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Windows. Yes, I am going to write about windows. I know you probably think I’m crazy, but please, hang in there with me for at least a couple of paragraphs. You might be a little curious, you might be laughing at me, you might not care about what I have to say at all. Any of that is fine, as long as you give me a chance. Okay, I know, I’m about to lose you. I’ll get started.
My first definite memory of a window comes from when I was five years old. It was dusk, and I lay on my bed curled up in a fetal position, facing my bedroom window. My mind was pulled toward the last light of the day like a sunflower is pulled toward the sinking sun. I felt some sort of magnetic pull to the outside world as I thought of jumping out into the gathering darkness, into a Narnia-like fantasyland. As long as I faced the window, I could dream. My father wouldn’t be able to see my tear-stained face, and I’d never have to admit to hitting my baby brother. My window was an escape, the door to a better place, and all I needed to get there was my imagination.
I was seven years old the first time a window held one of my secrets. That day, my first-grade teacher had humiliated me in front of the entire class because I could not understand the subtraction problems that were a breeze for everyone else. I came home, my eyes burning with angry tears, and stomped the crisp January snow off my boots with extra force upon entering the house. I then retreated to my room to mope. I noticed that my window was full of frost and ice crystals. That’s when I had an idea.
With my finger, I carefully wrote, “I hate Ms. Smith” in my big, sloppy, first-grade handwriting. The message looked bold against the rest of the white ice crystals. I stood back and looked at my work. The heat from my finger had turned some of the frost to little water droplets that dripped down the glass pane like tiny teardrops, each tracing a different path. It looked like my window was crying.
For some reason, I pictured Ms. Smith crying. All of the sudden I felt horrible and used my shirt to wipe all evidence of my private outburst off the freezing glass, soaking my cotton sleeve. I barely noticed, as I was racked with the kind of guilt that only a little kid can feel. What kind of person, I wondered, was I becoming to write a hateful message like that on my window?
When I was nine, my favorite uncle went to jail. He had been involved in a drunk driving accident. He was the drunk, and the person he hit had been killed. I didn’t like to think about it, but I wanted to go visit him.
I wasn’t sure what the jail would be like, but soon learned that the only way I could see him was through a very thick, bullet-proof window. Uncle Ted could not pick me up and swing me around in the air, then tickle me until I was gasping for breath as he usually did. On the other side of the window, he looked like a criminal. His eyes seemed sunken, and he was wearing a baggy orange jumpsuit with huge numbers printed on the back. It made him look evil.
I looked away. This was not the uncle that I knew. He could no longer play catch with me or buy me hotdogs with extra relish. Never again would I ride in his tiny red convertible, the wind whipping through my hair as we accelerated faster and faster.
I looked at him and swore never to get drunk. I didn’t want to end up on the other side of that window. Our eyes met briefly. His were full of pain, and it scared me. I don’t know what he saw, or if he even saw anything in my eyes. I could never bring myself to ask him.
Sweet, tangy pineapple juice rushed over my tongue in a burst of flavor. It dripped from my chin, but that was ok – after all, I was standing over the kitchen sink. I was eleven years old now – wise and seasoned compared to my little brother who had to sit at the table to eat his pineapple.
As I savored the taste of my favorite fruit, I looked out the kitchen window. It was one of those seemingly perfect days, where there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sunlight dapples the grass, bringing out various hues of green; where butterflies flit around and birds chirp back and forth to each other. It was a day just like the ones that they use on TV to advertise random things such as toilet paper, carpet cleaners, or catnip.
I knew that the products advertised on TV were not as perfect as the commercials said they were. My cat had not eaten her little bowl of catnip, then jumped into my lap under a tree in the lush, green grass, as the commercial had promised. She did not purr and rub against my legs. Instead, she bit me when I tried to pet her, then puked on the living room floor. And I know you’re wondering, so I’ll just tell you – it did leave a permanent stain.
Anyway, this all made me wonder, as I looked out the window over the kitchen sink, is everything a façade? Is there such a thing as a perfect day? Surely, right now, some child is crying, someone’s loved one is dying, and someone’s heart is breaking. Even though I am looking out my window and the sun is golden and the grass is one hundred shades of green, someone out there is in pain. Today is not perfect, and who knows, tomorrow I could be the subject of a horrible tragedy or disaster. Still, someone else could look out their window and see only sunlight and blue skies.
The sweet taste in my mouth went sour. I licked my sticky fingers, pondering the way that windows are deceitful. They reveal only a small snippet of the surrounding world. They do not give you the full picture.
But what would the world be like if we had the full picture every day? All the pain, suffering, and heartache that human kind experiences throughout the hours would surely rip our spirits down to the point of breaking. And here comes the million-dollar question, the one that I still struggle with today.
Is it possible to find a happy medium?
I was thirteen years old and cleaning my room when I came across an envelope shoved between my dresser and bookcase. It was wrinkled and dirty, and had something scrawled illegibly on the front in purple ink. Curious, I opened it up, and found a stack of pictures I had taken at summer camp last year. I remembered toting around my little disposable camera, but didn’t think I’d had the pictures developed yet. I looked again at the envelope and could now make out the illegible scrawl as, “Camp Friendly.”
I had loved everything about Camp Friendly except its name. Seriously. Camp Friendly? Couldn’t they come up with anything better? But the camp itself was tons of fun. I flopped down on my bed, more than ready for both a stroll down memory lane and a break from cleaning my room.
I pulled out the first picture. It was me standing in front of my cabin, my home-away-from-home for the next two weeks. I held my backpack to my chest. My eyes were wide as I took everything in. I had never been to camp before and was a little scared of being left alone for such a long time, but felt that the benefits of camp would be greater than the risks. Gosh, that sounds like something you’d find on a bottle of medicine after the one hundred horrendous side effects have been listed – “Remember, the benefits of this medicine are greater than the risks.”
I flipped to the next picture – it was the view from the tiny porch of my cabin, totally picturesque. The water on the huge lake rippled gently, pine trees grew all around. The picture made them seen fuzzy and green and beautiful, not at all showing the sharp needles that I had accidently stepped on with bare feet – ouch! I still cringe thinking about the peroxide that the camp nurse had mercilessly poured on my bleeding scrapes.
The next picture hadn’t turned out very well – I had tried to take a picture over the fire of everyone’s roasting marshmallows. Mostly you could see a huge orange blob of flame surrounded by darkness. I moved on to the next photo.
This picture brought back memories of my favorite part of camp – the horseback riding. I didn’t care that the horse they gave me, named Peanut, was fat and lazy. I didn’t care that I had to kick with all my strength to get her to even take a step forward, and that the next day my legs burned with a vengeance. There was something about being around the horses that I loved. I didn’t know whether it was the relaxed atmosphere, the excitement of sitting high up off the ground on a living being, or the way Peanut’s velvety nose felt on my hand as I fed her slices of apple. Whatever it was that appealed to me, I lived for the daily horseback rides at Camp Friendly.
Slowly, I flipped through the rest of the pictures, remembering all the fun I’d had, wondering why I hadn’t gone back this year. When I had seen them all, I put the pictures back in their envelope, and stuck them back between my dresser and bookcase. I sighed. People sometimes say that a picture is worth a thousand words. At that moment, I agreed. All it had taken to bring back floods of memories from camp was a stack of pictures. Pictures, I decided, are one of the most valuable kinds of windows. They are windows into the past.
I was fifteen when I got my first real crush. Sure, I’d had others before, mostly because all of my friends did and I thought that I also had to. I’d never really been interested in boys. In my opinion, most of them were gross jerks who acted like pigs, my little brother included. But this time, something was different.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy named Brandon. He lived on the street parallel to ours, a couple of houses down. He was just gorgeous – tousled brown hair, sparkling brown eyes, tan skin, cool clothes. I’d met him at school. He was in a few of my classes – but I knew that to him, I was a nobody. I was nonexistent.
He already had a girlfriend, one that I couldn’t possibly compete with. She was a beautiful cheerleader, but didn’t quite fit the stereotype that I know you’re associating with her right now – she was a straight A student, not stupid at all. Sometimes, when I was doing my homework at my desk, I’d look outside, and they’d be walking down the street, arms slung casually across each other’s backs. Or he would be helping the little kid who lived at the end of the street learn to ride his bike, running next to him with one hand on the seat of the bike.
I’d see the sweat glistening off his skin, see him flash his goofy but oh-so-cute smile for the little kid next door, and wish fervently that just once that smile could be for me.
That’s another thing about windows, I suppose. They let you see things that you can’t touch, that you want to have but can’t, and also things that you don’t want to have. I remembered my eleven-year-old revelation – what you see outside windows can be deceitful, not showing the whole picture. After all, I had to remind myself, Brandon and his pretty-faced girlfriend probably didn’t have a perfect relationship and the little kid down the block was probably yelled at by his mother for being late to dinner. Nothing in life is perfect at all.
But reminding myself of this didn’t help. Although I forced myself not to spend any more time looking through windows at what could never be, it took a long time to stop wanting to be Brandon Jones’s girlfriend.
I suppose that brings us to the present. Here I am, age 17, so different from when I was five years old on the first day that I mentioned to you. That day seems so long ago now, like the distant past - something that can only be remembered through the windows of pictures and the memories in my mind.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that my life is still full of windows. I am currently embarking on the ever-dreaded yet ever-exciting college search, requesting information from seemingly endless universities online, and then heaping it out of my mailbox by the pound. I see each of the college postcards, guidebooks, and catalogues as a window into the future. Of course, I must remember, they do not show the full picture, but that does not mean that they aren’t useful. I pick them apart bit by bit, late at night, like the dissection lab that I completed in biology class last Friday. I want to glean every little bit of information from them that I can, to be able to decide where I will fit in best.
Of course, the windows themselves that have marked each stage of my life have not really taught me anything. How smart do you really think a pane of glass is? Rather, windows have been the tool helping me discover many things about myself and about life.
At age five I learned that, although everyone likes to dream, and each person has their own fantasyland to which they can escape during times of trouble, imagination is not enough. Eventually, we must all face reality.
At age seven, I learned that I did not like picturing myself as a person who hated people. I learned that it’s perfectly fine to get angry, but to be very careful before we say that we hate someone.
Watching my uncle waste away, spending the rest of his years in that exact, unchanging spot, has been an experience that I will never forget. Learning that life is not perfect, and that we can never have the full picture, has also been good for my relationships. My windows into the past, or pictures as most people like to call them, never fail to cheer me up a little when I am down.
And now, as I continue on into the next part of my journey in life, I know that windows will still be everywhere. They will be the pictures that I hang up in my new dorm room at college; they will be the openings through which I let my imagination soar until I find what I want to do - until I find my passion. They will be entwined in all the knowledge that I will carry with me to college.
And let’s not forget the good old-fashioned windows on the airplane that I will take home every so often to visit my family. I won’t lie. We’re unlikely to have the ‘perfect’ holiday vacation that you’re probably imagining – everyone crowded around the Christmas tree, a hearty fire burning in the fireplace, relatives talking and laughing over glasses of eggnog. I’ve already learned that nothing can truly be perfect, but I wouldn’t trade my family for anything.
We might have some conflict. Cousin Laura might break an egg on the floor, and Aunt Myra’s new baby might scream all through the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church. However, one thing I can say for them is that they’ve been here for me through everything, through the highs and the lows, the smooth sailing and the rough seas. They are the window of love, forever open to me, whether I’m happy and joking, sobbing hysterically, or just downright grumpy.
They are the most important window of all.