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.
Stories from the Shag
By Anaís Fernández
My time-out rug was white, with blue squares and tassels at opposite ends.
There were twelve squares, or maybe nine; I can’t remember if they were arranged three by three or three by four. Maybe the blue squares were actually diamonds. Maybe they weren’t even blue. For all the things I don’t remember about my time-out rug, there’s a few things that have stuck with me.
The rug held so much power, see—I didn’t know I could leave the rug. When a time-out was dealt, I dutifully retrieved the rug, cast it to the ground, and threw my body on top of it. (I was usually crying throughout this process.) I sat there, pulling at the tassels with all the anger I could muster for the five minutes (lifetimes) my parents had sentenced me to. Why should I, a righteous and lawful five-year-old, be sent to this polyester perdition, on account of refusing to share my toys with my younger sister? I found it simply outrageous.
Of course, as I got older, I got bolder. Keeping one foot, one elbow, one toe on the shag, I would stretch across the floor of my bedroom, reaching for the nearest stuffed animal, book, notebook. Object in hand, I filled my head with stories—acted out with my Beanie Babies, detailed in my Magic Treehouse collection, written out in my rough, seven-year-old handwriting. I realized that these moments took me away from the shame of the time-out rug and to someplace with stories, someplace quieter, someplace where I could read the minds of characters in my books, where I could create my own characters, where I could create myself.
I don’t have a time-out rug anymore; I grew out of it. The stories, however, grew with me. I held fast to the sanctuary they provided. Being a New York City transplant at ten years old wasn’t an easy transition. To cope, I journaled, sitting on my new windowsill and looking out at a city of glass instead of the foggy landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area. NYC is a place of stillness as much as it is a place of motion. When I find myself stuck in the same place for a few minutes (lifetimes), stories help. On long subway rides, I write about the way the sun comes through the windows, reflecting off the buildings outside. I write about the man across from me, who has old hands but a young face. I write about where I’m going, and why I’m nervous to get there.
I don’t have a time-out rug anymore, but that doesn’t mean I stop taking time-outs. I take every opportunity I can to step back, sit with myself, and observe. The people around me are the stories, the mirrors in which I see myself, understand myself, challenge myself. When I write about the woman who cries behind her sunglasses, I confront my own vulnerability, my own resilience. When I write about the couple who sit pressed together, saying nothing, I explore what can be said in silence. I watch the tourists who fumble with maps and phones, and when I ask them if they need help, I remember being in their place. I write every day. It’s what I reach for when I’m feeling too heavy, or when I need to tangify life’s intangibles. As much as I hated it, the time-out rug helped me find my passion, my outlet, my chosen survival tool: writing.
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.
Anaís Fernández is a second-year Girls Write Now mentee and a high school senior currently applying to college creative writing programs. When she is not writing poetry, prose or random snippets living in her head, she is making music, acting or reading. If she had to eat one thing for the rest of her life, it would be rice.