“Look,” Dad began as he stood in my door fame with one hand on hip, top two buttons of his button-up sighing a breath of relief, signaling a day’s end. “When I turn the lights off, what’s any different?” He stood quiet, patient, and slightly smirking.

I sat up a little straighter. Loosed my grip on the edge of my lavender bedspread. Little fingers pressed white in terror, regaining their rose color. Feeling some sense of comfort and bravery with Dad’s supervision, I decided to let myself freely view my once colorful room in this now obscure state. All my stuffed animals that I had individually kissed goodnight (carefully and one by one because leaving someone out would hurt their feelings). Silhouettes of bunny ears and bows around the necks of kittens. Towering bookshelf filled with mostly unexplored content in the corner. Lisa Frank diary parted and sitting upside down as if it were a gymnast doing the splits on my bedside table. Divorced ballet slippers haphazardly laying in opposite corners of the room. A complete parade of disarray.

“Now watch” he instructed as he flipped the light switch back on. “Look around. Now, tell me if anything’s any different.” I slowly turned my head, shower hair wet and dampening the back of my shirt as I rotated. All my possessions were still there. Nothing detrimental had happened. No monster under the bed emerged. A sigh of relief.

“Get to bed” he smiled as he flicked the switch again and creaked my bedroom door shut.

*

“Okay everyone, listen up” I yelled at the top of the stairs of our first rental home, looking down below at my big sister and my parents who were all congregated in the kitchen. They stopped what they were doing with an eye roll and a smile. All too familiar.

“I will now put on a show. Everyone sit down please.”

As they made their way to the musty hand-me-down couch, I plugged in my boom box that I wrote my name on in magenta glitter glue and put in my favorite Now That’s What I Call Music! CD. As the CD circled in silence, I turned around, hit a pose, and waited for my que.

Imma genie in a bottle baby, you gotta rub me the right way honey. Imma genie in a bottle baby, come come come on and let me out.

My family watched as I gave them that big reveal. Blue lipstick. Shirt tied up just like I saw Britney Spears do once. Sparkly temporary tattoos up and down my arms. Elmer’s Glue residue on my stomach where I tried yet failed to give myself a rhinestone belly button ring. At this point, my parents didn’t even raise an eyebrow. Having the ability and authority to offer some grand crowd reaction is what I learned to crave at an early age. Next came dance competitions, fake eyelashes, musicals, cheerleading, rhinestones, baton twirling, talent shows, show choir, acting lessons, and evening gowns. If there was one thing I knew, it was that I love to entertain.

*

The next morning when I woke, I was in high school wearing the fallen apart high-tops Mom loathes and the smug smile of knowing that soon enough, I’m out of here.

“Of anywhere you two could’ve picked, why here? I mean, really. I have to drive forty-five minutes to get to the nearest Starbucks.”

They’d shake their heads, softly remind me that I won’t find as safe as a place anywhere else, and quickly change the subject. I didn’t realize my fired off words were aimed straight towards them, silently puncturing directly into their chests.

*

I’d managed the discipline of breaking my southern accent. I’d listen to my sister and to recordings of me speaking and my middle-aged teachers and the old ladies in my church and decided that I’d need to distinguish myself. If I felt foreign and unlike like them on the inside, it should radiate to my exterior. In all aspects. I’d internally slap my own hand when I caught myself saying “y’all” while staring out the car window, pretending the overhead powerlines were the Eifel Tower.

*

Post grade school independence, something I always knew the endless grey ribbon of a road could offer me, had its perks. Which overpriced Starbucks drink was another decision to add to my catalog of endless choices. I’d spend my time in the Career Counseling office. Holding back obnoxious bouts of laughter in the library. Downtown on neon weekend nights. In my room, filled with friends, yelling the lyrics to early 2000’s rap and juicy confessions as we all ooooh-ed in harmony. In my room, alone, with teeth chattering worry, unwilling to take the dark blanket down from my window to let some light in. In my underclassman years, I was initially never excited to visit home. The thought of it sounded like a chore, but never let me fool you. I always had a great time watching old Rom-Coms and eating Papa John’s. And while backing out of the driveway, I have never forgotten to check my rearview mirror as I trail down the long gravel driveway towards my Sunday night destination. In the small rectangular mirror space, I see Mom and Dad standing on the wide front porch littered with purple and yellow potted pansies, jumping up and down and waving like absolute goons. Mom holding our cat and taking her slender grey arm and moving it in a back-and-forth waving motion while she apathetically blinks. I giggle only to myself and never let them catch me wiping the corner of my eye with my sleeve.

*

Arriving to the decision of a college major is not an easy or quick task for someone that personifies uncertainty and passion. But I had reached a climax of complete confusion and apathy. Until one day, it dawned on me. In this hazy grey fog, I found a lighthouse. I decided it, I’ll be completely dedicated to literature and writing. That night, I slept with a newfound fierceness. The idea of pursuing a life teeming with art and creativity helped me escape from this version of myself that was undeniably unenthused. Sometimes I’m up. Sometimes I’m down. Sometimes I’m on top of the world. Sometimes I need reminding of why I’m even here. I don’t have clear direction. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I don’t know much at all. But if there is one thing I do know, it is that I love to entertain.

*

I visited home the other weekend. While fumbling with the keys by the big red door to our brick house, my sister said, “Papa is mapping out a patch of land right between his and Mom and Dad’s for me to live in when I decide to settle. Start a family right there” she said while extending her finger towards an empty spot in our field.

“Oh uh that’s sweet… Hey, what about me?” I asked half teasing, half honest.

“You? Well they all assume you’ll be miles away anyway.”

She’s probably right, but still, there is no denying that quick sting in the pit of my chest at those words.

*

But while sitting barefoot alone in the field behind the home that knows all of my secrets. Looking across the endless sea of green. Soft breeze tickling my ears. Eyes closed, listening to wind chimes and cicadas sing a duet across the summer sunset fading to indigo, these are some things I know to be certain:

I’m still the same girl with wild honeysuckle hair.

I’m still the same girl making everyone gather on the couch while I put on a show.

I’m still the same girl who gasps for air, throat constricting, eyes welling, clutching my chest when I hear Mom say, “I’m disappointed in you.”

I’m still the same girl cured by my grandparents’ worn, patient hands around mine.

I’m still the same girl who played with dolls and believed in Santa a moment too long.

I’m still the same girl who can’t deny that Garth Brooks isn’t half bad.

I’m still the same girl too afraid to say no.

I’m still the same girl drawing stars and clouds in the margins of college ruled paper.

And I’m still the same girl that will need Dad to turn the light switch off and on and back off again to remind me that everything I truly love and everything I am will never leave me, even when it all seems swallowed in the shadows.

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