Thursday, September 27, 2012


"What do you want to do?"

I glanced up at Mikayla. "Um, finish my homework?"

She wrinkled her nose at me. "No, not today. I mean, what do you want to do? Your life! What do you want to be, where do you want to go? We have our whole lives ahead of us...  where do you think you're going to be in ten years?"

"What are you, my guidance counselor?" I shrugged. "It doesn't matter, anyway.  Getting through junior year is about as far ahead as I can think."

"Emmalynn, you have no imagination. Of course it matters! Don't you have any dreams? Places you want to go, things you want to do? Don't all those books you read tell you anything? Don't you want to be something bigger than... than this?"

I put my pencil down. "Mickey, we live in a small town.  I can't have big dreams because they aren't going to come true.  I'm going to finish high school and go to the community college.  Then I'm going to drop out and get a job at the Dari Mart.  And marry Butch the Guy at the Auto Shop.  We'll live in a house behind his parents, have two children, and a dog who won't pee outside. And if I have big dreams, I'll never be able to be pretend I'm happy with that." I picked my pencil back up and turned back to my homework.  "What'd you get for #6?"

"Fine, geez." Mikayla's eyebrows furrowed in hurt.  "Forget I asked."


The clock blinked in the dark. 3am.  Rolling over, I punched some numbers into my phone and listened to the ring.

Mikayla mumbled sleepily into the other end. "Mmm, hello?  It's 3 o'clock in the morning, this had better be important."

I blinked into the dark of my room.

"Emmy?" she asked.  "Are you okay?"

"Paris. I want to go to Paris. And I want to stand on the top of the Eiffel Tower and kiss a Frenchman named Jacques-Pierre in the fire of a French sunset. I want to go to NYU. I want to take a ride in a hot air balloon. I want to write and scribble my name on the front page of my own book in an uncomfortable line of people at the Barnes and Noble. I want to ride on a gondola in Venice and I want to see the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and I want to walk along the Great Wall of China.  Not the whole thing.  I want to go to a party and kiss some guy whose name I don't know just because he thinks I'm pretty. I want to have a closet with 50 pairs of shoes, one for every occasion... sometimes the same shoe in multiple colors.  And a Broadway show.  I want to dress up and see something I've always wanted to see right there off of Times Square."

Nothing but silence.

"Mickey, are you there?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm here. Can we start with Paris?"

Photo Credit: Rian Castillo

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Coffee in hand, I glanced through the attic window at the driving rain before settling among the boxes on the floor. A cloud of dust filled the room as I tugged the lid off of the first one and I sneezed.  Three times. I could tell this was going to go well.

I could think of about fifty things I'd rather do with my day, but I'd been putting off going through the boxes in Mother's attic for weeks.

We needed to sell this house.

I pulled out a stack and started flipping through the old photographs.  They must have belonged to my grandmother? My great-grandmother?  So many people that I didn't have any idea who they were, staring blearily into the camera, waiting for it to immobilize their lives into still life for some unknown descendant to stare at with indifference and bewilderment years down the road.  How was I connected to these people?  How was I like them? Did they worry about the same things I worry about? Did they have the same faults, the same strengths? Did they make the same mistakes?

Flip. Flip. Flip. One after the other, discarded at my feet.

Mid-flip, I stopped.  One picture caught me. It was different from the others.  A girl, I think.  It was so hazy.  She was reaching for the camera, the person behind the camera? I didn't know, but I felt like she was seeing me. Really seeing me. I knew that wasn't right, couldn't be right.

I flipped her.  But, beside me into her own stack.

Flip, flip, flip through more pictures while I tried to ignore her.

Listen to me. I could hear her. I could hear her trying to talk to me.

I picked up the picture again and stared into her eyes.  "What?" I said aloud and then flushed.  I was talking to a picture, that was ridiculous. I put it back on the floor.

Flip, flip flip.

Please listen to me. The voice in my head seemed to plead.

I sighed and picked her up again, searching her eyes.  Who was she?  Why was she here?  And while I stared, her expression changed.  Her eyes became sad, resigned. Her fingers closed.  Her lips moved. It's too late. He's already here.

"Who?" I asked the girl in the picture. "Who's here?"

That's when I looked up and saw his face in the window.

Monday, September 17, 2012


"Ding Dong, the witch is dead."  That was the tweet.

I'll spare you the situational details, but the witch was me.  And that one stung deeply. I guess it was meant to.

But, it also wasn't devastating.

It would have been.  Two years earlier, I would have cried. I would have retreated and tried to pull the blanket over my head. I would have been really hurt. I would have taken and absorbed every drop of blame, both the deserved and the undeserved. I would have been completely broken by the criticism.

But this wasn't two years earlier.  This was now. This was two years of learning who I was and who I wasn't.  This was two years spent living and making mistakes and learning from them. This was two years of friendship with a mentor who repeatedly taught me how to let things roll off my back (one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned).  This was two years of learning to listen to the people who cared about me and who mattered to me.

It used to be that everyone's opinions mattered to me. I wanted everyone to like me. I needed everyone to like me.  And so, everyone's opinions made up what I thought of myself.  I even changed myself to fit who I thought other people wanted me to be because I needed their opinions to be positive ones.  Even, I guess, if their opinions of me (while possibly favorable) weren't actually who I was.

But I've slowly come to understand that everyone liking me is never going to happen.  Positive opinions from everyone are never going to exist.  I had to come to a place where I understood that this was okay. And this was okay because there did exist people who loved me for who I was, who liked me for who I was and am.  I came to learn that it wasn't the criticisms of the world that mattered, but the criticisms of these people.  That if I was okay with these people, the people who were important to me, then it wasn't so important that I be okay with the whole world.

So, a year later from this "Ding Dong the witch is dead"?  It still stings a bit. And it still hurts. But I don't let the criticism cripple me because I know who I am and I know who's important.

I hope you won't let the criticism cripple you, either.  You're loved by someone, and it's them who matters.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


You hurt me.  But, I put on the mask so you wouldn't know.
You confused me. But, I put on the mask so you wouldn't know.
I failed again. But, I put on a mask so you wouldn't know.
I have dreams that are bigger than I think I can accomplish.  But, I have masks so you won't know.
I'm afraid that you will kick me when I'm down. So, I put on the mask before you know you have an opening.

A thousand reasons, a thousand different masks.  And I wear them all.

For what?

So you won't know that I can feel pain?  So you won't know that I don't always understand?
So you won't know that I'm not perfect?  So you won't know my heart's desires?
So you won't know that I'm afraid of what you can do to me?

I do. All of these things, I do.

But, I'm afraid for you to know. 

I'm afraid of your rejection. I'm afraid of your indifference. I'm afraid of your words.
Sometimes I'm just afraid of your silence.

I wonder, on quiet nights like this one, who I could be if I wasn't afraid...  who I could be if I had no masks to wear and no one to fear.

I wonder who I would be and how I would be different.

If I was the person behind the masks.

Monday, September 3, 2012


"Amanda and I had this great idea for Mom's Christmas present this year!!" It was early November and one of my sisters was on the phone.  "You know how Mom collects angels?"


"Well, we thought that each of us could go to one of those 'Paint Your Own Ceramics' places, paint an angel on a tile, and then we could put them altogether in a frame for her."  She was very excited.

My heart sank. "Carey... I don't know.  Yours would be great, and Amanda's would be great.  But, you've seen my drawing skills.  Mine will be awful."

"Oh, it's not that hard.  Come on, PLEASE?  We really want to do it.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!"

How could I say "No"?

"Alright," I sighed.  But I knew I was right.  Mine was going to be awful.

I'm not an artist.

I don't mean that I'm not Claude Monet.  I mean, I'm not an artist... AT ALL.  Every project I ever turned in during elementary school came back with an A- and the words "Illustrations need more work."  It's not that I didn't try.  I DID.  I tried so hard...  But it's like I was born without the thing that makes you able to turn the picture in your head into the picture in your hand.  I tried to fudge it with stencils, but I even managed to screw those up.

I didn't grow out of it either.  I was saved in junior high and high school by the ability to use clip art.  But I've always, my whole life, been a total failure at anything artsy.  Anything crafty, too.  I've always looked on my friends who are crafty with a certain amount of envy.  They create such cute homemade gifts, but I know I'm literally unable to make things look anything even approaching cute.  I'm not even being mean to myself.  I'm being honest!

But, my sisters really wanted to do this.  It would be embarrassing, but I was willing to take one for the team.

I practiced.  I drew angel after angel, tossing page after page as they all looked like...  I don't even know... mutant flies?  Finally, I settled on a person I thought I could maybe possibly paint and took myself to the painting store.  I was there for hours, painstakingly creating this angel...  and I was proud of myself!  It almost sort of kind of looked like an angel.

I gave it to the lady and then returned to pick it up a week later.  My artsy little angel.

"What... is that?" my husband asked that night, as he spied it sitting on the table.

"It's an angel!" I answered, a bit indignantly.

"Oh.  Why does it have slits in its dress?"

"Those are arms!"

"Right, sorry."  He stared at it for a long time.  "Is that a... mohawk?"

I sighed, dejectedly.  "No.  It's supposed to be a part in her hair."

He patted my hand with sympathy.  "Well. Good thing it's for your mom."

The tiles were put together and framed.  They were wrapped.  On Christmas morning, they were unwrapped and cried over.  Mom loved it.  I suppose it was worth it.

And to this day, there it sits on her living room wall.  Two beautiful angels... and, well...  the one that looks like it came from Reject Preschool.

I know you think I'm exaggerating.  But, I assure you...

I am not.