Written for a BYU Class (English 218R: Creative Writing, with one of the best damn professors I’ve ever had, John Bennion)
January 9, 2014
If I could write my autobiography in the form of a playlist, I would start with Jack Johnson because I listened to him in every era of my life, from endless roadtrips to sitting in this crowded college cafeteria. I’d probably also include Hilary Duff, as painful as it would be, to commemorate my younger years, and then transfer into some classic roadtrip songs- Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack that made me imagine all these wild stories as we passed through and ocean of deserts and maybe Ella Enchanted on tape. Next, I’d listen to Regina Spektor and Vampire Weekend because they shaped my teenage years with creative thinking, and then the playlist would explode into everything from Schubert to One Direction because now I’m indecisive and slightly crazy and that’s what floats my boat.
My mom always calls my birthday my “Date of Extraction” because I was never “birthed”, I was a C-section. I arrived 3 months early on December 5, 1994 and my mom never even got to see me before they whisked me away. I weighed in at a hearty 2 pounds, and now this is beginning to sound like a baby announcement, but deal with it. My legs were the size of my dad fingers and he held me in his hand. I wore doll diapers and hung out in an incubator for 3 months and the doctors told my parents I would be disabled, but as far as I can tell I don’t have any disabilities after 19 years.
We have this collection of home videos that I find to be pure gold, and they illustrate this glorious era of my life in perfection. My favorite is when my brothers see me for the first time on Christmas. The nurses are nice enough to move my incubator to a window so my brothers can see me, and my mom stands behind the glass and holds me up with her hands in the incubator gloves. Sam, 3, and Bryan, 6, press their little noses up to the glass window, and Sam, who was known for growling at strangers starts saying “Feety pie! Feety pie!” (Sweety pie) as Bryan waves. Up to that point, they had recorded themselves reading stories and saying hi to me on a tape recorder and then then would play it in the incubator. Maybe that’s where my love for storytelling comes from, who knows. Anyways, the home videos progress to the point where I finally get to go home to our house in Virginia and watch as my brothers run around and wrestle and read books and fight over holding me. Then comes my stage of maturity- when I grow wispy blonde hair and sing in the grocery store, smearing ice cream on my face and organizing picnics for my dolls when I’m not busy playing with my brothers.
My first real, non-video memory, is simply the knowledge that I had the hugest crush on Bryan’s friend. That’s pretty much my only memory from Virginia, like a single frame from a movie of some strange boy’s face who I was evidently a fan of as a 4 year old.
We moved to Kansas in 2001, and I don’t really remember the actual move, but I remember our bright red door and our two-sided fireplace, and the huge furnace room basement. We lived in a super friendly neighborhood and I loved my friends and school. I had my own bedroom and bathroom and spent a lot of my time with best friends. I was almost as close with them as I was with my family. I would latch onto my dad’s feet and make him walk around the kitchen while I pretended to be his “shoes”. He made me laugh, and he still makes me laugh. My mom made me a mermaid birthday cake and would patiently sit and scribe the words to the stories I “wrote”, and then I would illustrate them.
My brothers and I were close from the beginning, and a large chunk of my childhood memories include playing with them. Sam and I were really close friends and to this day, I still love to laugh with him and go on adventures. I remember forming economies for our Beanie Babies together, assigning marbles monetary amounts and then discussing economic strategies and real estate for the stuffed animals. We’d shoot rubber bands at army men taking stance on paper bricks and play with Hot Wheels cars and Legos for days on end. He taught me about Pokemon and punching bags, and there was an era of time when I refused to wear anything but his hand-me-down clothes. I still own some of his old t-shirts and wear them when I need extra inspiration to do something crazy.
Bryan was the quieter one who was with me when I split my chin open at the park when I was a kid and comforted me. Always the responsible and sensible one, I like to call him a lot and talk about my worries with. Before he had a fiancé, he would even talk to me at 2am on nights when I had panic attacks, and tell me everything was going to be okay. He talks me through buying electronic devices and I talk him through buying button up shirts at J Crew.
Books were a fundamental part of growing up. We’d sit on my parent’s bed at night and they’d read to us the Book of Mormon, and then Harry Potter sometimes, which I didn’t really understand yet. Both books would grow to shape who I was as a person later on in life, interestingly enough. My mom would take us on trips to the library every week, and we’d get lost in wonder there for hours, maxing out our library card and hauling out 100 books at a time, personally befriending all the librarians as we explored every section we could. I remember wandering through the children’s section and checking out picture books in Spanish and books on tape. I also remember when I turned 12 or so, I started to get into fantasy books. I recall buying Inkheart, which I still have on my dorm bookshelf, and being so excited because it was the first huge book I read. From that moment on, I was addicted to fantasy worlds. I would come home from school and forget to eat or pee and instead just sit on the couch for hours and hours, eating up stories and worlds like cookie dough, which I also ate a lot of. (My brothers and I firmly believe in at least tripling cookie dough recipes.)
There were a lot of storms in Kansas. The tornado siren would go off in the summer and we’d all crowd in our basement and watch the weather. Sam would go outside with a helmet on and catch hail in a bucket, and then we’d all sit on the couch and eat it while the sky turned the color of the grass and the wind tore off porch doors. I don’t remember feeling that scared of the tornados, mostly it was just a cool story to go to school the next day and everyone would brag about their porch door being torn off and how they survived. I do remember being terrified of thunderstorms, however. For some reason they were worse.
Every afternoon for as long as I can remember in Kansas, I’d run outside and play with Stephen McEnery until it got dark and the fireflies came out. We lived right across the street from each other. I remember being really mad at the weather one time, because there was a huge storm and so we couldn’t play. The sky was all purple. On days when the sky didn’t look like eggplant and bleed with lightning, though, we’d go on the best adventures. Stephen and I single-handedly mapped countless countries we formed and wrote about their government and underground history. We’d play kickball with our brothers and Chris Gillsepie and made up all these different games like “Power Kids”, in which I could create tsunamis. One time, we found a turtle in one of our yards and named it “Milk” for what was probably a really good reason, but I think we just wanted to be original, and then ran it a block down to Chris’s mom who worked with animals. Another summer we made a hopscotch across my driveway, to his, and winding around the road and sidewalk, until it reached the 300s. A lot of time was spent writing stories and comics and reading and discussing Calvin and Hobbes together. Sitting in the McEnery’s office, we’d write books, edit each others, and look up the address to Scholastic and plan how we’d send them in and become authors professionally. Christmas Eve, we’d track Santa on the computer and sled on snow days. We still keep in touch, to this day. I’m texting him right now, and it’s crazy how even though we eventually grew up separately, we grew into the same personalities and tastes we have now. It’s like our childhood of imaginary outdoor games and rebellion against teachers planted something in us that will always be there.
A few more houses down the street lived Lindsey Kimball. We spent countless hours playing Barbies and Polly Pockets. She tried to teach me to play volleyball, and we ate lunch together and talked about our churches and our fears and what kind of grilled cheese we wanted.
Asia and Addie Yates were in my ward, and luckily didn’t live too far away. Addie is two years younger than me, and Asia two years older, but we became inseparable the moment we met. Funny enough, I don’t even know when we met. We called eacth other the “Three A’s” and made up a theme song, mascots, colors, and tshirts. We made movies, forts, fairy houses, cried about boys, laughed about books, dressed up, and ate unimaginable amounts of macaroni and cheese and german pancakes. After sleepovers, we would hide in the bathroom cupboards because we didn’t want our parents to make us leave. We got in a lot of trouble that way. Worth it.
Dexter was the name of one of our first pets. My brothers found him in the backyard. He was a centipede. Sam’s orange room always was full of pets, and I remember spending time training his rats to follow a trail of food as if we were scientists. We grew to love rats, and maybe that hints at my tendancy to like underdogs. Sam had Brain, Cavity, and Scout. They were all so sweet and smart and I loved them, and I remember crying when I saw that Scout had passed away, and other pale rat had wrapped itself around Scout to keep him warm as they slept. We also had a gerbil named Cat later on, and I had lots of beta fish that I would talk to and attempt to train.
The only dog we ever had was named Stetson. He was a greyhound, a rescue, and had lots of medical issues. He was colored gold and we loved him more than ourselves. The boys would put hats on him and I’d curl up and read books to him. I remember distinctly snuggling up to him on his little bed of dog toys after I had a really bad day. I was crying, and told him that I wouldn’t ever leave him. A few days later, my parents told us that we had to give him away to a different home. My heart was broken and I can still see my dad driving away in the truck with Stetson in the back. He went to a really good home, full of other greyhounds. We went to tour the place he’d be living and there were dogs all over the entire house, crowding the living room and sitting on couches, so I guess he went to a good home.
I went to preschool in Woodsonia, and I didn’t realize this till a few years ago but it was a disabled preschool. I wasn’t disabled, but it was like an immersion program for them, and I didn’t even realize that my friends were different. I remember my friend Daniel was the soap dispenser boy. And I remember learning how to walk normally (I used to walk up stairs by placing each foot on the same stair) and learning to memorize the months of the year. Then I moved to Clear Creek Elementary for 2nd and 3rd grade, and I remember one day in class I colored over my entire hand and subsequently got in trouble, and crying in the hall. Mainly I played in the grass with my friends and made up stories. Then in fourth grade I went to Prairie Ridge Elementary, the new school. Kansas has a really good education program, so we all had laptops and separate math an English classes and nice bathrooms. My Battle of the Books team beat the fifth graders, and one time I though I got my period and told my teacher, very proudly, that I was having “girl problems” and she got super excited. False alarm, I’m still working through the whole puberty thing.
This next part is really hard to write about because I try not to think about. We moved away from Kansas. My dad changed jobs, he works for the church now in Utah, doing computer and satellite stuff. I remember thinking it would be such a great adventure, and not until later did I realize how hard it would be. Bryan was crying at the bottom of the stairs and Sam was probably just being silent and upset. The last person I said goodbye to was Stephen. He gave me cool collectable quarter and I wondered if I should hug him, but I never did.
My mom and I drove in one car and Sam, Dad, and Bryan lived in the Kansas house for a bit more, using the boxes as furniture, until they drove to Utah too. As we drove away from our flat neighborhood full of friendly people and lemonade and early morning bike rides, I told my mom it would be such a fun adventure. We drove for 18 hours and I peed on the side of the road during a thunderstorm, listening to Ella Enchanted, when the sky was wine and indigo. I recall that moment so well, with the wheat field and the first mountains I had ever seen and the large trucks driving past. When we finally got close to our house, I was so amazed at the red mountain being carved away and the strange house. It was 7-11. I remember because we got free slushies after buying the house.
It took some time to adjust to Utah, to say the least. It’s hard for me to talk about. Lexi Midgley was my only friend for most of two years. I kind of hid in books for fifth and six grade and got bullied a bit and was mad at the world and refused to dress up and cried every day and my journals are really depressing to read. During this period I discovered Harry Potter and read the books as fast as possible, and from that moment on I have become a die-hard fan, with two encyclopedias all about the films. That really kind of ignited my interest in the way a film was made. It had never occurred to me how many people put that work into a movie, to make it all fit together beautifully. This passion only got stronger as I researched more and more movies and got more and more interested in film.
What really got me out of that loneliness was theater. I joined the play “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” in 7th grade and came out of my shell. A while before that I realized that I needed to just be myself and started making jokes out loud and stopped caring if people didn’t love me and pretty soon I was a lot more comfortable. All through junior high I stayed in theater, and my best memories are from 2010 when I was in Thoroughly Modern Millie and looked forward to every Saturday rehearsal. That summer we had trek and our family sang the entire 14 mile hike. My legs didn’t even hurt, and we had to hitchhike home barefoot because the bus broke, drinking orange juice like drunks and laughing about the storm that forced my dad to sleep wrapped in a tarp, like a buritto.
My dad is really into hikes and outdoors, and we always went on crazy backpacking adventures and he taught me to identify poop. One summer we went to Moab twice and I still want to move there, because rock climbing is my favorite. I became vegetarian and my parents slowly became vegan gluten free. I always joke the next step is nudism.
Singing lessons started at eight and continue currently. Music has and always will be a part of who I am. I can’t explain it, but if you befriend me you can maybe listen when I sing in the bathroom or at a recital and understand.
High school was madrigals and falling in love with my best friend who would never love me back and awkward dances with football players and shimmying with Josh in the parking lot and quitting theater because it was too much after Les Mis and making friends with the underdogs and realizing Mclayne was gay, so he couldn’t possibly like me and working at a dentist office and being scared to admit I want to go into film. Junior year was Junior Class VP and spending every night at Jill’s house by the heater, eating rolls and watching White Collar. I babysat and nannied a lot and some of my best friends are still about 5 years old. Xadi and Charlie understand me more than anyone, and we spend a good amount of time eating grapes and reading picture books. Back to older friends. One time I puked on my math book in front of Jill and Josh, and we all froze except Josh who ran to the sink to clean it up. During madrigals, I became friends with Kari Norman, a fellow curly headed vegetarian with a taste for sarcasm and good music and outdoor adventures. I love Kari more than Harry Potter and llamas, so that’s all I have to say about that. We had LOTR marathons with Jace every night during Christmas break. Jace will always be a part of our friendship because when he definitively chose another girl over Kari, we left the party and sat in my basement at 2am, eating cereal on the floor in mournful silence.
Senior year I was scared to be alone but I became friends with Landon and Abby on the music trip, which was always my favorite part of high school because of the forever hour bus ride and strange hotel breakfasts. I was madrigals president and had panic attacks but defended people who I thought deserved love. (Now Sean is in Benin. Come to think of it, he always defended me. Even in 5th grade. Even when our respective spots on the social hierarchy were polarized opposites. I later found out he’d stick up for me in his own social spheres. He’d yell at people for me and once we snuck into a foreign office so he could help me calm down after a panic attack. I’ll always have a corner of my heart for that idiot.) I graduated and chose BYU without super serious thought.
I can be honest here because it’s my autobiography. And so far, freshman year has been pretty hellish. I miss rock climbing and singing, but most of all I miss my friends. I have more liberal beliefs and struggled with depression increasingly after the panic attacks senior year and had a lot of times I wanted to stop existing. My roommates rose to be amazingly kind and even though they maybe didn’t understand my humor, they cared when I secretly cried walking home from class and told me I deserved someone great. I started writing again and Christine and I drove around and talked about Harry and Niall and Ashton and Luke and conservatives. Tom gave me cereal and Kalani cried with me. I’m hoping to transfer to Utah State or University of Utah. Utah State has Jill. Also Sam and Nick and Kari who make me laugh and last time we hung out I ended up in the snow in the mountains in my underwear, and I just thought it would be a really great tweet. I seem to have come to the end of ten pages and I also am at the edge of my life story, and I hope I find some more sarcastic people to help me laugh these next four months, and will eat lots of ice cream with me.