Once, in middle school, I spent an entire lunch period walking away without saying anything every time a girl—Lindsey, I think her name was—approached me. I didn’t want her to join my group of friends, so I found a way to make her feel unwelcome.

Once, a friend I trusted had another girl hide in her closet and then prompted me to say bad things about the other girl.

Once, when I was really young, a friend, Katie, locked me in her parents’ trailer.

Once, on my twenty-first birthday, a group of friends sang You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling to me at karaoke. One guy got down on his knees and serenaded me.

Once, in high school, a girl—also a Katie—took a detention she didn’t deserve rather than turning me in. (She sat in the same seat I did the hour after me, and we used to write messages to each other on the desk.)

Once, a friend accused me of being the reason her parents fought at home.

Once, a friend told me about something horrible that had happened to her, and I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled.

Once, a friend stole my date to a high school dance before we even got to the restaurant.

Once, I met with a girl every week in the park to do homework and talk about class. It was my third term of grad school, and I think she realized I hadn’t made any friends yet.

Once, a friend moved to California without saying goodbye.

Once, a friend—Ashley—came over to my house and kidnapped this talking Stitch stuffed animal I had. She left a ransom note with directions to her house so that I would come see her, all because I’d been completely depressed lately.

Once, I had friends that could make all my problems go away—at least temporarily—just by taking me to IHOP.

Once, I had a friend that told me the reason he’d been so mean to me lately was because I was easy to take advantage of.

Once, I had a friend who drew up funny signs to leave on my dorm room door. A year later, she left me a wonderful good luck message on the day I tried out for the marching band.

I have a friend who still sends me a text message at exactly 7:12 a.m on my birthday each year to commemorate the exact moment I was born.

Once, I had a friend whom I drove away by always complaining about the problems in my life and never asking about hers.

Once, I had a friend who moved away. I found her years later on Facebook and added her, but she never responded to my friend request. I had another friend who moved away around the same time, and I’ve never been able to find her again.

Eight things full of memory and meaning

For fun, and because I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about all the places I’ve been these last few years.

1. “Into the Airwaves,” by Jack’s Mannequin. Makes me think of sitting on the floor in my first apartment watching someone try to fix my computer. I’ve always been drawn to the evocative quality of his first album. One song on it has inspired two (totally different) short stories, though at least for the moment, this one brings back the strongest memory—though I’m not entirely convinced the memory is real the same way it is in my head.

2. “All These Things that I’ve Done,” by The Killers. I love this song, and this song brings back lots of small happy moments (more impressions really), but it also brings back one very sad one. My second party while I was in Spokane, I helped pick a song, then turned down an invitation, and had one hell of a bad night.

3. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. I’ve read this book a few times, and I loved it. In graduate school, however, in front of the professor I most respected and wanted to impress, I named this as the best book in the past twenty years—not because I thought it was a great answer, but because it was the only work of literary quality I’d read from the past twenty years. Since then, I’ve made a real effort to keep up with modern literature. I’m rereading this book now, and I’m hoping that it’s sparkle doesn’t dim for me, but so far it’s only good, not great.

4. Cold days, when the heating vents turn on in the morning. Our dog Jack used to love when the vents came on, and he’d run over and curl up over top of the vent. That in turn always reminded me of when I was a little girl and would do the same thing while my dad got my breakfast (Cheerios with brown sugar) ready for me.

5. Morrill Hall. I once spent a fall afternoon wandering around campus with a camera and a friend, and he took some cool pictures of me on the steps of Morrill Hall. Art, beauty, friendship—and now I hear they’re going to tear the building down.

6. Girls to the Rescue, by Bruce Lansky. I’m not even sure I still own a copy of this book of fairy tales (all of which have the females as heroines rather than damsels in distress), but I still think of it from time to time—and whenever I hear the word persnickety. I took this book to an MSU football game once, and it poured, and I tucked myself completely under my poncho and ate a bag on M&Ms while I read this book.

7. My senior year varsity soccer sweatshirt. And it’s not for the reasons you might think. I left this sweatshirt at the home of this guy I liked (though to this day I can’t tell you what I saw in him beyond someone else to help keep me as down on myself as possible), and after I finally broke away from his abusive attitude, I gave up on ever getting it back. And then one day it was left at my work for me. Then, a few months later, a friend of mine mentioned this guy in the context of having seen my ex-boyfriend, and I flipped out. I still can’t look at the sweatshirt, and I swear it still smells a bit like that house, but I’ve hidden it away against the day that it brings the good memories of soccer success again.

8. Long stretches of highway vanishing into the horizon. While I was in Spokane, feeling so very alone, I used to think that if I only had the guts, I could take the highway all the way home.

Your life—fictionalized!

This past weekend, my family cleaned out the basement. This meant I spent approximately 24 hours of my weekend going through boxes. As could be expected, I found some interesting stuff: my old yearbooks (signed by someone people I can’t place in my memory, by other people I’m [sadly] no longer friends with, and still other people I’m [gladly] no longer friends with), my 6th grade diary (so unbelievably embarrassing), all my old soccer cuttings (I was in the paper a lot, or at least that’s what it seems now).

As I said, most of it was interesting. There were, however, moments that were much more sad. A graduation card from a friend that I’m pretty sure I drove away through early college selfishness, a yearbook signature from someone who I didn’t even realize was a friend until she’d moved away—and a host of pictures that meant nothing to me at the time but that, nine years later, I’m able to see from a different perspective. You see, at the time, I didn’t think I meant a whole lot to anyone. I didn’t think anyone noticed me. But someone had, it turned out. In every group picture that we’re both in, this person is next to me. Leaning in. It’s so obvious now. But it’s also too late. By years. You see, we don’t even speak anymore.

And this was the point when the fiction writer in me realized that, as a writer, I have the ability to recast my past. Yes, things happened a certain way. I know that. I’m not trying to pretend they didn’t. But I have a new understanding of that past now, so in a way, I’ve recreated it. It’s like looking at the same scene from two different vantage points—the same things happen, but it all appears slightly different to the different observers.

This came up again earlier today, when I was being pushed around by someone online. This person had said some things to which I took offense. Most upsetting, he’d seemed to take credit for something in my life that had absolutely zero to do with him. Not wanting to be silenced (I’ve had enough of that over the years), I responded. But then I wondered, how can I let this go? How can I not end up shaking from anger and fear while hundreds of miles away? He won’t let me have the last word—he’s always right, you see. But then I realized, I can recreate this situation. I can refuse to acknowledge (or even notice) any response. Yes, he probably will respond, but in my reality, I finally had the last say, because that’s all I’ll allow.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with all of this, just that these revelations have seemed—to me—to be directly related to my growing skill of a writer. I’ve noticed that I see the world differently these days, and not in a way that can be explained by the mere fact that I’m growing older, experiencing more. But I’m beginning to see that this is my life, and, to a certain extent, I can write it how I want it.