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Clay squirts through my fingers effortlessly and conforms to the the ridges of my hands. Throwing a pot is more about time than clay; letting it fall through your fingers to come up with something beautiful. I’m terrible. The clay squirts through, the wheel slows, and all there is is a mound of clay too warped and falling over to bother putting in the kiln.
Watching my ceramics teacher spin is like her fingers are trellises, like the clay grows itself. I have spent the last summer watching the tomatoes grow up the trellises in my backyard. Dad had decided to go all farmer on us, doing something happy to redirect our minds. As much as I hated him for starting it, the tomatoes melted in my mouth. He even fried some green ones. We didn’t have to make them, just give them right conditions. Life is beautiful. I think I forget that sometimes.
Every time I touch clay I kill it. Earlier this week, after my most recent failure, my ceramics teacher noticed my flushed face and the hot pricking in my eyes. Her face took on that special kind of pity and she told me that it is all about patience, that I’ll get there if I keep trying. My flush deepened to a full blaze and a couple of tears leaked out. A stricken look crossed her face. I felt a deep pang of pity for her. It was such an awkward situation, the two of us, caught there pitying each other. My teacher took a turn and fixed up one of my pots. It looked pretty good.
I keep trying. I think I might be getting better. I mean, I know it isn’t a big deal. Me not being good at spinning. It isn’t like it matters at all. I’ll probably quit after this year. I’ve always been more into math. Story problems are my specialty. I really understand the problems, that’s most people’s issue with them. Plus, there aren’t any jobs spinning pottery, especially not for me.
Today Dad pulled me aside and told me in a whispered voice that he wants June to start therapy again. We all did it for a while, it was required, but stopped when we moved into the new house. Maybe he thought the chickens could replace Dr. Lewett. They looked kind of similar with bobbing head and beady eyes. Dr. Lewett always wore a red tie. I like to picture him with yellow shirts and his hair spiked up.
The fifteen minute drive to see him was always so very quiet, so it was a relief when we stopped going. But I don’t know. Maybe it would be good to talk to someone. June especially, I can’t imagine it at her age. My Dad too, no matter how cheerful he’s been.
I can’t decide if I miss the city. I miss my friends. I miss my old life with Mom. I miss the bagel shop on the corner. There aren’t any good bagels around here. I miss all the things there were to do and how you could drown yourself out in the bustling of the crowds. Here the sky is so big and quiet, no people for miles around our house, just the rustling of the grasses and the trees. Sometimes it feels like the quiet has sucked away my soul and filled up my head with a vacuum. We couldn’t have stayed, though.
I like the birds. I go sit out on the porch at sunset and watch them dive in and out of the grass and their nests under the eave of the roof. Dad says there might be chicks in the spring. In the city there were only pigeons. Here the birds are always chirping. They are always there and cheerful. That comforts me. I’m not stupid, I know they’re about to go away for the winter, but they will come back. Or be burrowed the whole time in their cozy nests. I’m not sure if swallows migrate. I hope it goes well.
It’s hard to stay cheerful in a month like this. Maybe it’s part of being in the country. The days have gotten so short and dark and there aren’t many street lights out here. I’ve been crying more, mostly at night and I’m glad I have my own room. The loneliness has set in hard. I almost miss the pigeons. They stayed all year round.
June is seems to be doing ok. She doesn’t talk about therapy, but she made all these new friends playing soccer. She’s always in town with them. Her best friend’s mom owns a craft store that is popular with the tourists, but that also sells stuff for the people around here. June’s friend is a bit annoying, but I wish I could hang out in that store with walls of glittering beads and yarn.
In ceramics class we are taking a break on spinning to work on a mini unit about glazing. We are making Christmas ornaments for it. Making the ornaments is pretty basic, like cutting out Christmas cookies. Mom and I used to do that together so I don’t know if cookies will happen this year. The glaze is cool though. You don’t really know what it will look like until it gets back out of the kiln. It’s like magic or a trust exercise.
The bakery in town that sells bread shaped like animals has come out with Santas and reindeers. After school I’ll sit all alone there and drink one of their enormous mugs of peppermint hot chocolate. Dad picks June and me up together, but she would kill me if I tried to hang out with her. I probably will have gained a good ten pounds from the hot chocolate by New Years.
Small towns are so cheesy about Christmas. Apparently the storefront displays are a big deal here, so Main Street looks like the north pole barfed on it. There is an nativity scene at the toy store that almost life size. It’s so ridiculous.
The Christianity of Christmas here weirds me out. Back home it was more like an afterthought, but here people have glowing crosses on their yards. Mom used to drag us all to church just on Christmas and Easter. I used to think Dad was virtually an atheist, like me, but he’s been making us go to church some Sundays. He says it’s how the community connects around here, but I can’t help wondering if it has something to do with Mom. I don’t mind the music. Our church has a great organ.
After by my breakdown on Christmas Eve, Dad sent me to the therapist too. She’s the only one in town so I sometimes see kids from my high school in her lobby. We make awkward eye contact that reaffirms we will never speak of seeing each other. She’s nice enough, I guess. I’ve asked myself all the questions she asks me, but it’s nice trying to say the answers out loud.
She’s gotten stuck on why I’m taking martial arts. She thinks it is some sort of defense mechanism. I don’t know. Maybe it is, but it can’t hurt and I get to punch things until my knuckles bleed. The exercise feels good.
June and Dad are fighting because June got a boyfriend. It’s just one more reason I miss Mom. June’s in seventh grade, which seems a bit early to me, but it’s not like I know anything about boys. The house practically crackles with tension. Dad has moved up June’s curfew to five so she’s here all the time. I spend as much time as I can in my room with my headphones on.
The earthy smell of the ceramics room makes me feel so safe. After countless days of practice in class and after school the clay, my fingers and the wheel have come to some sort of an agreement. I can make vases which graceful swan necks and sturdy curves, even if they aren’t exactly uniform. It’s about going slowly and being in tune. Spinning well kind of feels like my fingers are carving rivers. When I spin my skin gets coated in gray clay up to the elbows. I makes me smile to think it’s like Cinderella’s silk gloves and I’m a princess ready for a ball.
A girl in my ceramics class has started talking to me. I think we might be friends. She carries a knitting project around constantly, which people say is weird. She says she’ll make me a hat. She’s lived here her whole life and her parents are real ranchers. They have cows, a few alpaca, and chickens that haven’t all been eaten. Dad claims that our chicken coop was built wrong. He says he’ll fix it in the summer and we’ll go back to getting fresh eggs. I feel bad for whatever chickens we might get.
Her name is Elizabeth, because her parents are hardcore Catholics. We text all the time and I worry that I’m too needy or a pity-friend, but she doesn’t have many friends either. She also likes bird watching, knows all about it, and says she’ll taking me in the spring. Her knowledge about nature is amazing and she loves hearing about the city. I think Mom would be happy I’m being social.
Dad finally sorted through Mom’s stuff. It’s been sitting in boxes in the basement where it was blindly shoved for the move. He’s given me some of her jewelry and clothing. I would never wear any of it for fear of losing it, but June wears a pair of her silver studs everyday. It makes me a little anxious whenever I see them.
He also found a bunch of letters Mom wrote to people. There is one addressed to me for my wedding day. The emotions are paralysing. It’s nice knowing that she wanted to be in our lives and that there is one last connection waiting, but if she writes anything with the word husband in it I might die.
My ceramics teachers is talking about having me put together a display for the art show or even putting some of my pieces at her stall at a Fair.
I was at the Summer-Kickoff Fair with Elizabeth and everything was wonderful. I’d made nearly fifty dollars selling my pottery at my ceramic teacher’s stall and we had gone on the roller coaster together and laughed our heads off. She had won second place for her knitting. My dad was going crazy with all sorts of new plans and tips for expanding our farm. He had bought far too many seeds and made arrangements to get some poor new chicks.
Elizabeth and I were sitting together in a quiet corner of the textile tent and almost everyone was out watching the band my math teacher plays banjo in. I leaned against her and the cotton candy we’d shared began to fade. I began to sob into her shoulder. She looked at me in shock and hugged me tightly. She gave me a knit handkerchief and sat with me. Hiccupping, I finally told her about Mom. She held my hand until I stopped crying.
Two days ago, with the input of my therapist, Elizabeth’s brother pulled up to the graveyard. We hadn’t been back to the city since we moved so it was my first time visiting the grave. The funeral had been on a hard sunny day in August, but, two days ago, it was pleasantly warm with ghosts of mist rising up from the glittering ground.
Elizabeth and Paul gave me some privacy. I knelt by the grave and everything I tried to say was awkward and cracked. I place a hand-made vase full of tulips against the stone and cried a bit. Elizabeth hugged me until I was done.
Elizabeth says we’ll go bird watching again tomorrow. Dad was right. There are barn swallow chicks under our roof. The tomatoes have just sprouted.