A Fairy Tale For Millennials

Once Upon A Time, there was a young… blogger.

She had a college degree in English, because she understood from an early age that the STEM field was not for her, and that she was always going to be more intellectual than physical. If she’d known that so many people were going to say things about “young people who get liberal arts degrees being surprised when they can’t get hired,” she might have sucked it up and gone to law school or medical school instead.

(In her childhood, everyone said “Follow your dreams.” She took that advice, and was subsequently surprised and annoyed when the same people touted the virtues of STEM, trade school, and other career fields and made jokes about English majors working in the drive-through at McDonalds. This is called a double standard, and it’s not her fault. Stop telling her what she should have done, it’s none of your business.)

The young blogger was a hopeless romantic, and she wished to meet— well, not a prince exactly, but a gentleman. She knew what to expect of the dating field, and so assumed that there would be a few cads, a few charmers, and a wide variety of fairly average fellows who would turn out to be extremely lovely on closer acquaintance. However, she did not realize that her own personality was lacking in many ways, and that she needed to fix her personal flaws as she attempted to find and choose someone with whom she could comfortably spend her life.

The young blogger, growing up, noticed that she was a few pounds bigger than the other girls her age. This was often uncomfortable, for the fashion industry had not always been open to the idea of advertising for plus-size women and it hadn’t occurred to successful screenwriters to cast plus-size actresses. So she never saw people who looked like her in movies or television shows, and she never saw people who looked like her wearing pretty or flattering clothes. This served the purpose of making her believe that fat girls were not meant to be pretty or talented, two things she wanted very badly to be.

(She was not aware that she was, in fact, both of those things already.)

Perhaps you are scornful of the influence that advertisement and media had on the mind of the young blogger. “She shouldn’t have listened to those things,” you say. “She should have known from the beginning.”

Maybe you’re right. The young blogger knew, to an extent, that she was worth something. She just had no idea whether the something consisted of gold or garbage or something else entirely.

She knew there were things missing, but she did not know where to find them. She knew there were things wrong, but she did not know how to fix them. It was not until she listened to strangers on the Internet that she began to understand.

“I have depression,” said one such stranger. “These are the symptoms: I am tired all the time. Sadness and happiness feel more and more like apathy, and all that is left to me is an exhausting anger at my own mind and body for not accommodating the things I would like to do with my life. I have gone to a doctor. I take pills. I am getting better.”

The blogger heard this, and it resonated within her: it was one of the things wrong and missing. She did more research, then went to a doctor, took pills, and began seeing a therapist.

She went back to the Internet to listen to more strangers. “I have anxiety,” said another stranger. “Here are the symptoms.”

The blogger went back to the doctor and got more pills, then returned to the Internet.

“I am a woman,” said another stranger, “and every day of my life I have felt like the world does not want me because I am fat.”

The blogger could not go to the doctor for this, but she understood that pain all too well.

“I am a woman who loves another woman,” said another stranger. “I want to marry her, but our families are afraid and don’t understand, so they will push us away.”

The blogger preferred men, but she had often felt that people did not understand her, so she was sympathetic. She kept listening.

“I have autism,” said another stranger, “and the world thinks I ought to be a certain way but I cannot be like that.”

“I am black,” said another stranger, “and I am never sure who I can trust. I have family and friends who are in jail or dead because they trusted the system to take care of them.”

“I am religious,” said another stranger, “and all I want is to worship God peacefully. I don’t understand why some of my faith persecute others, and I don’t understand why some of my faith are persecuted.”

“I was raped,” said another stranger, “and now I am pregnant and I cannot do this. I need to get an abortion.”

“I am Latina,” said another stranger, “and I have American citizenship but some of my friends and family do not, and I am terrified that they will be sent away.”

“I am poor,” said another stranger, “and I do not have clean water to drink or a roof over my head.”

The blogger listened to all of these people, and as she listened, she felt her heart open wider and wider. She wanted to help them so badly, but she was poor and shy and sad and tired, and she could not help the whole suffering world at once.

In desperation, she typed her own question, casting it far across the World Wide Web: “What can I do to help?”

The answers came abundantly, but they were also confusing. Some things she could do— she could continue to listen and to offer comfort and empathy where it was wanted, and to remain silent when she was not needed. That was easy.

The hard parts were something else: admitting when she had made mistakes, for instance. She tried her best to change the way she thought and spoke, so that she would not hurt people more than they were already hurt.

She tried her best to explain her changes to others, but they said “she was too sensitive” and insisted that the things she had learned were wrong or stupid or weird. They said that the things she had been told were lies, that they couldn’t be Proven By Facts.

The blogger knew that there was no way to Prove that someone sharing their experience on the Internet wasn’t lying, but she believed these strangers because they reminded her of herself: they shared the things they could not always say aloud. Their writing was raw and full of pain and heartache. She could hear that, even though it was sterile letters on a page of pixels. There were so many people sharing stories, sharing similar stories, sharing the very same experiences with different characters and settings, that the blogger was convinced that most of them were being honest. She Knew, because truth and pain are two things that are hard to fake.

And still, people did not believe her. It seemed as though, knowing that one person could not fix the world, that all of them had given up on trying.

The young blogger retreated into herself to think. She did not have any money, so she could not donate to Project RAINN or TWLOHA or the Trevor Project or Planned Parenthood. Talking to people had done no good. And despite her best efforts, there was no such thing as “recovering” from mental illness. She had days where she coped, and she had days where she couldn’t. She was already tired because of her own mind and body; the insistent prejudices of the world were doubly exhausting.

“Very well,” decided the blogger. “The things I can do are listen, and act. No more talking, no more arguing. What I must do is live as my conscience dictates, and make sure that I never turn a deaf ear to those who are less fortunate than I.”

And that is what she did. It was quiet work, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it, but sometimes she was able to make people think because of the example she set. She vowed to be kind. Sometimes she didn’t always succeed, but she did try.

The blogger had long known of her knack for words. She was bad at public speaking, but good at writing. She hoped she was doing some good in the world, by writing about things she cared about.

To this day, she has not found a job, nor has she met anyone with whom she would like to spend her life. She got several participation awards, but she never requested them and her report cards always indicated that she did not participate in class anyway. (The blogger was too shy to raise her hand in elementary school, even if she knew the answer.) She has never lived alone, but she still dreams of a decent apartment and a dog that needs her. She dreams of floral curtains on the kitchen windows, of ceiling-high bookshelves, and a good queen-size mattress.

She doesn’t even like avocados. They smell and taste like grass, water, and glue sticks pureed in a blender.

The blogger, like many people, is not entirely sure that Happily Ever After exists. The blogger simply does not have the ability to believe that Happily Ever After can exist on a day to day basis because she does not have the ability to be happy on a day to day basis.

Regardless, she is an optimist and she likes fairy tales, so she has penned a new phrase.

The blogger lived— lives. She lives Hopefully Ever After.

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Letters To My Past Selves

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

Firstly, some housekeeping. I haven’t posted in like a month. I apologize, but I’ve also made an executive decision that following a posting schedule is BS unless I’m getting paid for it, and so I’m only going to post when I want to post and I will not be stressing myself out about it. Because that was what I was doing and it made me not want to post things. Now, on to the main event!

Dear pre-Earth-life, spirit Sarah: You made some decisions, kid. I don’t know what all of those decisions were, but I do know that you picked an excellent family, one that makes you feel needed and loved, and one that you need and love. So— you know, thank you. You’ve made some other decisions, and I hope that I don’t get older and look back on what I did with those decisions in mortality and go, “Wow, that was dumb.” For the record, though, I think you’ve done a great job.

Dear in-utero-Sarah: My propensity for inappropriate laughter is thanks to you. You were right-side-up, which for a fetus is upside-down, and they had to manually turn you and my mother was laughing uncontrollably the whole time. It’s one of those things that I am convinced is absorbed by osmosis because now I laugh when I shouldn’t. It is a coping mechanism for severe clinical depression, so I will allow it. And you came out okay, anyway. A little jaundiced, but quite healthy.

Dear infant Sarah: You learned to sleep well at a very young age, to the point where your mother was half convinced you were dead sometimes because you didn’t wake up at three in the morning to cry. Unfortunately for you, sleep is not something you can backlog, and in the future you will be very tired, very often. Mostly due to being sad and not producing enough neurotransmitters.

Dear one-year-old Sarah: I don’t remember anything about this time in my life, but I do know that you were full of joy. Hang on to that, kid. You’re going to need it.

Dear two-year-old Sarah: There’s not a lot of memories, still— but I’ve seen some pictures. You know, Two, you loved the heck out of your big brother. The two of you were best friends. It’s sort of adorable. He’s still one of your best friends. You fight occasionally, but it’s because you love each other so much that it hurts.

Dear three-year-old Sarah: You can read! Good job. You can also use the toilet, but that’s boring and not at all essential to your progress on the path to healthy adulthood. You already have a propensity for interesting names. Your Barbie dolls, Theresia and Evangelina and Susannah, thank you. Also, you believe that you are beautiful. Guard that belief, Three, because it’s unbelievably precious and you don’t get to keep it.

Dear four-year-old Sarah: You wear that princess costume frequently. You also have a windbreaker-sweatpants combo that make this interesting scratching noise when the fabric between your legs rubs together when you move. Yes, that is where that noise is coming from. It’s not a ghost or a tree or the wind. It’s your pants, Four. You can be so adorably stupid sometimes, but childhood is a learning process and I promise I am not judging you. (Just laughing at you. From the future.) Also, you know the big wall of mirrors in the house on Cherrywood Drive? Enjoy them now, because in the future you will hate mirrors.

Dear five-year-old Sarah: You’ve started school. I get it, I really do. School is confusing and loud and the other kids don’t understand your jokes, and on picture day you wore a really cute dress and the boy who sits next to you wore a suit and tie and everybody else said that you two were going to get married. You don’t need to cry about that, Five. Really, you don’t. He moves away after kindergarten and you never see him again. It will be okay. Also, just because you color outside of the lines on purpose sometimes doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. It just means you already have a healthy objection to categorizations like “colors belong in certain places.” The whole world is a big, beautiful rainbow and maybe the rest of them can’t see it, but you can. And you will keep seeing it for a very long time.

Dear six-year-old Sarah: You have the cutest haircut. Every adult you know tells you so. The kids your age don’t seem to agree; in fact, the one girl told you that you have “boy hair” and you cried about it— but Six, you cry about everything. Also, you wrote your first book. Remember the Young Authors program? Where you wrote a story and drew pictures and they bound it all up into a cute book for you? Yeah, you wrote a counting book.

Dear seven-year-old Sarah: This is the year you got glasses— and you promptly lost them three days later. This is a problem because you need glasses, Seven. You REALLY need glasses. It does not help that you have spent your nights reading by the extremely dim light shining through your open bedroom doorway. Stop doing that. You need your eyes. Also, you wrote another book. This one is an entirely fictional story about how your infant brother got lost in the supermarket. But you found him, because you believe in happy endings.

Cling to those happy endings, Seven. I’m begging you. I need them so badly.

Dear eight-year-old Sarah: So you moved to Red Lion this year, and everything is just— weird. You don’t have friends. At the end of the school year, that girl in your string lesson at school will be your friend. She’s a great friend. Everybody in your class thinks that you like the one boy because you played tag with him a couple of times at recess. There is nothing wrong with playing tag with a boy, and you do not have a problem. They’re the ones with the problem, Eight. They don’t know any better, so don’t judge them too harshly— but a boy and a girl can be just friends. It’s okay. At least you have Darcy the purple bear, who is your best friend and will be for a long time.

You were also baptized this year. That’s important, because it marks the beginning of your relationship with God. You knew He was real before this, but this time, it’s more important. My advice to you (not that you will take it) is to remember your baptism day as often as you can.

Dear nine-year-old Sarah: This is the year you learned that you hate math. This is unfortunate, because your father does math for a living but also because from here on out you are going to struggle with math, and therefore science, for the remainder of your education. I’m very, very sorry about it.

Also… puberty is on its way, and it’s not going to be fun. Hold on for a hot minute, Nine. You can make it and I believe in you.

Dear ten-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry.

Ten, I just— this is the year of capital-I Issues. Literally, because this is the year you get boobs and experience menarche, and on top of that you embark upon the lifelong, self-destructive train of Hating Your Own Body and you’re not going to get off that train for the next thirteen years. And even then you sometimes hang out near the tracks and ride from town to town like a hobo in the forties.

This is the year you did a report on the state of Wyoming. In the future, you will go to Wyoming and discover that it is not nearly as interesting as your report made it sound. I mean, you were on Interstate 80 the whole time, but it’s a six-hour drive from one border to the other and there’s one town along the entire highway. Also, it’s always raining.

The most important part about that report is that you stood up and gave that report in front of everyone, and it was the last time you were ever comfortable giving a report because afterward… well, afterward, one of your friends told you that two of the popular girls were laughing at you the whole time because you have hairy legs.

I’m crying for you, Ten. You didn’t know any better. You didn’t know that the cultural patriarchy had already taken an awful grasping hold on the minds of those girls and caused them to believe that body hair is the worst thing a woman can have. They didn’t know, either. But their mockery hurt you, and you asked your mother for a razor and she showed you how to use it.

Ten, you never needed to shave. Neither of those girls had to do it. One of them had light-red hair and her leg hair was invisible, and the other one had tanned skin so her leg hair didn’t show up. You had fair skin and dark body hair, and the only reason that they teased you is because it was visible.

There’s not a thing wrong with your body hair, but you don’t know that, and you’re going to spend the next ten or eleven years having a love-hate relationship with your razor before you and your therapist realize that this specific report on the state of Wyoming is the cause of half of your hang-ups about body hair.

Dear eleven-year-old Sarah: The Puberty Stagecoach took you to the Hating Your Own Body express, and that train has made a stop in Acne City. You have bumps on your face. Sometimes they have cyst-like fluid in them. Sometimes they’re just clogged pores that have become blackheads. Either way— you have acne, and it is the plague of your existence. Eleven, I am sorry to inform you that acne will remain the plague of your existence well into your twenties. It’s unfortunate. The residents of Acne City are also the drivers of the Hating Your Own Body train, and they feel the need to return home frequently. Sometimes you will hate your legs, or your arms, or your back, or your chest, or your stomach— but you will always hate your face because you can’t yet see the beauty in it under the acne and the scars.

Dear twelve-year-old Sarah: Junior high is hell, Twelve. I have no advice for you other than this: Survive.

Dear thirteen-year-old Sarah: This is the first and last time you will get a sports award for anything. You won the Presidential Fitness Award for the V-Sit, which is where you put your feet against a box and reach forward to rest your hands on a ruler on the top. This is supposedly a test of flexibility, but you have an advantage because you have short legs and a long torso and arms. This is the one time you actually enjoy something your body, Thirteen— savor the moment.

Also: that kid who was a jerk to you once in gym class, because you were afraid of getting hit by the volleyball? He’s not so bad, honestly. He’s going to date like half of your friends so you better get used to him.

Dear fourteen-year-old Sarah: So high school is okay. You see a lot of couples sucking face in the hallways, and part of you is grossed out and part of you is deeply, unreasonably jealous. Not because kissing looks all that fun, but because once these people are done making out they hold hands and walk to class together. You would like that, but you’re a hopeless romantic and you are also quiet and you believe you’re too ugly for anyone to look at you like that. It’s not going to happen.

Also, there’s this boy. I know it’s too late to give you advice now, but please don’t fall in love with him, Fourteen. It’s going to hurt you. Please.

Dear fifteen-year-old Sarah: Now that you’re busy and having fun with your friends all the time, you can sometimes forget about hating your own body. I mean, there are still moments— all of your friends are getting boyfriends and dating, and they hold hands and sometimes make out and you’re still unreasonably jealous but not that way, eww. They’re your friends. You don’t want to make out with them— you just want someone to make out with, someone who will fill this growing emptiness inside of you and tell you that you’re pretty.

Fifteen, you are never going to date in high school, and I know that sounds terrible but I promise you it is a blessing. It is protection. God is literally protecting you from getting screwed up by these emotions you don’t know how to handle. I know it’s bitter, and it’s hard to watch and not feel envious, and I know that it feels like the only reason boys don’t look at you that way is because you have thin, beautiful friends— but Fifteen. I swear you are better off. Please just trust me.

Dear sixteen-year-old Sarah: Your mother let you get contacts this year, and your hair is longer than it’s ever been. You not only feel pretty, but downright beautiful. I mean, you still get acne, but your school picture this year was the first one in five years that was not a complete travesty, and they retouch the acne away so you can pretend you are a normal, pretty, slightly overweight girl instead of the fat ugly mess you believe yourself to be.

Sixteen, I hate to burst your bubble— but you are going to cut your hair a lot in the next few years, and you are also going to go back to wearing glasses full-time. Once you get the right frames, they will make your face much thinner than contacts.

Dear seventeen-year-old Sarah: You’re nervous about getting that BYU acceptance letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get it— it just won’t come until March because BYU is really picky and your GPA was on the edge of Nope for them. Fortunately, the abundance of extracurriculars and the whole perfect seminary attendance and lettering thing did it for them. And you know, you did score a 31 on the ACT. Nice going, Seventeen. You might believe you’re ugly, but nobody’s ever said you were stupid and trust me, being smart has done more for you than being pretty.

Dear eighteen-year-old Sarah: So— college. You have a lovely roommate and four other lovely apartment-mates. You are doing your own laundry and cooking; you are going to class; you have your first job selling doughnuts and brownies at the football games. You have made some really good friends who like the same books and TV shows and movies as you. You are doing good. And you are on a huge campus with thirty-six thousand people (including the Independent Study people, so maybe it’s more like thirty thousand) and you feel invisible. It’s the best feeling in the entire world. Nobody is looking at you. Nobody cares. Yes, they’re all prettier than you and there are tall, thin women who wear six-inch-heels to class every day but nobody bats an eye at your sweatpants. Nobody cares and boy, do you feel free.

Eighteen, a small part of me now wishes I could tell you to dress up cute every day and learn to put on makeup, but the rest of me is glad that we didn’t do that. It wasn’t necessary, and if you felt like you had to do that in the future, and… well, let’s say it would have contributed to a whole host of factors playing into your depression and anxiety.

Dear nineteen-year-old Sarah: Remember how I told you not to fall in love with that boy? Well gosh dang it, if you didn’t go and fall in love with that boy. He is going to break your heart, little by little. And— here’s the thing you won’t understand right away— he isn’t even going to do it on purpose. Some of it is definitely his fault but some of it is you over-romanticizing the whole situation (which he did not know about), and the rest has to do with the Hating Your Own Body train, next stop Acne City, next stop Fatty Station. For once, a boy is making you feel pretty, and not because he says so— but because he likes spending time with you and talking to you. It is flattering and lovely, and infatuation is such a powerful drug that you can’t wait for your next hit.

Nineteen, it’s still a drug. And once you came off that high, once you realized that the relationship was toxic and bad and wrong— you crashed.

Nineteen, I told One to hang on to her joy, and I told Seven to hold her happy endings close, and I told Ten that puberty was going to be awful, and I told Twelve that junior high school was hell, and I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend. I told them those things because they were true, but I also told them those things because joy and happy endings are something you can’t see anymore. I told them that puberty and junior high were awful because those things are survivable. I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend because being single and alive is better than slowly wasting away because your heart is broken.

And Nineteen, it’s not just your heart. There’s something wrong with your head, too. You’re going to be okay, Nineteen. You’re going to be fine. Please— don’t think those things. Don’t think so loudly. Put that bottle of ibuprofen, that full bottle, back into your medicine drawer and call your mother. It’s three in the morning, but call your mother because waking her up is better than… the alternative. You’re not actually going to down that entire bottle of pills, but stop thinking about it. I know that’s not entirely in your control.

Nineteen, I’m talking you off the ledge. Listen to me.

Dear twenty-year-old Sarah: Your new medication is helping. And some other things, too. You moved apartments, and you’ve got a good job at the campus bookstore. You’re quieter now than ever, though you’ve always been quiet. Boys scare you, in a way they never did before. You guard your heart so carefully, Twenty. That’s smart, but it’s also lonely.

Remember Five? Remember how she’s always seen rainbows? The rainbows left and you didn’t even notice, until they came back. Now that you’re on medicine, the whole world looks brighter and warmer. Even rainy days just remind you of home.

Twenty, you spend a lot of time on the Internet. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’m glad you did. If you didn’t spend a lot of time there, you would never have learned about the body positivity movement and feminism. Those things have helped you realize that the thoughts you have about your body are— well, you’re not sure what they are, but you know they aren’t quite right.

On the other hand, you have suddenly gotten a lot jumpier. Go to the doctor for that. Anxiety medication will make you sleepy, but it will also help you if you’re about to have a panic attack. By the way: panic attacks are not fun. Also: you’ve been having those since fifth grade, but you had convinced yourself that you were just a crybaby. Don’t do that anymore, Twenty.

Dear twenty-one-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry, again. I’m sorry you couldn’t finish college. You had less than a month left in your last semester, but it was too much and you self-sabotaged because of anxiety. It’s going to be okay, Twenty-one. We’re getting you therapy, we’re getting you new medicine because Lexapro stopped working and Zoloft— well, it was quit college or talk yourself down from the ledge again. And you’ve gained thirty pounds in the last five months of college. That was Zoloft, too.

I’m sorry.

Dear twenty-two-year-old Sarah: Therapy is really amazing, isn’t it? You’ve been going for about a month and it’s already made such a difference. You haven’t talked to your therapist about your body yet— but once you both realize what’s going on, you’re going to fix this. The Hating Your Own Body train will be leaving the station— but you, Twenty-two, are going to get off the train and stay in this new place. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I suggest you call it Confidence.

Dear twenty-three-year-old Sarah: Here we are. We’ve come a long way, kid. Heartbreak, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation— it’s not been pleasant. But you are finally starting to look back and see little spots of joy. Remember Four? She believes we’re going to be a princess. Maybe we haven’t always felt like one, Twenty-three, but Four is right. You’re a princess.

You’re still uncomfortable with your body, but you don’t hate it. You’re down to high school weight, or a little over. You still have acne, but you’ve also talked to the therapist about the whole picking-at-your-face-and-nails thing and learned that it’s a symptom of anxiety. The comedone extraction kit has been helpful, and once you get hold of a cube or a spinner, that will be even better. And you know, you graduated from college. Not a big deal, or anything. (Yes, it is. Good job on finishing college without dying.)

You’re still lonely, but you’re also beginning to understand that friendships are in some ways more important than relationships. You’ve also learned to serve people. You’ve learned that God loves you, and that even when you don’t believe you are beautiful, He knows you are. You’ve found faith in your healing, and healing in your faith. You can look at a mirror and see your bright hazel eyes and your cute little nose instead of acne scars and fat. You can look at a mirror and see acne scars and fat, and the thoughts are not “ugly and worthless” but “a set of genetic dispositions that have no actual bearing on my aesthetic appeal.”

Dear future Sarah: In June, you will be twenty-four. Sometime after that, you will be twenty-five, and twenty-six, and twenty-seven, and so on. Eventually, you will land a cool job that lets you buy a computer on which you can finally run Minecraft, and maybe someday you will meet a nice boy that thinks your acne scars and fat are just as cute as your hazel eyes and tiny nose, and maybe you’ll marry him and have babies like you’ve always wanted. And you’ll have a little house or an apartment or something, and you’ll grow old and happy.

Of course, maybe none of these things will happen. Maybe you’ll land a job that makes you want to tear your hair out but pays your bills, and maybe you rent an apartment that won’t let you have pets, and you never meet a nice boy in your whole life.

But Future Sarah… you’re still going to be happy. You can write, and you can talk to people you love. Your sister is one of your best friends, and you need her as much as she needs you. Your older brother needs you more than you think he does, but not as much as you need him. Your little brothers are growing up and they are going to be such cool adults. Your parents have always been cool, even when you were a bratty teenager, and they will continue to be cool. And you will always have extended family, and friends, and medication, and Darcy the purple bear, and the love of God.

No matter what happens, you will have such a joyful, happy life. It will be hard. There will be days where you don’t want to get out of bed, and there will be days when you don’t get out of bed, and there might even be days where you think about suicide as a viable option for getting some rest because depression always makes you tired and sleep just isn’t doing it for you. There will be weeks and months and years where you will continue to wonder if any of it is worth it.

In a moment of rare wisdom, Future Sarah— let me tell you that it is worth it. It is worth it now, it was worth it when you’ve struggled before, and it will still be worth it. It will always be worth it.

With love, fondness, exasperation, and more than a few tears,

Sarah

If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.

Miracles

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

It’s been eleven days since I last blogged, but I actually have two good reasons: this last Sunday was Easter and I spent the holiday in Virginia with my family, my extended family, and a Considerable Lack of Internet. This is a good thing, believe it or not; sometimes it’s just best to get away from it all.

And last week, Thursday April 13th, I was in a car accident and once I got home I simply did not feel like blogging. I would say I’m sorry about it, but I’m really not.

The accident happened, ironically, on my way home from therapy. At this particular therapy appointment, I admitted to my lovely therapist, “You know, driving isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was.” She smiled and agreed and we talked about fears, risk-taking, and the psychological payoffs for risk-taking that often outweigh the fears that prevent us from taking those risks in the first place.

The universe saw fit to punish me for such a blasphemy, of course, and as I tried to get on the highway I chickened out and failed, looped back around underneath to try again, and made a left turn into an intersection. A series of events then happened, and I’m not sure I can accurately describe them because I don’t know if I’m remembering accurately. I’ll do my best, though.

What I think happened is that the light turned green and I went into the intersection, turning left (on a green arrow, it was totes legal) and somehow failed to see the police officer’s truck that had come to a stop in the middle of the intersection. By the time I saw the truck and comprehended the need for action, I was probably somewhere between six inches and a foot away from the back of the officer’s truck. I believe I turned my wheel a little bit, but only after a lot of crunching sounds and some slight movement on the part of the truck did I remember that I had brakes, and promptly used them.

I was more surprised than anything. The first thing I thought was, and I hope he forgives me for thinking this, “Oh my God, Dad is going to be so angry.” (Forgiveness being hoped for because 1) I was thinking the Lord’s name in vain and 2) I assumed that my dad was going to be angry.)

Then I realized that the front of Gerald, my beloved little old-man car, was the thing that had been making crunching sounds.

At this point, the police officer I had hit got out of her truck and walked back to look at me. She was a bit older, and she looked a little bit annoyed but I remember looking at her and fumbling to open my door, and the first thing I said was, “I am so sorry, I’m so sorry, sorry, sorry—”

And then her face changed. She’d been squinting against the sunlight and it made her look a little bit angry— maybe she was angry. But her face seemed to soften and she just said, “Are you all right?”

I said, “Yes, I’m just fine.”

Because I was. I’d been doing something between thirty and thirty-five probably, and I hit the back of a truck with the front of my car and the front of my car crumpled like tissue paper, but the airbags didn’t go off. The only thing that happened inside of my car was that the check engine light went on.

The officer nodded and said, “Okay, that’s good,” and she went back to her car. I’m pretty sure she radioed for the aid of another officer, because about twenty seconds later there was another police car right behind us. This officer was a tall man with a mustache. He also asked me, “Are you all right?” I said, again, “Yes, I’m fine.” At this point the shock and anxiety set in and I started crying. (Until I say otherwise, you can assume that I am crying during the rest of this story.)

The female officer pulled her truck away a little bit. Gerald shuddered, but nothing happened. The mustachioed police officer directed me to try and drive Gerald over to the right-most lane, under the highway bridge. I was able to drive Gerald over and park him along the curb. The truck parked behind me. I put my hazard lights on and stared out the window and took off my sunglasses and proceeded to call my mother.

My mother answered the phone. I said, as clearly as I could manage, “Mom, I’ve been in an accident. A car accident. I’m fine, I’m not hurt at all. I need you to come and get me.”

Those were the important things to say, I think; I was able to get those things out clearly and loudly despite the fact that I was underneath a highway, surrounded by busy traffic. I told her vaguely where I was.

The mustachioed police officer told me that he was getting another officer to fill out the incident report, and that he was going to call a tow truck because my car didn’t look driveable. He asked me if I wanted to stay here under the bridge, or if I wanted to go with the tow truck driver. I elected to go with the tow truck driver, and I called my mother again to update her with this information. The tow truck driver hadn’t arrived and I didn’t know where he would be towing Gerald and I, but I told my mother I would let her know when I had an address.

Another police officer arrived to do the incident report. This guy was younger and I remember he had a really kind face. He came over to the passenger-side of my car and I opened the door to talk to him.

“So, can you tell me what happened?” he asked.

My response: “Um, yeah. I was trying to get on the highway and it didn’t really work because I was in the wrong lane to begin with and I kind of err on the side of caution when I change lanes because I hate doing it because I’m new at driving and so I looped under the first bridge back there, and instead of taking the other loop to get back onto the highway ramp I, like an idiot, went to the intersection instead and I didn’t realize she’d stopped but I’m pretty sure it’s completely my fault anyway because the driver behind is always at fault and I’m really sorry.”

Yes, this was probably all one sentence; yes, it was probably exactly as incoherent as I wrote it; and yes, I said I was sorry again; and yes, I told the police officer it was my fault. Because whether or not the female police officer had made a stupid decision by stopping in the middle of the intersection, my opinion didn’t matter, and anyway I was the driver behind. Legally, I was at fault.

Also, I’m pretty sure the babbling was due to what was more or less a full-blown panic attack, but I knew I couldn’t take my medicine yet because it would make me sleepy and I couldn’t go to sleep yet, as much as I would have liked to close my eyes and not wake up Until The Nightmare Was Over.

The kind-faced police officer was quiet for a couple of seconds, and then he said, “Okay. Thank you. Can I see your license, registration, and insurance information?”

I handed them over. “Yes, here they are.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll be back soon.” He left.

Meanwhile, I moved over to the passenger seat of my car, turned off the engine, and continued to cry.

I heard a noise and saw the female officer pull her truck out into traffic and drive away. I kind of stared at the back of her truck, but I couldn’t see any indication whatsoever that her vehicle had been damaged. Heck, I couldn’t even see a paint scratch.

The mustachioed officer left as well, and I was left with the kind-faced officer, who came back with my information and some papers. I opened the door to take my stuff.

He handed me a paper. “So, you were at fault.”

Me (quietly, taking the paper): “Yeah, I thought so.”

Cop: “We’re letting you off with a warning, and we’re not going to ticket you.”

Me (with renewed tears and sobbing): “Really? Thank you, thank you so much.”

Cop: “It’s failure to control your vehicle. You’re going to have to be sure you can do that in the future.”

Me (incoherently babbling): “Okay, I’ll do that, absolutely, thank you so much, thank you.”

Cop: (kind of half-laughing): “You’re welcome. The tow truck is on its way. I’ll stay here in my car until it arrives, and you said you were going with the tow truck, right?”

Me: “Yeah, I’m going with the tow truck.”

Cop: “All right. You just hang in there.”

Me: “Thank you so much.”

He left and I kept my door open because it was starting to get kind of warm outside. I sat there crying and praying and thinking, “Okay, maybe Dad isn’t going to be quite as angry.”

The tow truck driver arrived, and he was this short little dark-haired guy with a beard and glasses and he smiled at me and I felt instantly safe. I didn’t know why, because he was a complete stranger and I tend to err on the side of not trusting people. I gave him Gerald’s key, he gave me a business card, and I called my mom while watching him drive my tissue-paper car up his little ramp and fasten belts around the tires. I read the address of the garage off the business card and my mom plugged it into her GPS. Then I climbed up into the extremely tall cab of the tow truck and put my seatbelt on.

Tow Truck Driver: “Did you call your ride?”

Me: “Yeah, I just got off the phone with my mom. She’s coming to pick me up at the garage.”

TTD: “That’s good, you’ve got somebody to come and get you.”

Me (tearing up again, dang it): “Yeah.”

TTD (probably seeing me start to cry again and feeling kind of bad): “You know, I have to come tow people from under this bridge about once a week. You’re not the first person I’ve towed in a situation exactly like this. In fact, my wife did the same thing just the other week.”

I think it was then I really realized that this tow truck driver was an extraordinarily kind man, because he went out of his way to say something kind to me. And also I learned that he was married and that made me feel instantly more comfortable about getting in a truck with a male stranger.

I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but the driver continued to chat with me for about half of the trip to the garage and then stayed quiet for the latter half. I was grateful, because he had his air-conditioning up on full. It was quiet and cool and sunny and I could finally feel my body start to calm down a little bit, could at last feel my lungs getting the right amount of air.

We got to the garage, and I went inside and called my mom to tell her we’d gotten to the garage. I had to wait for a little while for her to arrive, but I was also able to go out to the impound yard to get some of the important things out of the car. I have no experience knowing how damaged a car is by looking at it, and it looked kind of bad, but the people in the garage were saying that they didn’t know if it was a total loss because the airbags hadn’t gone off.

I slipped out of the impound yard and saw my mom walking away from her van. I called out to her and walked over and you know, I really thought I was done crying. But I wasn’t.

There’s something about finding a person you love after you’ve been through something awful or lonely or both. No matter how long it’s been, no matter where in the world you are, it feels like coming home.

I’ll spare you the boring details about insurance and adjustors and evaluations and phone calls, but on Tuesday we got word back from our insurance that Gerald was definitely a total loss and we needed to empty him out of everything so that he could be taken to salvage. My dad took off work yesterday to go and empty Gerald out, and he came back with the most amazing news.

Here’s the thing: Gerald was a piece of crap. I called him a “little old man car” because he was a 2000 Honda Civic that needed full gas to go twenty-five up a hill. My sister actually named him Gerald because he smelled funny (like an old man, so she gave him an old man name). My parents bought Gerald because my brother needed a car when he was living at home, and they assumed that I could also learn to drive on Gerald and we could both use him for work. My brother moved out to Utah nearly a year ago now, and I became Gerald’s primary driver because I learned to drive on him. I got my license exactly three months ago today, and in the last three months I have done a lot of errand-running and a lot of chauffeuring my youngest brother around because he has Extra-Curricular Activities Of Vital Importance To Eighth Grade.

My parents paid about four thousand dollars for Gerald. The insurance took five hundred bucks for a deductible, but they gave us thirty-eight hundred as his worth before the accident— which means we got thirty-three hundred bucks.

I’m religious, if you haven’t noticed. I’m a Christian— a Latter-Day Saint, to be exact. (A Mormon, colloquially.) I was baptized around the age of eight, like most Mormon children— we consider that the age of accountability. I mostly did that because I was expected to, and also because I had a childlike faith in my parents. I don’t know if I really believed as a teenager, or if I was just going through the motions because it was expected of me. I do know that I tended to value my high school experiences much more than my church experiences, as a teenager.

I don’t think I really believed until I had nowhere else to turn. In late 2012 and early 2013 I was going through some of the most awful experiences of my life and struggling to realize that I needed help— specifically, medication and therapy.

Once I began to get the help I need, I was able to look at my experiences with the perspective of a survivor. I hadn’t actually made an attempt to kill myself, but I’d thought about it quite seriously (as a person does, when they have suicidal thoughts) and come to the conclusion that it would be more inconvenient for people to clean up after and mourn the mess of a life I would be leaving behind. So I kept struggling to live.

It hurt. I’m not going to lie. It hurt and it was like Swimming Through Molasses. It was slow and dark and uncomfortable and I couldn’t see ahead of me or behind me and I couldn’t breathe. But somehow, I found the strength to keep going. I know now that it was not my own strength. If I’d just tried to rely on myself, I would never have made it this far. It was only through God that I could keep going.

I have to come to see late 2012 through the end of 2014 as a miracle. I was at college, on the other side of the country as my family, and I wanted to die and my medications sometimes didn’t stop me from wanting to die and I was doing sixteen credits per semester and holding down a part-time job, twenty hours a week and I was walking up to the health center once a month to renew my medication prescription and I was trying to schedule therapy at BYU’s very, very overbooked Therapy and Counseling Center (or whatever it’s called, I can’t remember anymore) and somehow, I came to the realization that I couldn’t do it, and I came home to begin the long, arduous, and oddly boring process of mental and emotional healing.

Late 2012 through 2014 was a big miracle, and 2015 through now was another big miracle, and in this incident, in this car crash, I count several small miracles that add up to a very large miracle:

1. I wasn’t injured in the car accident.
2. The female police officer wasn’t injured in the car accident.
3. My airbags didn’t go off.
4. The other car was probably barely even scratched.
5. The female police officer didn’t yell at me or get angry.
6. The mustachioed police officer also did not yell at me or get angry.
7. The kind-faced police officer did not give me a ticket.
8. The kind-faced police officer let me off with a warning.
9. All of the police officers were nice.
10. The tow truck driver was even nicer.
11. The other people at the garage were also very nice.
12. I was able to adult by myself until my mom arrived, and I did a pretty darn good job at it even though I was extremely traumatized and mid-panic attack.
13. The insurance people were also very nice.
14. Gerald cost $4000 and was a total, but we got $3300 from insurance.
15. My dad has not once been angry with me about any of this situation.
16. My dad kept the collision insurance on Gerald in anticipation of an event like this.
17. We are in a better place financially than we were when we originally got Gerald, so when we are able to look into getting another car, it may end up being a much better car. (Sorry in advance to my brother, who will undoubtedly resent me for this as Gerald was originally purchased for his use.)
18. Everybody I know has been extremely kind to me about it, and some wonderful people have even given me rides to and from places.
19. Driving my mother’s minivan has not been as completely terrible as I thought it would be, and I am slowly getting used to it.

Nineteen little miracles, all of which add up to another big miracle. As my dad put it: “This was the best possible outcome for a car accident.” It kind of sucks that it had to happen at all— but since it did happen, I could not have asked for a better outcome. It’s one of many things that proves to me that God is real, and that He loves me and wants to take care of me when I can’t do it myself.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.


 

The Universal Fear of Rejection

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

I originally had a different post planned, but I had therapy today. I visit my therapist every two to three weeks. I used to go weekly, but my progress has been such that I don’t need to see her regularly. It’s a forty-minute drive up to Lancaster— York’s waiting lists for therapists were six to nine months long when I first started. I don’t mind the drive; it’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever made by myself and it’s fairly peaceful, especially when I go on Thursday mornings.

Anyway, I’ve been talking to my therapist about some stuff, mostly having to do with applying for jobs— but there’s a pattern I’ve noticed with myself, that has a lot to do with my life in general. It begins with a story.

In elementary school, I was a smart cookie. Not smart enough to skip grades, or anything; but smart enough that they gave me IQ tests in third and fifth grade to see if I qualified for the Gifted and Talented program at my school. I took the tests— they were very interesting, puzzles and patterns and things; but the results came in when I was eight (and again when I was ten) and it turned out that I was just barely— barely not qualified enough for G&T. I remember being very cut up about it at the time because I had a couple of friends in G&T and they got to go off and do other things during math classes.

I wasn’t smart enough for G&T— but I did meet the qualifications for them to send me a bunch of summer camp packets. The summer camps were run by the same people who did the G&T program for our county and several counties around, and it was a really nice summer camp program. They were basically week-long art and music classes. I did three camps total over the years: one was a drawing class, one was a sculpture class, and one… was an acting class.

If you know me, then you know I am not an actress. I’m a pretty good liar— which is not the same as acting, but they have a similar underlying principle of pretending to be something you are not. (The difference lies in intent.) I don’t like lying, but I can do it if I feel I have no other way to protect myself. But being in public, with other people, costs me too much energy for me to be anything but myself. If I’m faking too hard, it’s pretty easy to tell.

But I was just finished with sixth grade, heading for seventh grade, and I decided I wanted to do this acting class. What followed that week was a combination of fun activities and utter hell: on the one hand, it was kind of fun to practice the acting techniques they taught us. I learned how to project my voice, a skill that’s served me well over the years.

On the other hand… performing in front of other people. Ick.

We had three short plays we were putting together that week. Most of the other students in the camp auditioned for a few parts. I auditioned for one part— and I nailed the audition. I got the part, and I nailed it in the performance, and I did a fantastic freaking job. Twelve-year-old me was incredibly pleased with myself.

What I didn’t realize, until the directors at the camp congratulated me on it, was that auditioning for only one part was actually kind of ballsy. All the other kids were hedging their losses by auditioning for multiple parts. If they didn’t get the part they wanted, then maybe they would still get something that was okay. I only wanted the one part— I was actually too scared to audition for any of the others. (In case you were wondering, the title of my role was Writer. I am very, very predictable.) For whatever reason, everyone thought this was really cool. “Sarah took a great risk by only auditioning for one part,” I remember them saying. “But it paid off, because she did really well and she got the part. Bravo, Sarah.” And they had everyone clap for me. It was really weird.

Fast-forward six years: I was a high school senior, making decisions about where I wanted to go to college. I had good grades— not a 4.0, but still pretty good. I did a lot of extracurricular music activities; nice. I did a lot of volunteer work through my church: looks great on a college app. I took the SAT: 1200-ish, pretty good. I took the ACT: 31, with a Writing score of 34. I think it was this in particular that probably made some colleges turn and look at me, because I began getting a metric crap-ton of mail from the fifty thousand liberal arts colleges on the East Coast of America— half of which, at least, are in Pennsylvania. I kept a shoebox with all the letters and brochures and sometimes I would go through them and sort of gloat to myself. “Ha ha, I’m smart. Ha ha, everyone wants me to come to their college.” (I was a weird kid and I felt ugly and undesirable throughout high school. Let circa-2010-me have a hot minute, okay?)

I only wanted to go to one school. I’d only wanted to go to one school since I was twelve. I’d visited the campus when my family went out to Utah to visit my grandmother and other family there. I wanted to go to Brigham Young University, and to Brigham Young University I would go. There was simply no question about it.

So I filled out one college application, in October 2010. It went to BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

It was the same thing I’d done when I was twelve, only auditioning for Writer. I only applied to one college— a college known to have fairly high standards for their students. I also sent the application to BYU-I as an afterthought, more than anything. Idaho has a much higher acceptance rate and I got the letter in like, December. I was like, “Okay, cool, but I really want to go to Provo.” There wasn’t anything wrong with Idaho, but Provo was the campus I’d visited. Provo was the campus I loved. Both of my parents had gone there and they’d met there and I’d never, ever considered any other college in my entire life. It had not occurred to me, until December passed, and January and February, that I… might not get in.

March rolled around, and I was beginning to get very antsy; but right after the first weekend in March, when I was in the orchestra for my high school production of Les Miserables, I got my acceptance letter to BYU-Provo.

Once again: I took a huge risk, and it paid off.

This is what I do, when I get to crossroads in my life. Maybe the acting class wasn’t a crossroads as much as it was a milestone— but I made a decision and went with it and winged it and it all turned out really, really well for me. Same with college. I think people apply to nine or ten colleges. Some people apply to way more. I made a decision, I went with it and winged it, and it all turned out really, really well.

I have this problem, however, where I will refuse to do this if I don’t think I’m going to succeed at something.

Case in point: me in my last semester on campus at BYU. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I had no idea whether or not anyone would want to hire me. I hadn’t done a minor or an internship or a study-abroad, which is something that the Humanities department stressed as Very Important For Your Future Endeavors. I was too stressed out about mental illness and money and time to do those things, and I couldn’t drive anyway so there would have been some problems with transportation and things.

So— I panicked. I chose nothing. I chose plugging along at my schoolwork and going to my job at the on-campus bookstore and steadily pretending I was not going to graduate that December, until the repressed emotions and the anxiety and depression and thirty pounds courtesy of Zoloft got to me, and I told my parents, “I can’t do this anymore, please let me come home.”

My lack of decision, in this case, was unproductive and unnecessary. If I had graduated, I would have been able to just go home anyway. I didn’t need to have a job lined up out of the gate. It would have been fine. But I wasn’t sure what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make any commitments, I fumbled my way through and winged it again, and this time it just went poorly for everyone involved. My parents wasted money on that semester, and they had to pay for arline tickets for my mom to come out and take care of me. She helped me turn in my resignation for my job, and she helped me talk to people who could erase the semester from my academic record and make sure I didn’t just collapse into a sobbing mess because I was just so entirely nonfunctional at this point.

Well, you know what they say: go big, or go home. Literally.

I don’t know where I learned about risks that were really worth it succeeding if I knew what I wanted, and failing if I didn’t. I don’t know why I thought the way I did, and I’ve decided that I shouldn’t try to justify it to myself. Mental illness turned me into a sad, overweight pile of sweaters and there is no explaining that.

I’m having some of the same hangups about putting in my resume for jobs. So I’m browsing LinkedIn, right? I’m searching for “Writer” jobs in Pennsylvania or Maryland and I’m looking and looking. Everything wants you to have “1-2 years experience in the field” or “a thorough knowledge of the financial/medical industry” or be “PCI compliant” and I don’t know what any of this MEANS.

I read through the other requirements and see: “good writing skills, good communication skills, work ethic, manage projects, work alone and with others, experience with social media, experience with Internet trends” and I’m like BUDDY I WOULD BE PERFECT FOR THIS JOB. Whatever happened to on-the-job training? Why do they assume that a college education is supposed to teach you how to do jobs you don’t yet have? My college education taught me how to analyze books, movies, and TV shows; how to argue a point; and more importantly how to write. These are skills I can apply in the real world. I haven’t seen a single job for which I appear to be completely qualified; thus, I believe they don’t want to hire me, without even applying; thus, I haven’t been submitting my resume and applying to these places; thus, I do not yet have a job. Like my last semester of college, I am panicking and doing nothing. I can assure you that it is neither enjoyable nor productive.

But the point is: I am afraid of rejection, and I was talking to my therapist about it and she assured me that this fear is universal. Everyone is afraid of rejection. I am practically a misanthrope and I am afraid of rejection. (I don’t really hate people. I just get very drained by human company.) However, I’m not alone. You are probably, on some level, also afraid of rejection. Your mother is probably afraid of rejection. So is your father. So are your siblings, your children, your grandparents, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your aunts and uncles and cousins, your friends, your acquaintances, your enemies. Everyone is afraid of rejection.

And yet— other people seem to feel far less fearful than I do. I expressed my confusion about this to my therapist, and she told me that these people are simply better at accepting their fear than I am. They’re afraid of rejection; but there’s nothing they can do not to be afraid of it, so they live anyway. They submit their resumes. They apply to nine or ten colleges. They audition for four parts in their junior high acting summer camp and they maybe don’t get the exact part they want, but they do okay. They don’t try to plan too hard, so they don’t get derailed when their plans do. They accept their fear— and then they act with courage.

I woke up from a strange and vivid dream this morning. I’ve been pondering a lot lately about being alone, about love, about marriage and finding someone to be with. I’ve been thinking about that and I had the weirdest dream that I ought to tell this person I kind of like that I kind of like them. I can’t explain it. I’m afraid of that kind of rejection, too. But I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been praying about general loneliness and love, I’ve been curious and dreaming and trying to find answers— and I think I’m maybe going to do it. I think I might tell him that I like him. My therapist would remind me: what’s the worst that can happen? He says he’s not interested? Well, that means you don’t have to think about him anymore.

Well, she’s got a point. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle rejection that easily— if I am rejected. Don’t aim too low, self.

And besides that, I’m going to send my resume somewhere today. I’ve got a relatively healthy baby blog to serve as a Very Professional Digital Writing Portfolio and I think the name posts will indicate my researchy-style, and everything else can be more personal— plus, starting Sunday, there will be another new series beginning where I tackle an interview-and-report kind of deal which is a different kind of writing. Stay tuned, and all that jazz. So I’ll send in my resume. Just to one place, and that’s all. And tomorrow, I’ll try another.

Accept the fear, and act with courage. And trust me: if I can do it, then you can do it, too.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.


 

The Great Hard Drive FUBAR of 2016

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

FUBAR is an acronym. I believe the origin is military. It stands for “F****d Up Beyond All Recognition.”

I don’t tend to use profanity outside of my head. And I’m working on not using it in my head, either. There are some situations, however, that require the expression of negative energies. You know, to get it out of your system. For many people I know, this can be satisfied with a “darn!” or a “crap!” And you can train yourself toget back into the habit of not swearing, if you try. This is something I have been working on for a few years. I am not very good at it.

I would not use the term FUBAR if it did not perfectly describe an incident that happened to me approximately eight months ago. Allow me to relate to you the circumstances which have caused me, then and many times since, to think things not fit for the ears of small children or either of my grandmothers or, really, anybody at all.

I am a writer, and I have a laptop computer. I got this laptop computer in June 2011, as a graduation/birthday present, which was also a necessity since I was to move out of my home in August to begin my first year of college at Brigham Young University, in Utah. It’s a Toshiba Satellite. Pretty good computer, actually. Until this last year, I’ve had very few complaints and those were all fixable by me or my father or, once, my cousin who taught himself how computers work because he’s just that awesome. (Hi, Matt. If you’re reading, thank you for that one time you fixed my laptop. You’re fantastic.)

But you know, it’s a laptop, and it’s 2011. It’s getting a little bit old, as laptops go. It’s reaching the end of its days and I have never been more aware of this than I have since returning home from college in December 2014.

In June, I was just finishing up the last of my coursework. Besides my online classes, I had very few demands on my time and spent most of it writing and playing video games. I’s been doing a LOT of writing. I had a novel that was two-thirds done and about two hundred thousand words long (for comparative information, the average novel is 50,000 words; fantasy is higher but I’m not sure how much higher but I know it’s a lot).

It was a seriously epic novel. My main character was a veteran and a single mother of three children— her husband had passed away due to illness. She’s poor, she’s got kids to feed, and she needs money; so she signs up with the Explorer’s Guild (or whatever I called it) to travel with an expedition to the far north of the country as a security guard. She has nobody to leave her kids with, and the expedition people are nice enough to let her take them along. Her two best friends are also hired as security, and the three of them and the children befriend the rest of the caravan. There’s one man who my main character doesn’t get along with. She sees him as a snob, but she has to admit that he’s very good with her children. The story continues and basically what happens is that she’s given bird wings by a giant bird-spirit-god-thing, and the ability to manipulate fire; but she’s very bad at controlling it so the guy she doesn’t get along with helps take care of her children until she learns how. There’s also a war brewing with the neighboring country and once she knows how to control her fire, she’s promptly recruited, along with her two friends. The children, again, have nowhere to go; so she marries the dude she doesn’t like, out of convenience, and goes off to fight. Throughout the whole, she is slowly coming to realize that, in true Pride and Prejudice fashion, she actually really likes the dude she doesn’t like. (I can’t write a story without a romance. It just doesn’t work.)

It was a cool story, but the point is that I had two hundred thousand words of it written, and it was going to be thirty-nine chapters long. I had plans.

I had several other stories that were getting long, as well. I had about a hundred thousand words of one I have since re-written (much for the better) and completed; and a good fifty thousand of several other stories. I liked all of these stories. They were good. They were fun. I had them completely plotted out by chapter and basic events. I had spreadsheets with character information. I had maps that I had painstakingly made in Microsoft Paint— individual house plans, neighborhoods, cities, countries, worlds. I had designed an entire theology from scratch. I had some text samples for books that the characters read, I had letters they wrote to each other that weren’t included in the stories. I had even gone to a character-creation website— you know, with dress-up games, for little girls, and I’d found some of the less stupid doll designer sites and I’d made visuals of my characters, so that I could better picture them in my head as I wrote. I had so much material.

Key word here being had.

One of my other major hobbies is video games, so I have a Steam account. I mostly have it because I needed Bastion and Stardew Valley in my life, but then I saw that one of my favorite video games that I have never played was on sale. It wasn’t a great sale, as Steam goes; they have games going for like, pennies during the really good ones. But I saw a chance and I bought Ori and the Blind Forest because I love that game and it is beautiful and probably very difficult and I want to play it SO BADLY.

I bought it, and I downloaded it, and it turns out that Ori is meant for computers with a far better graphics card than mine. Anything that moved was covered with a black box— that is, when the game could actually load. My computer was not strong enough to handle the game.

So I researched the issue, because I didn’t want to waste the fifteen-odd dollars I’d spent on this game. I really, really wanted to play it. I still really want to play it. It looks so fun and the artwork is gorgeous. I could go on for hours about it if you let me but I will spare you and just say that my research convinced me that I needed to download better software, or an update, or something.

I went to my drivers menu and looked around for the video graphics card and I tried to update it.

This did not work. In fact, it did more than just not work: the resolution decided it did not want to be messed with, and reverted to the basic resolution which caused my laptop to look huge and fuzzy and wide-screen. I could still see everything, but it was horrifically ugly and it just looked wrong.

This problem would have been easily fixable, if I’d just tried to uninstall and reinstall the driver. Really. I have since done the same thing (on accident) and fixed it in about ten minutes, so I know it is possible. But I panicked, because I thought something was seriously wrong, and I did the one thing you should absolutely never, never do without backups or an external hard drive:

I did a system restore.

Those of you who are computer savvy are shaking your heads, saying “SARAH, NO, YOU’RE MAKING MY EARS BLEED.” Well, in my defense, the system restore promised me that all my files would be saved, so I went ahead and did it and hoped to solve the whole problem.

It did not solve the problem. System Restore is a dirty, dirty liar. And all of the writing I had done between about October 2015 and June 2016 was gone.

We tried to get it back, and who knows— maybe it’s still in there, somewhere; but the data is probably hopelessly corrupted by now and I don’t know how to find it even if it is there, which it is not.

The thing is, though… I’d spent eight months of my life with that main character. My prickly, veteran single mother named Araminta (Minty for short) who was invalided out of service due to an injury that left her noticeably scarred, with three very young children (Esralin, Clemont, and Talyona; or Esra, Clem, and Tal) all of them separately adorable. I’d spent eight months with those children, and I’d spent eight months with Sera and Rissa, her best friends. I’d spent eight months with Topher, the mage and caravan cook who argued with Minty but loved her children. I’d just gotten them to be friends. I’d just gotten them awkwardly married so that her children had somewhere to live while she went to war. I was getting to the point where they were almost admitting that they were actually attracted to one another. All of their friends knew it, most of their enemies knew it, and even the queen of the entire freaking country knew it, and I hadn’t gotten to write the end of that story.

And I realized, looking for my story and not finding it among the documents of my computer, that I wasn’t ever going to write it. That story, eight months of working and dreaming and planning, was gone. These characters, as real to me as any people, were gone.

I feel kind of guilty saying this, but it was like what I imagine losing a child must be like. I created these characters. They had parts of me in them. They were mine, and they were beautiful, and I loved them like a mother— that, I do not feel guilty saying.

I had my mother confiscate my medication that week,just in case. I’m the kind of depressive that has occasionally suicidal thoughts, but I can’t bring myself to actually plan or commit to it. (Thank God.) I was just wondering how I was supposed to keep living when my babies had just vanished. They were so real, so vivid. They were people. There were probably seventy-five or so characters, major to minor, and they were all gone.

I dreamed about them. I dreamed that they were angry with me. I dreamed that a wave of darkness swept over the world and that they died alone and forgotten. I dreamed that I forgot them, as my computer forgot the documents they lived in. I dreamed this and I woke up crying.

I still don’t think about them without crying. I’m tearing up writing this.

I’ve managed to re-write and finish one story that was lost with the rest. It wasn’t The Story, but it was A Story, and it was a really, really good story. I’m working on editing it now, and then I’m going to format it appropriately for Tor and Del Rey and submit it. I know I could just self-publish, but I’d like to try the big names first. Just in case.

I’m okay now, mostly. My parents got me a hard drive and everything I do is on it. I make regular backups to both Google Drive and Dropbox— never hurts to be sure, and I’m not losing my children ever again if I can help it.

What a horrifically sad story, right? Aspiring writer loses people who don’t exist and acts like it’s the actual end of the world. (It was an end of multiple worlds.) I don’t like telling people about this because I’m afraid they’ll laugh at me. “That’s not a real problem! There are people out there who lose actual children, and you’re whining about some lost documents? What is wrong with you?”

Love isn’t rational, okay? I can’t justify how my mind prioritizes this. It just does. It hurts me far more to think about this than it does to think about politics, or fractured family relationships, or the deep, dark thoughts that tell me I’m worthless and I should just end it. At least in those things, I have choices. This was not a choice. This was a stupid, reckless mistake that I could have prevented and didn’t.

I have become used to the fact that there are always going to be things I cannot fix. I’d like to, of course. I’d like to make everything okay. I’d like for people not to fight and just be kind to one another. I’d like for the world to prioritize helping people over helping themselves. I’d like for God to reveal His existence so that we could just stop arguing about it and accept some irrefutable proof that He is real. (My apologies to anyone who does not believe in God. I just hate arguing with you about it because I don’t want to hurt you, and I don’t want you to hurt me.)

There are always going to be things I cannot fix. The difficult part is learning to accept that. Eight months and some perspective later, I think I’m beginning to grasp the concept.


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