Category: true story

True Story: I Was in New York City on 9/11

This is one of many interviews that make up the True Story series, in which we talk to people about interesting/amazing/challenging things that they’ve been through. This is Nicole’s story. She was in fifth grade when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers.

How long have you lived in New York?
I’ve lived in New York for about 12 years now. I was 7 when I first moved to Brooklyn, and then I moved to Staten Island when I was 14.What were you doing when the planes hit?
At the time, I was in 5th grade. So I remember getting to school, hanging up my jacket and sitting down at my desk, and as soon as I reached my desk the Principal called my brother and I down to the main lobby because we were going home. Not knowing what was going on, I was like, “Yes! no school today!” My father picked us up that morning in full his Army BDU’s (which is Battle Dress Uniform, or the camouflage uniform.) He tries not to do this often because it tends to freak people out a little, so when he showed up dressed like that, my brother and I knew something was up.

He drove us home very quickly, and he was silent the entire ride. My family lived on an Army base in Brooklyn at the time, and we needed to get back onto the base quickly because they were going into a full lockdown. No one leaves, no one gets in.

Can you tell us about what happened in the hours that followed the attack?

I remember getting home and looking at the news right when the first tower fell, and I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on. At the age of 10…I was so confused. My father was very, very stressed about the whole thing, and my mother was crying. I eventually found out that a few of her friends had worked in the first tower that fell. Everything was just chaotic at that point. There’s really no other way to describe it.I was confused because no one would explain to me what exactly was going on, and all I had was images on the news of buildings falling, and fires…it was a mess. A huge, ominous cloud of black smoke drifted closer and closer to Brooklyn from ground zero as the minutes passed, which really added to the general mood of sadness.

What was you life like in the weeks after the attack?
Life was, again, just a mess. People were paranoid, became very racist, and also, they were all very distraught over the whole thing. I didn’t have school for 3 days after the attacks, which was a good thing. Many people I knew lost a lot of friends and family members, and it was incredibly devastating.

What really effected me personally though, was the racism. Many of my friends were Lebanese, and they were constantly hassled and called terrorists. One of my friends was even spit on while we were walking home. It was really just brutal.

Did you ever feel like you wanted to move to a “safer,” less targeted city after 9/11?
Personally, I always felt a little safe, despite everything that was going on around me, because of where I lived. The Army base was incredibly safe and definitely gave you that nice sense of comfort that people desperately needed at that time. There’s nothing like a bunch of Military Policemen walking around with machine guns to make you feel secure, I’ll tell you that much.

Have you suffered any long-term effects from 9/11?
As far as long-term effects, I have been lucky enough not to have suffered anything serious. The only thing I suffer from is slight anxiety while flying that I didn’t have previous to 9/11. I fly quite frequently, so that’s actually kind of a pain…but it’s certainly better than being afraid of traveling by subway or being afraid of Manhattan in general.

Were any of you in New York on 9/11? Any questions for Nicole?

True Story: My Mom Died When I Was 19

My mom died from cancer when I was 19


This is the story of Tyler, whose mom died of ovarian cancer while Tyler was a sophomore in college.

Tell us about your mom
Can I just say she was the best person ever and be done with this question? My mom was totally a soccer mom, but the cool kind, not the embarrassing kind. One time, when I was little, I was watching Rocko’s Modern Life on Nickelodeon, she came to watch with me for a minute. It was the episode where Rocko has to give a speech in front of a lot of people and they see that he has a giant piece of spinach between his teeth. My mom started laughing so hard she actually fell off the couch. It was delightful.

My mom threw totally awesome birthday parties and always insisted I pick abstract themes like “nature” and “springtime” and “imagination.” She taught me how to use chopsticks and how to tweeze my eyebrows and once sat me down just to discuss the way I drew hands and how to make them more realistic (we were always a very artsy family).

She was also a Disney fanatic even as an adult, a trait she definitely passed down to all her children.My mom was a stay-at-home mom but in the year or so before she got sick, she started a calligraphy business, doing wedding invitations and place cards. This past winter break, I was going through a box in the garage and found one of her calligraphy notebooks, where she’d copy quotes and names and things to practice each typeface. I opened on a page where she had written, “The time to be happy is now. The Place to be happy is here,” and I totally broke down.

True Story: My Ex Tried To Rape Me

My ex tried to rape me, raped by someone you know
This week’s interview is special because it is not, sadly, incredibly unique.
I’m sure you know the statistics: every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Sixty percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Many, many of the women I know have experienced aggressive, unwanted
sexual attention. This is ‘Elizabeth’s’ story. (more…)

True Story: I Compete In Pageants

This is part of our True Story interview series in which we talk to fascinating people about interesting/amazing things that they’ve done. This is Ashley’s story of her experiences with pageants.


How did you get into doing pageants?
Growing up, I loved watching Miss America and wanted to compete in pageants, but I didn’t compete in my first pageant until I was a senior in college. After watching Miss Congeniality one too many times, I decided I wanted to see how the movie compared to real life.The first pageant I entered was a state pageant in the Miss USA system, and I learned so much from watching the girls who had been competing in pageants their whole lives. It was a surreal experience (you really can use hairspray as butt glue!), but it was, also, fun and very interesting, so I decided to try some more.

How many did you take part in?
I have competed in four pageants so far: one state, one local, and two national.

Can you tell us what the other contestants were like?
Pageant girls come from all walks of life, and I am always impressed by the other contestants’ confidence and intelligence. I’ve met some wonderful people including a baton twirler, a Special Olympics spokeswoman, and a marine biology student. The last few years pageant girls have been getting bad press, and I think it is so unfortunate that they are stereotyped as one type of person. Contrary to popular opinion, every contestant isn’t like Drop Dead Gorgeous.

At a pageant a few years ago, my family could not afford to attend any of the events. I met a girl who was competing to help pay for law school, and we bonded over having no one in the audience to cheer for us. Her parents had not been able to make the trip, but when she learned that my family was with me but couldn’t afford the tickets, she bought two tickets for them so that we could have someone in the audience cheering for us. It was a sweet and unexpected gesture, and her thoughtfulness still means so much to me.

What are some common misconceptions about pageants?
1. Miss America is the only American pageant. – Miss America is one of the largest pageant organizations, but there are lots of other systems such as, Miss USA, Miss International, Miss Galaxy…

2. Miss America fell down at the Miss Universe pageant. – Both years it was actually Miss USA; Miss America does compete at Miss Universe because it is a different system. It’s surprising how many legitimate media outlets reported it wrong.

3. You have to have a talent to compete in pageants. – Not all pageants have a talent competition. Miss America does require a talent, but Miss USA and many others do not.

What kind of questions are you asked in the interview?
All kinds. There are books out there with questions to help you train for the interview, but the actual questions I’ve been asked in competition have been pretty random, covering a wide range of topics. I’ve been asked:

How would you describe the color blue to a blind person?
Who is your role model?
If you were a makeup brand, what brand would you be?
If you could ask the President one question, what would it be?
If you could be on the cover of a magazine, what magazine would it be?
Do you think the glass ceiling still exists for women?
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
If your friends described you as a verb, what verb would it be?

What’s the most challenging aspect of doing pageants?
For me, the most challenging part of competing in pageants is raising the money to compete. A lot of girls get sponsors, usually financed by friends and family-run businesses, but I don’t usually have sponsors because most businesses in my area are corporate run and do not contribute to individuals. So, I typically pay most of my expenses myself. Pageant entry fees, program ads, hotel, travel, and competition wardrobe all add up, so you can end up spending a couple thousand dollars (or more).

What sorts of things have you won in pageants?
Pageant goodie bags are wonders to behold – makeup, clothes, jewelry, bags, water bottles, coupons, toiletries… Gift bags are my weakness, but I end up giving a lot of it to friends and family because it doesn’t fit or I have doubles, etc.

How did people react when you told them that you were doing pageants?
People were very surprised. To be fair, I am nowhere near six feet tall and rarely go swimming because it means people will see me in a swimsuit ☺ However, I am a very determined person, so their disbelief made me want to compete even more.

Would you recommend the pageant world?
Yes… and no. I’ve learned a lot about myself from competing in pageants, but I haven’t always found it to be the best confidence booster. While pageants are supposed to build self-esteem, they can, also, have the opposite effect – you are being judged on your body after all – so I think it is important to be confident in who you are before you compete. A sense of humor, also, helps because all of a sudden walking becomes a big deal, and you start thinking things like, “What if I fall walking down the stairs?”

Do you still do pageants?
Last year I took time off to pursue other interests, but I would like to compete in more. I enjoy the drama, making new friends, and having an excuse to dress up. I hope to raise money to compete in another pageant in the near future.

Any advice for ladies interested in doing pageants?
If you are under 24, I recommend competing in a Miss America local because they offer mock interviews, basic pageant training, and the fee is only $100, which I believe still goes to the Children’s Miracle Network. There are a lot of pageants out there (Mrs., Ms., Miss, Teen, Petite, Plus, Heritage, Mail-in…), so with a little research, you can find one that suits you. Do check references to make sure the pageant is legitimate and find out if past contestants enjoyed their experience.

Have any of you ever competed in pageants? Any questions for Amy?

True Story: I Have 12 Siblings

This is part of our True Story interview series, in which interesting/amazing people tell us their stories. This is the story of Ashley and her family. And, yes, that’s really them in the above picture.

How many children are there in your family? There are thirteen of us: four boys and nine girls. The age range is twenty to two years old. There is about a year and a half to two and a half years between each child, with one set of twins.Where do you fall in the order of things?

I am the oldest of all the kids, the one that got to be the guinea pig. I tested the boundaries while the rest of them watched me, saw what the consequences were, and then did it themselves!Could you tell us about your parents’ decision to have a family of this size?
Like most newlyweds, my dad originally swore that he was never, ever having kids. But of course they did, and after my sister Abby they decided that they weren’t having anymore children. But my mum really likes babies, so they had an “accident” baby, Allison, and after that they just kept having kids, I guess.

My parents definitely see children as a blessing, not a hardship. I know it has been hard on my parents, and they’ve made many sacrifices for us, but I think that if they had known this was what it would be like, they would have still had us. Well, most days they would have still had us. 🙂

My sister Talia has colpocephaly, genetic disorder, as well as a seizure disorder, GERD, a tumor in her brain (made of fat so it’s benign), requires oxygen, and a ton of other things. Because of all these issues, she is eternally a toddler, stuck the size of an 8-9 month year old and about the same developmentally, although she is crawling now! She is so, so sweet and happy.

Tell us how you fit everybody under one roof!
My dad really likes to build things! We have lived in the same house since I was six; a three bedroom, two and a half bath ranch on almost three acres of land. As the family grew, so did the house. He built a beautiful foyer, a front room, a wrap-around porch, put in a staircase, a front room, an office and eventually a library. It’s ginormous – four bathrooms (two are usable) and twelve bedrooms.

How do people respond when you tell people you have twelve siblings?
“What??! Are you guys like mad religious or something?” Or they say something crude about rabbits. Most people take it in stride, I don’t usually tell people when I first meet them. To me, my siblings aren’t a number; they are people, names and personalities, it isn’t really a big deal to me!

Do you think having this many siblings impacted your relationship with your parents and your brothers and sisters?
I think that I have a good relationship with most of my family. I think that if I had fewer siblings, life wouldn’t be as much fun as it is. I call my Mum at least once every two days. I get along alright with most of my siblings though my sister Alissa is too cool to hang out with me right now and my brother David and I have never gotten along. I’m so much older than most of my siblings, I know that I will never be as close to them as I am with my two sisters Alissa (17) and Abby (14).

I can’t imagine life without my brothers and sisters. There wouldn’t be Talia or Torrey; I would miss Noelle’s awesome fashion sense, and Autumn’s sarcastic personality. I wouldn’t be as food conscious from having Caden around who is allergic to corn, wheat, soy, citrus, and oats, or anything with histamines in it. I wouldn’t have the twins, Maddie and Grace to be my little copycats. I am glad my parents had them all; I would probably have ended up as one of those selfish, “daddy pays for everything” rich bitches, instead of a thrifty, d.i.y., creative lady that I am.

What are the benefits and draw backs to being part of large family?
I was homeschooled until college, so I could never get away from my Mum, never. I was with my family all of the time, and I enjoy being alone, so for me it was hard being around people all of the time.

Being a part of a family, large or small, is hard; it takes a lot of work to not go crazy. I have a good family: a solid relationship between my Mum and Dad. They really do care about us, enough to make our lives miserable when they think we aren’t up to snuff. We never went hungry and I always had someone to be with if I got lonely or bored. What more could you want?

How many children do you want to have?
I don’t know yet, I want to wait until I am out of school to start having kids. I figure I will start having kids when I’m about 26 so that gives me a few years. But I cannot wait to be pregnant, to be a lifegiver, to have a body swollen with baby goodness. I know that I don’t want as large as a family as my parents have, but I also believe that every person conceived has a life force, a personality, so that makes it hard to pick low numbers when thinking metaphorically about children. I’ll just have to wait and see how much it hurts to give birth before I decide how many times I want to go through with that!

Are any of you from large families? Any questions for Ashley?

True Story: I Went to an Ivy League College

This is just one of many fascinating interviews that make up the True Story family.
This is the one girl’s tale of studying at one of America’s most prestigious schools.

Tell us which schools you went to
I went to Yale. Later I went on to go to other classically prestigious schools, but Yale is the only Ivy I’ve attended.What made you decide that you wanted to go to an ivy league school?
Part of it was the prestige. I’m very aware now that there are equally academically rigorous schools that are not Ivies, but I grew up as the child of immigrants, who really had no idea that there were schools outside of the Ivy League worth a damn. My father, for example, threw a fit when I said that I wanted to go to Brown — which is actually an Ivy, but was not, in his mind, a “real Ivy.”

Another part of it was wanting to get away from my home life, which was a mess at the time; I wanted to get away from a traumatic graduation year in my hometown. I was running away from a lot, including an abusive relationship and a sexual assault, and going to a place where I could (allegedly) use my brain in exciting ways and meet interesting people was extremely appealing. This doesn’t answer your question about “why an Ivy,” but it does answer a question about “why Yale” — Yale is known as one of the more liberal, artsy Ivies, and that completely appealed to me.

Can you tell us about the application process?

Paper applications and an interview. I didn’t stress out too much about it — I get the feeling that overachieving high school students these days are much more on edge about the whole process. The essay that I wrote, which was indirectly about the abusive relationship, caused some trouble in my AP English class; the teacher told me that colleges didn’t want to read about relationships. But I managed to get into all of the schools that I applied to, so figs to her, I suppose.What was the student body like?The student body at Yale was, when I went, much more racially and socioeconomically diverse than one might think — there were certainly a lot of East Coast prep-school graduates (mostly from Exeter and Andover), but one of my closest friends was from rural Appalachia and I knew a lot of people on scholarship from urban areas. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a thriving avant-garde, artistic community; for every legacy (a student whose family lineage goes back multiple generations in any given school) with a head full of bricks, there are students who have written a series of plays based on the Western Canon or made some amazing scientific breakthrough or, in my case, published essays with a major publishing house.

And because pretty much everyone was phenomenally well-accomplished, very few people felt the urge to brag about this or that. So if you got a 1570 on your SATs, it wasn’t really worth talking about because you were likely to be speaking to someone who had not only gotten a 1600, but had also made some innovation regarding brain waves and robot arms.

I suppose I can’t speak about going to Yale without addressing the wealth and status of a lot of the student population. It wasn’t until I went to Yale, for example, that I met someone who introduced me to goat cheese for the first time; I had a roommate with a celebrity mother; I discovered, to my utter shock, that there were such things as $600 boots. Not everyone was like that, of course, but I will always remember the first trip I took to New York, and entering a brownstone with a doorman.

How do you think your college experience compared to those of your friends’ who went to state schools?I can’t really say for sure. I did go to a state school for graduate school, and it was a very good state school for the subject that I studied there. But there’s definitely a difference between the resources one can receive at an Ivy — or at least, at Yale — and the resources one can receive at a state school, if only because of the sheer differences in the size of the student body, money for equipment and visiting faculty, and personal attention from professors and deans.

How did you finance your education?
I’m one of those lucky people who didn’t wind up with student loans. I financed my education with a combination of scholarships, family donations, work that I did in high school and money that my parents had saved for me. Like I said, I was very lucky in that regard.

Did having these schools on your resume/transcript open doors for you?
I’m on the job market right now, and the fact that I haven’t been able to find a job might speak to this. I’m not saying that it hasn’t been at all advantageous to my goals, but there are limitations; having an Ivy on your resume might catch someone’s attention, but it’s what you do with that education that really matters, as corny as that sounds.

Would you recommend an ivy league school?I guess that I feel like this question is sort of like asking someone, “Would you recommend pickles?” All Ivies are different, for one. Yale is very different from Harvard or, say, Princeton, not to mention Brown or Dartmouth or Columbia. I’d say that what’s more important is to look very carefully past the Ivy label and at what you (the proverbial college applicant) are looking for in a college/university.

There are fabulous liberal arts colleges out there that are completely outside of the Ivy League bubble. I know people who went to Reed or Swarthmore who had a much more intellectually stimulating (and personally tailored) education than I did at Yale.

Any advice for other students looking to go ivy?
This is mostly advice for people who’ve decided that they do want to go to a particular Ivy, whether it’s because they love the Egyptology program at Brown or want to study at Yale with Harold Bloom (which is really difficult to do, by the way). It’s getting harder and harder to get into an Ivy, but I also feel that people — both parents and students — go about it the wrong way. I get so frustrated when I see parents pushing their kids to start practicing the SATs in seventh grade, or hire extremely expensive private tutors, or push their kids into speech and debate or various other clubs because they think that it will pad their applications.

Look: I know from both the admissions side of things and from the college guidance side of things that the kid who gets a perfect score on his/her SAT, wins Nationals in speech and debate, volunteers at the soup kitchen every weekend, and has a 4.0 GPA in high school is one of a very large number of other kids who have similar, if not the exact same, qualifications, and may very well not get into an Ivy at all. Which is not to say that those accomplishments aren’t great, but I sincerely feel that my unique background and accomplishments are what helped get me into Yale and other Ivies in the first place.

Did any of you go to Ivy league schools? Any questions for our Ivy league lass?

photo by sarah ackerman // cc