You, Simply

by Scarlett Choi, age 13
You, Simply Scarlett Choi is an eighth grader. She is a rising writer, singer, songwriter, and actress. She enjoys music and traditional art as well as exploring activism and global issues.

“The sunshine was hot and bright, reflecting on the stream like rippled fireflies. I could feel the world around me, moving, changing too fast. Sometimes I felt like it was moving without me, like it needed to move without me; like I was running and I couldn’t keep up.”

The sunshine was hot and bright, reflecting on the stream like rippled fireflies. I could feel the world around me, moving, changing too fast. Sometimes I felt like it was moving without me, like it needed to move without me; like I was running and I couldn’t keep up. Jared walked slowly beside me as we made our way through the old, abandoned park.

“I notice how cynical you are, Karrie Rainier,” he remarked, feeling in front of him with his shiny, black cane. He smirked a bit. “Why?”

“There doesn’t have to be a reason for a person being cynical, Jared Hale. People just are,” I reasoned, chuckling to myself. I ruffled the back of his hair.

“Okay, let me reword it: why do you hate people so much? You don’t talk to all that many people besides Pema and me. What’s your thing against the world?” he asked. His voice sounded sweet and innocent, but also distant, and wondering. Jared was curious. It was his mission to truly seek people: who they were, who they were going to be. He wanted to know people like he knew himself.

Well, that was the only way that he could know people, through their personality. It wasn’t like Jared could see anyone, literally. He was blind. He saw through his fingertips and his mind and his hearing. He could feel, with his heart. Maybe that was why he asked so many questions, so he could see clearly enough. He had a chiseled face and fawn-colored hair, cropped neatly with a nice wave in the front. He was kind of pretty.

And me? I was Karrie Rainier. I could see just fine, and I think that was my biggest enemy.

How do I explain this? I guess you could say I was the bruised apple, or the broken window. I was the girl who would get passed by in the hallway and could hear the terrible things that strangers said about me as they walked by. I was the girl who would get on the weight scale and see the number that made me guilty until I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was the girl who read the magazines and the health websites and never got any better. I’m “undesirable.” “Imperfect.” “Ugly.”

I came up with an idea about it in my mind: I called it an ocean. I just kept sinking in it. I kept sinking in it because I was not worthy of swimming back up. No one would save me, they were willing to let me drown, probably because I wasn’t pretty enough to deserve life. Yeah, I simply stated it. I knew it. I knew what I was. I didn’t want to have to put up with lying to myself like most people do. Honesty was the right thing, right? That was why I was honest with myself. I was honest that I was a disappointment, and I wasn’t getting better.

To answer Jared’s initial question, I avoided people because they didn’t want me. They never did. I didn’t even want me. There’s no way I would tell him that, or so I thought.

I used to wonder why I was still here. Society silently discarded their undesirables, so why hadn’t I followed along? Wouldn’t it be easier to be in a place where I could feel…

Happier?

Prettier?

Somewhere better than this god-awful place. Somewhere on land, not in my ocean. Maybe not even on land, but in the sky. That beautiful, heavenly place. So far, far away…

I stopped in my tracks, shaking away the frightful thoughts.
“Well?” he demanded playfully, smiling.

“You wouldn’t get it,” I warned. “Nobody does.” Jared punched me gently in the arm.

“I will, trust me,” he promised. While there was laughter and innocence in his honey-sweet voice, there was also truth. Reliability. I was like a puzzle to him, and he couldn’t quite piece me together. We had known one another for over a year now, and I still hadn’t opened up to him.

Would he think any different of me if I told him how I felt? Would he imagine me as some piece of shit? How did he see me now? How would he see me afterwards?

Then I realized, if Jared was really loyal, if he was really worth it, he would see me the same. Right? He wouldn’t care. I had to trust him. He would understand.

I would not replace his eyes with the eyes of society.

“Fine, I guess,” I promised reluctantly. “But you better not tell this to anyone.” But what would be an easy way to tell him? Would it ruin his innocence? His faith in the world? His faith in me?

I knew I was really, really overthinking it. It sounded more and more pitiful as it rolled over in my head. But the rock in my psychological ocean started to sink. Down, down, down…

Down into the deep pits of the midnight zone.

Past the sunken Titanic of feelings I don’t like sharing.

Down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where the horrible insecurities banished themselves.

And dizziness rang in my mind.

“Sometimes, I know, in the back of my mind, I feel… different,” I confessed to him. I felt my palms get sweaty and my cheeks get hot. If he could’ve seen me then, he’d probably have laughed at how uncomfortable I looked. He didn’t say anything, he just kept walking, not looking at me.

“I feel like I, well, I don’t quite fit in. Like, I was born not to fit in and everything I do makes me even more desperate.” I continued, “And nothing I do works.” The ocean of emotion started to rumble, making me feel seasick inside.

“I don’t quite get it,” Jared told me. His confusion startled me. I started wondering: what was that life like? Not knowing? Not feeling the social walls built around him? I realized how little I knew about Jared. Who was he? Why was he so…

Well, I wouldn’t say “perfect” was the right word. More like, pure? Or was he lying to me, to try to push me away. I wanted to know. What was behind the glassy, sightless eyes?

Unable to get the right question out, I continued to elaborate.

“I guess I feel like I’m not as pretty as people want me to be. I know, people tell me it’s not important. Judge on the inside and that’s what counts. But we all know that society tells you differently. Why else would there be a million diet options hovering around radio stations and magazines and on TV?” I found myself ranting. Damn it! Had I gone too far? Was Jared getting tired of this? That was when, of course, his words knocked me away. I didn’t know he would address the situation so beautifully, so gracefully. He opened his mouth to speak.

“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘beauty is the eye of the beholder?’” he asked curiously.

“I mean, maybe on the Twilight Zone but probably nowhere else,” I started.

“Well, I guess it means that what you look like doesn’t matter in the long run because everyone sees you differently,” Jared explained. “Like, there’s no point in conforming to society. There’s no exact definition of pretty, you know?” I tried to understand, but I felt like I had heard the same lecture before. I didn’t know exactly what anyone meant when they said that. It was the default phrase, an overused lecture.

“Jared, you can’t be naïve,” I murmured. “I think we all know — ”

“No, wait, hear me out. Think about it. Some people can’t see, and we still have valid opinions. I think that counts for something.” He started talking louder. I could hear the truth singing in his clear, low voice. He had a point, and I still didn’t understand. But somehow, I felt like he really, genuinely wanted to show me something I had never heard before. Curious and frustrated, I pushed on.

“I’m not trying to offend you or anything, but I don’t think you see it,” I tried to reason. Jared fiddled with his hand. He exhaled.

“I think I see it,” he said, almost to himself.

“Yes, but I feel personally like I’m not good enough. Like, I can see. A lot of people can see. What they see is me. Just me,” I scoffed, running my hands through my hair. I felt a bead of sweat.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t matter is what I’m saying,” Jared argued. I didn’t know what to say. I bit my lip.

We had reached a little gazebo by a stream, where Jared sat down. I stared into his glassy, sightless eyes and wondered what he was seeing. What he was trying to make me see.

“I know we’re both confused about each other,” Jared pointed out. “Me being blind and all, and you, with your problems.” He said it so bluntly, but it was still gentle. It didn’t hurt when he said “problems.” It might’ve been the beautiful softness and gentleness of his tone.

“I just don’t understand what you’re trying to convince me of. Or how you’ve never felt different or excluded… ” I began.

“Well actually, I guess I wasn’t clear before. I have felt different or excluded,” Jared admitted. The pain in his voice made me upset. I almost wanted to fight all the demons in his head, face-to-face. They were not allowed to hurt him. It also made me realize that Jared was battling his own fights. He just fought them differently than I did.

“What do you mean?”

“I felt different before, but maybe when I said I don’t really get it, I don’t get how people think those things are so bad.” His words just confused me. But he kept talking. “I guess being excluded taught me the beauty of being blind. I was different. Yeah, I couldn’t go anywhere without a little extra help, and I’ve never been able to read like a normal person, but also something else. While everyone else was judging people by their looks, writing diet tips in magazines, editing false images, I’m only exposed to words and actions and feelings. Looks are totally void to me.”

I listened curiously. I felt like I was starting to grasp it, what he was telling me.

“I know that whatever voices in your head are telling you that you’re ugly don’t have to matter. I know that you can live your life only seeing what is inside. I see people for who they are. And I think you should too,” he explained. Pause. Silence. Thoughts and contemplations.

Suddenly, when I looked into those glassy eyes again, a whole new meaning emerged. Jared was not sightless. He could see everything. Everything that truly mattered. I could not speak. I could only feel the connection between his eyes and the truth. Jared was not blind. He just saw a little differently. Through one small conversation, the only one that mattered, he showed me this new idea.

“Jared, I never knew you thought of it this way.” I noticed that my voice had lost its hardened, cynical tone and came out quiet. My own voice, sounding unfamiliar. Possibly because I was taking up most of my energy thinking about myself. Realizing, maybe, I could be beautiful to somebody, because their opinions are valid too.

Or not really. Not in the obvious way. But Jared, he must’ve imagined me beautiful. If he cared about me that much because of the way I am, am I beautiful? If he analyzed my personality as beautiful, would that make me beautiful too? It was a weird thing to wrap my head around. Being beautiful.

I had never been beautiful before. Or maybe I had. Maybe all this time, I was beautiful in ways I did not realize. Me: beautiful. Me: pretty. Me: desirable. Maybe I was worth it. Maybe whatever creator up there blessed me with this incredible life because I was worth it.

Back in my metaphorical ocean, I stopped sinking. I felt myself suspended in this one moment of time, unable to quite understand anything. It was that moment of thought, when nothing moved except for the heart in your chest and the blood in your veins.

Suddenly, I saw a light at the surface of my emotional ocean. A boat. A hand reached down from the boat, prompting me to grab on. Was it worth swimming back up? Trying to clean up my emotional mess? Or should I just keep sinking? Should I conform?

No. Because I was beautiful and worth it and good. Jared reassured me of that. I was something I should fight for.

I could feel my head reaching the surface of the water, and I could breathe again. Even if just for a second, I felt free. Free from my anxiety, free from society, free from my ocean of self-doubt. I smelled the fresh, salty air of self-acceptance.

I knew it would be a long journey back to the land. But Jared had started the journey for me. My journey to self-acceptance, the one thing that I might’ve needed. If I could will myself to swim all the way to the land, even if it would take me years, it would be a story that would change me and maybe the world forever.

I sat in that gazebo with Jared at my side. Never before had his poetic, aesthetically pleasing way of life affected me this much. This boy, this boy who I had hardly known. This boy who was not blind but was the best seer of the age.

“Thank you.” Those were the only words I could squeeze out of my mouth. And then, the long pause of silence. The blind boy who could see. The girl with the underrepresented body who was beautiful. That was who sat under the gazebo. We were proud, even just for one moment. One little string of time.

“Karrie,” Jared interrupted. I liked hearing my name. Something I thought people cringed at saying. My name sounded nice, like it was meant to be said. We looked at one another, no words exchanged. We both knew that neither of us had much more to say. Just think.

I guess I walked away from that gazebo and that day a little differently. It still loomed somewhere in my mind, maybe forever, but the rest of my life slowly started to change. I noticed it change, even when I got home from that walk. It kept changing with each passing day.

I ate more, a healthy amount. I would exercise but not force myself to pass out. Maybe I even opened myself up more. Just a little. Still, it was change. It was change if I ever saw it.

Sometimes I still look in the mirror and see the self-conscious girl who would only wear baggy clothes and who would cover up her face with her hands. The girl who was submerged in her own water. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still there.

But she at least had something else in the back of her mind, that while society’s expectation seemed so real, it was really fake. Some people lived wonderfully without it. Some people whose eyes work just as well. They might just see some things in a different light. So even if she was still there, she had something to look to.

I never forgot that walk. I never forgot those silky words that helped me escape my ocean of dread. I never forgot peeking out of the waves for the first time. That day told me that living another day is an accomplishment itself.

I didn’t want to go somewhere else. I didn’t want to fly away with all of society’s discards. Because I was more than that. Everyone was more than that. Jared helped me to see that.

Slowly, I cut through the blue waters. The land was getting nearer. Not the sky, the sky can wait. No, I wanted to live. On the land. That was where the other girls who needed help were waiting.

If I were to reach out to another girl, maybe my age, who was struggling and fighting and just couldn’t catch her breath, I would probably tell her something like what Jared told me:

That she is everything she thought she wasn’t good enough to be and more. Her ocean’s surface isn’t far away. Sometimes the world will ask for you, changed.

But really, all you have to be is you, simply.

 

1 Comment

  • Mike C says:

    Very thoughtfully written. I hear the voice of a genuine 13-year-old, not an adult trying to mimic a 13-year-old, nor a 13-year-old trying to mimic an adult.

    The “ocean” theme really pulls you through the story. You keep reading on because you need to know where that theme is going to end up.

    And the writer is clearly a musician and a visual artist because the story flows lyrically like a song, and the descriptions paint a clear, indelible picture that draws you into the world in which these two characters are taking a walk, and having a talk.

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