Lessons, by Claire Dougher

Aidan and Mitchell were always around. There were times of anger and frustration. They didn’t like me that much; they were always making fun of me. Mom was busy with them and not me. I felt lonely. I would wander around my yard, to the pond, the woods, or to my neighbour’s house. I would play in the grass and pick yellow flowers. I would do whatever my heart felt. I could sit in on my siblings’ lessons from my mom. I would attempt to read and draw; I remember being fascinated with ancient Egypt. The mythical world would be something that I was always drawn to, the stories and ideas. Possibly, that’s where my love for movies came from. We had no cable growing up, so TV shows were introduced by whatever my dad rented for us to watch on the weekends. I was infatuated with the stories and plots, I wanted to be a part of it. My loneliness helped me explore the things I liked and what I wanted to do. But I think it also makes me wary of ever being alone again. Now I hate being alone.

But then Paige was born.
I remember it was the day after Easter. April in New York is always rainy. The air smelt fresh. My aunt picked me up from the bus stop, which was unusual. I asked her why she picked me up, and she made me me run home, because my mom had just given birth to my new little baby sister. I remember the wind on my face as I ran down the hill to my house with her. I was now a middle child with Aidan. I was excited about having a little sister. I remember when I first met her. She was so small. I stuck my hand in and she grabbed my pinkie. I knew I would like being an older sister.

It was the first day of 4th grade. I was in recess, and I did not know where to go. Usually, I wandered around, so I decided to that. Then I saw the new girl. She was short, pale, had long brown hair, and the biggest blue eyes I had ever seen. She had just moved here from Connecticut. She was sitting on the swing alone. I asked if I could swing with her. I told her I was usually alone most of the time, so we could hang out. Though she now says she found it was creepy, Jackie is still my best friend to this day. Later that year, we met Kailey. I don’t have a clear memory of how Kailey and I met, but it did involve our mutual love for The Lord of the Rings.

For the last many years, we have been hanging out and dyeing each others hair, watching movies and binging on food with each other. If there was ever is an errand we didn’t want to do alone, we would drive and pick each other up just hang out meanwhile.
We can’t do that as much now because they are back in New York, but they have always made me feel accepted. We have always been there for one another. We have made it through thick and thin, through Jackie’s abusive boyfriend and the death of Kailey’s brother. They are family to me. They have my back no matter what. I know they will always accept me.

I started piano lessons when I was six. My first recital when I was 7. I remember playing piano every day. My mom would always say ‘Practice, practice, practice’. There were no words of encouragement like “Practice makes perfect”: just “practice”. But now I am grateful for my 12 years of classical training. I remember the lavender dress I wore to the classes. I remember waiting in line to play my song. I remember the nervousness, my hands shaking, but I also remember pushing through those nerves to perform. I remember memorizing my piece. The keys came to my fingers naturally; I knew which sound would come next and which key it would be. Piano started my great love of music. I listen closely to music now, to each and every sound. My hand always shake before I play the first chord. The keys feel so smooth to this day.

I also started to play violin. I remember feeling amazing. I was super excited to play, I had been dreaming of it. I remember opening my violin case for the first time, the smell of the resin and the smooth brown surface of it, my dad jokingly picking it up and playing with it. I started to pick apart songs on the radio on violin and piano. I drew more. I felt very confident in myself and my artistic abilities. I may have been a little too full of myself at that point, but I always felt I was destined for something bigger. I had dreams for an amazing future. My first NYSSMA solo was coming up: I was going to be judged. We started to learn the piece 4 months before we would perform. I was so nervous; I remember the song was called “The Clown”. I rehearsed so much I became sick of the song. I was nervous to perform, but confident. I got a perfect score. My last NYSSMA solo I taught to myself in a week just by listening to the piece. Antonin Dvorak, Violin Sonata, Op. 57. I got a 98%. I feel a bit vain telling this, but it is good to feel proud of your accomplishments. Learning violin made me feel prodigious compared to others. I was special. Everyone needs a way to feel special compared to others: violin and piano became mine.

Johnny Esposito was the worst kid in class. I wanted nothing to do with him. He interrupted, cursed, and made dirty jokes all the time. I had heard all about how awful he was. I was better. I was a good kid in school, smart, musical, and artistic. I listened, paid attention (unless doodling), and I was quiet. Then Mrs. Spivak moved him and I together. I was upset. Again, a teacher was forcing me to ‘a good example’ to someone else. But then Johnny started to joke. And he was friendly. I got along with him, and we would laugh together. Probably one of the reasons I started to curse.

Once, he opened a brown sharpie that exploded all over his blue math book. The cheap paper and Sharpie smell filled my nose, almost stinging it. The brown ink splattered and leaked through the whole book, and the stains would stay for the rest of the year. He almost got in trouble for causing a nuisance in class, but I backed him up and told the teacher it was a mistake. He was misunderstood; I had also misjudged him. I realised I needed to take a step back from being so pretentious.

My parents decided I should sign up for cross country. I am not a natural born runner, but my dad loves running. I hated it, but I had no reason as to why I shouldn’t do, so I joined. As I predicted, I hated it even more. I was the slowest on the team, I couldn’t run more than two miles without needing to walk, I was always left behind while running; I was just no good. I decided I was going to quit. As I was leaving practice one day with the intention of telling my dad I couldn’t do it any longer, a girl came up to me. Her name was Emily Rogers, and she was a senior. She was part of the fastest group, and I was jealous of her speed. She told me I was doing so well and she could see that I was getting better. She told me she used to be bad as well, but working at it she became faster.
I was inspired. I changed my mind, and stuck with running. I was still slow, but I was working to get better, and though I never became that fast, I did improve. I met new friends: Keri, Rosie and Anna. I remember laughing during our 30 minute runs and as we hung out in the backwoods of the course. The leaves were so beautiful. Colours of yellow, amber, orange and crimson.

I learned comradery, and found a new family. I remember when I broke 30 minutes in the 5k and my coach hugging me because he was proud, or the time I was about to come in last but then I pulled through and sprinted ahead. The wind on my face and adrenaline kicking in as I course the finish line. It’s a feeling I could never forget. I ran cross country and track for the next 4 years, and the friendships I made last to this day.

Towards the end of my senior year, I fell behind in my grades. I lost motivation. I was accepted into high school, but it was getting harder to wake up every day, go to school, then track, then do all of my homework, fall asleep, and do it all over again. I was working every Sunday, my only day off, and I couldn’t cope. I became academically ineligible to participate in track. My mother took this to mean that I was not ready to go to England. I was forced to go the Rockland Community College for a gap year. RCC was going to be torture.

I watched from social media of everyone away at school already and I was stuck in arguably the most boring place on earth. My life was supposed to be like theirs. I was trapped in a place I didn’t want to be. I was going to move to London. I would become something better. I was going to be this intelligent, interesting American girl: I would start a new life. I would make friends who understood me, and I would grow into something more. I couldn’t grow here anymore: the way New York felt had changed, and the feeling wasn’t a warm one, nor a could one. It was nothing. Numb nothingness, absence of purpose. I wanted to be anywhere but New York. I felt lost, at a standstill. I was at the finish line, I saw it there, I had it in my grasp. But then I was stuck, forced to wait before I could cross it. My life was closed off from me, I couldn’t get to it. A whole year lost, as a reminder I failed.

I couldn’t show that it bothered me. I didn’t want to be weak. I needed my pride. But my emotions? They had to be pulled underground. They were festering, they were heat in my veins. I was not going to be good enough. I never was, and I never would be. I was a failure. The anger slowly dissolved into sadness, and I decided that I would lie about it to everyone else. They don’t need to know. Get over yourself. If you had been better you would have gotten it. You deserve this punishment. You failed.

My mom had taken me to London to move in to the University of East London. It breathtaking. We went sightseeing under the rain. Everything was so surreal; I could not believe I had finally made it. My mom and I have always had a weird relationship, and I feel like everyone I know is a lot closer with their mom than me. But this is a moment of pure love between us. As we rode the tube to Heathrow, we held each other. My mom cried as she said goodbye to me. The last few years of my life I felt like to her, I was a failure. But she told me she was so proud of me. We hugged and said we loved each other, as she walked in to the airport. I regret not crying then, because I am crying now as I write this.

And then, there’s Nick. How do I explain Nick? I first met him when I tripped him in 7th grade. After that, we met in Basic video production. He read 50 Shades of Grey out loud, and I knew from the start he was a weird kid. But the next year in Acting, I was glad he was my friend, and we became closer friends as the years went by. When RCC started, we ended up being on campus together. He has a very unique humou; some may say it’s obscene, dark and weird, but he makes me laugh all the time. He is incredibly sweet to me. He is someone I want to talk to forever. He has black curly hair, the warmest brown eyes and skin like caramel. We started to date in October 2016. Had I never stayed that year for RCC, it might have never happened. His is a silver lining in my life. We spent New Year’s Eve together this year; I had just come back from London for my winter break. He is the reason whyI like coming back to New York. We watched movies and cuddled. I remember closing my eyes; the light from the T.V. was bright against my eyelids. I loved feeling his chest move up and down as I rested my head on him. The warmth from him radiated through me as we dozed off. He is someone who always makes me feel safe. He always supports me. I never felt love like this. We missed the New Year because we fell asleep cuddling.

I think London has been the most amazing experience. It has been difficult at times, but I have met so many new people. I remember last spring: Maggie and I ran around parks and hung out in nature. It was warm and beautiful; the flowers were blooming, yellow like the ones I liked to pick back home. Having picnics with my new friends was amazing. I am still amazed that I moved to a whole other country. But Nick and I stuck with long distance, and Kailey and Jackie always call.
Though it was sad leaving my friends and family, I was still able to grow. I think being in London made me truly happy and accomplished. I looked back at to how I was, and all of those feelings of failure were depression. I was out of it. I was not a failure. I failed once in the grand scheme of my life. Here, I was learning history, exploring a new city and meeting new friends.

One time, Maggie, Anne and I took a trip to Dover. It was very last minute, and I had nothing planned out. We got lost, almost missed our bus there, it rained and we got wet, we missed our bus back and had to get a train. But it was the best trip ever. I’ll never forget laughing with them as we ran back and forth in the cold towards the sea, the mist spraying from it. I remember the rocks under my feet, and the fog surrounding me. I felt so happy I met my new friends, and grateful for my new home.

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