By: Karlie Taylor
My little brother woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “It hurts! Sissy, help me!”
Half-asleep, I listened to his voice claw at his bedroom door, spill out the hallway, and pull the sheets off of me, forcing me to get up. In his room, I flickered the lights on and off, matching the beat of his heavy-breathing. The next morning, I berated our parents.
“You’d think one of you would’ve heard him scream.” I said. “No, he was not yelling. He was screaming.”
“It was growing pains.” Mom tells me, shrugging the terrifying ordeal off her shoulders as if growing pains really are that easy.
Though I was a very involved high school student, I was always shy. The one friend I stuck with all four years is the one I imagine I’ll be stuck with for the rest of my life. There’s a picture of us as little girls in almost-matching dresses, her dark, curled hair and my blonde, feathery hair both pulled into tiny sprigs at the top of our heads. We’re kissing, but our bodies are far apart. We laugh and say that was the last time we touched.
Sometime along the winding road of elementary school, when I was scared every night of death, and darkness, and occasionally aliens if I was feeling creative, I had a dream about us. It began in a church with a large crowd of people at the altar. Slowly, they passed by an object I couldn’t see. My legs, I realized as I swung them in the air, were dangling off of something. My little hands found the mass which I was sitting on and discovered I was sitting on the ceiling fan. Because of the strange scene, my heart began to race. I looked left and saw the huddled group again. I turned right and there sat my best friend. Her joyous face was an immediate relief.
“Why are they crying?” She howled with laughter. “They didn’t even like us!”
Finally, I realized the crowd was truly a crowd of mourners and we were sitting on the ceiling fan, watching our own funeral. I don’t recall seeing anything that definitely pointed towards the event being a funeral, but in dreams, there are things you just know. And my senior-year of high school was going to be the year I broke out of my shell, I just knew it. There wasn’t a bucket-list or anything like the cheesy movies about high school you find on daytime TV. I had one simple goal: talk. To say yes instead of nodding my head, to say good morning to my teachers, to compliment at least one person a day, all these things were exercises in speaking.
Almost immediately, I fell into a group of friends put together by a girl I always admired for being outspoken. She could make anyone laugh, speak to any adult, and make anyone like her. I wasn’t jealous of her. I was in awe of her. This group merged together every day at lunch to pile into a car and speed off to a local restaurant. We’d dance and shout to music blasting through bass-powered speakers operating at ear-splitting levels, chiseling the words so deep into our minds that we’d sing them as we ran into the school and up the stairs to return, usually late, to English.
“You seem so different this year.” A member tells me and though the compliment nearly makes me cry, I agree and pretend it was all an accident, or maybe, that I’ve been this way all along.
We made plans to skip school and go out of town because it was March 13, 2020 and the attendance rule at our school was abolished. If you missed so many days of school, excused or not, you had to take semesters which were worth a frightening percentage of your final grade, but with that rule gone, we could go anywhere, do anything. Drive an hour away and we could catch a movie, drive two hours and we could go to the zoo. All we had to do was get through the next two weeks and we’d be fine.
During third hour, our principal made an announcement over the speaker saying, “This is your generation’s Vietnam war. This is your 9/11.”
I didn’t understand what he meant, but a heavy feeling settled in my chest and stayed until I got home where my father, feet-up in the recliner with a cat sleeping between his ankles said, “I think today was your last day of high school.”
Through our new laptops, we finished our classes. Every assignment came with an apology note. In the past, I had done online classes through the local community college, but none of them were like this. Our teachers, bless their hearts, were doing all they could to pull us along and get us into our caps and gowns which we did not get to don until June.
My Grandpa Fred, a little man with huge, rough, mostly-palm hands is remembered fondly through his isms. I never thought he was a big talker, not like his children, at least, but the things he said have stuck with his descendants more than I’m sure he wished they would.
It was an oppressively hot summer day and lunch was ready when I walked outside in search of Grandpa. I skipped down the sidewalk, past the block building, and into the machine shed. A cloud of dust followed the opening of the door, announcing my entrance. Grandpa was searching for what I can only assume was a tool he placed in an important spot then forgot where the important spot was. His head was cradled in a ballcap and his used-to-be white shirt was untucked from his jeans. I told him lunch was ready and the conversation veered off to a topic it’s probably best I don’t remember.
Whatever it was, Grandpa gave me a wise piece of advice, “If you’re going to make a mistake, commit to it.”
My first year of college was completely online. I took 300-level courses from my childhood bedroom. Curled up in the corner, I was small in the room filled with all of my best memories. I had to sit on the floor by the door because most of my professors wouldn’t allow us to be in bed while we were visually-present in our synchronous classes and because it was the only way to keep my family out of my room.
I had an American Lit professor who was absolutely amazing. Every word she said struck me as vitally important. Though I often did not have the energy to complete the assigned reading, I tried to answer her questions, impress her, and make her believe I was smart too. With death tolls rising and terrifying information flying at the nation faster than a jet plane, this professor asked us if we wanted to talk about the state of things. One of my classmates, in the midst of questions about college and the future of academics, asked, “What do you think we should be doing?” My professor’s answer: Write. She told us to get a blank notebook (she knew we had plenty laying around. We were English majors after all.) and scribble down every thought, every feeling, every little thing we could come up with. It would be important to us one day.
Once I closed my computer, I grabbed my note-taking pen and wrote a message on my door frame, “School 2021” and signed my name.
Three years later, I return to my high school, a bit battered, but older and hopefully wiser than the last time I stood within its walls. I sit behind a desk and take attendance for classes filled with kids I do not recognize. My teachers speak to me like I’m a real adult, like I’m someone worth talking about the weather to, talking about their children to. Some days I try not to cling to my mom, the school nurse, some days I follow her around like a little duckling. In every sense, it’s strange to be back, but it’s healing too, to know that the people you’ve loved keep growing without you and maybe, just maybe, you’ve grown a little too.