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Creative Nonfiction Contemporary Coming of Age

It’s a mild September morning, when you tell your parents you feel too unwell to go to school, and it isn’t a lie. But it isn’t the truth either.

The truth hit you the previous night, in the colour of crimson on paper white, the red dripping onto the stone floor tiles. Your face paled to match the paint on the wall behind, as your reflection, wide eyed, stared back at you under the harsh brightness of bathroom lights. Your soul left your body then, just for a little while, leaving you barely standing, weak and feeling fragile, like the dainty flower they’d say you are, but you never wanted to be. Deny. 

Luckily you were home at the time, but “lucky” was the last you thought of yourself. It was a wake up call, a smack in the face with a rock in a sock or something just that hard: life.

You were less than ready for this roadblock to land between you and your treasured dreams, but you should’ve seen it coming: you knew what it was, you have been told before. In a vague, cryptic way, you were told to expect it and it always sounded like a problem nobody wanted to talk about. But no matter the hints and the warning signs, you were caught off guard, and couldn’t help feeling like you drew the short straw and were dealt the wrong cards. You’d never thought it would actually happen to you. It felt wrong and unfair in every way, it was a betrayal, a mistake, an ill-humoured twist of fate. Not a part of the future you dreamed up for yourself. Not something you would need or ever want and you really weren’t ready at the age of twelve, but let’s face it: you would’ve never been ready. Not for what was to come. At that point, you should’ve learnt: life can and will always get worse.

At dinner, you didn’t say anything, or nothing that you can remember, anyways. You don’t recall if anybody said anything either, you only remember staring into nothing as you often do, sitting at the table in your yellow, duck print pyjamas and toilet tissue folded inside your underwear, sipping your cocoa with unmatched anxiety. It will pass, you promised yourself, when you went to bed with your dozens of teddy bears, hanging onto stubborn hope and pretence that nothing was happening and nothing had to change, because your body would listen and change its mind. 

It did not.

The next morning, you feel sick to your stomach when it’s clear that yesterday’s nightmare didn’t evaporate at the touch of the first rays of sunlight, it didn't dissolve at the crack of dawn. It’s staying, as your uninvited private guest for a while. You sneak around like an assassin, hiding from sight and hiding all evidence. At breakfast, you still don’t say anything apart from what you had already decided: you are not going to school. You don’t remember much of a push back, it must be because you actually look ill. But you spare your parents the details, even though you need help, because anything devastating enough has to be said from a safe distance: you aren’t good with words out loud and face to face. You are better at writing them. So you wait until they leave the house and text your mum. You don’t say the taboo words or anything difficult, you only say as much as you must, and that your belly hurts. That last one is a lie, but you write it still, so that you don’t leave room for misunderstanding. You would rather die than to explain it, after all.

Your mum buys you what you need to catch the blood and leaves you be, which you are grateful for. You eat a whole bar of Milka every day and mark these days in your Hello Kitty calendar (which was a gift, but you secretly like it) because you are told to keep track of them, colouring a tiny triangle slice of the corner of each day’s cell discreetly. Nobody should even think to ask about the meaning behind such a small detail, but just in case, you make sure not to use a red pen.

It’s over in a little more than a week with you hitting a brand new high score of getting blood on the most clothes over the shortest time, and you are keen to forget the shame. At this point, you don’t truly believe it would return to you, but it comes like clockwork, your unwelcome wretched curse.  Twenty days is all you’ve got. Twenty days of bliss you always took for granted and mistook for forever. How did you not realise how good you had it? Your spirits fall with the autumn leaves as reality sinks in, dressed in blood and dying, as the trees fall asleep for winter.  You stay up late.

This is why girls don’t go on adventures, you realise, thinking about all your favourite books. You are not going to live the life of your dear Gary Stu, Old Shatterhand, travelling the wild west on horseback and falling in love with an Apache prince. That door slammed shut in your face and was bolted, the key turning in the lock at the first drop of blood before you ever stepped outside. You will never live that life. Now, the need for convenient access to bathrooms and period products is an obstacle in your way (far greater than being born in the wrong century to start with), it’s a fence too high to jump. No more precious wild west dreams and pink smoked tipi nights, no more fighting alongside Winnetou. Your tragically fictional heroes would no doubt be just as disgusted by you as you are by what you had to become or in the best case they would simply not notice you: you can be a throwaway character to treat a wounded man once, not even getting  a paragraph in the whole book. But they would mention, if you are pretty enough.

There are no more sports, either. You quit for the whole year, only doing PE during the twenty days of bliss between the bloodbaths, when the water doesn’t run red in the shower and you don’t wake in a pool of your own blood buried under your plushie toys, your long pyjama pants soaking red down to your ankles. On those days, you sneak to the bathroom to change and you change your bed. You throw the bloodsoaked sheets and clothes into the laundry basket, folded in a way that it doesn’t show and pretend nothing happened. You always make sure nobody sees you in bloodied clothes.

You miss school a lot. Sometimes, it is just so bad you cannot leave the house, so you tell a lie about how your belly hurts, and stay home. When you do have to go in, it’s overwhelming. Having to double up on period products and still only lasting thirty minutes safely, without bleeding through everything is a red flag painted in blood: it isn’t a good sign and it isn’t normal either, but you don’t know this yet. You only know that you must have a jumper to wear tied around your waist and that the classes are forty five minutes long, so you will spend every single break in-between locked in a bathroom stall, attempting the impossible: to open a new pad without it making a noise.

Some other kids faint at the sight of blood when someone cuts their finger. You are lucky not to be squeamish, for you see your hands covered in your own blood far too often, along with a bathtub that looks like a murder scene. You must be the victim, over and over again. You become very sceptical of investigations on TV dramas where they reveal blood stains with UV lamps and call it “evidence”. According to that, there’s an awful lot of evidence you were murdered with upmost brutality, in multiple locations. You even feel a little bit dead each time, month and month again, a ghost of your own that dreams of a different life. You never get used to it.

The hard things like social gatherings are even harder now: you need the bathroom, and your mind is on whether you can stand up safely without bleeding through your clothes or whether it is too late for that already. You bare your teeth at the man across the table who tells you to smile because the concern on your face does not suit a “pretty girl”. You never hear them nagging the boys with that, but maybe they have a reason to just smile their stupid, ignorant smiles, just discovering their dicks for the first time, instead of having to come to terms with how they’d won the doom lottery, getting sorted a uterus; a troublesome organ you have no intention of making any use of. You always preferred animals to babies.

Turns out, heavy bleeding is far from the worst that can happen to you. The pain you lied about catches up, your own prophecy that cannot be untold. Nor can it be avoided. Again, you didn’t know how good you had it. As time goes on, your PMS eats away at your days of bliss: a few days at first, then a week, and finally two. The short week right after your period is all you have left without cramping and tenderness, a small window when you can just be you, unbothered, or at the very least: unbothered by your own traitor of a body.

That’s not even the worst. The worst is always the first day of the cycle, though it does take a few years to get real bad. First, the painkillers stop working. You try different ones, but swallowing pills causes you more pain, because you never mastered that skill, and so you give up the failing experiment. Next, you realise that there is agony so unbearable for your body that it makes you throw up. Continuously. At that point, nothing helps anymore: no pills, no light therapy and no hot water bottles. The pain doesn’t stop until you fall asleep. Then, you can wake up and feel a little lighter… But sleep does not come in agony.

Despite your pride you are reduced to sweat and tears and begging. You are begging your mother to give you something that works. You beg her to bring over the baseball bat and knock you unconscious, and you beg for drugs you have never tried, and you beg for a kitchen knife. She tells you she cannot help, and that this is just how things are. She tells you pain is just another feeling, a thought in your head and your mind is strong enough to make you feel like it’s something else, just a feeling that doesn’t hurt, like the feeling of somebody stroking your hair, if you can just focus strongly enough. And you try it. You would try anything, but nothing works, and you are always left alone because even your mother doesn’t have the time and patience to watch you toss and turn and cry for hours that stretch longer every month. Your mind is not strong enough. You sink your teeth into your hands and arms and you hit your foot on the wall. Pain cancels pain, but you can’t make it bad enough. You hit your head on the wall to see if you can make yourself pass out but you are too afraid of crashing your skull on it, too afraid to hit hard enough. You simply cannot do it. Eventually, you grow exhausted and pass out. You can finally sleep.

When you wake, you feel light and devoid of sensation, a low-bar euphoria. It’s over for now and you can start counting down the twenty seven days before it happens again. And it happens again. Only, you either got stronger or the pain’s gotten worse, because it takes longer for you to pass out, prolonging agony.

By the time you turn twentythree it lasts twelve hours. Twelve hours of crawling on all fours between your bedroom and the bathroom, which two are luckily still adjacent in the small houseshare where you’re renting your room. It’s also a sick day off work and your manager yells at you over the phone. It’s not like you don’t need that money to pay your rent, and there’s no sick pay. Especially no sick pay for “normal human functions”, but you aren’t just slacking off. You can’t even stand up straight.

But maybe it would be the last time, because on that day you take your first pill. You never wanted to go on them, but it was the only choice offered and at this point you’d really try anything. So when your GP dismisses you like the throwaway female character you are, without giving you the time of day or half a paragraph in your own appointment’s story, you take what you can get. Even if you don’t want it in the first place.

It prevents ovulation, that is what’s hurting you, he says, but he only listened, never examined you. You aren’t sure whether he is right or wrong, but you do know that the day of ovulation is not the same as the first day of the cycle, so you don’t understand. In any case you hoped for more, after hearing the word “endometriosis” for the first time from a colleague, but maybe your doctor just didn’t know how to diagnose that. You try to get a referral for an actual checkup, but he tells you he specialises in gynaecology and you should trust him. You don’t but you don’t get to have another line in the story, so you get out and get your pills, for free, thanks to the NHS, and you take your new, prescription only painkillers which you have to pay for and like all others they don’t work. But there’s hope that those pills might do.

You stay up after you wake. You’ve learned over the years to stay up late: you might get away with four hours of sleep later on, from about 2 AM, if you visit the bathroom just before then, without waking up in a pool of blood when your alarm goes off at six. If it’s your lucky day. You spent endless hours like that, from the very start, turning into a night owl reading through fanfiction sites, and now that you have moved out, it is especially important, if you wish to keep your deposit, that you don’t ruin the mattress that you sleep on. 

At least it has never been a struggle to stay up all night and read, for as long as your soul has a place to fly and your mind can get lost in a page of words, you are able to go on those adventures you’ve dreamed of; where you would rather be.  Far from the cramps, the blood and nausea, and far from the thought of how you will have to change yourself for the better and the worse, making an imperfect compromise, day after day, one small pill at a time — you don’t want to go to sleep.

March 25, 2022 18:40

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38 comments

J.C. Lovero
22:20 Mar 25, 2022

Riel! Remember this? 'PS "girl flu" took me an embarrassingly long time to get LOL' - that was the first thing I thought of when I started reading this. Silliness aside, let me just say: kudos to you for sharing this. Whenever I see that "creative nonfiction" tag, I always find myself in admiration for the courage people have for allowing themselves to be a little vulnerable. Although I've never experienced this myself, I was with you every step of the way - the highs and the lows. I think most people can relate to feeling ashamed for som...

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Riel Rosehill
22:25 Mar 25, 2022

Hey! I remember, in fact, I thought of you writing this! I thought... What am I doing... He had to look up how to not say this... Hope he won't be scarred for life, omg I am SO sorry if you read this J.C...!🤣 But thanks for making it through it and leaving a comment! I appreciate you. Xx

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J.C. Lovero
22:28 Mar 25, 2022

Never afraid to read about this! I am fascinated by experiences that are not my own... helps with learning empathy, right? So glad you wrote this. And I appreciate you!!!

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Zack Powell
19:34 Mar 25, 2022

So close to being prompt twins three weeks in a row, yet so far! But alas, I think it's for the best, because you knocked this one out of the park! I think I've said this to you before, but I have to say it again now: This is the best writing that I've seen from you. Point blank, period. Facts. There was something so honest, and so tender, and so thoughtful about the way you wrote this one. And the thing is: For me, as a reader who's never experienced what the narrator is going through in the story, I really felt every bit of pain and frust...

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Riel Rosehill
20:05 Mar 25, 2022

Heyy! Ah yes, that fanfic line originally went more like "fanfiction your parents would ban you from if they knew" (but I'm sure you can still relate, haha). Btw you don't know how prepared I was to apologise to you for having to read this one?!. I was beyond terrified posting it, and it feels silly in hindsight but I guess taboos are quite hard to overcome, even for me, even if don't want to admit that? And truth to be told it was my last resort for this week: I couldn't come up with a story so I just wrote my own, in second person POV to ...

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Zack Powell
21:00 Mar 25, 2022

LOL, I have most definitely had those "Oh my God, this is horrible, should I even post this, they'll laugh at me if I do, but I wanna post something every week, ughhhh I'm just gonna do it!" moments. Far too many times, in fact. And I'm always glad that I talk myself out of it, as I'm likewise glad you talked yourself out of it, because this is SO GOOD. Side note: I forgot to mention it in my original comment, but yeah, I went back and saw the "Creative Nonfiction" tag, and I was like, WOW! Because I 100% could not go through that kind of th...

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Riel Rosehill
21:49 Mar 25, 2022

Ah, thanks! That "I don't want to post this but I must do, I've got nothing else" feeling really is the worst! Next time you get that, remember this: I promise I will want to read it and I won't laugh at you and also at this point I would be worried that something happened to you if you didn't post a story! So just do it for both of us. 😁 On the side note, not sure if I am deserving of respect! But thank you. Unfortunately it's not a can or cannot go through the thing kind of stuff, if you are a doom lottery winner, you just do. I would als...

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Graham Kinross
23:33 May 21, 2022

You captured the inevitability and frustration really well.

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Riel Rosehill
04:05 May 22, 2022

Thank you!! 😊

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Kate Winchester
00:07 Apr 10, 2022

Wow Reil! This was very well done. Your words are beautifully written. You’re very brave to share your story especially about something that’s taboo but shouldn’t be. I agree with the other comments in that 2nd POV in this story is amazing. I’m sorry that you’ve been put through this nightmare. I hope you’ve found something/someone that helps. Great job!

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Riel Rosehill
05:43 Apr 10, 2022

Hi Kate, thanks so much for reading & leaving a comment, it's much appreciated. And yes, it is is better now, thank you. ☺️

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Jay Mc Kenzie
12:55 Apr 01, 2022

Such beautiful writing around something so painful. The use of second person was extremely effective for this subject matter. I'm so sorry that you had such awful responses to your pain. I would like to go back in time and find little you in the duck pyjamas, give you a hug and take you to the very best gynaecologist in the world.

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Riel Rosehill
13:31 Apr 01, 2022

Hi Jay, thank you for taking your time to read and for leaving such a kind comment! It's much, much appreciated.

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Kelsey H
09:15 Apr 01, 2022

Very well written, the 2nd person works really well here to feel so close to the emotions and like you are going along with her, trying to figure out how to deal with this. I really love the detail you add to your writing I always think its the little details that make it really come alive for the reader ie lines like this I loved; Your face paled to match the paint on the wall behind, as your reflection, wide eyed, stared back at you under the harsh brightness of bathroom lights. I loved this too; Nobody should even think to ask about the ...

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Riel Rosehill
09:30 Apr 01, 2022

Hi Kelsey, thank you for dropping by to read and leave comment, it's much appreciated! It was a challange to write so I am happy I am super happy that the little details sprinkled in did their job!

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Lavonne H.
16:00 Mar 31, 2022

Dear Riel, I think I needed time to absorb that, as in illnesses and disease and other experiences, we feel we are absolutely alone. Your story brought forth what I endured for 40 years and could only have a total hysterectomy to correct. You wrote with beauty and sincerity. Each and every sentence had truth but written in language that was lyrical--from beginning to end. "The truth hit you the previous night, in the colour of crimson on paper white ...." Everyone has shared what the impact your words have had on them. I can only echo that ...

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Riel Rosehill
17:24 Mar 31, 2022

Dear Lavonne, Thank you for taking your time to read and comment - it's always much appreciated! As you can probably see from my early replies to the first comments, I was truly anxious about posting this story (it is why I really put the extra effort in with the language)! I thought the boys would run away for a start (and have I underestimated them, big time! They're all amazing.), and everyone else would just tell me "it's not THAT bad" -and I was wrong again! Such a different experience from 99% of my discussions on the subject, and I ...

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Zelda C. Thorne
08:39 Mar 31, 2022

Great writing! I felt so angry at the mother and the doctors! And sad at the Girls can't go on adventures bit. So brutally honest. Thanks for sharing.

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Riel Rosehill
09:07 Mar 31, 2022

Thank you Rachel! I appreciate that you took your time to read my story and leave a comment. I suppose it's easy to feel mad at people (I for one am mad the GP still, and managers/workplaces) but when it comes to parents I think it's a bit tricky - if they themselves were raised to believe this is all just normal, and they tried to help but nothing seems to help, well, what do you do? Even now, even among us millenials there is a lack of awareness so I can't be so hard on older generations! Hopefully we will see a change in that.

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Zelda C. Thorne
09:17 Mar 31, 2022

Yeah, now you've said that, I wouldn't be mad at my mum if it was me. Parents do their best!

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Cindy Strube
17:46 Mar 29, 2022

Riel, this was absolutely gripping. I think I started holding my breath when I realized “this is not normal!” Like others, I agree that 2nd person was the perfect perspective. I have to choose as my favorite line: “sitting at the table in your yellow, duck print pyjamas and toilet tissue folded inside your underwear, sipping your cocoa with unmatched anxiety.” It perfectly expresses the naïve, carefree child on the brink of a surreal, incomprehensible, indeterminate situation. Thank you for having the courage to endure, and to write about...

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Riel Rosehill
18:19 Mar 29, 2022

Hi Cindy, Thank you so much for taking your time to read and comment on my story - it sure took some courage to share this with everyone but I'm glad I have. I think boiling it down to less than 3000 words worked for this story but depending on what story you want to tell, it can for sure be a challenge - and also, you have to wait for a fitting prompt, which is another difficulty, but I hope you will be able to tell your story either here on Reedsy or wherever you find a place for it. There is a place out there for every story and I am s...

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Cindy Strube
18:36 Mar 29, 2022

Yes, I have so many stories to tell… fitting a story to the right prompt is more of a problem than coming up with material to write! (She was indeed a lovely person - an inspiration to everyone she knew.)

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Sharon Hancock
02:33 Mar 29, 2022

Amazing writing. I absolutely felt every word. And I’m angry at the doctors and the mother. And the bosses! You must feel so alone with this, and that makes my heart hurt for you. I find myself wanting to reach through the story and pull out the MC and help her! At least hold her hand ! and I really really hope this is more “creative” and less “nonfiction” . The loneliness and hopelessness is very strongly evident in your words. “So when your GP dismisses you like the throwaway female character you are, without giving you the time of day or...

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Riel Rosehill
08:50 Mar 29, 2022

Hi Sharon! Thank you for your kind words. This is 100% nonfiction unfortunately, and the bosses and that GP were really the worst - there was a total lack of awareness or empathy on most people's part. So as much as I wanted to just get it off my chest, I also hope to raise awareness so people with similar challenges might feel a little more seen and heard and a little bit less alone. Even if just a handful of reedsy authors see this, every small change matters.

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L.M. Lydon
22:35 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you so much for bravely treating such a difficult and unjustly 'taboo" topic. This is well-written. Your second paragraph in particular is very vivid and descriptive. And the line "So when your GP dismisses you like the throwaway female character you are, without giving you the time of day or half a paragraph in your own appointment’s story, you take what you can get" was such a scorching and sad truth.

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Riel Rosehill
08:36 Mar 29, 2022

Thanks for taking your time to read and comment! The second paragraph was my favourite part to write. I'm so happy that this story is well received so far, it was so scary to post given the taboo topic! So thanks a lot! Each and every comment here is really makes it worth writing these stories.

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Michał Przywara
21:07 Mar 27, 2022

Holy crap, that was intense! As someone who will never experience this, I appreciate you sharing it. I see it's tagged nonfiction, but there are some real nice horror vibes here too. I love some of the descriptions, like the bathtub murder scene, but I also like that betrayed-by-your-own-body sense you convey here. But I think where you really nail it is that "throwaway character" theme. It says: this will continue happening, it's crippling, and nobody else cares. You're on your own, very much alone in a crowd. Harrowing. Thanks for shar...

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Riel Rosehill
21:57 Mar 27, 2022

Hey, thanks a lot for taking your time to read! And many thanks for leaving a comment, I really appreciate it. I think "holy crap, that was intense!" is the exact reaction I needed to hear for this, haha. I'm glad you enjoyed the horror vibes, and how you interpreted the throwaway character theme because everything you wrote there is just what I hoped to express! So, again, thanks! 😁

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Shea West
20:21 Mar 26, 2022

Riel, Two lines that stood out quite nicely to me were: How did you not realise how good you had it? Pain cancels pain, but you can’t make it bad enough. That first line is the epitome of going from a child to an adult isn't it? Like there's this feeling of wanting to expedite things and grow up...and then there's things like periods and bills and heartache. Then that damn period shows up and you're like WHYYYYY. That second line is true, in a way. When I support clients in labor we often talk about how it's impossible to focus on two pai...

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Riel Rosehill
21:24 Mar 26, 2022

Shea, thank you so much for reading and thanks for your kind words! I've not had any kids nor was I ever present at any births (but wow that sounds like a rewarding career!) so I can't make a comparison pain-wise, but gosh it must be the toughest thing on earth to go through, let alone 3 times (I'm sure it's all worth it though)! You have all my respect.

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Shea West
04:57 Mar 30, 2022

So nice to see this on the recommended list!!

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Riel Rosehill
06:02 Mar 30, 2022

Oh, wow that happened?! I am too new here to even know where to find that list so thank you for telling me! I would've never known otherwise. Where can I see that list btw? I tried to find it to see what other stories are on it and I just couldn't..!

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Shea West
13:21 Mar 30, 2022

If you click on any of your genre tags for your story (after it's been approved) it'll take you to another page. It'll always list past winning stories first, below that will be recommended stories. These are stories that have made it to the next round so to speak. If you find your story in the all stories category, then it is not moving forward. But you've landed in the recommended!!!!!

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Riel Rosehill
13:32 Mar 30, 2022

Wow!! Thanks for telling me, that's incredible!

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Diane Hunter
16:24 Mar 26, 2022

Hi Riel, Awesome metaphors used to describe this natural yet harrowing time in a young girl's life. Vulnerability yes, and you made this a very thorough and informative read for those who will never experience it. I like the line..." it's a Fence to High to Jump".

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Riel Rosehill
16:39 Mar 26, 2022

Hi Diane, Thank you for taking your time to read an comment! I wasn't sure if that line was going to be a good one so I'm glad you liked it! It's just the rider in me, thinking in fences to jump, haha.

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