Although I loved to write creatively as a child and teen, I mainly wrote academically throughout college. As a first-year teacher, personal narratives were my go to: the perfect balance between academic, personal, and creative writing. When I modeled the writing process in front of my students in mini-lessons, I almost always gravitated toward this genre.
Until, one of my students asked during choice writing time, “Can we write a fantasy story?” In this moment, I realized that I needed to model writing in different genres. I realized I needed to take risks so that my students felt like they could too. On that day, I made a pledge to start writing fantasy and dystopian stories.
Ten years later, I have explored and abandoned many first drafts of creative writing pieces. I have shared my struggles and triumphs with my students. Throughout the years, I have come to love writing creatively, particularly young adult sci-fi. Defiance is a long-term writing piece that I have been experimenting with. “Pulled” is the first chapter of a novel I abandoned. It now stands as a stand-alone short story. I’ve also included a personal narrative and poem.
Although I still write creatively for my students, now the work that I share with them is for me too.
Defiance Excerpt for my 8th Graders
The Wind whipped her skin; her goggles protected her eyes; her sand mask saved her face. Despite the danger, Techa pushed forth. Ahead of her a sandstorm. Behind her death.
She ran wildly. Uncontrollably. Instead of a straight path, she moved right and left, drawing a zigzag pattern across the desert floor. She hoped her pursuers would not be able to follow her tracks. She hoped the sandstorm would cover her. She didn’t look back: she couldn’t look forward. Her future seemed bleak. How could they think I killed her?
Faster her legs carried her. The burning in her lungs grew unbearable, but still she did not stop. Questions hung in her mind: answers nowhere to be found. Although Duca offered a minimal force shield—protection from detection—she assumed Wilgrim’s technology would overpower her mini droid. Overpower her. Find her. Return her. To her death.
Techa pressed forward, risking her life to protect her future.
After running for what felt like days, Techa slowed to a jog. She realized the storm had subsided. Despite the churning wind, she had a clear view of her surroundings. What is that?
There in the distance a faint, white glow appeared above the horizon. Do my eyes deceive me? she asked the desert. She wavered for a moment, hesitating for the briefest of seconds.
And yet, something inside her forced her forward. Spoke to her, saying: Keep going. She grasped for memories of long forgotten stories that her father once told. He spoke of a white place in the middle of sand— an oasis. For the mind. For the truth. His words lingered, enveloping Techa with hope.
As she approached, a hill took shape. The white horizon now appeared taller than her five-foot stature. Flowering trees of the softest pink appeared.
Gusts tossed the branches to-and-fro. Delicate petals danced to the ground, mesmerizing Techa, stopping her in her tracks. Her breath came in short gasps as she sucked air through her mask. She sipped water from her backpack; a tube connected the pouch to a valve inside her mask.
Continuing her slow, careful pace, Techa realized that the hill stood only a mere four feet. She dropped to the ground. It’s more like a mound, she chided herself for carelessly approaching. Crawling the rest of the way, she hoped her foolishness did not reveal her position.
As the earth slopped upwards, Techa paused. She hunkered, leaning her body into the sand, bracing for what the hill would reveal.
Ever so slowly, she peaked. Her eyes growing large.
“The White Sea,” she gasped! Not spoken since . . . The White Sea—a powerful, forgotten name—whispered to Techa of lost information and of a lost person: her father.
Troy trudged along the sidewalk, scraping the soles of his red converse against the pavement. Insecurity gnawed at his intestines, forcing bile into the back of his throat. The constant banter, “You’re not good enough…You’re nobody…You’re worthless,” repeated in his mind. He struggled to turn off the negative playlist: a dangerous pull, forcing him down a dark hole.
As he approached the Tank Park, named for the World War II armored fighting vehicle that welcomed its visitors, he reached out his hand, allowing it to skim the forest-green metal fence that butted up against the pedestrian sidewalk. Two. Four. Six. He counted the spokes. When his finger screamed out and blood trickled down the smallest one, he didn’t even bother to stop. Twelve. Fourteen.
He was halfway down the block, halfway to the woods, halfway to the waterfall when he noticed a lone girl sitting on a swing with a blue streak in her hair. It hung loose from her bun, obscuring part of her face. The color almost identical to her feather earring and periwinkle Converse, creating a beautiful contrast to her blonde hair and grey toned clothes.
With his attention so focused on the girl, Troy tripped over the uneven pavement, flying through the air, landing on his hands and knees. Now his palms cried out, throbbing from the impact. He wished he had been more careful.
Almost instantaneously he heard, “You okay?” Genuine concern painting her voice.
Turning his head upward, their eyes met, and he scrambled to a standing position. Brushing his jeans off and pushing his shaggy chestnut brown hair away from his face, he swallowed hard and replied, “Yeah…thanks.”
She shrugged as if no big deal and turned away from the fence, back toward the swings. Troy didn’t know what to do. He felt awkward following her: This wasn’t part of his plan, yet something beckoned to him, an unseen pull like the force of gravity. He lingered in limbo for a moment, contemplating what to do, but before he could make up his mind, she called to him, “Aren’t ya coming?” with a half-smile that made his mind up for him.
Mesmerized, he jumped the fence and followed, his sneakers swishing against the soft playground mulch.
Sitting on the swing beside the girl, Troy stole sideways glances, unsure of where to begin. She started to gently kick back and forth, allowing her feet to brush the woodchips below her. The soft gurgling of the Pine Valley waterfalls and the melody of bird calls wafted along the tree tops until squeaccckkk…sque…eack…SQUEAK! Both teens erupted in laughter, which opened up the possibility of conversation. “Sounds like my swing hasn’t been used in years,” he chuckled.
“That’s for sure!”
“I’m Troy by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Meron, named after my grandma. NO jokes about the funny name—okay!”
Troy threw his hands up, elbows bent, palms facing her, demonstrating his innocence. “Of course not. I would never!” he smiled to himself; he liked her already.
From there the conversation flowed naturally, the way a tributary flows into a river. If you walked by, you would think they had been friends since they could talk; they finished each other’s sentences, shared the same interests, and were even the same age.
Finally, Troy asked, “What school do you go to?” He knew if she went to Groveland High they would have met in Mr. Steward’s Art 4 class.
“PV High, right around the corner. I guess I like it.” As Troy was about to respond, Meron’s phone rang. “Sorry, I got to take this; it’s my dad; he’ll be wondering where I am.”
“I get it,” Troy answered as he whipped out his own phone—2 missed calls and 4 text messages ALL from his mom.
Troy immediately checked the time—4:40 pm. Yikes that was close, he thought to himself.
He dialed his mom, and as his phone connected, Meron whispered, “I gotta go. This was fun. Want to meet tomorrow, same time, same place?” she had that same irresistible half-smile. He nodded, but before he could answer, his mom’s panicked voice broke through.
“Are you okay? Where are you?”
He exhaled and looked at Meron; however, she was already gone. There wasn’t a person in sight.
“Hello?” his mom questioned on the other end.
Troy took a deep breath, scanning the sky for support and guidance. Although no answers were written in the clouds, he saw a majestic Great Blue Heron—the colors reminding him of Meron. He smiled, grateful for their encounter.
“Sorry mom. I didn’t mean to scare you. I skipped Art Club to hang out with a friend.” His answer was partially true. “I’m at the Tank Park in Pine Valley. I’ll come home now.”
“We’ll talk about this when you get here. I’ll expect you in 10 minutes. I’ll reheat the pizza.”
“Thanks mom.” He ended the call and peered at the woods, wincing at the sound of the waterfall. What was I thinking?
Climbing into his Jeep, Troy caught another glimpse of the beautiful heron with her thin, pencil-drawing legs, dinosaur wingspan, and grey-blue plume—the feathers resembling Meron’s earrings.
Her voice, powerful and honest, still vibrated through his head, twirling and dancing like sunlight’s reflection. “I’ve learned life is beautiful, a gift. We are stronger than the struggle. You will make it through: you will overcome. Cherish your life, for you only get one…”
How fitting, he reflected.
As he gulped in the fresh air—thankful to be alive—the heron beamed, or so he thought, that same irresistible smile.
When I write, I often have my middle school students in mind. What ya books are they reading: what is interesting them in the moment. This short story–or perhaps first chapter–was born out of three inspirational speakers in one weekend.
On a Friday in 2017, a Holocaust survivor‘s voice filled my middle school’s auditorium: “I survived the biggest bully, Hitler; you can survive a bully or any problem you face. YOUR life is not worth THEIR problem.” My students’ hands collided—their applause filling the air and echoing the vibration I felt in my heart. What an amazing story, I thought. What a powerful message. I felt inspired to write…but my mind questioned, What?
On Saturday, The Red Bandanna author, Tom Rinaldi, spoke about hope and bravery at the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English (NJCTE) conference. As the keynote speaker, he told us the moving tale about one man’s courage on 9/11 and explained the writing process that got him to finish the book. Again, I felt inspired to write…but my mind questioned, What?
Sunday evening, I found myself back in my middle school’s auditorium for a special author visit. Gene Luen Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, spoke to students, parents, and teachers and shared his writing journey. He addressed where he wanted to go next with his storytelling: a piece featuring a superhero, his favorite animal superhero—the turtle. Immediately my mind conjured up pictures of the Great Blue Heron, and I wondered how this could influence my writing. I felt inspired to write, and the ideas started to take shape.
That week during our daily quick writes, I began to brainstorm what I could make with all of these inspiring tales. My notebook was filled with the issues my students face, scribblings of herons, and possibilities of superhero meets angel meets Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Shortly after I created a rough draft of “Pulled.”
Since April 2017, Meron and Troy have taken on a life of their own. Writing their story is an exploration of hope and struggle. At each new turning point, I am excited to discover where their journey will take me as a writer. My goal for this piece: to convey a powerful message—reminding individuals of all ages that they are not alone and that life is a gift worth living.
When the Wind Whispers
Bryan hung the Wegman’s wreath up over the lantern that illuminated the front door of our apartment: our very own stick presentation. I had been looking for something; something concrete that would mark the space as ours: our home. It seemed to me that all of the doors in our development had something; I didn’t want ours to appear unloved. My eyes traced the lavender-like plastic blooms, mint greens ferns, and nutmeg colored twigs wrapped tightly together to create the first wreath that would adorn our door. We were nesting, working to build our life together. It was the spring after our wedding, and I was finally beginning to call this place home.
As Bryan and I hugged, admiring our newest decoration, the wind whispered across my hair and in my ear, calling to mind the last time we stood entwined on a front stoop.
My retina traced the thread, green and gold, stitched into the fabric decoration that hung on the front door of Bryan’s childhood house; I was visiting for the weekend. My eyes bore past Bryan’s shoulder, memorizing the design—I wanted his words to be untrue. But I knew they were not. I could barely make out what he was saying: my body rigid, unbending; my mind stationary, unwilling to move.
Ever since I knew Bryan, he dreamed of moving to Pennsylvania. I was a Jersey girl by definition. I grew up my whole life in Cedar Grove, a place where my family and closest friends still reside. I worked in Bergenfield for five years after attending The College of New Jersey. I knew the Parkway and Turnpike like the roadmap of lines in my hands and the veins under my skin.
In college, I thought Bryan was joking. The way I dreamed of teaching abroad when I graduated.
In dental school, I thought Bryan was joking. The way I threw around the idea of returning to grad school full time.
In ortho school, I learned Bryan was not joking. This was truly the life he envisioned for us. We weren’t married, or even engaged, although most would call us “the old married couple,” who enjoyed walks along the beach, birding, movie nights, and quality time with our parents. Don’t get me wrong, we loved to go dancing, sip beer at country concerts, and hang out with siblings and friends at bars, but when you have known someone all your adult life, they are already woven into the tapestry of your heart.
The wind mocked me, echoing Bryan’s words, “You’re either on the boat or you’re off the boat. What’s it gonna be? We’re going to start our life together. It will be a new location to continue our journey. I want you with me, but I’m not gonna force you.” His voice a combination of his parent’s Long Island upbringing, his childhood in South Jersey, and the last four years in Boston for dental school. We had tip-toed around the conversation earlier that month, discussing that we would both be moving someplace new together, to grow old together. Neither one of us knowing exactly where the future would carry us. I loved him, but I loved my current life too.
What Bryan was asking, he did not know. Leave behind the professional world you have established—the reputation you have built. Wave goodbye to family and friends—the people who have always been there through thick and thin. Say farewell to your familiar neighborhood, favorite local spots, and memorized car routes—the comforts of home…Two hours doesn’t seem that far, but it felt like an eternity as I had become accustomed to tracing the route on Google Maps. What would life become?
Starting over is never easy, but I wasn’t starting over with Bryan. This is what we had been waiting for. What we had dedicated ourselves to for six years of long distance. Wasn’t this the moment I had been waiting for?
But my hardened eyes continued to study the embroidery, focusing now on the delicate gold petals it created. The longer I scrunched my eyes, trying to retain the hurt and anger, the more the night wind seemed to change. It whispered, “Fly…You need to fly.”
I began to breathe. Breathe. My heart beat returned to normal; I could feel Bryan’s strong arms around me: my rock, my foundation. As my eyes softened, I glimpsed the beautiful sunflower decoration in its entirety instead of the individual stitched parts. It called back a saying that Bryan and I had repeated during our most challenging times when we were separated by a seven hour bus ride: You must nurture a flower so that it will grow; we must nurture our relationship so that it will blossom.
The wind kept whispering, now nudging me to say something, to do something.
Finally, I looked up at Bryan, tracing the gold flecks in his green eyes, searching for the truth and trusting it was already there. I would have to take a leap of faith. To fly. To grow.
And so I did.
Before going inside, I adjusted one of the twigs excited for my new wreath, excited for my apartment, and excited for what the next chapter would bring. Two hours away still feels like home.
Our body: our armored fortress.
and rattle snakes
at the ready.
Our mind: our tower above the sea.
Stone and mortar
lay the foundation
but hide away the key.
We close our eyes,
lock ourselves inside, and
conceal the truth
behind a false tapestry.
But when the night is dark
and uncertainty lurks,
look to find what
has been mis-recognized.
Give up your pain,
trade in your sorrows,
fly on the wings of love
for a brighter tomorrow.
No matter the challenge,
no matter the cries,
there you will find the
peace you’ve always desired.
Open your heart,
lay down your shield,
allow the beauty of your soul
to be revealed.