It all started with the gun. A Marlin 25mn .22 Mag bolt-action rifle was what was on the picture my dad gave me on November 19th, my fourteenth birthday.
"We can't pick it up until next week with the ten day waiting period," he'd said.
I loved that gun, and shot it as much as I could. I went through the works to get a good scope on it, and was not disappointed with the result.
I was invited to perform contortion on the fourteenth of February with my mom, and, despite my recurring rib injury, I agreed. It was hard training with all the chiropractor trips, but I made do.
At the same time, the local aerialist group asked me to play Dorothy in their all-aerial production of The Wizard of Oz. I accepted excitedly, immediately starting on making a routine.
On the day of the valentine's show my mom came and picked me up from work to drive me an hour and a half to Redding, where we both did very well performing in a restaurant. Unfortunately I pushed myself a little too hard, and my injury worsened considerably.
Frustrated with being unable to stretch as deeply as I used too, I was forced to take a break as The Wizard of Oz show rolled around in March. There were four performances, and I loved every minute of them, even the second-to-last when I was sick.
Tired from the shows but not ready to stop training, I took a longer break from stretching and strengthened more instead. I sent in a video of one my Oz performances for auditions into the Reno Aerial Fest, feeling hopeful.
In May my sister, my mom, and I all went to Las Vegas for my sister's regional championships competition. My mom and I trained, taking private lessons from other circus artists while we were there. I got hooked after I tried aerial straps for the first time, and I learned adrenaline-rushing drops from an amazing aerialist. Mystere, the Cirque du Soleil show we saw, was absolutely amazing. I was more inspired than ever.
But then I attempted to do a real stretch for the first time in a while. I ended up frustrated and disappointed; nothing had changed, and my rib was still giving me problems.
Slightly discouraged but still looking forward to training more aerial, we headed back home. Part way I saw the list of people that got into the Reno Aerial Fest; I wasn't on it.
I was tired and discouraged, but I realized that there was one thing that would help me everywhere that I needed to improve: my middle splits. I decided that as soon as we got home I would start getting up every morning and doing a personalized middle split strengthening and stretching routine.
We were almost back when I got an email from the Reno Aerial Fest, saying that one of the competitors couldn't make it to the competition and if I would take her place, being then next highest scorer.
I remember sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store when I got that email and screaming at my mom in excitement when she got back outside.
The competition was in November, but I wanted to start making a routine as soon as we got home. Unfortunately, there were other matters to attend to first. One of our wolfdogs had just given birth to eight adorable little puppies and we had to take care of them until the three-month mark was up and they could be sold.
I have to say, little wolf puppies are cute, but they are also very loud. Especially at five am.
In June I performed two aerial acts at California Dance Company's end-of-year show, where my mom teaches aerial silks. I was in a duo and trio, and I pushed myself more than ever to make it happen. It was amazing, and so fun.
I kept up with my middle split stretching and strengthening routine and was seeing great results.
My sister qualified for national championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, and my grandparents agreed to take her. At the same time in late June that my mom was bringing my sister 800 miles north to my grandparents house where she would then fly off east, she was also shuttling five puppies to their new homes. Two others had already been picked up, and the last one nobody had bought. That one we had to keep, and since we were keeping her, we had to train her. It was only myself, my sister, and my dad at the house. My dad had work and my other sister has epilepsy, so it was my responsibility.
Potty training was priority. I quickly realized that the pup, Freyja, couldn't stand sleeping in our room in the summer heat. I moved outside in a tent, where I was able to rush her out when she had to go.
My mom was gone a week, so I had to deal with not just Freyja, but the other two dogs, the cats, the horses, the goats, and keeping the house clean along with cooking meals (or cleaning up, my sister and I traded off that duty).
Freyja was an independent, lively, stubborn wolf. Every day she would wake me up at 5am, excited and ready to sneak out of the tent if I didn't get up with her. So I put her on her leash and got dragged around--sometimes before the sun-- until my parents got up two hours later. She then was usually in the hands of my sister while I got my daily activities done; homework, training, practicing my violin, and other things. At night I would bring her out to the tent again and she finally, finally, go to sleep at midnight. And she couldn't hold her bladder for very long so she usually needed out at 2am or 3.
Keep in mind that Freyja had a puppy sleep schedule, which meant she napped a lot during the day. My sister had duties too so she couldn't play with her all of the time to get her tired. It was a seemingly endless cycle.
This lasted for three weeks. I got an average of five hours of sleep a night, sometimes less, and it wasn't long before I was drinking coffee every morning to keep from passing out.
One day I decided to take a quick nap at 9 am to bring up my energy, but I ended up sleeping for a full eight hours.
In the middle of that time I got news back from the Reno Aerial Fest. They sent an apologetic email explaining that the competition would have to be canceled because the venue wouldn't let the them use professional riggers for the apparatuses. The previous year they had had a failure in the rigging using the venue's riggers, and they wanted to use qualified circus riggers this time. But the venue woudn't have it, and it was too late to find a new venue.
It was disappointing, but I was grateful that I had at least gotten into the competition in the first place.
At the end of the second week I got heat exhaustion working with my dad. We were putting shingles on a roof, and were getting as much done as possible in eight hours. It was in mid July, and was about 107 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground, but on the roof in the sun was about 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The only small section of shade up there disappeared before noon.
I knew that I needed to stay hydrated and I drank more than 120 ounces of water throughout the day. The problem wasn't lack of water, though. It was that the amount of water I drank offset the amount of salt I had in my blood, and it wrecked my system, doing to me what is technically called "bonking". It hit when we got back, when I got out of the truck and was woozy and lightheaded. Before I got to the front door I was on my knees, retching. I would've thrown up but there was nothing in my stomach.
I felt like I was going to die, and if you looked up bonking or heat exhaustion you will see that other people have said the same.
At the end of the longest three weeks of my life my mom drove me to meet my sister partway to my grandparents house. I got to see her for a couple minutes before I went with my grandma up north as my mom and sister went back to our house farther south.
I spent two weeks on San Juan Island, where my grandparents and a long line of family members live. It was amazing, and fun, and totally crazy not having my parents or siblings around. Every day I was able to ride a bike into town, go to the health club, then go grab a sandwich and watch tourists unload from the ferry boats.
Friends from Arizona vacationed to the island every July, and I hung out with them a lot. I spent time with my cousins (second cousins technically) and I came to the conclusion that cousins are definitely the best members of the extended family.
Near the end of my trip my grandma dragged me along to meet this "Belgian family" that were staying at her mother's house. I wasn't particularly excited, since all the information my grandma had given me about them was a picture that the dad had taken of a family reunion in the '80s. He wasn't even in the picture.
I didn't really have any expectations, but I was surprised nonetheless. The "Belgian family", were, in fact, actually from Belgium and were on a vacation in the U.S. They had met my two of my great uncles in Europe and had become good friends with my grandma's part of the family. News to me.
The Belgians were made up of six individuals: the dad and husband, Bart; his wife, Isabelle; the oldest son at 15 yrs, Teppe; the next oldest at 14, Tijl; Hasa, the daughter, at 13; and the youngest son at 11, Seth.
My grandma, the other kids and I took the canoes out and went on a ride the evening I met them. It was fun, with races and a water fight that I may or may not have started.
I had enough fun that I tagged along the next day as my great uncle gave them a tour of the island. Their thick accents made them hard to understand at times, but by the end of the day I had it down. I got their contact information and rode my bike to where they were staying at 6am the next morning for a quick canoe ride before we went our separate ways.
I got back to my house and home in California in early August. I started studying Russian through an app, Babbel, and went on more and more dirt bike rides with my dad, an activity I have discovered I like doing a lot.
I was invited to perform aerial silks at a wedding down south with a few other local aerialists, and at the end of August my mom and I packed up yet again to go perform. It was a totally amazing experience, and was my first paid gig.
I had joined the local drama club in early July and we did a couple short skits in the beginning of September. Immediately after we started work on a full play, "the death of a hot sauce salesman", a comedy murder-mystery with audience participation.
In the middle of October my mom got the news: her grandma, my great grandma, Priscilla Nash was on her death bed and was not expected to live through the weekend. The next morning the two of us left and drove all day to get to the ferry landing at midnight. We got on an early ferry the next morning and onto the island for the second time.
We were with her in the hospital that night when she passed. My great grandma, my grandma, my mom, and myself made four generations in the room when she died. It was an ethereal experience, something I cannot explain.
We spent another week there for the funeral, and I made a slideshow of her life per request of one of my great aunts. That was a tiring experience, looking through boxes of photos then scanning the good ones onto the computer. I spent hours on it, then the system crashed and my work was deleted. I stayed up until 4am that night to recover it, slept for three hours, then got up and worked on it more to have it finished by the funeral.
I played my violin at the service, and my video played at the reception.
My mom and I started the drive back home after that, although I didn't really want to leave. There were so many close friends and family that we wanted to catch up with.
Usually I participate in the local haunted house in October, but surprisingly the organizers decided not to do it this time. For the first time in at least four years I didn't have anything to do on Halloween.
I was still and still am in contact with one of the members of the Belgian family through text, an art I have perfected through hours worth of practice.
I went on more dirt bike rides with my dad in November and shot my gun. I hadn't been able to shoot through the summer with the dry grass, and it was nice getting back into it.
My birthday rolled around, and I realized with horror I was turning fifteen. Every time I thought of it, it made me sound old. Still does.
I reflected on last year, on how I looked forward to my fourteenth birthday and what came after it. Fifteen doesn't seem to contain the same childhood excitement.
I have grown a lot this past year. I broke physical and mental barriers, pushed myself to the limit, and recognized self control. I have perspective on things I hadn't even been thinking about before.
And yet, I find myself thinking that my fourteenth was just a test run. A rehearsal.
So bring it on, world. This fifteen year old is ready for the show.
This is a 100% true retelling of my year as a fourteen-year-old. It was strange writing about myself for once, but for the first time it wasn't particularly hard, either.