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Twists and Turns of the Winding Roads
Snehaa R is a young writer from South Windsor, Connecticut, and is currently attending high school at Kingswood Oxford. She frequently shares her works with a number of students, and often finds herself writing both fictional works as well as journalism reviews of pop culture. Specifically, her publications in the newspaper include (Bander)snatch-es Attention and BROCKHAMPTON is SWEET. Her biggest writing inspirations include Jhumpa Lahiri and Kazuo Ishiguro; they both are able to introduce emotion effectively without explicitly stating their character's intent; this style has always intrigued her and she hopes to become more proficient in her description skills.
The hills sped past as I maintained a slow and steady pace. The lush, green firs locked in my eyes while my foot calmly pressed the gas pedal. The windows were slightly cracked and a cool breeze brushed my cheeks, leaving behind a rich scent of pine trees. I grasped the steering wheel with one hand and wrapped my fingers around my travel mug with the other. The trees surrounding my white Volkswagen seemed to sway with my music as each lyric reverberated through the speakers. The only obligation on the winding, hidden roads was to take in the view. No responsibilities. Just follow the roads.
Eventually I arrived in hell, slammed my books down at my seat, and threw my backpack behind me. Watching the class file into the dim room, I sank back in my chair, cracked open my laptop, and refreshed my email to see if Villanova had sent out their acceptance letters. Of course, nothing. A watched pot never boils. I did see, however, an email from Yale, which told me their interest in having me for their class of ‘22. Little did they know that I had no remarkable qualities that would set me apart from my classmates; I didn’t find the cure for cancer, nor was I a child prodigy. I wasn’t anything up to their Ivy League standards. I deleted the email and clicked on one from my college advisor, telling me that I shouldn’t rule out UConn or UPitt yet. I laughed sarcastically to myself, remembering the numerous times I’d told him of my opposition towards state universities. I vehemently hated this stage of not knowing where I’d wind up. I’m a strong believer in fate, and at the time I knew where fate was supposed to put me. 800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, Pennsylvania. It was where I belonged.
My parents used to tell me all about their shenanigans in college. They would sneak into the chapel on campus to meet up with friends late at night, and they would spend every chance they could cheering on the Wildcats. Dad told me about how he first saw Mom in their physics lecture and how he was head over heels for her from the start. He was persistent in trying to catch her attention. He tried to meet up with her every day after class, claiming he had many questions that only she could answer. Mom always smiled and said it was charming how bad Dad was at lying.
A few months later, my parents began dating. They spent every second together. Three years after their graduation, they were married. Mom fondly gazes at the infinity necklace Dad bought for her the night of their engagement. She always reminded him with a playful look that she hated rings because they squeezed her fingers so tight and made them look like sausages. She claims that to this day, the necklace was the best thing he ever gave her, besides love of course.
So when Dad died last year of a brain aneurysm, she clutched her hand to her chest where her necklace rested and ran her fingers through the loops for what seemed like an eternity.
I’m supposed to go there.
My teacher droned on and on, calling on me to respond to questions for which I mumbled in a series of “uh’s” and “um’s” until someone whispered the answer. My mind was on the roads, driving up to campus. I could see ancient brick buildings and stunning green fields where I could hear the chatter of all kinds of students. I felt the occasional breeze grazing my shoulder through my ever-so-slightly cracked windows. My car rolled to a stop and I opened my door, allowing myself to be hit with a wave of excitement. Finally, a sense of belonging.
The repetitive tapping on my desk brought me back to reality and reminded me that I couldn’t escape just yet.
The looping roads and tall pines engulfed the car, and the afternoon sunshine filled every last space in the Volkswagen. Going home was my favorite part of the school day.
Silence overtook the house as I walked in.
“Mom, I’m home!” I yelled, but no response. “Mom?”
I heard a stifling sob from upstairs. I ran up to find her on the ground with a picture of Dad and I clasped in her firm grip. I was five years old in that picture. I wore a small yellow dress that accentuated my once lively blue eyes, and Dad was holding me tight, his indescribable smile open wide.
I remembered how his smile could light up the entire room and assuage any pain.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you on the ground? What happened?” I said, overwhelmed with panic.
She could barely sound out the word, but I knew what she was trying to say.
“Birthday. It’s Dad’s birthday.”
I didn’t even notice.
Every year on Dad’s birthday, Mom and I would go all out. We threw him glorious parties with all of his friends and bought him adorable presents that only he would find pure beauty in. At the end of the night, he would always tell us that he got us a present too. We begged him to reveal it to us while he chuckled at our greed.
“You now have a Dad, and a husband, who’s one year older!” he would say, or at least try to before he began to roll on the floor laughing. It was genuinely the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. We’d give him an annoyed look but eventually join his giggling and give him a hug. Last year, on his forty-seventh birthday, when he pulled his annual “I got you a present” schtick, he seemed to have a more serious look.
“Why are you giving me that sappy stare? You’re freaking me out, Dad,” I asked, quietly praying for a new and improved joke. I didn’t know how many more times I could hear the “one year older” thing. But he reached into his back pocket and handed me a silver tin. Mom looked just as perplexed for a moment but began to silently cry as I cracked the lid open. Inside was a beautiful diamond infinity necklace, bearing almost no difference to Mom’s engagement necklace.
“This family is forever and always. I don’t care what happens to any one of us. Family is family,” he lowered his voice, repeating himself slowly. He looked me in the eye. “I love you more than words, Val. Until time runs out.”
Cliché as it was, I would never trade his words or the necklace for the world.
Mom ran her finger through the loop of her necklace like she always did, and I watched her tears fall onto the picture frame. Joining her on the floor, I held my infinity necklace in my palm and closed my hand around it. Forever and always, I reminded myself. No matter what, Dad is going to be with us.
“He would be so, immensely proud of you. He’d be celebrating how far you’ve come. He would tell you to take it easy and to stop worrying about everything. He’d remind you of how grateful he is for such an amazing daughter,” Mom murmured as she tried to wipe away the waterfall streaming down her face. “He loved you more than I had seen him love any other person on the planet.”
These words struck a chord with me the next morning. I climbed into my car and was on my way to school earlier than usual. Today was the day I would find out. The roads were slippery and wet from the rain, and frogs from the wooded areas made paths throughout the twists and turns. The air felt muggy, and I rolled my windows up in order to prevent suffocation from the odor coming from a dead skunk on the road.
Not every day is bound to be 100% perfect, I told myself, but today’s going to be pretty damn good.
“Are you ready?” my college advisor asked. He insisted that I open the letter myself. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. I felt my blood coursing through my veins, my eyes ready to read those blessed words.
I began to read aloud:
Dear Ms. Valerie Daniels,
The Committee of Admissions has read through thousands of applications for our class of 2022. We are very sorry to inform you that we cannot offer you admission to our university. We’ve had to face incredibly difficult decisions in who we can save space for, as there are such large numbers of applicants for the 1600 available spots in our freshman class.
My voice began to falter a little, and I felt my throat beginning to close. Skimming to the end of the letter, I read:
We very much appreciate the interest you have shown in Villanova University, and we wish you the best in all of your educational endeavors. Thank you.
Placing the letter on the table, I pushed my chair behind me and stood up, snatching my bag and taking the keys out of the side pocket.
“Where are you going?”
The door slammed on my way out of the office and I ran to my car. Each sob covered the steering wheel with a plethora of tears. The keys went in the ignition and the engine revved up, a sense of urgency and rage sweeping over me.
Slamming on the gas pedal, I drove.
Clearing every thought in my mind except my shortcomings, I drove.
Skipping across town, leaving behind the winding roads, getting on the highway and pushing 80 miles, I drove.
Feeling the impact of the airbag explode in my face, the debris of the crash traveled to my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. In a crisis, I heard you’re supposed to take a few deep breaths, but as I began to draw one in, my constricting throat prohibited me. I tried again, this time more panicked. Pouring in as much energy as I could muster up, I drew a slower breath as a wave of pain drowned me. The darkness coming over my broken body felt like the easier option. My eyes closed.
A hand touched my forehead. Another touched some wire looping out of my arm. Oh god. Where am I? A rush of heat flooded to my ears. I’m probably dead. There were sounds of whispering and pencils scratching paper, accompanied by hurried footsteps. Then a smell. One that was vanilla and lavender combined. It got closer and closer to me until it met my nose directly. I opened my eyes and was immediately blinded by the amount of white that screamed in my face. I groaned quietly and mumbled something that made me sound illiterate.
“You don’t have to talk right now. I’m just going to take some blood and be out of your way,” the woman said, flattening her shirt. She walked to the other side of the room. I saw her pick up a tiny needle and walk back to the arm with the IV. The second she jabbed it in, I recognized my location; the hospital.
“If it’s hard to talk, don’t strain yourself,” she began, “but do you remember what happened?” I nodded, unable to form any coherent sentence. “That’s wonderful news! Well, not what happened, but the fact that you remember. I’m so relieved! Wow, that’s amazing. This is incredible. Your mother will be so pleased to know. Oh just imagine if you hadn’t remembered! I don’t even want to think about it,” she rambled. I couldn’t really understand much, but it was pretty clear she was just an intern. A man hurriedly walked into my room and stood behind her.
“Dr. Pearl, please remain professional! I have some errands for you to run if you aren’t busy,” muttered the man as he made his way closer to me. I could tell he thought highly of himself in the way he slammed piles of charts in Dr. Pearl’s arms and whispered harsh commands. He seemed like the kind of person with degrees and awards decorated through his house so that he could assert his dominance on visitors without even opening his mouth.
“Hey there, Valerie. I’m Dr. Moore. Nice to meet you. I’m the one that operated on you earlier,” he pridefully reported. “According to Dr. Pearl’s workup, you seem to have stable vitals, your blood pressure is normal, and there is no fluid build up in your lungs. These are all great things! But most importantly, how are you feeling?”
“Like death.” My throat burned with each word. He chortled for two minutes at this remark even though I was nowhere close to kidding. I felt like I had died and gone to the depths of hell. Saying my body ached was the epitome of an understatement. “I feel like death,” I repeated.
Dr. Moore began to explain the scientific aspects of my surgeries. His monotonous speech gave me a headache. As he shifted his weight onto his other leg, I realized that Mom was sitting in a chair behind him. She looked startled, almost dazed. I saw her tracing the infinity charm of her necklace with her fingers. My eyes followed the continuous loops that seemed to go on for a lifetime in that small compact shape. Dr. Moore stopped his unbearable talking and walked out of the room.
Quick, quiet tears stumbled off of Mom’s face and onto her necklace. All I wanted was for her to stop crying. She scooched her chair all the way to the bed, grasping my hand firmly in her grip.
“I thought you were going to be with Dad,” she whispered.
“So did I.”
I fell asleep in her arms.
Chatter echoed in the hallway. It was Dr. Pearl and Mom. She extended a kind arm to Mom. I couldn’t make out everything she was saying, only bits and pieces.
“Ms. Daniels, you have nothing to worry about. Children are considered the most resilient after injuries because of their positive attitudes. I have no doubt in my mind that Valerie will make a steady recovery,” she reassured Mom.
Positive attitude? I felt a wave of devilish anger come over me. Things couldn’t have been worse, not by a long shot. What about my several broken bones, my aching lungs, my inability to breathe warranted a positive attitude? Mom was in shambles. Dad was dead. I had no one else looking out for me. That didn’t constitute a positive attitude. What’s the point of a positive attitude if there’s nothing going for me. If I survive, I have nothing to do. I have a wasted life waiting for me. I found myself going around in circles with these wretched thoughts for eternity. But then I saw Mom do it again. Her dainty finger swirled through the loops. Mom would never recover. She would never forgive herself. She’d be more broken than I am now.
I contemplated for hours. Days. Weeks.
In the following months, I was on bedrest. My covers devoured me for at least 14 hours a day. The bright yellow walls helped wake me up on particularly rough mornings. It was much better than waking up in that stuffy, silver-covered room. I attended my classes via phone, and kept up by calling my classmates and listening in on lectures. Getting up and having to set up the call system, sit at Dad’s old wooden desk, and scratch dull, old-school pencils on paper basically took up the remainder of my day. I couldn’t complain, though. I was making a strong recovery, physically, mentally, and in the amount of work I missed in school. My college advisor reached out to me to make sure I was okay. More importantly, he asked, “What now?” After all, it was his job to bother me about my future. I hadn’t thought about what I would do if I didn’t get into my dream college. I had an affinity towards Boston University, but it was always overshadowed by Villanova.
Once, Dad and I argued. This I remember more than anything. I yelled non-stop, telling him that all I wanted was to be like him and Mom. I wanted to have the same experience they had, as well as have them be able to help me, guide me through this whole process. But Dad was a broken record. He constantly said to be open to new opportunities, that not everything is perfect, and that there’s so much more out there than one college. He urged that I apply to many schools, especially BU since he’d noticed at least a little interest from me. I went to bed angry that night, angry that he couldn’t understand that I wanted every experience my parents had, that it would make me the most grateful person alive if I could grow up to be as happy as they were.
I thought for a few minutes in my room, my computer waiting to send an email.
Dear Mr. Garrett,
I think I’m going to apply to a few more schools. BU seems like a front-runner right now, and maybe I’ll try NYU. It’s going to be hard, but I’ll try and keep a positive attitude through it. I’m ready to try again. I’ll see you at school tomorrow, as it is my first day back.
I clicked send and went to bed, ready for the next day.
The winding roads greeted me with open arms. I hadn’t seen them in so long. Mom was driving me to school, since the Volkswagen had met its doom. The sway of the trees in the wind eased my mind, clearing away all my thoughts and worries. Fall had never looked so beautiful. The breathtaking colors of the falling leaves, each bird chirp that traveled through the trees played out like a movie scene. I could hear the crunch of the crisp leaves under the wheels. I’m ready.
The second I found out, I immediately missed Dad.
“Mom! Where are you? Come to the kitchen!” I screamed as loud as I could. She ran down the stairs, panting as she reached me.
“What is it? Is everything okay? What’s going on?” she asked. I grabbed her hands. She squeezed them and smiled.
“I’m in, Mom. BU accepted me. I’m in!” I exclaimed, getting louder and more excited. I’d never seen anyone happier than Mom as she snatched me in her arms and lifted me up. She held me so tight that I was convinced she might crush my ribs for a second time.
Catching sight of both of our glimmering necklaces, I felt Dad’s beaming smile behind me. He was giving me his giddy little look that could make any person feel loved.
He would be proud of me.
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