Writing Catalog

Madeline Bryan

Grade: 12

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong

Know Thyself

Personal Essay & Memoir

Know Thyself

Know thyself, they say, and I'll be damned if I don't know my body better than anyone. Here is a map of how seventeen years of life have wreaked havoc on a too-old body. Here are my bad knees and weak ankles. Here is the whiplash that wracked my body there, there, there.

Here is the birthmark hidden behind my right ear, my too-turned-out feet, and the irregular gait that wears down the heels of my boots. Here is the over-awareness of every minuscule motion—the tilt of my pelvis, the length of my spine.

Here is the differential between the length of my legs, unnoticeable to anyone but me, and here is how my body curls in to the right, hoping to protect itself. Here are my shoulders, not quite level, and here is my back: tendons, muscles, and ligaments transformed to stone in the days since the car accident.

Here is the summer day when someone I try helplessly to no longer think about looked at me like they knew things I didn't.

Here is the fact that no matter what I tell myself, I don't think I will ever be able to stop writing about it.

Here is the fact that my body tells the story, even when I do not want it to.

I noticed the other day that the scar on my right knee had faded and felt like I could cry. It used to be the only evidence of entire years of my life. I used to be able to point at it and say "look, I was there. Look, it was just as terrible as it was wonderful. Look, this is all I am left with."

Look, I am gone and there is no longer any proof I was there in the first place. Look, my word does not feel like a primary source, not when I only remember to be angry every other day.

My body is a map, and some paths fade away before they can be charted. Nonetheless, I am the scar on my shoulder and the spot on my right hand. I am bee stings and trips onto gravel; I am dog bites and cat scratches. I am car accidents and weak knees. Know thyself, they say, and I know it all. I know the bad and I know the good. I know the history and I know what remains. I know the old scars and the too-turned-out feet.

I know that I know more than those who observe from a distance. I know that I used to have a scar on my right knee. I know it is gone and I am more than those years of my life. But I remember them.

I know my body and I know myself. I don't know the future, but I keep the past close by. I live with the present—my bad back and worn-down shoes.

Here is who I have been, who I am, and who I thought I would be. Here are the nights I lay on the floor. Here is what I know: not enough. Here is where I'm going: forward.

Are You Good at Fixing?

Personal Essay & Memoir

Are You Good at Fixing?

Last November, my grandmother, in a burst of clarity, turned to me and stated "everything is falling apart."

Shocked, perhaps by her lucidity, or the bluntness of the statement, all I was able to say was "I know."

She shook her head slowly, before turning back to me and asking simply, "are you good at fixing?"

Dear God, what I would give for that to be true. I am excellent at shattering. I just never know how to pick up the pieces. I am loud and abrasive and fantastic in an emergency. I am not good for much else.

I told my grandmother the truth, reluctantly. She did not seem to mind, pointing cheerily at her nurse and smiling "she is."

Once upon a time, my grandmother was good at fixing too. Now she's dead. My grandfather, a man she broke and abandoned in the world of the living, tells me that he dreams of throwing himself over the ravine of Roger's Road. A truth so brutal it does not even register.

In March, while she was still alive, I worried that my tears would be spent when It finally happened. The loss felt scabbed over as if, in anticipation, it had already occurred.

How wrong we can all be. In May I realized that absolutely everything I knew about love was a lie. I still don't know how to live with the memory of my grandfather pressing quivering lips onto a coffin covered in yellow roses, an expression on his face that could only be described as reverence.

I loved her terribly and felt terrible about doing so. Sometimes those we love are not good people. Sometimes we do not like them. This does not deter our love. I have never cried as much as I did those days.

In November, my grandmother asked me if I was good at fixing, and I silently thanked her nurse for more than people are capable of being thanked. My grandmother slipped the rings from my fingers onto her own. We watched jeopardy. She told me she loved me and called me her honey girl.

In November, I was not good at fixing, and I have not gotten any better in the time since. I have aged fifty years, but I am young enough again this December to be satisfied with being worse. I tell my mother that I am seventeen and terrible—that one woman's fragile tether to life was the only thing keeping me polite. When she asked me to consider what I wanted to say at the funeral, all I was left with was one man's fuck you.

I did not speak at her funeral because I still do not have the words. to my family, I called her a force, because she was, and because forces can be both cruel and kind. To not speak ill of the dead is a false law made up by those with selective memory. I didn't love the woman because she was perfect but in spite of the fact that she was not.

I am not good at fixing, and it is not my job. I am not a fixer—not like my grandmother's nurse, not like my grandmother herself used to be. She was a force. She was a fixer. It was not her job either.

I will not be polite because the world is a mess, and I refuse to lie or ignore it. I refuse to look at the dead through rose-colored glasses. I refuse to smile at those who have hurt people I love.

I am graduating High School soon and I do not know what will happen next. My grandfather is selling the land I love most in the world. The dog I have grown up with is becoming concerningly old. I worry that I will have no future in the sport to which I have devoted my entire life. I worry that I will never find the right words.

I may not be a fixer, but I'm a teller, and I'll tell it like it is.