The Furious Five

by Erica.

When we were younger, the four of my siblings and I moved together as an amorphous, homogeneous blob: a sea of little round faces, five feet or less above the ground. It didn’t help that our names sounded vaguely similar, or that some of us could’ve passed as twins, or that we were all so small that any average-height person would have to squint to make out any defining features. This blob of children—all varying levels of introverted and timid—moved from one location to another, hopping out of the Honda minivan together to go to karate, to piano lessons, and back home, where we were all homeschooled. We were “that family with all those kids”—while each of us may not have been recognized on our own, people immediately knew who we were once we assembled as ducks in a line.

At some level, I also had a difficult time distinguishing my siblings in the homogeneous mix. Being the oldest of the five, I couldn’t help but think of my little siblings simply as iterations of my past self. In my head, Alexa was essentially me at age 17, Andrea me at 15, Elysia 13, Lorenzo 12. It seemed easier that way, being able to closer connect myself to their lives by just thinking about who I was a few years back.

The other day, someone told my dad that we were all getting so big (the typical comment everyone makes) and followed it by remarking that his kids were “so different from each other.” The second part of her sentence struck me, because that was the first time I had ever heard a relative stranger make a remark about us five that didn’t group us all together but separate us from one another.

But the more I thought about it, the more astute this woman’s observation seemed compared to my admittedly generalized view of my own little sisters and brother. Perhaps living a thousand miles away provided a clearer perspective than when I lived within that homogeneous sea: we weren’t all growing up into the same person.

Bit by bit, I’ve been able to watch my siblings grow into the different personalities they are. I saw it when Alexa came to visit me at school and she acted like more of a responsible, level-headed adult than even I did. I saw it when I was journaling at Starbucks with Andrea when realized her pencil sketches were at the skill level I could only dream of. I saw it when I was sitting across the dining table from Elysia as she wrote, realizing that if I had the level of zeal she has towards writing, this blog wouldn’t be so erratically maintained. And I saw it when I watched Lorenzo solve some Rubik’s cube-esque puzzle in less than minute, even though I had been working on it for twenty. I joked to my friend the other day that with my siblings getting older, it’s getting harder to maintain my status as the “alpha” sibling, but in all seriousness, I’m in constant awe of how much they’re growing up.

I said my seventh goodbye to them this morning, shaking their shoulders at 5am to say “see you in four months” before heading to the airport, their half-awake goodbyes a necessary last reminder of home.


Black Friday, 2016.

By Allison.

It had gotten frigidly cold in the few hours since the sun had set. I was sitting on Ben’s bed while he swiveled around in his desk chair; we were both getting tired but neither of us wanted to stop hanging out. It was already midnight, but I had the keys to my mom’s car and it was Black Friday. We finally decided we should down some caffeine and head to the mall.

My mom was already in a comatose sleeping off the Thanksgiving meal we had eaten a few hours earlier, so Ben and I drove off to New Jersey without telling anyone. Though I had been driving for over a year, my hands were shaking as they grasped the wheel of the car: I was driving over the Goethals Bridge for the first time. The bridge was built in  1928 when cars were considerably smaller and the lanes of the bridge were accordingly thin. Notably, the bridge has since been replaced by a bridge equipped with lanes of an acceptable width. While driving over the Goethals was a normal experience for drivers in New York, having my first confrontation with the poorly sized structure at midnight while my mom didn’t know where I was felt particularly reckless.

I made it over the bridge without incident, but when we made it to the parking lot of the mall, we were met with madness. Ben and I weren’t, apparently, the only people who decided to go shopping. Perhaps it should’ve been apparent to us that other people would also frequent a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year, but the horde of cars creating a bottle neck of traffic into the parking lot entrance came as a surprise. It only felt compounded by my traumatizing escapade over the world’s slimmest bridge.

And then a car hit into hit the back of mine. It was a red sedan, and the driver didn’t brake quickly enough to stop his car from hitting into my bumper. My car lurched forward and then rocked backward. I looked at Ben in stunned silence.

My mom doesn’t even know I’m here.

Ben was silent, his eyes wide.

I slipped off my seat belt and put the car in park. Ben opened his door and followed me to look at the back of the car. The culpable driver sat behind his wheel with an expression that made it clear he was hoping I would be too timid to approach him.

Much to my relief, the bumper wasn’t dented.

Ben, do I just leave it? He nodded, convincing me that there was’t really anything I could do anyway.

I could already hear my mom’s voice in my head, telling me that I only made bad decisions like this because I was eighteen and my brain wasn’t fully formed.

So I looked back at the driver and put my hand up in a sign of peace. He was still cowering behind his closed window.

Ben and I got back into the car, and moved forward slowly, the traffic still crawling, the red sedan keeping a safe distance between our two cars as he trailed me.

I can’t ever tell my mom. I just crashed her car while on an escapade to another state in the middle of the night. Ben laughed in response, but it was lined with a nervous energy.

In the morning, after a night of shopping and spending too much money in the Nike store, I told my brother what had happened. There’s always a few things you need to keep from mom, he told me while smirking.

It’s been a year, I’ve since gone back to the same mall for Black Friday, this time telling my mom where I was going. So mom, this is my public confession, a year late. I’m sorry for crashing your car and never telling you. There’s a small scratch somewhere on the back of the car commemorating the event. Please forgive me.

2017: Life’s Surprise Roundhouse Kick

by Erica.

2016 was life’s forecasted left hook, with the expected difficulties that came along with graduating high school, saying goodbye to home, and moving halfway across the country for college. But 2017 felt like a surprise roundhouse kick to the face—a surprise because I didn’t know life even knew how to kick—followed by a display of the phrase “kicking him while he’s down”, as if I needed an explanation of what that idiom meant.

After an uneventful start to my year, a number of unaddressed issues in my life decided to coalesce, dragging me to the ground, leaving me flailing on the floor (sometimes literally) from March to May. I had never really cried before college, but there I was, crying in front of a priest I had just met five minutes before, mopping up my tears and mascara with the box of tissues on his office desk.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I hit summer, where peace was promised, and where I could sit and reflect on the past few months of emotional Inferno in solace. But the quietness became crippling after day one and the emptiness only provided room for more stress and breakdowns in the void that school and tests typically filled.

So I breathed another sigh of relief when summer ended and school began again. But even then I was not content, reverting to a period of feeling depressed again, some days unable to get out of bed, some days refusing to function. Then, as if I wasn’t already miserable enough, the one thing I had managed to hold on to the entire year—my grades—faltered too, with a string of really bad test scores making me wonder if I was still the same human being that I was in high school.

People kept telling me that “GPA isn’t everything”, and while that is true, it became difficult to let that comfort me when these same people were excelling in their own classes and didn’t just fail two midterms and a final like I did. It felt like the one thing I had to cling on to while struggling to mitigate the damage in every other aspect of my life—emotional, spiritual, physical—was my ability to do well in school, but after my fifth bad grade and my sixth week of feeling mentally numb I could only shake my head and wonder what’s next, Lord? because I truly did not know what to do next.

But this past year has been filled with realizations of the ways in which I need to grow, not despite these lows but because of them. There were many slow nights this summer that I sat on the Liberal Arts building patio, sometimes journaling, sometimes praying, sometimes crying, sometimes all three, relinquishing any idea that I ever had total control over my life. It admittedly has been a long, slow struggle to understand that God’s intentions for my life and the ways in which He works are something that I may never fully grasp, but no matter how painfully slow life seems, He is still moving me.

And while there were some lows, this past year had the highest of highs in the smallest of moments—eating at that beachside seafood market in California, dancing at that Jon Bellion concert, sitting outside with Allison at 1am—whenever I was hit with an overwhelming gratitude for the moments and people I have been given.

The Flu and Finals

By Allison.

I spent the weeks leading up to finals with one fervent prayer: could I not, just this once, be entirely stressed out during finals week? Could I take these tests in peace and keep them in perspective, could I please remember that they’re just tests and that they’re going to come and go?

I shared this with my boyfriend, who nodded his head in understanding. Being nineteen is just like that, he had said. There’s something about the hormones and the stress, but things will change over the next few years. Hang in there. 

I’m not sure why finals week was so bad in the past, why I couldn’t seem to just get through it like a rational human. But something about the flurry of too hard exams and too close grades teetering between minus and plus signs threatening to ruin my GPA just created the perfect storm.

And so I prepared to hunker down for another end of semester typhoon: struggling under hours of studying, spending more time rolling around in bed thinking about failing all of my classes and trying to recall calculus theorems than actually sleeping, and dragging my body to the library instead of the dining hall each morning.

But then on the first dead day, the beginning of a two day hiatus in which the university gifts students a full 48 hours to study before the onslaught, I woke up with the flu. At 8 am I staggered out of bed, telling my roommate I felt a little funny, but passed it off as nerves. At 9 am, I opened my online homework and tried to study. By 11, I was shivering uncontrollably. I think I’m gunna go back to bed. I staggered back to my dorm room and slithered under a pile of blankets. I woke up a few hours later considerably worse. My head was spinning and I was sure I was running a temperature. I tried to open up my calculus textbook, but I spent five minutes staring at the page before I accepted reality: I was in no position to study. I was too weak to feel guilty- normally I would feel a twinge of embarrassment over my apparently weak work ethic. A better student would be able to study through the pain. But when my roommate returned to the room that night and told me that I just needed to tell myself I wasn’t sick, I knew this was more than just the common cold that I could power through. I slept through the next two days, waking up to take the maximum recommended daily dose of acetamenophin, falling asleep, and waking back up to throw up the aforementioned medication.

By Thursday night, I revived myself from my fugue state long enough to compose coherent emails to my professors. “I’m not well enough to take your final, how do I handle this situation?”

Their replies were overwhelmingly unsatisfactory: It turns out handling having the flu during finals week means taking finals with the flu.

So I took exams, half shaking, half coughing, sitting in the classroom until I could circle an answer for every question on the test, leaving as soon as my Scantron had fifty penciled in bubbles. I was the first to leave the room. When I made it back to my dorm, I crawled into my bed and fell into uneasy sleep.

By Monday, I made it onto my flight home to New York in some semblance of order. My symptoms had largely dissipated other than an unrelenting, hacking cough. I had taken all of my finals but one, which had been pushed off until January by a merciful professor. And with vague feelings of uneasiness about the probability of the flu having just ruined grades which I had been working hard all semester to maintain, I realized with a weird feeling of satisfaction that during this whole ordeal, I hadn’t succumbed to unsurmountable anxiety. In fact, I had felt almost none.

I spent the week in bed, sweating and crying, and I hadn’t had the energy to really care about finals. I took my exams without studying, I did what I could, and I moved forward, because it was really the only option. So here I was, sitting on a plane, waiting to finally be back home, but feeling oddly satisfied, because, after all, we don’t get to choose how God answers prayer, but He will answer, and sometimes, in the weirdest of ways, getting the flu can feel like an answered prayer.

Remember This

by Erica.

My family is a picture-taking family, with no party complete without at least two aunts wandering around with a DSLR camera, making tables of relatives bunch together with pained smiles and half-eaten plates in front of them. When my cousins and I would whine and complain when my mother ambushed us with a camera, she’d chide us, asking “don’t you want to remember this?”

Perhaps she was right. Flipping through old photos became a favorite family past time, and the importance of taking pictures became something of familiarity as I grew up. Currently, there are thirty thousand pictures on my phone’s camera roll, as well as four hundred video clips from this summer alone.

The imperfection of photography in capturing the entirety of the moment has led to the manifestation other methods of documentation as well, from vigorously keeping journals to writing down things people have said and things I’ve thought in the Notes app on my phone. Perhaps, I thought, one way to counteract the shortcomings of a single media is by combining a myriad. So I began writing different things in different ways, taking pictures but also videos, keeping letters but also restaurant receipts.

And with that, my overarching goal has become to remember. I want to remember this past summer, in the weekend that I saw one of my best friends for the first time in half a decade, and in the ten weeks that I lived in the same building with Allison, on the same college campus, when we had lived 2779 miles and 101 miles away in the past. I want to remember it in the night I stayed up till 7am, wandering around campus alone, struggling to mitigate the flare up of the stresses that had been racking my brain for the past several months. I want to remember how happy I was, and to be continually striving for that. I want to remember how overwhelmed I felt, and to be reassured that moments like those do pass.

This all has resulted in a haphazard collection of words and images and ticket stubs with no immediate value to anyone who may stumble upon it. But put together, the jagged edges of each memento create a mosaic of my thought, goals, and emotions that in its entirety form a narrative of this summer, of freshman year, of growing up, and of everything that these nearly two decades has brought about.

With another year of college beginning, with another goodbye to home and flight back to the place where I am building a new stage of my life, I am continually searching to perfect the duality of fully taking in the current moment while taking enough out to remember the moment forever.

When My Home Was Not Also My Mother’s

By Allison.

When I return home now, I am part daughter, part guest. My bedroom is still filled with my furniture, but the drawers are empty and my favorite outfits are hanging in a closet across the country. I have to ask my mom where the dish towels are kept, because she has moved them since the last time I was home. The ice machine doesn’t work, but I don’t know this because when I was last home a few months ago, it was making ice just fine.

And I have learned this routine, half home in New York, half home in Texas. I have learned to live in this divided way; I have even learned to love it. But this summer my mom came to visit me in Austin, landing in my dorm room with a roller suitcase, Italian bread, and heat exhaustion. Suddenly, I wasn’t her guest, but she was mine.

It was the first time I’d ever had to invite my mother into my life, because our existences were not already shared. I had to show her how to turn on the shower, and where I kept my hairbrush, and how to swipe into my dorm room. I was host, now, and the role reversal was palpable.

I had created enough of a life separate from her that just by sharing the simplest parts of my routine, I was bringing her into a place she was unfamiliar. I had to welcome her into a world she had never seen before, only heard about over phone calls and glimpsed through snapchats.

Though she still played mom, buying me things for my dorm and taking me out to lunch, there was a distinct difference in the weekend spend with her. I have always been her navigator to aid her lacking sense of direction, but this weekend we were in a city she had never been to, one I had become comfortable within. Each street and building was new for her, while I waltzed around with familiarity and ease. The heat staggered her and kept her in bed while I slipped on jeans without thinking about the humidity.

And so, just for a weekend, we lived in a world that was more mine than hers, and I was able to show her a place where I had become myself. I was able to give her context for each of the moments she had commented, “But you’ve changed so much,” when I flew to New York to come home again.