Right now I’m in a Honors Capstone class where we talk about our college experiences and what it’s like being in the honors program at Ithaca College and about society and the education system as a whole. Overall, it involves a lot of complaining and yelling at each other about the lack of places to park at school, but it’s a beneficial class.
We were going over pieces we submitted to our honors portfolio for academic challenge courses, and one of the pieces I submitted was a collection of chapters I’d written for a book by Meg Rosoff called How I Live Now. (How I Live Now is a dystopian young adult novel published in 2004 about a girl named Daisy who is sent to live in England and then *SPOILER ALERT* the world kind of ends.) They’re basically additional chapters to the book that I wrote in Rosoff’s writing style. (That sentence may have been redundant.)
I wrote it for my freshman honors seminar class Teenage Wastelands, where we read a bunch of dystopian novels and were graded primarily on class participation. Little baby freshman Amanda was shy and didn’t really participate, but I did get to read a lot of important books in that class.
I was rereading what I’d written and I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty good. It was one of the first big writing pieces I handed in at school, even if it wasn’t for a writing class.
Rereading it made me think about how I’ve changed as a writer here at IC. I’ve learned about so many different styles of writing, how to write fiction and creative nonfiction and personal essays and children’s books, and how to do research and how to interview people, and about the different types of essays there are, and how to write short pieces and long pieces, and how to revise and edit and workshop and interact with other writers, and how to be a professional in many different environments.
It was cool to read something that I’d started off college with. Now, as a senior at college, I’m getting ready to write my senior writing project. It’s my last big writing project as a student at Ithaca College, and that’s scary to think about.
These lost chapters I wrote were just the beginning.
I posted them below– please enjoy!
The Lost Chapters of How I Live Now: An Addition to Chapter 29, and Chapters 30 and 31
There was a pause.
Daisy? the voice said. It sounded so far away. Miles, oceans, years, months away.
There was a muffled noise and I heard some whispered arguing, a woman’s voice. Then: Are you okay? the first voice said on the other end of the line. It was desperate, still pleading.
I was not quite sure how to answer that question. It almost made me angry to hear it. Was I okay?
No, I wasn’t. I was alone except for Piper. I was a ghost who was living through memories in this old house. I was living in fear of death and in hope of Edmond and in hope of my lost family.
I looked to Piper, who had moved from her position at the kitchen table to my side, her tiny, grubby hand entwined in mine. She looked up at me again and she was still wide-eyed and scared. Piper had grown over the past few months, I had noticed. She had grown up. Her angelic features were still so, but her face was gaunt and she looked tired. Tired of this war and tired of sleeping in the barn without Edmond and Isaac and tired of the violence and the cold and the lack of real food.
We were both tired.
I wrapped the old sweater of Edmond’s around me and opened my mouth slightly.
I’m alive, I said. I knew the voice on the phone.
It was my father, with who I was guessing was Davina listening in. He heaved a dry sob.
You’re coming home, he said. You’re coming home.
When I hung up Piper was still looking at me with that watchful stillness she and her brothers have. She stared right into my face with no shame at all. I wanted her to look away and let go of my hand so I could be off by myself for a little while but what are you supposed to do when a little kid is hanging onto you like that? I took a deep breath and led her over to the kitchen table and we sat down.
Piper asked me what was going to happen. Her round face looked so serious. Even though we’d been together for months she still scared me sometimes with how serious she could be. I never understood it.
I decided to play dumb. It was better than telling her what I thought was going to happen even if the details were a little fuzzy for me too. I told her that I didn’t know and she nodded and let go of my hand. I knew Piper well enough and I could read her face and I just knew that she didn’t believe me.
Of course she didn’t believe me. I can put on a brave face for her and I’ve done it plenty of times before but she had heard my half of that phone conversation. And she knew some things, and even though she was a perceptive kid I didn’t expect her to understand. I was just a kid too and I was stuck in this war and I had to go home. I had to go home to be with my family.
But she was my family. And Edmond and Isaac and Osbert were my family and Aunt Penn and even Jet I guess even though I didn’t know where most of them were or had been for the past few months. I squeezed Piper’s hand and she took that as a sign to leave me for a while. She whistled for Jet and ran back through the big empty house with him at her heels.
I reached for the book that I had been reading before the phone went off and pretended to read it to give myself a sense of normalcy.
Now everything was going to change even though I didn’t know when they were coming to get me or what was going to happen to Piper or how I was supposed to deal with not knowing about Isaac or Osbert or Aunt Penn or even Baz, how could I forget about Baz? What would happen to the barn or the big house? If everyone was dead and gone where would Piper go? My mind was whirling.
I shut my eyes and tried to focus and tried not to cry. I had held it together for Piper for all of these months but just then I forgot how to hold it together for myself. I tried to sit very still and feel Edmond thinking about me wherever he was and tried to smell his smell of tobacco and earth that accompanied him and feel his soft skin with my fingertips but all those times where I thought he was there felt pointless and I couldn’t make myself feel anything.
Maybe he was dead. Maybe they were all dead.
I shuddered. No. I kept having to remind myself that I had looked at every single face to make sure it wasn’t them. They weren’t among the dead. Those dead, anyway.
But I wanted to feel that they were alive mostly because I wanted Edmond to be alive with every fiber of my being. Without that hope I wouldn’t have made it here with Piper. What was the point now that I was being forced to go back home?
I would just submit because I had to. I would surrender. There was no hope.
If I was going to give up on this place I figured I might as well give in completely and throw away my old self. I wanted to get rid of the Daisy that I was before. I wanted to gorge myself and eat myself sick. I wanted to eat because food was there and I could.
I would never have done it at home anyway.
I went through the big house and shouted for Piper and she appeared right around the corner with Jett panting right beside her like she had been waiting there the whole time. C’mon, I said. Let’s make some food. Let’s have a feast. She gave me this look and her face was glowing again and all of the tiredness had gone out of her face and she was the kid that I had met a few months ago that was pure and beautiful and innocent and it made me feel better.
We ran out together to the barn and attacked the feed bins that we had so carefully stocked. Jett was barking and lapping at our heels and we were giggling and I almost forgot that I was supposed to be worrying about all of these other things like my family and going home and what was going to happen to Piper.
I had this huge armful of potatoes and sweet corn and cabbages and Piper stuffed her shirt with a good amount of nuts and watercress and garlic and onions and mint leaves and honey that we had saved. We didn’t even really make a dent in the feed bins because there was so much food crammed in there. We set up the fire and I got the pan down from the loft and the extra leek soup and started cooking. Even though we’d basically been eating the same things for weeks and I’d honestly started to get sick of them, the smell of the food cooking under my nose was making my stomach growl.
Piper put some chestnuts at the bottom of the fire and started roasting the vegetables in the pan with some garlic and I was peeling and slicing potatoes with a knife that I’d brought back from the house and adding them to the pan when I was finished. Since Piper was really the expert here I let her do all of the major stuff but I got to boil some cabbage with onions which looks and sounds gross but tastes really delicious I swear.
Piper was humming again, a tune I didn’t know. I was trying to forget everything that had happened that afternoon. We were both busy. Jett paced next to us with his tongue out and wagging.
After about an hour of busy work we found ourselves with this gigantic meal that could have fed maybe twelve people but all there was were the two of us. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating but it was a lot of food. There were roasted potatoes and vegetables, leek soup, boiled cabbage and onions and roasted chestnuts. All of the same food that we had been eating for weeks.
Piper had the idea to make it a real spectacle, like a real fancy dinner that we would have had back at home or if everything had been normal here. We brought everything back to the big house to the living room, careful to stay out of the kitchen and away from the phone. Piper set everything out just for the two of us and then we went and washed our hands and our faces and settled down to eat. Even though it was a little bland and the potatoes were sort of dry and I wished I could heap on a mountain of butter on my plate it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
It was nice to imagine that everything was okay even though it wasn’t. It was nice to pretend that everything was normal again.
And that was the second Perfect Day that wasn’t so Perfect.