SLCL received over 250 entries for the 2019 Write Stuff Contest!
Here are the top two submissions for the Write Stuff Contest Grades 9-12.
1st Place: Quiet Mornings by Mary M.
Every morning, when Jennifer Winde woke up, no one around her remembered who she was. To some this might sound like a fantasy novel, but to Jennifer it was reality. Jennifer’s whole life centered around caring for her only housemate, her father, who suffered from dementia. Jennifer’s father had been diagnosed three years ago and was currently in the throes of severe cognitive decline. This meant that on a good day her father had no idea who she was and on a bad day his decaying mind warped her into a burglar or a kidnapper or some other monster who wanted to hurt him. Since the diagnosis, and Jennifer’s decision to leave school and become a full-time caregiver, the bubble that was her life had grown increasingly small. At the beginning, she had been able to leave the house for things like groceries and trips to Target, but as her father’s condition grew worse, she felt uneasy leaving him for any longer than it took her to go to the bathroom. Groceries were now delivered to the door and perusing the furniture isle at Target was a luxury she could only dream about. The only time she got out into the real world these days was when her father had a doctor’s appointment. She never thought that a doctor’s appointment would be something to look forward to, but that was the turn her life had taken.
Today was an appointment day and Jennifer felt a little lighter as she pulled herself out of bed, made breakfast, and went to wake her father. She rapped her knuckles against the cool wood of her father’s bedroom door; a warning so as not to startle him. When she opened the door, her father was awake in bed, his face expressionless and unrecognizing, but calm. She was relieved. This meant she would probably not have to put up a fight in order to get him dressed. Despite her relief, her heart still sank. Relief meant that the energy usually reserved for putting up a fight could be given over to other emotions. Emotions like grief, frustration, anxiety; the mourning process that felt like it would ever end. She pushed this heavy mess of emotions out of her mind as best as she could, put on a brave smile, and got her father ready for the day.
As Jennifer ate her breakfast in silence, her mind began to wander. As usual, she found herself focusing on the troubles of her current situation. Jennifer’s father was a single parent, which meant that when he became sick the responsibility of his diagnosis had fallen into the hands of his three children. Being the youngest, Jennifer had the fewest roots put down, and though no one had explicitly asked her to, it made the most sense that she be the one to care for her father. Her two older siblings, Dan and Claire, were recently married and already struggling to juggle careers and family life. Unable to pay for a caregiver and unwilling to put their father into a nursing home, Dan and Claire had agreed to go along with Jennifer’s offer. The plan was that Jennifer would postpone grad school, care for their father full-time and in return would be allowed to live off the small savings account their father possessed. Jennifer had known it would be difficult to care for her father. She understood what she had signed up to do. She knew that ultimately, she was going to have to watch the man who raised her suffer a difficult, uncomfortable, drawn out death. She knew that there would be times that she felt angry and sad and helpless. She was prepared for the emotional toll this ordeal would take on her. What she was not prepared for was the strain that would be put on her mental health. The isolation that came with caring for her father was hard to cope with. At first, she had managed to keep up with her social life, but as the situation progressed, she couldn’t juggle anything but her father’s health. She lost touch with her friends from college. She gave up the idea of grad school. Every time she visited her siblings, she had nothing to talk about except their father. This made her feel like an intruder, bursting in and unnecessarily burdening a happy family with her worries. Eventually, she stopped speaking with Dan and Claire altogether. One day, she had woken up with the realization that if she died, there was a possibility that no one would realize for weeks. This realization left her feeling completely ungrounded and hopeless. She thought to herself, when I wake up in the morning, if there’s no one around who recognizes me, am I really existing at all? While her father was losing his memory, Jennifer was losing her whole identity.
Later that afternoon, Jennifer and her father made the trip to the doctor’s office. When they arrived, Jennifer set her father in a chair and stepped up to the front desk to check in. The nurse behind the desk was a pretty blonde woman, her face a mishmash of worry and smile lines.
“Hi,” Jennifer began, her voice slightly croaky. It had been several days since she had spoken aloud to anyone. She cleared her throat. “I’m here to see Doctor Poortello,”
“Name?” the blonde nurse asked, her tone professional.
“Oh, sorry- Jennifer. It’s Jennifer Winde, sorry. Uh, I’m here with my father Craig, his appointment’s at 2,” Jennifer cringed internally at her fumbling.
The nurse clicked away at the computer in front of her, completely unfazed.
“Ok,” she smiled “you’re all signed in. Someone will be with you in just a few moments,”
“Thanks,” Jennifer responded.
The nurse hadn’t even noticed her slip up. She most likely assumed it was a normal conversational pause; perhaps she thought Jennifer was just distracted or nervous. Jennifer knew better. For a moment, she had forgotten her own name.
2nd Place: To Be Wiped Off by Keeley C.
To Be Wiped Off
I do not dream. My consciousness climbs out of the black void of sleep and up into the gray mist of my hotel room, not weighed down by hallucinations. I see enough nightmarish things during the daytime. I couldn’t see anything at all that morning, though, for the curtains remained firmly drawn. This was my first indication that something was off. I relied on Bridget, my personal assistant, to crack them open each morning and gently wake me with her silvery voice. Even before my husband died, she was the one responsible for both getting me up on time and keeping me in a decent mood. I must not be paying her enough, though, as I lied in bed in vain for an indeterminate amount of time. Grumbling under my breath, I forced myself to sit up, then to slide my legs over the side of the queen-sized bed. That was enough movement for me to be able to make out the digital alarm clock on the bedside table—either it was the autumn equinox, or I was screwed. Remembering that it was May, and time was against me, I sprang into action. I was late, which I usually am with minimal troubles. Being late today, though, could get me in for contempt of court. Cursing myself and that stupid girl, I yanked the curtains open and began to ready myself in a frenzy. I opened all the drawers before I remembered that I didn’t even have my dress for today. Where was my stylist? Or hair and makeup? I stole a glance out the window: my view of the downtown looked the same, with cars whizzing by and ant-sized pedestrians milling about. No apocalypse seemed to have occurred while I slept. After fiddling with the foreign remote of the hotel’s TV, I finally turned on the news. Hunting for my own face, I flipped through the channels, to no avail. Sterling was there, of course, pictured in a box in the corner of the screen. His bleached teeth shined, though I could tell that his smile was staged. It always was.
“Still no suspects,” said the reporter, an insipid woman I met at one of Sterling’s fundraisers, “in the murder of Senator Sterling Harris.”
No suspects? The anchor was plain, granted, but not dumb. How could there be no suspects if I was on trial for his death? I dared to wonder if the trial had been called off. A cool pleasure pooled in my gut. Grabbing my phone off the mahogany bedside table, I tremored as I tried to type my own name into Google. I hesitated, though, at the sound of that overly intonated voice.
“At the time of his death, Senator Harris was a bachelor.”
The ring on my finger indicated otherwise.
According to Google, my name, Mara Harris, was utter gibberish.
“Did you mean Mata Hari?” prodded the algorithm. I most certainly did not. We were similar in some regards: dark-haired cultural icons unfairly persecuted by the law. I dared to think, however, that I might be spared the firing squad. To confirm once and for all that the trial was off, I called Bridget. I trusted her to be honest; she had proven her loyalty while the rest of the world vilified me. Out of gratitude, I had bought her a highrise apartment with dark-stained glass. I recognized it from the corner of my eye as I put the ringing phone up to my ear. Silence eventually arrived, indicating she had picked up.
“Bridget,” I started, not realizing how panicked I was until I opened my mouth, “who do you work for?”
“I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number.”
“Answer the question.”
“How do you—” she paused for a moment, “I’m unemployed.”
Rage hit first. I become a tornado, destroying everything in sight: my phone, the nightstand, the throw pillows, even my knuckles.
How THUD could CRASH I RIP not WHAM exist?
I caught a glimpse of myself in the wide window; only my reflection could get me to stop. My furrowed eyes widened. I slacked my brows. I didn’t want to wrinkle. I straightened my posture and took a deep breath. My manicured fingers bled wildly, most likely from punching plexiglass. I might have gone crazy, I consoled myself, but crazy is better than caged.
I brought by bent knuckle to the center of my upper lip. I swiped it down the left side, then the right. My cupid’s bow was stained, as it had been at so many events and parties. My blood dripped onto my bottom lip, and I pursed them together, savoring the iron taste. Lipsticked, I cracked a smile.