An eight-year-old girl studying in a Catholic school in Dorchester, Massachusetts sits at her desk, doing spelling exercises as her third grade teacher corrects the assignments from last night.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she already understands the importance of hard work and achieving excellence, but the pressure is light. The pressure won’t start bending her back until she gets into middle school.
But for now her days are simple and routines predictable. School is easy. Her friends are nice enough. Life is still kind and time slow. Nothing has yet to capture her interest; nothing has yet to set off a spark in her young heart.
The girl fiddles with her pencil and stares out the window, taking a break from writing words multiple times on dotted lines. She daydreams about swinging at the park close to her apartment building. That playground atop a hill is her most favorite place in the world.
She loves it so much that she once sneaked out of her apartment building and crossed a busy street to get to the playground. Her parents’ fury rained on her in the form of spankings, and she never sneaked out again.
The girl sighs. All she wants is to swing up to the sky, above the Boston skyline, and reach out to touch the clouds.
“Hey everyone, listen to this story that — wrote,” her teacher says.
The young girl’s head jerks up at the mention of her name. Her heartbeat races, her chest tightening with excitement.
What’s going on? she thinks.
Her teacher wears a toothy smile and chuckles. She reads aloud the young girl’s story about a detective rabbit that solves a high-profile crime in an imaginary world of personified rabbits.
The young girl wrote the story last night as part of her homework: the class had to write a story using this week’s spelling words. It was the first time she had so much fun doing an assignment, creating this silly tale. The words poured out her pencil with ease, almost like magic. The characters came alive around her as she wrote them. She talked to them too and they responded in kind.
The girl has always talked to imaginary beings. Doing so almost made her repeat the first grade because she talked to these made-up characters aloud in class, constantly distracting herself and others. However, once she stepped into the second grade, her father made sure she kept her conversations inside her head.
The girl’s eyes rove around over the classroom, observing each student enthralled in her story. A wide grin pinches her cheeks when her classmates erupt in applause at the end of the story.
“Fantastic job!” her teacher says and hands the girl her story.
Giddy on everyone’s praises, the girl pushes her chair out from the square-shaped desk and walks up to her teacher. She nervously pulls down the hem of her uniform’s navy blue skirt and accepts her paper. A big golden star and a red 100 sits on top of the page. She scans her story.
Did I really write this?
Back at her desk, her friends sprinkle compliments on her.
“That was a funny story!”
“I liked it!”
“It was good!”
“Thanks! Thanks!” she says many times and wishes this moment could last forever.
Pride cartwheels around her head. She wants to tell her family right away so they can share in her accomplishment and praise her too. She desires more compliments, more cheers, more exclamations about her newly discovered talent.
Her teacher dropped a bead of oil in her soul, and the tiny flame within her flared into a brush fire, growing with praise and warming her body with pleasure. The girl sees light at the corners of her vision, and her heart sings these three words to her, “Write. More. Stories.”
I have to write more stories, the girl thinks, and with this thought, she creates the foundation of her life’s mission, her calling, her raison d’être, completely unaware of both the bright and very dark places it will take her.
But of course she pays no attention to these things. She simply wants others to keep praising her for her stories.
The school day ends, and as soon as she jumps into the front passenger seat of her father’s car, she tells him the amazing news. He’s happy and hugs her, giving her the praise she seeks. At home, she shows off her story to her mother and a visiting cousin. They all like it and pat her shoulder and head, telling her it’s very good. The girl falls happily asleep to thoughts about detective rabbits and the new stories she wants to write.
However, as the days pass one after the other, emptiness unlike any other pierces her heart and soul. Darkness seeps out from her chest and casts a veil over her world. The young girl learns that this darkness can only be chased her away when she reads, but foremost, when she writes. Reading and writing plugs the hole created in her chest, and so she reads and writes like the devil is at her heels.
Each new world she falls into by writing or reading, creates a wider and wider hole, expanding almost infinitely. It swallows her whole world, and sets the stones to a path with room for only one traveler. The young girl tumbles awkwardly into her early teens, and experiences an inexplicable sadness, taking the shape of loneliness.
Maybe this loneliness has more to do with her new school in the suburbs of Boston. Once greeted by a familiar sea of faces of her old Catholic school, she now sees only strangers in the large halls of a public school. She walks down the corridors with her eyes fixed on her sneakers, wishing to disappear, wishing to escape all of these people.
When speaking, her words seem to always stay stuck in her throat, and when they do manage to come out, they fall on top of each other in a jumbled mess, making little meaning to the listener. Writing is so much easier than speaking, and she decides to stay quiet for most of the time. She imagines a world where people have to communicate only through text, and with a small smile, she thinks how wonderful her life would be if it were reality.
Her only solace is the school’s library. At least the librarian is nice since she visits so often. The girl sits cross-legged between the stacks, reading fiction, both old and new. An ache gnaws at the back of her mind once she finishes a satisfying book. She slams it shut with a deep sigh.
How can I write like this author? How can I make magic like this? I want to know. I want to know.
She looks at the cover of her book, mind still thinking about writing. The book cover features a pretty white girl. Most of the stories she has read featured white boys and girls going off to amazing adventures, saving worlds, overcoming hardships, experiencing loss and pain, growing up, and reveling in triumph. She sees this in the cartoons she enjoys as well. There are little to no characters that look like her, no Black girls saving the world.
An idea hits her and the girl jumps to her feet in excitement. The great hole and darkness in her life evaporates for one amazing instant. Light fills her vision again, and her feet skip with anticipation. She eyes the time on her watch, willing it to become 2:10pm, the end of classes, as soon as possible. On her way home, she taps her fingers on her bouncing knees.
Why didn’t she do this before? Why did she wait so long?
Her dinner disappears into her stomach without effort, confusing her parents. She rushes through her homework, annoyed at it for interfering with what she believes is the most important thing right now. The only thing that matters.
With her assignments finished, the girl sits down at a desk with a newly purchased desktop computer. She searches for a blank diskette with 2MB of memory and slides it into the mouth of the black computer tower. Her hand falls on the curving mouse, and she opens a new Microsoft Word document. The blinking cursor is a wand awaiting her creative power.
The girl begins to type about three girls who share different parts of her such as her face, color, personality, and quirks, along with characteristics she wished she had like bravery and gusto. These three girls are sisters, and they have to discover their true identity so they can save the world.
She works on her book every day after school, and it grows. The three sisters become real. The girl lives in the world she creates for them. She talks out their conversations. She puts them in great danger. They laugh. They cry. They fight battles, but they are the most powerful when they fight together.
The girl finishes the book and works on a title. The Fusion Girls. No, the Elementals. No, Daughters of Destiny. No, Destiny’s Trials. Wait, Trials of Destiny. She shrugs at the possible names and reads her book.
At the end, she itches to share this amazing story with as many people as possible. She remembers how happy she felt when she wrote that story back in third grade and how everyone liked it. She wrote more stories in the fourth and fifth grade, and her classmates enjoyed those too. She felt powerful then. Needed. Important. Not like the invisible girl she is at school now.
The girl decides she should publish her novel.
She is thirteen years old.
The young woman sits at the desk in her room, staring at her Dell laptop, stuck on what she should write for her college’s admissions essay. The pressure to get into a good college and become a medical doctor threatens to snap her in half. Her grades are good, she’s currently ranked fifth in her class of about 200, and she’s taken nearly all of the AP courses offered at her high school. Even with all of her accomplishments, doubt stirs fear in her heart about whether she’ll get into her top school.
She has little time to show love to her writing these days. She rewrote her science-fiction novel about the three sisters several times now, but she’s never satisfied with the finished product. Something is always missing. The story doesn’t say everything she wants to say. Her writing feels substandard and is nowhere like the greats she reads every day.
Annoyed with her slow pace in becoming a better writer, the young woman finds editing her book to be a chore and prefers to journal her thoughts instead. And yet, even with these frustrations, she dreams of becoming a published author. The dream haunts her days and nights, never letting her go.
The highlight of her high school career was in tenth grade when her English teacher praised her for her short story. She’ll never forget the words her teacher said after handing her the stapled papers with a red A+ in the front, “Never stop writing. You should never stop writing.”
The young woman sighs and drops her head over her folded arms. Am I really a good writer?
The path to publication is pretty competitive and scary. She researched what it took to get her book out to the masses. What if people don’t want to read her story? What if her story isn’t competitive enough to stand out in the countless grains of sands that make up all the other writers?
Thinking about publication discourages her, weighing down her shoulders as if two-ton weights rested on top of them. She counts the number of times the courser blinks against the blank document.
What should I write my college essay about?
Writing, of course.
The answer is so simple, and she bolts straight up in her chair, the gears in her creative mind cranking up and turning. Her entire life is writing: making up stories, wanting to move people with her words, and struggling to get it out there for more to read and experience.
Writing helped her survive high school, the heated arguments with her father, the insecurities built up from her family, society, and herself, crushing her insides and self-esteem. Without writing, she wouldn’t know how to release isolation’s sting or relieve the pain from feeling different all the time, being an outsider in a world that pretended to accept her and her skin.
She finishes her essay in an hour, satisfied at the end product. She prints it out for her English teacher to read and edit. Feeling inspired, she opens her book’s document and works on finishing up a revised chapter. Things are okay for now.
The young woman sits in the basement of her top college’s library. Chemistry books, handouts, and class notes are sprawled over her desk. She sinks into her extra large hoodie that she bought for more than fifty dollars at the school’s bookstore. Her knees are up against her chest, and her heavy eyes blink away sleep’s tug. It’s almost two in the morning. The library will close soon, but she doesn’t budge.
She has her third General Chemistry II test this Friday. She sighs for the millionth time, thinking how she really needs to ace this one. She failed her last two exams. Her lab and homework grades keep her slightly above a D average for the class. She stares into the page of her Chemistry book, hurting her head with the Acid-Base problem in front of her. The letters and symbols swirl and become blurry. Tears fall, and she wipes her tears away with the sleeve of her hoodie.
Why am I studying this? What am I even doing here?
The students at her college look smarter and more capable than she is. Her science teachers hand out tests that make her want to pluck out every hair in her eyebrows. And her social life is barely breathing.
Forget romance. She has yet to go on a single date. People scare her, turning her insecurities about her face, weight, hair, intelligence, and self-worth into seemingly unbeatable monsters. She always seeks refuge in the library and her room. Although she’s a third year college student, she’s never had a roommate, and doesn’t want one.
It’s a struggle to even eat in the dining halls because she usually sits alone, and this aggravates her loneliness. She feels completely helpless in the manner and doesn’t believe she’ll ever have a tight group of friends like the other students milling about, laughing with their heads tilted back.
If it weren’t for her English and American Studies classes, the young woman is sure she would have dropped out college already, or lost her mind. Although she has little time to write and read what she wants, she finds strength and meaning in written words.
Her awe of great writers has only grown with exposure to more complex and mind-opening literature from authors across different races, classes, and nationalities. College has challenged her politics and internal prejudices, and helped unravel the systematic wrongs stemming from racism, classism, and sexism. Her world has expanded, and passion for rectifying the injustices imposed against marginalized groups consumes her as much as her desire to write.
With her admiration for elevated and socially conscious reading came more admonition toward her own writing. She feels more behind in her craft than ever before. How can she put together words to move people to act and make the world a better place for those suffering under unjust systems? How can she pierce the soul the way Morrison or Wright did? Or expose inequalities the way Kozol did? Or inspire action the way the many revolutionary authors and visionaries she read inspired action within her.
Her former and current English professors have told her she’s a good writer.
Why can’t I believe them? What is stopping me from believing them? She stares down at her chemistry book and wants to hurl it across the room. She doesn’t want to be a doctor. Physical healing is not her calling. She contemplated once about being a geneticist and doing research at some big name school. Or maybe working as researcher for a big biotech company.
However, all of these career paths stem from a desire to please her parents. Her parents have worked too hard and sacrificed too much for her to throw it all away for pursuits of passion: writing and social change. She leans back into her chair and sighs, wishing she only majored in English instead of English and Biology.
She says it again to herself: I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to be…a writer? She laughs bitterly. No, I can’t do that. I should just get a PhD in something important to me like sociology or education.
The young woman collects her books and papers and walks out of the library just as the attendants are locking up. With two books tucked under her arm, she lugs her heavy bag across the campus to her dorm room and thinks about her future. The darkness outside can’t touch the darkness from her depression.
Her mind wanders to her unpublished book about the three sisters. The novel has changed dramatically from when she first wrote it. The young woman lost count of the number of rewrites she has done now. There are times when she wants to give up on the book and forget the story forever.
“Why am I still writing this ridiculous book? There are more important things to write,” she says aloud.
“Because you want to fulfill the wish of your thirteen-year-old self. She’s waiting for the book to be published,” she answers.
A ghost of her at thirteen stands across from her and smiles. “Don’t stop writing. Please, finish the story.”
The young woman stands in the middle of the field and with her head bowed, she cries.