It was my second grade year. Banyan Elementary School. I still live close by and it never fails- the tiny little blondish see-through hairs on my arms stand up every time I pass the small school yard that once seemed to stretch further than the Pacific Ocean. And every single time, I think of that one year when something inside of little Ely changed.
I was 7 years old going on 70. Not only because I had such an old soul and had already witnessed the unthinkable, but because I was literally missing all of my top front teeth after having had a head-on collision with a slippery tile floor. And also because my egg donor dressed me in tacky ass dresses
that deserved to be hung and burned on crosses WHAT?! Who said that?!This post has been hacked! Cyber hooligans!
I remember this one particular day- fresh and crisp in my mind
like a warm Sunday morning breakfast. Just kidding I don’t eat breakfast and especially not on a Sunday morning. Where I come from, Sundays are for sleeping in and yelling at the kids from bed while they destroy the house. I remember the smell of fresh Crayola wax in the air and I remember holding Purple Mountain’s Majesty in my right hand. It was my favorite color in the whole gigantic box of like 120 crayons. It was kind of purple but not really and it had a tinge of blue but not really and there was subtle hint of grayish concealed in the undertones but not really. Ya know? Like purple’s estranged third cousin- sort of family but not really?
Maybe subconsciously I loved this sort-of but not really purple-blue-gray color because it was so complicated. Like my life felt. Maybe I loved it because it was so different. Like my life felt. But I think I just liked how it was the color with the name that stood out the most. It had the longest name to remember and I always wanted to sound super smart. How many kids have ever answered “Purple Mountain’s Majesty” when asked what their favorite color is? I’ll wait. I know. Impressive.
I was sitting next to Lily when Mrs. Corvette requested our attention. That was easy; she was a heavyset, tall, elderly woman who always wore a slightly different style of flowery nightgown-ish looking dresses. She had a shiny gold-capped front tooth and a classic cotton-curled afro gently hugged her scalp. I am now convinced this was a wig, which would explain why her hair moved so much whenever she spoke to us. There was this really gospel thing about her body language and how she carried herself like “mmm-hmmm lawd mercy so help me I’ma TEACH these chill’ren oh YES lawd I’ma TEACHHH these chil’ren today!
I placed PMM (I don’t care about sounding smart anymore. So that was me abbreviating my favorite color but now I wanna kind rap it to the beat of who down with
O-P-P P-M-M? Yea you know meeee themmm!) back on my desk as she announced a creative assignment that planted a seed in my soul. A seed that would change the rest of my human life. A seed that would someday, save my life. A seed that would flourish into a jungle of endless possibilities…like rapping about colors in the middle of what was meant to be a deep mini-memoir. Save me. SAVE ME!
THE ASSIGNMENT THAT CHANGED MY LIFE:
Fold a stack of neon Xerox paper in half and staple it together along the edges to create…a book! Now, write your very own story. About anything.
[Insert 7 year old toothless smile followed by mental fireworks and the song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey playing in the background.]
I’ll never forget it. That moment. I think I felt… overwhelmed by a sense of freedom. Something I don’t think I’d felt or understood before. When you’re 7, an older sister, and worried about things you really shouldn’t have to worry about ever and life at home is a complete nightmare- the last thing you feel is freedom of any kind.
We titled our story: The Lonely Rose
Written and Illustrated by Elizabeth Gonzalez and Lily (whose full name I obviously won’t disclose but who will forever have a special little place in my heart for sharing this memory with me).
The details are a little blurry but it was the story of a beautiful little rose named Rose, who was born in a garden full of different flowers. I’d like to remember them as Daisies because I used to have a thing about drawing Daisies.
From the very beginning, Rose knew she was…different. This made her feel very lonely. Unwanted. Ugly. Left out. And so sad. So sad, that all she could do was cry and cry. Those damn Daisies avoided her like the plague. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t just look and be like everyone else.
Until one day, along came a beautiful bird with feathers painted in every color of the rainbow. She was the strangest bird Rose had ever seen! The beautiful strange rainbow-feathered bird had noticed Rose crying alone in a field while all the Daisies played and laughed and paid no mind to her, and so she decided to stop and chat.
Rose told her all about how sad she was and why- and in exchange, the rainbow-feathered bird told her a story about an odd bird who felt the same way but that she quickly realized that being different meant she was more beautiful than the rest!
Buried in this seemingly simple little story made of neon Xerox paper were themes too complex for just any 7 year old to comprehend: acceptance, self-love, confidence, leadership, friendship, loneliness, pain, shame- the good, the bad, the ugly.
It was kind of a big deal you know? Well, at least I thought so, because by the time we turned in our story I was literally asking Mrs. Corvette about the publishing process because like Pinocchio, I wanted my story to be a real book!!
And thanks to her encouragement and positive soul, I took my little wanna-be-writer complex straight home to the Yellow Pages and took my shot at calling random “children’s books publishers” and not asking, but demanding to have The Lonely Rose published into a “real book”. I meant BUSINESS. I did this every single day for a week, and kept being hung up on and laughed at. And I kept telling Mrs. Corvette and she continued to tell me to chase my dreams no matter what.
Despite feeling a bit heart-broken about how NOT serious I was being taken by these dickhead so-called publishers (I was so innocent!) I never stopped writing after this.
Oh little Ely. You brave little soul. Fearless, I’m telling you. We could all learn something from my 7 year old self. I may as well have been pulling up to the second grade on a Harley with ripped up sleeves and teardrops tatted beneath the corners of sparkling-with-hop eyes.
Needless to say, every teacher in Banyan Elementary who heard about my adult AF moves called me “Miss Journalism”. 26 years later, writing is literally my savior.
Writing is what kept me from being suicidal. Writing is what helped me get through the darkest of starless, moonless, hopeless nights. Writing is what has continued to help me unravel the knots from my past that are embedded in my soul. Writing has helped mold me into the human being that I’ve become.
“The Lonely Rose” saved my life and changed things inside of me for the better. I am forever so proud of my 7-year-old self.
I only hope that I can help my kids find this kind of passion within themselves.