For those of you who would like to read a couple of the papers that earned top grades, I have two posted here. I have also posted the only “graphic” essay I have ever received, for which I commend the author/artist for taking that risk. And I would have posted my favorite process-analysis vignette of the group, but the author (who shall not be named) didn’t submit vignettes to Turnitin.com, so I do not have a copy. However, if you want to read it, you can ask a student in my first hour with the initials K. N-M.
Of Life N’ Love—A Collection
This Frame, This Life, This Photograph
The photograph hangs on a beige wall, off in a corner of the master bedroom. A sidepiece, not a center. Twists of white metal unite in a rectangular form, surrounding the photograph as an elaborate frame.
Inside the frame, a couple stands. The female clutches a bouquet, wears a white dress. The man wears a smile and a tuxedo. They stand near each other, frozen in time and space, smelling the flowers, tasting the wedding cake, forever happy. But this photograph, with the dark colors of the church in the background, with the white and pink and green at the forefront, represents much more than the captured memory of newlyweds. It represents how naïve many are, how ignorant, when they enter a marriage.
In the photograph, the couple expresses little but joy. Not knowing, like many do not, what lay ahead of them. How could they? Unless they had discussed how little red marks on mountains of bills would affect them, or how they would decide to divvy the dirty dishes—an unlikely occurrence if the life spans of marriages these days indicate anything, they could not possibly know.
And though these newlyweds would later turn into “oldly-weds,” they would discover that the red marks on mountains of bills did have an impact on them, that they should have discussed this impact before they offered vows and diamonds to one another.
As I gaze at the photograph, its complicated frame reminding me of the intrinsic complications of marriage, I realize the lessons that it, they, have taught me, and hope that someday I can apply those lessons to my own life, before my wedding photograph.
Equal and opposite, they hover before me, two wraithlike ghosts that cloud the television. Two opposing forces. Two sides of me—they conflict.
The one on the left, my doppelganger except for the sharper, crueler face, glances back at the movie, and snorts.
“How sweet,” she hisses, “They reunite years later and love as if they never parted. Yeah, right.”
This one, the cynic, has a point. Still, it makes enjoying The Notebook more difficult. The romantic, the one with the softer face, chimes in. Voice warm and bright like a sunny day.
“But that’s what makes it beautiful!” She chirps. “True love lasts!” Stuck in the middle, again. I try to focus on the screen, but the
volume of the argument increases. The romantic declares her dreams; porch swings, held hands, golden anniversaries. She reminds me of the books I’ve read, the wrinkled, happy couples I’ve heard about. She wants white picket fences, the smell of fireside smoke, and kisses in the rain.
The cynic argues with numbers, statistics. She waves the divorce rate in my face, and emphatically reminds me of personal accounts. Which successful, functional, marriages have I seen? One? Two? Out of how many married couples? She craves keeping her own last name, a turbocharged career.
How do two such beings exist in one body? How can they occupy the same heart and soul? With such contrasting ideals, the conflict seems too large to reside in one person. I decide, while craning my neck around the two to glimpse Noah kiss Allie, to wait and see.
Two years later, and the two sides have compromised. The cynic has
agreed to a relationship, but she reminds me that both people within one must trust and communicate, activities sometimes difficult to do. And the romantic? Well she has had her hand held, she has kissed in the rain… and while she no longer believes in love at first sight, she hopes that it can last, forever.
Three to four times a week, I abuse my boyfriend and he abuses me. This has not proved an easy task, for it requires both precision and skill. First, both parties, my boyfriend and I, must arrive at our location, the one we come to every time this occurs. We don shapeless white uniforms and various colored belts. I pull my hair back, he starts stretching. I crack my neck, he cracks his fists.
We may not get to hit each other, not at first. Other victims await our kicks and punches, our blocks and chops. But when we do, the very air tenses.
Above us, the fluorescent lighting buzzes, illumining our skin with a slight green glow. The air, as it always does, tastes of salt and broken heater. Green eyes on brown, we do the traditional bowing, and back off a bit to face each other. Fists raise. Time to go.
Unfortunately, this process of abuse requires a different know-how than with the other victims. With other victims, he and I can go all out if we choose. With each other, we must first evaluate. How do you feel? Too tired? Too hurt? Too sick? Okay, I’ll go easier. Next, we attempt to fight. This process proves ridiculously difficult, as we must evince intent to hurt one another when we actually intend the opposite.
Often, the rest of the process involves missed punches, chagrined smiles, and the odd aroma of adrenaline and love in the air. And, despite what we have just done to each other, at the end of the session, I muss his black hair, he musses my brown, and we exit the location with a hug and a couple of final words.
“See you at karate tomorrow?”
Strength in Numbers of Two
In the back of the taxi cab, I panic. “Blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah?” Asks the taxi driver with a tongue that does not speak my language, with a mouth that does not move the same way as mine.
Fecklessly, I struggle not to hyperventilate, struggle to calm my breathing and my jittery nerves. I glance out of the cab window, at the boxlike houses and monorails, trying to identify something to point to, to indicate where I want to go. Nothing seems familiar amongst the sidewalks with palm trees or the coastline with the Pacific Ocean stretching on after it. As it should—I have never traveled to Okinawa, Japan before.
Before my heart rips its way out of my chest, leaving a bloody mess on the leather, I feel a warm, calming hand slip into mine. Erick, my boyfriend, remains levelheaded, slipping a business card of the hotel we, as competitors of the 2009 Karate World Tournament, reside in. He tries a couple of directional phrases I have not, attempting to find some thread of understanding between him and the taxi driver.
How did we end up here? The group we came to Okinawa with, the Americans, had divided to explore one of the vast, island marketplaces. Erick and I had gone on our own, caught up in the sights, smells, and sounds—flashing lights, dirt and ramen, and the clanging of pots and pans.
Though the language barrier had turned out nearly impenetrable, we had managed by playing a combination of charades and Taboo with the locals, requiring us to mime actions and shout random phrases. While on my own this could have petrified me, with the help of someone I loved I found myself enjoying every moment of it.
Now, in the back of the taxi, I try not to consider how we had missed the meeting time for our group, or how we needed to pay the cab driver, or how our group would worry when we did not arrive on time in the lobby. Instead I focus on the hand holding mine, and how, with the support of a loved one, I can handle anything.
Finding My Safe Haven
Kindergarten – nap times, coloring pages, recess, dread. I’ll admit it. I dreaded kindergarten. Even when Mrs. Kamson, my teacher, genially greeted me with her arms open wide every day, the word kindergarten triggers distressing memories, ones that I want to forever scratch out of my mind.
Clutching my mom’s hands tightly, I gazed at the pretentious board of yellow and green– Ala Wai Elementary School. My mom tugged on my hand, urging me to pick up my pace. Face planted in the ground, I trudged past the montages of colored scribbles. Then I heard it. A blur of words escaped from the familiar voices of my parents, only to be met by that of a stranger – Mrs. Kamson. I strained my ears to recognize the language, fanatically trying to whisk out any previous encounters. I felt lost – I wanted to go back to my real home.
As Mrs. Kamson led me into the classroom, fifteen kids stared at me, whispering jargon to each other. I listened closely, striving to catch a word or two, but I could only discern “girl.” The minimal English that I knew did not get me very far. In this foreign place, I was mute and deaf.
Peeping behind a picture book, the girl across my seat flashed me a toothy grin. My eyes darted away. The girl attempted again. This time, she spoke. Unable to decipher the strange language, I blankly stared back, wanting to talk normally like I did back at home. After a few nods to fake my understanding, my ears opened up to the word, “name.” Shyly, I murmured, “Jiwon.” And before another comment, Mrs. Kamson’s voice sent waves of “shh’s” throughout the class. Looking down at my sandals, the ones that my grandma had bought me before I left Korea, I let out a sigh.
The best part of the day arrived with the final bell. I grabbed my backpack and found my mom waiting outside the door. Immediately, I dashed to my only safe haven in this strange scenario, into my mom’s arms. A shelter for my tears, my mom’s cardigan softly brushed my flustered cheeks. As my mom’s embrace soothed my tears and discomfort, I finally felt free from the invincible chains of language.
My Dream Winter Wonderland
One by one, snowflakes fluttered down from a mild winter sky, gracefully landing on the earth without a sound. The tree branches provided a safe haven for the snowflakes to rest upon as the others carpeted the ground. My feet crunched with each step I took. My shoes were caked in the powdered sugar-like substance. My eyes closed, trying to memorize every inch of the scenery. I took a deep breath of the frigid, crisp air. This moment seemed surreal. I discovered snow.
Surrounded by the sparkling ocean, lazily swaying palm trees, and incessant summers, I spent my childhood in Hawaii. I remember the jolly Christmas decorations, adorning every inch of downtown. A statue of Mr. and Mrs. Claus waved “aloha” in their Hawaiian shirt muumuu with white hibiscus and a 25-feet-tall Christmas tree, garnished with arrays of ornaments, proudly stood in the street. I “oohed” and “ahhed” as snowflakes tumbled down from the sky. When I caught one in my hand, my eyebrows scrunched up in disappointment. The fake snow didn’t form miniature puddles in my palm as the heat from my hands melted it. The fake snow failed to instill that tinge of excitement in me. I wanted real snow.
When it snows now, I grudgingly accept it as an infallible formula of the climate in Michigan. My mouth no longer drops at the sight of snow. My love of snow has indeed burned, but it left an indelible trace of ashes. Each winter, my mind wanders, comparing the past and present. Who knew a simple thing like snow could pinch the corners of my lips into a smile one moment, and send a chill of exasperation up my spine the next?
The One Choice That Changed Everything
I don’t know where I misplaced my sense of reality in my sophomore year, but I must have mistaken myself for Superman. Sifting through the pages of the course catalog, I could hear the gears in my brain turning as I tried to decide between AP Biology and AP Chemistry. A light bulb blinked. I could take both! (I should add that I already had Calculus and AP Language in my schedule.) With my hand curled into a fist, I felt a spark of encouragement. High school had treated me well so far. A few AP classes couldn’t hurt me…right?
Welcome to junior year! As an upperclassman, I receive the privileges of stressing about garnering the perfect GPA, hyperventilating about standardized tests, and making sure that I have all the necessary extracurricular activities to make my college apps stand out from others. Fatigued, I look into my reflection in the mirror. I discover the deepening dark circles and the untamed strands of hair that resemble Medusa’s. The impossible proved to be possible – I had lost my beautiful hair and my sanity.
Take a glance at my quotidian schedule. You can find “studying” listed after “do homework”, with “study, study, study” stacked on top of each other. Fun and friends didn’t quite make the list. Did I mention sleep? Of course not, sleep is a non-existent word in my vocabulary. Stress lurks around me, eyeing to snatch my safe haven from my reach. Then a scene plays in my head: a sophomore happily hums to herself as she checks off the classes she plans to take in the preceding year. I hit my head, asking myself, “What the heck was I thinking?” And with that, I continue to type my English homework, wishing that if I clicked my heels three times, all of this would disappear.
This is Me
Shoes – the finishing touch to a perfect outfit. Shoes can spice up even the most horrific outfit that miffed fashion police would label as terrorism. Just slip on a single pair. A single pair can complete one’s identity. The second I step into a pair of shoes, a jolt reverberates, replacing the existing identity with another. Transformation complete.
Ring! The bell for first hour bursts throughout the hallways as I head into my class. Now, I wear my “studious junior” flats. Here, inside the doors of Stoney Creek, grades and academics define me. I immerse myself in knowledge, I discard all distractions. My mind blockades daydreams from entering, purely composing itself with the derivative of a parabola and monomers of carbohydrates.
Fast forward to lunch. An air of relief blows by as my character shifts into that of a bubbly teenager, eager to share the latest “so-and-so said this and look what I bought” newsflash with her friends. The “my- grades-define-who-I-am” paint washes out from my mask. Plastered with grades, my flats slip off and a pair of flipflops slips on my feet. When after school strikes, that studious persona whimpers in the dominance of the typical teenager, hiding until the next day.
The second I open the front door of my house, I change into a pair of soft, toasty, comfy fuzzy slippers. The comfort of my family and home exposes the real me. Here, grades and reputations evaporate into the air. Here, nothing can put me in distress; my safe haven protects me from falling into the potholes in my path. Here, the shoes of my true identity fit perfectly.