I was bored yesterday, so I decided to try and write that short story I promised you. I opened up a Word document, typed the title at the top of the page – Extracurricular Activities for Zebras – and then proceeded to stare at the blank screen. I stared for a while, tried to type something, hated it, tried to revise, and hated that, too. Then I decided it might be interesting to make the story about the conversation that led to me getting that fantastic title. That idea seemed nice, and it sort of evolved from there. The finished result was a work of Creative Nonfiction, and I’m actually very happy with it. So today’s post is that short story. No cartoons or witticisms today. So, without further ado, I give you my short story:
Extracurricular Activities for Zebras
Fellow students asked me why I left sunny Los Angeles for Syracuse, New York. My response was always the same – Because I wanted to see snow for the first time. And this would shock them, and we’d get to discussing other things, and they’d never figure out I was lying. I’d seen snow before. Once, my dad took me and my siblings skiing. But the snow there was manufactured. Snow machines. But we did drive up to the mountains once, and that snow was real. It just wasn’t fresh. I’d never seen snow falling, never lived in a place where snow was considered normal. So I lied, but it wasn’t a really big or malicious lie. It just simplified things.
My mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was younger, I replied with things like “veterinarian” and “doctor,” because I liked animals and…I don’t remember my reasons for wanting to be a doctor. Mom told me that I might have trouble with that, since both vets and doctors have to see blood. I’d forgotten that detail. Being a very squeamish person, I knew I’d never be able to go down either of those career paths.
What surprised me in middle school, and then high school, was that I was still tempted to add “when I grow up” to the end of any sentence that began, “I want to be a…” And then I wondered when exactly we can be considered grownups. When is it okay to stop saying “when I grow up” and acknowledge that you already have? I assumed it would happen when I actually got the career I was hoping for, and then I could say, “Now I am a _____. Now I am grown up.” But when you’re sixteen and saying “when I grow up,” well, that just doesn’t sound right. Except, if you don’t say it, then the sentence feels incomplete somehow, so I stumbled over the words. “I want to be a teacher when I – well, not when I grow up. Just when I get older, I guess.”
My college applications asked me what my hobbies were outside of the classroom. I told the truth: I played the clarinet, rode horses, sketched, wrote stories. But that still left a lot of blank space, like I wasn’t fulfilling their expectations. What more could I say? My life was consumed by school. When I wasn’t in school, I was doing homework. When I wasn’t doing homework, I was too tired to do anything else.
My stepmom asked me why I feared blue eyes. I was baffled. Didn’t everybody? No? Huh. I had no answer for her. To this day, I have trouble looking people in the eye, and it’s even worse if the other person’s eyes are blue. But at least I know the reason now. After pondering the question, I had this little jolt of memory.
I remembered the first place where I took riding lessons. No, that’s not true. It was technically the second. When I was very little, my mom signed me up for pony riding classes. So I remembered the second place where I rode. This place was really messed up, though I didn’t realize it until after I left. They had a horse camp there over the summer, and I was a junior counselor. I was about thirteen. Another girl, a counselor who was sixteen, told me to put away a bag of apples. I forgot. The campers had gone home, and the junior counselors were hanging out in the tack shed. Then I remembered the apples, and rushed to find the bag. But it was gone. Thinking I had been helped out by some anonymous do-gooder, I prepared to go back to what I was doing.
But then that sixteen-year-old, my superior, came rushing out of the office, screaming my name, the bag of apples dangling from her hand. She was furious that someone else had had to do the task she’d set to me. She started taking apples out of the bag, and one by one, she threw them at me. I could see that she was holding herself back, so that the throws weren’t too powerful, but apples are hard. One of them hit my chest. It still hurt, even if she wasn’t throwing them that hard. That wasn’t the worst part, though. Another counselor – twenty years old with clear blue eyes – stood behind her, encouraging her. When there were no more apples left in the bag, the sixteen-year-old ordered me to clean them up, and then stormed off. I cried as I dropped the broken, dirty apples into the horses’ feed buckets.
That ranch, it was bad. Besides the twenty-year-old counselor, there were two grown women who owned and ran the ranch together. They both wore sunglasses all the time, but if you got in trouble with them – and you did, on a regular basis – they called you over and took those sunglasses off to stare you straight in the eye. Both these women had icy blue eyes. Years later, sitting in my stepmom’s armchair, I figured out why I feared blue eyes.
I tell a lot of people about the apple incident. It’s a funny story, if you take out the pain and humiliation, as I do when I retell it. I think I need to laugh about it, because if I’m laughing at them, then I’ve won.
My friend asked me why people major in Philosophy. I told him I didn’t know. He told me to answer the question anyway. How could I answer something I didn’t know? I said, “Because if 2+7=9, then Jupiter is in alignment with Venus, which provides an extracurricular activity for zebras, that directly affects butterflies which land on the eyelashes of certain college students and cause them to major in Philosophy.” And he replied, “I hate it when 2+7=9.” And I said, “I know, right? No wonder I didn’t major in Philosophy.”
There you go. I hope you liked it. You might have noticed that the majoring in Philosophy thing came directly from this blog (Read the post titled “They Say” if you haven’t already), so now you’re in on the origins of the story. Doesn’t that make you feel special? It should. That’s all for now.
Word of the Day: Reminisce (v) – to recall past experiences, events, etc.