The Question
The Journeys of Tessamme Valerian
book one: Learning to Live

The Question

Dec. 6, 1994
Dear Emily,

How do you like your new name? I chose it because so many writers are named Emily, and I've always wanted to write to an author.

Times have changed me, and I am now in eighth grade. Sand has sifted through my hourglass, leaving an empty space in what is left of me. Sometimes I feel as though that space has been filled, that a lonely part of me once more has companionship. But that soon passes, and I wait for it to come to me again.

Have you seen the brightest star in the middle of the sky? It is My Star. If you are yet unfamiliar with my philosophy:

Star, you are a mystery,
But also are my friend;
Shining aloft in the midnight sky,
Your trueness has no end.
I can see a million stars,
But none I love as you.
You are my every wish and dream,
All hopes I ever knew.

Yes, Emily, it is the star to steer my life by. I suppose others might think it is foolish and romantic of me, but that's what I'm all about.

Your friend,

Dec. 8, 1994
Dear Emily,

I read through my poem book and picked out the five best, "Sunrise," "Echoes," "A Dream's Rainbow," "Spider's Web," and "Good-bye Must Be Said." Well, they're the five best under twenty lines. "The Winds of Time" is my very best.

I am going to enter a poetry contest, Emily. It looks like "Sunrise" is everyone's favorite. I like "Echoes" best, I guess, but that was one of the least favorite poems. I am going to enter "The Winds of Time" in another contest. I won't win the first contest, but "The Winds of Time" has to at least be acknowledged.

If I won't win the first contest, then why do I enter? All poems will be acknowledged, they say. I want at least a rejection slip.

I feel proud of myself. Once I send something in, and it is at least rejected, I am a poet. Once I slip the envelope containing my poem in the mailbox, I have achieved the title of my career . . . my first goal.

I worked on my story Among the Stars today. I hope it's not too vain to say I think I wrote well.

Night has fallen.
Many do sleep
While I tell you my heart
And the treasures I keep.

Emily, Journal, Diary, many names you have. Maybe someday I shall be a diary. It's a thought.

You know what is sad, Emily? Lots of common, every day phrases are beautiful, but are used so much no one sees that they are, phrases such as "deafening silence."

It's a quarter moon tonight. The kind of moon that shares its light and spreads it to all. It reminds me of a stanza in a poem I wrote about the magic of night:

Maybe it's the moon,
Whose golden-silver light
Always there will be
To guide and comfort me,
Saying it's all right.

Phrases like that give me a sense of peace and comfort.

I wish someone would really criticize my poetry, tear it apart and mercilessly rip it to pieces. As of now, I only have little bits of encouragement and no discouragement, and a poet needs doses of both to survive.

I fear I may never be able to live up to a true writer's standards: being able to please both themselves and their readers at the same time.

Your friend,

Dec. 9, 1994
Dear Emily,

I finished another chapter in Among the Stars. Is it wise for me to be writing books so early? Yet I am forced to say mine are better than some books I've read.

I have the address for the second poetry contest. I might have a chance of winning, but this is a national contest. I wish it was just a contest for my school. Then I'd have to win.

Your friend,

Dec. 16, 1994
Dear Emily,

I had a somewhat disturbing dream last night. I was at school in the cafeteria. I remember bringing my poetry notebook to school, and I stopped to admire it. But, wait. The book usually felt thicker than that. I turned it over and was horrified at what I saw. The back cover and half the pages were gone!

One thought struck me: Ben, a jerk who lives to tease me, must have taken them. He had always wanted to read my poetry and was known for taking the book.

He had them, but only about a fourth of the missing pages (of which he had been reading, mercilessly) and the back cover. I took these back, with Ben complaining, and looked for the other pages. They had disappeared.

I then did the only thing I could do. I cried and yelled, at myself and at Ben. How could I have been so foolish as to let my book into his hands?

No one listened to my cry. No one even scolded me for yelling. I was all alone in the world, with not even my writing as a companion.

I woke directly after that dream, believing it had truly happened. The feelings of loss, despair, and anguish were so real it frightened me. I guess this just shows how important writing is to me.

Your friend,

Dec. 27, 1994
Dear Emily,

I remember having a weird dream last night. I don't really want to tell you about it, but if I don't, I guess you wouldn't be a diary.

This was my first dream as though I was controlling it. I don't know why I did the things I did, though. I must be fascinated with medicine, for I was constantly hurting myself.

Enough of that. We're at Grandma and Grandpa's house now. My mom and dad got a jigsaw puzzle and had an awful time putting it together. They said I couldn't put the last piece in (I asked if I could), so when they weren't looking, I hid a piece in my pocket. I revealed it when all the other pieces were in place. I did get to put in the last piece, after all.

Your friend,

Dec. 29, 1994
Dear Emily,

Sometimes I think my mother resents me even having feelings. She gets mad a lot and gets carried away, but when I get mad and try to control it and say as little as possible, I get in trouble anyway. I can't even punch a pillow or slam a door. Even silence isn't satisfactory. Sometimes I wish I were emotionless, but even then, I'd still be the one at fault. Any attempt at humor is assumed hostile, while others can pun as they please.

Don't assume that I live with mean parents because of these words. I'm spoiled, I know. If anything's wrong, it's me in general. I can't control any emotion except for joy, and it seems there's not much of that to control. It's the rarest gem I have ever possessed.

I feel like if I could scream just once, everything would be better, but I'd surely get into deeper trouble. So I keep all my hate bottled up inside of me, hate that cannot be gotten rid of, and it creates a void which stops laughter soon after it has begun and turns happiness into emptiness.

I sometimes think that if my life were more exciting and I experienced more, I'd be a better writer. This is what my writing lacks, but it cannot be bought by money, and some never find it. I might live a dull life and never know anything beyond the little bit of knowledge I possess now. This isn't a comforting thought. I'd never succeed as a writer this way.

Oh, balderdash. I'm just a bad pessimist.

Your friend,

Jan. 6, 1994
Dear Emily,

Tonight my sister invited a friend over. That's why I'm writing this at 11:00 p.m. Day is long past and night has burrowed deep into the sky. Starlight is shadowed by clouds. Peaceful tranquility binds this night together.

Snow has fallen as a first this year. In daylight it was a pearly coat to the toiled surface of the earth. In moonlight it might have become a diamond's glitter, but I see it is a blanket, sheltering the ground and sky and time. It adds to the quilt of the quietness of night, but each person must sew the other squares by their own fancy.

Lamplight gives us some glimpse of the fairy-dust aforementioned. Each beacon creates a dozen others as reflected in the snow. In the sky we see the vague outlines of tree skeletons, as even night is not completely dark. If one could stand out in the middle of this picture, he could not help looking up into the great hollow of the sky and lifting his hands up to heaven, praising God for his creation. Life is lived for these moments.

If one went out into this night, though in wintertime's cold, he could make a place in his heart forever warm, light a candle that could never be blown out, put an extra twinkle in his eye.

Yet sleep is calling, time is waiting. The world can stand still for me no longer. I must dream.

Your friend,

Jan. 11, 1995
Dear Emily,

Today was going wonderfully until I got a detention in Social Studies. Gravity really stinks. I lifted my binder out of my backpack, but I didn't notice my papers for Social Studies fell out. We were discussing a worksheet in class, and I was called upon to read the question. By this time I had searced everywhere for it and thought someone had stolen it. Mrs. Stevens gave me a detention for not bringing my materials to class. What's worse, she announced it to the entire class. I felt as awful as awful could be, and embarrassed, too. This collision of emotions left me only one alternative--I cried, which only made the situation worse. In my whole lifetime, this is the first incident where I ever got in trouble at school.

I can't remember much else that happened today, and I wouldn't want to discuss them if I did.

Your friend,

Jan. 12, 1995
Dear Emily,

I can't write for very long--I'm not allowed to at all. That's supposed to be my punishment, no reading or writing for two weeks. It's more like killing me. I never realized my full devotion to writing till now. Today was even worse than yesterday, as far as bad days go. In fact, it's probably the worst in my life.

I have to go before I'm caught.

Your friend,

Jan. 13, 1995
Dear Emily,

Last night I dreamt probably one of the most moving dreams ever dreamt. I had to go through two tests. One was for obeying orders. Doctor Harris, a character I made up for a science fiction story I'm writing, told me to stay by an exit to a building, a sort of a hatch that you climbed up through. I stayed, even when starships began firing upon the planet surface. Unfortunately, I got hit, but fortunately, not very hard at all. Dr. Harris came along and fixed me up good as new. This was the first test.

Then there was a sort of intermission. Captain Elson, Lara Jen, and Danny Peters, three more characters from the same story as Dr. Harris, were trying to figure out the hatch from the previous scene. Captain Elson decided to go up the hatch, and Jen and Peters found the best route for her by consulting a computer database. There were three possible choices. The one they chose was a side route, sporting a door flap that my direct route throught the hatch had not contained. She went up, and when the door flap swung open, she caught on it and fell to the ground on some side railroad tracks that branched off the main railroad tracks. When Jen and Peters realized this, they called for some medics. They were on a train heading down the main railroad tracks. Instead of stopping on the main tracks, though, they changed their course and turned onto the side railroad tracks. In doing so, they ran over the already injured Elson, but she was eventually all right, allowing a humorous intermission before the dreaded second test.

The second test was very serious, indeed. I knew it was going to take my life, but I had to face it, and I didn't know why. But I stepped bravely into the waiting clutches of someone who was willing to beat me so hard I would die.

I did nothing to provoke my attacker, and each blow hurt with real pain, but somewhat diluted, for it was a dream. Then he placed a few more vital attacks, finally snapping my spine in two before he retreated. I collapsed. Dr. Harris came running, but I knew it was too late. I let myself slip into the timelessness of death, but I knew it would not last forever.

And it didn't. No one but me knew I was alive, and I was touched by the conversations they had with one another, expressing their grief at my passing. I knew this need not be so, but I decided to wait until the right moment to reveal myself. I walked through a people-filled hallway, hiding my face, lest someone recognize me. I got to a door and ran into a moonlit night, fresh with promise and dense with joy. Someone followed me, all the better. She didn't know who I was, but I knew her, a friend. A voice at the back of my mind told me to show myself, but I kept on running, leading the person far away from the building. Suddenly, I turned around and let her see my face, at which point I woke up.

I think I must have changed. Before I never felt that I lived, but that I merely went throught the motions. Now I have found myself. I am in such a good mood that even detentions can't begin to scratch the surface of it.

Your friend,

Jan. 17, 1995
Dear Emily,

I took a refreshing leap back into reality today and wrote a poem. I'm allowed to read and write at school, so I took advantage of that privilege. Oddly (not very oddly at all, but I'm just going to say to), I wrote about the contrast between fantasy and reality. I guess writing gives me a sense of reality, for I didn't even think to escape into any daydream after I wrote the poem.

Perhaps the sun has set upon an era of my life.
The dawning of a newer day brings promise and new strife.

Ah! It is true, although I just composed those lines.

Your friend,

Jan. 26, 1995
Dear Emily,

Light has retreated from this part of the world, night has descended, and I am free! I can write as long as I want to and read incessantly if I wish, and no one can stop me but myself.

I wrote a story for English yesterday that was only supposed to be one page but turned out to be seven! It's quite original, though, if I do say so myself. I've got another story idea and have finished a rough draft for a poem called "At the Edge of the Rain."

Tomorrow I'm going to write to my heart's content, probably on my book, Among the Stars, but right now it's late and I'd better get some sleep.

Your friend,

Feb. 6, 1995
Dear Emily,

I AM GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!!!! The poem I sent in to the contest was a semifinalist and was selected for publication in an anthology. The only minus factor is that the book it's in costs $49.95. I hinted about this for my birthday, but otherwise, I can't afford it.

I finished chapter one in Over the Rainbow. I planned to start the real conflict in chapter two, but I managed to move it up a chapter, which is all the better.

Your friend,

Aug. 2, 1995
Dear Emily,

I'm back . . . and I bet you knew I'd be back, even though it's been ever so long since I've written. Today has been immaculately hot. I say this because it's the kind of hot that makes you want to do nothing but sit and think why in the world you have such odd dreams when everyone else's are so much more practical. But I'll tell you about that later. If all you do is sit and think, nothing gets messed up by your up and doing things. That's why it is immaculately hot.

Three nights in a row do I remember what I dreamt. The first of these dreams started in a library, and for some reason I had the idea that it was a Boy Scout library. This was probably because of all the boys around in scout uniforms, and because of the big fleur-de-lis Boy Scout symbol engraved in the wall. Oh, well. I'm good at details.

As my dream began, my Dad was playing a game. It was a sort of hide-and-go-seek-for-the-hidden-holes-in-the-wall-and-then-put-an-egg-in-each-of-them-for-no-reason-at-all game. The rules are self-explanatory. Am I big on hyphens or what? And I didn't even mean to use that last one. Back to the library.

Seeing it was a library, Boy Scouts or not, I headed straight for the science fiction, of whose Star Trek and Star Wars are two of my great loves. You should try reading them sometime, Emily. Suddenly, this voice inside me is doing the "They're great!" number from the Frosted Flakes commercial. Emily, be glad you're not me. This is only one example of the many times I think I hear voices. I could even tell which ear it was. My right. Back to my dream.

I found the sci-fi in the far right corner of the room next to a clear section of wall with the big fleur-de-lis. There were many new titles, which I was delighted to see, yet I knew it was odd that there were so many. Oh, well. There were even some books that I had written, the Star Pioneers series I've been planning in my head.

Just then, the plot had a twist. Suddenly, I was on the Dream Chaser, the starship from my Star Pioneers series. I wasn't surprised. Why should I be, after all the weird dreams I've had? I can't recall how I got on the Dream Chaser or what happened directly after I came aboard, but the next thing I knew I was thinking about how the ship's Doctor, Aiden Harris, had gone on an away mission and had somehow gotten himself wounded and how the Dream Chaser had sent down a trauma team and how the Dream Chaser was badly crippled and in an awful state of disrepair and how I was willing the the ship to come under attack, just to make things a bit more interesting. I was looking out the window. Harris's trauma units were made of Legos, and Harris was floating in deep space, without a space suit. I thought nothing of it.

Scene change. Harris again, but in good health. Here's to happy endings. Me, grinning from ear to ear. Harris, asking why I'm smiling. It's the end of the story, and all's well and ended well. It tell him so. He shrugs. Captain Elson, standing off to one side, looks at me weird. So much for happy endings.

Back in the library, I looked at some books, then went and played the egg in the hole game.

Scene change. Grocery shopping, with Grandma Richardson. Passing the cakes and doughnuts. Free samples of yogurt. Grandma lets me in on a secret. Everyone thinks the yogurt samples come in plastic cups, but they really come in wooden cups. More books. It must be an obsession.

Again, scene change. The new release sci-fi books were back, but I felt awake. I started writing down the titles, for since I was really awake (every nerve in my body was ready, my mind was alert, not hazy as in a dream) they wouldn't disappear.

I chose that instant to wake up.

I'll tell you my other dreams sometime, when I don't feel so restlessly tired. I think I have a minor case of insomnia. I've found, though, these are the best times for daydreaming.


Oct. 6, 1995
Dear Emily,

Birds are the creatures of fairyland. As I rode to high school (yes--I'm in high school--hard to believe, eh?) on my bike this morning, I heard them, breaking the stillness of autumn with their chatter. I answered them with a whistle and thought upon the cool freshness of the morning.

I have no doubt in my mind as to my future as a writer. My imaginings are abundant, and I don't really believe I could be anything else.

Your friend,

March 18, 1996
Dear Emily,

We watched a filmstrip on genetic disorders in Biology today. One of the things they showed was an illustration of the dangers of inbreeding. I didn't really think of it till tonight, and when I did the thought almost made me sick. I don't know why. I kept getting chills, like in a nightmare.

March 19, 1996
Dear Emily,

It's funny how things work out this way. I got interrupted before I could finish yesterday's entry. Oh, well. To unravel the mystery of what happened next, I prayed that God would comfort me--and he did. Just like that. I had no disturbing dreams that night. In fact, I think I had a good dream.

Well, the second thing that happened was that I had a "mountaintop experience," as Rick Hodges, the preacher at my church, would say. It was night, and the stars were out. The night was so fathomless, so deep. I suddenly felt so small, and understood a little of how God is so large. I asked a question that I'd always thought silly to ask before: "How could God love me?" I was so small, and I had sinned intolerably against him.

But I made myself remember that he did love me, that he sent Jesus to save me, and that to forever deny his love would be like denying him.

It was like a sunrise in my soul. I could feel my heart swelling with something; it could only be love, his love. The night wasn't so large, nor I so small, but I have to remember that it's him in me that made me grow.

Signing off,

June 26, 1996
Dear Diary,

Starlight and moondust, they make up the sea,
But bigger and better and brighter is He
Who fashioned the wings for sparrows to fly,
Who saved me from death, who heard when I cried.

It's funny how I could never write hymns or anything about God before. I think it's because I wasn't willing to let God have my talent for writing. I wanted to keep it all to myself and maybe, just maybe, give him a portion. I guess it was part of me hardening my heart to his love, which he wanted to give me, but I was not willing to receive because of the cost.

And I thought that I had it! Before, I mean. All I was doing then was standing in awe of God for a few seconds. But I wasn't taking the next step.

Well, a few weeks before church camp, I began thinking, hey, I could make a lot of these stories have a Christian center. In fact, just about all of them! So I began thinking that I should do that and just skip the ones I couldn't change. Then I went to camp, open and ready for whatever God would want me to do.

I had no idea how he would change my life. So much has been put into focus. And I thought it was clear. I had always felt like there was an empty spot in my life, a hunger in my heart for something. I would have never guessed that the empty place was where I had turned my back on God, where my will had become more important to me than his. If someone had told me that before, I would have laughed.

My life isn't empty anymore. It is actually more full than it ever should be. And I know why.

Signing off,

July 14, 1996
Diary my dearest,

I'm in one of those friendless moods that frequent me every so often. I know it seems selfish to want everyone to talk to me (well, just a few people), only they have to start the conversation.

I had it pretty bad. I was thinking about how nice it would be just to faint, so that when I revived, someone would notice me.

I even told myself that God was all I needed to no avail.

I was desperate, but adamant that I wouldn't be the one to start the talking. I was in one of those moods where it seems like I can't talk. I was starving, but something had to break my mood before I could even think about eating.

I wish I would stop doing this to myself. I know it's my own fault. People won't talk to me if I don't talk back.

I don't even have a pen pal. My brother won't listen, my sister doesn't care, and my parents are either too busy cleaning or yelling because me and David and Jenna, in their opinion, aren't helping.

I sometimes confuse myself when everything is contradictory like this.

I'll close, even though unresolved.

January 1, 1997

It seems so strange, it being the new year already. Usually I've already done all the preparatory stuff and am ready, although I suppose it never really seems like the next year until school starts.

These words aren't coming as naturally anymore. Either I'm out of practice or I've grown inhibitions--although I suspect the only thing that's grown is my vocabulary.

I think I'll join the group (of people) again now.

June 26, 1997

If I continue to go on like this I am convinced I will go insane. Lynn and Kristi got back from vacation yesterday, so I called them today. They both sounded tired, but happy. Just opposite me: not tired, but unhappy. Why should this be so? It shouldn't, but here's why it is:

I'm lonely. I crave the closeness they have found. I want human companionship. It's driving me crazy.

Okay. So what's wrong with that? Hypocrisy. I just gave Jenna a talk on how not to be lonely. I told her to stop pouting over things not going her way and to stop expecting people to come in and baby her, but to get up and be a friend to them, and then they would be a friend to her. She liked me babying her so much with my advice that she didn't listen.

Now it seems I'm the one not listening. Thing is, I didn't account for not being able to contact friends.

So I sat all day, staring out the window, putting hope against hope that they'd come to me warm and friendly, willing to talk and baby me.

So I end up here, writing myself out on a piece of paper that has no eyes and ears and doesn't care, anyway. I want to tell people, not this paper. I don't want people to say to me that a person I've known for years I don't really know that well because, guess what, they've spent a few days really getting to know that person and, hey, now they're best buddies and I'm not . . .

So maybe that's a little extreme, but it's how I took it. At least writing this much down has quieted my nervousness. So I still want someone to talk to. I'll have to take initiative. And that's one thing I'm not good at.

Sept. 29, 1997

I have a distorted sense of reality. It sickens me--I sicken me. I have developed a sense of pride, an unwillingness to influence in any small way my future, or the future of anyone else. I am shut off, and about at the end of my rope. I want to share, to care, to have someone care for me. I know it would be selfish not to share and care, but it seems too much to ask to have someone care for me. Too much to ask them to listen, to take me in, to keep in touch. And it seems that the more I tell myself this, the more incapable I am of sharing Jesus with others, of showing them I care. I'm so tired. I'd almost settle for any solution, but for inhibitions I have built so deep they cannot be trampled.

I will never kill myself, but that won't stop me from wishing I were dead.

I haven't cried for awhile. I gave that up when I gave up pure, simple joy. I've been trying to control my emotions. It works, outwardly, but inwardly it alienates me, makes me starkly aware of how bleak, how boring, how empty I am. I'd cry, except that I distract myself with thoughts of duty to a code of emotional standards.

I feel so not close to God. I pray. I read my Bible, but nothing affects me. The words are the same, same as before. There are no new meanings, no discovery. Instead, they seem to sting me with their simplicity.

I need some time away, to rest, to think on God and catch back up.

I won't have it. Maybe next summer.

I wish I could show this journal to someone. Have them give me advice. I haven't gotten advice in forever, I mean, about life.

Actually, all I want is someone willing to spend time to talk with me, who knows what to ask.

Somehow I think I'll never get this out, but I'll be writing these darned journal entries until I do.

Life is a paradox. I'll never understand it. Then I will never understand how to live. I will never understand why to live. I will never understand God. I will never understand love, for God is love. And if love is why I am alive, I will never understand life. It is a circuit of misunderstanding.

I'll never get it. Then why am I trying? Why is this journal, the record of my attempt, even in existence? If there's no use trying and I really believe it, then why don't I burn this journal?

I don't believe I am trying for nothing. Somewhere, someday, all will come to close, and I will be better off for trying.

Those aren't just words.