I’ve been writing stories ever since I could remember. As a kid, I would bring a notebook with me everywhere–to school, on car rides, to my friend’s houses. I didn’t even have to write, and half the time I wouldn’t–I just had to have it with me, just in case.
When I was younger, I would let everyone and anyone read my stories, even though they were all cripplingly embarrassing. My pride and joy was a story named “Hamster Island” that I wrote and illustrated in third grade. For an entire year, I wrote through the perspective of a dog. I wrote graphic murder mysteries to try to shock my babysitters and my fifth grade teacher. By middle school, I was writing hundreds of pages of fanfiction and clearly inserted myself into some of my favorite shows. I was stubbornly proud of these horrific pieces of writing, though years later I would drive to a garbage can far, far away to dispose of them.
I started to become more secretive about my writing once I moved towns and entered high school. That’s when the stories became less about fantasy and more grounded in reality; they became about my life, my experiences. They were personal. For years, I wouldn’t let anyone read what I had written.
At the end of my junior year of high school, my English teacher asked us to write a short narrative. I had moved almost three years earlier, but I still missed my old home. Before New Jersey, we had lived on the East End of Long Island. Every day after school, I would drop my backpack and go for a walk on the beach, even when it was absolutely frigid. We were one of few families that lived there year-round. Sometimes I’d run through the yards of empty houses and peek through the dusty windows at the furniture covered in sheets. There was something calming about having so much space, about waking up and falling asleep to the view of the water. When the moon was high in the sky, it would sear a white line across the bay. During a storm, the placid water would turn into whitecaps, which would break and carry on the wind to lash against our windows. In the winter, the whole bay would ice over, and the wind from the blizzards would create mountains of snow and ice that my brothers and I would try to scale. One time, during an unseasonably warm November day, I fell in a river that my friends had just successfully jumped across. We ended up swimming home in our clothes; we tied our shoes together and threw them into the water in front of us, our laughter echoing across the empty beach.
Our congested suburban town in New Jersey was an hour’s drive from the water. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to walk without someone asking, “What are you doing?” After school, I often just went home and stayed in my room.
So I wrote about my old home.
A few days after receiving the narratives, my teacher said he had chosen a few of his favorites to read out loud. He would read them anonymously and see if we could figure out who had written each piece. We were advised to keep our poker faces as he read.
He started with mine. I stopped breathing after I heard the first line. I looked down and felt the blood rush to my face. I tried not to smile, but barely succeeded at holding it back. When he finished reading, the class clapped enthusiastically.
For me, this was one of my most rewarding pieces of writing because it was the first time I had shared something so personal–and by a stroke of good luck, had it warmly received. I’d later go on to study creative writing at college and get ripped to shreds in the writing workshops, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. I began craving constructive criticism and the shared experience of making meaning. After that day in high school, writing stopped being a solitary act.