On Friends and Ferns

A sense of place and personal history defines us more than I realize sometimes.

Those silly “On This Day” Facebook pop-ups remind me of some of my greatest joys and sorrows, or at least the ones I posted on social media. I end up spending too much time reminiscing, I think, in life. But it touches on a significant point: part of realizing where we are in life comes from remembering, reconciling and celebrating where we come from. Our past.

In a few days I’ll embark on my first-ever week-long fall break. Charles and I are going to the beach with his family, and I’m looking forward to a week of relaxation, pretty sunsets and vitamin sea. I like Florida and all of its quirkiness, and not just because of my adventures in Miami and beyond. Hopefully we’ll be able to hike for a day in the swamps and forests around Apalachicola. Those areas seem so unique to Florida and are so unlike what I know in deciduous, hilly Appalachia.

In past posts I mentioned adopting some cacti and plants this year. One fern that my mom helped bring back to life this summer seems to bring back a lot of memories, cherished and special and tear-jerkers.

My thriving fern and baby spider plant.

For almost a month I’ve been working at CGLA, an all-girls charter school where Charles teaches, in various capacities. Today I’m teaching my second creative writing club. It is all at once wonderful, horrifying and overwhelming. I admit I have very limited teaching experience, and I’m finding the girls seem way more interested in sci-fi and fiction than journalism and the style of non-fiction writing that I seem pulled toward. Just being around (much) younger people is a change for me; most of my work life exists in marketing and such, putting me in an agency setting, or even more isolating, in the confines of my house, left to communicate with the outside world through email, phone calls and very rare face-to-face meetings.

So again, overwhelming is an understatement; but I’ve found joy and reassurance being among the students. They’re hilarious and ridiculous and kind, full of energy and louder than I expected. (Though really…I have long prefered quiet dark spaces where I can work alone for long stretches of time. It will take some adjusting.) In the few weeks I’ve been there I’ve been reminded of my own time in high school—working among fellow Notre Dame HS alum and former teachers has helped! Those were scary years when I felt out of control and so sensitive to what was going on in my life. I wanted people to like me. I wanted boys to like me, I think. I wanted to do things that went against what my parents, teachers, church and role models encouraged me to do.

In preparing for my creative writing club, I can’t stop asking, What the hell did I write about in high school? Most of my personal journals are painful to read. I was hurting from my family’s division and I suppose coping the only way I knew how.

But this morning, I watered that special fern that is now thriving, since I’ve learned how much water and light it needs. Not too much, not too little; just right. The Mama Bear of my house plants. New curly, fringed leaves recently budded for the first time since I’ve had it. A marked season of growth for both me and the plant—a childhood friend sent me the fern, and some others that didn’t survive the winter, when I was in the hospital a year ago. (A memory that brings up more tears and emotions than I know how to deal with, categorize or process this morning.)

My hospital adventure last year

That fern reminded me of the days that friend, Sarah, and I spent running around in the woods. She lived one neighborhood over from me. We would make the trek to meet halfway and play in streams and creeks along the way. We usually ended up at her house, I think, and if I recall her mom always had great snacks, her backyard a trampoline, and her room a fish tank. Sarah and I were inseparable for a number of years. Her Dad, our hilarious soccer coach, brought me to my first R-rated movie—Event Horizon, which I think would still horrify me to this day. I remember talking about when we would get our periods and what it would feel like, and sharing those girlhood secrets about crushes we had and such.

What stands out to me now, and what I still have buried away at my dad’s house, were the journals we wrote to each other over multiple summers. We would write a notebook to one another, talking about our day, our parents, our lives, and whatever else was going on at the time. I don’t think there was anything special about what we wrote, but just the fact that we did—that we maintained these spiral-bound notebooks for each other—reminds me how close of friends we were, and how important that relationship was to me.

Now I can see that it wasn’t just the relationship, but the influence and encouragement to express myself, reinforced by all forms of education along the way. While I remain somewhat overwhelmed by how to introduce the concept of CREATIVE WRITING to my small troupe of budding writers, who I’ll see this afternoon, I’m reassured that if I can impart at least one thing to them… it is to write a lot. To write often. To write to your loved ones. And that if writing is your thing, and you like it, don’t stop. You never know where it will lead you, or what it will remind you of, or what you’ll realize through writing.

I realized that my influences throughout childhood, into high school, were awesome. They didn’t feel like awesome years at the time, jam-packed with awkwardness, parent-defying moves and trying to figure out life lessons, some of which I still grapple with today, but now I see that they were exactly as they needed to be. Filled with friends, running around in the woods, exploring new things, sharing secrets in notebooks, and solidifying a lifelong habit of writing.

Thank you, Sarah, for being my childhood friend and correspondent, for your continued love and gifts, and especially for the thoughtful gift of ferns last year. I may have killed most of them, but the one that’s hanging on is beautiful. It reminds me daily of where I’ve come from, and that with the right attention, the new opportunities and blessings will continue to grow for me.

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