got along with each other’s friends. Al volunteered to build care packages for soldiers overseas. His family helped out with the local elections. He lived on a farm, and he took care of horses. He never said a negative thing about me or my friends. Every step of the way in our friendship, and relationship, he was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.

            I learned a lot about what a crush meant to me in that relationship. I knew that it had to have similar feelings as being in a friendship. You had to have similar interests to them, be able to spend time together consistently and be able to respect one another. Romantically, I still question what my personal definition of a crush is. I know that you have to be attracted to the person in some sense and that you want to be willing to learn and grow. That sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.

***

            Sometimes I wish I had that stereotypical coming-of-age movie moment, where I’m sitting in my car crying because my boyfriend cheated on me with the girl that I thought was my best friend. I wish I had the moment when I realized that my real best friend was in love with me and that I loved them too. I wish I had the moment where everything felt okay in the end. I want the credits to roll and I want to have my life figured out.

            I desperately want to label myself in the hopes that having this community around me will suddenly make me feel like those end credits are rolling by. The community would give me a place to feel safe, and to be able to express myself to the fullest extent. I see people around me who consider this part of their identity and envelop themselves in its warmth. They don’t label themselves with it, they make the word become theirs within their own personal definition.

            I want it to become my own word. I don’t want it to just mean what it means generally, but rather what it means in my life, in my experiences, and in my standards. I want it to become a part of my identity. I am aching to have this sense of embracing this word and connecting myself with it at a spiritual level. To have it collide within myself and soul. There is a desire within me to pull this word close and wrap it around my fingertips and write this word out.

            I can’t do it yet. I can’t write it down. I don’t trust myself at this point to not change my mind. The fear of being wrong about my label, again, drags me deeper and deeper down into wanting to keep it out of my writing. I know that it is who I really am, but it is difficult to embrace the thought when I am covered in cactus pricklers. It’s as if there’s a piece of my brain that never wants me to make up my mind and make a concrete decision. I’ve changed my major several times, thought about changing schools, and most of all thought about changing who I am so that I can fit into the general norms surrounding me.

***

            The heteronormative lifestyle around me within my hometown suffocates me at every turn. There is no obvious representation, but rather that the prom king and queen get the most attention for the year. The theatre departments never do shows involving the communities outside of what we see as ‘normal.’ These ideals were pushed upon me beginning with the simple cartoons I watched as a child, to my parents pressuring me into calling my boy friends my boyfriends in elementary school. Just a little space in between the words caused change within my mind as well as many others who feel a similar way.

***

I have told numerous people about my confusion in writing this. I have told people that this essay has changed four times. I have told people what this is really about. What I haven’t told people is that this is the way for me to actively get these feelings out of my brain and into the light. It gives me a chance to read out what my brain really means. It gives me a chance to talk about the word that I long for and strive to avoid labeling myself with. It gives my brain a chance to breathe.

***

            Since writing this piece, I have become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Not only within myself, but with other areas within myself. I want to tell my past self, though it is only four months later, that she is valid. Even now, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’m going to have to come out again. If I’m going to have to tell everyone that I was wrong, again.

Well, self, that’s okay. Past Colleen, you are a strong and brave woman. Your feelings and anxiety of the situation is valid. You can change your mind in the morning. It’s okay.