Overexposed: A Self-Love Project.

Overexposed: Thank you, Victon. 💙💛

New World! Hi! We are Victon!

It was my 26th birthday, and I, unfortunately, had to go to work that day. The bus to the bookstore was pretty empty since we were currently in between our main semesters. I was listening to the few Victon songs I had on my daily playlist; songs I found through being a fan of Seungwoo’s in x1 and wanted to know more about the group he previously was in.

Victon.

Hi, my name is Liz, and my ult K-pop group, Victon, has “unofficially” disbanded.

Following the disbandment of my first ult K-pop group, X1, I found comfort in Victon during a time when I was going through a lot not only in my K-pop life but in my personal life as well. I was in a transitional period of my life, discovering the things that felt like the most authentic version of myself and understanding myself in ways that I didn’t before now that I was alone. It wasn’t a slow liking to Victon; as a matter of fact, I believe they became my top group within the month I first started to look into them. I slowly collected their albums every time I got a paycheck from my job, and slowly became a K-pop collector; Victon to be exact.

Because I was now into collecting Victon’s albums and photocards, I made the next step to put myself out in the K-pop community. I made an account for solely my K-pop-related things since I was still in this mindset that I felt some level of shame in being so heavily into K-pop at my age. To my surprise, I joined a community that I belonged in; many of us are in different age ranges like the music genre that truly doesn’t have any age limit attached to it.

I met people that I was glad to call my closest friends at this point. Through our liking of Victon, I was able to connect with people in a way that I never would connect with due to distance. I made friends from across the country, in different states, and in different countries around the world. I made connections with people that I never thought I was able to connect with due to my social anxiety, so it was a bittersweet feeling to call some of my closest friends at the time my best friends, and for the first time I had best friends that shared some of the same interests as me.

Because of Victon, I was able to move into a chapter in my life that was well-needed after closing one months earlier. I was able to learn new things about people and the environment that consisted within the community. I was now in group chats with other collectors who were looking for other trades and sales to collect their biases in a specific group. I met my best friend at the time in one of those group chats. I heavily discussed the future of Victon and the members and everything that had to do with Victon with my friends in the community. I was even one of the top Seungsik collectors in the community at the height of Victon’s success in 2020 because of the friendships I had with people in the fandom. I am no stranger to being a part of a fandom, but this one felt different. This one felt like at the time, this was who I was. I was given the nickname “SikLiz” in a community that what felt like had 5,000 other Lizes in the community. I discovered a lot about myself because of how much I loved Victon, and it was something that I carried for the last three years being in this community of collectors and fans of a group that really was just a speck within the K-pop industry.

They were never a big group. They came as the second act in a company that had a successful 2nd-generation girl group. They came on the scene during a time when K-pop was still a domestic genre of music. BTS had just started to break ground in the United States, and any new groups that were getting attention were because of the fascination (and belief) that K-pop groups that debut through a survival show were guaranteed success. During Victon’s rookie days, groups like IOI and Wanna One were the popular groups, aside from other 3rd generation groups like TWICE, Red Velvet, EXO, etc. Because Victon came from a small agency, it was unlikely that the group would get the exposure they needed to stay together, and in 2018 the group was actually in the talks of disbandment. It wasn’t until Seungwoo and Byungchan took a chance on a K-pop survival show to gain exposure and a possible second chance. It wasn’t guaranteed, but they both took the chance, which then gave them exposure to the group they were originally a part of. Even with Seungwoo being in the debut project group, X1, Victon as a group was able to make a comeback the following months after the survival show and land their first-ever music show win in three years. In hindsight, Victon were the real winners of that survival show; they successfully were getting recognized for not only their talent but their indescribable chemistry with one another. Anyone who looked into the group could catch onto that quickly; they were more than just members of a group. They were brothers. Being some of the first trainees under the small agency, the boys truly went through everything together, so watching them interact with each other in their live streams and variety shows was almost like watching family. Even when all the odds were against them, they made it together.

That same philosophy applied to our fandom, ALICE. People all over the world respected and cared for each other just because they shared an interest in the group they like and wanted what was best for the boys as much as you did. Some ALICE became friends outside of the community, learning who we were as people and what we were outside of this community. I will always be grateful for the two friends I had in this community because of that. We all shared a love for a group that meant something different to all of us. We all discovered Victon during a time when it was easy to isolate due to the pandemic keeping everyone at home for months on end. We all found each other and confined in each other at one point in our lives. Even if things are not how they used to be, I will always cherish those two friends for being a part of a chapter that kickstarted a lot of what I am today and what I believe in. These friendships weren’t always the happiest and the greatest, but when they were good they were amazing, and they truly added something to my life that I didn’t have in a long time. Even after going our separate ways, I will always thank them for being a part of my life when they were, and that we all came together without even knowing it because of Victon.

Because of Victon, I was able to find and embrace my identity. I stopped being ashamed of liking a music genre that wasn’t common here in the US, especially for people who were in their mid-twenties like me. I was able to embrace things that I normally would nitpick and second guess because they weren’t “normal” and “typical”. I was able to find an appreciation for myself once I was able to firmly tell a new group of people who I was without feeling like I was living in someone else’s shadow. Because of my love for Victon, I was able to move forward on my journey of life, learning how to fearlessly enjoy the things that make me happy, reach out and challenge my social anxiety, and make memories with old friends that you never thought you’d ever meet because of the distance.

I am who I am today due to Victon being a big part of my life, and I will forever cherish this chapter in my life.

Victon, thank you for fighting through the obstacles these last six years and always showing up for ALICE when we needed comfort. Thank you for showing us what a chosen family looked like; many of us have chosen ours through the community because of the chosen family you seven made as Victon. We can only imagine the conversations that were had and the ups and downs that each member endured behind closed doors and in their dorm. We can only imagine how difficult it was to have these conversations about the future and how you wanted to enter your 30s and what you wanted to accomplish by the time it was time to do your mandatory military service. We can only imagine the sides of Victon you didn’t want us to see because as much as we wanted to protect you, you also wanted to protect ALICE.

Thank you for all the hard work you all did while being in Victon; even if you don’t think that you’ve made a difference in people’s lives. You did, even if you may never know each and every ALICE that you did help out in their time of need or at their darkest times. You guys have done an amazing job bringing together a community of people that possibly would have never known each other. Even if you are going your separate ways to pursue different dreams and walk on different paths, we will always follow you guys wherever you guys go! Acting, solo work, or even something outside of the limelight; ALICE will be cheering you on, I mean it’s in our name: Always We Love the Voice.

Thank you, Victon, for being such a major part of my life when you were. Victon fighting! ❤

y2katalogue: The Tapes

Tape #8: Friday Night Gigs.

Nicki and Milo pace back and forth backstage at the venue. They hear the other performers on stage playing their sets; the crowd is cheering loudly. Nicki and Milo look at each other, worried about their set starting soon without their lead singer.

Milo: Where the hell is Pep?

Nicki: I tried messaging her on AIM; she never wrote back…

Milo: *annoyed* Doesn’t she know we have a gig tonight?!

Nicki looks at Milo, shocked at his reaction.

Nicki: Dude, don’t you remember what happened at our last rehearsal?

Milo takes a deep breath before he says anything in response.

Milo: I get that Pep’s mom and dad are dating again, but-

Nicki: Did you not see how upset she was?

Milo looks at the door as it opens; the backstage crew walks in and looks at the two teens.

Backstage Crew Guy: You guys are on after the next performers.

Nicki and Milo nod their heads, waiting for the guy to leave the room before they begin to panic again.

Milo: Can’t you sing the vocals and play bass, Nic?

Nicki: *deadpans* I am a band major, Milo.

Milo sits down on a chair and sighs. He flips open his phone to send a text to Jennifer. Not long after, Jennifer walks into the backstage room, not saying anything to Nicki and Milo.

Milo: Pep!

Jennifer doesn’t react. She drops her things on top of one of the vanity tables and sits down in front of it. She begins to fix her hair and get ready while Nicki and Milo look at her.

Milo: Pep?

Jennifer doesn’t respond. Nicki walks up to Jenifer and tries to talk to her.

Nicki: Is everything okay, Pep?

Pep: *snappy* I’m fine.

Nicki: Pep, we’re here if you–

Jennifer: *turns around* I’m not here to talk about my problems. I want to go up on stage, do this dumb gig, and leave.

The other two teens don’t say anything immediately; Nicki walks away as Milo approaches Jennifer.

Milo: I’m glad that you made it though.

Jennifer gets up from her seat and walks away from both Nicki and Milo. The two teens watch their friend walk across the other side of the room. Nicki and Milo look at each other before they give up and begin to get ready for their performance.

The band is dressed and ready to go up on the stage and perform. They look out at the audience through the side of the stage, watching the performers before they play their set. Milo looks at Jennifer; she looks out towards the stage, not acknowledging anything else around her.

Milo: Hey, Pep?

Jennifer turns around and looks at Milo. Milo tries to find the right words to say before speaking.

Milo: You’re gonna do great like you always do.

Jennifer’s hard exterior softens; she gently smiles.

Jennifer: Thank you, Milo. I needed that.

Milo smiles back and opens up his arms. It doesn’t take Jennifer long to hug Milo back. Milo hugs her tight like he usually does when Pep is going through a tough time. He smiles as he hugs her, and doesn’t let go until Nicki turns around to face the two.

Nicki: Alright, we’re up!

The host is heard introducing the band on stage. Jennifer is the first to walk on stage; Milo and Nicki follow her. Jennifer smiles and adjusts the microphone stand as the crowd cheers.

Jennifer: What’s up, Brooklyn?!

The crowd responds by cheering even louder. Milo watches Jennifer get the crowd amped up as they set their guitars up.

Jennifer: Now that’s what I’m talking about! We’re Indigo Registry and we’re here to rock the house tonight!

The crowd cheers before the band is finished setting up and starts the first song.

Jennifer: Tonight, we’re gonna start off our set with “Get What I Want” to get you guys on your feet and jamming out.

Jennifer looks at Milo. He looks at her and nods his head, letting her know that they are now ready to perform. Jennifer looks towards the audience and holds the microphone in her hand.

Jennifer: 1, 2, 3, 4!

The band starts playing the song and Jennifer starts to dance around on stage while she sings the song. Milo watches Jennifer have fun on stage; he smiles as he plays the lead guitar. Jennifer dances with Nicki, playing the bass guitar, and smiles. Jennifer finally goes back to the microphone stand and continues to sing the chorus of the song. Milo can’t stop watching Jennifer sing and perform; he knows the stage is where Jennifer belongs. The audience feeds off the energy the band has while performing; Milo whips his hair as he plays the guitar solo. Jennifer walks up to him as his solo continues, banging her head along to the music. They briefly look at each other before the solo is finished.

The first song comes to an end and the crowd cheers for the band. Milo and Jennifer look at each other before continuing their set for their performance.

It’s a little later into the night; Milo and Jennifer walk down the street with one another, heading home.

Milo: You killed it at tonight’s show, Pep.

Jennifer looks at Milo and smiles.

Jennifer: Me? Dude, you shredded on that guitar! Like that solo never sounded that good before.

Milo nudges Jennifer on the shoulder as she teases him.

Milo: I think fr our next gig, we have to have a permanent drummer. Your cousin’s boyfriend is gonna have other things to worry about since Beatrice is pregnant, y’know?

Jennifer: Yeah… but I mean, Andie loves Beatrice, and I think they’ll be able to stick it out together. But you are right, we need a drummer that’ll stay with us for a while if we ever plan on making it big.

Milo laughs at Jennifer’s enthusiasm. Jennifer and Milo share the vision of making it big with their band, but Milo worries about Jennifer and her other hobbies outside of the band.

Milo: You’re still dancing, right?

Jennifer: Yeah. We have our annual winter competition in a couple of weeks; why?

Milo: *shakes his head* I just know that you were busy preparing for this gig and just wanted to know if you still were dancing. I know how much dance means to you.

Jennifer: Yeah… I don’t know, I feel like dance is something that’s becoming so hard to do these days, like with school and vocal and the band, sometimes it feels like I’m just wasting my time doing something that I couldn’t even get into Waverly for–

Milo stops walking and looks at Jennifer. She stops walking once she notices Milo.

Milo: Pep, you are a great dancer. Just because you’re not dancing at Waverly doesn’t mean you’re bad at it.

Jennifer: *scoffs* Says the person who got into Waverly for both majors…

Milo: Waverly doesn’t measure your talent, Pep. You’re a great singer but you’ve been dancing for as long as I’ve known you. You’re a crazy good dancer and I hope you stick with it.

Jennifer doesn’t respond. The two continue to walk down the street until they stop in front of a house.

Jennifer: *sighs* Well, this is me.

Milo nods his head and then looks at the house across the street.

Milo: Technically me too.

The two friends smile. Milo extends his hand out toward Jennifer; she immediately starts their handshake.

Milo: I’ll AIM you later tonight.

Jennifer: See you later, dude.

Milo smiles and proceeds to cross the street to his house. Jennifer watches before she enters her house for the night.

The Teenage Monologues.

Secrets From Your Best Friend: A Sophie Monologue.

“Yes, mum, I’m with Milo,” I answered on the phone; my mum had called me wondering why I wasn’t home yet. It was getting colder, which means that the days were shorter and 5 o’clock felt more like 9 o’clock at night. I looked over at Milo, who was looking at me. He looked nervous; I know he got nervous every time my mum would call me when I was hanging out with him. “We’re about to get to his house, can I please stay for at least another hour?” I asked my mum. I know she was going to come and pick me up as soon as I told her I was at Milo’s house. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to go home and end my hang-out with Milo; who knows when will be the next time I’ll get the chance to see Milo again.

I hung up the house once I said bye to my mum. I looked over at Milo who was waiting for me to say something.

“My mum said I can stay for another hour and then she’ll come and get me,” I told Milo. He nodded his head as we continue to walk down the street before getting to his house.

“I’m glad she’s warming up to the idea that you have friends,” Milo teased. I nudged his arm as he laughed. “Plus, I know Jennifer wouldn’t mind a guest at dinner today.”

We finally stop in front of Milo’s house. He walks up the front steps to the front door; I trail behind him getting nervous with each step made closer to the door. Milo opens the front door to his house; he waits for me to walk in before closing it behind us. We start talking up the stairs to Milo’s apartment; I’ve only ever been here a couple of times before in the past. Milo’s family never made me feel weird or uncomfortable when I came over, but it also wasn’t always like that at first. Sometimes I feel like Milo’s family is only nice to me when I’m there but once I leave, they say bad things to Milo or disapprove of me.

We finally get to the door that leads to the apartment. Milo opens the front door and walks through it, looking at me to walk in as well. I slowly walked into the apartment, and Milo closes the door behind us before saying anything out loud.

Almost immediately, Mr. and Mrs. Kamalani walk into the main area where Milo and I are standing; they look concerned.

“Milo? Is that you?” I hear Mrs. Kamalani say as she and Mr. Kamalani walk toward us.

“Yeah?” Milo answered; he looked confused. The two adults stop once they get closer to us and they immediately look at me and take a deep breath. Oh no.

“Milo, have you heard from Mollie today?” Mrs. Kamalani asked Milo. Milo took his phone out to check his messages.

“No, the last time I heard from Mollie was last period in vocal,” Milo answered. I look at Mrs. Kamalani’s face; she looks worried as she brushes her red, curly hair away from her face.

“She didn’t text you or anything letting you know where she was going?” Mr. Kamalani asks Milo. Milo shook his head no.

“No? What’s going on?” Milo finally asked. I feel like something was happening that I wasn’t supposed to be here to know about. “Dad? Jennifer?”

Mrs. Kamalani walked away from us and toward a room down the hallway. I look at Milo, who now looks just as worried as everyone else. It’s like he doesn’t remember I’m here.

“Mollie never showed up,” Mr. Kamalani began. “We thought that maybe she was with you.”

“Me and Mollie haven’t hanged out after school for a while now,” Milo explained. “She’s either too busy with her other things or I was busy doing other things.” Milo turns around and acknowledges my presence; for once I wish I was able to disappear.

“But today there was no rehearsal for anything and it’s not Tuesday,” Mr. Kamalani clarified. “She’s not answering her phone when we call her; have you texted her since vocal class?”

“Yeah,” Milo answered. “She never answered back. I figured she was home sleeping or something. Mr. Kamalani sighs and puts his hands on his hips.

“I’m going to check on Jennifer,” he said before he notices me standing next to Milo. “I’m sorry, Sophie; we’re just going through a lot right now.” I felt my face getting hot; I felt weird knowing that Mr. Kamalani was basically telling me that I shouldn’t be here today. I simply nodded my head until Milo jumped in.

“Sophie’s mom is gonna pick her up,” he began to say. “It’s my fault; I told Sophie to hang out after school and lost track of time.” Mr. Kamalani nods his head and walks towards the hallway that Mrs. Kamalani went down. Milo walks me to the living room and sits on the couch, scrolling through his phone trying to figure out where Mollie is.

“This isn’t like Mollie to not text me back,” Milo began. “Like sure, she’ll leave a message on read from her parents, but she wouldn’t just leave me on read.” I looked at Milo, nodding my head as he explained the situation. I felt bad for Mr. and Mrs. Kamalani, especially Mrs. Kamalani. Mollie is Mrs. Kamalani’s youngest sister, and ican only imagine ho worried she is that her and her family haven’t heard from Mollie since school.

“Maybe she’s hanging out with her other friends?” I suggested. I know Milo and Mollie were always together, but it’s only natural that they hang out with other people…

I’m sure that Mollie does.

“Mollie doesn’t have other friends,” Milo confidently said. I looked at Milo, not really agreeing with what he said. I’m sure that Mollie and Milo’s friendship is strong, but for Milo to think that Mollie isn’t capable of having other friends made me feel annoyed. “She literally is too busy to have other friends that aren’t our friends.”

“Maybe you’re wrong,” I blurted out, not really thinking about hat I was saying. Milo tuned his head to face me. “Maybe she hangs out with other people that you don’t have as friends.”

“So now you know Mollie better than me?” Milo spat out; he seemed a little anoyed that I was disagreeing with him. I scruched my eyebrows together, getting mad at Milo.

“No, Milo, but just because you’re able to have friends outside of Mollie doesn’t mean she doesn’t,” I responded. Milo sighed and got up from the couch, walking towards the dining room table to sit. Instead of texting Mollie, he calls her. He sucked his teeth once he realizes the phone goes straight to voicemail.

I got up from the couch and started to walk towards the front door where my belongings were. Milo turned around to look at me.

“Where are you going?” Milo asked.

“I’m just going to wait downstairs for my mum,” I said in a panic. I felt like there were tears forming in my eyes and I didn’t want Milo to see me so upset. But, Milo jumped off of the stool at the dining room table to walk to me.

“Scout, wait-” Milo said as I started to put my winter coat on. I didn’t want to hear it; I felt embarrassed anyway being here during a time where the family was going through something serious. I shouldn’t have gotten on that bus with Milo. I stop once I feel Milo’s hand on my shoulder. I turned around to face him; his face was now more gentle than it was before. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean for it to come off the way it did.”

“I’m just saying,” I started to say. “I know you and Mollie are best friends but you’re underestimating her. She could simply be with friends that she hasn’t introduced to you yet.”

“Have you seen Mollie hanging out with other people?” Milo asked. I bit my lip, not really knowing how to answer him. If the person as anyone else, I would’ve told him who it was, but how do I tell him that the person I’ve seen Mollie hang out with the most around school is the same person that caused him to lose his dual major status? I know that Milo hates Aaron, and telling him that Mollie has now developed a friendship with him is going to make his blood boil. I don’t want to be the person to break up a friendship like Milo and Mollie’s, but maybe that’s the person Mollie is with right now, and I would also hate to keep a secret like this if it’s the reason why Mollie hasn’t answered Milo or her family.

Before I can say anything, both Mr. and Mrs. Kamalani come walking through the hallway and into the living room where Milo and I were. Milo turns around to face the two adults. They seem a lot calmer than they were a couple of minutes ago.

“She’s home,” Mr. Kamalani said. “Lydia called to let us know she got home ot too long ago.” I see Milo finally exhale the stress that he was keeping inside his body. I also feel at ease knowing that Milo isn’t worried or anxious like he was. I didn’t have to say anything about Mollie and Aaron. Mr. Kamalani puts his arm around Mrs. Kamalani and looks at me. “We’re sorry about tonight, Sophie; perhaps we can invite you over for dinner another night.” I nodded my head.

“Of course, Mr. Kamalani,” I answered. My cellphone started to ring in my coat pocket; I see that it’s my mum calling me. “It’s my mum, I should get going before it gets too late.”

“I’ll walk you downstairs,” Milo insisted. I didn’t say anything back to him. We started to walk down the stairs towards the front door of the house. I wait for Milo to open the front door for me, but he takes a second to look at me before doing so.

“I’m sorry, Milo,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say in that moment, but I felt like I needed to say sorry for getting into his business with Mollie.

“I’m the one that should be sorry, Scout. You did nothing wrong,” Milo emphasized. “Mollie is supposed to be my best friend and… I don’t know; it feels like we haven’t been best friends for awhile now.”

“But you guys have been best friends for years,” I responded back.

“Yeah, but something has changed about Mollie,” Milo admitted. I raised my eyebrows, kinda shocked that Milo was talking to me about Mollie in this way. “It’s like she let high school get to her head or something. She never really hangs out with me anymore so for her to just do what she wants to do without even telling me feels like a stab in the back. We’re suppose to always keep each other posted, no matter what.”

“I understand,” I simply said, not wanting to get too deep in this conversation. I don’t know Mollie well enough to have any type of judgement about her, but I still wonder if Milo is noticing this change because she now spends her free time in Mr. Kamalani’s vocal room hanging out with Aaron.

At that point, I think about telling Milo. If Milo and Mollie are best friends, then he deserves to know that his best friend has been hanging out with Aaron. Maybe Mollie thinks Aaron is a nice guy; maybe he is when he wants to be. But something tells me that if Mollie wanted Milo to know, then Milo would already know. This is making me feel like I’m keeping the biggest secret between two best friends, and I absolutely hate this feeling.

Shortly after, my mum drives up to the front of Milo’s house. I grab my bookbag and look at Milo. He smiles at me. That smile. I can’t help but smile back at him. As I walk don the front steps towards my mum’s car, I stop when I hear Milo call my name.

“Hey Scout,” Milo called out. I turned around to look at Milo. “Thanks again for being here for me tonight. I appreciate it.” I smiled back and turned away, walking to my mum’s car. The smile fades as I turn around and walk away. I’m nothing but a horrible liar.

Overexposed: A Self-Love Project.

Overexposed: Body Dysmorphia After Weight Loss.

“Does it fit you?” I look down at the new outfit that came in the mail and begin to nitpick at everything about it.

“It fits, I just need to take it in a bit to make it fit better,” answered. The truth was that I didn’t know if I would ever go and get my clothes tailored to fit me better; most of the clothes that would fit me this way sat in my drawers until I was ready to donate them. “It’s cute though.”

It’s been like this for a while now. The jeans that I purchased three months ago are now too big for me. The shirts I bought for work are now too big for me. I look down at the floor where I last left my belt and begin to loop it around my jeans. Remember the days you didn’t wear belts, Liz? I look at myself in the mirror on my wall before I leave the house for the day; I remember when I didn’t like to see myself in this mirror and if I did, I wouldn’t look at my body.

When I look at it now, I don’t feel like this is my body.

Hi, my name is Liz and I sometimes experience body dysmorphia after losing 135 pounds since having surgery.

I guess you can say that this is normal for someone who’s been through this process and has struggled with their weight for most of their life. Prior to having surgery, I was overweight for most of my life. I’ve only ever seen my body get bigger as I grew older; I mean, that’s just the natural way of life. So many things factor into weight gain, especially if it’s something you always struggled with. It’s like you grow up to accept the fact that your body will look this way forever; it was something I accepted as I entered my 20s and visibly saw my weight gain as the years pass. I mention this all of the time, but this series started out as me documenting all of the moments in my life when I felt like I hated my body and the things that contributed to that hate. As I spoke about the things that factored into this self-hate towards my body, I began to accept the fact that this is my body, my skin, and the space that I live in. Shortly after, I decided it was about time to take care of the space I was living in for the long run.

I told myself as the weight began to go down that no matter what, I was still in the same body I was in back when I was 323 pounds. I was still in the same body I was in back when I was in high school being 200 pounds. I was still in the same body I was in back in middle school when the boys used to bully me for my weight. Yes, the exterior was changing and maybe how I carried myself was changing due to my change in confidence, but it wasn’t like I was an action figure and someone popped off my head and placed it on a completely different body. I still carry the scar on the top of my stomach from my gallbladder surgery 10 years ago. I still have minor scars from when I self-harmed in high school. Shit, I still have the tattoos I started to get when I was 20 years old back in 2014.

But then there are days when I look in the mirror and feel like the body I am in now isn’t the one I started with. There are days when I look at my body and consider that this time last year, or even the year before that; this isn’t me. This isn’t the person that needed to shop in online catalogs because the biggest size in other department stores was still too small for them. This isn’t the person that felt like a bad co-worker because they weren’t able to keep up with the physical work that came with being a bookseller at a bookstore. Like when people only know post-surgery Liz and say “I can’t even imagine you being anything else than who you are now”, is it bad that sometimes I’m like, “me neither?”

I remember fragments of the versions who lived in the body I once accepted. I remember some of the good and bad of those times, but what I mainly remember is how I felt about myself and the situations I was in.

I look in the mirror and remember that while I’m still learning that this is still my body in a new form, I also remember everything that this body has gone through in its lifetime. And maybe, just maybe, the reason I am who I am today and everything that I stand for now isn’t because of being in a “new body”, and maybe it isn’t even because of the “new confidence” I have because of this “new body.”

I am who I am because of my inner child. My inner teen. My inner self. All of these versions of myself are still alive in some sort: through trauma, memories, triggers, and in my chapters of life. Weight loss does not silence your past. It’s not an automatic fix to your friendships, romantic relationships, and even the relationship you have with yourself. Those things have to be worked on their own. If those things were built on a poor foundation or during a time when you thought poorly of yourself, it’s more than likely those relationships will not be the same once you start projecting your self-confidence and self-worth.

And just maybe I can finally protect my inner person because I know they deserve better.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I look at myself in the mirror as a protector of some sort. The person I look at in the mirror isn’t the same person that was looking at this same mirror almost two years ago. Mentally, I’m not. Emotionally, I’m not. Physically, I am not. But I still have the same body, skin, and space, and that’s something I will always protect since I wasn’t capable of doing that before.

Next step? Protecting my present self.

The Teenage Monologues.

Studio Sessions with Serrano: A Mollie Monologue.

“Was that right?” Aaron asked as the band was rehearsing a song in the studio. The older guy in the room, probably their manager, was taking notes as they rehearsed. The guy smiled and nodded and gave some tips for Aaron and the rest of the band.

I sat on a chair next to Aaron’s stuff, feeling a bit uncomfortable just sitting in a band rehearsal. I thought maybe he and his bandmates do this type of thing; they bring their friends or girlfriends to rehearsals and all know each other or hang out–

Girlfriend.

It’s hard to know what Aaron and I are; sometimes I really think he and I are a couple, but then Aaron will talk to me like I was just one of his friends. It’s like the kiss at his showcase never happened; we never even talked about it after it happened, and sometimes it makes me feel bad. Did I ruin what was a good friendship assuming Aaron wanted to be more than friends?

I look at the guys playing their next song from beginning to end; they sound insanely good like they’ve been doing this type of thing together for years. The older man stands up from his seat.

“Alright guys, 10-minute break, and then we will rehearse the last two songs,” the guys said. The band took off their guitars from their backs and placed their drumsticks on top of the drums. I looked at Aaron, who began to walk in my direction.

“You’re okay, Mols?” Aaron asked. I nodded before I said anything else.

“You guys are super talented,” I began to say. “I didn’t know you guys had a manager and everything.”

“Yeah, Willis gets us the gigs,” Aaron explained. “He’s been with us since the beginning.” I nodded my head once again, taking in what Aaron was saying. He looked at me and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back.

“What?” I genuinely asked. Aaron was always unreadable; you could never tell what was going through his mind and what he was deciding to say out loud.

“Come,” Aaron said as he grabbed my hand to get me out of the chair. He walked me toward the band equipment and I was getting nervous. I was afraid of getting too close to the instruments like God forbid I bump into something and make it fall and break it? It’s bad enough that I don’t think his bandmates liked me being around as much as I am.

Aaron placed me in front of the microphone, in which I looked back at him.

“What are you doing?” I asked him in a panic. Aaron puts his guitar around his neck and faces me before saying anything.

“Sing something,” Aaron demanded. “What’s your favorite song to sing?”

“I don’t know,” I said in a hurry. “What if the band comes back and sees me near their stuff?” Aaron walks to me without breaking eye contact with me. Gosh, he looks so hot with his guitar in his hands looking at me.

“Well good thing you’re standing where I normally stand,” Aaron answered back. He was right; Aaron was the lead singer in his band, and the microphone is technically his spot so I’m not touching anything that doesn’t belong to him. Aaron starts to play the chords of a song that he’s been practicing for the last couple of weeks; I only know of the music because he is constantly practicing it. He looks at me and smiles as he plays the song.

“I’m not singing, Aaron,” I stated. As I was about to walk away from the microphone, Aaron steps in front of me.

“Can’t seem to get my mind off of you,” Aaron began to sing as he played the guitar. I looked at him, not budging. He wasn’t going to get me to sing in a studio where any one of his members can walk in at any moment. “Back here at home, there’s nothing to do,” he continued to sing. “Now that I’m away, I wish I’d stayed,” The temptation is killing me, and I’m just talking about his angelic voice and charismatic smile.

“Tomorrow’s a day of mine that you won’t be in,” I started to sing. Aaron looked like he had just won the grand prize lottery or something. The song was just too good to not sing, and I mean, everyone is on a break, why not just play around before they come back? I grabbed the microphone off of the stand and started to bounce around in place. Aaron completely stopped singing and continued to play the song on the guitar; I was the one singing the lyrics. I looked at him as he looked at me, enjoying just playing around and singing along to songs like it was just us in a rehearsal room back at Waverly.

Aaron always made me feel the most comfortable when it came to singing. I mean, sure, I sing in front of my friends and family, but Aaron always makes me feel like he’s listening to me when I sing; plus, it’s nice to have Aaron playing the guitar as I sing. Aaron continues to look at me as I sing the lyrics to the song. It’s like the world is our stage.

I immediately stop singing once I see the door to the studio room open. Aaron’s smile fades and turns around to face the door. The rest of his bandmates stand at the door, looking at Aaron and me. I run away from the microphone stand and back to the seat I was sitting at. Aaron looks at me before looking back at his bandmates.

“Sorry, we were just joking around,” Aaron said as he adjusted the strings on his guitar. His bandmates don’t say anything back, but they continue to look at me with weird expressions on their face. I would do anything to hide under a rock right now.

“Yo, you sing?” one of the guys finally said; I believe it was Xavier that did. I look at Aaron, who is looking at me to answer or something.

“Uhm… yeah,” I answered softly.

“You got some crazy vocals,” Xavier responded. He turns his head to talk to Aaron. “You guys go to school together?”

“Yeah,” Aaron finally spoke. “We’re both in the vocal program at Waverly.” The other bandmates look at each other, clearly shocked to learn this new information. Shortly after, the band’s manager walks into the studio space.

“Alright guys, let’s get to work,” the guy says, going back to where he was sitting. The band members go up and walk to their manager.

“Aaron’s girl got pipes, bro,” Xavier started to say. Aaron’s girl. Does he talk about me as his girlfriend to his bandmates? “Like insane pipes.” I looked at Aaron; he was looking at the manager as he let his bandmates speak. The manager looks in my direction and I can feel my face get really hot, so that must mean that it’s tomato red.

“That’s Mollie,” Aaron finally said as he looked in my direction. I waved nervously. I saw Aaron smile. “She knows the songs better than I do at this point.” Their manager nodded his head as he was listening to the guys speak.

“That song you were singing,” the manager begins to say. “Would you mind if you sang it with the band one time?” Me? Sing with Aaron’s band? I looked at Aaron before answering the manager back; I didn’t know how to feel about randomly singing for a group of people I didn’t know. But, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do and want? I mean, I am a vocalist at Waverly High; the choirs perform in from of dozens of strangers for each performance and do it without any nerves showing. Besides, this is just for fun; and Aaron looks like he doesn’t mind me joining in on a song in a rehearsal for fun anyway.

“Of course,” I answered back.

“Alright then,” the manager began to rearrange the rehearsal formation and took another mic stand to place up front. “Xavier and Thomas on the right, Jordan in the back, Aaron on the left. Mollie, front and center.” The band got into their places, which made my stomach turn into knots; like this was actually happening right here, right now. I walked slowly to the microphone; my heart kept pounding the closer I got to it. I don’t look up from the ground or else I would run out of here as fast as I can.

“Hey,” I felt Aaron whisper next to me as he touched my shoulder. “You can do this. Pretend it’s just you and me in the room rehearsing.” I looked at him as he walked back to where he was standing. I faced forward and looked at the mirror in front of us. It was crazy to see myself front and center in front of a band as a lead singer. It felt almost natural to be standing there like I belonged in the band or something. I looked at Aaron through the mirror one more time before looking at the manager and smiling.

“I’m ready,” I finally said.

Overexposed: A Self-Love Project.

Overexposed: My Chapters, Part Two.

Chapter Four.

I went against wearing the summer dress I wore back in 2019 when I last saw him. Even though I doubt he remembers that this was the dress I wore with my new Converse sneakers and had just gotten my third tattoo; a hand holding a bouquet of flowers to symbolize Kelly Clarkson’s “Sober”; a song she released as a b-side on her third studio album, My December. In this particular song, she sings in the chorus, “picked all my weeds, but kept the flowers”.

On this particular day in early May, I now had a longer pixie haircut that I wore in a ponytail because we were slowly about to approach summer-like weather. I wore a blue floral maxi dress and white converse sneakers, and I was now covered in about 5 more tattoos since getting the flower tattoo in 2019. I rode the same bus that I used to ride years ago, going in the same direction I use to go in. I was nervous; I didn’t know what to expect from seeing someone that I haven’t spoken to in almost 2 years. I got off at a stop before the usual one, letting him know I was at the stop he told me he would meet me at. You got this, Liz. You are not the person you were when you last saw each other. I looked down the block and immediately recognized him. Two years older, hair a little longer, but mannerisms just how I remembered them.

“Were you waiting long?” Sounds the same. Looks the same. Feels incredibly different.

We traveled around the neighborhood, and it was our first time trying Milk Tea. He had told me that one of his favorite spots was a drinking spot called Mr. Wish. We then walked around and caught up, talking about our lives during the pandemic, where we’ve been for the last two years, and everything new for us. In some strange way, it felt like all this time has passed, but it was just how things used to be: simple.

“Tell me the meaning of your tattoos,” he asked me one night. He lifted both of my arms and began to examine the ink on them.

“Well,” I said. I didn’t really know where to start, but I started off with the last tattoo that he saw back in 2019. “This one is from a Kelly Clarkson song, in which the lyrics in it are picked all my weeds, but kept the flowers.” He turned my right arm and looked at the chemistry bottle on it.

“That’s dope,” he pointed at the ink. I looked down at it and smiled.

“That tattoo is from a song from my favorite Kpop group, the song is called The Chemistry and the group is named Victon,” I explained. “The key is also a Victon tattoo, and the carry on is from a song from my favorite member of the group, and the other members of the group wrote that song for him.” He nodded as I spoke.

“Yo, you’re really tatted up,” he smiled as he said. I laughed. I guess a lot has changed since our time apart, but even then I still felt like the same girl that used to sit in this spot back in the day. I was just older and wiser, and more mature. I was Liz, the individual; the one that had found her identity within the last year and a half up to this point. The one that had her identity together for once in her life due to space. Time. Growth. Chapters before this one.

Chapter Five.

“You will be scheduled for surgery on July 12th, 2021 at 3pm,” the surgeon called me a week before. My hair was still coated in seawater from the trip to the beach earlier that day. I began to get nervous; it was feeling surreal that the day that I prepared a year and a half for was finally becoming a reality. I had the rest of my week planned; I was wrapping up my last week of work before my medical leave, I was going to celebrate with a good friend of mine with food and drinks, and I was going to enjoy eating the foods that I would have to have to say to goodbye to for the next couple of months. The day of the surgery wasn’t smooth sailing as well. My mother was nervous for me, which made me even more nervous about my time in the operating room. My mom had to leave once I got into the OR; I was put in a wheelchair and pushed by one of the nurses down a long hallway on the fourth floor of the hospital. Once I entered the operating room, I saw the center of the large room had a single, operating table. I laughed to myself when I heard that Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” was playing on the radio in the operating room. I got on the table as the assistants strapped me to the table and spoke to me while they prepped everything. I remember a guy talking to the surgeon and the rest of the other doctors and nurses in the room, stating the time and day and the routine that was happening. I took a deep breath before they placed the mask over my nose and the next thing I remember was me in the recovery room, getting fed ice from one of the nurses that were assigned to me.

I remember the first time I threw up my food after having surgery. I sat on the bathroom floor; sweating, eyes closed, and possibly white in the face. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to ever eat without feeling sick to my stomach again. I wanted to so desperately eat the food that the rest of my family was eating. Sitting at the dinner table with barely anything on my plate compared to the normal-sized portions felt unreal. I would sit there ad ask myself how did I ever eat that much food on my plate before and now I can’t even eat three bites without feeling sick to my stomach? I felt my connections with family through food were now challenging; I wanted nothing more to just be treated like anyone else in the room, but now that if I were treated like everyone else here, I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything that is served during the lunch and dinners of family gatherings.

It was like getting into a relationship with a person you didn’t know much about besides what was on the surface. You know their favorite color, their favorite food, music, age; the basic stuff; but never really knew what to do when they got sick or what they do after having a bad day at work. I felt like I was a stranger in my own body. I was learning new things my body did that it never did before, like getting full when eating certain foods or puking if I ate too fast, no matter how hungry I was before. I had to relearn body cues like I was a toddler again, knowing when it was time to stop eating the food on my plate and how many times I should be chewing my food before I swallowed. In the beginning, I questioned whether or not this decision was the best one for me.

But even in the beginning, I knew the answer to that.

Chapter Six.

I remember feeling like the walls were closing in on me even though my desk was located nowhere near the walls. I felt my face getting hot, which made me even more anxious because it was a hot summer afternoon as well. I looked around the office full of experienced co-workers that know how to do their jobs correctly. Me? I was still trying to prove myself to people who have been here for decades on end.

I saw my temporary supervisor’s office door closed; she must’ve been in a meeting since she always has her door open unless she was in an important meeting or on the phone with her teenage daughter. I have become quite comfortable walking into her office on Monday afternoons when I came in and just have a conversation with Christine. She would ask me how my weekend was and we would talk about the things that make up Liz outside of these office walls. I wasn’t one to talk about my personal life with those in the office; the age gap between me and the other ladies in the office felt too inappropriate to share my life as a 28-year-old. Some of these women have children around my age. Christine was one of the younger ladies in the office. She carried herself as someone who was highly professional, but relatable to the point where I was able to feel comfortable talking to her about the things going on in my life. On this specific day, I needed Christine to talk to me in order for me to leave my frustrations about the job at the office and not bring them home with me, as I have been doing since I started the job back in February.

I texted Christine that once she had some extra time, would it be okay to talk to her about some things. She texted me back almost immediately, telling me to come to her office. A minute later, she opened her office door and looked at me, in which I walked to her office and closed the door behind me.

The conversations in Christine’s office melt in my mind, as they happened frequently when she was my temporary supervisor. We spoke about concerns regarding the transcript area and our vendor that distributes the transcripts. We spoke about the new policies that were being enforced for students and instructors wishing to extend their deadlines to submit coursework for a letter grade at the end of the semester. We spoke about how to do things that I wasn’t properly trained in when my former supervisor was in the office. Lastly, we spoke about things that I never imagined talking to someone at the office about, like my friend group, my weight loss surgery journey, and my family; again, things that make Liz “Liz” when she’s not a college assistant from 12 to 5 on the weekdays. Christine opened up about things that someone my age wouldn’t be able to handle; to be honest, it was things that someone in their late twenties wouldn’t really experience unless you had the experience prior, y’know? It was interesting to hear her comparisons to the things she experienced to what I’m experiencing.

I guess it added to this feeling that Christine was seriously just an older version of me in a way. Sure, we were vastly different, but the way that we thought and handled things were freakishly alike, especially when it came to doing things at the job. It was comforting to hear Christine’s College Assistant story; she was the youngest in the office when she started and sat at the desk that I currently sit at, directly across the Historical Records supervisor’s office. She told me how she kept to herself for most of her days, and how at the beginning, she was also thrown into different areas at the office because her supervisor (who was my old supervisor at one point) saw potential in her abilities.

“I didn’t understand why I was getting placed in areas that I didn’t know much about, and that used to cause me such great anxiety. I thought was I even a good enough worker if I made mistakes in the areas I wasn’t familiar with. I thought, ‘well if they trust me to work on this, then I must be good at it and get it right on my first time. I didn’t understand that I was learning all these different areas because my supervisor saw that I was able to work on these different things. She saw potential and value in me, and it took me until I was able to apply for other areas in Registration to realize that. I will let you in on this reminder: people around here take mental notes, and they are seeing just how great you are in the work that you are given and the potential to become an asset in this office, or any office that you decide to transfer to in the future.”

I cried in her office more times than I can count. As a matter of fact, I’ve cried a lot in front of Christine, ad I was always grateful that she made me feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable like that. If it wasn’t for Christine’s support and encouragement in the time she was my temporary supervisor, I wouldn’t have stayed at the job. I would’ve given up and decided that maybe being in academia wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Talking to another co-worker of mine in records, Shelley, I told her that reflecting on the year I was here, Christine was really the one that taught me everything that I knew. It wasn’t until I realized the truth in that statement: she gave me confidence by supporting me at the job. I truly wouldn’t be where I am currently in the office if it wasn’t for Christine. This chapter of a new job and having to reevaluate my worth as a good worker after being a good worker at a different job took a toll on me. This chapter taught me that with the right guidance and support, everything difficult or challenging is a piece of cake.

Chapter Seven.

I am not the girl I was at the beginning of my chapters; in fact, those chapters feel like the first book of a trilogy of chapters depicting what my twenties were like. Maybe it’s because my thirties begin in less than a year from now; all of the things I loved or did or tolerated were different now. Some will say that my weight loss changed me; maybe I was now more of a selfish person than I was before. Maybe I allowed my weight loss to change me as a person.

Or maybe I was just transitioning into a different person, which requires me to change as a person.

I realized that there’s no possible way to stop your chapters from happening. I guess nothing lasts forever but at the end of the day, you’re left with just yourself and your chapters that make up the person you are. Chapters indicate progression; you flip the pages of the book and read through chapter by chapter to get the gist of what the entire story is about.

Chapter seven will be a challenging one. Chapter seven has already made me see things differently and lose a lot of people along the way because of my new views. Chapter seven is just the beginning of the end; the end of the 20s era that will shape how I enter my 30s in 10 months. I am currently writing my chapter seven; the armageddon, the climax, the first episode of the finale!

And eventually, chapter one of 30 will come to be because of it.

The Teenage Monologues.

MTA Conversations: A Sophie Monologue.

I kept looking down the blocks the bus was going down, not recognizing any of the stores or buildings that passed by. I know I should’ve gone home after school; I wasn’t planning to get lost in the city with a boy that my mum already has second opinions on. But, I also really wanted to hang out with Milo. I feel like it’s been ages since we saw each other in school, and with him not being in band class anymore, it was nearly impossible to see him at school.

“You’re okay Scout?” I heard Milo ask me. I turned my head, trying to hide the fact that I was nervous. If anyone was able to read through me, it was Milo. He looked away for a slight moment before looking back at me. “Tell me about your piece for the showcase,” he smiled as he said.

“My piece?” I asked. Milo gently nodded. “Well, we’re doing two pieces; one piece from the year we were born, and the second piece is the string orchestra’s cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which is the song I have the small solo in.” Milo kept his eyes on me as I spoke, which was comforting. He smiled as I spoke about the string orchestra; no one ever smiled whenever the string orchestra was being talked about unless it was something negative. It really made me think if going to Waverly was the best decision or if I should’ve just gone to a regular high school where I wasn’t surrounded by other talented students. But then when I sit here and see Milo excited about string orchestra for me, it makes it all worth it. At least I have someone supporting me.

“Mama, just killed a man,” Milo began to sing, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Even when Milo was joking around, his voice was angelic. It wasn’t your typical top-40 boy band singing voice; it was high-pitched but so controlled and smooth. Milo doesn’t sing often outside of school but, I’m always happy when he does.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you have an amazing voice?” I asked. It was a stupid question; of course, he’s literally in the vocal program, Sophie. “I mean, you probably get told that a lot.”

“Actually,” Milo began. “Not really, and family doesn’t count.”

“Did you get your singing ability from your family?” I asked. Another dumb question, Sophie.

Milo’s family was big and unique; he is the oldest of his siblings and his dad is married to Jennifer. Milo once told me he felt like an outsider in his family since Jennifer isn’t his biological mother. But every time I go over to Milo’s house, I see just how much of a family Milo has. To have both parents in the house that love each other and are supportive of their oldest son and younger children, sometimes makes me jealous. It would’ve been nice to have a sibling to talk to about things that I can’t talk to anyone else about. It would’ve been nice to have both of my parents still here with me; instead, our family dinners happen over a zoom call every other Saturday.

“I did,” Milo began to say. “My dad was a dual major when he went to Waverly; vocal and band, like me. He was in a band and everything. Jennifer was also a student at Waverly; she was just in the vocal program though. They were in a band together with their other friends, and Jennifer was the lead singer.” It was so interesting to learn about Milo’s background. I knew he had a passion for music, but I never realized that it was because he grew up with music all around him. I wonder if he really wanted to be a dual major, or if he wanted to be one because his father was one.

“How about your mum?” I asked. Milo didn’t talk about his biological mum a lot, but whenever he does I try to listen to every word he says. I know Milo talking about his mum isn’t easy, so I’m glad that he feels comfortable talking about her with me. He nodded his head before answering back.

“She also went to Waverly,” Milo began. “She was in the string orchestra, I think.” My eyebrows went up; I was surprised to hear that his um was also a member of the string orchestra. Maybe that’s why he actually appreciates the sting orchestra.

“Is that how your dad met your mum?” I asked.

“Sorta, one of my dad’s friends introduced them to each other,” Milo looked out the window briefly. I didn’t push him any further; maybe the conversation was getting too uncomfortable for him. He turned back to face me, quickly smiling at me. I know he does that when he doesn’t want me to worry about him.

“You don’t have to talk about it anymore if you’re not comfortable,” I suggested. Milo shook his head so that I wouldn’t worry or feel bad for asking him these questions. I know Milo Kamalani; he’s not going to tell people that some of the things others say or do actually affect him. “I mean it, Milo.”

“Nah, it’s just that sometimes I wish I was able to explain why I do certain things that my dad doesn’t do… I wonder if that’s because some of the things I do or say or think are just things I take after my mom.” Milo shared. I realized that I was able to relate to Milo in a way. There are some things I do or think that my mum wouldn’t understand, but know that my father would. That’s the thing: I know that there are some things that I take after my father because I know him. I grew up with my father in my life, and I know that some of his mannerisms reflect my own because I picked them up as I got older. Even though my father isn’t here with my mum and me, I know him well enough to know that these are some things I have because of him. But Milo, he’s never met his mother. He doesn’t know if the things he says and thinks are because he takes after his mum. Milo’s mum passed away when Milo was just a baby; he doesn’t remember her well enough to know if he takes after his mum. All he has is his father’s word that some of the things he sees in Milo remind him of his mother. He doesn’t really know that for himself.

I don’t say anything back out of fear that I would say the wrong thing. The bus stopped in front of a bus stop, and Milo gets up from his seat to exit. I followed him out of the bus; at this point, I have no idea where in Brooklyn we’re in. I guess I’m following Milo wherever he’s going.

We walk out of the bus and start to walk down the street. I keep looking at Milo, who continues to look forward as we walked. Did I upset him? I didn’t know what was going on in Milo’s mind. We kept walking until we hit a dead end of a street.

“Milo?” I called out his name. I was getting nervous now. “Where are we going?” Milo looked at me. He didn’t say anything but instead flashed a smile.

“I want to show you some of my favorite places,” Milo answered. I tilted my head; I was confused. Didn’t we do this back in middle school for our Teenage Tell-Tale project? He grabbed my hand and we continued to walk down the side of the road, away from the dead end. What was Milo’s favorite place that he didn’t show me before?

After a short walk down the road, we stopped at a really tall gate. I looked around, not really understanding why we were here in the font place. This wasn’t a park or a treehouse area or anything that shows civilization or interest to Milo. He looked at me and I looked at him, waiting for him to explain where we were.

“This might be weird, but…” Milo drifted off before he was able to finish his sentence. He took a deep breath as he looked toward the gates. “I want you to meet my mom.”

It quickly clicked: we were at the cemetery.

The Teenage Monologues.

Tape #7: Unannounced House Guest.

Jennifer paces back and forth in the garage as Nicki sits and tones the strings of her guitar. She watches Jennifer grow frustrated as time passes. Jennifer huffs and stops pacing, now looking at Nicki.

Jennifer: Is he seriously gonna do this?

Nicki: Maybe something happened at home, Pep. You know Milo is usually the first at practice anyway.

Jennifer: Yeah, which pisses me off even more since we have a show in less than a week!

Jennifer takes out her phone and flips it open. She sucks her teeth as she closes her phone ; she puts it back in her pocket.

Jennifer: He’s not even signed on AIM.

Nicki: He’ll be here; this is literally his band–

Jennifer: *annoyed* OUR band.

Nicki: You now what I mean. Seriously, Pep; you and Milo really need to have a conversation and work whatever issues you guys are having. You’re supposed to be best friends.

Jennifer: Yeah, well he’s acting like a real asshole lately, and I don’t appreciate it.

Shortly after, Milo walks into the garage; the girls look at him as he walks to his spot and begins to et up without saying a word. Jennifer rolls her eyes and gets into position as well.

Nicki: *to Milo* Are you okay, Milo?

Milo: I’m fine.

He continues to set up his guitar; no one says anything back. He turns back around once he is finished setting up to look at the girls.

Milo: So, we’re gonna start off our set with “Get What I Want”, then our intro and then we’re going to play something new I wrote-

Jennifer: Something new? Dude the show is literally in a week; we don’t have time to learn a new song.

Milo: Yeah, we can, it doesn’t have any vocals.

Jennifer scrunches her eyebrows; she’s pissed. Nicki tries to intervene before Jennifer can say or do anything.

Nicki: Alright, I’m tired of you two fighting like this! *to Milo* You need to stop being a dick to Pep just because she doesn’t hate Danny. I get that you’e just trying to be a good friend and protect her, but in the long run all you’re doing is hurting your friend.

Nicki turns to face Jennifer.

Nicki: You need to stop being so defensive and just talk to Milo! You snapping at him is just going to ruin the friendship! Both of you need to cut it out and speak like actual human beings for once in your life!

Both Milo and Jennifer don’t say anything, but they look uneasy. They both know that Nicki is right. They look at each other.

Milo: *sighs* Nicki’s right, Pep. We’re supposed to be best friends and we haven’t been acting like it. But you must understand that I didn’t trust Danny after everything he did to you last year. I just don’t want you getting hurt or anything.

Jennifer: I get it, but you have to trust me, and I feel like you don’t.

Milo: I trust you, but I don’t trust him.

Jennifer crosses her arms across her chest. Milo sighs.

Milo: I’m sorry for hurting your feelings, Pep. That wasn’t because I was mad at you; I was just mad at the situation.

Jennifer: I’m sorry for being defensive and for not letting you voice out your opinion. I just felt attacked whenever you would shut any idea of mine down and, like, I know this is still a weird topic but I really do think Danny would fit right in with the band.

Milo doesn’t say anything back. Nicki turns her head toward Milo.

Nicki: Milo, are you willing to give Danny a chance by auditioning for the band? Remember that this is our band and if Pep feels like someone would be a good fit, then we should see it through.

Milo doesn’t say anything back right away.

Nicki: Milo?

Milo: Fine, he can audition for the band. But that doesn’t mean he’s automatically in it. He has to audition like anyone else.

Jennifer: That’s fine by me.

Nicki: *to Jennifer* Pep, are you willing to listen to Milo and his concerns not because he doesn’t think you’re capable of making good decisions or anything, but because he is trying to protect his best friend from any danger?

Jennifer nods her head. Nicki smiles.

Nicki: Awesome! So now can we finally have like 15 minutes f rehearsal before Mrs. Castro kicks us out?

The friends laugh and go into their positions to begin the rehearsal.

Jennifer: Alright! 1! 2! 3!

Before the trio begins to play, Jennifer’s mom is heard calling out her name.

Lydia: Jennifer!

Jennifer rolls her eyes and huffs. She walks out of the garage with Milo and Nicki, heading to the main part of the house.

Jennifer: Mom, it’s not even 5 o’clock yet, we have at least–

Jennifer stops at the doorway going into the kitchen; Milo and Nicki stop behind her. Lydia looks at Jennifer, but Jennifer is looking at the stranger sitting at the dining room table.

Lydia: Pep, I told you that we were having company over and that you would have to reschedule your band practice.

Jennifer: I don’t remember you telling me that.

Lydia: I told you on Friday before you went out–

Jennifer: Who is that?

Jennifer points at the stranger at the table; her eyes cannot stop looking at the man. The man gets up from his seat slowly and walks towards Lydia. Jennifer’s eyes widen as Milo and Nicki stand back, watching the interaction happen.

Lydia: Pep, I want you to meet someone…

Lydia smiles up at the man, who smiles back at her. He turns his head towards Jennifer.

Lydia: This is Justin.

The man puts his hand out to shake Jennifer’s hand.

Justin: Hi, Jennifer.

Jennifer stands there for a slight moment before she runs out of the kitchen. Milo and Nicki follow her.

The Teenage Monologues.

Bus Stop Conversations: A Milo Monologue.

The bus was taking longer on this particular day after school. Not only was the weather getting colder as the days pass, but today was the day I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I sighed and decided to text Mollie to see what she was up to.

milolani: wyd?

I looked at my phone for a moment to see if Mollie read my message. Typically she writes back within a couple of minutes; if anything she’s probably on her way home or something–

“Hi Milo,” I heard a voice speak near me. I looked up and see Sophie standing there. She smiles at me, which makes me instantly smile back. I feel like I never get to see Sophie these days, so I was surprised to see her standing at the bus stop.

“Scout,” I answered back. “Whatcha doing here?” Sophie sat next to me on the bench.

“Well, Mr. Kamalani told me that you had left once the bell rang,” Sophie started. “I figured that you were waiting for the bus to go home,” I smirked, knowing that she went to my dad to ask where I was after school. I then remembered that she was probably wondering where I was since today was band rehearsal, which is something I’m not a part of anymore. Fuck, Scout doesn’t know that.

“Yeah, just waiting for the bus,” I answered, not really convincing. The air is awkward now; I can feel Sophie’s eyes look away from me and out toward the street. If anyone deserved to know, it was her. “Scout, I know there was a band rehearsal today.” Sophie immediately turned her head to look at me.

“You haven’t been in band class for the week,” Sophie admitted. “I was wondering if maybe you didn’t-“

“My dual major is suspended,” I finally confessed. I saw Sophie’s eyes widen in shock. “I got into a fight with Aaron at the dual major rehearsal.”

“Is that why…” Sophie asked as she pointed toward the cut on my face. I simply nodded at her. She looked like she was at a loss for words, and I don’t blame her. I wish I was able to tell her sooner, but I felt ashamed that I lost my dual major over someone that wasn’t even worth it. I was avoiding Sophie, but something in me is happy that even after not seeing her this week, she found me. It was a different feeling. I looked at Sophie; her shock turned into anger.

“Why would they only suspend your status and not Aaron’s? That’s completely unfair!” Sophie spat back.

“That was technically his first warning; I got mine when my dad sent me to the principal’s office…” I said as I tried to not look at Sophie. I felt ashamed to admit these things; things that not even Mollie knew about me. I looked down at my phone, wondering if Mollie ever texted me back. Nothing.

“‘I’m sorry, Milo,” Sophie said. “I hope that this suspension doesn’t last long. You deserve to be in band just as much as Aaron, and it’s unfair that Mr. Harrison would just throw you out of band like that.” I didn’t say anything back; I didn’t know what else to say about this besides the fact that I wanted to punch Aaron’s face at any given time I see him in vocal class. I simply sighed, wanting to just change the conversation.

“At least I’ll get to see you perform at the showcase,” I mentioned, smiling at Sophie. I’m glad I was able to at least make her smile still. I missed Sophie so much. “I’ll be the loudest in the audience!”

“You’re too sweet, Milo,” Sophie said as she laughed. “At least someone will stay awake for the string orchestra performance. I feel like we’re just there to put everyone to sleep.”

“That’s not true,” I reassured Sophie. I know that there were people talking about the String Orchestra and how their set for the showcase was boring. It makes me think of what Aaron said about Sophie at the dual major rehearsal. It angers me, but I wonder if she heard those same words go around in band class. Sophie looks at me, not convinced by my words.

“Every time we have our rehearsal, Mr. Harrison is constantly yelling at everyone else to be quiet because they all talk through it,” Sophie explained. “Today, it was so bloody loud in that auditorium that I kept messing up the notes. It didn’t help that people would point and laugh as they watched.” I saw Sophie’s face drop. She was getting lost in her thoughts, second-guessing every decision she has made up to this point.

I saw my bus come from down the block, moments away before stopping at my stop. Sophie looked up and saw the bus as well. She gets up from the bench once the bus slows down to stop in front of us. I didn’t want to leave Sophie here by herself. I didn’t want to leave Sophie; period.

“Well, here’s your bus,” Sophie pointed out. The door of the bus opened up. Before getting on the bus, I turned around and grabbed Sophie’s hand. She looked at me, confused about what I was doing.

“Come with me,” I said. Sophie didn’t know what to say; she looked nervous.

“I-I don’t take this bus,” Sophie said in a panic. I smiled, pulling toward me and the bus.

“I know,” I answered. “We’ll get you home before it gets dark.” I pulled Sophie in front of me so that she was able to get on the bus first. Sophie turned around to look at me; she smiled as she swiped her student MetroCard. I missed Sophie so much.

The "Something" Series: Season 3

Something About These Streets: A Prologue.

How can a place you called home for almost half of your life feel like a completely different place?

Growing up in Virginia with just me and my dad, I knew something felt off. I could never walk the suburban streets in my neighborhood and knew where I was going. I felt like I spoke a foreign language to those who lived in Virginia for most of their lives. Why wasn’t I one of those girls that married locally and had kids and stayed in Virginia? Why couldn’t my narrative follow the ones like the girls I graduated high school with? Why would my father ever introduce me to New York City when I was 17?

And why would this be the closest thing to home I would ever feel?

I turn around and look at the multiple suitcases, opened and ready to be packed. I sigh, wishing I was already done with this phase of packing up my life and leaving for another country.

I remember the night Morgan called my cell phone, letting me know that I passed the audition and got chosen to be a part of the dance production in Ulsan. It was also the night I almost threw away my sobriety, which in a couple of days would make it a year since being sober. If anything, this opportunity was the only thing keeping me from going down the rabbit hole of self-destruction. Spending the holidays with my family this year was something I haven’t done in a long time either. It felt good to be around my parents, to spend all this time with Willow, and to enjoy my time before saying goodbye for the next year.

I notice my mom walk into the room I’m staying in with a pile of folded clothes. She placed them on the bed and smiled at me.

“These bags aren’t going to pack themselves, sweetie,” my mom said as she placed the folded clothes into one of the suitcases. “You are catching a red eye tonight.”

“I know, mom,” I answered. “I’m trying to decide what to bring and what I could live without. Saves me money on the additional luggage fees.”

“Grace,” my mom says as she laughs. “It’s either you pack what you need or you’ll end up buying way too many things while you’re there.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I answered, not really paying attention to my mother. She could tell my head is in another place. She walks over to me and looks at me before she says anything.

“What’s going on?” she simply asked. “Are you having second thoughts about going?” I look at my mother’s face, trying to read her emotion before I say anything. I wonder if she looked at me with that same look when she left to further her career when I was a baby. Did she know that she was about to make one of the biggest decisions of her life, potentially leaving her home behind to possibly find one elsewhere? For some reason, I feel like I am now wearing that same face she wore when she was around my age.

“Did you go abroad because you didn’t feel at home anymore either?” I asked. My mom scrunched her face, not expecting me to ask such a deep-rooted question. She sat me down on the edge of the bed alongside her; I instantly regret letting my curiosity ask this stupid question.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged in the home I had,” she honestly answered. “And it wasn’t until I was away from home to realize I did. You and your father were always home for me, but I realized that later in life and-“

“No,” I interrupted her. “I mean did you leave because you tried everything in your power to make this place your home, but nothing ever worked?” My mom tilted her head to the side, which gave me the answer without her saying anything. Why the hell were we so alike?

“Between us, Grace,” my mom began. “It was very hard for me to stay put in one spot at your age. One inconvenience made me believe that I wasn’t the right person for anyone; not for your father, and not for you. And I think that’s something inevitable; something just in our DNA that we couldn’t ever fight against. I know home for you isn’t the people around you.”

“I don’t feel bad for leaving Willow here in New York,” I admitted. I sound like the world’s shittiest mother, but I’ve grown to learn that I will always love Willow. She will always bring out a part of me that I never knew even existed. Even trying to be even the slightest of what a mother is to a child, I know Willow will be just fine. Willow’s home doesn’t involve me in it, and I learned that on the days when I went to visit her and she simply didn’t cry whenever I had to leave. “New York and Max and Miriam are her home.” My mother nodded; I think she understood where I was coming from. “Does that make me a shitty person? Being a mom but not being a part of your child’s home?”

“Do you feel like a shitty person?” my mom asked back. She already knew the answer; I didn’t have to answer that for her. “You are doing what a lot of people are too afraid to do. That doesn’t make you a shitty person and you and I both know you are not.” My mother was one of the hardest, yet easiest people to talk to. She would tell you what was on her mind, but she also knew what was on yours; specifically on mine. It makes these hard conversations easier to have; nothing too hard-to-swallow really needed to be said out loud into the universe. She smiled back and got up from the bed. “I expect nothing but pictures sent to me during your time there though.”

“I’ll try to be better at doing that,” I laughed as I started to help my mom put things into the suitcases.

I was worried that my flight would get canceled when it started to snow in the city. I almost read it as a sign that I shouldn’t go and that maybe the universe was telling me to stay in New York. I fought with the thought ever since coming back for the audition. When I first came back to New York at the end of the summer, I questioned if I should just stay here and go back to the academy. It made the most sense to just stay in New York, run the dance academy, clock in and out, and go home to start all over again the following morning. Being in California should’ve been the realization that New York was always meant to be my home.

But it was walking by the cafe that would break my heart. I saw the cafe and felt the hollowness in the shell that my body is. It’s like I could still hear the laughs and the flipping sound of paperwork while sitting at the table closest to the front door. I could still smell the Mocha Iced Latte I would get to keep me up during the late nights trying to wrap up the case I was working on when I was a lawyer. I swear sometimes I can smell his cologne when I walk past this cafe. I thought maybe if I stopped walking past the cafe I would feel better about being back in New York, but even being in Brooklyn in Emerson and Cami’s apartment I could remember the game nights the four of us would have together. Even walking through Bryant Park made me remember that this was the place where I decided to introduce my home to a complete stranger, who I then started to trust. A stranger who I just met, but began to fall in love with.

I realized early on that New York City was only home when he was here with me. I still remember his words back in California when he explained how home was what he made it whenever he traveled. I wonder if he felt like he was home when he was in New York City? Something deep down tells me that he did, because then this fucking city wouldn’t feel so empty without him here. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like he ruined the chances of me ever living here without him here.

How do you lose your home after building it and living in it for almost half of your life in a city? When you allow people who can’t stay to become a part of your home.

“Flight 427 to Incheon International Airport is now ready for boarding,” the announcement stated. I let out a sigh, getting up from my seat and rolling my bags to my terminal with the rest of the production team.

Let’s try to build a home in Korea for the next year, Grace.