Rags to riches: How the Oklahoma City housing market is changing

By Jackson Sharp

In the 2010 Census, Oklahoma City surpassed the 500,000 population mark for the first time. Over the last decade, the metro area has seen a massive surge of new home construction filling the empty corners of urban sprawl that followed the completion of the Hefner Parkway in 1992. But in some of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, many of which fell to crime and disrepair in the 1990s, a younger generation is sailing back toward the city center, bringing new style to old homes.

At 25, Erick Silva owns and maintains 14 properties across the Oklahoma City area, and he’s looking to buy more. Learning at the hands of his family’s own property management business, Silva operates two limited liability companies on his own, Silva Properties and AE Silva Properties.

These homes, peppered throughout areas close to the core of Oklahoma City, are what Silva describes as infill properties. According to Michael O. Minor, former community development specialist for the Memphis division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, infill property can be broadly defined as a community of older homes that have been completely refurbished in urban area neighborhoods. 

“I buy distressed properties,” said Silva. “I’m trying to buy property in areas like the

Plaza, or even in areas that, like, I think are going to become even better, so I’m buying some in the northeast corridor. I’m hoping to capture some of that eventual appreciation in the future.”

According to the Norada real estate group real estate prices in the core of Oklahoma City, meaning south of NW 50th Street and north of I-40, rise about 1% to 2% a year. However, the average price of a home throughout these older neighborhoods rose from just over $105,000 in 2016 to around $120,000 in 2017.

Silva believes that these neighborhoods rent well because their locations are so central to the city’s center. With a growing restaurant scene and a flourishing nightlife, more people want to be closer to the action, said Silva.

Kelsea Hammons, 24, believes she is one of many that have left the suburbs to live a more enjoyable life closer to downtown. Hammons moved to the Paseo District in March 2018, an adobe-style arts quarter of Oklahoma City once plagued by gang violence that has become a hot area for real estate in recent years, according to US News.

“I think that people here are more open-minded,” said Hammons. “Like, most of the people that live down here are in their twenties, and like, if someone lives here in their forties they’re like a hippie.”

Hammons, a native of northwest Oklahoma City, lives in a renovated apartment building that she shares with a roommate. Her unit features original wood floors, stainless steel counters and all new appliances and bathroom fixture. For the most part, rent has been fairly affordable too, Hammons said.

When it came to leaving her suburban upbringing, Hammons said the choice decision was easy. A graduate of Putnam City North, Hammons believes that the suburbs of Oklahoma City lack appeal to younger people who have ideas different from their parents.

“I just think that there’s nothing there,” said Hammons. “Like everyone that has stayed there has been there for 15 years or more .It’s very conservative and there’s just not much to do.”

According to Hammons, her biggest inspiration for moving was the opportunity to be closer to the action of the city and have to drive less. Living in the Paseo, Hammons says she is able to walk to restaurants, bars and concerts that would otherwise take a half-hour or more to get to using the highway.

The neighborhoods that Silva focuses on purchasing are similar to the Paseo, comprised of homes built mostly between 1920 and 1950. The Plaza district in particular is the result of the revitalization of the once troubled 16th Street corridor located between Pennsylvania Avenue and Classen Boulevard.

A historic area minutes from downtown Oklahoma City, the Plaza district was once plagued by crime. After Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s 2005 purchase and renovation of a the old Plaza Theatre, more businesses began to setup shop and clean up the streets, according to the Oklahoma City Arts Council.

Today, this portion of 16th Street is now one of Oklahoma City’s cultural hubs, lined with art galleries, vintage boutiques and some of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants, according to the Council.

“I think real estate prices have come a long way from where they began,” said Silva. “I think it has a lot to do with people moving back to the infill and then the city investing more into, I think, Oklahoma City.”

With programs like the MAPS project, Oklahoma City has headed several major renaissance efforts throughout the urban core in an effort to revitalize areas that fell into disrepair and abandonment.

The fall of downtown Oklahoma City in the 1970s and 1980s is due in part to the failure of the Pei Plan, a tax-driven initiative designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei that cleared up to “40 percent” of downtown’s historic buildings for visions that never came true, according to architectural blog City Lab.

Currently on its third phase, the MAPS project is a series of voter-approved urban renewal efforts funded by limited term, one-cent sales tax that Oklahoma City residents have passed three times since 1993, according to the Oklahoma City government website.

Today’s project, MAPS 3, was passed in 2009 and began the following year with an expected budget of $777 million and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Most recently the results of this phase of MAPS has seen success with the addition of the Oklahoma City Streetcar and the opening of Scissortail Park. The program also renews sidewalks across the city, implements new walk trails and erects senior wellness centers across the metro, according to the project’s website.

For Silva, his contribution to the renewal of Oklahoma City exists in the property that he renovates and then rents out. Most of his properties have simply cosmetic repair and updates, while a few have required being gutted to the studs and transformed into something totally new.

“You know putting in new kitchen cabinets, and then granite, or just some type of new countertop surface and then new tile in the kitchen,” Silva said. “New laminate flooring throughout the living room and then just fresh paint.”

But Silva hopes to go beyond basic renovations, and plans to begin tackling bigger projects now that he has the capital available.

“I want to start doing more,” said Silva. “Because I’m actually about to start buying them a lot more distressed so the rehabs are going to be a little more intense.”

For Dalton Schmitz, 25, house-flipping was a hobby that started with his father and turned into a source of supplemental income.

Purchasing a house on Drexel Avenue in what was once a neighborhood full of doctors working at the nearby Baptist hospital, according to Schmitz, he and his father renovated a home that they had purchased after being disappointed in the available rental property that was on the market when Schmitz first moved to Oklahoma City from Stillwater in 2015.

“It was an 1,800 square foot home and we got it for $150

[thousand]

,” Schmitz said. “Found some cheap contractors, got a loan from a bank and it took about six months.”

Schmitz and his father completely transformed the house, opening up the kitchen to the rest of the living areas, replacing the original floors with wood-like tile, fresh paint and new countertops and fixtures throughout the house. They sold the home for $225,000, Schmitz said.

“I think we set the record per square foot in that neighborhood,” Schmitz said. “After we flipped it, all the homes around there started selling.”

Schmitz believes that Oklahoma City is a great market for house-flippers because older homes in the area can be purchased for such low prices. With the recent interest in the revitalization of older neighborhoods, younger people want to move into homes that are already redone with not much to update, Schmitz said.

“I enjoy buying a rundown home and then, like, turning it into what it can be,” said Schmitz who’s currently renovating a home in Norman. “The neighbors of the house on Drexel, they all said the original owners would have been proud, they wouldn’t recognize it as their home and, you know, that felt really good.”

For a long time, areas nearest downtown Oklahoma City fell victim to high rates of crime and gang violence, leaving some of the city’s most historic and ornate structures in disrepair or vacant. While the suburbs may still be expanding at the corners of the metro, a younger generation is trading their subdivision roots for a taste of character and the heart of the city is beginning to beat again.

Story behind the story: John Paul Brammer

            Originally from Cash, Oklahoma, John Paul Brammer is a columnist, activist and professional writer now living in New York City. Having graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2013 with a professional writing degree, Brammer freelances for several major publications including Conde Nast, BuzzFeed and has been published in outlets including the Guardian and NBC.

            Sitting down to discuss his reflective and emotional essay “Unheard Grief, Unmovable Men: How an Old Mexican Folktale Speaks to Our Pain Today,” Brammer discusses his writing style, tactics and inspirations.

Q: Can you explain your motivation for this piece?

JPB: La Llorona has always been sort of a ubiquitous, important folktale when it comes to Latino people, sort of all over. She sort of exists in Mexican culture, Venezuelan culture and Colombian culture, you name it. She also exists in Mexican American culture and I was really interested in how folklores – sort of like little organisms, or a person even – can adapt and change and evolve depending on where they are, where they travel.

I wanted to write something that was folkloric but sort of hits on the themes of right now, like anxieties. Monsters sort of reference the source of the anxieties they have as being created by the society they’re living in. For me, at the time, that had a lot to do with immigration… deportation and how it affects people who are documented. Being Mexican American it gets sort of complicated because most of us who live here are documented, born here, raised here, we’ve lived here all out lives. And so I wanted to write about how that impacts us even though we don’t directly share that struggle. And I think folklores are a really good way to explain that.

Q: Are you ever scared to write your feelings?

JPB: Yeah, so, I think it’s always scary to share things period. Like, even if you’re writing a news article, a personal essay, an opinion piece, a book, it all involves some level of risk.

I think I’m lucky in a way because I sort of approach journalism in an opposite angle. Like, I wanted to get into journalism because I wanted to get used to publishing stories and getting paid for writing stories because my passion was in the news, my passion has always been in sharing my thoughts, feelings… That essay is sort of more indicative of the kind of work I like doing.

Q: What is your process like for writing something like this, since you don’t really have to interview people?

JPB: Yeah, so I tend to sit down and I have the rough outlines of the emotions I want to have and the emotions I want to evoke in other people. Then the wording and the writing sort of follows those contours. It’s more like, I think I know what I want people to feel and there are nuances in those feelings – it’s not just happiness, it’s not just sadness, it’s got all these different peaks and valleys.

Q: Can you tell me how you got into writing and publishing things like this?

JPB: Well, I also went to OU. I studied professional writing, so it’s not really like journalism, it’s not really like creative writing. After I graduated I didn’t really know what to do so I went to work at Full Circle Bookstore for a while, and I was really tired of writing and not being good at it. Every time I would sit down to write, I had good ideas and a good notion of the things I wanted to write, but I didn’t really know how to write them.

I think that’s how a lot of creativity works, it’s just a lot of agitation. So I really dedicated myself to writing a lot, reading a lot, eventually got a few things landed in the Huffington Post, I got a blogging job up in DC and launched myself into the freelance world where I was a columnist for the Guardian for a while, took a job at NBC News and now Conde Nast. My main writing job right now is Hola Papi, which is an LGBT advice column that’s been in a few outlets and now it’s being developed into a book by Simon & Schuster.

The gem of northwest Oklahoma City

By Jackson Sharp

Dressed in dark red brick and standing at nine floors tall, The Waterford Hotel was Oklahoma City’s first ticket to a world-class luxury experience for its visitors and residents. Built on the cusp of one of Oklahoma City’s most exclusive zip codes, and having weathered nearly four decades of a rapidly changing metro that put others out of business, the hotel still signifies a passage that took Oklahoma City from a dirty little cattle town to a cosmopolitan metro.

Nestled on the rolling green hills of what used to be an orphanage, the hotel was originally part of a mixed-use community development led by real estate developer Charles Givens. The Waterford Project began in 1982, construction of the hotel beginning nearly a year later, at a time when the northwest suburban areas of the city were exploding with construction of large executive homes and planned communities. Givens’ decision to place the 40-acre development at the southeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 63rd Street was intentional.

“It was a highly contested site to buy, there were multiple bidders on it,” said Givens.

The leafy plot lies just south of the Nichols Hills city boundaries and had been under the ownership of the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention since 1917, according to their website. By the time Givens took over, the area had been engulfed by upscale shopping centers like Penn Square Mall and neighboring country clubs. By 1987, Nichols Hills was the 9th richest suburb in the United States, according to the Oklahoman.

Givens began development of the $100 million Waterford project just after his 30th birthday, designing a mixed-use community that included 350,000 square feet of office space, a 1,200 car parking garage, 121 condominiums and of course, the then-192 room hotel with its adjoining conference center. The natural beauty of the property was preserved, sprouted with trees and a large pond across from the hotel. A single winding street dubbed Waterford Boulevard splits the development in half, connecting each phase.

The hotel opened in January 1985, enchanting Oklahomans and its visitors with a level luxury never experienced in the state before.

“There really wasn’t a grand hotel in Oklahoma City at the time. The closest thing would have been the Skirvin and I don’t know what the condition of it was at the time,” said Givens.

The iconic Hotel Skirvin, Oklahoma City’s only other luxury hotel since 1911 had fell into disrepair by the 1980s and closed its doors in 1988, according to Hilton’s website. This opened the door for the Waterford as the natural choice for guests seeking a plush night’s rest.

With arched ceilings, parquet flooring and oversized crown molding, the lobby alone raised the bar for Oklahoma City hotels. But it was the two restaurants, massive event center and impeccable service that set the Waterford apart. Movie stars, rock bands and oil tycoons made the Waterford their choice of stay when they found themselves in the Big Friendly. For residents of Oklahoma City, the Waterford was a top destination for wedding receptions, reunions and holiday dinners, according to James Baze, who was a bellman at the Waterford from 1990 to 1999.

But after an oil bust in the mid 1980s caused financial turmoil for major banks across the state, Givens faced difficulty with maintaining the hotel’s prestige. According to a report by the FDIC, between 1980 and 1994 Oklahoma saw 122 banks fail, including a majority of the banks that had financed Givens’ project. Shortly after the Waterford’s opening, Givens sold the hotel alone to the Landmark Land Company.

Despite a floundering economy and, according to the FDIC, a rapid increase in foreclosures and office vacancy across Oklahoma City, the Waterford stayed afloat. Under the control of Landmark, the hotel maintained its status as the state’s longest running four star hotel, according to current general manager Chase Rollins.

“I would definitely say, back in the 90s, we were the best hotel in Oklahoma City,” said Baze. “We had the Waterford Dining Room, which was a four star dining room at the time. We had seven doormen, seven bellmen.”

Undergoing a $3 million renovation in 1996, according to the Oklahoma County Assessor, the Waterford became a staple for northwest residents of the city for Sunday brunch and holiday dinners. Operating the massive Waterford Dining Room and the sundrenched, all-white-wicker Veranda café on the back of the restaurant, the hotel and its legendary service had become important to the people of Oklahoma City, Rollins said.

“We call it the gem of northwest Oklahoma City,” said Rollins. “I talk to people and they say ‘oh I had my wedding reception there 30 years ago, ‘that’s where I proposed to my wife.’”

Today the hotel is under control of Renaissance, after an overnight exchange from Marriot in 2016. After undergoing a major remodel in 2015, the Waterford Dining Room was opened up to make room for the hotel’s new restaurant, Ember. The Veranda was taken out and became an added event space. But according to Rollins, the hotel’s charm and sentimental value was not lost. Brunches are still booked out for major holidays featuring dishes with imported seafood and an extensive list of wine and signature cocktails, Rollins said.  

“I think when people think about this hotel, I used the word iconic, but really I think it’s just elegant,” said Rollins.

With the massive revitalization of downtown Oklahoma City in the last decade, the Waterford is no longer the only luxury experience offered to visitors of this once sleepy city. But Baze feels the Waterford offers something unmatched anywhere else in the city – incredible service and people who care.

“I definitely think that the service we give is going to keep guests [coming back,]” said Baze, who returned to the hotel in 2017.

Although the Waterford has changed ownership a few times in the past 34 years, surviving a catastrophic economic collapse and a resurgence of interest toward downtown Oklahoma City, it is clear that Givens’ dream for the Waterford still lives on. As the hotel that helped redefine the city approaches its 35th birthday in the new decade, Sunday brunch at the Waterford is something that is here to stay.

The hope to roll on

By Jackson Sharp

At one point in time, Jarod LaFever was one of the most popular kids at Mustang High School. Parents liked him because he was considerate of adults, his peers liked him because he was outgoing and a bit of a daredevil, and to his closest friends he was someone they could rely on.

“I’ve known him since he was five,” said Susan Price, the mother of Jarod’s longest friend, Joshua Price. “He was the first one that wanted to dye his hair.”

He was known as Jarod the gymnast, Jarod the comedian, Jarod, the one who was always smiling and happy to see you. But after a failed backflip on a trampoline in the spring of 1998, everyone in his hometown would know him as Jarod, the kid in the wheelchair.

Jarod was near the end of his freshman year of high school, he was 15 and anticipating the freedom of a driver’s license that September, but the fall resulted in a broken neck that changed his entire life.

LaFever was in the ICU for 46 days, he only had to undergo one surgery but the damage to his spinal cord was permanent. The C4 and C5 sections of his vertebrae, which are located higher up on the spine, were injured. His handicap was ruled incomplete, meaning that his spinal cord was not totally severed and LaFever would still be able to feel parts of his body that were paralyzed, but he would never be able to walk again.

“The worst child that had to be put in a wheelchair, I’d say it was Jarod LaFever,” said Price. “But when Jarod got in that wheelchair, he was not depressed.”

Life had to go on.

“I think when I broke my neck it kind of made me realize that I had to something with my life,” LaFever said. “The only person that could make me do that was me.”

LaFever was still able to spend time with his friends, go to parties and eventually, he was able to earn his driver’s license for a van custom tailored to him. He received his Bachelor’s in finance from the University of Central Oklahoma and was accepted into law school, taking a corporate job at Dell instead as a regional sales representative.

“That first 10 years that I was hurt, I didn’t let anything stop me, and I didn’t see myself as someone in a wheelchair.” But despite his success, it was at Dell that LaFever started to feel that people didin’t notice much more than a quadriplegic.

“HR would call you in the office and go, ‘well does your disability have anything to do with your performance?’” After 3 years, LaFever was part of a massive company-wide layoff, taking unemployment and going back to school to achieve his Master’s degree.

When it came to finding love, LaFever had another hurdle to overcome: He was secretly gay.

“I was the kid that took up for the kids that were getting bullied on, and maybe part of that was because I didn’t want to get bullied on if anyone found out I was gay,” LaFever said. “Not only do they feel sorry for me that I’m in a wheelchair.” “But then to be in a wheelchair and be gay, it’s like ‘oh my God, what more could go wrong?’”

LaFever came out to his parents at 19.

Shortly after he began driving, LaFever had been taking himself to bars and clubs, gaining access underage by what he believes was bouncer’s remorse for his disability. Through friends he had made at these bars, he met an older man named Bill who quickly became his boyfriend.

LaFever’s mother had been questioning his sexuality for some time, asking him every now and then, but after an intimate card arrived at the house addressed to Jarod signed ‘B,’ his mother pressed to know the truth.

“She said ‘you’re gay, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘no mom, I’m not.’ Then she got on the bed and she started tickling me… and so I just broke down and I started crying and I let her know about my sexuality.”

Although his family has accepted him, despite for a few of his closest friends, LaFever is still mostly private about his sexuality.

“Except for my family and really [Joshua Price], you know, I don’t really hang a flag outside of my house,” LaFever said. “My dad’s always told me what I do in my bedroom is my own business.”

LaFever believes his parents felt more positive about his sexuality than they did his injury. He often worried that his mother would blame herself for his coming out, instead, LaFever believes she blames herself for not being at home the day he broke his neck.

“Everybody was telling me that I still would be able to do all of these things,” LaFever said. “My parents never wanted me to believe that I couldn’t achieve my dreams.”

Although he has tried to keep a good attitude about his disability, LaFever has struggled with bouts of depression, drug and alcohol use.

“After I got laid off from Dell, that was maybe the lowest point in my life, that’s when I started using.”

LaFever began using cocaine regularly, also earning two DUIs within a year of each other. He doesn’t blame the depression on his injury however, instead, he says getting drunk or high helped cope with the loneliness he still experiences today.

“It’s 21 years after I’ve broken my neck and I’m lonely. Can I find somebody that loves me, loves somebody in a wheelchair… that loves me, but also loves me because I’m gay?”

Today, LaFever has been 19 months sober… with a few drinks here and there. He lives alone in a house custom-designed to accommodate his immobility. He receives state assistance to pay for his morning and evening aides and maintains a part-time job at Lowe’s in his hometown of Mustang.

He also has returned to church, not because he is particularly religious, but it gives him an opportunity to socialize.

“I was an atheist for a while,” Jarod said. “It’s a lot easier to live with some kind of spirituality, [without it] it’s so easy to be angry about everything.”

LaFever still struggles with questioning whether people care about him because he’s Jarod, or because he’s in a wheelchair, but as time presses on, he’s been able to accept that the wheelchair is part of his identity.

“A lot of people get hurt and they’re angry, I’m not angry… I walked on this earth for 15 years,” LaFever said. “The more I get older, the more it does define me.”  

According to the Shepherd Center, most people who suffer injuries high up on the spine like LaFever are incapable of living without 24 hour supervision. LaFever’s determination however means that he only needs someone to be with him in the morning to get him dressed and out of bed, and then someone to lay him down at night.  

“He is the one that wants everybody to be their best and do their best, Jarod is an inspiration to so many,” said Susan Price.

At 37, LaFever’s optimism has helped him survive life in a wheelchair and realize that the future is bright, whether he can walk or not. With the support of his lifelong friends and family, LaFever fearlessly rolls toward the next chapter in his life with determination to live each day, not just as someone in a wheelchair, but someone who can see the hope in every new day.

West Bound

Jackson Sharp

I can’t remember exactly what he said over the sound of truckers showering in enclosures I’m sure you needed shoes for. But I know it was something along the lines of “get your ass home,” from the Travel Center of America I had found myself in somewhere just west of the New Mexico line.

I quickly decided it was not the brightest idea I ever had as I peered into the screen of my cell phone that felt like a brick in my tired hands. A cold morning was on my breath and a sleepless night that I had driven straight through tugged at every corner of my 19-year-old face. My heart dropped with the first ring when I finally brought the phone to my ear and I nearly hung up when I heard my father’s sleeping voice on the other end.

The past six months or so I had spent in the hills of Fayetteville, Arkansas, drinking my underage body into oblivion and doing everything but pursuing the education my parents thought they were financing, and now it seemed that everything I had been up to was suddenly about to spill out onto the dirty rest stop floor.

What led me to the trucker’s lounge was a sudden realization that I was failing two classes deep into my second semester and a whim to pursue runaway to California. Just a few weeks before I had sold the Land Rover given to me for high school graduation and bought a beat up BMW now holding the remnants of my freshman dorm. I drove that 5 Series with its sagging headliner and leather seats that smelled like crayons from Fayetteville, through a blizzard in my native Oklahoma, under the gray skies of Amarillo to a place in New Mexico that was only grayer and uglier than west Texas, which I didn’t know was possible.

My trek along Interstate 40 would quickly reroute itself backward after a screaming tantrum with my dad. Soon I found myself back in the perils of suburban northwest Oklahoma City, the place I had regretfully called home all my life. The following weeks after my darling breakdown would be spent pacing the halls and peering out the windows of my grandparents’ house. By day, when my grandparents were busy at work, I kept the lights off and cried in the dark about  a situation I had put myself in but didn’t entirely understand. By night, my grandparents home and the lights on, I hid upstairs, tight-lipped and tiptoeing as if in hiding.

No one in my family asked me much and I offered them fewer chances to. The only thing I really knew about myself at 19 was I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror and I did things that scared even me. On the surface I was like anyone else in the privileged world of one of the most average cities in America. I always had nice clothes, nice cars, great parties and friends who came to them, but in most pictures that a younger me, smiles are greatly absent. In truth, I was a bitter child of divorce who never felt he was offered the correct, dramatic grieving time to process the turmoil of my parents’ chaotic marriage. All I felt like was the result of two beautiful individuals’ biggest mistake.

I spent my high school career kiting by academically, pining for anyone to notice me socially. In junior high, I had been overweight, awkward and so lonely that my only friends were the ones I created in stories I wrote. After a toothbrush helped me vomit a couple pounds into a toilet and I decided meat was what made you fat, my underweight body was suddenly something I could tolerate being seen in. With my new, yet shallow confidence I was quick to drink more than anyone, and ended most nights being carried out of whatever house party my dad had found me unconscious. As I got older, my friends and I moved from raiding our parents liquor cabinets to scouring their bathrooms for any magic that might spur from any pill we could find. Most of us had no worries when it came to anything substantive, instead we bonded over the brokenness in us and fueled further turbulence.

It was by the grace of God that I skated across my high school stage with a 3.75 GPA and a ticket to the school of my dreams far away in Tennessee. I spent the summer crying about how much I would miss everyone, and I waited for them to tell me how much they would miss me. At the end of that summer, I would have to explain to everyone that I wouldn’t be going that far away after all, because my dad was getting remarried and he would no longer pay my out-of-state tuition. In a panic, I applied to the University of Arkansas and rode on a scholarship for students of neighboring states. When I washed up in Fayetteville, I quickly decided it wasn’t what I wanted and liquor and all that it brings would rediscover me in the Ozarks.

My friends up there were not people who particularly cared about my well-being so long as I was down to party, and since I had spent the past four years around people like that, I was in all the way. Drinking, pill-popping, it all works the same no matter if you’re in the hills of Arkansas or on the plains of Oklahoma. No matter which way I turned, the version of myself I was trying so hard to escape had not disappeared, instead it only left me more alone, and that terrified me.

By the time I withdrew from school, my GPA was well below a 2.0 and any answer I might have for my family as to why I couldn’t return to school in the fall was far from sounding logical. So I loaded my car and told myself I’d go all the way to California, stick my feet in the Pacific, and as the tide rolled back maybe it’d drag my problems away too. But my feet never got past New Mexico and I still felt scared of myself when I stared my box-dyed, bleach blonde hair in the mirror of that truck stop.

It would take months of crying on my grandmother’s kitchen floor and dodging familiar faces in the grocery store before I’d stop throwing stones at everyone else in my life and step outside of my glass house. I wanted so badly for everything that was wrong with me to be someone else’s fault, I wanted so badly for someone to chase me, to Tennessee, to Arkansas or to the trucker’s lounge of the Santa Rosa Travel Center of America. I wanted to hear someone apologize, take me by the hand and tell me everything would be all right. It wasn’t until I was enrolling in a college back home that I realized I am going to be in the same body for the rest of my life, and while I may not always be a brat, I at least always will have the same eyes, skin and heart, so long as it keeps beating. So finally, instead of waiting for someone that was never going to come, I decided to save myself.

I worked hard for the next year and transferred to my state’s flagship university. I upped my GPA immensely and traded in box dye and diet pills for real exercise and healthier habits. While my friend in the clear bottle still visits  once in a while, my drinking is no longer off the scale. Now, I’m set to graduate in a few short months, a point I never thought I’d reach or earn. At this point I can’t say life becomes any easier, sometimes I still think about abandoning my life, but I’m able to look myself in the mirror now, and that stops me from running.