A Story from Summer

BLOG FOR OCTOBER WEEK 3

What with being caught up in the hectic midst of school and college applications and decisions and more school, I felt like the retelling of an almost forgotten summer story was, with out a doubt, much needed. So, here goes.

As my sweaty palms slipped away from the rope and I began falling through the air, the only coherent thought running through my head was, Wait, am I dreaming? This couldn’t actually be happening? Right? I mean, right?? But the impact against the pine needled floor brought a bit more reality to the present situation. It had all started with a tree, a swing, a hill, five friends, and a love of exhilaration.

It was the summer after 8th grade and my sisters and I were staying in Pinecrest, a beautiful little lake in California, with some family friends. This is tradition, but this year was different. This year involved a rope swing, and a little more courage than we’d each had the year before. Every afternoon, with chores done, lemonade stand finished, and the sun too far down to continue swimming; Cal, Beth, Margie, Olivia, Erin, and I would traipse through the woods and up the hill to the infamous, newly built rope swing. You could, of course, merely sit on it and swing, but we found more entertainment in stretching it further up the hill, and then jumping onto it midair. This way we could reach exhilarating heights; and on such summer days, nothing beats the pulse of adrenaline beating through your veins.

Each day we grew braver and braver, jumping from higher spots on the hill, then swinging up to 20, maybe even 25 feet. This one evening, the parents were having cocktails at the cabin down the hill, and as soon as we arrived at the party, we proceeded up the hill. When it was my turn I brought the swing to my chest level, a height I had attempted and succeeded with before. Trying not to let any nerves get to me, I stepped, pulled, and jumped. But this time, instead of landing on the smooth plank of wood, I only met air. Not a cushion of air, but a thin, mean vastness that had no chance at protecting me. My leg had bumped the seat out of the way, and I was dangling by my hands. Did the swing care?  No, of course not. I continued swinging through air, with no time to come to terms with the situation.

My hands fatefully slipped and I began the descent. People say that it feels slower when you are falling, I can assure you that that is most definitely untrue. In a matter of seconds I collided with the ground, bounced, and crumpled. I knew my sisters would worry, so I managed a quick, “I’m okay!”  Then I began to cry. I wasn’t badly hurt, but I was most definitely shocked. Within a few moments, adults began running up the hill to help me, shouting, “Oh my god, are you okay?” Wishing their legs would move faster. They made sure I didn’t have a concussion or any horrible injuries. I took a couple minutes to rise, observing a large boulder merely a foot away from my head.  I shakily walked back to the cabin, bark in my braces, elbows and knees scraped up, and a few cuts on my face and neck.

I washed up and soon we were laughing about the incident. I didn’t fully recover for a few days though. Each night I had nightmares about falling, and falling, and falling. Talking about the swing made me feel nauseous. The accident had practically given me a phobia of falling. However, I’m fine now. My only battle wound is a “C” shaped scar above my knee and every time I glance at it, I trace over it with my finger, and think to myself I will conquer that swing…next summer.

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College App Season

October and November of one’s senior year of high school generally carry a universal meaning – college applications. I can honestly say that I never realized how many times I would be required to type out my personal information (I think I’ve memorized my SS number by now), check and re-check the dates on my parents’ college diplomas, or fill out every high school class I’ve taken and look up the corresponding grades received in such a short time period. I used to think that the idea of a Common App was genius, until I realized that at least half the schools I’m applying to don’t use Common App and that I would still have to spend hours filling out forms.

After all the tedious forms I always find myself rather relieved to reach the essay section of an application. It’s the section where I can make myself stand out, where I can harness my writing abilities to show these universities who Laretta Johnson is and that despite the lower than a 4.0 GPA marring my transcripts I may be a worthy selection for their school. Being able to pull on past experiences and write about future goals is almost a therapy of sorts and it’s a process that I truly enjoy.

As I send off each application it fills me with the biggest set of mixed emotions. I’m left feeling hopeful yet possibly inadequate, excited and nervous. But most of all it leaves me caught up in the dreams of what next year holds. At 17 I feel like the possibilities are endless – what I want to study and where I want to be are completely up in the air. Yet I’m caught in a paradox because while those possibilities may be endless, they are also limited by ACT and SAT scores, my GPA and various extra curricular activities. That and the fact that my decision will have to be made in just months, a time frame I’m not entirely comfortable with.

But for now I’ll let my ambitions fuel my work ethic for the year and look forward to the freedom, independence, and excitement that my next year away will hold for me!

Back in the USA…

So I’ve been home from Germany for almost 3 months now and although this post is extremely overdue, I’m happy to finally be writing it. If I’d thought that it was hard to be away from Chico for 11 months then what I was feeling this past October and November is absolutely nothing compared to the homesickness I now have for Germany, my wonderful host family and my neighbors and friends – both exchange friends and German ones alike. It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy being back home with some of my greatest friends, living it up this senior year and dreaming big about where my future will take me and which college I’ll spend the next chapter of my life at, but everything has returned to an ordinary, almost mundane, sort of routine. I’m an American in America and there is absolutely nothing interesting or unique about that.

When I think back on my days in Germany I’m faced with the most bittersweet of emotions. In my writing, thinking, and lifestyle I notice how much my time away really changed me and I am so grateful that I was willing to take such a risk my junior year. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much, built up so many amazing relationships, seen so many places, or learned so much about the value of culture and conversation before. All of the memories are something I’ll hold on to for forever and they make me so incredibly happy.

The bitter part of the bittersweet comes in when I’m met with the terrible, crushing feeling that seems to envelope me every time I realize that there is no going back to that incredible, blissful year. It doesn’t matter if I return to Germany or not, although that is something I desperately want to do at some point in my life. The point is that I will never be there for 11 months again at the age of 16, living with the Hucks and going to the Friedrich-List Schule. I won’t have my CBYX family of relatable  exchange students there with me and it’s likely that I won’t even live in the same place there.  Knowing that I’ve been back for such a substantial amount of time now and that I’m still missing Germany so much isn’t the best feeling… I feel like most everyone else has moved on to the next year of their life while I’m stuck dreaming of the best year of my life.

I flip through my photo album and scroll through the last year’s Instagram posts and I know that nothing can replace what I experienced. It’s hard and it hurts, but at the same time I know that if it hadn’t been such a finite thing I never would have come to appreciate it as much. So I’ll have to move on, while appreciating the numerous friendships and memories I was given. The last year opened the world to me, I no longer feel as though studying abroad in college or eventually living overseas is as intangible or unreachable as it did before. Germany gave me the confidence, willpower, and motivation to truly see the world and I can’t wait for the opportunity to travel again, to learn another new language and culture, or perhaps to pick up the familiar rhythm of German life once again.

For now, seeing as I can’t change much about living here in Chico for the remainder of my high school career, I will strive to apply what I’ve learned from Germany to the rest of my life. I think that the most important and prevalent thing at this moment of my life is the way that the Germans know how to enjoy their life, and how to truly live rather than simply exist. I rarely have a bit of spare time here in America, my afternoons, evenings and nights are filled with extra classes, work, extracurricular activities, and, above all, homework. In Germany, I didn’t do so much. And with the extra time that I did have I was able to enjoy myself and everything the world has to offer so much more thoroughly. From the soccer games to the “Grill Abenden” with my beautiful neighbors, to the nights spent out late in Kassel to the long conversations over coffee and cake that I had almost daily with my host mom. I learned to appreciate the people around me and the little things in life, rather than constantly focusing on how I was doing in school and how my future was going to turn out.

Over here, everything is so rushed and competitive and I’m growing more and more tired of it. Why can’t we just pause for a second, breathe, look around us, and realize that things are pretty great?