by Alison Longman
On the first day of sophomore year, my English teacher posed the journal question, “What really matters and why?” Now, the summer before my senior year, I actually thought about that question. I spend hours writing these essays – about me, my experiences, my family, my friends, my life. I write in order to try and clear my mind of the topic – as though the final essay will provide me with closure on the open-ended black holes in my life.
Most recently I’ve begun work on a series of essays called ‘The Reality Checks,’ each dealing with one year in high school in which I felt I had faced a new brutality in life. What do they matter? Because I finish the one about how my friend became anorexic doesn’t change the fact that every time I look at her I can almost still see the discolored skin on her neck. If I end up liking the one about how my godfather and uncle both died during second semester of my junior year won’t bring them back to life. Why do I do this? Who are these helping? I have an entire folder of unfinished essays for my editor at Mad as Hell Club, an online website. What are they worth? What is any of it worth?
My friend died in a car crash on July 6, 2007. He was 17 years old, two months shy of 18. I don’t know what to make of it. Do I live the rest of my life in fear of these accidents happening to me or someone I love? Do I act irrationally, as though I’ll go at any second, and therefore act upon every impulse I have because I don’t know that I’ll be alive tomorrow? Of all the uncertainties in life the only certainty we have is that we will die. That was my life lesson at 17, junior year. While I sit and recall the memories of my godfather, my uncle, and my friend, life continues outside. Am I afraid to join it?
People are always saying to spend your life doing what you love- is that what really matters? I’ve stopped myself from doing so many things I love because of my hyper-heightened fear of sudden death. When three people I knew died within six months of each other, the oldest of which was 65, my world was nuked into oblivion before my eyes. I could complain about the schoolwork and bad teachers and punishments from parents, but those don’t really matter.
So what matters? Does it matter that going into my senior year, half of my class will be mourning the loss of our peer? Does it matter that I fear the losing every person I love? Does it matter that I can’t find comfort in sleep because my dreams are haunted by those lost- visions of them alive- when I wake it’s as if I’ve lost them all over again? Does it matter that I’ve lost all faith in life- things and people I use to live for are lost because I fear losing them so?
I no longer wish on dandelions, fallen eyelashes, or shooting stars. I no longer think that butterflies bring good luck or that having the hiccups mean someone is thinking about you. I don’t know if there is a final resting place or life after death. I know that life is tough and keeps getting tougher. I know there are some things and people in life worth living for—I know that they will all be gone one day no matter what anyone says or does. I know that those gone will always be missed- and never forgotten. I know that this is life- take it or leave it for what it is.
Maybe that’s all that really matters.