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“See Me Cry” by Creative Writing student Hannah McKie Summer '20

Updated: Sep 5

The water was ice cold. I remember the feeling of a hand on my back trying to push me forward. I remember putting all of my weight on my two feet, trying to push back against the hand. Then air, I was floating. I dangled in the air for a lifetime, feeling weightless.           
Then I fell, and I fell hard. The water did not offer me a kind and warm welcome and there was no life vest, no floaty, no lane line to grab hold of. I was in the middle of the ocean, alone...

What you just read is the first paragraph of Hannah McKie’s personal essay “See Me Cry.” The Curious Cardinals Summer 2020 alum blew our team away with the vivid piece she wrote in Eliana Stern’s Creative Writing class. You can find her full piece at the bottom of this post, but before you read it, learn a little more about how Hannah came to write "See Me Cry"!


Hannah is inspired by music and expresses herself through singing. She plays the piano and is even learning the ukulele! But beyond academic papers and dabbling in poetry, Hannah had never focused on creative writing. She decided to give it a try with Curious Cardinals. 

Eliana noticed Hannah and her classmates were drawn to creative nonfiction and personal essays, so she tailored the curriculum to their developing interests. “As soon as I read their free writes or exercises, if it reminded me of another piece, I would immediately add that to the syllabus,” Eliana said.

“The piece is about being in a new environment,” Hannah said, “feeling like an outsider in that new environment and navigating that, telling yourself that it’s ok to not feel the same way everyone else is feeling.”

The prompt Hannah responded to for “See Me Cry” was open-ended. “The assignment was meant for them to run free in whatever direction was calling them,” Eliana explained.

From the start Hannah knew she wanted to delve into her boarding school experience. “See Me Cry” is a poignant reflection on her freshman year. “The piece is about being in a new environment,” Hannah said, “feeling like an outsider in that new environment and navigating that, telling yourself that it’s ok to not feel the same way everyone else is feeling.”

Although anchored in her personal experience, the young musician-turned-writer explored her emotional state in a less literal way. “I was listening to a song or something, and I heard something about water, drowning, and I was like that’s perfect.” She made a note of the metaphor and began drafting. 

Hannah blended the braided and collage essay styles, two of her favorites from class, in “See Me Cry." According to Eliana, braided essays intertwine several storylines to make meaning through juxtaposition. Collage essays are often fragmented without obvious transitions and connections between segments. Hannah elegantly combined these forms by contrasting the extended metaphor of drowning with vignettes from her freshman year to connect her emotional reality to the events that created it.

“When I have ideas, I’ll just start writing them down really quickly,” Hannah chattered excitedly. As she continued to describe her writing process, Hannah’s eyes moved upwards. She seemed to be visualizing the stories she would one day put down on paper. 

Hannah felt supported by her classmates and grew to be confident when sharing her work: “I never had to preface it with ‘Yeah, I wrote this, but I don’t know how good it is.’”

Before taking this class, Hannah worried how her writing would be perceived by her peers. The dynamic in Creative Writing was liberating for her. “It gave me more freedom to write what I wanted to write,” she explained. 


Hannah felt supported by her classmates and grew to be confident when sharing her work: “I never had to preface it with ‘Yeah, I wrote this, but I don’t know how good it is.’”


Although Eliana gave the students frameworks for nonjudgmental criticism and set a standard for respecting each other’s experiences, she credits her students with bringing those frameworks to life to create a vulnerable space. “It was really all the students,” she said, “and Hannah specifically, opening up and being courageous enough to dive into these intense topics of identity, experience, and trauma.” 

Inspired by her class, Hannah plans to continue exploring her newfound love of creative nonfiction. “I’m going to try to write for myself a little, write stories and workshop them, and see where it goes from there!” she said. 


See Me Cry

By Hannah McKie

The water was ice cold. I remember the feeling of a hand on my back trying to push me forward. I remember putting all of my weight on my two feet, trying to push back against the hand. Then air, I was floating. I dangled in the air for a lifetime, feeling weightless.

Then I fell, and I fell hard. The water did not offer me a kind and warm welcome and there was no life vest, no floaty, no lane line to grab hold of. I was in the middle of the ocean, alone.

*****

As we got closer and closer I saw a sea of green and white surrounding the main lawn. I put my glasses on trying to see what the hoard in front of us was. Hundreds of students surrounded the bus as we approached the main lawn. I began to gather my stuff as my heart sank.

What made you think you can do this? You should be home, with your friends. This is so selfish.

I put my hand over my heart in an attempt to calm myself down.

“Welcome!”

“We are so excited to finally meet you!”

“This is going to be the most amazing four years of your life!”

*****

When you are surrounded by nothing but water for miles, on a tiny lifeboat, you don’t have time to think about drowning. You don’t have time to think about how cold the water surrounding you is, or who is next to you on the boat, or whether you remembered a life jacket. All you can think about is how safe that boat feels, and all you can do is pray nothing happens to your boat.

*****

I sat on the bench outside of the front lawn for a couple of minutes. Everyone else was met with a hug and balloon from a student mentor, my friend even got chocolate.

“You can head to the dorms with us.”

Another student offered to take me in, seeing as I sat, waiting for nearly fifteen minutes.

“No it’s okay, thank you so much though!”

I smiled at her before continuing to scroll through my phone trying to find something to make me look busy. Another five minutes passed and I picked up my stuff and walked over alone.

Rough start, but that’s okay. I’ll meet plenty of people to take me under their wing. I’ll be fine.

*****

The wind hit my skin like daggers. I felt the rough wood brush against my leg as I shifted trying to move further and further into the corner. No one was the other persons’ first choice. We might have never spoken if it weren't for our misfortune. Storms and strong winds made us see we needed each other to survive.


*****

I walked over to dinner with the same 5 people I found refuge in since we had met. At my table was a sophomore who loved to talk about sports, two baseball players, another new student who was having a much easier time than me, an intimidatingly tall freshman, and my mentor. I smiled and picked the seat next to her’s.

“Sorry about earlier I got caught up.”

I smiled and assured her and myself it was fine, and I didn't cry, and I wasn't hurt, and it didn’t matter to me.

*****


My arms stung as I tightened my grip around the paddle. We were rotating shifts of rowing and, sadly, it was my turn. I looked to see everyone behind me sound asleep. This can’t be that hard. I pushed one paddle forward and the boat spun around almost falling over. If I weren’t so scared I might have laughed. I continued to try to paddle but it seemed that the water and the wind and the sun and moon, everything was working against me.

*****

“Hey!”

Just keep smiling.

My mentor turned around and rolled her eyes before forcing out a smile.

“Oh, hey! How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long.”

We are literally at the same dinner table. Keep smiling.

“Yeah, of course. Actually I wanted to see if you were busy this weekend. I kind of wanted to hangout.”

Smile!

“Oh, um...”

She uncomfortably looked around.

“I am kind of busy. You know how junior year can be, right?”

You are maybe the worst mentor to ever live. What purpose do you serve? I could literally do a better job and I just got here.

“It’s fine.”

I briskly walked away from her.

That weekend I saw her at the cafe with her friends.

*****

Just as I began to calm down, I felt a cold sensation meet my foot. I looked down to see my boot soaked.

“I think the boats are filling up guys.”

I tried to stay calm but the water began to pour in until my ankles were submerged.

“What do we do?”

Everyone stayed silent, gathering their things and getting ready to jump overboard.

“What do we do?”

I sat on the floor picking at the carpet.

“I don’t know, they won’t talk to us.”

It had been a week since we first got there. We called a meeting with all the other girls of color in the hall to debrief. When we met we all agreed we would stick together no matter what. It felt nice to have a group. We were never really best friends, but we always had each other's backs, like a fun survival tactic.

“It’s like they’re scared to talk to us.”

We all laughed but it was true. When we told jokes they would stare. When we joined the conversations they would change. We were always a step behind them.

“Should we talk to the proctors?”

“They are just as bad! You can’t tell me they don't have favorites.”

“More like least favorites.”

We sat with those words for a couple of minutes. I wanted to say something to break the silence, but there were no words. There was nothing more to be said.

*****

My feet kicked frantically, as I looked around. My legs were growing numb but I had to stay afloat. I found a piece of wood and tossed my arms over it.

Where did they go?

My face was drenched but I couldn't tell if it was tears, water, or sweat, but what did it matter. I was alone.

*****

On my first day of classes, I wore my nicest clothes. My favorite dress and a gray cardigan with a pair of flats. I walked off to class feeling cute. Dare I say pretty. When I walked into the dining hall I noticed most of the girls had similar, nearly identical outfits. I didn’t think anything of it.

That’s just them.

When I walked into my first class I saw three more girls with those skirts. In Spanish, there were five more. In math, there were 7 with the skirt, and the shoes, and the shirts, and the cardigans.

“Hey, where did you get that skirt?”

“Oh, I got mine from,”

She wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

For the rest of the day, I could only think about finally finding that skirt and receiving it in the mail. I ran back from dance to go begin my search. I looked for the Sale bar but they didn’t have one. I proceeded to look for a skirt and finally found the one. I thought I was going to die.

$150.00.

I refreshed my screen.

$150.00.

I was in shock. Who buys a skirt for $150.00. Who has $150.00 to spend on one single skirt? I closed my computer and sifted through my clothing. I owned one skirt I loved from Marshall’s but it wasn’t looking as nice as it had before. Now all I could notice is that it wasn’t the skirt I wanted.

*****

Horizon and sea. All I could see was the horizon and sea. No matter how much I kicked, all I could see was the horizon and sea.

“I am so glad we are finally getting to meet.”

“Me too.”

“So how have you been?”

“Good.”

“That’s good, have any issues come up for you?”

“Uh, not really.”

“I know it can be hard here for new students, but you’ll grow to love it.”

“I’m sure.”

“Truthfully, I called this meeting because your proctors reached out to me.”

My legs are tired, my arms are sore, my throat is dry.

“Oh?”

“They told me you are having a hard time adjusting.”

I felt my legs give out, my head fell under the water for a second. My eyes stung. I gasped for air but instead choked on water.

“I understand it can be hard.”

I kicked my legs furiously but I couldn't keep myself up. I felt the water fill up inside of me. My skin grew hot, I wrung my hands, I tried to breathe in but something blocked it. The water began to pour out. Pools of water began to flow from my eyes, freeing my airways. I gasped, there was a sense of relief in it. I allowed myself to take a breath after a month of drowning.

“You can talk whenever you are ready.”

Cece King is the Editor of The Lightbulb. Have a question we can investigate? Curious about a speaker, class, or teacher? Email The Lightbulb any story tips at info@curiouscardinals.com.


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