AN Essay Contest HOSTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
DOTDASH MEREDITH & REAL SIMPLE
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays.
By Erika Jing
The first time I realized my parents did not hold the answers of the universe in their palms was not when I was asking obscure questions about aardvarks or pirate ships.
Instead, I was sitting next to my mother on the garage steps as the clock ticked past midnight, and the lights flicked on and off.
I remember reflecting, I have never been up this late before, but I had not chosen to stay up. Instead, I had woken up minutes before, to the shudder of metal against chain, the creak of feet on floor, and decided to investigate.
An intruder! I thought, and was determined to scout out the perpetrator before they reached my sister and mother, who I believed to be fast asleep.
Creeping out of bed, I pushed open my bedroom door, inch by inch, until I created a gap large enough for my nine-year-old frame to slip through. The first obstacle in my heroic quest was the stairs, as they groaned resoundingly. I imagined myself as light as a mouse, lighter than air, placing one foot onto the first stair. Tiny splinters of sound sprang from the polished wood, despite my efforts.
“Hello?” Halfway down, hands gripping handrail, I leaned forward, searching for my adversary, but found nothing except for a sliver of light from behind the back door. Trailing after it like Gretel tracing the path of candy, I approached the entrance to our garage, half-shut against the darkness of the kitchen. My hands paused for a second as I reached for the handle—not from fear of the now forgotten burglar, but the unfamiliar quiet I finally discerned—and I pulled the door open.
The white walls reflected the lightbulb, sharpening it into a glare. On the steps was a single person.
“Mama? Mama, what are you doing still up?” I whispered.
I tried to gently settle myself beside her, and her T-shirt (my pajamas) rustled noiselessly.
“I finished my homework, Mom. I just, I was sleeping, I swear, and I thought I heard creaking, or another person.” I looked over at her face: bright and shining and vivid in the artificial LED light.
The snow shovel leaned against a wall, unsteady, one of its metal panels had fallen loose, gleaming from the snow, now gathered as a puddle, pooling around its rusty edge. We had a snow day today, but my sister and I stayed inside, warm, popping our heads out occasionally to admire the flakes and throw a snowball or two. It snowed from dawn to late afternoon in New Jersey. The sidewalk was plowed by the time we went to school tomorrow, there were scrapes against concrete, red.
“Mama, fine I’ll tell the truth; I have a math quiz tomorrow. It’s multiplication tables. I don’t know how to do the nines.”
She was incredible at math. Usually, she would help me. Today was different.
The left side of the garage was empty, still. Dusty.
“Mama, is something wrong?”
Her eyes were glazed. Speech was wanting.
“What are you going to do?”
And she answered for the first time, said only once, “I don’t know.”
Shuffling, unsocked, unslippered toes. The overhead light glimmered blue.
“Is there something I should do?”
Hands peeked out, red, gripping smartphone, chapped from frozen wind, from earlier that day. I put my hands around her, the garage was freezing. I had complained about the heater that evening, and she brought me her blankets. I need to go clean the kitchen anyways.
“I’ll keep you warm, Mom, you don’t have to sit out here by yourself.”
My Simple Realization: An Essay Contest & Story Collection
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays. This contest was produced in partnership with Dotdash Meredith and the team at Real Simple as part of the SeeHer Initiative.
Erika Jing is a student, hopeful writer and aspiring poet (not necessarily in that order) based on the east coast. She can be found wandering libraries, listening to podcasts and struggling with languages. Her poetry has appeared in Eunoia Reviews but they mostly reside in her desktop.