Just to be clear: I wanted to be a dolphin trainer first. Though, I had suspicions that my compulsory recordings and verbal foam could possibly amount to something, as long as I didn’t outpace myself and prematurely call myself Oz. When you read enough to know what dedicated writing entails, you know that there’s much to lose and fear and drink. It wasn’t until recently that I arranged cutout words and snapshots into a chronological collage that made remote sense to me.
In the beginning, there was music. My father was a tenor who sounded like Rush’s Geddy Lee, and a rooster of a front man, strutting lit-up stages in unnecessarily tight, leather pants. He played in cover bands before meeting my mother, who fancied herself an eccentric songwriter. She wrote songs with my dad while I rolled around in her womb. Everything about her was music; she carried a tambourine in her purse and tied silver bells to the ends of her hair. My parents were amateurs in love who planned to travel the country together making Christian rock music. Life happened, shit happened; they so-called settled down and felt unsettled, declaring bankruptcy the year I was born.
One of my first memories is dancing in my diaper to the sound of an organ, then cymbals, cymbals, cymbals. My dad wore headphones the size of earmuffs and recorded music on a keyboard. Fantasia played on television. My living room had a pool of orange carpet, and I was an angelfish, swirling around the sound and color.
I wanted to be my parents before anything else, even a dolphin trainer. So, I wrote songs and dabbled in piano, barely mastering the point where you play a different rhythm on each hand. I inherited my father’s voice and mother’s writing hands. There is something about singing your own words that makes you feel like a full moon.
My room was a paper palace. I splayed out on the floor and printed my songs on scrapbook paper that I taped to the walls. And of course, there were the journals. Dream journals. Journals I scribbled hearts into and filled with the names of shaggy-haired skater boys who thought I was too loud and wore too much makeup. I dedicated an entire journal to my mother and her deteriorating health. Shortly after she and my father separated, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She began to introduce herself as the sick, single mom with three kids. I wrote about her symptoms, then drowned myself in Spongebob Squarepants re-runs.
Every letter that anyone ever wrote me hung from a rainbow colored string I stuck to the ceiling, and I’d fall asleep listening to the fan and soft brush of dangled secrets, half-dreaming underneath my version of stars. Stars that read: “Hi! You R Awesome.”
In high school, I discovered poetry and a soul sister, whose chest used to turn tomato red every time she read at slams. Speaking of tomatoes, no one aimed them at her because she threw words like sucker punches. When I listened to her, it was like seeing the same ghosts someone else sees. Her bravery encouraged me to share some work I had hoarded in the paper palace. I was an ornery thing in neon orange Converse; poetry to me was all about defiance.
I took a whack at our class’ graduation speech. My toughest English teacher adjusted his glasses and told me it was too negative, that the speech wouldn’t sit well with anyone. I submitted the speech anyway, and a panel of three other English teachers selected my work. It was a hearty victory; the first time I grew the ovaries to defend something I wrote.
I started to choke on my words and toggle with the morality of writing during my early 20s. Studying English literature, but also social work, I learned a little about analyzing people’s demons, the cagey systems we all rattle around in, and that there is a real call to serve the human heart and soul. The trouble was, I didn’t receive the call to social work. Not even a text.
In servitude, you’re supposed to have this infamously thick, scaly skin, but what happens when people’s stories seep into your pores? What if you’re made of feathers?
I keep asking new questions, and that helps. For a while, I’d ask, write, then cower in my desk and wait for something the size of a piano to fall on top of me.
Eventually, I forgave myself for wanting to be a dolphin — I mean a writer — which was when I truly knew I was one.
Sarah Cimarusti is an editor for a plumbing/HVAC publication. She lives in the Chicago burbs with her boyfriend, two rabbits, and a back-sassing green cheek conure named Khaleesi. Her essays have appeared in Jersey Devil Press, Bird’s Thumb, and Bayou Magazine.
Read Sarah's essay "Whoopie Pie."