These entries from July's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "July Writing Challenge."
Not all those who wander are lost
Her eyes are set on the horizon, where the sky meets the rough, grey sea. She looks different than she did those many months ago, but her eyes are still the same, still of that greenish-grey colour, still showing all of the emotions she so desperately tried to hide. Just now they seem wiser, stronger, more experienced. Those eyes have seen a world, a world that’s equally beautiful and terrifying. Those eyes have stared into others and seen their soul. Those eyes have visited places many of us can only dare to dream of.
“You okay?” I ask her, softly pulling at the sleeve of her hoodie. She turns around to look at me, her blonde hair swaying in the wind.
“Yeah, I think so,” she says. And then, after a while of thinking, “Just… I never thought I’d be back here.”
I sigh and take a look at the old, familiar castle that’s rising out of the cliffs right in front of us. “Yeah, me neither.”
The steps on the wooden staircase creek as we walk upon them, but even years later, we still know exactly which ones we have to skip to make it to the top without any major injuries. The staircase ends abruptly in a little tower on the top — a small, round room with only a gridded window that overlooked the ocean and parts of the cliffs. Without a second thought, she walks into the right corner of the room and lets her fingers run over one of the wooden poles. I don’t even have to look at it to know what words she is tracing, but I still step closer to see them.
“Not all those who wander are lost…”
Those words. Those seven words, carved into the wood in our favourite hideout place when we were children. No one could ever suspect what these words started. Neither did I when she carved them in there, years ago, the little pocketknife steady and strong inside a little child’s fingers. “Let’s go,” she had said. I didn’t understand her at first, thinking she was talking about going back home. “No, not home. Let’s leave this place, once and for all.”
And that’s what we did. Until this day, I don’t know what made me come with her. Perhaps it was her voice, describing all of the great adventures we’d have. Perhaps it was her smile, trusting and kind but full of mischief. Perhaps it was the fact that deep down I knew, if I didn’t go with her, she’d still leave, still go and never turn back. Perhaps the only reason I went was because I wouldn’t have survived it here without her. I’ve asked myself many times why I said yes, why I trusted her blindly, why I went off with her into this big, unknown world without looking back. But not once in all these years did I regret it.
Her eyes may look wiser, but so do mine. Because with them, I have seen it all. They have looked at the endless ocean at cape town, the geysers in Iceland, the soft sand on the beaches in Thailand, and the green hills and cliffs of Ireland. They have seen people kiss on the streets of Paris or fight on the Empire State Building. They have seen the dancing bodies of thousands in the clubs of Berlin and the emptiness of a lonely island in Greece. Not once have they looked back here.
A smile forms on her face as she stands up and looks at me. In her face, I see all the memories I have made, she has made, we have made. She shakes her head and laughs silently. “We were certainly never lost, were we?” she asks. I shake my head, although I don’t agree completely. We were lost souls, looking for a purpose. But we’ve found ours. Not all those who wander are lost… but perhaps everyone else is.
The Way to Do It
They tell you from the moment you’re born that there’s a way to do it. A rather specific way to do it, but don’t worry, if you do just as they say, it will turn out all right. And here is what they say: Play sports, get good grades, go to college, get a job, meet someone, get married, have babies, raise the babies (sports, good grades, etc), send them to college, make sure they secure jobs, meet someones, have babies, and send their kids to college. And after all that, maybe—just maybe—you can do as you please.
They tell you this again and again. They tell you the story of your life so very frequently because they know that if you repeat something enough times, it will become true. They tell you it so often that the future becomes not something you imagine or dream about, but something you learn and study—as if in preparation for some sort of final exam.
Essentially, your future becomes as fixed and unchangeable as your past. It’s been mapped out in meticulous detail, and we’re talking permanent marker, not pencil. We’re talking the sort of map that dictates your Plan with a capital P. And all you’re left with is the vague sense that something has been stolen from you, right under your nose, but you’re not sure what it is—just that it was important and now it’s gone. (What was stolen was the space on that once-empty map. It was supposed to be yours to fill.)
It’s kind of like that trick where you yank the tablecloth off really fast, and all the plates stay right where they were on the table. Everything is exactly the same except for the fact that the very surface the plates rest upon has changed in a blink—so fast you could have missed it. That’s kind of what it feels like to have your future stolen. Life progresses as smoothly as ever by measure of appearance, but you know something’s not quite right because the very ground you’re standing upon doesn’t feel as friendly as it used to.
These are the thoughts spiraling through my head now—thoughts I probably should have been having a long time ago. Because look at me now: I did just as they said, followed the Plan to a T. I’m a freshman at Princeton, majoring in business. Because the deal was that if I made it into an Ivy League school, life would be just peachy, real grand. That’s what the Plan said. But life was not peachy, not at all. In fact, I didn’t even like college, not a wit. I was learning about things I didn’t care about, same as high school, but this time I was doing so alongside people who didn’t care about me.
So, really, I did the only thing left to do. I flew off to California in the middle of finals. And I’m quite sure I won’t be passing my first semester. Or any semester after that. To sum up, in the words of anyone anywhere, I had it all, and I threw it all away.
I tried to care, really I did. I imagined in great detail the way my mom’s face would pinch when she found out and what my dad would say. I told myself it was a disappointment they might never recover from, that they’d never see me the same way, never brag about me at Christmas dinners again. But the thing about deeply unhappy people is that they aren’t sad, they’re numb. So I found I couldn’t care about dropping out of college; I truly couldn’t.
And that brings us to now. A moment comprised entirely of an empty beach and me: a girl with bleached blonde hair, a jean jacket, black leggings, and backpack holding nothing but my wallet, phone charger, and a half-eaten bag of mini donuts. Me, the barefoot girl, walking alone on the beach, feeling like the footprints I leave in the sand might actually mean something, like I could mean something if I could just figure a few things out.
Me, here, I guess, because I’m searching for my real future. Not the future I was told to have but the future I was meant to have. Something not so cut-and-dried. Something that can’t be mapped out so far as twenty years. Something that makes my eyes widen instead of droop. I’m searching for the Answer, I guess. You know the one. The why-am-I-here-and-what-should-I-do-and-will-it-mean-anything answer. The Answer with a capital A.
And I’ve decided that the first step to finding the Answer is to ditch the Plan.
Romance novels are stupid. They fill your mind and heart with all these beliefs and lies and tricks. They make you believe in abstract things like fate, like soulmates. They never end with the couple breaking up. Never. They operate under the illusion that these relationships last.
That they stick.
As if these high school girls with miraculously clear skin and divorced parents and outcast boys with their “misunderstood” shtick are going to get married, because it was perfect and right and lovely.
I kick at the icy, liquid sand, watching it flick away in clumps and worm itself between my toes. It’s cold out, and the beach is empty, which is why I came. Usually it’s flooded with tourists. Old abandoned castle, perfect vacation spot, I guess.
I used to come here with Him. He would sprinkle sand in my hair, and I would laugh, mock-affronted, and punch him playfully in the chest just to feel how solid he was. He would gasp, falling over in the sand, and I would tumble over too and kiss him as an apology.
He tasted like sea salt and peppermint.
I was undone by this boy, unraveled and disillusioned by what seemed perfect, by my very own young adult novel. I could even imagine the book cover.
I turn and face the sea, relishing the spray and the cold air, tangy with fish and seaweed. A storm has just passed, leaving the water cloudy with foam and upturned sand, leaving the shore soft and pliable.
Just like me. Swirling and changing. Ready for something new.
Maybe he wasn’t my romance novel; maybe there’s hope for me yet. Honestly, I’m okay with how it is. I’m okay with being myself, focusing on writing and school and college.
I don’t need him.
I breathe in, feeling the memories flicker inside me like a violent lightning storm.
I breathe out, letting it all go, like sand pulled back into the sea.