Reading is easy, and reading is fun—but only for other kids. Not for you.
For you, words double, fracture, and run right off the page before you have time to
read them. You go to ocular therapy twice a week to learn how to corral words onto the
page and spend hours in a dark room staring at a beam of light. It doesn’t seem to work.
You’ve been in the lowest reading group since you were old enough to notice that
teachers were splitting kids into groups. You’ve accepted that words are wild animals and
your inability to tame them will keep you in the “fun group” or the “go at your own pace
group.” You protect your little ego with the flimsy explanations adults have given you
over the years about the difference between reading speed and reading aptitude. You tell
yourself that the ocularly typical kids are no better than you are and that you’re special
for knowing the word “ocular” at all. This year, third grade, the rift between the
“advanced group” and “fun group” becomes painfully obvious. The bookshelf for
advanced kids is filled with hardback books two inches thick, with inside covers
describing complex characters, and teeming with all those words you can never seem to
catch. The fun section, on the other hand, has books made of cardboard so toddlers can
teethe on them. Your teacher gives the class five minutes to pick a book from their
respective sections to read for homework. Kids shout, holler, and fight over books. You
are not one of these kids. You stick to the back lacking the enthusiasm to even pick a
book at random. When the five minutes are almost over and most of the other students
have taken their seats, a book catches your eye: The Secret Garden, it’s glossy spine
sticking out slightly on the top shelf -- the advanced shelf. You reach up and grab it; at
the moment you aren’t fully sure why, but once you sit at your desk, it somehow feels
right. At home, you will not be rushed or distracted. You will take your time to pin every
word to the page, read them, and prove that you have the aptitude of an advanced reader.
When Mom notices The Secret Garden in your backpack after school, it feels
even more right. Your smile grows wider and wider as she tells what a good choice you
have made and that she’s glad you’re challenging yourself. After that shower of
positivity, you rush to show the book to Dad. While Mom’s opinion matters to you
greatly on many subjects, Dad is the reigning authority on reading. Nothing rivals his
love for reading except maybe your love for him, and you know he wants you to love
reading just as much as he does. While your sight has improved, your love for
reading has lagged. You blame it on the boring and simple books filled with
weakling words that are easily caught. Only runt-of-the-litter words are offered to you:
The Worst Cowgirl in the Wild West of Words. You aim to change your title when you
triumphantly drop The Secret Garden in Dad’s lap. After explaining your choice to him,
he is overjoyed. He too is glad you are taking the challenge. He asks you to analyze the
book for meaning and discuss it with him as you read through it. Your parents were far
more apathetic about the juvenile books you read in the past, and their current excitement
confirms that you made the right choice. Mom and Dad, as an almost nightly ritual, sit on the bed and read together
. They often invite you to read with them but you are usually
disruptive to their quiet reading environment when your simple books lose your
interest. That is all going to change tonight. The Secret Garden in hand, you march into
their bedroom and nestle yourself in between your parents, ready to love reading, ready to
show them that you love reading.
You flip to the creamy first page of the book, and, having skipped the introduction
so that it looks like you’ve already made progress, you look like a real reader. The spine
of the book delicately placed on your knees, you feel a shock of excitement run up your
spine. As you look down at chapter one, the words seem smaller than you’ve ever seen
before. You decide it won’t be a problem and bring the book closer to your face. Just as
the words begin to go into focus, they vanish. Your heart sinks as the words double and
dance right off the page. You look up from your book to your parents; Dad is already
immersed in his book, but Mom looks back at you and smiles. That smile motivates you,
and you return to the pages. You focus hard and the words return. You begin to read, but
as you go, it gets harder. Tilting your head to one side seems to make the words stay in
their pens. Then when that isn’t enough you close one eye, but even that one canted eye
can’t make the words take orders. All of this work has only brought you to page three.
The meager progress seems impossible. It’s humiliating. You don’t love reading. You
can’t. How could you like this?
You don’t want to tell them though. You start turning the page every once in
awhile without reading. Your dad jokes that you’re reading very quickly and asks if
you’re skimming. You freeze and say yes but that you’re going to go back to actually
reading now. You stay on that one page for a while. You then look to the side and begin
to keep track of how fast your parents turn their pages and devise a system. When Dad
turns the page, wait fifteen seconds and then turn yours. If Mom turns her page, within
those seconds start the counting over and turn your page fifteen seconds later. You are
proud of this system; it took a great deal of trial and error for no one to question your
pace. Now everything seems normal; everything is normal. Everything is perfect here
between Mom and Dad, in the warmth of their bed, reading.
My imitation of reading over time evolved into actual reading, but for years the
act of reading was still a kind of imitation. My ocular issues robbed me of discovering
my own reasons to read, so I found reasons outside of myself. Reading felt pointless, and
not reading felt shameful, which left me in a Catch 22. My drive to read was entirely
external which left me empty. I didn’t find internal motivation until I was much older and
wasn’t expecting to.
You have some free time after school, a rarity considering your sophomore year
of high school is in full swing. All you have left for homework is reading a couple
chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and you know your teacher won’t check annotations,
so it will take no time at all. With the prospect of binge-watching Buffy the
Vampire Slayer in the back of your mind, you crack the matte spine, hold the pulpy pages
in hand, and begin to read. You have a rather ugly copy of the book with extremely brittle
covers and pages poorly pasted together. The words line up for you, row by row, crystal
clear, and perfectly tame. There is no novelty in this, clarity in language has become the
norm, so the book lays like a dead thing in your lap. With each page you read to your
amazement, both you and the book come to life. You finish the pages you were assigned
and continue on in the book; with each passing word you are enveloped, entranced, and
invigorated. You find sanctuary from the stress of everyday life as Winston and Julia
find sanctuary in their apartment above the antique store. Each time you read you do it
without thinking about others. You are reading for yourself, and for the first time, you
know what reading is.
Everyone thinks of my neighborhood as a quiet place with the grassy expanse of nearby Rainbow Park and the shiny new schools. Perfectly trimmed cherry blossom trees and flowering bushes grow around every house. The homes are mostly new, some large or small, all painted in a variety of tan colors. Here, the traffic comes from the neighbors going to or from work, or driving kids to school, or picking them up from after-school activities. It is a neighborhood full of practical cars, like Toyotas, Hondas, and Mazdas. It is a neighborhood full of child prodigies: pianists, flutists, Science Olympiad winners, American Invitational Mathematics Examination qualifiers, tennis champions, ballerinas, national golf champions.My adult neighbors work mostly in Silicon Valley, all of them computer hardware or software engineers.
In my neighborhood, people like to walk their dogs after dinner when there is still light. I often see their dogs yanking the leash, forcing the owners to run after them. On holidays, I smell grills roasting hot dogs, steaks, and chicken. At Christmas Time, everyone puts up decorations and flashing lights, attempting to outdo their neighbors. One house had five speakers playing “Jingle Bells” twenty-four seven. Noise in my neighborhood is constant: I often hear the plunk of basketballs, the banging of piano keys, or the screaming of angry babies.
In this town, strange things happen. People drive by my house with twenty cameras on the tops of their cars, each camera pointed in a different direction. What are they doing? Who knows. Google cars drive themselves while their passengers nap. Down the sidewalk, people ride homemade personal transportation systems, the likes of which have never been seen before—half-bicycle-half-motorcycle or half-Segway-half-motorcycle. People stroll by wearing virtual reality glasses, but how do they see where they are going?
This is, after all, Silicon Valley. All of these attributes of my neighborhood are readily observable to anyone.
What people don't observe in my neighborhood is that all the children are miserable.
They wake up at four in the morning and stay awake every night after midnight. From my room on the second floor of my house, I can always see the little desk lamps in their rooms and the other children bent over their desks. Like me, they are always scribbling on pieces of paper or typing away on their computers. How do I know they are not texting their friends? Because we all get As. We don’t want to disappoint our parents. We don’t want to make them mad. From the minute we kids get home from school, we have maybe twenty minutes to look at our phones, grab a bowl of instant noodles, and then the drudgery begins.
For instance, just the other day I studied for a test on the surface area and volume of a twenty-dimensional composite figure. Let me preface that by saying I am only ten years old. This figure is essentially an object with boxes shooting out of it and tunnels running through it. My job was to figure out the surface area of this nonsense. It was killing my brain cells. I kept telling my teacher that we needed to work on inventing solar-powered clothing or tiny wires that can go in our ears to create music and block out other people’s voices. But she didn’t listen and instead rewarded me with twenty-pages of additional math worksheets. She called me “milk gone bad,” whatever that means.
One day, my history teacher Mr. Miller said, “Create three hundred index cards on famous explorers.” I raised my hand and asked, “What if I can’t find three hundred explorers to
write about?” Mr. Miller looked at me with a harsh, icy stare, rolled his eyes, and said, “Get your act together, Beatrice.”
“My name’s Allison,” I replied.
On the way home I thought about getting my act together. I thought about all the ways I could get my act together, like breaking my arm so I wouldn’t have to write. Or breaking my leg so I wouldn’t have to run two miles, do 30 burpees, 40 pushups, and 40 sit-ups everyday in boot camp in school. Even when it’s raining. I thought about packing my bags, emptying my older sister’s piggy bank, and escaping to Hawaii, where I would spend my days training in hula dancing and drinking beverages from a pineapple with an umbrella.
But I keep telling myself that this will all be worth it in the end. That someday I will find purpose in translating Latin passages even though Latin is a dead language. That someday I may find a person on a street corner who is lost and speaks only Latin. That someday I will be forced to recite the states and their capitals or face death. That someday I will know why I had to dissect a baby pig, why I had to learn the Dewey decimal system, the periodic table, and why I should never start a sentence with “Because.” For now, all I know is that the children are miserable.
Evelyn Hsu is 12 years old. She lives in San Jose, California.
A dollar can buy a lot. It can buy a candy bar. A slice of pizza. A bad song on iTunes that you only like because “they played it at Coachella! You had to be there.”
It can pay the fare for the elevator ride to success, whizzing past those scrambling up the corporate ladder. And everyone knows you can’t climb a ladder if you’re wrapped in a bodycon dress.
It can buy your way into penthouse suites. Into the safety and security of a 401K once the corporate ladder has been climbed and conquered.
It can demand your way to “authoritative,” instead of “bossy.” To “career-oriented,” instead of “selfish.”
A dollar can buy a lot. And they expect me to sit here, with my hands folded demurely in my lap, in a dress with too much lace to be considered practical clothing, content with my 77 cents.
Mansi is a 16-year-old from California.
The van shook me back and forth, rattling my bones to the core. I took a deep breath and stared out the window. I felt as if I was as brave as a lion, but as dumb as a dodo. Looking at the beautiful scenery took my mind away from the fear gathering inside of me. It had been three days since my family and I arrived in New Zealand. We had been touring Queenstown, looking at their stores and trying their food; today, we would do the most stupid—and most awesome—thing in our lives. The van hit another bump and I looked up to see an open field with sheep grazing in it. Two small buildings stood out in the vast, rolling field. My sister, sitting next to me, leaned forward and smiled.
“Are you ready?” she asked. I nodded. Half of me was ready but the other half wasn’t.
The van pulled to a stop and the driver stood up. “Okay everyone, we are here,” she said as she slid the door open. Three other people got out in front of us, and then my family got out. I stepped out of the van and looked to my left. There was a waiting room, and to my right was the sign-in room. My family started to walk towards the sign-in building. I trailed behind, and looked at the field. That's when I had noticed dots falling from the sky. They got bigger and bigger as they came into my view.
“Jolie!” my mom said from the door to the building. I pulled myself away from the dots that fell out of the sky and ran over to my mother. As I walked into the building there was a front desk to my right, and merchandise to my left. All the way in the back was an open room with a sitting area in the middle. T.Vs were lined on the walls with pictures of different people flashed on the screens. I wandered over to them and looked at the people.
“I think these are the jumpers,” my sister said as she walked over to me.
“Yeah, did you see the guy that jumped 30,000 times?” I asked. She nodded. I could tell she was excited; her eyes shined and a smile wouldn’t leave her face. My mom came over and sat down on one of the chairs. I walked over to her and she smiled at me.
“I have so much adrenaline coursing through me, I feel like I’m going to die!” she said excitedly. I sat down next to her and held out my hand to show her, palm down. It shook violently.
My dad came over and sat down next to my mom and took her hand in his. He started to talk to her, but I wasn’t listening. Instead, I looked out the window and watched a small Cessna 182 Skylane plane turn into the field and pull up right outside where all the jumpers were folding the parachutes and drinking coffee. The lady at the front desk walked over to us with a paper in her hands.
“Richard?” she asked. My dad stood up and walked over to the lady. They started to talk and I watched as the lady nodded her head and pointed outside the double doors. My dad thanked her and walked back over to us.
The lady took us through the double doors and into the hanger. A blast of cold air blew into my face as we walked into the room. She led us over to the left to an open area where some lockers stood by a wall. We put our stuff in them and the lady handed us gray jumpsuits. I slipped it on and zipped it all the way to the middle of my neck. The lady walked up to me with a young man beside her. He was Brazilian, and my height, with a beard. “This is Will, he is going to be your jumper.”
I smiled at him, and he smiled back. “Alright, let's get you set up,” he said and gave me some gloves, goggles, and a white cap.
After we were all suited up we started to head to the plane. There were long metal benches that were bolted to the floor of the plane. Will slid in first, then I did; so did my family, one by one, till we were all squeezed in. Will started to pull, strap, tug, and hook my suit to his. I watched as all the other jumpers did the same thing to each member of my family. That’s when I felt the engines turn on and the plane move. I stared out the window and watched the lavish green fields swiftly go by us, as if I fast-forwarded a National Geographic documentary. The plane lifted from the ground and started its climb. We soon flew over Wakatipu lake, the beautiful ink blue water standing out from the snow-capped mountains that surrounded the lake.
“Are you nervous?” Will asked. I shook my head. I was surprised with myself because my heartbeat was steady and calm. “I’ve jumped almost 11,000 times and I’m nervous,” Will said thoughtfully. “Isn’t that ironic?”
I nodded. My eyes were glued to the window. We were passing over the Remarkables. It had snowed the other day so they were now white. The jumpers said that this was, by far, the most beautiful day to do it. They were right. It was breathtaking. Between the vibrant blue lake and snow-white mountains, we couldn’t have picked a better day.
“14,000 feet!” The pilot called back to us.
Will brought down an oxygen mask that hanged from the roof of the plane. He stretched it over my head so that the mask covered my nose and mouth. “Just breathe normally,” he said. The other jumpers did the same thing to my family. “We're right now dying,” he said with a laugh, “but we’re going to get higher.” He was right, at 14,000 feet the body starts to die. It didn’t comfort me, but it did keep my mind off of what was going the be happening in a few minutes.
“15,000 feet!” the pilot shouted.
My dad was first. The jumper slid the door open. The plane filled with a blast of ice cold wind. The jumper started to shout things at my dad. I couldn’t hear and my heart pounded in my ears. I watched my dad lean his head back onto the jumper’s shoulder. The light next to them was red--3!--my dad grabbed his straps covering his chest--2!--the jumper got into position--1!--the light turned green--they jumped out! I heard the voices of my family cheering him on along with my own voice.
My mom was next. The same pattern. The jumper got into position, my mom grabbed her straps, the light turned green. They jumped. My sister was next--moved into position--grabbed her straps--light turned green--they jumped. My turn.
Will slid us forward to the edge of the plane. My feet dangled off into the space between us and the earth lost somewhere far below us.
Will started to yell. “Put your head on my shoulder!” I did. “Glue your feet to the bottom of the plane!” My feet banged against the bottom of the plane. “Grab your straps.” My hands squeezed the straps. “Okay, here we go!” My heart started to pound like a drum. “Three!”
I shook like a leaf in the wind.
The fear to jump started flowing through my veins.
I’m really doing this!
We jumped. My stomach tightened and turned. My voice rung in the noise of 125 mph. I felt a light tap on my shoulder and I extended my arms to catch the wind. The butterflies in my stomach disappeared, my fear turned into pure happiness. The thrill of staring down at snow-capped mountains, ink blue water, and the green land below me raced through my body. I felt as if I was on cloud 9. The flight of feeling free. The ice cold wind burned my face but I didn’t care; I was on top of the world and no one could ever change that. I looked down and saw white dots scattered on the ground. They were sheep. Surrounding them were roads, farms, and small buildings. Cars raced below me looking like ants that were scurrying around an anthill, with green hills surrounding them and white blankets covering the mountains.
I looked down at the ground and watched as it started to come closer, but a sudden jerk slowed us to peace and quiet. The sound of wind and the frozen air all came to silence. I was still pumped on adrenaline, but I was at ease. I looked down at the ground still far below me. I looked up and smiled to myself. Though fear stared me down, I stared right back at it, and I conquered my fear to achieve my goal.
“Lift your legs,” Will said as we came into the landing zone. I obeyed his command and lifted my legs. He turned the parachute to the left and started to drift towards the ground. I felt my legs skid on the moist grass and come to a stop. “You just survived 15,000 feet, how do you feel?” Will asked me.
“Awesome!” I said. My other family members had already landed and were walking to the buildings. We got changed, went into the building, and got t-shirts for souvenirs.
“All right, we can go now,” the driver who brought us said. We all walked to the van and got in. The engine started and we turned onto the road and drove back. I leaned my head back and stared out the window with a smile on my face. I did it, and this memory would never leave my heart. The memory of seeing new heights, overcoming a fear, and realizing the achievements that came from it.
Finally, I could say I’ve been skydiving.
Jolie is a 14-year-old from Arizona.
Can You Draw Like This?
Humbling skyscrapers, heart-stopping monuments, glistening fountains, and the sights and sounds of hundreds of people in every direction was an image more often than not conjured within the prison of my imagination. Considering I was native to a modest, rural town in the forested region of Southeast Massachusetts, a building hosting more than four floors was considered much more impressive than it actually was. The inherent behavior of my hometown made it evident that humans were at the mercy of nature. Buildings did not grow higher than trees. Roads were not without cracks from erosion and the emerald grasses that picked them apart, albeit gradually. A rainfall meant that basements would be flooding and our great many lakes and ponds would block streets and engulf backyards in their overflow. A rare hurricane, or even an all-too-common thunderstorm or blizzard, would almost certainly knock down telephone poles and send trees flying into cars and homes without restraint. As if she were the Grim Reaper haunting our streets, Mother Nature would end a life just by pointing her windy finger. Some days, it seemed the world decided that my daily life seemed constantly in need of a nature-borne obstacle, and the weather acted accordingly.
Perhaps these surroundings are what lead humanity’s greatest triumphs to baffle me. It is thoroughly amazing that our species can launch something that reaches farther into outer space than we ever dreamed possible a few generations ago. It is incomprehensible to me that we have been able to spread to every corner of the globe and thrive there. It is nothing short of wonderful to stand face-to-face with an office building that reaches a hundred stories into the sky where it condenses into a point at the edge of my field of vision. I have spent years of my life constantly stupefied by the world’s most impressive accomplishments on the fronts of both nature and humanity. It never fails to inspire me and plant a smile on my face.
For the longest time, I have been fixated on New York City. While it was possible that I simply craved this feeling of amazement, I also was fully aware that the overcast Massachusetts nights were lonely and silent aside from the occasional hum of crickets and hoot of owls. I wanted to fall asleep to the sounds of horns honking and the incomprehensible chatter of human speech. The problem with too much silence is that there remains a tendency for thoughts to wander and find ways to amaze their designer, often to the point of dragging consciousness into the small hours of the morning.
My wishes finally became reality when my mother and I boarded a six-hour bus ride destined for the Big Apple early on a foggy August morning. The farther south we traveled, the more magnificent my surroundings grew. My amazement would be nothing compared to the skyline of New York City herself, standing proudly in the sunlight. This was not the first time I had visited. In fact, I had walked the streets of this particular city twice before with family and friends. Nevertheless, I was excited and ready to return for more.
My mother and I spent the day walking the entire expanse of Manhattan. Not only was I in awe of my surroundings, but I was also very impressed that it was possible for my feet to ache as much as they did at the end of the day. When I plopped onto my likely-uncomfortable hotel bed, it suddenly became the most wonderful place on Earth. Once in a blue moon, I sleep like a baby, with no strange and perplexing thoughts. My first night in Manhattan was one of those great exceptions.
What happened the next day was what changed my perspective on humanity’s dominion over nature forever. My feet still sore from the previous day, my mother and I traveled by subway to Central Park in hopes of visiting both the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This being my third visit to both of these museums, I already knew of my preference for the former. However, some very fond memories were made in the latter. My excitement to return to both of them was running high.
There are two indications that imply an incredible experience - either time stops or time loses its meaning. In the Metropolitan, the hours passed as though they were being warped by my own brain, as if it were so focused on its surroundings that it simply lost the ability to understand the fourth dimension. After all, the art in this museum only needs the first three.
My favorite part of the Met is the area hosting the artwork created millennia ago by the Ancient Egyptians. I have always been fascinated not only by the style but by the theology behind their artistic decisions. Gazing at the jackal-headed statues and the depictions of animals as deities and leaders brings one closer to what it means to be human. The Ancient Egyptians saw nature as the ruling force of their entire realm, and while they live in a time long gone, they stand out in a city where many of these forces once deemed godly are subservient. I suppose the artwork is relatable, in a way.
Once we stepped out of the elegant yet primitive Egyptian gallery, we made our way into the high-reaching, dome-topped contrast that was the Greek and Roman statue room. Where Egypt failed to capture perspective and proportion, these works were as lifelike as the people staring up at them. One lonely, older man was sitting on a stool in the center of the room with an easel, intently focused on his drawing. Wearing a pink button-down shirt and a beige beret with matching khakis, he resembled one’s idea of a stereotypical artist. Curious, my mother and I walked behind him to see what it was that he was sketching. What was on the canvas was breathtaking. His hand steady and moving with ease, a hyper-realistic sketch of the statue just in front of him was taking form. I instantly knew I would never be able to draw like that. While we had just spent three hours so far wandering halls boasting the greatest artwork humanity could offer, it was at this moment that I truly felt inadequate.
The artist stopped his work and turned around, an inviting smile forming on his face. “Do you draw?” he asked.
I glanced back at my mother and shrugged. “Yeah. Sometimes.”
“Do you like to draw?”
I hesitated for a moment, unsure of where he was going with this conversation. Sure, I like to draw. I love writing even more. Even though I hide it, I enjoy singing too, so long as I am alone. “Yes,” I said, “I like to draw.”
“Do you want to draw like this?”
“One day, certainly.”
The artist smiled a bit wider. “Can you draw like this?”
I giggled to myself. Of course not. “No way,” I replied, slightly embarrassed.
He nodded and shifted himself to face me head on. “Do you draw?” I raised a brow. Hadn’t he just asked the same question before? Was I going crazy? He took my hand and placed his pen in my palm, wrapping my fingers around it. “Do you draw?”
“Yes,” I said, quietly. “I draw.”
He nodded, moving my hand and holding it to his canvas. “You can draw like this.” I remained silent. “There are two kinds of people in this world - people who want to draw and people who draw. There are people who want to write and people who write. There are people who want to be artists and there are artists. So long as you take a pen in your hand and create something, you have the world in your hands. People judge their skills on how good they are now, and that is what stops ninety percent of the world’s greatest creators from ever coming to be. That is why talent means nothing without perseverance.”
“So,” he began after a pause, gently smiling. “Can you draw like this?”
I stared at the picture on the easel. How could I ever draw like this? Then, it dawned on me. There are three more kinds of people in this world. There are people who allow nature to control them. There are people who are foolish enough to believe they are above such forces. And there are people who harness the power of the natural world. They wield it by setting it free in the form of art.
“Yes, I can.”
Anika Tullos is a 16-year-old from Massachusetts.
Life was fun and easy growing up. There were three of us: my older brother, Konrad, my twin sister, Cassie, and me. We grew up in an old farmhouse that was on the other side of town, away from Main Street. As kids, we fought more than normal, but I got picked on the most as the middle child. There was always a tendency for Konrad and Cassie to go do something fun without me because of their similar interest in gaming. I tended to be independent and do things on my own. I enjoyed drawing and watching television, but I also just liked to imagine things. I think a lot, and my imagination helps me put my mind towards something that I can enjoy.
Cassie and I have shared a room for our whole lives. You would have thought that the everyday interaction from being home together would be the same at school, but it wasn’t. I never saw her most school days. Being the tomboy that I was, I usually hung out with the boys playing basketball while she played with the girls who liked gymnastics. The weird part about it is that’s all I really remember about her when we were young. We never really talked to each other until later in eighth grade. There’s not much to remember about my brother either. With him being four years older than I was, we always went different ways. I looked up to him in many aspects though, and always stole his large sweatshirts and shorts.
The times that I spent alone were made up on the days Konrad and Cassie invited me to join them in the woods. Stretched by two acres of land, our backyard had a small hidden marsh that was filled with peepers that would scream on hot summer nights. Traveling farther back over the humps of tall grass that grew between the wetland, you met the woods. The woods was our secret, kept away from the outside calamity in the world and in our lives.
I remember the day perfectly. There was cool air and warm rays of sun that shadowed through the trees. We had just finished lunch, expecting we would be gone for a while. Dressed tightly from head to toe like warriors going into battle, we diligently ran across the yard to the tree line that, beyond, identified as our backyard. After scrambling through the tall grass, we met the marsh. Konrad went first over the grass patches, Cassie following closely. I watched carefully from behind, making sure I wouldn’t take a wrong step and fall in the muddy, low water like many times before. They did it so easily, like they were engaged in a video game pretending they were the main characters running over obstacles.
Once we had reached dry land, we navigated ourselves through the trees to our main hideout, marked with our handmade stick-bridge that ran over a fast-moving stream that split the woods in two. We strung cloth between trees for cover. Inside the covering we kept our tools that helped us in any situation that we came across. These included different sized axes and knives that my brother had saved up for over the years. We would use them to take down trees and cut wood for fires.
Today we were under surveillance from outside intruders that were disrupting our hideout spot when we were gone. We knew they were Native Americans that wanted their land back. We sat there for hours, pretending it was days, until suddenly we heard footsteps running quickly in the distance, coming closer towards us. We scrambled around trying to make a game plan fast. The noises were getting closer and closer, followed by a howl that echoed throughout the woods. It was the Native Americans.
We spared no time to stay and fight because from the sound of it, there were many of them. My brother took the lead motioning Cassie and I back towards home. We ran. Fast. Adrenaline rushed through my body as I took each quick step, doing as best I could until we met the marsh once again. I looked ahead to find my siblings, only seeing that they had already disappeared, and I was left alone. In the commotion of the moment, I began to cry and thought that I was done for. I had to pull myself together. Using all my strength, I didn’t miss a step and finally reached the backyard.
I stepped back, back onto the recently mowed lawn, the old yellow farmhouse, back to civilization, the noise of footsteps and screaming behind me now silent.
And I had realized it was all my imagination.
Stephanie Nevers is a 17-year-old from Connecticut.
I may never have been skydiving or crowd surfing, but I have seen both horrific and beautiful things in my day. Vivid images that will haunt me and scar my retinas for eternity...
...because where I come from, grocery shopping is a dangerous sport.
If you ever wish to witness unadulterated insanity, you should go to a local grocery store and linger around the fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a frenzy where the winner takes all (technically inaccurate, but trivialities will have to wait).
When an employee comes by with fresh boxes of okra, you do not want to be left out. The poor soul barely has enough time to unload the goods before the angry hordes descend upon the okra like a plague of locusts. Look out for those insane beady-eyed mothers and grandmothers glaring at the employee, craning their necks over the carts to see what fresh groceries have yet to be unloaded in all of their yummy goodness.
It happens in stages. First, the initial sighting. The unsuspecting employee naively heads over to the display area. As he begins to unload the new produce, he notices a slow but steady increase in his audience. Their well-trained Vulcan senses are activated, and they look so hungry that they might just end up devouring the employee if he does not move out of the way fast enough. Because, you see, behind the worker waits pounds and pounds of fresh okra, straight from wherever okra comes from. The shining beacon of crisp okra gleams in its newness. The worker unloads the goods as quickly as humanly possible and flees the scene, often entrapped by the okra-hunters.
Then begins the madness. Having gotten rid of the worker, the plague descends. If you are fortunate enough to have found a good picking spot, you find yourself engulfed in a mad sea of frenzied activity. It is too late for second thoughts and doubts saying, "Is this really how I wanted to spend my Saturday?" No, you pick for dear life. Pick or you die. Pick or you will get shoved into the corner, along with that stray, bruised okra.
You begin to envy those with years of okra picking experience, those who casually fling back okra that is not perfect in every way and accumulate all of the good okra in their bags. You become despondent, wondering if you will even be able to pick a pound before the throes have disassembled the entire store. But then your agility miraculously improves. Suddenly, your own bags become heavy, full with the fruits of your labor. You no longer feel the pricks piercing your fingertips. You pick okra with both hands, and with all of the other hands reaching around you, you feel like the lord of the okra.
Eventually the group of okra reapers disperses, leaving behind the remnant carcasses for those not as daring. The scavengers war with each other, while the spectators watch in disgust.
And you? You walk away with the spoils, the "best okra of all," grinning shamelessly. You are a glowing pool of inextinguishable light, the triumphant victor of all mankind...
...and then the new batch of Manila mangos comes in.
Rachna is a 16-year-old from Barrington, Illinois.
In second grade, my family and I took a trip to India. It was beautiful. The sun constantly shone, there were papaya trees all around us, and we could see little monkeys hopping from rooftop to rooftop. We arrived at a children’s home that had about seventy young girls living there. Most of them came from mothers who were temple prostitutes. This home saved them from having the same fate. I remember being surprised by how different their lives were from ours. They each had only a few pieces of clothing, they walked around barefoot, and they all had head lice. They slept in two rooms, with about thirty-five girls in each room. Even though they didn’t have luxurious lives, they were very welcoming, playful, and joyful.
The young girls happily welcomed us into their lives. They were so excited to see that they had visitors. They wanted to sing with us, play with us, eat with us, and show us all the things that they liked to do. We learned how to make brooms out of palm branches and they showed us how to get a coconut down from a tree, crack it open, and drink the water straight from it. One of the women working at the children’s home gave me a henna tattoo with henna made out of Indian spices and beans. Another lady who worked there made me and my sister Indian dresses. It was really cool being able to spend time with them, because it was really eye-opening. I was able to experience the life that a lot of other people in the world live.
The little Indian girls loved to play games. We played many Indian versions of games that we play here in America, such as down by the banks and ninja. Sometimes, we would walk over to a field and play cricket.
While we were spending all this time with them, I realized that these girls were some of the most joyful people I have ever met. They were constantly smiling and laughing. Whenever I was around them I was filled with joy too. It was so heartbreaking to have to leave them after the two weeks that we were there. I really hope some day I can go to another children’s home and get to spend time with young kids like them again.
Even though the children did not have great clothes or a nice place to live, they were extremely happy with their lives. They did not desire for more than what they could have. They taught me that your joy is not dependent on your circumstances. I am always wanting more clothes and the newest iPhone, but I have come to realize that I do not need those things to be happy. That is not where my contentment should come from. I should just be pleased with what I have and live the life that was given to me. Compared to most people in the world, I am incredibly lucky to have the life that I do, and I should be grateful for that.
Lia Reid is a 13 year old attending West Hills Christian School in Beaverton, Oregon.
They are the ones we tell our secrets to, the ones we cry to, that ones we would save in a disaster because they are more than just an animal. Many people buy them, but a few generous souls rescue them because no one else will. They are considered man’s best friend, right hand man, and companion; the canine. Again and again, they prove to be the gift that keeps on giving because they will serve you with everything they possess until their very last, dying breath.
As a puppy, “Bacardi” was found chained to a pole in the yard of a rickety old abandoned house. Her living quarters consisted of a circle of worn earth and two bowls that each held nothing but rainwater and fly carcuses.
This abandoned dog left for dead eventually ended up with my cousins, a whole new dog, with a whole new name- Skylar. She was taught basic obedience and learned to tolerate a crate. However, the days began to dwindle and the nights long for Skylar. My cousins unexpectedly became parents and Skylar was forgotten.
My cousins ended up filing for bankruptcy and moved back into their parents house. Skylar was locked away in my aunt’s garage in a makeshift crate that she could not stand up in. She was fed the cheapest dog food and was only allowed water when she was let out to use the bathroom twice daily. She wasn’t neglected entirely, but the care she received was the bare minimum. There’s no debating that she wasn’t given any real love a sweet dog like her deserved.
This was around the time when I first laid my eyes on her stocky little self. I was babysitting my cousins’ kids at my aunt’s house when I was told to let Skylar and my aunt’s dog, Haley out. Skylar was the absolute cutest little thing I had ever seen. As soon as I got home I blabbered on about her curly tail, floppy ears, and soft golden hair to my mom. I soon learned that my cousins were in the process of trying to get rid of Skylar. They had finally realized that they could no longer give her the affection that she so desperately deserved.
We ending up picking her up the night after my grandfather had lost his battle to pancreatic cancer. She was the remedy to my mother’s aching heart and the solution to the void that existed in my life. Life began to return to normal again with a dog, as it should. Every single day she managed to bring joy to our lives. She made us die laughing when she would roll around on the floor trying to scratch her back. She always managed to impress us with her many obedience skills and even had this habit of attacking the cicada bugs that were on our back deck. Skylar pawed and even picked the bugs up with her mouth making them “WAAA” in annoyance. She was always full of surprises.
One of those surprises included liver cancer. I work at a local veterinary clinic. When I brought her in for a routine check up, they noticed she had a lump wedged in the bottom of her rib cage. Alarmed, Dr. Bob had my co-worker Krista take a blood sample and test it for white, red and platelet cell counts. The reports were not hopeful. My best friend ended up only having a percentage of sixteen red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for oxygen production and without adequate oxygen she could be subject to seizures and major irreversible brain damage. With her diagnosis of liver cancer and anemia, she was given a prognosis of just two weeks left to stay with us.
The night of September 9th, 2015 she started to dry heave and became limp in a matter of seconds. I instantly knew what was happening so I urgently bundled all thirty pounds that was left of her in my arms and had my mother drive us to the emergency center. Her red blood level was below fatal limits: eleven percent. We knew what had to be done. She died on September 9th, 2015 via veterinary euthanasia.
Her journey lasted 3 months, a lot longer than anyone had predicted. She had her blissful days and her treacherous days but through it all she hid her pain. All in all, that is what affected me the most. The strength that she illustrated was immense. Most human beings are too selfish to even attempt to muster through something like that. That is why dogs are the definition of perfect companions. Dogs are made to be strong, made to be happy, and made to be carefree. I appreciate everything she did for my family and we will never, ever forget Skylar’s constant loyalty and lovable demeanor she emoted day in and day out.