A Different Me

December 17, 2008
By Julia Chilcote, Granger, IN

Who I Am and Who I Want To Be

Before I tell you about this different me, I should probably tell you a bit about who I actually am, as of now anyway. I’m not quite sure myself, but this is what I’ve decided on so far.

I’m an extremely shy person. If I haven’t known you for at least a year, chances are I won’t talk to you. You might come over and ask me if I understand how to do the math homework or something, and I do. But it will only come out in a faint whisper anyways, so I just say no, rather than putting together sentences that you’ll just ask me to repeat anyway, making you the fourteenth person that day to ask me to speak louder. It gets old. I want to be able to speak up for myself, make a good first impression upon people without them thinking I’m mute. I want to be able to introduce myself to people, instead of waiting for them to introduce themselves to me. I want to be the person I am when I’m with my cousins.

I’m not sure what it is about my cousins’ family that transforms my personality into something different and opposite of whom I normally am. Maybe it’s my Aunt Michelle, fun-loving, just a big kid at heart. Maybe it’s my older cousin Brittany, daring, willing to do anything and everything, my role model. Or maybe it’s just me; taking one of my few opportunities to come out of my shell around the people I’m most comfortable. Whatever it is, it turns me into my alter ego, someone who’s carefree, frivolous, outgoing, certainly not a superhero, occasionally breaking rules as opposed to enforcing them, making up half of who I am and the memories I have with my cousins.

A Midnight Swim

We stood there in the chilly night air, in nothing but our bathing suits, staring at the padlock on the gate to the pool. It hadn’t occurred to us that there might actually be a reasonable closing time. Midnight seemed a perfectly reasonable time to us, to go for a swim. But apparently not to the owners of the cabin community we were staying at in Gatlinburg, seeing as the sign on the gate read, “Swimming Hours: 9AM-9PM.”

“Well? What now?” I asked my cousins.

“We walked all this way in the cold,” Brittany reminds us. “We’re going swimming.”

She steps up on to the rock wall lining the pathway and hops over the gate, followed by Reuben, her boyfriend, practically a cousin by now. Then Tisha, then Paige.

Quoting my Aunt Michelle from earlier that day, I say jokingly, “What happens in Gatlinburg, stays in Gatlinburg,” and follow them over the gate.

We walk around in the dark, looking for a chair to put our towels and shoes on, when a light flickers on out of nowhere. My heart skips a beat and we all jump slightly. And then we laugh, realizing that the light turns on by motion detection, not manually by someone who’s caught us using the pool after hours. Although the light is shining, the pool water reflects the night sky turning it into a black abyss. I imagine up all kinds of creatures lurking in the swampy water, but swallow my fear and leap in anyway.

Immediately, I feel the icy, cold water all around me as the pool swallows me completely. Splash! I can hear the others, jumping in around me as I swim to the surface. I break free and take a deep breath of frigid air, causing my teeth to chatter uncontrollably, and my face begins to sting as if being poked by thousands of tiny pins and needles.

One by one, my cousins start to emerge from the icy water, complaining and shrieking in shivering, shaky voices. Our only options are to either get out of the pool and be frozen by the chilly air against our wet skin, or get used to the water and swim anyway. So we decide on the latter. We swim around for awhile, adjusting to the temperature, the water feeling warmer. Just as we’re starting to enjoy ourselves, we hear a rattling, jingling noise of some sort, something or someone moving near the gate.

I look around the pool. One, two, three, four. We’re all still here. We’re all holding our breath, dead silent, except for the thud of someone’s feet hitting the concrete floor as they hop over the gate. It’s beginning to feel like a scene from a scary movie when finally our murderers come into view. But wait, it turns out they’re not murderers at all. Just two teenage guys, our age, coming for a midnight swim as well.

They tell us their names, and we tell them ours. Once they’ve jumped in and come to the surface, they discover how cold it is and ask us if we’re crazy. My cousins talk to them for awhile. I just stand in the shallow end, up against the wall.

“Hey! Shy One!” one of the boys says to me. “Do you ever talk?”

“Yes, I talk.”
And for no real reason, I get up out of the pool, run to the deep end, and take a huge jump in, loud when I hit the water. I wasn’t going to settle for “Shy One.” This was my alter ego he was dealing with now.

Yet Another Thrilling Adventure

Black shirts. Black pants. Black shoes. We joke with my cousin, Paige, and my brother, Christopher, about how they’re always wearing black. But tonight it will come in handy. The girls, Brittany, Tisha, Paige, and I search through Paige’s closet for something to wear, while Christopher finds something in his bag for Reuben, something that will camouflage us in the dark night. It’s one in the morning. We’re wide awake. We’re bored. No better time for us to play ding-dong-ditch on the neighbors, a classic game of ringing the doorbell and running. Once we’ve changed to blend in with the lightless outdoors, we sneak outside and start walking down the street.

A search for the perfect house begins. A house with the drapes closed, a house with a decent running distance to my cousins’ house if needed. Most of their neighbors are old and crabby, willing to call the cops on any troublemaking kids. This makes our game that much scarier…more thrilling, more fun. We choose a house without a hiding place, having to run a little further across the street to hide. A challenge is always good.

“Who wants to ring the doorbell?” Brittany asks.

Not me. Not me. Not me. Not me. Not me.

So of course Brittany will ring it. She’s the daring, fearless one of course. I hide behind a tree across the street, sitting up on my feet, knees bent, quite uncomfortable. Tisha hides behind me, Reuben behind her, one long line. Ding Dong! And then for the ditch part, Brittany runs behind a truck parked in front of the tree we’re behind. Inside the house, a light comes on and out of the doorway comes a quite grumpy looking old man. He walks to look at the side of his house. He walks across the street, standing on the other side of the truck, just a few feet away from where Brittany is crouched down. He walks around the yard we’re in so that I have to shift myself around the tree, Tisha shifting behind me, Reuben behind her, still in one long line. But the man doesn’t see us.

He returns to his driveway, smoking a cigarette for what seems like half an hour, while my legs start to fall asleep, seeming permanently fixed in a crouching position forever. I find it quite comical how determined he is to catch us, as if he has nothing better to do. I can hear the giggles inside my head, but I hold my breath and force them to stay there. The old man has underestimated us. We sit and wait and wait and wait.

Finally, he goes back inside and turns off the light. We run as fast as we possibly can the length of the entire street, all the way to my cousins’ house. We collapse on the porch, laughing and gasping for air. I can hardly breathe, yet the feeling of excitement and the thrill of getting away with it, makes it completely worth it.

The Dangerous Gravel Hill

Walking through the field, the tall, dry grass clings to my legs, wet from crossing through the creek in my cousins’ backyard. We don’t really know where we’re walking to, we just are. Past the horse farm, across the field, into the woods, stuck at a dead end by flimsy wire fencing that stretches along for miles left and right. My cousins know the land better than I do, so I don’t ask questions as they bend the metal fencing and swing their legs over. I just follow, as do Christopher and Tisha. We’re surrounded by bushes and branches, so we push them out of our way to free ourselves from the jungle-like mess. Once through, I realize where we are. I’m standing at the foot of a big, long hill made of rocks and gravel. On top, a railroad track.

They climb the hill, balancing on the metal tracks. They find pieces of gravel, glass, cans on the hill and place them on the solid, rusty line for the train to destroy later on. I stand as far away as possible, a tree, stiff and rooted to the same spot I’ve been in. Our parents have told us many times to keep away from the tracks. I’ve heard stories. I know that what they’re doing is dangerous.

I look down the track at the railroad crossing up ahead, where there’s a light that signals when the train is coming. It’s safe for now. But I can’t help imagining it’s big, round eye blinking, the color changing, a train coming. I look away, and then look back, again and again, every five seconds.

“What’s wrong?” Brittany asks me.

“Nothing, I’m just cold.” I lie.

But my brother knows me better than that. He can tell when his little sister’s scared, when she needs his help.

“I’m going to take her home,” he tells them.

So he walks me home, my cousins staying behind to play and tread on the treacherous train tracks. And it’s then that I realize that it’s almost as if there’s a line drawn between right and wrong. And it’s from these experiences that I’ve learned that it’s okay to be a different person every once in a while. It’s even okay to occasionally stand on the edge of that line. Just so long as you know where it is, and not to cross it. Because it’s also important to stand up for yourself and to know when too much gets to be too much.

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