The western sky was a red-orange triumph. It was the perfect ending to that day – and also to that year. As the last emblazoned twilight of the year began to fade and the royal blue of night began to set in, Shannon decided to go for a walk….
That is how my short story “New Year’s Eve” begins. And that first paragraph is all I am willing to post of the story. I have several reasons as to why I will not ever post the rest of it, nor let anyone else ever read it (see below).
The story revolves around a girl named Shannon, who has had a trying year, who takes a soul-searching walk around a lake on New Year’s Eve, and who comes to certain realizations, the main one being that everything was going to be fine.
Shannon is me. The walk really did happen. Certain events within the story did not happen to me personally, but they worked well for the story as a whole, so I used them. And, at the time, I did come to the realization that everything was going to be fine, and I was almost maniacally gleeful about that.
Huh. Funny, that….
There’s really nothing more to say about the story itself. I consider it my pearl in a bed of oysters, a story that has grown and changed along with me. Marking time, as it were. I go back to it often, if only to remember the situation(s) I was in at the time, and how far I’ve come since writing it.
Besides, the story behind the story is actually a lot more interesting.
I wrote “New Year’s Eve” for my first semester creative writing final exam in my junior year of high school.
The final exam for creative writing that semester was actually in three parts.
The first part was we had to make a collage central to a theme of our choosing. One girl’s collage was all about cars; one boy’s was all about music. That sort of thing. The collages were due before the Christmas break from school.
Here is my collage. (It actually surprised me to find it amongst my paperwork; I didn’t think it had survived. But I’m sentimental, so it should be no surprise that I kept it.)
The very top portion….:
The middle portion (and the seeming sepia droplets on the white page were, at one point, pink-and-white flower petals)….:
The very bottom portion (which had more on it, but I don’t remember what I did with the missing pictures and/or words, but the teacher’s note and grade is still affixed)….:
As you can see, it was all over the map. All at once, there was hope and loss and remembrance and bitterness. There wasn’t a clear theme to my collage. When the teacher handed it back, she asked for clarification. “Where are you going with this?” she asked me. “Pick a central theme and just go with it.” So, essentially, I went with two sides of the same coin – loss and remembrance.
Now the second part of the final exam was to write one long piece or a portfolio of pieces inspired by the collage.
Did I ever debate! I thought on a short story, I thought on a poetry collection, I thought on both short stories and poems combined. I wasn’t procrastinating – I was honestly trying to come up with something that would suit my collage. And I had nothing.
On January 7th, the day before the second part of the final exam was due, I was home sick with a 101-degree fever. It was going on 1:00 in the afternoon. Mom was getting ready to go back to work from her lunch break, I’d just woken up about five hours before, and I’d been trying to write something since the moment I awoke, because I had nothing.
And then it occurred to me – why not make a fictionalized account about the walk I’d taken that past New Year’s Eve? Because I’d come to several realizations that night, the main one of which was ‘Everything is going to be fine.’ And I realized I really wanted to write something hopeful. And there it was. I had loss and remembrance, as well as hope. Loss and remembrance were easy to draw from (other stories for another time). Finding the hope aspect hadn’t been.
Well. Now I had the hope aspect, in ‘Everything is going to be fine.’
So I went downstairs to the family’s computer and, in five hours, cranked out “New Year’s Eve.” It ended up being six pages, single-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, which was probably about 4,400 words. I didn’t hardly edit at all as I wrote – it just took me that long to piece everything together, make it make sense, make it touch at the ends.
I HATED IT! I absolutely hated that story when I finally printed it off. I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever written. But it was the strongest thing I’d come up with in terms of the final exam.
So the next day, January 8th, I turned it in as my creative writing final exam.
One week later, January 14th, saw day two of first semester final exams (finals at this school took three days). That day saw the third and final part of our creative writing final exam – we would get our graded work back, and then make a presentation of both the collage and our work to the rest of the class.
I dreaded this exam the most, because I’d been walking around for a week thinking I’d absolutely failed the class for the semester.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I walked into class that day.
Not only did I receive an A+ (100%) on the story, the teacher wrote that it was “….the best student-written short story [she’d] read in some time….”
I don’t remember anything else that happened the rest of that day, because I was on cloud nine. I do remember walking home with Younger Brother, and just squealing and shrieking and being all “Oh my god!” the whole way home because, dear Lord, I’d passed! And she said it was a good story! Maybe I had some promise as a writer after all, and it was what I was meant to do with the rest of my life. All these hopes and dreams and feelings were upon me, and I was on top of the world.
Keep in mind that was January 14th.
The next day was January 15th….
That is the main reason why no one else will ever read this story, because it served as a last breath of innocence. And there’s nothing more to say about that.
I say ‘no one else.’ Only three people have ever read this story besides myself. They were all creative writing teachers. And each of them had different views of it, but all the feedback was positive. One teacher commented that I had good turn of phrase. One called it ‘Cormac McCarthy-esque;’ I haven’t ever read Cormac McCarthy, but I’ve been meaning to since then. One said the story actually started on page 3 as opposed to the first sentence on page 1.
I think the story would be hard for anyone else to read. It is not the same story that it was in the first place. In trying to make it more cohesive, I made it longer. However, I’ve found there isn’t anything I can remove from the story without taking away from the story. So it has to stand as it is.
Another reason I refuse to let anyone read it is that a certain event mentioned in the story, while it did not happen to me, did happen to other family members. And I don’t think these family members would appreciate my having used the event in the story. So. That’s that.
I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll post it in its entirety. That’s a big doubtful ‘maybe,’ though. For now, it’s just to be left to your imagination. Sorry. But like I said, it’s my pearl in a bed of oysters. And I do love it, very much.