A Plane Lands in Hawaii

My teacher got my piece of fiction on her desk like you’d get a crumb on the edge of your mouth, or a bit of leaf in your hair. She had to deal with it.

I was a child, a girl nine or ten years old. I had written exactly what I had wanted to write, without confusion. The teacher hadn’t assigned a specific type of story. Maybe she hadn’t assigned a story at all. The fact that my paragraphs were lying there was my act of will, not hers.

Whether I handed the piece of paper to another student to pass forward, or whether my teacher came and took it from my hand, or whether I went and deposited it in front of her, it still ended up where it did. She was a third, or fourth, or fifth grade teacher—I haven’t figured out which—and I see her sitting at the utilitarian wooden desk, with my paper in front of her, a little to the right, almost at arm’s length. I stood pressed against the short side of the desk, glancing between her face and body and hands and my paragraphs. The top of the desk seemed massive to me, an expanse of football field proportions, covered in her concerns, neatly ordered. Scattered throughout the classroom were the other students, maybe seated, maybe not, but they had disappeared for me and it was only she and I and my piece of paper.

Did she tell us all to write something, or was it free period? It feels as if I had done my paragraphs without being asked, my first work of fiction, the beginning of a story, not a complete story, not yet, but it would be, now that I could put characters down on a page, their existence formed in pencil. As the pencil moved, as the pencil paused, as the pencil traveled again, I invented the characters, I became a writer. I had been determined to be a writer for what felt like a long, long time.

When that long time had begun, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Now I would say that the process was already in motion when I passed my hand over the smooth blue and white cover of The Big Snow, gazing back at its watchful doe and stag, and when I read and reread ancient Greek myths, a statue coming to life, a golden apple tossed. Touching and reading books taught me that they could be valuable and wild. I made a wish—I wish to create an immortal book—even though at first I only felt the wish, and couldn’t articulate it or even recognize it myself. The wish lodged in darkness inside my body, as if it had always lived there, a dream, an idea, a seed, a command. Like a sleeping dream, some of its sources would remain mysterious, while others would become traceable.

In recent months, I had been reading biographies as quickly as I was able. Elizabeth Blackwell, Florence Nightingale, Abigail Adams, and Louisa May Alcott—I knew those four accomplished women and others from taking volume after volume from the school library. Most of the biographies came from The Childhood of Famous Americans, a formulaic series, with the same rhythm applied to each woman’s life, as if there were only one drum beat of American fame. That beat was addictive. Each visit, my hands grasped at new titles on the same shelf, in the same line of hardcovers. There I stood reaching, pulling them off, pulling them down, alone in the aisle. It was desirable to be in a book; it was desirable to write a book. I didn’t want to be a doctor or a nurse, but I did want to save art from a burning building and write a book as great as Little Women. I can feel my body within that aisle, my arm lifted and extended, touching a library binding.

In the series, I was drawn almost exclusively to the girlhoods. It was the late ’60s or early ’70s, and I understood that women didn’t have a long history of working and leading in the way that men did. At the time, finding out how I, a female, could make my mark, meant studying other women, not men. It was also comforting to know that women had been writing for centuries. I didn’t have to trail blaze; I could follow.

I remember being at my desk, the first paragraph in front of me, complete, and a second paragraph being formed, all in my neat, rounded long-hand that slanted right, a long-hand that was the result of vigorous training. So far, my pencil had given the heroine a great and expansive life. Now I had the power to decide the girl’s future, and I knew it. The story was mine.

The story was mine, and I offered it to the teacher, two paragraphs and a couple lines of dialogue. She’s an American woman, I remarked in my mind, while having day-to-day knowledge of people who weren’t. By the time I was eight, I had lived in Rome and Paris; I had met shopkeepers and pedestrians along their streets.

There’s a snapshot in my mind of the teacher’s tailored skirt under the desk. She’s dressed in the professional style of the late ’60s—well-groomed, ironed, and accessorized—but not in a manner that stood out. Rather, the outfit blended her into the world. I recognize the teacher now as young, but I didn’t then, because I was the young one.

The teacher’s voice was quiet and her body movements contained, as if she were stuck in the chair but didn’t mind. Where and when was this teacher? In Paris at the Pershing Hall School, early spring 1970? We did our work in English there. No, because I can see the horizontal, blue-lined paper that we used in Kettering, Ohio, paper that was yellowish brown. The story must have been written when I returned to Kettering. By the fourth grade I had moved to Sarasota, Florida. In Sarasota, I used vertical notebook paper, bleached white and with holes.

This is the beginning of my story: a family—rich, lucky, and adventurous—is getting off an airplane in Hawaii. They are poised on top of the exit stairs, near the cockpit of the plane. There is a father and a mother and a daughter; there may also be brothers and a sister, figures as indistinct as my classmates. The family gazes outward beyond the tarmac, to the land and sea of Hawaii, brown and blue.

The heroine, who is eight or nine, wears a dress of the finest velvet. I had been generous; I had given her velvet. The dress may be red or black or even blue or green. It’s the velvet that’s important, not the color.

“We’re here! It’s beautiful!” the heroine says, or something similar.

The family remains at the top of the stairs.

That was it, everything that I handed in, the beginning of my first story. The plane was small and white in my imagination, and tilted upwards. Those details existed in my head, but not on the page. There was simply the word “plane” on the paper, which my imagination and my experience transformed into pictures. I had logged many cross-Atlantic hours in jets, alone and with my mother. I was an only child accustomed to airports and ticket counters, used to being shuffled between guardians.

In Paris, my mother would take me into the glass-encased TWA ticket office on the Champs-Elysees, one of our regular stops as we darted along the avenue. My mother treated the place as a complimentary lounge for Americans. Friendly female ticket agents greeted me in their uniforms, smiling over the counter. I craved a tender word, but a smile would do. My mother was jabbing, in words and in the way she would pull at my arm.

Unlike the agents, my mother was jobless; she depended on alimony. Unlike them, she was free to wander during the day, to enjoy the life of the ex-pat without any particular place to be.

I remember the plates of glass better than why we went inside. The ticket office offered newspapers and a place to sit and maybe that’s what we did there, read the International Herald Tribune and rest from the long walking on the avenues. There could also have been telephones, and bathrooms, and a money exchange, but those details are lost to me.

While my mother did whatever it was, I’d admire the posters of planes and upscale passengers and I’d feel the thrill of travel. The couples in the posters—illustrations, not photographs—gripped each other as they smiled and posed. Poses in the 1960s meant one foot extended pointing out, arms akimbo on jutting hips. I was familiar with those poses from similar illustrations in my Brownie and Junior Girl Scout manuals, as well as in my etiquette book, White Gloves and Party Manners. I didn’t try to imitate the poses, but they did give me pleasure to see, as if girls were taking up additional space with their limbs and pointing to new actions and adventures.

The family of my story was living the breathtaking promise of a TWA poster, their plane travelling on an arc that linked mainland with island. The family in Hawaii was not my family. The mother was not flamboyant like my mother. The father was present, unlike my father. My heroine had not visited the office of a divorce attorney, as I had. Like them, my mother and I had been able to travel, but unlike them we’d had to scrape by. I hadn’t always gotten enough to eat, or a heavy enough coat to wear. I had been cold sometimes, undernourished sometimes.

Now I was back in Ohio, or so I believe, land of my grandparents and ample food.

I couldn’t read what my teacher had written on the paper, but I was buoyant. She would like my paragraphs as much as I did. They were a departure and an arrival. Much more was going to happen, and she would know that, too, and be excited.

I was using the word “would” in my mind, as if I were a fortune teller describing the future, when my teacher had already read my story, and she either liked it already or she didn’t. By describing the future instead of the present, I could ignore her expression, which was solemn, even sour. I remember her face as if it were covered up by a membrane, a nose poking through, the vague shape of a mouth and a set of eyes. I recall her face as a semi-transparent mask.

“The girl wouldn’t be wearing velvet in Hawaii,” my teacher said. “Hawaii is hot, too hot for velvet. That’s the kind of mistake that hurts your writing.” She handed back the paper. There were the words, “No velvet,” written in the top right-hand corner.

The story had stopped being mine. It was hers, in a way, though not really, because she wouldn’t claim it. She wouldn’t rewrite it or even think about it again. She had made it not mine and it wasn’t hers, so it was now no one’s.

I went back to my desk; I took the paper home.

That was the last time I wrote without anxiety. From then on, I wrote looking behind my back.

My grandmother collected the story and put it in a drawer with my other papers. She treated my work and my possessions as valuable, as if she were keeping a museum of me. My mother, in contrast, threw whatever she wanted of mine away without asking, even when I was an adult, if the object somehow offended her or she felt should be given to someone else. I once had dry cleaning delivered to her apartment; when she let me in and I asked if the clothes had been delivered, she told me that they had been, but that now they were gone. “I got rid of them. They were horrible,” she said. “They were cheap. You don’t want to wear clothes like that.” For my mother, bad taste was the crime, not the high-end shoplifting to which she sometimes resorted.

They had been suede, not velvet. Then they were gone, in someone else’s closet in the building, or in the incinerator. “They were mine,” I said, but I did not keep at her. I let it go, except in my memory.

The story of Hawaii is in my shed now, in one of many boxes. Keeping the paper was a form of making it mine again, but it was mine to suspend in storage. I haven’t read it, or found it, for decades.

“Why is your heroine wearing velvet?” the teacher asked.

“She’s very special,” I answered, as a child.

“Everyone is special,” the teacher said.

“Not everyone is treated special.”

Now I will finish the story. Not only that, I will rewrite the past.


The teacher was leaning over my desk. “Did you finish your story? I hope so!” she said.

“Yes, I did.”

“What happened?”

“The little girl got off the plane, in velvet.”

“Really? She reached the ground?”

“She reached the ground in velvet. She almost didn’t.”


“Where are you coming from, that you’re wearing velvet?” a young man teased as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

“I’m coming from Paris, where they make beautiful clothes.”

“Your clothes are beautiful, and so are you,” said an older woman. She was part of a crowd waiting for the luggage cart. “What are you going to do here in Hawaii?”

“I’m going to play on the beach, barefoot. I’m going to get sand on my red velvet dress.”

“Who are those people with you?”

“They’re my mother and father, who aren’t divorced. My family loves each other. And here are my brothers and sister. We have adventures together.”

“Your sister isn’t wearing velvet.”

“No, she likes what you see—cotton with big daisies on it.”

“What will happen on that beach?”

“We’ll hear about someone getting kidnapped, a little boy, and we’ll climb a big volcano to rescue him. An adult is taking him to a place where he doesn’t want to go, a ledge above molten lava, so his parents will be scared and pay the ransom. But we’ll find the boy and trick the kidnapper into falling into a hole.”

“What hole do you put the kidnapper in?”

“One in the ground, covered with palm tree fronds. We don’t push him into the volcano, though he was planning to put the boy in the volcano once he had his parents’ money.”

All of the people waiting for their hand-checked luggage were now milling around the heroine.

“When my family and I leave Hawaii,” the heroine continued, “we’ll be sad, but we’ll wave good-bye at the airport!”

“Are you wearing velvet when you leave?” a few voices asked.

“No, I’m wearing a long robe covered in tropical red flowers—but everyone else in Hawaii will be wearing velvet, in our honor, because we saved the boy.”

“How do you know all this, in advance?”

“The author told me.”

“You have an author? What are her influences?”

“She’s watched Hawaii 5-0, the original, with Danno, whom I have a crush on, and the big wave and exciting music, and everyone moving their hips, or at least the Hawaiian women. She learned how to capture kidnappers from Scooby-Doo, and how to have a Hawaiian vacation from The Brady Bunch. It seems like every comedy or cartoon has a Hawaiian episode, maybe because it’s the newest state, 1959, two years before I was born.”


It’s also possible that I could finish the story with no drama at all.

“What happened in Hawaii?” the teacher asked. “How are you going to finish the story?”

“Nothing happened in Hawaii. There were a happy family with everything they wanted and they enjoyed the food and the beach. They came and they left. Being a happy family was the story.”

“Why was the little girl wearing velvet?

“I’ll let future-me answer.”

“It shows that the girl is loved, and that she loves herself. It shows that I love her, since I gave her the most beautiful fabric that she can imagine. The heart of the story is the velvet. If you take out the velvet, you stab the story in the heart. Without the fabric, it’s a TWA poster—a pose.”

The teacher frowned at future-author.

“I was tired at the end of a long day,” said the teacher. “I didn’t ask you to write that story. You wrote it during free period. I thought I was helping when I told you to take out the velvet.”

“And then you forgot about the story.”

“Of course I forgot about it. It was a string of unremarkable sentences, and not many of them. The writing didn’t even go all the way to the bottom. Who takes the writing of a nine-year-old that seriously? You’re happy that they know how to spell.”

“The story is longer now. It’s going to continue to get longer.”


I do have the feeling that I was the only student to write a story that day. No one else went up to the teacher’s desk.

“Why was she wearing velvet in the heat?” fantasy-teacher asks.

“It was a thin velvet. She wasn’t hot at all.”

“When she arrived, she didn’t strike any particular pose on top of those stairs?”

“No, she just stood there.”


I was given a velvet dress as a child when I was in Paris that first time. My mother bought some brown velvet, or acquired it somehow, and hired a seamstress to make one jumper for me and another for my younger cousin. My cousin was three and lived in Virginia with my mother’s brother and his wife. My mother also purchased or stole some Louis Vuitton silk, black and gold, covered with his initials. With the silk, the seamstress made two long-sleeved shirts to wear under the jumpers.

My mother mailed the smaller set of clothes to my aunt; pretty quickly, we got back a photo of my cousin wearing the outfit, caught in motion, her short blond hair wavy and her smile engaging. It was strange, seeing my cousin in the same clothes that I had worn, though I had only worn them once. It made me feel duplicated, not special. It was like having the spirit of your things given away, even if you still owned the things themselves.

My mother had not had the clothes made for us, but for herself, to exhibit her elegant taste. Gestures made her feel good about herself.

I was confused, half-complimented and half-resentful. Regardless, I didn’t like brown clothes, not even then. Pink had always been my favorite color.


The heroine ends up shredding her red velvet dress and turning it into a hula skirt. Her whole family is doing hula on the beach in the last scene of the story.

Then comes the sequel: the heroine and her siblings grow up. First, they contract with China and produce lightweight velvet shirts and skirts that they sell at a huge profit. Second, they strike a deal with a Hawaiian muumuu manufacturer and market velvet muumuus to the mainland. The heroine and her siblings become famous when the muumuu makers get tired of the collaboration and kick everyone not indigenous out of the factory. The velvet muumuus are burned and our heroine and her family leave Hawaii, sadder but wiser.

Half-way back to the mainland, the pilot, crew, and passengers take a vote, and they turn around and head to South Korea. None of them want to see the mainland ever again.


The heroine learns how to sew while on Oahu, and she deconstructs the dress and turns it into velvet gloves. She wears those long gloves to write with a pen with a velvet handle and a slanted nib. She falls in love on the island, but then it doesn’t work out, so she falls in love again, and that doesn’t work out, but by the end she’s visited every island in Hawaii except the one just for indigenous people, and though she ends up getting invited there she decides not to go. The end of the story is her not going to the private island when she has the chance.


The heroine grows up and falls in love with a native Hawaiian. It becomes serious after a couple of years, and he asks her to visit the island where only native people are welcomed. She says no really fast, and his feelings are hurt.

“I want to share this part of myself with you, where I’m from.”

“Let me think about it some more,” she says. “It’s not an easy issue, setting foot on the land there.”

“It’s not ours if we can’t invite people.”


There were many ways the story could have gone. The heroine could have bought a big tiki sculpture in a tourist shop with her allowance money. Once she was back home, she took the tiki totem to school and when the teacher critiqued our heroine’s story, the eyes of the tiki totem burned scarlet. They would flash for each point of criticism.

“Criticism makes your work better,” the teacher said. “Writing is craft.”

“Listen, I’ve taught writing, too. I taught undergraduates as an MFA student. I wish I could have remembered what the joy of writing could be myself, what I felt after that plane landed in Hawaii, so I could have made room for pleasure in my class. Instead I conveyed the idea that we needed to suffer for craft, that writing was an ordeal. My students and I should have played more with words. We should have wrapped ourselves in velvet.”


More velvet, more velvet, a velvet carpet unrolled for the plane, a velvet carpet leading to the beach. A velvet swimsuit so red that when the heroine gets a severe burn she’s called a lobster in a swimsuit made for lobsters.

Someone gives her a pen with a velvet handle. She picks it up and finishes the story.

“I finished,” she tells the teacher. The heroine is now both character and writer.

“You got rid of the velvet?

“No, I learned to sew while I was on Oahu, and I took the dress apart and turned it into velvet gloves. I wore those long gloves to write with a pen with a velvet handle, a pen with a slanted nib. I stayed in the hotel room writing as I recovered from sunburn.”

“What happened in your story?”

“I grew up. I stayed in that hotel room until I was an adult. When I came to Hawaii as a child, I was naïve. I thought I could give myself velvet without anyone objecting. As an adult, I know there are as many objections as words.”


I don’t remember the heroine’s name. Perhaps she was named Ann, after my best friend in Ohio, or perhaps after another Ann I admired in Florida, a classmate. It seemed like a name friendly to me, and ordinary in a wonderful way, while I felt saddled by a name that was longer and more unusual. How great to be Ann! There was nothing that stood out, nothing to be made fun of. Your name was not a mouthful.

The family was on the airplane. The father gave a glance at Ann. He turned to the mother. “Why is she wearing velvet? She’s going to be sweating when we get there.”

“She dresses herself—it was too late for her to change. We were running thirty minutes behind as it was.”

Ann listened to them talking about her.

“Does she have better clothes in her suitcase?”

“I don’t know.”

“She packed herself?”

“She put some things in, and I put other things in. I don’t know what she took out.”

“Did you take something out?“ the father asked Ann.

“Yes,” she said. She glanced around the cabin. Who else was listening?

Later, when the suitcase came off the carrousel, her father opened it, right there on the speckled linoleum floor.

“It’s all velvet,” he said.

Her mother snapped, “I put nice things in there for you, Ann.”

“I’m sorry,” Ann said. “I won’t get too hot.”

“Did you buy her all this?” her father asked her mother.

“No,” her mother said. “Only some of it.” She turned to Ann. “Where’d you get the rest of it?”

“The drama department at the high school gave away some costumes.”

From the hotel, the entire family walked to a shopping mall off the beach. The father and mother bought a new suitcase and then they filled it with everything Ann needed for a Hawaiian vacation. They packed her suitcase with shorts, shirts, and flip flops. They put in a sunhat, a tunic, and bellbottoms. They added in sunscreen and children’s magazines.

On the way back to the hotel, the mother stopped in front of a store selling fresh leis. “Everyone should have one,” she said.

“They won’t last,” the father said.

“That’s the point,” the mother said.

The six of them went back to their rooms wearing purple and white orchids.


Later, Ann wasn’t Ann. Why name a character after your best friend? Your best friend was herself, and your character was another. It’s a little like rewriting your best friend’s story, when you should be sticking to your character’s.

Ann wasn’t Alexandria either. I would give her a new name, but I needed time to think about what it should be.

The family was happy, and they went back to the hotel. The nameless girl changed into shorts and a t-shirt, the lei touching her neck gently.

The family went to lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the beach, one with white tablecloths and ice cubes clinking in water glasses. There was no murder or kidnapping to solve, only food to be selected from a menu.

Hawaii was the story, its beaches and birds, the mountain streams, the forests. All of that, and also the fact that it was the last vacation the parents took together before the divorce.

“Your velvet didn’t cause the divorce,” her mother would reassure her. “When he didn’t want to buy the leis, that was when I knew we were over.”


Leis are fun, the heroine-writer thought. Even that teacher deserves one. She doesn’t understand encouragement and discouragement, so she needs flowers around her neck.

“When did you know you and mom were going to get divorced, Dad?”

“I didn’t know for sure, but I had a feeling when she didn’t make sure you had what you needed in your suitcase. She didn’t seem sorry. She could have said, ‘I’m sorry. We’ll have to make sure she has everything she needs.’”


“Your Dad and I, we remember Hawaii as one of the best vacations of our lives. When you packed all velvet, and when your father insisted that you get a whole new wardrobe, I had never loved him more.”

“I liked the velvet.”

“Yeah, I know, but it wasn’t enough.”


The Mauna Loa volcano is erupting for the first time in thirty-eight years. Lava is pouring out, though there isn’t an evacuation planned. Not yet.

The family is getting off the plane on the same island as the volcano, the big island of Hawaii. In the 1960s they were getting off a small plane that tilted slighted upwards. In 2022 they are getting off a jet liner, and there are other people pressing behind them.

“Looks like you’re the last flight in,” a runway worker says. “They’ve cancelled all flights, in and out.”

The readers are no longer looking at them. We are looking through their eyes.

The girl hears the pilot announcing that there has been big news: Mauna Loa is erupting. There may be evacuations soon.

The family gets off the plane, fast. They do not stand poised at the top of the stairs.

At the luggage carrousel there are monitors and a newscaster showing film of the volcano erupting, taken from the air.

The girl has black nail polish and tie up booties to go with her red velvet dress.

A van takes them to their hotel. The roads are clogged with traffic. “When people are evacuated, do they have places to stay?” the girl asks.

“There are community evacuation centers, I’m sure,” her mother answers.

“We’re not going to the beach today, are we?” the girl asks. “It’ll be hard to lie there wondering if the lava is going to pour over us.”

“I doubt if it’ll get to the beach or anywhere near here.”

“Should we go back home?” one of her brothers asks.

“I’m not sure we can, not anytime soon. No flights in or out, remember?”

“I hope we can see the lava at night, glowing,” the girl says.

“Let’s go looking for it,” her other brother says.

“You are not to leave the hotel without us, understood?” their mother says.

“I guess we don’t want any of these leis?” the father asks.

They are standing beside a cart; orchids lay in rows within ice.

“I don’t think this is a festive occasion,” the mother responds. “No one seems to be selling them, anyway.”

No one is at the stand.

“Could we have known about this?” the mother asks. “The volcano?”

“It doesn’t sound like it,” the father says. “Looking for us to take some blame?”

“No, sorry,” the mother says.


The family takes a van near the summit of the volcano. They stand side-to-side along a rim, looking down at red streaks of lava. They are silent. Their parents would pay the ransom no matter who was kidnapped, and no one is tempted to push a family member down into the volcano just to be rid of them.

They are a happy family.


The heroine’s parents refuse to go to the volcano. “It’s not safe. The gasses alone,” her mother says.

The girl decides that she will see the lava no matter what. She has taxi fare from at least three years of birthday money. Once everyone is in bed, she calls the taxi company from a phone in the lobby.

Maybe, on the way back, there’ll be someone in need of rescuing, not rescuing from a kidnapping, or at risk of being thrown into the volcano, but rescuing from the lava flow, someone without a car for escape. Her parents will still be angry that she went, but saving someone would make them a little less outraged.

In the taxi, she realizes that the driver could be anyone, and that she was alone. She might be the one being kidnapped.

“I just got a text from my parents,” she says, “I’ve got to turn around.”

For a minute or so she’s worried that he isn’t going to turn around, but he does.


There are two volcanos erupting now—a dual eruption event is what they call it. Can I write about two volcanos erupting at the same time, or is it too over-the-top, an example of reality being too unbelievable for fiction?

The driver, an indigenous Hawaiian, pulls up to the hotel. He gazes at the child waiting for the taxi.

“You’re alone?”


“Where do you want to go?”

“To Saddle Road, to see the volcano.”

“The volcano’s eruption is sacred to us,” the driver says through the open window. “It is not for sightseeing.”

“It could be sacred to me, too,” she says.

“Do you know her name?”

She figures that he meant the goddess of the volcano.

“No, but I’m not calling her by the wrong one either.”

“Your parents don’t know, do they? They’ll be sick with worry if they find out you’re missing. You need to go back.”

She goes back inside.

Her sister is still in bed, asleep.


There’s someone’s face I can’t remember—my teacher’s. It’s as if it’s always being erased.

“Teacher, how could I have remembered your face? What would you have needed to say to me?”

“Did she erase you?” a friend asked.

“She tried. It didn’t work.”

“In what way?”

“She tried to erase a sentence I had written—no, a phrase in a sentence. Four words…in a velvet dress. Actually, she only tried to erase one word, ‘velvet.’ She would have been okay if I had replaced it with cotton, or polyester, or linen, though I didn’t know the word ‘linen’ back then. I was in the velvet, not so much in the other words, so she was trying to erase me.”

I wonder what kind of exchange would have made me remember my teacher’s face, the shape of her nose, the form of her eyes. Her face wasn’t even in my memory before she tried to erase my word. When I thought she was going to like what I’d done, I still couldn’t see her.

“For my memory to have caught her face, she would have had to be kind, over and over again,” I told my friend. My friend was a character in a new story, not the one about the family in Hawaii.

The heroine was still a friend, too. I was a friend to her, and she to me.

“To remember her, I would have had to lose my fear of her,” I told the heroine. “It’s fear that erases—you’re afraid of what you’ll see if you look hard enough. I would see that she really didn’t like me that much, that I was tedious to her, that my writing had given her no pleasure. What are you afraid of?”

“I was afraid to get off that plane in Hawaii—excited, but afraid. I’m glad you didn’t take the velvet away; the feel of it helped me get down the stairs.”

A plane lands in Ohio. I am nine years old and traveling alone. I go down the stairs from the plane. My grandparents are waiting.

Paris hadn’t quite worked out, not for my mother at least, and I am back at my old school in Kettering. I don’t recognize anyone from my second-grade class. They all seem like strangers. My best friend Ann is at the same school, but somehow I don’t see her. Her face is etched in my mind, but no one else’s. My memory is blank, ready for faces, but somehow not taking them in.

I’m not wearing velvet. I don’t know how I’m dressed, or in what fabric. No one seems to care how I’m dressed.

I’m not the heroine. I’m the writer.

Alexandria Searls writes memoir nonfiction and hybrid forms in Charlottesville, Virginia. She leads hikes and nature journaling workshops by the Rivanna River.

Appears In

Issue 19

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