More River Nonsense

I survived.

I have various scrapes and scratches all over me from running frantically through pine trees, but it’s okay. I did not have any sort of emotional breakdown – as a matter of fact I feel like I did rather well, considering how badly I didn’t want to go to that party and how badly I also did want to go to that party. One thing that helped was that the Matt who appeared in that !@#$%^g dream has almost nothing in common with the actual one. Reality can bite, but sometimes it’s a good thing. I did request of Tanner to “take care of doofus for me,” and I hope they take care of each other, but I think I am ready to leave all this behind now.

The other cool thing is that I recently ran across an old piece that I wrote in pieces over a couple of years. I first wrote it at the beginning of my sophomore year, then uncovered it and refurbished it for a junior English assignment, then last spring when a friend took Hannah’s and my senior pictures together, I wrote a finished version that I found today. Of course, it was written pre-graduation, and pre-Summer of Learning A Whole Ton of Heavy S#^t about Love, Forgiveness and Other Wonders of the World That I Will Probably Not Forget Very Soon, but I still like it. Maybe I’ll take a picture before I leave home and write a very last version with “Here I am about to go off to college.”

Anyway, here it is. It’s called “Self-Reflection (School Pictures) 2.5 Years Later,” and it presents you with thirteen years of my river.

Kindergarten. I am small and blonde and I still have my baby teeth. I wear a navy blue jumper and my smile is so sweet and innocent. I am only five, and my mother is pregnant with my baby sister. My father is in his last year teaching at the junior high. Life is simple. It is September 2000. But nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of that year – a year I barely remember.

First grade. I am not much bigger. I am still blonde and blue-eyed, but my front teeth are missing. I wear a pale blue shirt, one my sister Kristen has too. This is the year I am moved up to 2nd grade level language arts after only a few weeks in school, probably by the time this picture was taken. This is also the year I have my first story judged at all. I started early, no? I am also the only girl among three boys in the first grade. The World Trade Center will fall a few days later, and I will be seized with a deathly childish fear that the towers are big enough to fall all across the US and will land smack in the middle of my street. It is September 2001, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember.

Second grade. I have my teeth now. I am slightly bigger; my hair is more of a goofy mess. I am still the only girl in my class, and I am still ahead of my pack in language arts. It is September 2002, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember.

Third grade. My smile is shyer. I have my father’s eyes – one is wider open than the other. There is a braid in my hair, and I am wearing a dainty denim dress that now reposes in my bottom drawer. My hands are folded in my lap, sweet innocence, satisfaction in the fact that my dress is pretty. This is the year I first got glasses, glasses that at first my sister Kristen was jealous of, glasses I later grew to hate. This is Kristen’s kindergarten year. It is September 2003, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember.

Fourth grade. My hair is beginning to take on the wild properties it has now. My smile is much the same as it is now. My glasses make my eye two separate shapes because they were always cockeyed and I forgot to take them off. It is September 2004, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember.

Fifth grade. My hair looks awful. I grimace to remember what a hair amateur I was before my sister Kristen grew into her skill with tresses. My smile is more serene. I was swimming in limbo, waiting as time passed. It is September 2005, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember.

Sixth grade. My smile is bright and my hair shines. It is my first year at the public middle school in town, as opposed to the small church school that closed the June before. I conquer it, crush it, bring it down. I check the most books out of the library of any student that year. My middle school is no match for me. It is September 2006, and the small innocent picture is so misleading. I was not as happy and well-adjusted as the picture pretends or even as my mother thought. It was harder than anyone knew. It was a year I will never forget.

Seventh grade. My smile is more sleepy. I still have my bangs – fashion hadn’t started to bug me yet, I suppose. This is the year I wrestle with getting contacts. Seventh grade is a good year. I begin choir and discover, in it, one of my biggest passions. Also, I’m inclined to believe that seventh grade is a good year because I didn’t get mixed up with boys. I grow into the feminist side of myself when I play Christine de Pizan in a play the following spring. It is September 2007, and the small innocent picture is the best depiction of the way the year truly went.

Eighth grade. The only school picture I have ever had my hair pulled back in. Rachel and I discover makeup and boys together this year, surviving ex-best friend drama and learning more of the world than maybe we wanted to. But we enjoyed ourselves. It is September 2008, and nothing in the small innocent picture tells anything of the emotional journey I endured by the side of my best friend in the world in the glitzy hallways and high-tech classrooms of the junior high.
Freshman year. My smile is content, my eyes are bright. Nothing in the picture tells the story of the year. What can I say? I was part of the town’s first-ever freshman girls’ choir. I was one of three freshmen whose writing was published in the school literary magazine. The year is one unlike any other. This picture is August 2009, of a year spent in the leaking hallways and old classrooms of the high school. The year is a blur now – a year of happiness and not, all of it stamped clearly with one person’s face, and the face is not Rachel’s. Nothing in the picture tells the story of the year – a year I barely remember, a year I will never forget.

Sophomore year. My smile looks different than any other smile I have ever given the camera. It’s cockeyed. I have the same Cook eye I had in kindergarten, in third grade, in probably every other picture, though I don’t remember. My smile looks almost like I’m sneering at the world. Something I wouldn’t mind doing. It is August 2010. Nothing in the picture tells the story of the year, and that certainly is unfortunate, because I’d like to know what happens. The picture confuses me. My face is not clear like my freshman picture. Unintelligible. Is this really me? Have I really become this girl? I am smiling, but I look almost unsmiling. I have become lonely where once I was happily surrounded with people I love. The worst part is I did it all myself.
Sophomore year, second perspective. My smile looks different than any other smile I have ever given the camera. It’s cockeyed. I have the same eyes I had in kindergarten, in third grade, in probably ever other picture, though I don’t remember now. My smile looks almost like I’m sneering at the world. It is August 2010. Nothing in the picture tells the story of the year, the year when, after only two weeks of cross-country, I end up with a stress fracture in the foot for my pains. I swim all winter and trip over love a lot. It is a year spent, for the most part, alone, a year that ended, despite everything, in joy, a year that is nothing in itself but promise for better, a year that is truly unmemorable, a year whose effect on me is unforgettable.

Junior year. My smile bunches up my cheeks, but I look happy. My eyes look smaller than is flattering, but I look happy. My hair’s all out of order, some wavy, some straight, but I look happy. I must be happy. I’ve grown out of the disappointments of my earlier years of high school and grown into a more graceful way of existing. I have finally grown into the happiness I have worked for. It is August 2011, and with the embodiment of my junior year before me, the image that ever afterwards will remind me of this year, I feel strangely like it has now been set in stone, like any twists of fate beyond this point have already been planned. But that’s okay. Sure, nothing in the picture tells the story of the year, but you wouldn’t really want to know beforehand, would you?

Junior year, second perspective. My smile bunches up my cheeks, but I look happy. My eyes look smaller than is flattering, but I look happy. My hair’s all out of order, some wavy, some straight, but I look happy. I must be happy. I spent this year learning anything anyone would teach me and being busy and cheerful and effective. I am the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, I am one of few juniors in the most advanced choir, I finally finish a season of cross-country and even improve some. I join the jazz band as the pianist and find a whole coven of people who are larger than life and loving-er than anyone I’ve encountered in my previous social dealings. It is August 2011, and the small, happy picture is probably the best depiction of how this busy, cheerful, exciting, happy year, full of completely new experiences and things I’d been working for years to achieve, truly went.

Senior year, and I use the artsy portrait style photo taken by a friend instead of the yearbook picture with the drape. Because yes, the yearbook picture with the drape is me, but it is me bleary-eyed and stringy-haired and in a very weird posture. But the artsy portrait style photo is me, too, and it is the best me, it is me in red, bandana-bound hair smooth, eyes bright, smile near perfect if I can say so myself. This is a weird year, and emotionally trying to a point which makes me wonder if junior year’s breezy contentment was not a dream. I maintain authority as editor; I assume a sort of expertise in the choir; I continue to be my band director’s favorite (and only) pianist as I wow him with my knowledge of classical, but not of jazz, as sad as that may be. The coven of band people is still my safety net, even after an odd mishappenstance of a relationship with one of them falls through. I run faster than I ever have and I learn volumes about love from Madeleine L’Engle. I learn, more powerfully than ever before, that I am not the only one whose dream may have fallen apart. I score a full ride to the school of my dreams, dreams reaching back to my four-year-old days, and Harvard rejects me. I learn about survival, that not everyone you interact with on a daily basis is your friend and your friends are not necessarily people you interact with on a daily basis. I learn that this is not all there is, that people are, while almost everything, not all of it. It is March 2013, and this small, vibrant, complete picture is maybe not the perfect, maybe not the best, but definitely the most accurate representation of – not of the year, but of the whole, of me. It is a year in which I become, I feel, wise, and as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “She felt very old and mature and wise, which showed how young she was.”

I am young. I am young and vibrant and busy and cheerful and effective and a hundred thousand other good things, and I am maybe even wise, maybe even fiery, and there is no picture which can capture me.

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One thought on “More River Nonsense

  1. This feels like a modern art project at this point. I love the multi-layered self-reflection portrait that is painted by your writing/pictures/self-reflection. Thanks for sharing this new work with me as well. Best of wishes at ISU. College years are wonderful. Enjoy.

    By the way, this quote at the end is beautiful: Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “She felt very old and mature and wise, which showed how young she was.”

    Thanks for everything, Travis

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