“Well, one day, when you’re smart enough to be invited to a summer program at Oxford,
you can travel to England too.” I almost choked as the words came flying out of my mouth.
Where did that come from? My younger sister and I had only been teasing about potential
summer trips, and all of a sudden, I was throwing words as if to hit a mark.
I watched Ally’s face fall for just a second before she said, “Okay”, gathered up her
homework, and walked upstairs. “Okay.” It was her response anytime she was angry with me. I
struggled to hold my sharp tongue even on good days, while Ally had an impressive control of
her emotions that she flaunted with single-word responses. If she fought back vocally, I wouldn’t
feel the guilt slice through me. But Ally was smart. She knew how I hated people dismissing my
remarks, good or bad, as if they had no effect. So she said, “Okay,” and walked away.
I snatched my apple off the table and threw my body down on the kitchen chair. I wasn’t
really mad at her. We had been teasing, and I was the one to take it too far. Yes, I had earned my
trip to England, and the thought of others going without doing any work made me jealous.
Nonetheless, I knew how Ally compared herself to me, instead of realizing all the talents she had
to offer. I had no excuse to throw that in her face; we were already struggling enough with this
last move. The hurtful words rushed through my mind again, and a familiar feeling washed over
me. It wasn’t anger I felt. It was a different feeling, one I knew all too well.
Reading has always been my best friend. It is my escape when I need a break from
friends, sports, or homework. I love how simple words on a page open my mind to new people
and places and times, lives completely different from my own. Fiction—of any kind—has
always been my personal choice; authors develop worlds with such vivid words that I feel like I
am there, whether or not it is real. I believe in only buying books for fear that I will want to
experience a specific desert sun or crowded London street, and I will need a particular novel at
easy access to take me there.
My biggest problem with the printed word is that I want to be the characters I read about
in my books. I never dressed up like Katniss or tried to jump off of trains like Tris. But I
immersed myself in Greek mythology when I read Percy Jackson in 6th grade. I started to talk
like Abilene when The Help drew me into its world. I emulated Elizabeth’s stubborn personality,
believing my Mr. Darcy must be just around the corner. The phases only lasted as long as the
few days I spent in the pages of each novel, longing to be part of that world. Still, somewhere in
the lines of Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia, I must have forgotten that my life is not
actually a novel, where the end results are visible in fine black ink on the last page. I must have
forgotten that I am not an author, where I can perfectly plan the outcome of choices.
I must have forgotten that I am not a character on a printed page.
For those of us who have moved eight times in eighteen years, we understand that some
moves are harder than others. My worst move was number six, welcoming me to Chester
Springs, Pennsylvania. The name is deceptively cheerful. Middle school is universally brutal,
but moving in the middle of seventh grade is self-inflicted torture.
Lionville Middle School placed me with a guide named Michaela, who had also moved
from Wisconsin, only a year before. Administration thought they were clever: “The coincidences
are endless!” Except for one. I was a lunch packer. Michaela was a lunch buyer.
After a full month, I was still consistently keeping my head low during lunch, waiting for
Michaela to come sit by me, bringing along her other friends. I just couldn’t keep my head low
I looked up to see Annabelle looming over me. Five feet and a whopping eleven inches,
a year younger than every other student, and more opinionated than your average sports fan on
game day, she was so far not my favorite person. Her direct attitude may have reminded me a bit
of myself, but I was too downright intimidated to notice.
“Hey, I saw you sitting here, and I wondered if you wanted to come sit with my friends
over there. We have plenty of space.” The smile didn’t reach her mouth, let alone her eyes, but
the sympathy did as she pointed to a table of about 12 laughing girls I didn’t know.
Rule number one to moving: don’t give in to pity offers. Rule number two: don’t show
your intimidation. “Oh no, I have friends coming to find me. They’re just getting food.”
She looked skeptical. “Well… if you change your mind, we’re over there.” And she
walked away, indifferent to my pathetic excuse.
Thankfully, Michaela showed up quickly, and I never took Annabelle up on her offer. I
almost forgot the encounter. Almost.
Sophomore year was my high school glory road. I had figured out the rhythm of school, I
had advanced in my dance studio, and I felt more beautiful than ever before. I had several friends
with whom I was very close, yet I still got along well with almost everyone. But, because
personal flaws are common knowledge in high school students, I was more than aware that I did
not have that same friend group everyone else professed. I could always find Friday night plans.
But, I didn’t have a group to call my own.
There were some girls I really liked in class: Natalie, Sarah, and the same Annabelle who
had intimidated me three years earlier. The four of us tended to finish our class work early and
spend the rest of the time laughing. We became friends, but the kind of friends who only hung
out at school or a random birthday party. They already had a large clique of closely-knit girls—
the same 12 girls I recognized from an awkward middle school moment I had almost forgotten. I
reflected often on that encounter in seventh grade, wondering if a different choice then would
have given me a friend group now. But all the wishing in the world couldn’t make me a real part
of the group. I thought, “if only I could have been their friend in middle school.”
In third grade, we started learning how to print in cursive writing. Mrs. Ballard insisted
that we had to perfect this writing because after this year, our papers would only be accepted in
I haven’t written a single paper in cursive since third grade.
Before computers, I imagine most students did submit essays in that looping, lilting
script. But with the growing digital age, cursive writing is dying. It’s not hard to wonder why.
Typing gives writers a new power. Instead of scratching through long lines of prose and
making a basketball game out of crumpled papers and a trash can, it can take five seconds to
delete hours, even days, of work. Whole passages can be copied and pasted with only a button.
There’s no need to deliberate over what to keep and what to trash- a single backspace, and it is
all gone. In a way, typing allows us to become masters of change. At the end, we print out our
novel, and it’s neat and clean and ordered exactly as we want. It looks perfect.
Having written plenty of papers and essays in my short 19 years, I know this: pencil and
pen are slow and ineffective compared to typing. It is no wonder that books are typed, showing
only ease and perfection. However, when I see it in hard copy, I forget that. I forget the revision
and mistakes that happened on the road to perfection. I forget that maybe the author didn’t
always know exactly where the story was going.
I forget that controlling the sequence of events is not as easy as the click of a button, and
the end result isn’t always as clear as flipping to the last page of a neatly written novel.
The one positive thing I had from the moment I moved to Pennsylvania was Jake. Even
in seventh grade, I had my eye on him. By high school, my heart sped up when he entered the
room, and I would lap the entire cafeteria before returning to my small lunch table in the back,
just hoping for a glimpse of him. I didn’t know him well, but I knew he was handsome,
intelligent, and respectful. More importantly, he was a mystery, and I wanted to understand his
quiet nature, especially around me. It started slow: two years of penciled snail mail before we
talked comfortably in public. Our friendship then developed from writing into discussing
books—that more perfectly printed word—running, and eventually dancing together. By junior
year, I still didn’t understand Jake completely. However, he drove the half hour to my house to
help me study physics, and he jump-started my car when I killed the battery. I should have been
thrilled when I noticed the way he looked at me. Except for rule number three to moving: four
years in one place is too long.
I found out in October that we would be moving in March, and I told Jake first. That was
when the schemes started. I could live in his backyard tree house. I could stay with another
friend. There had to be a way to remain in Pennsylvania.
There wasn’t. I don’t know if we spent so much time scheming that we didn’t notice we
were losing time. We now had a scheduled move date: March 17th, and I was losing hope that my
feelings would ever be recognized. I kept wishing that he would just kiss me, but Jake was a
gentleman and wouldn’t touch a girl who wasn’t his. It was February 17 when he came over to
go sledding on a snow day. We were sitting on the top of the hill when he looked at me and said
in one breath, “I know you’re moving, and we don’t have much time left, and with how we date
right now, it wouldn’t change anything except put a title on it, but I would always regret it if I
didn’t do something. Will you be my girlfriend?”
I still think of the 28 days we shared with a smile on my face. Somewhere in them, the
words “I love you” were spoken. With that, there was no hope of returning to friendship when
March 17th came. And March 17th did come, despite my fervent prayers that it would not. As we
drove out of Pennsylvania, tears washed away my makeup. I thought about the letters we’d
written before, and how long distance wouldn’t be that different. But another thought nagged at
me. I had spent so long being shy, being slow to admit my feelings, and because of it, I had only
had one month with Jake. I could have had so much more time as his girlfriend, in person.
I was always the biggest supporter of pencils, even once computers became popular.
Writing in my own handwriting felt more personal, more me. My favorite type was the Paper
Mate mechanical pencils. I constantly had to refill the graphite, but their erasers were long white
sticks of redemption. No matter how much I erased, I never made it through one whole eraser.
I never understood how my peers could write in pen. Pen is permanent. Pen doesn’t have a
redemption stick. Pen glides too easily in your hands. Pen is messy. Pen shouts, “I made a
mistake and can’t fix it.” Pen tells people that you cannot change your mind.
It wasn’t until my sister passed through the kitchen as I was writing in my journal one
night, not long after we had left Pennsylvania for our newest adventure, that my thinking
changed. “Pencil fades with time,” she said, “Unless you get every single page of your five
bazillion journals laminated, it will be too discolored for anyone who might actually care to read
it in 100 years.”
I brushed off her comment, but I realized something that night. Pen is permanent. Pen
says, “I am not perfect, but I am confident, and I don’t care if you see my mistakes.” Pen allows
you to think faster, write faster. Pen doesn’t allow you to delete the mistakes like they never
happened; instead, it leaves a remnant of the changes, evidence of improvement and reminders of
old ideas. Scratching out is messy, but it doesn’t destroy the story. Some would say it says more
about the author and her personality than the perfectly printed pencil or carefully calculating
computer ever could.
I sit at my desk today, the pen I hold dangling precariously over the clean paper. I am not
sure what to say. What does one say to an old friend who has to leave his mission early for
reasons he won’t quite explain to you? I drop my pen for a moment. He is home now. Eighteen
months early, but he is home. Isn’t my work done? I did write him for those first—and only—six
months of his mission, after all.
The feeling from this morning washes over me again, reminding me that he needs a
friend right now, someone who will listen and understand. If I don’t write him, he may feel
lonely, and I may eventually wonder what good I could have done if I had written. So, I take a
deep breath, pick up the pen, and begin writing.
An hour later, I have two full pages. There are at least a dozen crossed out phrases and
smudges, places where I am still not sure I said the right words. I don’t know how he will receive
this letter. But I fold the pages and lick the addressed envelope, sealing its fate. As I set it aside,
the stack of blank paper stares up at me, and new ideas are already flowing quickly and
chaotically through my brain. I lift my tool back up, registering my newly acquired comfort with
plastic and ink.
I no longer write my life like a beautifully typed novel. I write in pen.