short story

Winning the heart of a cat and memories of the stalking squirrel

I went to meet my new feline companion the other day. After moving into this new apartment, I set a goal for myself to befriend my new roommate’s cat. The cat, named Chloe, esteemed with the long fifteen years she has achieved, approached me. Her wizened, stoic face looked up at me.

This is my chance, I thought. I can become part of your world. I can show you that I belong.

I stuck out my hand, my fingers lingering in front of her nose.

Chloe, however, is no curious puppy. Nay, not even a lazy pug. She did not like this foreign object.

She looked me in my eyes, furious. She pawed my hand away, her disgust thick in a raspy hiss.

I was fortunate that she had been declawed some time ago, but I was stunned. Here I was, thinking I was making considerable progress. But no, she just wanted a reason to hate me and I gave it to her.

Fortunately, this was not the worst attack I have suffered. The greatest feat I dealt with was when I was in Alaska on a summer family trip during my middle school years.

The day felt brisk – we had spent the day hiking in Juneau. We were finishing up our tour of the nature with sifting for gold. There was a gift shop next to our sifting station. After the reenactment activities, the rest of my family went inside the shop. I lingered outside and looked up at the sky, brilliantly blue and clear.

I did not realize, however, that my presence severely pissed off a local rodent resident.

I looked down to my right and saw the squirrel that still haunts my nightmares. On its hind legs, its bulging and black eyes looked into mine and it started walking towards me.

I took a step back, but the squirrel’s intentions were cruel and understood perfectly. I started to back away faster, but it gained momentum. I began to feel a numb dread, my chest weighing heavily. I started to run to the gift shop door. It ran as well, gaining ground.

Fortunately, I reached inside before the rabies-filled stalker put its grubby paws on me.

Shaken up and beginning to tear up, I grabbed my dad and told him of the horrors of the rogue squirrel. Of course, my brother and sister walked by and thought this was oh so funny, but they didn’t have to endure the horrors I did.

When we left, I walked closely behind my dad, watching the bushes intently for the evil squirrel. Thankfully, I was spared another horrific interaction. To this day, however, I speed up a little when I see one of those damned creatures on the sidewalk.

Now when I see Chloe, I feel grateful that it was merely a soft punch of stuffed-animal-like creature rather than a disgusting rat-thing. I nod to her as she remains curled on the couch, the legend herself bathing in sunlight.

I will respect you, cat. I think to her. And maybe one day you will respect me.

Trumpet stage fright and boys that know too much.

I am one that does not shy away from the dramatics or from performing. Rather, I love the limelight, the spotlight, the attention.

I bask in it… in the theatrical sense.

When it comes to reality, my awkwardness still hasn’t ebbed away, even after all of this hard work. If I know how to handle a social situation, sure, I will be little miss performer. But when it starts to go south – and oh, if you don’t know me very well yet, it will – I’ll blubber and blurt things out and spend three days analyzing why, oh why, did I read a poem to that guy? Or why did I show him a story that I wrote three years ago? I mean come on, old, nostalgic writing? That’s almost as bad as serenading “Wonderwall” on the Quad. I didn’t even mean for it to come off like that, I just wanted to read this really cool thing but now he’s probably afraid that I’m going to fall in love regardless of the test of time or some shit like that – I read you my favorite vignette, NOW WE ARE DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER. 

However, something I was always terrified to do was perform a trumpet solo. In high school, we did this absolutely horrid solo contest that was part of our honors credit or something or other. The schools in the area always came together for this. Anyway, because I am the shameless overachiever that I am, I always did this solo contest. It was for the state of Illinois and some of my friends were really good, and, maybe I’m okay in a full band setting, but I was the saddest thing you ever did see when it came to soloing.

I attribute this to when I had my Whiplash moment during my freshman year of high school. No, fortunately, I did not have a band director that shouted obscenities to my face (thanks for that, Mr. K). It was that moment, you know what I’m talking about, when (SPOILER) Miles Teller goes on stage and they’re playing “Upswingin'” because Fletcher totally wants to tank Andrew’s career and Miles just is miserable on stage playing whatever he could.

My moment like that came when I had a three note solo my freshman year in some piece I can’t remember the name of, but it was famous, like, where I feel like I discredited the composer with this botched note. It was in front of the whole auditorium, too, for the spring concert. It was loud and it was wrong. I cried right there in my seat for the rest of the concert – why hide the atrocity that I had just committed? The audience was now publicly privy to my horror and shame.

Since then, whenever some hopeful soul looks me in the eyes as I start to play alone, I almost wish that I had a written apology that I could just hand to them. It’s like when people want me to sing and I say “No, you don’t want to hear that.” They laugh and they tease because they know that I am sensitive, but then I look them straight in the eye and say, “No, really, it’s just going to make everyone feel uncomfortable and bad.” Then their smile starts to wane and they don’t know whether to half-heartedly laugh or look away in discomfort.

The worst, however, was when my high school hosted the solo contest. Or it was like something where Mr. K felt the need that we had to have our own solo contest…? There were like two contests per year or something… this like at least six years ago since I think it was my sophomore year, so my brain is a little fuzzy on the details. Point being, it was at our school. We had to perform in front of a few judges and anyone else who wanted to watch. I needed to find a piano accompanist. I decided to go against my previous choice of the choir director since she was my accompanist for my painfully terrible rendition of “I Enjoy Being A Girl” as my audition piece for the musical. (Fun fact, I was never in the musical despite another try two years later, singing “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” as my audition piece. I was, however, in pit for three years). After that shameful performance, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her.

So, I decided to ask the most talented kid in school. Let’s call him Shawn.

I have known Shawn since Kindergarten and he is this day and age’s Leonardo DaVinci. He can do everything. Draw? Perfect renditions of cats that he would give to my AP Euro teacher. Sports? Any and all of them, especially baseball while babysitting my teacher’s kids. Smart? A 95% would have been mediocre to him. Attractive? Had the biceps of one of Michaelangelo’s angels and fiery red hair… that he managed to make look Godly.

I never really had a full blown crush on Shawn, though, despite the fact that I get a crush on about 98% of the men I end up becoming friends with (so if you ever get confused at my behavior, new guy friend, please just know that I am going through my weird… motions in my head. Don’t worry, I’ll stop telling you to listen to this one song soon enough). Sure, I found him attractive. Sure, I had imagined getting a pizza date with him. But… eh. I viewed him as competition. That was a more pressing matter to me rather than ooh! A BOY!

So, because he was the perfect, celestial-like candidate for my gleaming rendition of whatever solo it was that year that I decided to choose, I mustered up the courage and asked him. He, of course, being the suave gentleman that he was, agreed to do it. He respected our history, and for that, I commend him.

I respect him even further for how he handled my behavior when the doom-filled day came.

My solo was so bad that I didn’t even finish it. My notes were shaky, my pulse sweaty, I felt like I was going to PASS OUT. I sobbed and heaved and I RUINED my chance to show to Shawn that, yes, I could be more TALENTED than him. It was a mind game that I had created, and I ruined it for myself.

For the rest of high school, despite knowing him since elementary school, whenever I passed him in the halls, I looked down and shuffled and thought of all of those years of building up to some contest that was never going to happen. Instead, I imagined that he saw the gross, over-exaggeratory side of me that all too many have seen.

The point of it, though (and now only in hindsight I see this), is that there was never a competition between Shawn and I. I had built it up in my mind because I couldn’t stand the thought of having someone – especially a boy – be smarter or more talented than me. Well, let me ring up the Doctor in the TARDIS and travel me back through space and time to visit myself because, kid, there will be people who are better at things than you. That does not mean that you’re not worthy, though.

So, now whenever I find my match, my competitive equal, my rival in abilities, I do my best not to cry. Maybe I get close, maybe I get high-strung. Maybe it’s while I’m filming or I’m trouble-shooting in the editing labs. I’ll subconsciously go back in my mind to that time when I embarrassed myself gloriously in front of Shawn with my shaky trumpet notes. I’ve come to find that I feel like this when it’s during things that I think are important with people that I value. And then I’ll remember that at least, thank God, I’m not trying to do a two-minute trumpet solo in front of people I don’t know. I’m just trying to white balance with a new camera, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ask.

Claus and Effect

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I actually wrote this story when I was a senior in high school. In the spirit of the season, I felt it fitting to publish.


 

I believed in Santa Claus until I was in eighth grade.

It was easy at first. Oh, sure! I felt content amongst other believers at elementary school. Whenever the holiday season came, we made homemade ornaments in class such as felt reindeer traced out from our hands. Also, away from my classmates, there was the joy of seeing Santa with my family! During the annual Christmas Walk in my town, we would wait outside with only a meager cup of complementary hot chocolate from the concession stand to keep us warm in the below freezing temperatures. Why? To be in the presence of the one and only Santa Claus, of course!

“Oh my gosh… we always have to wait sooooo long!” I moaned just as we were approaching Santa’s tent. That December during my third grade was particularly frosty.

“I want the LEGO Eiffel tower… and I want the red Bionicle…” Grant, my younger brother by three years, said, listing off his first picks of the year.

As we entered the tent, Santa smiled at us warmly.

“Merry Christmas, kids! Have you been good this year?”

“Yeaaah!” Lucy, Grant’s twin, chirped as we climbed on top of Santa’s knees. “Santa, can I have some more horsies?”

“You mean the little toy ones, right?” Santa replied with a smirk.

“Yeah… but a real one would be nice, too!”

Santa chuckled his famous laugh. “Ho, ho, ho! Alright then! Now, you my boy,” he said, turning his direction towards Grant, “What would you like?” Grant then sat up straight on his lap and talked with the utmost dignity.

“Santa, I want a lot of things.”

“Okay then!” Santa said, mildly surprised at his bluntness.

“Well, I want a LEGO Eiffel tower, and I want Bionicles, and I want Super Mario Smash Brothers-”

“Santa will see what he can do!” Santa said, before my brother got any further with his endless Christmas list. Santa then looked at me.

“And what would you like?”

I blushed. “Well,” I said in a small, quiet voice, “I… I would like Nellie, the new American Girl doll.”

“How nice! Santa would see to it!”

And with his promise, I beamed into Mom’s camera as we took our picture with him. I was thinking about Nellie, my soon-to-be new doll!

By fifth and sixth grade it was a bit more difficult. People talked about their parents putting presents under the tree as Santa – “Lalalalala! I can’t hear you!” I said. Every time my friends would allude to the truth, I would plug my ears in defiance. Some said that I was in denial. I said that I was determined to not give up. I would tell my friends (my “nonbeliever” friends) that my cousins had actually seen him. Lucy first told me about this infamous incident.

“Claire, did you know that Matthew and Christian caught Santa on video??”

“No way!” I said, flabbergasted. Did Lucy really mean it? I could feel my eyes bulging out of their sockets. Did they really see him?

“Yeah, they did!” Lucy quipped, seeming to answer my thoughts. “They tried to stay up all night, but they fell asleep. But when they looked back at the camera the next day, they found that a black glove went across the screen!”

I gasped so loudly that I felt that I had sucked all of the air out of the room. “That’s proof of Santa!!!”

“I know!!!” Lucy said, jumping up and down from her excitement.

By early December of my eighth grade, however, I was one of the few. I proudly wore my “I still believe in Santa Claus” shirt even though it was starting to get a little short. I was in the midst of writing my list for him that was as extensive as ever. I had pushed any notion of doubt of his existence to the side. He was real, I kept saying to myself, they just don’t believe.

Still, there were nights when I lay awake, deep in thought. How could a jolly, red-suited man really live at the North Pole? There isn’t any land at the North Pole… and how could a man manufacture toys for every kid in the world?

I stopped myself. I had to believe.

As I started to relax, I filled my head with convictions: I mean, even Mom believes in Santa. She has that nightgown of the Mary Englebright cartoon with Santa saying “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Mom says she believes!

A couple weeks before my insomnia attacks started, I asked Mom if she really, truly believed in Santa. It’s not like a big deal or anything, I told myself right before I asked her, even when I knew that my heart was beating a little faster. I just want Mom’s opinion on the matter.

“Hey mom,” I said, my head down, eyes scaling the wood paneling of our kitchen floor.

“Yes?”

“Do…well, you believe in Santa, right? Do… do you?”

She puckered her lips and tilted her head up for a moment, deep in thought. As she was thinking, I focused on the foggy window behind her, my stomach churning from anticipation.

“I do believe,” Mom said after awhile. “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.”

Remembering Mom’s words on those cold, question-filled nights, I could then drift into sweet, sugar-plum-fairy-filled sleep.

But fate had a different plan for me. My Titanic of forced ignorance was drifting into an iceberg and Santa was going down with the ship.

It was a typical school day. Well, at least for the holiday season. Things were winding down for winter break and a festive spirit was taking over. I was sitting in class, doing a Christmas-themed activity: answering questions on a children’s book about Santa. Whilst reading, my teacher strolled to my table.

“Good afternoon, Claire!”

I looked up from my book. “Hello!”

“It’s a nice little book isn’t it?”

I nodded, a merry grin sprawled across my face.

“It is.”

“The pictures are so lavish. And the story is absolutely charming.”

“Yes! I also like how Santa can’t go to every house so he gets the parents to do it.”

“Yes, it’s very sweet,” she said, smiling. “It’s a good book to show to the kids when they find out that there’s no Santa Claus.” And with that completely earth-shattering remark, she was onto the next table.

A bomb had been dropped. The nice, red-suited man was a lie.

I looked around the room, my face numb. No one else seemed to be in quite as big of a shock as I was. They were still reading the book, that nice, stupid, little book, without any misgivings or anxiety attacks. WHY? I thought. WHY ARE THEY ALL OK?!?! SHE JUST SAID THAT SANTA WASN’T REAL!!!!

I could hardly contain my blubbering bouts of sobbing until the end of the day. After I was let off the bus, I ran home. Mom was standing outside of the car in the driveway, unaware of my turmoil. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“MOMMEE,” I screamed, barely coherent, “SANTAISNTREAAAL!!”

“Claire! What! What are you talking about?” Mom asked, her eyebrows creased with worry.

I buried my red, snotty face into her jacket. “Santa’s not real,” I whimpered.

“Awww, sweetheart!” Mom said as she gave me a hug. I could feel her start to chuckle as her chest bounced up and down. Through my tears, I guess I had to laugh, too. Here I was, emotional, little Claire, crying about how there isn’t a Santa Claus at age thirteen.

Through the rest of the season, though, I felt naked when doing the annual celebratory acts such as lighting the advent candles or putting up ornaments on the tree. I watched my brother and sister talk about how they were going to write out their lists perfectly so that Santa would be able to determine which items on their lists they wanted the most. I would smile and nod, and then run to the other room crying.

Even while crying, though, I had to come to terms with the truth. I was kidding myself. I knew all along that he wasn’t real. Ever since I found that price tag on the CD case in my stocking a few years back. Ever since I recognized my parent’s handwriting in the letters from Santa. Ever since I realized that when my parents made us close our bedroom doors to bring down their presents to the tree, it took them an awful long time before my father’s heavy steps and Mom’s delicate pattering drifted downstairs…

But I loved Santa. Santa made me feel like a kid.

I don’t want to grow up. Not yet, I thought as my brother joyfully perused the Bionicles. After winter break started, my family and I made the traditional trip to Chicago. We always went to the same places: the stores at Water Tower Place, Virgin, Borders; now we were in the LEGO store, the shelves lined with glossy plastic casings of a bunch of itty bitty bricks that gave my brother great pleasure.

“Remember, I want these, Mom!” Grant excitedly pointed to the newest edition of the Toas. “But I already have this one. Tell Santa I don’t want that one.” The happy sparkle in his eye was enough to make me go crazy with jealousy. I want to be a kid again!

Eventually, Christmas Eve was upon us. Throughout the day I morosely thought about how my siblings would eventually learn the truth about Santa as well. Before going to the evening service at church, though, things changed. We had a candlelit dinner. Lucy and I had our hair meticulously curled and full of hair spray. Grant and Dad sat at the wooden dining table with smooth suit jackets and brilliantly festive ties. Mom had on shiny Christmas jewelry and shoes that went clomp, clomp, clomp, as she walked across the hardwood floor. In hushed tones, we asked each other for some more ham and mashed potatoes. Amongst the calm atmosphere, Lucy and Grant were anticipating for when we could get ready for Santa. Just as I was about to looked away sullenly and try to think of something else, my parents stole my attention.

“I found the Santa plate. We can put the sugar cookies on it, you know, the ones that Grant likes,” Mom said.

“We’re going to have to put out the oats quickly, it’s pretty cold out,” Dad chimed in.

My ears were ringing. Mom and Dad were excited, too! I wonder why, I thought, delving into the mashed potatoes, but it became clear to me as I remembered Christmas Eve past: The fastidiously handwritten notes to Santa. The warm milk in my hand as I set the glass on the table. The tingle of bitter cold as I place the small plate of dried oatmeal on the glittering snow. With each memory, my mashed potatoes seemed to get sweeter by the mouthful.

“Claire, are you excited to set out oats for Rudolph?” Lucy asked.

I looked up from my plate and smiled. “Yes, yes I am.”


 

On Christmas day, Grant was the first one up. He’s always been the first one up. He was downstairs and bounding across the floorboards, and I’m pretty sure it was the sound of his mammoth feet that aroused my parents from their brief slumber. They tried to sleep in as much as they could and said things like, “Oh, it’s too early to open presents,” or, “Not until I have my coffee.” Try as they might, they had to release us. My bursting brother, with my sister and I not too far behind him, rushed down stairs.

Tree aglow, the misty windows housed a celebration of pure joy. My brother’s eyes popped at seeing the bounty under the tree, and my sister’s squeals rose in pitch as she looked at our overflowing stockings. All the while, my siblings praised Santa Claus.

The oats outside were half eaten and we saw that there were hoof prints in the light snow! That’s the one thing I’ve never asked my parents about. The hoof prints outside our back door. I think I’ll leave that mystery alone.

We found that Santa drank half of his glass. Part of a cookie with little crumbles nestled on his special plate. We read the note, (it was Dad’s handwriting), and it was saying how good we all were that year. Dad turned on the Christmas music in the CD player and the kids were officially allowed to open all their gifts. After each stocking unveiling and gift unwrapping, I would glance over to Mom and Dad. Then I would smile and say, “Thanks, Santa.”

Crazy burnt the popcorn.

Remember that awesome FDR quote? You know? “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It was my favorite quote growing up.

But tell that to me when I am nearly writhing on the floor of my dorm hallway screaming, “I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT, I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT,” it won’t go over very well.

I want to make it clear that I do not condone my actions in this particular debacle. To say that this was a gross overreaction is the understatement of the century and I still get chills that this particular instance happened merely three years ago. People remember this. This was bad.

Sure, I can laugh at my emotions. But sometimes it’s a means to laugh first. Because my emotions aren’t always pretty.

My first semester of freshman year was a whirlwind. I came into Syracuse University as a tornado of ideals, emotions and the conviction that I was going to win an Oscar one day and this was my first step of getting there. I joined the SUMB and my time was filled with 18 credits of classes and practice, practice, practice. If I wasn’t marking time in the parade block I was marking off boxes on scantrons. I was also learning that, to my horror, I was way more of an emotional person than I ever realized.

Growing up, I had the hope that I would one day “get better.” But the older I got, the more that I realized that reactions weren’t going to taper off just because. When my mom and I first talked about puberty and the “emotions” associated with growing up, I bawled.

“But MOM,” I said, terrified, “this means that I’m going to be EVEN MORE EMOTIONAL?”

She did her normal consoling of hugging me and we laughed about it.

Unfortunately, my prepubescent self was correct. The peak of my emotions didn’t come during the breadth of high school, however; it was the end of my senior year of high school and my first year of college when it began to rear its ugly head.

Yes, Claire, I say to my younger self. You’ll become even more emotional.

I was going through an emotional rollercoaster like all freshmen, but I was letting my freak flag fly in front of everyone. My RA, the new people I met in band, my floormates. They all got a bit of raw, emotional, scared Claire. Everything was so new and practically no one knew me on campus and I hadn’t learned how to “reel it in” yet (something I’m still working on today).

Because I was so busy, I didn’t really make any connections on my first semester floor, and because I was in band and, well, let’s face it, a little hard to handle, I wasn’t exactly popular. My dysfunctional relationship with my floor was best represented when I burnt my popcorn in the microwave.

It was evening in the fall, so it wasn’t too cold outside. I was in my jammies. I didn’t have band practice that night. I had homework to do. I had set everything in its place and I was ready to get work done. I had prepared my workspace and my mind for a productive evening. I was feeling settled – whenever the world is a little too much, focusing on work is my go-to thing to calm myself down. So, for a lovely moment, I was at peace.

This didn’t last long.

Anyone who’s had to live with me knows that I live off of popcorn… no, correction: I exist off of popcorn. I always get it at the theater and it’s a perfect late night snack. So, as part of my homework ritual, I would prepare a bag of popcorn and do some work. I was going to do that on that very evening.

The microwave on the floor was right across the hall from my room, so I put the bag in for 2:30. Also, because I am the most impatient person on the planet, I went back to my room and fiddled around some more with my desk.

And then, the most horrifying sound started blaring throughout the dorm.

It was the fire alarm.

Everything in my being stopped and I could feel the prickly sensation of terror starting to settle in my mind. Footsteps came from outside of my door.

“Oh my god, who’s popcorn is that?”

“Oh man, are you SERIOUS?”

I don’t know why I did what I did next. I was in my room. No one knew. I could have played dumb. Damn it Claire, why didn’t you play dumb?

But the guilt was too vicious. I couldn’t live with a heavy conscious, albeit only weighed down with ashy popcorn kernels.

My mouth agape, I opened the door to the smoky, loud hallway with my RA looking concerned and two of the guy floormates looking pissed off.

There was no turning back now. My ability to moderate myself became null and void as soon as I stepped onto the scene.

“It… it was me,” I said quietly at first.

I stepped further into the hallway.

“Oh GOD IT WAS ME.”

Then I went full crazy.

I grabbed the popcorn bag and threw it on the floor.

“I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT. I’M SORRY. I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT.”

“Oh JESUS,” one of the guys said, backing away from me.

“I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT,” I yelled, crying, crouching down near the floor. “I DIDN’T MEAN TO DO IT.”

“Oh-okay, Claire,” my RA said, attempting to distract me from my meltdown. “We need to go outside, okay?”

I was so distraught that I only remember bits of the next five minutes. I somehow managed to get to the stairs before the rest of the floor came out of their rooms. I practically flew down the flights of stairs, my stomach churning at the thought of the consequences of my actions. I was going to be destroyed by everyone.

Outside, I heard the normal mutterings of people reacting to nighttime fire alarms. “God, who burnt soup?” “Ugh, how can people be so stupid?” “How hard is it to watch a microwave?” “Someone probably was toking up in the room, idiot.”

They’re all talking about me, I thought in crazed distress. They all HATE ME. They all think I’M STUPID. No one MUST KNOW IT WAS ME.

Why I thought that people would know by just looking at me, I don’t know. In fact, the more I worried, the more I started wandering around frantically, looking for my RA. So it was probably obvious that it was me.

I found the RDs and cried and explained that I burnt popcorn and that I was sorry. They led me to my RA and she consoled me, telling me that this sort of thing was normal and that I should just be more attentive next time. I started to calm down and everyone went up to the rooms.

Back in the room, I got what I had predicted: being teased behind my back. I spent doing homework listening to some of my floormates recreating my outbursts in the hallway.

“I’M SORRY OH MY GOD,” a girl shrieked.

“IT’S MY FAULT,” one of the guys shouted.

“God, she’s so crazy,” another guy said, the rest laughing in agreement.

I didn’t confront them about it. It hurt but honestly, I would’ve probably done the same thing if I saw someone have a conniption about burning popcorn. In that moment, I vowed to never go through that ordeal again.

The next semester, I burnt popcorn in my new dorm room. I had moved to do a different dorm and had two new roommates. We had a microwave in the room and the fire alarm went off.

“God DAMN it,” I said.

Fortunately, only the room’s smoke detector went off and the dorm fire alarm remained silent. My roommates came to where I was standing. When they me asked about why I got so angry, I explained to them my sordid tale. This time, though, the three of us laughed about it and I didn’t feel so bad. I made a new bag and went to my desk, ready to study the night away.

The Elementary School Series: Sports Edition

Claire in Little League

My attempt at a smile after crying during a T-ball game.

 

When I was in Elementary school, I was prone to instantaneous sensory overstimulation, especially during sporting events. These are some stories that I’m sure many of my schoolteachers still remember.

Soccer Field Heartbreak

The first crush that I ever had was when I was in third grade. Unbeknownst to me, it would be the start of a long and extremely awkward quest to find – dare I even say it – “the one.”  My poor elementary school self, unaware of the shame and embarrassment that lay before me, decided to pursue a boy. Like an ignorant fairy nymph watching between the trees of a mystic forest, I stared at him longingly every time I passed his desk to go sharpen my pencil.

“I think he moved when I walked by,” I’d say to myself as I shaved my pencil to a fine point. “He definitely moved in his seat when I walked by.”

I didn’t really have any explanation as to why I suddenly felt a certain way about this boy. I didn’t wonder why I went from viewing boys as alien beings to creatures to admire because I was in kiddie love.

I decided to be brave. In class I was known as the shy kid but during recesses, I started to actually attempt to talk to him.

“Hi,” I’d say.

“Hi,” he’d say. And then he’d go play kickball.

“That was good,” I thought, giving myself emotional support. It was progress!

The most thrilling moment of my third grade love life was when we organized a soccer game during recess. Now, I was a soccer tyke pro – nobody could defeat me at my defense. My only problem was that I was usually the smallest player on the field.

Excited to show off my moves to my potential man, I sped onto the field where the other kids were teaming up. I puffed out my shoulders and stood firmly amongst my fellow sporty kids. I was the tiniest person on the field so I had to do something. “I’m not going to be picked last this time.”

I was picked last.

It didn’t matter because my hunk was on my team. “Yay!” I thought. “I can play alongside him the whole time!”

And did I. The entire game I followed his every zigzag and diagonal cut across the field. This made him look less at me, however, and more likely to give me weirded-out looks.

“This isn’t working,” I pondered. I changed my tactics and decided to alternate between running on the opposite side of the field and then happening to make my way over back to him casually.

He was receptive to this.

“Hi!” I said, during gameplay.

“Hi Claire,” he said.

“He said my name!”

I was so delighted at my success that I didn’t notice the massive fourth grade Neanderthal of a boy running into me until it was all too late. I fell down to the ground and as quickly as you could say “penalty,” I was crying.

My bitty babe and the brute that bashed into me to the ground helped me to the side of the field and sat me down. There was an adult there watching the field and she started to console me.

“Are you okay, Claire?” my crush asked, caring so tenderly for my feelings.

“Yeah… I’ll be… okay,” I said, the sobs starting to abate.

“Okay,” he said. He turned to start running onto field. The oaf left me to run alongside him and started to jeer.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to go back to help your girlfriend?” he sneered.

To my dismay, my love interest snapped back at him emphatically.

“She’s NOT my girlfriend!!” he yelled.

That was it. There was my answer: I wasn’t his girlfriend. And everyone knew that I was shut down. I started to bawl harder.

For a few days after that, whenever I would walk by his desk to sharpen my pencil, I’d make sure to shoot him the most hateful glare that I could conjure.

“Who needs him anyway”?

 

The Harlem Globetrotters Made me Cry

Fortunately, I haven’t cried every time I’ve met a famous person, and the following story is the reason why I try my hardest to not cry.

Since I was the world’s biggest five-year-old basketball nut, I knew whom the Harlem Globetrotters were when they came to visit my elementary school. We all were gathered in the gym and sat in front of the stage as they came up front. They were tall and funny and real basketball players. I was in awe.

They were looking into the crowd for a volunteer. Out of all of the shining faces in the crowd, they picked out me.

I was ecstatic.

As I weaved my way through the crowd and walked up to the front, the audience cheered. The players asked me innocent questions like what was my name and how old I was. I was shy and quiet and didn’t say much so they decided to go ahead with the trick.

All that I needed to do was hold a pencil and they were going to spin a ball on top of it. I always thought that spinning a ball on your fingers was the coolest thing ever so this made my head feel like it was going to explode.

But it was too much. I had gone from ecstatic to the emotional edge when the crowd started to cheer. The ball was spinning on the pencil in my hand, the gym was suddenly extremely loud, and everyone was looking at me.

I started wailing so loudly that my kindergarten teacher scooped me up and took me outside.

She knew what was going to happen the moment I started heading up to the stage.

My mom recalls: “When the teacher called home afterwards I could see the whole experience play out before it happened. It was only a matter of time. She had said, ‘I had hoped. I really, really did – I was rooting for her. But it was just too much.’”

After my teacher talked to my mom, I went back in later and sat quietly in the back where I was comfortable.

Whenever people like to brag about their celebrity meetings, I always know that I have an ace in the hole. I can always say, “I met the Harlem Globetrotters and they made me cry.”

 

“I Will PERSEVERE!”

I was going to do it. I was going to unleash my fears. I was going to battle my demons. I was going to overcome the mountain of self-doubt and self-deprecation with triumph and everyone was going to know it. I was having a meltdown, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

“I will PERSEVERE!” I yelled up to the ceiling.

My parents enjoy this particular moment in my emotional career. They would often quote “I will persevere” when I would be crying about something or other and it’d make me laugh. The important thing to note is that I do not remember any of this. I must have blocked it out of my mind considering it was so… out there.

It was during one of my community house team basketball games. Something that the coach and my parents would tell me frequently that basketball was a game of movement.

“You can’t dwell on the fact that you’ve missed a layup or if you pass it to the wrong person,” they’d say. “You just have to move on and keep going.”

I took these words to heart and decided to try to not be as affected during the games.

This particular game, though, I was making a lot of mistakes.The problem was that during the first couple of years that kids could be on the basketball teams, the refs didn’t call all of the penalties. Now that I was in fourth grade, they became more strict with the rules.

The ref often tweeted his whistle at me.

“Traveling!” he’d say.

The gameplay would resumed but soon he would tweet at me again.

“Double dribble!”

On defense, I would be better. Or so I thought.

Tweet!

“That’s a defensive foul!” he’d yell.

The last straw was when I got a foul for standing too close to the free throw net. As I was struggling to keep it together on the court, the ref went up to me.

“Just don’t worry about it, it’s just a foul,” he said.

Little did he know that telling me “don’t worry about it” was only going to make me worry about it even more.

That wasn’t going to stop me, though.

The other team carried the ball down the court. I ran behind, struggling, before stopping in the middle. I clenched my hands and raised my hands a la Platoon. Emotional catharsis. Redemption.

I unleashed my battle cry, enunciated perfectly for everyone to hear.

“I will PERSEVERE.”

This shook the crowd a little bit. There was some murmuring and “awws.” My stunned parents, however, burst out laughing.

“We didn’t want to seem like we were laughing at you!” my Mom says. “But it was so funny! I mean, what little kid says something like that? It’s something that I wish I had on video.”

Safe to say that I don’t say “I will persevere” every time I try to get past one of my moments. Although, I am interested to see what peoples’ reactions would be the next time I get frustrated during an exam or a job interview and I exclaim “I will persevere!”

 

Why would you yell at a kid during a T-ball game?

During a recent visit with my grandparents, I asked my Pop Pop about a picture of me on his desk.

“This one, now this one is a favorite,” Pop Pop said, chuckling as he picked up the picture.

My face is distorted – my one eye squinting and my mouth is in a bizarre “oh” formation. My baseball cap loosely fits the top of my head as I hold a trophy in an oversized uniform.

“You were crying and we asked you to smile and this is what you did!” Pop Pop said.

My parents were on a trip, so my Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came up for the week to take care of me and my siblings. My last T-ball game was during this week so Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came to watch me play. I’ve always liked baseball and, while I wasn’t the best at it, I did do a pretty good job at catcher or shortstop from time to time.

Back then, that didn’t matter though. I was just excited to be on the field. Anything was possible on the field. You didn’t know where the ball was going to end up and that was the exciting part! And it was always the best when it happened to land right in front of you because – yes! You were in control! You got to choose how the game went on! Also, I was really looking forward to the trophy at the end of the season.

As any kid knows, though, it’s hard to be part of all the action when you’re in the outfield.

As the innings went on, I was always attentive and engaged with what was going on. A single hit here, an out there. It was still all very exciting and I was still very happy to be out there, but there was something that was troubling me if just for a little bit. I had hardly touched the ball and not once had I ran onto the infield. As much as I was having fun, I wanted to be part of the game.

Late in the game, a kid at bat hit the ball in my general direction and I darted for the infield to try to make the play.

“CLAIRE!” my coach yelled. “DO NOT go for that ball! STAY in the outfield!”

Because I’ve always been a rule follower and sensitive to any time I’ve gone outside the line, I immediately stopped rushing forward and started crying. This only further annoyed my coach. He called me over and took me off the field. I went to the side telling my Grandparents that I couldn’t handle being in the game.

“He was just a little insensitive, I think,” Grandma said. “I mean you were just a little kid.”

“I mean, why would you yell at a kid in T-ball?” my Pop Pop exclaimed.

Despite my coach’s insensitivity, and my meltdown, I still came away with my end of year trophy in hand, and my Pop Pop got one of his favorite pictures of me. In a sort of way, this pattern has been consistent in my life since.

My professor’s dog ate my muffin. I cried.

Did you ever have a rough start to your morning?

Did a dog ever eat your muffin in class?

Did you cry about it?

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about something. This is the story that I use to truly test people, usually people who don’t know me very well. I tell this as an icebreaker with acquaintance-potential-friend types. Will this person handle being my friend? I think to myself, as they say, “yeah, sure, let me hear it!”

I also tell this to guys that I’m interested in – you know, when you go on those pre-dates and you tell each other stories to give off that I’m-uber-datable impression. Luckily, I have the art of giving off the wrong impression boiled down to a science and this story is merely just part of the experimentation. I look at his soft eyes and slight smirk and I know what he’s thinking, but I think to myself, Yeah… but will you want to handle me?

And, as a sick sort of challenge for myself, I think, I bet not.

This horrifies my mom.

“Claire, it’s funnier when they know you,” she pleads. “Let them get to know you first… Please.”

But I can’t help it. It’s almost as if I feel like I owe them the truth, you know? It’s not just because weird things like this happen to me a lot… it’s also because of my reaction to these sorts of situations.

The date was nondescript and the morning dew on the grass was average. It was just a normal day; I was getting ready to go to a normal 9:30 am class and, surprisingly, I was not running late. I strutted confidently into the dining hall. Nary a soul was near the pastries.

This kingdom is mine, I thought, drinking in the possibilities.

I looked at the shelves and the potential breakfast delicacies bathing in fluorescent light, their sweet smells pulling me in. I wanted it all.

But then I saw it. It was a blueberry muffin with some clear sugar sprinkles placed haphazardly on a glazed top. A black paper muffin cup hugged its gooey core.

My precious, I thought, channeling my inner Gollum.

As I put the one to rule all muffins in my outer backpack pouch and walked into class, I would soon come to find that I had gambled too heavily. Too succulent of a treat was not destined in my stomach.

It would be in the stomach of a Rottweiler.

“Isn’t she just the cutest??” my professor gushed. I sat down in my seat, stiff, and placed my backpack on the table.

“Yeah,” I said.

I lamented that the day that I was early to class was the day that my professor brought in the type of dog that ran over me while I was a kid. The memory still persists as one of true abject horror. I was standing innocently in a soccer field, not even a tween, and then all of a sudden a sleek bear-like figure stampeded over my small body.

And now one of them was sniffing my bag.

I pulled it closer to me. I had to protect my breakfast treasure.

Minutes passed and the rest of the class filed in, muffin-less and dark circles glowing under their eyes.

I am queen, I thought.

Until the pop quiz.

Why would she give a pop quiz on my day of muffin triumph? A perfectly good morning was now soured as I apathetically looked at the questions. I had… glazed… over the chapter.

Glazed, heh heh, I thought. Stupid jokes would pull me through.

But I was wrong. By the end of the quiz, I was drained and I overwhelmed. It was MUFFIN DAY. I thought. I couldn’t just have one day of muffin-y bliss?

And so I did what I had started doing in first grade whenever I felt like crying over bewildering circumstances. I went to the bathroom.

I didn’t cry this time, though, but it did help calm me down. The quiz wasn’t worth that many points and I would just actually read the chapter the next time. It would be okay.

If only I could have guessed what the next two minutes of my life had in store for me.

First off, I was already a little shaken with the dog and the quiz and all. But walking into a room of laptops simultaneously playing George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words stand-up bit was pure disorientation. Later and after the madness, I would be told that it was because the projector wasn’t working.

The echo-y shouts of profanity paled, however, in comparison to the bizarreness of my professor just losing it at the sight of me. I mean it – she was practically in tears watching me tip toe to my seat.

“Claire… Claire I am so sorry,” she said, gasping for breath between laughter.

I had been so focused on the laptops that I had failed to notice the carnage on my table. Crumbs… crumbs were everywhere. My backpack askew, the dog was nuzzling her nose into…

Oh no.

My tablemates witnessed my reaction and started to laugh too, bemused at my look of genuine disappointment, surprise and anger. I knew that they weren’t really laughing at me, but it didn’t help. I’ve had to learn over the years that there’s a reason why my peers can pick on me easily (I react and I am sometimes – if not most times – very weird) and that I shouldn’t always blame them, but in this moment, that logic went out the door.

In that moment, I was back in elementary school.

My adult consciousness shut down and before I could process what was going on I was bawling. This made the room dead silent except for the weird echoes of George Carlin bouncing around in the room. With everyone dumbstruck and staring at me, I hightailed it out of there.

I felt like I was coming back down to Earth from wherever the hell I go whenever I get like that while I was crying in a stall in the bathroom and calling my mom. With the phone ringing, my first sane thoughts came through my mind.

What do I even tell Mom? Why am I even calling her? What just happened?

“Hi Claire!” she said, sunny and blissfully unaware of my current state of mind.

“Hi Mom,” I said, garbled.

“Claire… Claire what’s wrong?”

My mom has told me that she can tell within the first two seconds of a phone conversation if I am fine or not. “I usually listen for an echo,” is what she says. “That’s how I know you’re in the bathroom.”

“Mom… I was in class, and it was the professor’s dog, and I went to the bathroom, and it ate my muffin.”

I wish I could actually type the true iterations of words that came out of my mouth because it did not sound like that.

“Wait, what? Did the dog eat a muffin? Did it die?”

“No… it ate my muffin.”

“It… what?” Her voice was becoming less concerned and more incredulous.

“Yeah… it ate my muffin. I got it from the dining hall.”

“What?!” she practically shouted, holding back her laughter.

I started to giggle. “Um, yeah, I guess it’s kind of weird.”

She didn’t hold back this time.

“Oh my gosh Claire… I thought the dog had died or something! Oh my gosh! So what did you do?”

“I ran out of the room crying.”

“Oh my gosh!” It was the sort of voice she used only when she was laughing so hard that she was crying. After a few minutes of bewildered laughing, we both calmed down.

“Okay, well, you should go back to class then. Maybe they’ll know not to bring dogs in the school anymore!” she said.

Feeling better, I hung up. I washed my hands and dried off my tears. And then the pit of my stomach dropped.

I have to go back in there.

I am no stranger to public crying and to public humiliation. Again, another art form I have mastered. But this… this was different. My reaction hadn’t just been weird; it had been jarring.

As I walked back in the class, everyone, and I mean everyone, turned to look at me. The dog was back at my backpack and my tablemates in stunned silence shooed the dog away as quickly as they could, afraid of another outburst from me. I sat down. The class continued in awkward, muffin-less silence.

My world was salvaged when the class finally was over. I tried to scoot out as fast I could but my professor got to me first.

“Claire… I am so, so sorry.”

“Really, you don’t need to feel bad about it,” I said, nearly crying again. Why am I crying NOW?

I thought I could save just a tiny bit of dignity by playing up the fact that a Rottweiler really did run me over as a kid.

“Oh my gosh… I should have known,” she said.

“It’s really fine, really,” I said, one foot out of the door already.

“Take this,” she said, and she stuffed a five-dollar bill into my hand.

Before I could say, “oh no, you shouldn’t have to do that,” she was out the door as quickly as the Roadrunner darts out of frame.

Stunned, I walked out into the late morning day and made my way to the library like a zombie. I was going to attempt to get work done before my next class, but deep down I knew that any attempt of brain functionality would be futile.

Until I saw the café counter.

Next to the deli line was a pastry basket. It didn’t have a blueberry muffin, but it had something better. A coffee cake muffin.

It was like I was making the connection in my mind for the first time that money could buy food.

I… could still have… a muffin.

I beamed at the cashier who exchanged my cash for muffin and I didn’t mind the odd look she gave me.

“Thank you… Thank you so much,” I whispered to her.

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said.

I walked away and found a perfect study spot. The chair was comfortable and books and windows surrounded me.

And, gingerly… respectfully… I started to eat my muffin, never feeling as happy as I did in that moment.