NEHS announces “Love” writing contest winners

Carlyn Kranking, Editor-in-Chief

In honor of Valentine’s Day, McLean’s chapter of the National English Honor Society (NEHS) held a writing contest, accepting submissions of poems and short stories centered around the theme, “Love.” Honor society members read through all the submissions and picked two winning poems and one winning short story. NEHS recently announced the winning entries, which are printed below.

The winning poems were “Diet,” by junior Seyun Kim and “The Crutch and the Crutched,” by junior Annie Przypyszny. The short story, “Just Rocks,” was written by Junior Abby Comey.


Seyun Kim

I thought that I could live

Without seeing you

Without feeling you

I thought a month without you would be durable

That a week would be fine

That a day would be nothing

I thought I could forget you

by covering my eyes

by holding my nose

But look at me now

Desperate to see you, I grab my phone to call you.

I don’t need your number,

my finger remembers your number

Now I sit in front of the door, waiting

But soon stand up with impatience

I walk up and down the corridor with my eyes fixed at the door

From faraway, I hear the footsteps

It gets closer, closer and closer

And stops in front of my door

With relief, I wide open the door.

“Pepperoni medium, right?”

The Crutch and the Crutched

Annie Przypyszny

I sometimes look into his eyes to find a cataract

Some sort of reason that he stays

But all I see is clear blue crystals

And red veins

More than he had when we first met

Until I came

And poured all my soap into them

He’s had to throw away so many towels since I’ve moved in

He can remove the stains

But not the memories he associates them with

He says it’s okay

He likes getting new ones anyway

They’re always more plush

I know it’s not fair for him

I know it takes so much for him

To tilt his vertical line

To find itself parallel to my diagonal one

It puts a strain on his neck

And his spine

And I know it’s only a matter of time

Before he snaps

All I do is snap things

Like a crayon I can’t help it

Unless I don’t use the crayon at all

I try to give so much

But I take so much more

I give him my hands and my hips

And my words and my sighs

But I violently steal all the tears from his eyes

And I drag on his shoulder

Until it dislocates

I try to put it back

I do that much

But it’s not stepping above and beyond

To undo what you’ve already done

Sometimes I think of trains

How far away they go

How many different tracks I could follow

Maybe if I started to travel their path

He could move onto find a duchess

Instead of settling for a psychopath

The Crutch

It kills me to see her with bricks on her back

I try to remove them

But she insists that she keep them

I only wish she knew

That we could share them

But she keeps them all to herself

And so I’m starting to pile bricks of my own onto myself

She’s my flower

But she won’t let me water her

She’s my bird but she won’t let me feed her from the palm of my hand

I promise her I lose nothing from her opening

But I lose everything from her closing

When a cave is unsealed

You might find bats and beetles

But you also find treasure

And minerals

Keep the cave sealed

And you get neither

She thinks she weighs me down

But a minute on the ground

Is a small price to pay

For getting to visit the stars

At least once a day

She’s shown me new horizons

New galaxies

That I never believed in

But now I do

But everytime I touch her skin

It’s like she thinks she’ll infect me

She won’t believe me

When I tell her I have immunity

She wishes to be locked away in quarantine

The Crutched

Another wave has crashed on the shore

And he’s found himself amidst the froth

I wish I could be a tidal pool

Instead of an ocean

Maybe I wouldn’t risk drowning so many people

I don’t want his lungs immersed in fluid

I want to undo it

But the tide can’t rewind itself

And I can feel another storm ahead already

And it hurts me to see him trying to stay so steady

He’s been my clarity for too long

But soon enough I’ll start blurring his vision

I don’t want him to suffer with me

I want him to feel free

Not chained to my side

Always waiting to do my bidding

He tells me that he’s fine

But I know his ship is sinking

He’s missed three days of work already

He’s slicing off his limbs to replace mine

And what kills me is

I’m letting him

I don’t want to

But I hold onto him

I’ve cemented his hand to my forehead

I’ve tangled our muscles together

My reliance on his guidance

Is suffocating him

I need to let go

I need him out

Before I drop my torch in the gasoline

And the flames consume him

I’m the one who lit it in the first place

Let them burn me

And only me

The Crutch

She latches onto me


But how can I tell her I don’t mind being

Caught in her grip

Anything to make it so she doesn’t slip

She’s thinks she’s holding onto me

But sometimes I feel like I’m holding onto her

And besides, I was planning on going back to work tomorrow

So that’s not even the issue here

She’s a sandcastle

And she’s eroded a bit

But I can build her back up

If she’d just let me touch her

Every night she sleeps at the edge of the bed

And all I want is to hold her

She won’t allow me to extinguish her fire when she’s burning

Or strike her match when she’s in the dark

She insists on doing it herself

With no hose

And no matches

And yet she still thinks she latches

Onto me too much

She’s scared of dependence

So she builds a bubble of static around her body

So all who lay their hands on her are shocked

She’s so careful when she talks

When she feels the vomit rising in her throat

She swallows it

And I just want her to let it out

I’ll clean it up

It will only take another towel

And I don’t mind buying more

I like it when they’re new and plush

No one expects someone to move when all their bones are broken

No one expects someone to talk when their tongue has been cut out

No one expects perfection from anyone

Except for her

With herself

And I want to tell her

So badly

She’s already perfect

Because she’s made it this far

The Crutched

I like looking out the window of the train

I wish I could see the tracks

But they’re at a stubborn angle

That keeps them from entering my view

But I still try to sight them

Because it’s the only thing keeping me from thinking of him

He’s better off now

He probably sighed with relief

And went back to work

And set off fireworks

Red ones

His favorite color

A color I disliked

He’s now free to do whatever he likes

Without having my leash wrapped around his wrist

With me always tugging him back from his destination

He no longer has to sell his hours for me

Hours of me waking him up in the middle of the night

Hours he could have spent dreaming

Instead of hearing me screaming

And he can find another now

Someone with hair softer than mine

A stomach flatter than mine

Arms cleaner than mine

Anything better than mine

Someone blows balloons for him

Instead of popping them

And I will no longer need him

I don’t need a soft cushion for when I fall

Because it’s time to start getting used to what it feels like

To fall on solid marble

Time to let my wounds get infected

Instead of always having clean bandages nearby

It’s time for me to give blood

Instead of drinking it

I will no longer let him soothe me

I will no longer let him be my crutch

The Crutch

I wish I could have had one more morning with her

Smelled her sour breath

Brushed my teeth while she showered

Tasted the orange juice on her tongue

Cupped my hands around her jaw

And stroke her cheeks with my thumb

I wish I could have had more than one more morning

I wish I could have had every morning

But now I’ll have no mornings

Unless she comes back

Maybe she’ll be back

I’ll hold her so tight that her ribs snap

And I’ll polish her like silver

Where did she go

To her brother?

To another man like me?

Is her soul still in her body?

I can’t think right

I feel like my saliva is made of mercury

My mouth feels heavy

My throat feels like it’s closing

I can still see the indentation from her head in the pillow

So far to the edge

I tried so hard to get it closer

Maybe I could have

But she never gave me a chance

I hope she will give someone a chance


They deserve it

She deserves it

I wish I was plugging in the telephone keys for her

Calling in sick to take care of her

But now there’s no one to take care of

But myself

But she took such good care of me

She gave me someone to take care of myself for

But she’s gone

And she’ll never know

She’ll never see

That she was my crutch

Just Rocks

Abby Comey

I fell in love with a girl who wore rain boots on sunny days. There isn’t much need for bright

colored rain boots in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but Jane would have looked lost without the

sun shining off of her legs on a June afternoon.

I should mention that I loathe pet stores. I hate the way that helpless hamsters and

goldfish stare at you with big eyes from behind the glass as you pass. I hate the way it smells like

processed meats and cheap air freshener. I hate when people bring their dogs into the store, as

though Scruffy is going to point his paw at his favorite Beneful formula for you. I should also

mention that I don’t actually have a pet, so you would think there wouldn’t be any possible

reason for me to find myself in a damned pet store. You would be wrong if you thought that,

because Jane Chung works at Petco and her rain boots glisten to a blinding degree beneath the

store’s fluorescent lights.

Jane’s rain boots were blue, just like her hair-covered smock, on the day I found out she worked

at Petco. I was cat-sitting for my neighbor, a task I dreaded but decided to weather because my

Mount Rushmore funds were dwindling after the Christmas season. Yes, my dream is to visit

Mount Rushmore the summer before I go to college. Not Europe or Disney World or New York

City, but the glamorous Keystone, South Dakota. There’s something achingly poetic to me about

carving historic faces into the face of a natural wonder and I want to look those stoic men in the

faces. But in the meantime, I opt for store brand soda and watch over smelly orange cats.

I could almost feel the fates of love smiling upon me when I found Jane knelt down by

the cat litter, her dark braids sweeping the floor as she applied price tags with shocking deftness.

“Oh hey, Travis,” she said and the sound of my name on her lips tasted to me like cherry


“I’m good, how are you?”

I blew it. That’s it. Here was my opportunity and there is was flying away in the wind.

Jane just smiled and when she did I feared I might blow away with it.

“I’m doing just fine.” And then she was gone, leaving behind nothing but a two-for- one

sticker on some scented cat litter.

“Hey! Hey, Jane! Wait,” I called after her. She turned around and I cleared my throat,

“Uh, which, uh, cat litter would you recommend?”

“Well, what kind of cat are we talking about here,” she said, her green nail polish

flashing as she brought a hand to her hip.

“Just your average cat, I suppose. If you want to get specific- orange, fat, smelly,

diabolical.” She laughed at that. She laughed! She laughed and for a moment her brown eyes

looked the color of her nail polish in the light.

“Purple package, bottom shelf. It’s a little more expensive than the others but it smells

great and there’s a special.”

“Oh,” I stammered, “thanks. Got it. My neighbor’s cat will enjoy crapping in this

mysterious sand.” Oh sweet Jesus. Who am I? What have I become?

But then she laughed again and I was an instrument at her disposal, a pebble in her

smooth palm. I was hers. And then she was gone again, leaving me clutching that over-priced cat

litter with trembling arms.

Now, I’m sure you’re skeptical here. You’re probably thinking, but, Travis, you don’t even know

this girl. How did she possibly come to hold you like a pebble in her smooth palm? But I really

do know Jane. She is strong and gentle, wielding her powerful existence with a tender

thoughtfulness. I’ve watched her reach out to the lonely and leave heavy stones unturned because

she sees the world through a lavender lense. She has the courage to live out loud and do so

unapologetically. And my quiet soul can only sit and watch her paint the world lavender,

following desperately behind her rain boot prints in the dirt.

I’ve often pondered why Jane Chung wears rain boots every day in a town where it never

rains. People at school have their theories. I heard she has warts on her ankles, kids whisper, my

cousin told me her uncle runs a rain boot factory and she can’t afford anything else. I think she’s

letting the world know she’s ready for any storm it throws at her. I think she knows that storms

don’t always disguise themselves as rain. I think her life is full of puddles and lightning strikes

and wind that threatens to knock you off of your feet, but I think Jane Chung says let the clouds

come. I’ll be standing here, boots in the dirt. Let them try.

Mrs. McCormick’s house smelled like the pet store and looked like a hospital waiting room.

There were ancient magazines on every coffee table and plastic plants in every corner. There

were generic photos of cityscapes and laughing children hanging on the tacky, geometric

wallpaper. All that was missing was a reception desk and a frantic mother with a toothless son

clutching a broken skateboard by her side.

Joe, the orange, fat, smelly, diabolical cat was perched on the kitchen table when I

arrived and he gave me a glare as though I had just eaten his children in front of him. Joe is

named after Mrs. McCormick’s late husband, a heartwarming memorial if I ever did see one.

When I die, I hope I have a hamster named after me. Hospital wings and gardens are overrated.

Give me something that craps on the floor. That’s what I’m talking about.

Before heading home, I fed Joe and changed his litter box. If you’ve never changed a

litter box before, it’s like the least fun treasure hunt you’ve ever had. It’s like digging for the last

few raisins in a box of Raisin Bran, except instead of raisins, it’s cat poop.

When I reached my house I saw blue rain boots dangling off of the front porch railing

and my knees shook fiercely.

“Travis,” Jane said and this time it tasted like sour milk when her dark eyes met mine.

Her voice was low and hoarse and scared.

“Jane?” I asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, Travis, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I came. I shouldn’t have. But I saw you

at work and you were just so nice, so normal and I needed to talk to someone, someone who

wouldn’t look at me like I’m some sort of freak. I just needed to not be alone for a moment. I

don’t know. I shouldn’t have come. I’m-”

“No,” I said, a little too forcefully, “no. Come inside. We can go see Joe later if you


“Who’s Joe?” she asked as we walked inside.


Jane took off her boots in the front hall and I realized it was the first time I had seen her

without them on. She was still wearing her hair-covered smock and her braids were coming loose

around her neck. Her socks were gray and too big and she looked so small standing there before

me, like a child who’d had a nightmare.

“Can I get you some water or anything. My mom made apple pie last night, so I could-”

“I don’t have any friends, Travis.”


“I don’t have any friends. I scare people I think. I don’t know. But I’m tired. I’m tired of

having no one to talk to, to laugh with. My parents don’t talk to me. I don’t have any siblings. I

don’t even have a smelly cat to talk to, Travis, and I’m suffocating. The world just feels so big

and I feel so small and it’s only going to get worse after high school and I don’t know if I can

take it. There’s something wrong with me or something, I don’t know. Everything just feels

wrong to me. Nothing fits right, not clothes or people or colors or anything.” When she finished

speaking she still stood in the same spot on the carpet and she hadn’t taken her eyes off of my


“What are you talking about? You’re so- so smart and so kind. I don’t get it.” Jane shook

her head at that as she turned from me and sat on the couch. She tucked her gray socks

underneath her and hugged an embroidered pillow to her chest.

“No one likes me, Travis. People think I’m interesting, I guess, but no one wants to know

me, not really. I’m the kind of girl you talk about over smoothies, the kind of girl you ask where

she shops when you’re lab partners. I’m not the kind of girl you ask how she’s feeling. I’m not

and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“There’s nothing to fix, Jane.” I thought she was going to cry, but she didn’t. She just

looked at me. “Jane,” I asked, “why did you come here?”

“Because you took my advice on cat litter.” I laughed before she continued. “Because

you seemed to care what I had to say. You asked a question and then you listened to the answer.”

“I should’ve listened sooner,” I whispered. Jane let go of the pillow and turned to look at

me. Her eyes were tired and her skin didn’t have its usual glow. I’d never seen her like this

before, beaten down and broken. And yet I loved her in that instant. She was human at last. She

was real and her cracks looked more like embroidery to me. I wanted to reach out and touch her

weary cheek, but I didn’t. “Hey Jane?” I asked.


“Why do you wear rain boots?” She chuckled to herself and traced the seam of her sock


“In case it rains.” And then she asked me if she could have some pie.

Jane and I went to Mount Rushmore the summer after senior year. Her rain boots were gray to

honor their stoic expressions, she said. It was foggy on the day we arrived in Keystone and the

likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were hidden as mist overtook the

face of the mountain. Yet when we emerged from the gift shop before our departure, the fog had

at last cleared. We both looked for a long time before saying anything. The two of us just stood

there, her hand in mine, and we looked. I spoke first.

“They’re just rocks.”

Jane laughed at that and once again I felt my pestering pebble-ness overtake me as I

always did when her dark eyes lit up and her nose wrinkled so that she resembled a gentle sort of

tiger. I felt lucky to have gotten to memorize that laugh over the last few months. I felt lucky to

have gotten to bring her lips to mine and to know the way her waist feels in my hands. I felt

lucky to have touched her tears and to have shared in her triumphs. I felt lucky to be standing

there beside her in that moment.

“Yeah. I guess they are just rocks,” she said.

“I’ve been seeing the world through a lavender lense, Jane.”


“I’ve been seeing the world through a lavender lense,” I repeated, “They’re just rocks.

You’re just a girl. I’m just the lucky dweeb who gets to love you.”

“They’re just rocks,” she said, nodding.

“And that’s a beautiful thing, Jane,” I said, holding her hand a little tighter, “that’s a

beautiful thing.”