I’m Reagan, I will be #1!

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“Did the team list come out yet?”

“Yes.”  I’m afraid to tell her what the results were.

“And?” My mother stands with a hand on her hip, looking at me as if she’s ready to lurch at me.

“I got JV goalie, first string.”  The look in my mother’s eye–she doesn’t look happy. “Mom, I’m going into 9th grade, JV is where most of the girls my age are at. I’m first string.”  She looks even more unhappy.

“MOST of the girls?  Let me guess… Larkin?” My mother snapped. Her words slash through me. It’s always been hard to be one-upped by Larkin. She’s been outplaying me since we were eight.  

I meekly answer,  “Larkin got varsity goalie.”

“Right, exactly.” My mother snaps.

“Mom, she’s just better.”

Rolling her eyes. “If you would have put in that extra time, you would have gotten it. The only difference between her and you is how hard she tries. You don’t try.”

“Mom, I did all the extra training, spent all my time with the ball, what more can I do?  I’m doing the best I can.” I’m trying to hold back the tears at this point.

“Larkin and you have been neck and neck for so long, this is your time to pull ahead.”

“Why can’t you be happy for me that I made first string, that’s a big deal. Larkin is only in 9th, that’s not normal. This is the first time a 9th grader has ever made varsity.” the tears start flowing. “Why can’t you just be proud of me?”

“When you do something to be proud of, I will be.” After saying that she coldly looks at me, and turns to walk away to continue cooking dinner. As I sit there with an endless stream of tears, my mom just stands in the kitchen, chopping away at carrots scowling at me. As she chops, I hear her mumble under her breath “Pathetic.” The second those words reached my ears, I let out the most intense scream of my life “Don’t you know that I’m doing the best I can?” As the echo of my words rang throughout the house, my mother put down the knife, takes off her apron, raises her head and looks at me with terrifyingly dead eyes… and just walks away.

I sit here staring at nothing, after a while, I look down at my hand with the roster still in its grasp. I’ve been squeezing the paper to the point that it has ripped.  Standing so quickly that the chair tips over,  I wipe the tears from my eyes with my still clenched fist. As I stand there staring at my fist, my only thought is… My name is Reagan Williams, and I won’t stop until I am number one!

 

Why?

 

oldnoah

2014 before his injury.

I’m taking a break from character introductions to type something that means so much to me. It may not be written perfectly, but it’s written from my heart.

This writing project, that has taken me away from Design and visual arts and placed me in the seat of a writer, has a specific purpose. I would not completely change my creative direction for a small reason. I need for teens to understand what happens in the brain of someone that is healing from Post Concussion Syndrome.

When I was a child, I don’t remember any of my friends ever having a concussion, and we played, hard. But now, it seems like everyone has a concussion story. It’s on the news, there’s a movie, and there are so many social groups on facebook about the topic.  They still aren’t talking about something that is also becoming more and more prevalent, Post Concussion Syndrome.  Sometimes people don’t take that 1-3 weeks to heal. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes years, sometimes healing never happens. Sometimes people have to get used to their new normal.  

boardMy son is two and a half years out from his injury. He was thrown off his longboard during the summer of 2014. He sustained a skull fracture, and major concussion at the age of 14 (he’s about to turn 17). It didn’t start off bad, he had a headache, but could cope, then a few days later, it became completely debilitating. This is something that many don’t understand, the symptoms of a concussion can develop over time. He ended up unable to walk without assistance, unable to hold a pencil, unable to handle any light. He slept for three months straight. We took him to neurologist after neurologist, he was put on many medications, but mostly we were told to just wait it out.  That there would be this magical moment that he would blink his eyes, and become okay. As time went on, we added in Physical Therapy in the hopes that he could learn to walk without aid again. Instead of saying that one day he would just come out of it, they started saying they would TRY to get him as close to baseline as possible. We tried speech therapy, but the therapist said she couldn’t help him, his pain was too great.  He lived with a headache of 7/10 for two years. Sometimes higher, never less. He began losing his sight, his peripheral vision went dark and was slowly closing in on his entire field of vision. We were beyond frustrated, and completely terrified. He spent a long time like this until we found a Neuro-chiropractor, Dr. Sullivan, who hooked him up with all sorts of electrodes and began sending electric impulses through his brain, and his nerves. This was successful in three months, he was headache free, he still gets a few headaches here and there, but nothing like what they were. But the best thing? His vision came back, 100%.  He woke up one morning and he could see, completely. He felt like he had a new life, we were out of the woods.

Then the realization of what had happened started closing in on him. He started having major panic attacks, stopped eating, had very serious social anxiety, as well as other symptoms.  This was a part of Post Concussion Syndrome we never expected and weren’t ready for. My child was, once again, wilting in front of my eyes. We have a handle on this now, and he’s doing much better. But there are some things that he will have to deal with for the rest of his life. He will have to stay on top of it, and not become lazy about it.  This is where the story of Larkin in Shattered Self takes place. This place where you believe that she’s better, but she’s actually worse. There’s no reason for her to still be kept out of school, but school is a painful place for her to be, for so many reasons.

My son lost friends, my son lost his support system.  During those months that he was laying in bed, friends weren’t able to call, text, visit, anything. We have to remember, they are kids, their lives are moving lightning fast, they all have their own issues they are dealing with. Their own heartbreak, their own illnesses, their own family problems. This is exactly what happens with Larkin, but in her mind, they abandoned her, and that’s a very dark place to live. It begins to hurt so much, that you stop trying.  You begin to shut yourself off, and only feel the loneliness.  For my son, when he started going back to classes he felt like he was a different person. He felt completely misunderstood, and this was extremely frustrating for him. So, in a lot of ways, he gave up.

I’m writing this book so that other teens know what’s going on in their injured friend’s minds. We have friends whose children have been dealing with their post-concussion syndrome for a lot longer than 2.5 years. We have friends that after years and years, still aren’t able to return to school. They get lonely, and it becomes dark. When they do return, it’s just not the same. This is hard for their them and their friends.  Larkin is a combination of these teens.

So much is out there about concussion, there’s not a whole lot out there for this place, the place right after.  The thing that everyone can do to make this transition better, is to give them hope. They’ve had to give up all of their favorite activities, they’ve lost friends, school may be much harder for them. Find a way to give them hope. Don’t be over critical about those things they can’t do, don’t be over critical of the moments that are dark, don’t hold on to those bad times leading them to believe that it’s what they are worth. They are worth so much more.

newnoah

2016, The new normal. He’ll never play soccer again, but he coaches and he loves it!

 

 

Please, don’t be that person that tells them that they are faking it, just because you don’t understand it (adults and kids alike).  Don’t be that person that tells people in their social group that they are making it seem worse than it really is, usually they are trying to fake being better than they really are. Don’t be that person. That’s a horrible thing to do to something that is struggling so hard to just be normal. FYI: This is important for anyone that suffers, from anything.

This is a novel that I need to write, and it wasn’t letting me sleep until I started.  I have no idea where it will go, but I have to try.

Hi, I’m Brooke Webber.

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August 31, 2016 (introducing Brooke, from the upcoming novel Shattered Self)

I thrust myself in front of a very mousy girl with bright red curly hair and black rim glasses, looking very lost. “Hiya! I’m with the Welcoming Club. If you need help with anything, I’m your gal!” I say as I stand heroic and triumphant. She looks at me with trepidation in her eyes. She’s wearing a black t-shirt, black ripped up skinny jeans and a pair of lime green chucks with paint splatters all over them.

“I, uh… I  can’t find my locker, they showed me in orientation, but I can’t remember anything.”

“That’s just the type of thing I can help you with!  All I need is your slip, and we’ll be on our way!” She hands me the paper while a smile cautiously grows on her face. I hand her the paper back. “Oh, that’s easy, c’mon, let’s go.” I love doing this.  “So what’s your name?

“M-my names Aubrey”

“What grade are you?”

“12th”

“Oh wow, moving in your 12th-grade year is tough. So, what brings you here?” I give her a shrug while I’m smiling from ear to ear.

“Well, my dad’s in the Navy, and  he just got stationed near here.”

We walk through the heavy mass of teens looking for their friends, while Freshman amble around aimlessly lost, and seniors walk around like they are the kings and queens. Aubrey and I do a little more chit chatting. She seems very nice, a little eccentric, but sweet. I could see a friendship starting with her.

That’s when I take a quick glance to the right, and there he is, Vincent.  Suddenly I start stuttering.  Aubrey looks at me, then looks in his direction. “Oh wow, he’s hot.”

“Yes, yes he is… one of a kind.”  He sees me looking, and winks. His bright blue eyes are hypnotizing. Shivers flow through my spine. I don’t know where we stand after the summer, but I’m excited to find out.  I expected him to ignore me, I mean, we didn’t exactly discuss what would happen when summer was over, so I just thought of it as a  fling. I’m not exactly his type, minister’s daughter, soccer player, class president, editor of the yearbook. I’m all the cliches wrapped up into one person. I’m everything he’s not and he’s everything I’m not, that’s what makes him so exciting. My parents would kill me if they knew who I was hanging out with this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do anything that would embarrass my parents, or the congregation (which by the way, is something my dad is very concerned about), it was just a thrill to have Vincent’s attention. He has this rough exterior, but inside he’s just so incredibly sweet, honest, and funny… I think.

“Oh, hey, here’s my locker.  Thank you so much for helping me.”

“You’re welcome!  What time do you have lunch… Uh, Aubrey?” Oh crap, I think that’s her name.

“Really early,” she says as she looks at the folded paper, “it says eleven.”

Ok, good, it is her name.

“So do I. Find me, you can sit with me and my friends.We’re like, the best.” Yay, now there might be one less scared kid in the lunch hall.

“Yeah, I’d like that.  Hey, what’s your name?

“Oh sorry,  hahaha, I’m Brooke, Brooke Webber.”

I Am Luke Stewart

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July 4th, 2016 (Introducing Luke from the upcoming novel Shattered Self)

She won’t stop complaining.  The hotdogs are too burnt on the outside, her marshmallow isn’t black enough, too many little kids, a fish just touched her leg. It doesn’t ever stop.  There’s always something to complain about, and she’s not happy if there isn’t. It’s exhausting. Everything is always about Reagan, Reagan, Reagan! Why am I with her?  I thought bringing her to the lake would help her chill.  There is one thing she’s not, and that’s chill.

I want to go kayaking, but I’m afraid she’ll freak.  I’d love to go on a hike, but I’m afraid she’ll see a snake and scream. I have pity for the mosquito that sucks her blood… It might suck up what little of a soul she has as well. Larkin and I used to come here. Once while kayaking I stood up like an idiot, we flipped, and it was the funniest thing ever. Larkin didn’t care that her mascara ran at the lake, or that her hair got wet.  Who the heck does their hair before going to a lake? You know who does?  Reagan. My girlfriend is insane.

Look, let me level with you, I’m going into my senior year of high school, I have amazing colleges scouting me, I’m a soccer legend, things couldn’t be going better. But sitting next to me is this demon girl complaining about the smell of her Starbucks. Crap, I’d be better off alone than dealing with this. And, for that matter, I wouldn’t be alone for long, there’s always someone out there trying to get my attention. I mean, come on, look at me, what girl wouldn’t? Not that I’m bragging. It’s just the way it’s always been, after all, I am Luke Stewart. 

Sidelined – Larkin

July 12, 2015
Larkin (The main character in the upcoming novel Shattered Self)

sm-larkinMy parents beg me to not look at my soccer scrapbook, they say it’s unhealthy and that I’m fixated on what I can’t do. I can’t help it. I sit here in the dark, with nothing to do but read, day in and day out.  It’s been a year since my injury, I think I’m allowed to look today, of all days. It’s the normal photos of the team, closeups of me at the goal post, some newspaper articles, and my cover photo from Youth Soccer magazine. There’s a folded newspaper clipping that I never noticed before. I open it and read:

July 14, 2014
Eagle F.C. Star Goalie Sidelined

Hummelstown, PA:  Larkin Phillips, of Eagle FC Tsunami, was sidelined Saturday at the LDC Coppa Classico Soccer Tournament. The Tsunami won 5-1 against the LDC Cobras despite losing Phillips at the beginning of the second half. Phillips is reported to have sustained a serious concussion with a non-depressed skull fracture. Hopes are high that she’ll be ready to take her position for her first game with the Mechanicsburg Wildcats against the Camp Hill Lions this fall.

Teammate Brooke Webber was on hand for a quote. “Larkin is why we made it this far, I hope she’s okay and can get back on the field quickly, we need her.”

Coach Toan Ngo says “Obviously my main concern is Larkin’s health. She’s passionate about the sport, I’m sure she’ll be back.”

Concussions in youth and high school soccer are at an all time high, which leads some to argue that helmets for goalies should be mandatory. Concussion training for coaches, trainers, and school personnel are now required by all soccer clubs and high school athletic departments.

____________
Why would they put this in my scrapbook?  I rip it up as tears run down my cheek.  I have no control over what happens in my future anymore. Even if I was cleared for soccer again, which will never happen, I’m so out of shape!  I throw my slice of pizza at the wall, it leaves a red streak on the white paint, just looking at it makes me feel nauseous. Why won’t anyone help me?

The Beginning

blockimagelarkinSometimes you have a story in your soul, that needs to get out. It claws at you and consumes your daydreams. The characters start to become real to you, they plead with you to tell their story. This is where I am. This has been my reality for the past year. Two months ago I decided to tell their tale.

My novel is inspired blonelygirly stories told in waiting rooms, by friend’s experiences, and by what my son went through with his head injury.  The story is fiction but the emotions are very real. I was asked to keep a notebook and record all of it and to write a book about it all.  But, the story didn’t come to life for me right away, until all of a sudden, my main character was born. I was trying to force the story into a non-fictional account of the injury itself. But that’s not what needed to be told. What is needed to be told is the story for friends of concussion patients.

This novel is told through the eyes of the patient as she tries to get back to life. It follows a 17-year-old girl, Larkin, after an injury stole two years from her. It’s not about the head injury, it’s about its after effects, the ripples, and tears in her psyche.

Over the next few entries, I will be introducing you to the characters. They would love for you to get to know them and to grow to love them.  They will be lovable, hateful, empathetic, and closed minded… Every single one.