Whack. Once again, I found myself sitting on the ice. I pushed myself up, muscles aching and feeling exasperated. I’m never going to get my stupid double salchow, I thought angrily. I had been working on this jump for what seemed like forever. I skated over to my patient coach Tracy, who again told me to adjust my takeoff by keeping my left arm in front and my right hip closed. I nodded and prepared myself to try again. Turning around, my teammates and my sister whizzing through the air. I watched enviously after they nailed jump after jump. I wished so bad that it was that easy for me, too. Sighing, I set up my next jump. Here goes nothing. I throw myself into the air and… two footed the landing of the jump. As I stood there on the ice, I felt my eyes water. After months of attempts at my double sal, I felt like I was getting nowhere.
As a sophomore in high school, I had been skating for almost 1o years and the majority of that time I had been training as a freestyle or solo skater. As a teenager, I had made it to working on advanced jumps, although I did not get them as fast as my younger sister and teammates did. I started to feel depressed about skating as I watched everyone land all of their double jumps, a difficult feeling for me to work through with since skating is a significant part of my identity. I dreamed about landing my jumps and competing at a high level of freestyle skating, and as I made minimal progress I became incredibly frustrated with skating. Finally, before my senior year of high school, I reached out to one of my coaches who also works at the Skating Club of Boston about trying out for one of their U.S. Figure Skating synchronized skating teams. I had done synchronized skating for about six years at this point, but in a less competitive division of skating. I had thought about taking synchro more seriously for a while, and when my coach from SCOB suggested that I try out for the Intermediate and Junior teams at Team Excel, I jumped on the opportunity.
I ended up making the Junior team, which competes in the second highest level of U.S. synchronized skating. When I got off the ice after trying out and was told by the head coach that she liked my skating, I was floating. I was in utter disbelief that I made such a competitive team, and this accomplishment cemented skating in my identity and made me feel successful again for all that I have put into the sport. I finally found something that I excelled in; my calling. Finding my place in a team of supportive skaters who were just like me forced me to realize that the expectations that I had for myself were unreasonable. It is in my nature to be overly critical of myself, and it took getting out of my comfort zone and trying something that I didn’t think I was capable of for me to be aware of that. This experience revealed that skating is one of the foundations of my identity, and how important it was to my wellbeing that this part of my identity was solid.
The limo we were escorted in was illuminated with flashing, brightly-colored, psychedelic lighting that matched the low booms of the bass to the song “Started from the Bottom” by Drake. We were only in the limo for a short distance, but everyone was beaming and bopping to the beat. Once we arrived to the final destination for the evening, we paraded down the velvety, maroon carpet. There were flashing cameras and cheering, which limited us to walking on the narrow path. The lights and excitement from the crowd directly contrasted that of the dark, somber weather. I felt blinded by the flashes but proceeded to make it up the ramp. We walked in pairs of two and were surrounded by many black, nondescript umbrellas with smiling adults underneath them. All eyes were focused on us like the paparazzi. I looked from spectator to spectator. I basked in the attention but at the same time wanted it to be over. Am I doing this right? Do I smile? Do I wave? I was not Gigi Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, or Ashley Graham. I was a volunteer escort at the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine event, an opportunity I attempted to partake in for multiple years. Unbeknownst to my brother, Matthew, I had registered him weeks before to join me, as I felt as though it was an opportunity we could not miss. He was at lacrosse practice at the time and was quite surprised upon his return home. My mother and I strongly encouraged him to come with me to the event on a Friday night to help out at the makeshift prom for those with special needs. I think he only grudgingly agreed because he needed service hours for school and because there was the prospect of Tim Tebow surprising the guests. It was the first time either of us attended the event, and we did not know what to expect. That afternoon originally began with bickering between my mom and brother as to what would be appropriate for him to wear. I had picked out my outfit weeks in advance, and it consisted of a silk, hot pink Lilly Pulitzer dress and a flowery clutch. He settled on a suit and tie.
Once we arrived to the initial meeting point, there was a sea of people. Matthew was claustrophobic but was thrown into the crowd that had been waiting in the humid gym. We waited for about an hour until we were paired up with our buddy. My buddy and I began talking up a storm instantly; however, Matthew’s buddy kept saying that she missed her mom and dad. Nevertheless, we proceeded to pick out fresh flower corsages and asked a plethora of open-ended questions to our buddies. We were later whisked in the party limo and walked down that red carpet. The night was filled with dancing, photo booths, and an array of catered food options. Even Matthew’s buddy was smiling and seeming to enjoy his company.
Although Tim Tebow never showed up and my brother did not initially seem too interested in attending, he shared with me that it was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life once we loaded our rumpled, sweaty bodies in the car to go home. I echo his sentiment, and I have always held an immense amount of passion for this philanthropic endeavor of mine. This experience truly validated my identity as being more than the simplistic labels that society places on me, and it was an event where I became more keenly aware of my identity, as I identify as someone who enjoys helping others and one who encourages my friends and family to share my passion for being impactful on others and their lives. From helping out with those who have special needs, to volunteering at Nicasa Teen Court, to aiding our community through the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Youth Advisory Board, this has always been a steadfast goal of mine in life.
Although I do feel as though this is a large component of my identity and something that has aided me in furthering my development into the person I am today, I often feel as though many doubt my abilities and capacities based merely upon my appearance. I am a blonde, blue-eyed, gregarious female who has participated in cheerleading since kindergarten. I am sure it is not necessary to point out that this is a very cliché label; however, it is mine. There are obvious associations and biases that are automatically assigned to someone bearing these physical attributes: not intelligent, superficial, lacking depth and good character, self-absorbed. The list goes on, and it is, seemingly, endless.
The car swiftly rolled down the narrow and windy roads of Sligo that seem to barely allow for one car, let alone the two that it was intended for. The confident driving of Michael greatly contrasted my mom’s apprehensive nature as she had navigated the unfamiliar roads when we had first arrived. I peered out of the window as we passed lush green fields dotted with hundreds of sheep lazily grazing. The nervous butterflies that always accompanied dance competitions had disappeared and I was finally able to fully enjoy the beauty of the country that I had so excitedly awaited my trip to. I turned my attention back to the quiet conversation between my mother and Michael, as we traveled to see the house that one of their great great grandparents had grown up in. The small car pushed up a steep hill and pulled over to the side of the road. We stepped out of the car to examine the house. To my surprise and mild disappointment, there only remained a few large stones that had once made up the walls of the small house. I observed the lonely old stones quietly, awe rising up as I gazed out at the Irish countryside from atop the small mountain. The quiet disappointment that I had felt for just a passing moment dissipated as I began to appreciate the fact that there were any stones at all. The butterflies returned, but they were different.
I have been a competitive Irish dancer for the past 13 years, meaning that dance has always been a very significant part of my life. During my junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland for the first time to participate in a dance competition that I had been working towards for as long as I could remember. Rather than only going to Ireland for the sole purpose of competing, my mom suggested that we stay for longer so that we could visit family and get to explore the country. During our time with my family, my mother’s cousin, Michael, acted as our tour guide and brought us to several places that were significant to Irish culture, and more personally, our family. One location that stood out to me in particular was the house of my mother’s great great grandmother, little of which remained.
When we finally arrived at our destination, I was surprised to see that it was a small empty field with a few large stones scattered in the grass. I had not known what to expect when I was told that we were going to see this house, but I was very excited to get to witness a piece of my family history. I was also quite jet-lagged so I didn’t think to ask questions or get an idea of where exactly I was going. The majority of the day had been spent being driven around to locations that I had no knowledge of by someone whom I had just met, so I was in a bit of a fog. The disappointment that I felt when I first saw the little that remained of the house soon dissolved as I realized how incredible it was that I had even had the opportunity in the first place to visit the location and see where the house had once stood. It was as if the fog that had covered the day had been lifted, and I had a moment of clarity as I realized what a wonderful opportunity I had been given.
This particular moment helped me to realize how important it was to me to maintain my ties to my family and my Irish heritage. It helped me to further develop my sense of self and integrate more fully being of Irish descent into my identity. My father is very interested in history and ancestry, so I believe that being able to visit Ireland was able to spark a similar interest in me and strengthen my ties to Ireland. After that moment, I more actively thought about what exactly it meant for me to be Irish and I made sure to maintain that part of who I am. I now want to make the effort to spend a significant amount of time in Ireland in order to further my understanding and connection. It reaffirmed what I already knew about who I was, as well as making it even more important to me. I think that this experience shows how one’s sense of identity is fluid and depends largely on the interactions that individuals have with their environment and those around them. The category or label of being Irish is something that helped provide a template to my sense of identity, and then based on my experiences I was able to reflect on what exactly that meant to me. This experience is something that I continue to look back on when I consider my sense of identity, and has led me to develop stronger ties to both my family and my heritage as an integral part of my identity.
I did not want to make any generalizations or succumb to stereotypes. “Go in with a fresh slate and an open mind”, I kept telling myself. This did not last long. The house, maybe eight feet tall, spanned the length of my living room. The floor made of concrete, was covered in dirt and smelt of must. The house was furnished with a couch, a table two two full-size beds; one for Margaret’s mom and one for Margaret and I. The kitchen appliances–and I mean everything from cutlery to the stove–were kept in a separate hut about one hundred feet from the house. “I can do this”, I kept thinking. These thoughts took an immediate turn when I was brought to the bathroom. Outside the house stood a shack with two doors. On the right, a dark room with a bar of soap and a bucket for washing yourself. On the left, another dark room with a single hole–this hole is exactly what you think it is for. My heart sank to my feet. I was overcome with pity, anger, and a feeling of defeat. Immediately, all generalizations and stereotypes lived up to my expectations. There were two things I was certain. One: I had absolutely no idea how I was going to make it these two nights. Two: I had even less an idea how my host family has made it their entire lives.
During my freshman year of high school I had the opportunity to travel to the Karutu District in Tanzania, Africa. Our trip consisted of designing a school library, a safari through the Serengeti, and a two night homestay. I was accompanied by seven of my other classmates. The other forty-two members of my class travelled to Beijing, China. I was flattered to have been one of the eight students chosen to travel to Africa. It was telling of the teacher’s perception of my ability to embrace and adapt to Tanzania’s culture. At this point in my life, I had been lucky enough to have done a substantial amount of travel both nationally and internationally. Skiing and my parent’s love for travel had me constantly catching a flight to the next location. I had learned how to accustom myself to different conventions of different countries. I was more than well equipped for my travels.
This all said, my inner thoughts kept telling me they had made a mistake in choosing me to travel to Africa. What made me more qualified than my other classmates? Though grateful, I was scared. I was nervous I would inappropriately respond to the culture shock I expected to encounter. I was nervous I would not adapt to the change of scenery. I was nervous I would just do it all wrong. These nerves took over my thoughts leading up to the trip. It seemed every day, the nerves would grow bigger and bigger to the point where I felt I was going to explode. This feeling of the unknown led me to doubting everything I had learned and acquired from travelling.
Arriving at the house of my two night homestay has had an everlasting impact on my life and my identity. Margaret Joseph, the student who welcomed me into her home, lived a much different lifestyle than mine. Initially, I compared my life as being lavish in comparison to hers. I soon realized this was not the case. My life was not necessarily better, it was just different. Margaret and her mother appeared perfectly content with their life. The phrase “I have a roof over my head and shoe on my feet” came to life. I realized happiness and living a fulfilling life does not have to be attained through material goods such as clothes, a big house, or travel. Life is about the pursual of your desires. Margaret wanted to get a college education, while her mother wanted to be a cook. Cultural norms seemed not to take such an important role in identifying oneself. Over the course of the forty-eight hours I spent with the Joseph’s, I came to the revelation I did not, and should not, have to succumb to society’s identities in order to be successful and fulfill a flourishing life. I am the one person who has full control over my identity. It is up to me to pursue it.
As I entered the building for the first time, an unfamiliar scent hit my nose. It was foreign, and before I could determine what it was, I became focused on my sweaty palms. I began to rub my hands on my jeans, feeling the denim wipe away the little droplets. Suddenly, I saw the sign that read “Room 117.” I deliberately increased my pace, shifting through the crowd of people while keeping my head down. I crash into someone, but mumble an apology without looking up. I feel my face get red, and I again increase my pace until I safely make into my classroom. I take a breathe, gather myself, and then sit in silence, again becoming aware of the exotic smell.
This aroma was alien because I had entered my new school for the first time. St. Mary’s middle school was where I was going to spend my seventh and eighth grade year. My family and I had just recently moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado. The town I was from in Pennsylvania was incredibly tight knit where kids go to college close and stick around after. By moving, my parents drastically altered the course of my future. All of this swirled around in my head as I sat in the classroom.
Everything served as a constant reminder of how far I was from home. Of course, my parents would argue “home” was a matter of minutes away. However, home to me was a destination worlds away and something unattainable. and my 12 year-old self was convinced that my life was over. I couldn’t wait until college, where I could return somewhere in Pennsylvania and become reunited with all my best friends. Colorado was foreign, and St. Mary’s middle school was hell on earth.
I felt like I was without a home, and because so much of myself and my memories were tied to my Pennsylvania, I thought I couldn’t be the same person I had been. In my head, I determined I had to forfeit pieces of who I was and couldn’t become the person I was meant to be unless I was in Philadelphia. Ultimately, the passage of time healed my broken identity and I again felt I had a home. I actually believed I grew through the experience, and now look fondly upon my move. However, I eventually realized that a home doesn’t define any piece of your identity. You may associate certain factors of your identity with a destination, but you define your own identity and your home.
It was time. We were set for perfection yet again, and once the curtains were raised the drummer set things off, keeping the right rhythm, not too fast, not too slow. The guitar and piano jumped in, in perfect harmony. Just as rehearsed. Our first song—“Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye—drew to a close. The next song on the list was James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” It was a special song for me, because it was the only song that began and continued with my—the vocalist’s—cue. I looked around the stage. Everyone seemed ready. I breathed in, and let it out. “Whoa! I fe-el good!” Then the guitar riff kicked in: “Ba-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra.” The song was seamless until the third chorus. Once again, everyone was waiting for my cue, but I just froze: I couldn’t remember the lyrics. All I could do was hold my microphone tighter in desperation. As each agonizing second passed by, my mind was racing. “Oh God, what happened? All these people out here? What were the lyrics? How could I forget? Should I go to Joe and ask? What should I do?” I looked around at the other members, afraid of how they’d look at me. I expected derision, disappointment, and frustration. They seemed puzzled, anxious about what I was doing. But at the same time, they looked comfortable. I could see in their eyes they still trusted me, almost telling me telepathically, “Come on man, you can do it! Just like we practiced!”
I couldn’t let them down. I held my head down, posing as if all of this was for some sort of theatrical effect. I forced myself to think, “think!” The lyrics came back. I gave my cue. The rest of the band followed; the performance flowed smoothly until the end.
This is my eighth year singing, but this particular moment from my high school Junior year will never be forgotten. This happened during one of my rock band’s concerts, and I’d never made a mistake this big before this one. I’d never missed a beat, forgotten a lyric, or sang out of tune. And I believed that’s why my band members had faith in me—because well, I was flawless on stage. And with this mindset, I also treated and judged the other members similarly. I trusted only those who were good, since it made me feel “safe” when playing with them, knowing that they wouldn’t mess up. Trust was a way for me to hedge against uncertainties, to safeguard my performances from failure. This moment helped me understand how wrong I’d been about “trust.” Being so arrogant about my talents, I had thought that my band members trusted me to feel safer, but it was the exact opposite. Trust comes with a risk to the provider. By trusting me, they are putting themselves at risk in the event that I may fail. But they do so anyway because they care about me and want to accomplish this thing together. The risk was at their expense, and the benefit mine. When my mind went blank and found myself in abject panic, they didn’t rescind their trust as I would have. That trust they maintained in me helped me remember the lyrics. Without it, I probably would have stood there and screwed up the rest of the concert.
I now hold a completely different perspective towards trust. I am willing to take risks, by placing my trust in an individual or a group to help accomplish a goal. I maintain that trust because I believe in that person, because I know a mistake doesn’t mean the end. I know that by keeping my trust I might also be part of a failure, but I am willing to take that risk: because I believe such trust can empower, eventually leading to greater, better results. This particular moment helped me realize how much I depended on others to be successful and that as a band, we were all in the same boat. My failure becomes our failure, and another’s failure becomes our failure. Spending a huge chunk of my life with them taught me how important expressing myself through singing was to me, and it continues to take a big part of my identity.
1: The distinct smell of chlorine hung in the air, I could feel the adrenaline rush in my blood as soon as I hit the pool deck. The caps of swimmers from Chapel hill to Notre Dame were already warming up. Then I saw the the olympic tattoos. A suttle five ring symbol on the muscles of the fastest of swimmers. The marking of greatness and success, a power move for any elite athlete. I carefully put on my Arena tech suit. A suit tight enough to compress all of my body, and make my body more “slippery” in the water. Specially designed to fit my body and repel water. If I poured my water bottle on it, the water would bounce off in droplets. It was designed to make me faster. After getting suited up I head to check my events, The first thing I would be competing in was the 50 meter breaststroke. Since my entry time was one of the faster ones, I would be in the same heat as the one and only katie Meili. An olympic medalist for team USA in the 100 and 200 breastroke as well as the medley relay. A legend, and a personal role model of mine. When I step up on the blocks, I can see her in the corner of my eye. A silence falls over the stands as we wait for the timer to start the event. Once the piercing sound of the buzzer goes off, I dive into the crisp and cold water before me. My heart is pounding and I’m spinning in my stroke trying to finish as fast as a can. I slam into the wall 29.3 seconds later with the huge crash of my wave. I crawl out of the pool, my muscles are screaming from the high intensity of the race. I look up and see Katie, who shakes my hand and congratulates me on my race.
2: The Ultra Swim Meet hosted by my club team SwimMAC Carolina is one of the biggest meets on the east coast. There are strict qualifying times and only the best swimmers attend. Anywhere from big names like Michael phelps and Ryan lochte , to Collegiate swimmers, to swimmers fast enough in the area who were still in Highschool. Luckily I made qualifying times in three events and had the opportunity to attend this meet. Training wise, about two weeks prior to the meet we would start to taper in practice. Which means we would decrease the amount of yardage we swam everyday and focus more on speed work. All in order to make us swim faster when the big meet finally came. The problem for me was, right when we were about to start taper season I was in a car accident after school. My friend was driving me home and a car pulled out and crashed into us, totalling my friends car. Luckily I wasnt severely injured but I was left with a concussion that prevented me from engaging in physical activity for almost a month. So I was out of training. When the time had passed, My coach was hesitant to let me swim in the meet because he didn’t want me to embarrass myself since I haven’t swam in such a long time. I refused to let this stop me, and told him I was going to swim in the meet regardless, and I’m infinitely glad I made this decision.
3: prior to competing at this level I was not very confident in my swimming ability. I doubted myself and didn’t think I had a future in it besides the High School competition level. I was also extremely nervous to compete because I had been out for so long and I needed to prove to my coach that I was worth the time and energy to be in the meet. I wasn’t expected to do as well as I did, and I loved being able to prove people wrong. To show that I was talented and was fast enough to catch people’s attention.
4: When I got out of the pool after competing in this meet and seeing my swim idol congratulate me was a life changing moment for me. I was actually swimming and hanging with an olympian in a race. A place I could never imagine myself at. After I talked to her my confidence soared, and I did better in the rest of my races throughout the meet. After one of my other events, a group of children came up behind my lane at finals and asked me for an autograph. Me, a 17 year old swimming in a meet. They wanted me to sign their shirts because they looked up to me. From this meet on I saw my self as a talented athlete that people looked up to. People would come up to me that I hardly knew and comment on my races, and kids would want me to give them my signed cap. So I learned to fit this identity I had come in to. I walked with my chin up, I wasnt so shy and self doubting. For the first time in a long time, I was confident and believed in myself.
Patches of snow blanketed the surrounding area. My red skis greatly juxtaposed the pristine nature of the snow. My cronies gave me a thumbs up motion before descending down a tree-filled, thin path which the resort called a ski run. Carving down the mountain, it seemed we were the first people to ever set foot on this fresh layer of powder. My new “Skiing 2018” playlist on Spotify blared through my ears, muting any other noise in the air. Besides my group of five friends, there was not another skier or snowboarder as far as the eye could see. This side of the mountain solely held expert terrain areas, which we, at the time, considered ourselves to be. I whipped my head around to explain to Karli how excited I was to try the new bowl run after we had finished tree skiing. Once I faced downhill my skis crossed into an “X” shape, as apposed to their usual parallel position. My speed accelerated as the trees on the run raced by me. The red skis unclipped from my boots as I toppled straight into the iciest part of the run. My face slammed into a stray rock, my helmet cracked into two pieces, and my goggles shattered. The surrounding snow slowly encompassed the same redness of the skis. My vision fogged as Karli and my other friends rushed towards the sight that changed my identity.
Running has been a major part of my identity for as long as I can remember. My parents would continuously sign me up for typical children’s sports such as soccer, volleyball, and softball, yet I would always begrudgingly attend practices. It seemed I only enjoyed the running aspect of each sport. My parents, friends, and coaches all took note of this and decided that the best option would be for me to try running track and cross country. After joining my middle school cross country team, I never lost a race. In high school I continued to hold my ground by leading my team to numerous regional and state championship titles. The new question of my everyday was whether or not I would continue running at a collegiate level. Coaches from universities around the nation continuously stated that I needed to drop some time from my track events in order to be considered for their programs. I made it my goal to have a successful senior track season, and reach these seemingly impossible times. It was not until I decided to go skiing with a group of my five friends when this question of running in college did not even seem fathomable.
My friends and I had a stressful first semester of our senior year of high school: applying to colleges, trying to amp up our resumes, and joining any clubs as a last effort for a university’s attention. We decided that a group ski trip would be the best way to relax. After an extraordinary day of skiing, this great fall seemed to put a major aspect of my life on pause. Who was I if I did not have running? After enduring a serious concussion and surgery to repair the fractured orbital bone, I had a lot of rest time to really consider and weigh my options for my future of running. Would I try to keep training, in hopes of possibly walking-on to a track team, or do I hang up my racing spikes forever?
This question haunted me every day during my recovery. I soon decided that I would have greatly regretted this at a later time if I did not at least try to get back into shape. I would wake up for 5 AM practice every day and would often train a second time in the afternoon. My times were slowly getting faster as my state championships meet was quickly approaching. One night at dinner, my parents started to tear up, saying that my injury could have been deadly or it could have posed a much greater injury than the facial reconstruction surgery. At this moment everything changed for me. I then began to recognize that it was not running which was a part of my identity, but rather dedication, hard work, and persistency. Even in the face of imminent failure, I was able to work hard enough to reach my goal. This was much more important than a sport or hobby could ever hold on my identity.
At 4:00 am on a Tuesday morning I was awoken by the sounds of my alarm. The anticipation of enduring a pain-staking surgery within a matter of a few hours caused my lack of sleep that night. The two-hour trek to the hospital was spent immersed in a plethora of my favorite songs to keep me calm. Walking into the hospital, I was instantly hit with the illuminating hospital lights coupled with the sterile white floors and walls. Dressed in a neutral hospital gown with a variety of surgical bracelets reading things such as “FALL RISK” and hospital socks remained my attire for the upcoming week. The last thing I remember is being wheeled into the operating room where my eyes widened to the sight of sharp metal tool and a flat steel table that sent chills through my curved spine. Suddenly, I was counting down from ten, while nurses approached me with a mask. I reached the number eight, then I opened my eyes in the ICU six hours later tangled in tubes attached to me like appendages.
I had always been a healthy child. I envied the kids that paraded around in neon casts, signed by our peers. I used to purposely squint my eyes around my parents because I wanted glasses. My development appeared to be normal until I visited the school nurse that year. I leaned over to touch my toes, and she suspected scoliosis. When I attended my first appointment at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware for treatment of scoliosis, my first stop was Radiology. After closed examination of my x-rays, the orthopedic doctor came to a decision about the fate of my spine. To prevent my curve from rapidly progressing, I was prescribed a Wilmington brace that I wore for twenty hours a day for two years. To my despair, all this time spent strapped into my brace was simply not enough. On August 18, 2015, I had a spinal fusion at duPont Hospital. Dr. Suken Shah, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, performed my procedure. My surgery lasted for six hours, I stayed in the hospital for five days, and I recuperated at home for one month. My motivation to start the school year influenced my quick recovery. I now have two titanium rods and twenty-two screws fixed in my spine and a permanent thirteen-inch scar down my back. Although the progression of my spinal curve was halted, my involvement in the scoliosis community was just beginning.
When I was informed about my condition, I was unable to comprehend the severity of the situation due to my young age and lack of symptoms pointed out to me by my pediatrician prior to my seventh-grade check-up at the nurse’s office. After seeing my initial x-ray, I was immediately hit with feelings of shock and confusion. How could my internal anatomy and spinal structure be so warped when I have never experienced any back problems in the past? After being clued into my medical situation, I began to notice clearer signs of the problem as my curve continued to progress despite my intense treatment plan of twenty hours of daily bracing for two years and countless hours of physical therapy. After following through with these commitments, it was disappointing to be told that I would still have to endure a drastic spinal fusion. Was all of that for nothing? The pre-operation jitters kicked in while packing my hospital bags a few days before my surgery. Going into surgery being 5’1” with a noticeably curved torso and coming out three inches taller with a stiff, straight torso is an indescribable feeling. The scar lining the center of my back will always be with me as a souvenir and constant reminder of the major change my body endured at fifteen years old.
It might sound strange, but I am fortunate to have had a treatable, medical disorder. I view my journey with scoliosis as a gift because I discovered my strength to face physical and mental obstacles in life and it has created opportunities for me to help others. I always retell my story of this medical obstacle in a positive light. Because of this, I will forever remember my journey with scoliosis as a way I learned about my personal strength and my passion to help others undergoing a similar procedure. My recovery was far from easy. I experienced excruciating pain and was in a state of total dependence on the people around me. This further proved to myself that I am an independent person. Relying on others for assistance it not in character for me. This pivotal event in my life came at such a young age, forcing me to put later obstacles in my life into perspective.
The scorching, summer weather of the late-August heat struck me as soon as I got out of the car. I couldn’t tell if the sweat on my forehead was a result of the late-Summer heat or the nervous excitement I felt during the entire the car ride. It was my move-in day for my freshman year of college. After transferring my things from the car to my box-like, humid freshman dorm, I was ready to introduce myself to the others on the floor. Like every freshman’s first year experience is used to seeing, I saw one dorm with the door open with close to fifteen people in the room. As I strolled in the room, I hear two of my classmates bonding over mutual friends they know from each other’s high schools. On the other side of the room, two others went to the same prepatory school. I realized that many of my floor mates knew each other before college or were from significantly similar backgrounds.
After this dorm introduction, I recognized that many of my classmates went to private schools, were the same ethnicity, and came from New England. At first, I did not know how to bond with some of my classmates. I was born to immigrant parents from Korea and Mexico, I went to public school, and I did not know anyone from my neck of the woods on my floor. Being introduced to a setting in which it felt as if no one had anything in common with me was, at first, an overwhelmingly grueling experience. At home, the diverse community of the Jersey Shore and the shared experiences I had with my friends made me feel as if I belonged. I started to question my identity and why I could not find a connection with anyone. While questioning my identity, I realized that I was afraid to embrace the labels of my social identity because I did not want to feel “out of place” compared to my classmates.
After some time, I decided that just because my labels felt “out of place” I shouldn’t let it hinder me from feeling like I fit in. I joined multicultural clubs, played intramural games, and went to freshman events: all of which I believed would help me embrace my labels. At the first Asian American club meeting, I met one of my best friends from college, Yuri, through being paired to introduce ourselves. Since both of us played tennis in high school, it was easy to find a bond that we both shared. Along with Yuri, I found many of my friends from Providence at the Asian American club. I believe that through embracing my labels, I was able to find friends that shared similar experiences with me and helped me truly embrace my whole self.
Sitting on the beat-up couch, the aroma of pizza in the air, musical theatre tunes blasting in the background. The flashes of blue and green from the various party lights turned the room into a concert venue, and the screams of my friends playing their usual “Settlers of Catan” echoed throughout the poorly decorated basement. This was a typical Friday night– sitting around, performing mindless activities, and singing show tunes. However, this would come to be no ordinary night. It was about two in the morning, and I was completely exhausted. I decided to retreat to my usual sleeping location on the couch (anyone who stole it was considered dead), and my friends soon followed me after finishing their apparently exciting game. My eyes slowly began to close and the conversations in the background begin to fade. I could tell my friends were talking about something important because of the lack of laughing but I did not have the energy to immerse myself in the conversation. All of a sudden, I heard my friend Josh scream my name. “Josh, what do you want?” I replied, with the sarcastic tone that was so well known in our friend group. “Don’t go to sleep! That’s so lame!”. I groaned. I would usually turn the other way and begin my descent into sleep, but something about this night told me that I should join in. I peeled myself off of my comfortable couch corner, wrapped myself in the fuzzy red blanket that was lying next to me, and turned to face the circle of my friends. After various “good morning” remarks, their conversation resumed. To my surprise, they were talking about a topic we never spoke of: college. Because I had just woken up, my mind could not fully grasp the gravity of the conversation I had just joined. I listened as my friends took turns talking about the various schools they were interested in. I heard the names Pace, Boston Conservatory, and NYU Tisch getting thrown around. I suddenly put two and two together that every school they had mentioned was an art school, and that all five of my best friends planned on going to school for musical theatre. My prior drowsiness washed away and my mind began to race. This was the moment when they would finally find out. When the question fell on me, I told the truth. I did not want to apply as a musical theatre major and would probably be stopping theatre in college. My friends fell silent.
I have had this same group best friends for as long as I can remember– a group of five individuals with extremely similar personalities. Aside from our identical sense of humor, we all shared a love for Black Mirror, Thai food, and, most importantly, theater. Our weekends consisted of carpools from one rehearsal to the next, sometimes traveling nearly an hour away to perform a show we had always dreamed of doing. On our various road trips between rehearsals, the only music that was allowed to be played was show tunes (although playing the soundtrack of a well-known musical was considered to be a deadly sin– only obscure musicals were allowed). When we weren’t at rehearsals, we were hanging out in the basement which we had plastered with show posters. There we would sit and watch funny singing videos, laughing at a person’s inability to match pitch, something we thought to be rather natural. All throughout my high school career, this was the lifestyle I was used to. I was completely surrounded by theatre and had accepted it as a very large part of my identity. However, there was another part of my identity that I could not deny. I was absolutely infatuated with everything having to do with Neuroscience. Neuroplasticity, aphasia, cortical degeneration, you name it. I had always known that this was the field I would end up studying. Although I loved theatre, it was more of something I used to hang out with my friends and not a potential career path.
Throughout high school, I began to gather the sense that my five best friends did not think of theatre the same way that I did. I realized soon enough that they looked at theater in a more serious manner and were preparing themselves to pursue it as a career. This promoted an intense feeling of anxiety for me as I felt that a group I had identified myself with for so long no longer fit my passions. Although it was obvious to me that I was different from them at this point, I refused to let them know my future plans for fear that I would be removed from the friend group. Instead, I pretended to be as in love with theatre as they were and continued to do shows with them. After all, I felt that I had found my niche and continued to form my identity around theirs.
However, to this day, I look at this night as the turning point. After my confession, I could no longer hide the fact that I was not as interested in theatre as my friends believed. Although some of them tried to comfort me and say that nothing would change if I decided to quit theatre, it eventually did. My friends began to perceive me as the “other”, and as someone who could not understand their way of thinking anymore. I slowly began to feel more isolated from this group, although I continued to hang out with them. Finally, after months and months of feeling so incredibly separated from my best friends, I decided it was time to give myself a break from them. Although I never truly departed from this friend group, allowing myself to have a break really allowed me to grow into a new identity. Instead of associating myself with those around me, I began to decipher what I wanted and what I was thinking. I found a person who was highly dedicated to doing what they loved and would stop at no extreme to achieve their goals.
Hazily I watched the rain patter on the wind shield and the dull billboards pass me by as my mom picked up speed in our large suburban. Unsure of the industrious, grey building we pulled into, I slowly and in a sloth like motion pulled my bag out of the car and followed in my mother’s footsteps to the doors of the complete unknown. After signing my name on lines that meant nothing to me in that moment, I was called into a room with a hollow feeling and antiseptic smell. My eyes and mind dazed elsewhere in confusion as I listened to my mother’s anxious tone and shook the large, dry hands of the male doctors that entered that dark hole where I was sitting. Although I couldn’t catch every word that was thrown at me, I could sense the gloom in the room as they pronounced the term Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When I started to focus on what was actually being said – the fact that they knew what I was experiencing – a soft smile came across my face. Once my mother had dried her last tear, I traveled from a place of sorrow to a room of individuals whose eyes radiated euphoria. I watched as my mother’s silhouette slowly faded in the hallway. Suddenly, my mind had begun to clear.
That gloomy building that I thought was only going to bring me further down a spiraling path was labeled as Rogers Behavioral Health Hospital. For years previous I had denied the strange behaviors and worries I displayed, to a point where they became a natural part of my every move. While these unconscious behaviors did not do me much harm for the first few years of their development, when I got to university the unknown environment took my anxiety on an unforgettable roller coaster. Unsure and far from home, I confided in unhealthy coping skills and emotional calls back home to the individuals who knew me best. Consulting various therapists and doctors eventually landed me in a position that would force me to return to the place with the best care available – home. After talking to other professionals and placing myself on waiting lists, I was accepted to an outpatient program throughout the winter break of my freshman year. Thus, there I stood in the large grey building unsure of what I was getting into or who any of these people around me were.
Amidst the process of developing this disorder I caught myself in stages of fear and thoughts of being alone in unknown territory. Feelings like what I was experiencing had never come over me before. Highly focused on academics and social life, thoughts of having a mental disorder like this never completely crossed my mind. Without having anyone to turn to, I had to leave school making up excuse after excuse in hopes that soon people would stop asking why I wasn’t in class or couldn’t make it to the club meeting. I returned home feeling weak and incapable of living a normal life. How could I let anxiety consume my whole life? Before entering the program when I returned home I was living in a state of unhinged confusion. As if my confusion could escalate anymore, when I was told I had OCD I shut down even listening to individuals in that room that day. Although it took me a second to comprehend it all, my feet finally started to touch the ground. I wasn’t just living in the unknown – I had a known disorder. This feeling of some relief that came over me was only solidified when I walked into that room. Wow, there’s more like me?
While being diagnosed with severe mentally encompassing disorder might not bring others the utmost of joy, it brought me in touch with what felt like an out of body experience. Instead of making up excuses to others as to why I needed to wash my hands or avoid the popcorn bowl, I could simply state that it was a part of my own abnormalities. Yes I would be labeled in society as atypical, but to me it meant that I was succinctly apart of population of individuals – those who just think a little bit differently. I had finally realized that I was made to be different, but made to use the strength I was given to accept those differences. Seeing those individuals in that room who were proud to welcome me into their similar arms cleared all the confusion that had fogged my vision of a good life.
Tourists swarmed the paths next to me through the Roman forum, gazing through the lenses of their cameras, fully entranced by the historical sights encompassing us. Ancient and demolished concrete columns, walls and boulders scattered the area. Walking between buildings that were still mainly intact was a unique sight; their pale yellow and pink colors danced between the bright blue sky. The breeze cut between the ancient columns, through the fallen buildings and around the decomposing walls. A closer look at these decomposing structures revealed that they were sprawled with intricate engravings, complex patterns, and cryptic ancient Roman language. Rust colored bricks spewed from the ground and tall white columns stretched into the sky. The archaic columns were plane white with intricate leafy patterns on the tops and bottoms; their detail was meticulous. It was evident that the structures that stood there were constructed with utmost precision and accuracy. The curt cuts of what was left standing contrasted with the structures that, decomposed by time, transformed into rubble and debris.
Thousands of years ago, the Roman forum was the heart of a bustling empire. The area that at first glance looked like nothing but destruction and rubble once used to be a populous trading center, where people from all different stretches of life engaged in trade, politics, and even religion. The events that unfolded there on a daily basis determined the future of the worlds culture, language, and academics. On my flight to Rome from New York City, I was initially apprehensive about stepping into the role of tourist, as I am used to barrages of tourists engulfing many of my streets. Since a young age, I have always associated tourism with my own city and thus this negative connotation made me think that Rome would be uninteresting to me. It became clear to me that every day hundreds of thousands of tourists visit these ancient landmarks, making some of them the most visited tourist sites in the world. My preconceived notions allowed me to view New York City as the intersection of the world, but this belief was shattered before my eyes as I witnessed the deeply important history that took place outside of my hometown.
As a junior in high school, I initially signed up my latin class’s trip to Rome as an excuse to explore the famous city, but upon reflection, the experience brought me to a position of inner exploration. It was hard to me to comprehend that mankind designed and constructed such elaborate structures thousands of years ago. Envisioning the dilapidated area as a bustling marketplace and city center opened my eyes to how long humans have been on Earth. Coming from New York City, I once thought I came from a great city with a deeply important past and an even more important future; yet the great city of Rome made my home feel insignificant in the face of human history. The ancient scriptures on the walls and cryptic language swarming the streets reflected both wisdom and age. I thought I came to Rome to learn about the Romans, but instead, I learned more about myself and where I come from. Through stepping into the role of a tourist, my falsified view of the world was demolished and replaced by one that is more open minded to different people and cultures. Acting the role of a tourist encouraged me to expose myself to different cultures and histories and made me more humble to other countries’ significance.
I was already done with my dinner when the slideshow presentation came on. The faint smell of my dad’s cold steak made its way to my nose. The foreign conversation he was having with a distant relative made it impossible for me to ask him what the slideshow was about. My shoes were slowly suffocating my feet as I leaned forward to prop my head on my arms. I sighed and looked at my brothers, who were playing a game on my dad’s phone. The music and conversations dimmed into a whisper. Pictures of my great uncle flashed on the screen. His life in Korea with his seven siblings. His marriage and moving to America. Some of my dad and his cousins. Lots of pictures of my great uncles friends and his work. I had never seen most of these people, or I had and I didn’t remember them. I started to tune out the presentation and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains only to leave behind a sky of pink. My mom tapped my arm and pointed to the screen. I was in the cemetery with my cousins, smiling at my grandmother’s camera. The slideshow ended shortly afterwards on a picture of my great aunt and uncle. I turned to my dad and inquired about the picture. “It’s your aunt’s favorite,” he explained. “Everyone was really sad at the funeral, but you and your cousins played the whole time. Your aunt said it was out with the old and in with the new.”
This happened on the last day of my great uncle’s 80th birthday party. The 80th birthday is a very special and traditional celebration for Koreans, so he brought all of his friends and family to his house in Arizona. For a week we met with distant relatives and my great uncle’s friends. I could barely speak with them, due to the language barrier, so I spent most of the time with my brothers and mom. On the last day of celebration there was a huge party at the hotel. I even bought a dress specifically for it. The party was more of the same; I didn’t talk to anyone outside of my immediate family.
For most of the week I felt pretty unwanted; my dad broke a lot of traditions when he married my non-Korean mom, so we were a little awkward with his side of the family. My brothers, my mom, and I were the only non-Koreans at the whole event. We didn’t talk with anyone, and my dad was too busy with the rest of his family. I thought that we were at the party because they were obligated to invite us. It was lonely sitting at the table; even though we were surrounded by people I didn’t dare try to communicate with my relatives. I felt like an outsider among my own family, but seeing my picture during the slideshow made me feel like I belonged.
Seeing my picture amidst the accomplishments of my great uncle made me re-evaluate my identity. I thought that others saw me as the mixed raced daughter of the non-traditional branch of the family tree. I let that label hinder my interactions with my family, but the picture taught me otherwise. My family looked at me with pride and happiness; I brought hope as a member of the next generation of Parks. I let a non-existent label define who I was in the family, but I realized I could chose how they saw me. Now when I go to family gatherings I don’t shy away from them. I actively talk with them about my schooling and hobbies. I’m not letting my predetermined part of my identity affect the person I want to be with my family.
After dinnertime, I lounge in the “living room”, a small, square room with sloppily painted lime green walls, mismatched comfy chairs arranged around a television, and a long table that is so thoroughly covered in playing cards and arts and crafts supplies, it is hard to see that it is made out of dark brown wood, abraded from such frequent use. While watching Hotel Transylvania, a thin, blonde patient named Mia approaches me and asks if she can draw a picture of me. I am flattered and confused, wondering why my uninteresting face would spark her inspiration. However, I nod and sit stone faced so she can capture my essence, or whatever it is that artists do. Starting to picture Mona Lisa’s unamused smirk in my mind, I decide to change things up. Every time Mia looks up to study a feature of my face, I stick out my tongue, or cross my eyes, or make any other face that will make her grin and roll her eyes as she unevenly sketches my eyebrows with a blunt, crimson colored pencil. When she hands me my portrait, slightly resembling me on my very worst day, I tell her it looks great and something in my heart truly changes, because this is the first time I have felt like I have made a difference in somebody’s life, no matter how small. I fold it up and put the picture in my pocket, excited to show all of my friends. I soon say goodbye to Mia for the last time, since kids only stay in CBAT for a few weeks, until they recover from their depression, anxiety, or desire to self harm. I hurry through the door and disappear into the stark night, clutching the piece of paper in my pocket that is so much more than a rough sketch of my face.
The CBAT unit is in the Franciscan Children’s Hospital on Warren Street, just a few MBTA stops away from Boston College on the B-line. This is where I was placed to volunteer for 4Boston, which sparked my anxiety at first. I wasn’t sure how to treat kids who had such damaging pasts at such young ages. Mia is only twelve, and I met her the first time I went to CBAT, which was in late November. Reading her patient file opened my eyes to the privilege I have in this world, and being able to afford to learn at Boston College, able to visit these kids once a week is so humbling. Mia’s best friend at the unit had gone home the same day she drew the portrait of me. I could tell that she was discouraged, because she had been at CBAT much longer than kids usually stay there, which is about three weeks. I sat by her at dinnertime, figuring she could use someone to talk to, and she came alive, telling me about all the boy problems she had at home, her cousins that lived on Long Island, and how she wanted to be a nurse at Boston College someday. She even poked fun at me, telling me she couldn’t believe I was a freshman in college, because I looked fifteen. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled with her comment, I laughed along, glad that something had cheered her up on this lonely day.
Towards the beginning of the day, I felt so deeply sorry for Mia, because I could tell how hard she was trying to smile for her friend, who got to leave, but her sadness and loneliness was apparent at dinnertime when her friend’s usual seat was empty beside her. I was apprehensive at first, because I wasn’t exactly sure what I could talk to this girl about, as I find it hard to relate to preteens in general, let alone ones who have entirely different backgrounds as me. However, I was soon surprised to find that she was truly just a normal girl with normal problems of her own, one who just happened to have been dealt a bad hand in life. When she asked to draw a picture of me, I was extremely touched, because nobody has ever wanted to draw me before. To me, it felt like a sign of friendship. She had chosen to draw me out of everyone else in the room, people she had known for longer and made closer relationships with. When it was time to say goodbye to Mia, I knew it would be the last time I would ever see her. This goodbye was particularly bittersweet, as I was glad she was well enough to return to her home, school, and friends, but saddened because I knew I would truly miss this new young friend I had made.
To me, this experience was such a small moment, yet it meant the absolute world to me. I think the most significant part was what it allowed me to realize: I want to help others. This is a simple desire, yet it has allowed me to find the reason why I want to become a doctor, and it has taught me why groups like 4Boston exist, why people go out of their way to volunteer for hours when they already have great responsibility. When I first got placed at CBAT, I couldn’t grasp why we didn’t have a specific task we had to fulfill, such as tutoring or serving food at a soup kitchen, but now I understand. Being there for people is a very important, yet overlooked privilege. The 4Boston motto this year happens to be “Do small things with great love”, and this event has most certainly showed me what that actually means.
It was a beautiful, fall day outside. The water of the Charles River was as flat as glass, which is an ideal condition for rowing practice. We were training for our first race and I could not wait to go out and start the practice. As my coach gave us our boat lineups and we started to get the oars and boats down to the water, I felt this aching pain all along the side of my left knee. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before, and I suddenly felt afraid and unsure of what to do. I knew something was seriously wrong. After practice, I went and spoke with our athletic trainer to try and figure out the problem, and I received news that I would need to begin cross training until they were able to find the cause of my aching knee. This was followed by weeks of uncertainty, doctors appointments, X-Rays, and MRIs until I heard the news that I was dreading to hear. As they told me it would be months before I would be able to row, I felt defeated. There was bruised and torn tissue destabilizing the placement of my kneecap, and the only way it could be fixed was intensive physical therapy, and to my dismay, no rowing. At that moment, I knew it was going to be a tough couple of months and that I was about to start the long road to recovery.
Sports have always been a big part of my life. I started swimming when I was three years old, and played a wide range of sports throughout elementary and middle school, from basketball and lacrosse to tennis and golf. It was not until I started high school that I began rowing and immediately fell in love with the sport. Being apart of a team and going out on the water after a long and busy day at school are my favorite parts, and over the years I have developed a strong passion for it. I had the opportunity to compete and develop strong friendships while being apart of my high school team. When I got into Boston College last winter, I found out soon after that I would be able to join the rowing team, and I could not wait to have the opportunity to be apart of a team and compete at a higher level then I was able to in high school. Entering the season, I was nervous to start because I would be on a team with a lot of strong and fast girls who I had never met before. It did not take long for me to befriend many of them and start to find my place on the team.
When I found out that I was injured, it came as a surprise because I have always been a healthy kid, and had never broken a bone or needed surgery. I could not believe that the first time it happened was during my first month of college, which I had really been looking forward to. I was scared because I had never lived alone before and had to go through all of the appointments and uncertainty by myself. There were multiple days of frustration where it would seem like my knee would be getting better, but the next day it would be significantly worse. It was also hard not being able to do the sport that I loved, after working so hard to get a place on the team. However, though this experience was disappointing, I was able to make some great friends because of it, since many of my friends here, both on and off the team, would help me throughout the process. Though it wasn’t the ideal situation to happen during my freshman year of college, I was still able to enjoy my time and truly realize how much I loved being at BC.
Being injured in rowing was a very defining experience for me. For a time I felt lost because I was unable to participate in a sport that was so much a part of my identity. I felt as if a part of me had been ripped out, and was frustrated that there was nothing more I could do to help the situation. I was able to learn a lot about myself because I was thrown into an uncomfortable situation and did not have my parents around, since they were home in Buffalo, to help. Through this experience, I realized that I was capable of living on my own and that there is a lot more to my identity that I didn’t even know about. I was able to learn this through the help of my friends and coaches since they were always eager to help or talk. Although this situation was less than ideal, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything because I was able to learn so much about myself and how having a good attitude throughout difficult situations will help you succeed.
I ran through the end zone towards our bench in preparation for our playoff football game. I could feel every hair on my body standing on end as we began pregame warm ups. The music playing in the stadium was drowned out by my concentration. The cold and wind of November had no bearing on my mentality and ability as we began quarterback to wide receiver drill; I ran crisp routes and my hands were soft as I reeled in every ball thrown my way. Finally, it was game time and the anxiety and energy that had been building up was about to be uncorked. We won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. Our first play from scrimmage was a run to the right, an athletic play by our running back that sparked our fan section. Then we ran another play to the left and had entered BC Highs territory. I entered the huddle and we called another run play to my side, the left. I lined up on the line of scrimmage, thinking of my single job: block the defensive back and create lane for the running back. I pounced off the line and engaged the defender. As I was blocking and shuffling to my right, my knee gave out and a feeling as though a rubber band had snapped ravaged my knee. I was helped off the field by my teammates and threw my helmet to the turf in rage. I knew I was done for the rest of the game, our most important game yet. At halftime and came to the conclusion that my “ACL was loose”, a statement that crushed my soul.
The bright lights, roar of the crowd, and the adrenaline rush associated with playoff football creates an environment charged with electricity. The emotions of playing out arch rival school, Boston College High School, in the playoffs takes the emotions of football and elevates them exponentially. The will to win coupled with the desire to crush your most hated rival results in a game that is so full of emotion and effort, so much more so than any other game. While on the field for those three brief plays, my mind was in a simple-minded place: do my assignment and make the play. The situation I was in was one that I had worked for the whole season, and had been thinking about for the entirety of high school football. I wanted to be in the position to make big plays on the biggest stage. However, that goal and dream ended abruptly, on the third play of the game with no contact. My chance was gone.
A week later, my knee and half my body was in an MRI machine for forty-five minutes. Two days later, my mom received a phone call from the doctors and reported to me that the suspicion that my ACL was torn was confirmed and to make matters worse my meniscus was also in need of repair. Initially I was stunned, with that news football as well as lacrosse were over. I would never play high school sports again. I eventually broke down in emotion, I could not handle the news. I would need surgery in a month and would be on crutches with my leg immobilized for six dreadful weeks. I was utterly disappointed.
After the surgery, which went well, I thought the hardest part would be the physical rehabilitation, but for me I struggled immensely with the emotional ramifications. I missed a week of school and was confided to a bedroom where I just watched Netflix. When I returned to school, getting to class was difficult and because there was no elevator I could not attend classes on the second floor for a period of six weeks. My mental health began to falter. I was struggling to handle the prospect of no more sports and the simple tasks of life were so much harder with me not being able to bend my knee. I finally quit feeling sorry about myself and came away with a new outlook on life and life lessons. I came to the conclusion that this experience was going to strengthen my resiliency as a person. I also decided that life is what you make it, and I was going to make this the best I could. Finally, if this will not be the worst thing to every happen to me and I will be better prepared for the struggles that present themselves later.
I sat with strained eyes in front of a grid of rainbow waveforms, backlit by the glow of my computer screen. As I watched the file render, I slid back my chair, getting caught in a mess of loose cables in the process. The room was quiet; the only sounds piercing the humid air were the serene rumbling of a July evening and the whirring of a budget laptop pushed to its absolute limits. Finally, after a prolonged fifteen minutes, I stared at a single .wav file, the product of several nights of tedious audio stitching and mixing. Luckily for me, I got to repeat the painstaking process four more times. After killing time during the rendering process, I took the five files and submitted them to the distribution service for which I’d just bought the most inexpensive package (college isn’t going to pay for itself). I watched the files upload, and just like that, I became a published musician.
That evening was the culmination of several years of planning and a month of dedicated, covert work. For weeks prior, I had found excuses to stay in my room, writing tracks free from the prying eyes of my family. Isolation is key; it helps stave off fears of judgement. Working around my varying work schedule, I’d spend hours repeating the same guitar lick or bassline, muttering half-hearted lyrics over the chords until something inevitably stuck. Then, the work shifted to recording, a process which proved to be an irritating battle of wits with a computer more finicky than I thought possible (a couple late-night crashes almost made me lose it). Learning as I went, I tracked the metallic screeching of my amplifier or the mellow timbre of an acoustic guitar, and then spent more time than I’d like to admit repeating the process until I eliminated as many errors as I could. But finally, four weeks after I’d buckled down and forced myself to work, I’d completed a five track record and I was ready to send it out into the world.
Immediately, I felt a cocktail of conflicting emotions. Initially, a rush of relief washed over me. The work was over; I had something to show for my efforts and I no longer had to compete with self-imposed deadlines. But in the same breath, a mild panic crept in. Sure, the initial work was done. But now, I had to worry about plenty of other issues: promotion, distribution, the threat of harsh judgement. But perhaps the most daunting issue ahead of me was deeper, more personal: a noteworthy change in my identity.
For years now, I had shown an interest in music. But up until this point, I hadn’t ventured further than entertaining at family gatherings, maybe busking over the summer, or opening for a small band from my hometown. While everyone around me knew as someone who played a few instruments, I don’t think any of them saw me as a legitimate musician. To be fair, I didn’t think that of myself. In my eyes, I could not lay claim to that title until I actually produced something; until I actually made music of my own, produced something that hadn’t existed anywhere prior, I could not say I was a musician. As desperately as I wanted to pierce that veil, there had always been roadblocks; extracurriculars, work, school, the fear of ridicule. But that summer, my swan song before heading to Boston for school, I had grabbed the bull by the horns and tackled the task that I had been staring down since middle school. And so I sat, my back plastered against the damp desk chair, with that task finally completed. And in that moment, I felt a change — I had now occupied the role I had sought to fill for so long. From that night things changed. Now when people ask what I do, I tell them. And while I have not finished creating what I want to, I’ve finally become the person I had spent the past four years of high school hoping I’d become.
The brakes stopped and before I opened my eyes I knew where I was. The days were pounding down from March 22 and I was uncertain about what I was going to experience and living in the moment of the clash of the life I left at home and the start of my future at Boston College. June 17, 2018, was the first day of graduation practice at high school and my first day of Options Through Education (OTE), a mandatory 7-week summer college transitional program administrated by Boston College. The car curved around the concrete path up to upper campus and dodged the parked cars and scrambling families moving suitcases and boxes in and out of their cars into Cheverus hall. There was a team of students wearing black shirts directing families and checking students in, and when I stepped out of the air-conditioned car the wave of the summer heat shock my body awake to make me see the reality of what was the start of this new beginning of my life.
As my high school peers were reminiscing the memories over the past four years, I was off preparing my introductions to new people and doing corny icebreakers that my awkward self cringes at the thought of, until this one activity called the “cultural artifact”. We were instructed by the Residental Director of the program to bring an object that symbolizes our culture. Everyone was sharing the story of their family’s cloth, jewelry, picture, etc that represented their strong ties to their ethnic roots and I brought a book, an American Sign Language Dictionary.
We sat dispersed across the room, one by one people got up to talk about how they embrace and identify through their ethnic heritage, it was around this moment that despite this diverse group I found myself able to identify myself, I realized I was the only one whose identity was shaped by the experiences of my parent’s disability. I was not fully in touch with my Filipino heritage, nor my Irish heritage but through my parent’s deaf identity and culture that made up a large part of my identity and culture.
Even though I found these new pieces of who I am, I didn’t know how it fits into who I was as a whole. They spoke so keenly and knowledgable about their heritage as did I about my life through the deaf culture, but it wasn’t until I put both of those aspects of me and my parent’s race and ethnicity and disability together that became a bigger, more complex image of myself. No one understood what it meant to have a parent with a disability nor did they understand what it meant to be bi-racial and white-passing alongside that and how those aspects intersected and what it all meant but I was deeply curious to find out.
On the first day of camp, the sun blazed above, sending a wave of warmth throughout my body. My heart began to pound. Then, a bright yellow school bus with children’s arms waving out the windows approached the front of my school. When the bus came to a halt, forty elementary school aged children ran off the bus, searching for a friend to call their own. Five-year-old Dayvon, standing the height of my waist, looked up at me with longing eyes, saying “I pick you. Will you be my counselor?” Over the next two weeks, our days were spent practicing math and English skills, attending daily swimming lessons, and taking nature walks. Each morning, we would eat a healthy breakfast, consisting of crimson, juicy apples, granola bars, or a wide array of cereals. Then, we would attend our classes, in which the teacher would promote a love of learning in a fun, creative manner. Later, we would attend swim lessons, Dayvon’s favorite part of camp. The first time that we approached the Olympic-sized swimming pool, Dayvon’s face dropped. Having never swam before, he wondered how anyone could swim such a vast distance. On the last day, however, Dayvon was able to achieve what he believed was impossible, swimming one length of the pool.
Camp Umoja became my home during the five years in which I served as a counselor. When I was in eighth grade, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone, a decision which transformed my beliefs about the world around me. As I walked through the halls of my all-girls, college preparatory school on a sunny, May afternoon, I overheard a high schooler discussing her plans to apply to Camp Umoja, a day camp for children from Baltimore’s public housing. I had heard about this camp before and knew that it was only offered to high school students. Nevertheless, I nervously walked into the service director’s cramped office, introduced myself, and asked him if I could apply, even though I was still in middle school. He agreed, but warned me that it would be a competitive process since so many high school students wanted to participate. I spent hours writing my essay response, and to my surprise, I was accepted as a counselor.
Throughout the month between the application process and the start of camp, I worried that I was unprepared to mentor a child since I was still a child myself. My fears were allayed, however, when I was greeted by Dayvon’s kind smile on the first day of camp. Although the two weeks of camp were the most tiring of my life, every aching muscle reminded me that my hard work was positively impacting my camper’s life. One morning, Dayvon revealed to me that he often feared that his water would be shut off because his family could not afford to pay the bill. I momentarily became overcome with sadness, recognizing the pain in his eyes and the fact that he had to worry about such a basic necessity as water. I also felt angry that the world could be so cruel as to deny Dayvon and so many other children their basic needs. Finally, I felt a sense of helplessness because I had no way to ameliorate the situation for him or the millions of other people who do not have access to clean water. After a moment, I realized that although Umoja and my work as a counselor could not change Dayvon’s reality, we could change his life. Umoja provides each child with individualized attention, something hard to come by in Dayvon’s crowded school and home. I made sure that each day was filled with joy, so that Dayvon would always remember the loving and supportive environment of Camp Umoja.
Camp Umoja also had the power to change my life. For some, it is easy to feel detached from other people’s problems, but Dayvon became the face of every child denied basic human rights. Camp Umoja helped me to recognize my calling to combat injustice that exists in our world, particularly inequalities that impact children. Two years later, when I suffered a debilitating spinal injury, I felt as if I reminded myself of the strength of my campers in the face of adversity. Serving others became my source of healing during the two and a half years in which my body betrayed me. I was doing everything that I could to make myself better, but physical healing takes time. The emotional strain was much worse. Not being able to be a normal teenager was very difficult to accept, however, the children from Baltimore’s public housing gave me hope. I felt joy each time that I was able to positively impact the lives of those I served. My disability has certainly been life-altering, but I choose to think of my experience as a blessing in disguise. I learned about my ability to persevere through adversity, and I gained a more empathetic outlook because I know that oftentimes I do not understand the struggles that others face, just as they have not understood mine.
When I was in seventh grade, my family and I embarked on our first visit to my grandmother’s poverty-stricken hometown of Castelgrande, which resides in Basilicata, the poorest region of Italy. This tiny town lying in the peaceful Italian mountainside consists of hard-working farmers who live a simple lifestyle at best. They never made much money and they have never lived outside of their means. In accordance with the people’s lifestyle, the architecture of Castelgrande was rather modest. It was primarily stone-based with the shading of a rich grey; the windows were rectangular holes within the stone that had a metal caging to create protection with sight. Most of the houses were one or two stories high and only a few within the town were able to afford the privilege of sleeping in a separate room than the family mule.
As we began to explore this traditional-looking town, a weird yet intriguing occurrence took place. House by house, we noticed the little, almost-ancient wooden doors started to creek open. Wrinkled faces equipped with the warmest smiles peered outside to observe and greet the foreigners that stepped onto their soil. Some wore homemade-stitched aprons with a black undergarment while others wore a long-sleeved black dress that reached their ankles. These were the elderly women of the town, who seemed, surprisingly, to make up the majority of women. Similarly for men, the older generations tended to be more prominent within the streets as compared to the little specks of youth scattered around. The men typically wore flat caps with undershirts and casual pants. The orientation of Castelgrande made me feel as if I traveled back to the 1930s. For the first time, I was able to breathe the same air as my grandmother during her pre-American life. I was able to look out at the open fields and envision my great-grandparents breaking their backs to make ends meet. I was able to walk the same, dust-ridden road that my grandmother took to and from school as well as to the local market. It was at that exact moment where I was beginning to understand where my family has started and how much we have evolved since then.
The age-old saying of placing oneself in the shoes of another person never struck me until I realized the fundamental differences between my upbringing as compared to my grandmother’s. To her, sleeping in the same room as the family donkey was seen as the norm. The idea of having access to running water inside of her home was seen as an impossible fantasy. The concept of having a car to pick up one’s daily groceries was unheard of. These newfound realizations fused with the experience of visiting my grandmother’s hometown introduced me to the behind-the-scenes set for my family’s future fulfillment of the American dream. The true drive and reasoning for this sense of “fulfillment” is due to the phrase “a powerful motivating force” from the work Identity as adaptation to social, cultural, and historical context, which influences my perception of the role my Italian heritage plays in my life. It is through my upbringing that I have learned to not only love, but also admire the concept of devotion in Italian culture. The motivating force of this devotion lies within one’s surrounding family, who teaches of a firm devotion for loved ones and an individual’s work.
My identity is incredibly influenced by this motivating force that is brought to me through my heritage. It has helped me transform into the man that I am today and will continue to mold me into man I will become. Accepting and training this trait encouraged real structure into my life. I began to set goals for myself and work to fulfill those goals. I began to notice a steady improvement in all areas of life due to this inner devotion of the betterment of oneself and to loved ones. I now thought differently than before about my heritage and devotional backbone of my ancestry due to the way in which my grandmother’s hometown of Castelgrande gripped me. This foreign place which is now sacred in my heart has shown me that where one’s family originates from does not determine the outlook for that family’s future. There is always a breakout moment if the effort and devotion for the better is present. This notion stems from the lifelong impact family has, which explains the reasoning as to why I consider my family and my heritage as not only influencers of, but also main components of my identity as a whole.
Fifteen minutes was the time I spent being crammed in between my brothers on the journey home from my high school graduation in late May. The hubbub of a single car window being ajar was followed by the sweet breeze as we passed the dimly lit private golf course. This irritating noise slightly overcame the front seat squabble over who got to play the final song of the ride. We continued on to pass my now unrecognizable primary school building, which was now surrounded by a fence and various materials due to construction. The second car of the envoy, full of all my family that stood up and shouted as they watched the youngest of the entire family step across the stage, pulled in with an absurd amount of pizza just behind us. Conversation of the past and future, along with the passing around of pizza slices, filled the air of my backyard. After everyone had eaten enough for two, my little brother, Micah, handed me a blue envelope that had “to George” freshly written with a strong-smelling black Sharpie.
Three years before graduation, I nervously signed up for the Companion Scholars service program, which allowed me to meet Micah, a five foot six, fun-loving kid. Micah is not my biological brother, but he is everything else that an awesome and pesky little brother can be. I immediately ripped the envelope to shreds and began scanning the neatly written words at the top of the card all the way down until the handwriting became smaller and smaller as the edge of the card drew near. I flipped the card over to read Micah’s final remarks, which happened to be a line of words that allowed me to become more keenly aware of my identity. The line was “Congratulations George. One day I am going to be just like my big brother.”
A perfect storm of emotion funneled down my back while confusion, nervousness, and excitement continued to resonate in my head. An opportunity to be a lasting role model was rare in my life, which led me question if I was ready for such an important responsibility. I began to think back on all the experiences I shared with Micah: the awkward first days, sedulous study sessions, intense study sessions, and dance videos. Big brother had been a part of my identity for the past three years, but the thought had not fully come to fruition. I had always been ready for such an important responsibility. Although merely fourteen words, the written line generated a realization that I am a big brother, I am a positive influence, and I have done something larger than myself.
It was a typical New England winter night, which is to say absolutely horrendous. Just warm enough for the gentle snow that might have been to instead be a torrential downpour, with drops that actually impacted my poor, once dry head with a heavy thud, but cold enough to chill me to the bone after a few steps down Linden Lane. I sorely regretted my choice to not bring at the very least a hat; it was deceptively dry when I left. On any other night, I would have taken my time and admired the beauty that is Gasson lit up, dazzling against the contrast of the pitch black sky. As a native New Englander, I might have even enjoyed the crispness in the air as a gentle breeze danced through my hair and animated the last few leaves left on the ground. This night, however, the few unlucky souls and myself journeying through frozen-over hell itself hurried along, heads downward as we pushed through what felt, at times, to be a solid curtain of water. After much suffering, internal complaining, and with a solid ten pounds of extra water weight, on my head alone, plastering my hair against my skull, I finally made it into Devlin. I walked up the stairs, my passing leaving behind enough liquid evidence for a blind detective to follow my path, and squelched my way to a lecture I had no idea would change everything about how I view myself.
In what was, appropriately, a minor miracle in and of itself, my theology professor tracked down Father Himes, the notoriously hard-to-find priest who spoke at orientation. After a slight delay, the lecture commenced; we sat enthralled, unaware that the two-hour session we had planned came and went in the blink of an eye. Though the overall message of the lecture was about God and how we can see him all around us (it was a theology lecture, after all), but to fill two hours the talked meandered around quite a bit. One talking point he brought up, to my surprise, was perfectly related to what we have been talking about in class. He mentioned, in the greater context of the lecture one might even say in passing, that you can’t ever know yourself. A person is always changing, always having new experiences, that can radically alter their own sense of who they are. While identity is certainly influenced and in part defined by outside forces (social labels like race, class, etc), personal opinion is just as important; since this part of your identity is constantly in flux, you can never fully understand the totality of your identity.
Though it might not seem like much, this was incredibly important for me to hear. Ever since we began this unit, I have really struggled to come up with an identity of my own that means anything at all. Everyone seemed to have incredible stories about life changing moments that really changed who they were as people; I didn’t feel like I had a story of merit, let alone an identity that stemmed from one. It was incredibly gratifying and really gave me a sense of releif when I finally understood that it was perfectly natural for me to not fully grasp my identity; I never will, pretty much as long as I live and experience new things. Some parts of my identity, to be sure, are fixed; I will always have as part of my identity certain racial characteristics and many of the other ‘social roles’ . For me, the really life-changing experiences have yet to come, and I certainly won’t be the same person a few years from now that I am today.
The thick gray clouds rolled over Rockland County earlier that August day. As I looked up at those monstrous clouds, I was on the West side of the Hudson about 30 miles North of the Tappan Zee Bridge at one of the most sobering places I have ever been to: the United States Military Academy at West Point. I had on a white button down shirt which was tucked into a pair of thick khaki dress paints, and a pair of dress shoes that became drenched in the soggy ground. I walked quietly next to one of my closest friends from high school, Grant, who grew up in West Point about a mile from where we were. Since we became friends, Grant and I shared so many fond memories from West Point, but that day we were not there for one another, we were there for Major Thomas Kennedy. TK, as he is referred to, is a legend at my high school. He was one of the greatest hockey players to ever come out of Don Bosco Prep, but much more than hockey TK is known for his humbling qualities. He is the epitome of what every Don Bosco Ironmen strives to be: a selfless, respectful man who worked every day to make a difference. After high school Thomas Kennedy attended West Point before commencing a well decorated career in the United States Army.
Grant and I followed behind his father Lieutenant Colonel Nawoichyk into that most sacred place on Post to meet the other men who were there that day. We joined the semi-circle of forty or so, of friends and family of Thomas Kennedy. TK’s brother spoke to us all, thanking us for our presence, describing what the past six years had been like for him and his family. I was next to TK’s nephew Tanner Kennedy, who already was choking up before his father finished his first sentence.
I remember looking at the date on the headstone. August 8th 2012. On that day, Major Thomas Kennedy was in the Kundar Province of Afghanistan after having volunteered to deploy in July of 2012. He deployed with the Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; and on August 8th Tommy volunteered, being the leader he was, to go on a key leader engagement with his Brigade Commander so that another soldier could rest. Upon arrival in the village where the meeting was happening, their convoy was ambushed by a set of suicide bombers armed with dead man switches. In the front of the convoy, Captain Flo Groberg jumped on top of the first bomber as he exploded himself. He survived, earning the Medal of Honor for his actions. Major Kennedy and CSM Griffin engaged their weapons with the bomber who came from the back, causing him to detonate, killing Major Kennedy CSM Griffen and Air Force Major Gray.
The experience of being there at that grave was the most sobering thing I had ever experienced. We were sad and angry that the world had lost Thomas Kennedy, but so grateful that he lived. He embodied a man who choose to dedicate himself for others. The experience got me to start thinking about my experience from Don Bosco Prep, and who I was. Was I making choices for others? Did I embody what an Ironmen was meant to be? I began to question the validity of the major decisions I had made, and think about who I was.
My official job title was Visitor Education Intern, so I had known for a long time that an important part of my work would be interacting with strangers. I always thought this was something that came relatively easily to me, and I rarely worried about it during the weeks that led up to my first day. But suddenly I was standing motionless just behind a group of adults, thinking desperately how to interrupt their conversation to answer the question they were discussing. Behind me stood my supervisor, Sam, waiting to judge my attempt so that he could certify me as capable enough to be left alone. I was scared that I might come across as condescending or even annoying if I, a 15 year old, tried to tell these adults some trivial fact about fish, but I couldn’t just walk away with my supervisor right behind me. I knew I had to do it regardless of how long I thought it over, so I summoned my courage and carefully chimed in to their conversation by identifying the fish they had been talking about. To my surprise, the people didn’t respond with anger that some young kid had interrupted them, instead they were grateful, and even asked a few follow up questions. I answered them confidently, and walked back to Sam with a smile of relief on my face.
The activity that I was told to do that day was called “biofacting”, and it was one of the most common jobs I would find on my schedule, which was why I had to practice it first that day. Biofacting involved grabbing an ocean artifact from a locker upstairs, and roaming around the aquarium looking for reasons to talk about the artifact you chose. Since it was my first day, I was sent out with my instructor Sam, who was supposed to certify me if all went smoothly. That day I had chosen a shark jaw, so when I overheard conversation about some of the sharks on exhibit, I knew I had an opening. Everything went well, and by the end of the day I was certified, and could finally work on my own without my boss watching my every move.
By the end of the summer biofacting was actually my least favorite of the activities that I would find on my schedule. I never fully enjoyed jumping into others’ conversations, especially when I always had to steer the conversation towards whatever biofact I was carrying around. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy talking to visitors, because I genuinely did. What I didn’t like was the uncertainty over whether my interjection was wanted or not. I have been on the receiving end of those interjections many times when I’m visiting other aquariums, and a lot of the time they can be annoying. I realized though that you can often get a sense of whether your audience appreciates what you have to say or not, and that even if they don’t want to talk to you, it’s very easy to dismiss yourself and find someone else. This discovery helped me a lot, and I eventually had some conversations through biofacting that I really enjoyed, and remember to this day.
He was a towering 6’1 while I was a minuscule 4’nothing. I would ask him to flex his arms almost every other day because it amazed me how strong he was. In my eyes he was an unstoppable giant that I could always scurry to so that I could hide behind his legs whenever I felt nervous or scared, which was practically every time I was ever in a public situation because of how shy I constantly was. After scaling the leather couch which compared to Mt. Everest, I finally made it onto his lap and gazed up at him with confusion and awe. He compassionately looked down at me, and ,in that moment, I found comfort in the blue and the other green.
I was about 6 years old when my father told me about the incident. I was on his lap and had not cared to ask about his eye before, but that day I was wondering why I have just regular dull brown eyes when he had a blue and a green eye. He told me that the reason he had a blue eye was because of an accident that occurred on the construction site he worked at as a young man. A nail went into his eye and busted the lens of his eye, and he spent countless hours in surgery while surgeons pieced together a new cornea. Today he cannot really perceive distance too well with the one eye, but to be able to still have the eye at all is something he is very grateful for.
If it were not for the doctors that helped my dad then he most probably would have only one eye today. Ever since hearing the story of my father’s accident, I have been interested in medicine. The doctors that did the surgery not only affected my father’s life but also mine.
Pre-med is such a major aspect of my life that it scares me to think about any other possible path. The experience with my father is something I will never forget. I find myself sometimes struggling with pre-med, but I won’t give up because I hope to one day impact the lives of others like the doctors that saved my father’s eye did for me.
I remember putting on the stiff blue scrubs, the light blue surgical hat and shoe covers, and the mask, imagining in my head what was about to happen. The sight of blood had never bothered me, I had watched this kind stuff online and in videos before. How different could it be in real life? As I walked into the operating room, I was overwhelmed by the multitude of doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, scrub techs, nurse anesthetists, and even a translator, all dressed in blue. I could literally smell the sterility of room which had white tiled walls and was freezing cold.
My mind started racing. What if I can’t handle the blood, or I pass out, or even vomit? As I went back and forth in my head, I was interrupted by the anesthesiologists who told me that if, at any point, I didn’t feel well, I should sit down and if I felt faint, to lie down on the floor. That was out of the question. There was absolutely no way I would be caught laying down on the floor of the operating room. I could not think of anything more embarrassing. Yet, with that new though in my mind, I grew even more apprehensive. The surgery hadn’t even started and I was a mess; I was seeing stars, my heart was racing, and sweat was dripping down my back. I sat down on the stool by the head of the patient and took a deep breath.
I’ve always had an intense interest in science, particularly in medicine. While my sister played with her Barbies, I cut open my dolls, installing them with tubing running the length of their abdomens. When my mother asked me why I had done such a thing, I assured her in the most professional way I knew as a seven year old, “It was just a procedure that allows them to eat and digest food. The surgery went well and the patient will be awake in about an hour”.
As I grew, so did my passion for the sciences. It amazed me how the human body was so intricate yet worked in a perfect harmony. What impressed me more was how professionals were able to intervene when things were not running smoothly. They could go as far as opening up someone’s body to fix the problem leaving no other evidence but a tiny scar.
This was illustrated to me on a more personal level when I found out my uncle was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed a nine hour operation while awake. I attended all of his appointments with him and saw his MRIs and heard the plan for his surgery. The idea that a doctor could not only operate on the most delicate part of the body but keep the patient awake at the same time baffled me.
I was focused on the road in front of me until I caught myself bouncing my leg up and down. My gut was a pit and I wasn’t processing what my mom was saying next to me. I recognized the fact that she was talking to me and I was just answering with “Yes” or “No”, but forgetting what she said right after it happened. I knew we had arrived when I felt the car shift into park. I forced open the car door against a gust of wind and my hair was pushed up and over to the side. I opened the door of the unfamiliar shop; it was a push not a pull. Natural wood and chrome decorated the separate stalls. The smell of a clean shave filled my nostrils; clippers snapping in the background soon became much louder. “Hi, I’m here for a haircut with Karl?”, I told the lady at the front desk as if I wasn’t sure if I did in fact have a haircut or not.
I had been thinking about getting a haircut for while. I had always told my friends and family that it was going to happen soon, but soon came and went every time. Up until that moment, I had long hair for as long as I could remember. I could trace my long hair back to early in elementary school when I grew it out. I never got below my shoulders or anything like that, rather, in the front it came down to just below my eyebrows and on the sides it went to my earlobe. If you can imagine it, that length continued to the back of my head.
My mom accompanied me. When I told her for sure that I was going to cut my hair, she was excited, so excited that she insisted she come with me. During the days running up to getting a haircut, she flipped through magazines and cut out pictures of models that had perfectly groomed haircuts; each one buff and good looking, they were models. She even picked out some other “messy” looks because she thought she liked “the way it looked”. My mom wanted to be just as big of a part of my haircut as I was.
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