As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute.
And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.
Who I Am
A Story by Beth B., guest blogger
“If you got to start over, what would you want to be?” Jake asked me, leaning his head back against the cell wall.
“We don’t get to start over.” I said. I had no interest in the conversation. “We chose what we wanted to be and now we’re paying for it.”
He frowned up at the grimy ceiling as we both listened to the steady dripping sound that echoed down the hall, a leak probably. It didn’t matter either way. The warden wouldn’t fix it. Why use the money on a building made for thieves, rapists, and murderers?
“Yeah I know.” His voice grew quiet. “But what if you could? What if we got a second chance?”
I stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t like those words.”
“What if.” There was a brown mold at the far right corner of the ceiling; it had over the past weeks made a slow, but deliberate march across the grimy surface. “What if, what if. I don’t see the point of wasting time thinking about it when there is no way it’ll ever happen.”
“Okay, but what else are we going to do?”
I rolled over on my cot facing the wall now. It was very much like me: dirty, unclean, and screaming for someone to come save it from this fate. I’m just like this wall, but we both have one thing that is different, and that is the wall knows it’s a wall, but I don’t know what I am.
Who am I?
“Andrew?” I felt Jake kick my cot with his worn boot. “Andrew? Fine. Ignore me.”
I heard him lie down, grumbling about unfriendly oafs. I raised my hand so it was inches from the wall's surface. “If who I am is what I have, and what I have is lost, who am I?” I whispered to the wall, willing it to answer me by pressing my hand against it and pushing hard.
“What are you mumbling about?” Jake asked, his cot creaking as he shifted. “Cause the food cart's not coming back until dinner, and that’s hours away.”
“Nothing.” I said, pulling my hand back, and closing my eyes, losing myself to darkness.
It’s been ten years since I had that conversation. Ten years to ponder who I am, and what it would be like if I got a second chance. What did I discover?
Nothing, well almost.
You would think ten years would be enough time to discover myself. That’s not easy, but I did think about it a lot. I even asked a few less violent jail mates. One said the same thing that I did: I was wasting my time thinking over something that would be worthless if I didn’t get out.
Another one said that who I am is up to me to decide. The last guy added to it by saying that who I was changed throughout my life, and there is no true answer for it.
The last one haunted me every night, and now that I’m out I realize what he means.
Who I am is never just one thing. You can try to limit yourself to one job, hobby, or sport, but the truth is that who you are is larger than you can dream, and confining that self is like shutting every emotion you have inside a small box.
So this time I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go out there and tell everyone who will listen that there is never only just one thing for you. That who you are is up to you, and you can be anything you want to be.
How do I know this is true? Well, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here sitting at this old coffee-stained desk staring out at a sea of young faces. If I was the man still in jail, the faces would all look alike, but I’m not, and I can see that they all are harboring something special, and as their teacher I want them to share it.
I stand up, placing my mug of coffee down and picking up a black marker. I turn to them. “For today’s lesson I would like everyone to share what they wish to do when they are older. And if you don’t know, then tell me a hobby. Tell me what you dream to be.”
--Beth B. is a 13 year old writer living in Ohio.