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Emily Collins, 12 (Morgantown, WV)

Music to the Ears

Emily Collins, 12

One year, two months, and eight days. Is that really how long it’s been? Amber wondered, slipping her slender right foot into the early morning grass. Wet with dew and blowing in the wind, the grass felt like the ocean. She glided her left foot into the grass beside her other.

One year, two months, and eight days, echoed in her head again. It had been one year, two months, and eight days since March 11, 2020. But it hadn’t been one year, two months, and eight days since her family’s 2019 Christmas Eve party.

She replayed the Christmas Eve dinner in her head, an action which she had done time and time again since. She remembered the crowded dining room, full of children chasing each other or whining for food, and adults gossiping and setting the bowls and plates on the table for later. And there stood herself, little Amber, (or what seemed like little Amber, though she was not much younger at the time) amidst the strong smell of turkey and the loud, delighted screams of children.

Amber's mother was quite busy finishing the stuffing and Amber's noisy, younger brother seemed too occupied with chasing down their grandparents’ old dog, so no one seemed to notice her. She paid no attention to these minor but important details at the time, and decided to make the most of it by secretly snatching a piece of bread before dinner.

She ate it happily as she walked into the family room with the blazing fireplace and her smaller cousins, children whom she knew couldn’t yet grasp the concept of the no-eating-before-dinner rule.

“Amber! Amber!” little Lindsay cries, jumping up from the large brown and green carpet that is covering almost every inch of the room. Lindsay, one of Amber’s youngest cousins, is 5-years-old (well, five and a half, which she is always reminding them) and has enough energy to beat a cheetah in a race.

Her curly pigtails bounce as she attempts to jump up to Amber’s height, but, with disappointment, fails. Amber swallows the remainder of her bread and scoops Lindsay up into her hands. Lindsay laughs gleefully as Amber carries her around the room. “Aw, are you having fun, Lindsay?”

Not being able to tell which adult spoke, Amber turns, still holding a giggling Lindsay. The long auburn hair, dimpled cheeks, and sharp, bright eyes tell her exactly which aunt she’s facing. “Hi, Aunt Velvet,” Amber says, but doesn’t continue because that’s when Lindsay hops out of her grip and yells, “Mommy, hi! I’m having a great time! Amber just picked me up and helped me fly!”

“Is that so?” says Aunt Velvet, smiling and hugging her daughter’s shoulder. Amber grins, appreciative of their mother-daughter bond. Aunt Velvet then looks up at Amber and exclaims, “Oh my, Amber, you’re getting so tall!”

If Amber still had that bread in her mouth, she would have choked on it. Aunt Velvet never talked about how grown up you were unless you were Justin or Olivia, her older cousins who were almost fifteen. Yet, here she was, Amber, not yet a teenager, being praised for her maturity. She blushes.

“And your hair! It’s getting so long!” her aunt continues. “Have you ever thought of dying it? I know it’s already a beautiful color, but I’ve met a handful of girls your age who have.”

“Oh, yes,” Amber lies. “I’ve been begging my mother to let me dye it, but you know how protective mothers get of their children at my age.” Amber tries to sound the most interesting and sophisticated that she can.

Aunt Velvet laughs. “Oh, yes! I may be old, but I know what you mean!”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Lindsay suddenly joins the conversation.
“Lindsay!” Aunt Velvet scolds her. She looks back at Amber and adds, “I’m sorry if that was embarrassing, I believe Lindsay has been secretly listening to Justin and Olivia’s conversations.”
Amber had secretly smiled at the thought that Lindsay thought she was mature enough to have a boyfriend.

But now, remembering the Christmas Eve party for what felt like the millionth time, she wasn’t smiling. Now, she thought to herself, Is that all growing up is? Dying your hair, getting a boyfriend? She shook her head. No, that can’t be all there is to it.

She realized, a little guiltily, that these questions would have never entered her mind if the Pandemic had never happened. For if it had not happened, she would have never had the time to look over her life over and over again, to use her imagination as much as she had, to learn, sadly, of the terrible ache in the world.

The Pandemic had allowed her the time to recall shameful memories of joining in the teasing of a girl with a crush, and of laughing along with others at the boy who always sat alone. She had the time to look the memories over and understand how they were wrong. And this led to more thinking. Not just about herself, but the about world around her. Not only of the sadness of the world, and the mistakes people made, but the beauty of it all. Soon she began to enjoy the time when she sat down to think. It changed her perspective tremendously.

It was a bit like swinging on a swing set. For a moment, it’s a bit hard to adjust from the sudden change of going from the ground to the air, but soon it becomes a thrilling experience. You notice your change in perspective and surroundings as you swing through the air. It seems like everything around you is changing, but really the only one who's changing is you.

Yes, the passage of time is a good thing. It can open doors. It can heal wounds. And, everyone’s favorite, it can bring things back to...

Normal.

A familiar word, used everywhere these days.
We can do more things when everything is normal...
Don’t worry, when things are normal, it will be easy again... Soon, things will go back to normal...

It was used so much, it was practically like music to the ears. Everyone wanted to hear it. Everyone but Amber.

Normal meant no one would get COVID-19 anymore. And of course Amber wanted that. But going back to normal also meant going back to the life that she had viewed over and over again, and wanted to...

Change.

Amber repeated the word in her head. Change. That word was music to her ears.

Looking over her memories of teasing and laughing at other children, she grasped what her bullied peers must have felt. “They felt like they had to hide who they were or what they thought,” she said to the luminous sunrise as she continued to slide her bare feet across the grass. “And then COVID came. And everyone had to hide,” she continued, realizing that she was not only speaking to the sun, but also to her innermost self.

She looked down at her feet. “Everybody thinks that when things go back to normal, no one will have to hide anymore.” Looking back up again, she realized something she knew was in the back of her mind for a long time. “But that isn’t true. There will still be an awful amount of people who are forced to continue to hide themselves.”

She waited a few more moments (or perhaps an hour, she couldn’t tell) before she said anything else. What if change was good? What if people could step back and look at what COVID-19 had actually showed us? But she knew the answers to these questions already. And she was done hiding.

“Normal isn’t what we need!” she yelled to the wind and the grass and the trees. “Even when COVID-19 is behind us, we as people ought to change!”

That familiar, beautiful word echoed across the lawn. There. She finally said it. But despite this big step, she knew that that word still needed to echo across a larger community. Maybe she could—

No. She shook her head. She couldn’t tell the world this. What if they didn't understand? Besides, how could a 12-year-old, a child with a whisper for a voice, do anything?

She shivered. Maybe I’m just being stubborn, she thought. Despite all this courage... I’m purposely hiding myself. That sentiment surprised herself, and she knew it was too late to make that thought disappear.

But maybe it shouldn’t disappear. It was a true thought, after all. After all this courage, she couldn’t just hide herself. Her core beliefs were against that.

She turned. She now faced her house. Now was not the time to hide; now was the time to help. Something ought to change, she repeated in her head one final time. Slowly, purposefully, she walked into her home.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Very thought provoking. Can’t believe this was written by a 12 year old. She definitely has a future in writing. And I know one day I will be reading her books. Remember her name.

  2. This is beautiful! I have taught 12 year olds for a long time, and this is one of the most insightful pieces that I have ever read! Wow!!!

  3. I have known Emily since she was born, I knew she was special. This article is just the beginning of her journey, glad that she has been recognized for her talents…you Rock, Emily!❤

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