Contest #219 shortlist ⭐️

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Creative Nonfiction LGBTQ+ Coming of Age

This story contains sensitive content

CW: Off-page mentions of suicide and sexual assault.


When I was young, I fell in love with a girl. Her heavy black Doc Marten boots, climbing out of her boyfriend's shitty old sedan, caught my eye as I stumbled off the school bus, my friend slamming into me from behind. I watched her smile and laugh, dumbstruck, before I was shouldered out of the way by other students, anxious to flee the tall yellow monstrosity behind me, but I couldn't stop staring. 

She wore a crushed velvet blue mini dress, a thick black choker necklace, and fishnet tights that made her pale legs glow. She had the prettiest smile, big brown eyes, auburn red hair, and a light dusting of freckles that somehow pulled the look together, and I hated her boyfriend instantly for the way she looked up at him. She was my friend's older sister, but my friend ceased to exist when her sister invited me into her bedroom to listen to Nine Inch Nails and hang out on her giant, messy bed. We stared at the dark purple ceiling and twinkling Christmas lights and talked about how cool Trent Reznor was. I doubt she knew the depth of my crush, but she let me call her a friend, and at the time, that was enough.

Eventually, she let me kiss her, but by then, I had given up on waiting for her to notice me and had fallen in love with others. A boy, who became a high school football star. But it was the late nineties, and after an injury on the field, he became addicted to opioids and eventually overdosed and died. In art class, I fell for an upperclassman who had a shy laugh, smoked a lot of weed, and had a penchant for imitating Beavis and Butthead. It was always funny, even when it was stupid. The day before school let out for the year, he hung himself in his bedroom closet. 

When I was young, an ignorant acne-ridden clown of a boy who liked to talk about the cost of gas prices and how many guns his dad owned made jokes to all our classmates that if you were bisexual, you were selfish and that it was okay for girls to kiss other girls if you were in porn or having a threesome, reserved for the viewing pleasure of a man only. I remember everyone laughing; it echoed through the halls and followed me around between classes because I was young and confused, and suddenly I felt shackled by heteronormative expectations, afraid to speak up for myself because no one else seemed to like both boys and girls, but again, it was the nineties, and no one really talked about it, either. So, instead, I kept quiet and never came out publicly. 

When I was young, being a feminist meant a lot of things, all of which ascribed you graciously to a set of tangentially defined rules. A feminist hated men and fought the lizard patriarchy; she was definitely a bitch and thrived on the fringes of subculture, which was okay because it blunted the sharp edges of living in a society that normalized bad behavior.

When I was young, my art teacher fell in love with me. He was old and balding and sweaty, and I can't remember if that's actually what he looked like or if it's the villainous image my memory recreates. He'd follow me into the darkroom because I was the only student interested in pin-hole photography, and he'd rest his hand on my thirteen-year-old hip and give it a squeeze. My friends and I would make fun of him and call him a pervert because I didn't know how to be afraid of him. I figured he loved to fall in love, like I did. He taught me to batik and how to use gouache and oil paints. He taught me screen printing and pottery and how to make clay molds. He was the track coach after school and told the other girls to stretch their legs, their boyfriends would appreciate it when they got older. He told me I was beautiful and liked to touch my hair. When the school year ended, he wrote me a love letter and left it tucked inside a box of a finished piece of art. When I found it, I balled it up, threw it in a trash can, and never saw him again. 

When I was young, my English teacher wanted to spend more time with me, so he invited me onto his boat at his lake house after school. Another time, he bought me a T-shirt and asked me to come out to the parking lot before school ended so he could give it to me because he left it in his trunk. I said no, but not the firm kind of no, the definitive, what you're asking of your student is wrong, kind of no. I said no, like he was just another boy asking me out. Nah, I'm all set. He didn't seem offended, though he no longer engaged in heated discussions regarding satirical literature with me during study hall. He stopped sharing his favorite books with me, too. I saw him years later at a bar when I was old enough to drink, and he didn't recognize me, or if he did, he was no longer interested.

When I was less young, I left high school and fell in love with another girl. Like the first, she transcended all those who preceded her. Her laugh was so big and obnoxious it was embarrassing, but when she left the room, you missed her with all your heart, like she snatched up all your joy and stuck it in her pocket for safekeeping; to be near her was to live in technicolor. Time passed, and life pulled us in different directions. One day she sent me an email with a picture of her penis; she had a pair of scissors and a seam tattooed along the length of it. When I saw her next, her breasts had grown larger through hormone replacements, and she never looked happier or more beautiful. I still picture her in that baby blue lacy top, accentuating her new curves, her long neck leading up to the brightest smile. If you met her, you'd never guess she was sexually assaulted by five men in a parking lot one night when she was barely more than seventeen.

When I was less young, I learned men liked you better if you smiled. Older men, younger men, teachers, store clerks. 'Why don't you smile, sweetheart?' Estimating the number of times a man's asked me that question would be impossible. I'm sure my scowl always deepened further, but it was clear you weren't allowed to make whatever expression you felt like making if you were a woman, and definitely not if you were a girl. No one ever yelled at boys to smile more, and I wasn't about to because I didn't care if they smiled or not. Why did they care if I did?

When I was older, I fell in love with a man. Tortured by memories of abuse, he wasn't as easy to love as the others, and I'm never quite sure if it was to my benefit that I can now clearly define toxic love or if I'd have been lucky to avoid it altogether. He had muddled black prison tattoos covering the length of his arms, sold coke and heroin, played the drums, and was so punk rock I could sense his brooding for miles. He was half-Mexican and the most intelligent person I had ever met, and he spoke with such eloquence and tumultuous sophistication I knew wholeheartedly that I was inadequately prepared to love him. Eventually, I left him when he couldn't keep himself out of jail, and eventually, he overdosed and died.

When I was older, I watched the world disintegrate. Men got into trouble for asking girls to smile more; the same men who were incapable of understanding the similitude of controlling a girl's natural ability to communicate because it pleased their eyes and conditional intimidation. The same men who were casually held accountable for retaliating against women for their rejections, however slight, though their punishment most often came in the court of public opinion, and to some, maybe that was worse.  

When I was older, an entire nation of women repudiated and bucked against a cast of puppets who assisted in reverting women's rights back to a time before the 70s. We watched our liberties slip between our fingers, and I knew without a doubt it was the same men who never comprehended the expression, men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will rape them, thinking it nothing more than hyperbole (at best) who were responsible; the same men incapable of reconciling their reluctant assumption that equality existed the moment we declared it and reality.

It was the same men who didn't understand how making jokes about girls kissing girls reserved solely for their visual pleasure and porn makes a girl stay quiet.

When I was older, I understood the extent of the patriarchal tendrils that festered and infected our world. And when I was older, I sat around a fireplace in an expensive hotel room with my straight, cis-gen partner, playing Scrabble, and realized in one strange lighting strike moment that labels didn't matter so much and that the ability to quantify your identity is impossible; language is stolen and reshaped by each new generation and that's okay because you get older and you realize you needed the identity as a young person because it helped you understand the world a little better.

When I was older, I learned I didn't need to smile, even if a man asked me to and even if it hurt his feelings, because I don't exist for his pleasure. When I was older, I learned how to say no, even if it felt a little too late a lesson. And when I was older, I took comfort in knowing that the world would burn no matter what; there was a kind of freedom in acknowledging that all of us humans just needed to learn to survive each other.


October 07, 2023 02:41

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30 comments

Jonathan Page
06:35 Oct 07, 2023

Hazel - this is another powerful piece. Really great work. I was very moved by it. Putting the subject matter aside, which is obviously a big subject matter, what I am most struck by is how enjoyable it is to read your writing. It flows very naturally. There is a strong voice. As a reader, you feel safe in the author's hands through every sentence. There are no off-key notes. First of all, I think we went to the same high school. Do that many people still die in a high school class? Because I went to high school in the '90s and it ...

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Hazel Ide
14:25 Oct 07, 2023

Hi Jonathan, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! So yeah, weird, right? There were many more deaths in my high school, too. I do think it's the same now, but when I was younger, maybe it was the same for you, deaths (and discomfort) were often brushed under the rug. This younger generation now seems to have a much stronger collective voice, so I think we hear about their plights in a different light, not that they are actually different from our own experiences. Also, I love that you said 'mundanely horrible' because it's spot on....

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Jonathan Page
01:50 Oct 23, 2023

What a great story! Read it a 2nd time and was even more impressed. Keep up the good work!

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Hazel Ide
01:17 Oct 24, 2023

Wow thanks for the second read through Jonathan! :)

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Danie Holland
11:42 Oct 10, 2023

Hazel This story dissolved me to tears. What important words you share. Ones that, I think I really needed to hear. How is it time passes and we realize sometimes we absolutely have the power to unshackle ourselves. We can say no and we can shed our labels, because at the end of it all. You’re right, we all are on the same field, playing the same games, and trying to survive one another… trying to survive, period. And each generation is an ocean taking charge and reshaping the land that we were once so sure was so solid before. Sometimes, ...

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Hazel Ide
21:07 Oct 10, 2023

Hi Danie. Your comment could have been a story on its own. So beautiful and eloquent and I feel like your understanding is right there with me. ‘We have the power to unshackle ourselves’ - chilling. Thanks for the comment and read.

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09:16 Oct 08, 2023

A lot of truth in this. Nice by the end you realized you don't need to be a people pleaser, and a lot of the assumed inequity back then is thought of very differently today. Growing up in the 90s drugs were so prevalent, but in my time there weren't many deaths as opoids weren't in yet. I remember spending a lot of time feeling lonely or bored, now the great thing about mobiles and app is young people can feel connected without "partying" which is great for their long term health. Nice personal essay, well done.

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Hazel Ide
22:39 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you Scott. Yeah mobiles/the internet has completely transformed the interface of human interaction, particularly amongst those who grew up with it. Will be interesting to see what happens...

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Ken Cartisano
07:06 Feb 07, 2024

This is an engaging piece of writing, Haze. Smooth and lyrical, a strong, human voice, powerful message. Messages. Teachers may be bad, but education is good. (Okay, well, that's one of the many things I got out of it.) I'm with you on the 'smile' thing, a rudimentary flirting technique. I watched a lot of guys use that 'line' and I always thought it was demeaning and disarming at the same time. A powerful tool that any idiot could use, and even more distressing is how well it worked, on any woman. What a wonderful relief it is, to finall...

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Hazel Ide
17:43 Feb 07, 2024

Thanks very much Ken! Haha, lizard patriarchy... funny enough, it was inspired by the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer; there was this episode about a frat house, and they had to feed this demon lizard unsuspecting college girls to keep their wealth and status. Hence... lizard patriarchy. ;)

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Leila Pascasio
04:12 Dec 11, 2023

Hi! Is there a way I can contact you about this piece?

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Hazel Ide
15:22 Dec 11, 2023

Sure. Hazelidle@gmail.com

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Amanda Lieser
19:49 Nov 23, 2023

Hi Hazel! Oh my gosh! The detail for this story is such a feat! I was incredibly moved by the way that love, whether healthy or unhealthy was the star of this show. You addressed so many complicated themes and held true to your narrator’s heart. Mine broke alongside it. I loved the way this story addressed all of the social pressures that guided their life and defined the villains with all the cloak and dagger they each deserved. Nice work!! Congratulations on the shortlist!!

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Hazel Ide
23:19 Nov 23, 2023

Thank you so much Amanda! What a lovely analysis, I like how you drew out love as the star of the story. Really nice. Cheers.

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Graham Kinross
12:07 Nov 21, 2023

This has some powerful things to say about the world. The way children just are who they are then have to fit into a mould as they get older and pretend a lot of them doesn’t exist because other people wouldn’t get it. Getting to the point in life where you’re done hiding who you are and you can just be yourself seems to be a thing so many dream of but are scared to do. Scared of judgement. Scared of losing out because of the prejudice of others. It’s a lot to deal with.

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Hazel Ide
03:35 Nov 22, 2023

Thanks Graham. I like what you said about how children just are who they are until they get older and feel like that have to fit a mold. It applies to a lot of things, and aspects of life, not just sexuality or gender equality. Thanks for the read.

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Graham Kinross
04:46 Nov 22, 2023

You’re welcome Hazel.

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Judith Jerdé
23:27 Oct 23, 2023

Hazel, wonderful, just wonderful and flawless writing.

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Hazel Ide
01:18 Oct 24, 2023

Thank you Judith! That's very kind! It felt weird but good to write.

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David Sweet
20:02 Oct 20, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist this week! Your talent is really shining through.

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Hazel Ide
20:54 Oct 20, 2023

Thank you for your kind words, David!

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Kathryn Kahn
19:25 Oct 20, 2023

This is so well-written, Hazel. It's graceful and engaging, but also fierce. Brava.

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Hazel Ide
23:59 Oct 20, 2023

Thank you so much Kathryn!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:50 Oct 20, 2023

Woohoo! Congratulations Hazel!! 🎉🎉 a very powerful story!

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Hazel Ide
19:07 Oct 20, 2023

Thank you AnneMarie!

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Tom Skye
09:21 Oct 14, 2023

Very beautifully written and enjoyable to read. Some tough subject matter in here, but the theme of learning and growth throughout gave it an uplifting edge and an air of hope. Great work. Thanks for sharing

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Hazel Ide
12:13 Oct 14, 2023

Thanks very much Tom!

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AnneMarie Miles
13:07 Oct 10, 2023

Thanks for sharing such a personal story. Do you write poetry? I feel a poem in there, or perhaps a speech. Something about this feels like it needs to be heard aloud. It's very powerful, especially in the way you give such intense details out so quickly - I think that's the poetry for me. I related to the smiling, the people pleasing, the hindsight reflections of what the world looked like and what it looks like now. I really liked this line: "language is stolen and reshaped by each new generation and that's okay because you get older and ...

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Hazel Ide
13:44 Oct 10, 2023

Hi AnneMarie- gah! Thank you so much for the typo catch! That would have driven me nuts. I think it’s a super relatable story as well. Also, as much of a fan I am of prose, I don’t really read poetry, I’ve never been a big fan. Amy Hempel wrote some good poetry that she slipped into her short story work that I liked, she’s really amazing- do you have any other authors you recommend?

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AnneMarie Miles
15:01 Oct 10, 2023

Small typos like that drive me nuts too so if you ever find one, don't hesitate to point them out to me! Poetry isn't for everyone. Some are just poetic writers. I love Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott, Billy Collins. You might like the poem "My Brother My Wound" by Natalie Diaz. Anyhow, I appreciated your writing style and learned a lot. Thanks again.

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