St. Olaf Creative Writing Awards: Nonfiction

Today we’re sharing the nonfiction winner for the creative writing awards. The winning piece, “Somatosensation,” is by Swannie Willstein.

Somatosensation

I constantly have to be held

When my sister was a baby, my parents worried she was autistic because she would fuss when being held. When I was in my infancy, I was given the loving (and important to add only temporary) nickname, “The little bitch” on a family vacation because I would constantly whine every time someone wasn’t holding me.

 

An epiphany while abroad

There was the moment in the airport in Phnom Penh, traveling alone (no, being alone) for the first time in my life, when I realized I hadn’t hugged anyone in two whole weeks. I knew human contact wouldn’t put all of the anxiety to rest, but it would certainly help.

 

Love Bite

My brother has a tendency to bite my shoulder. Not in a painful way, he just opens his mouth as big as he can and kind of rests his teeth on me. I think it’s meant to be a term of endearment. At least that’s what I tell myself.

 

“Let’s touch tongues”

is something my Mom loves to say to my dad to freak my siblings and I out. My parents aren’t very into PDA, but they are very into embarrassing their children.

 

No, really I’m quite ticklish

So much so, that upon laughing too hard from the excitement once, I vomited all over my friend’s bed.

 

Slapstick

My siblings and I weren’t particularly violent towards one another, but in high school, while traveling in Ghana my little brother, Ben and I were taught a simple game where two opponents hold their index and middle finger together and tuck the rest of their other fingers down. One opponent then holds those two fingers out and facing up, while the other one slaps them as hard as they can with their two similarly positioned fingers. The two players then alternate hitting the other one as hard as they can. Whichever player surrenders first loses.

            After being taught, my brother and I started playing with some Ghanaian kids, and were eventually set to play each other. We started off slowly, but it soon became clear neither of us were going to back down quickly. This game held eighteen years of sibling rivalry in it. A crowd of children started to surround us as the game became more tense. With every hit came a mix of sharp pain and amusement, a grimace mixed with laughter at our sibling’s same stubbornness and refusal to back down. The audience continued to grow, as did the swelling in our fingers. Soon enough kids were begging us to stop, wincing in pain with each turn, but neither one of us was ready to concede to the other, both ready to be the champion. Sadly, our host mom heard the screaming of kids and came outside. She (lovingly) yelled at us to stop and insisted we were both about to lose our fingers. 

            Although we have both matured since our high school days and are at an age where such childish games are discouraged, every so often my brother or I will walk up to the other, fingers poised in a position of challenge, and continue the game that was never settled. That is, until my mom walks in and yells at us to keep our hands to ourselves.

 

A conversation over text with my mother, in regards to research for this paper

            “How old was I when I was touching myself in the movie theater? Do you remember the movie and if you tried to stop me?”

            “It was at home. Probably three. I told you that you should do it in private, that’s why they’re called private parts. Don’t put this in your sketch comedy show.”

            “Lol I’m not going to.”

 

It is I, The Frog Princess

There was a hot streak where every guy I kissed had a weird name:

•   Kenneth- I didn’t know he was a prospective student until after the fact. I was only a freshman, but still, the horror, the horror. My sister found out and kindly told my mother. I’m still constantly flamed with, “well we know she’s into younger men” over holiday breaks.

•   Norbert- When I woke up the next morning I remember looking in the mirror and noticing something about me looked different. Ah yes, that was it. Half of my upper lip was swollen and purple.

•   Bjorn- It’s called luck of the Irish but I decided it was better to make out with a Scandinavian boy on St. Patrick’s day weekend. Two nights of kissing=two years of not making eye contact.

 

There are high-fives, and fist-bumps, and shoulder bumps, and more

But nothing is more fun than saying “E.T. phone home” and slowly matching one’s index finger to another’s.

 

What I said to my most recent ex upon our mutual, civil break-up, while we were both in tears

            “Just one more hug, I guess”

 

It wasn’t sexy or appreciated

When the Red Arrow camp counselor I was hooking up with spanked me, but I probably should’ve figured spending time with him was going to be horrible, seeing as how the camp motto is, Don’t wait to be a great man, be a great boy. This roughly translates to, I don’t know what the clitoris is.

 

My love languages, in order

Physical Touch

Physical Touch

Physical Touch

Physical Touch

Words of Affirmation

 

In Clutches

When I crossed the street to meet John he went in for a hug, and I sheepishly reciprocated; when he went in for the kiss I pulled away, and said I didn’t want that. Not this time, we weren’t together anymore. We sat in a cafe, and he kept initiating little touches. My knee, my lower back, my shoulder. I would push his hands away and then he would grab them to hold onto. It’s not that I didn’t want to kiss him, or hold him, but I knew the second he kissed me I would fold, and that couldn’t happen. I was already lying to my mom--saying I was with a friend-- had already lied to so many people (had lied to myself) throughout the time that was our relationship, giving false answers to why I couldn’t hang out, how I was doing, what was going on. We walked to a high school nearby and stopped on a bench. We talked, and then he tried again. I pulled away, crying, but he gently took my face in his hands and hit his target. I buckled, still crying, and kissed him back.

Sometimes abuse can look like love.

 

A list of those who have said I give the best hugs

• My Grandma

• A number of my friends

• Some Dogs

• An Uncle of mine

•   Trees

 

Advice my mother gave to me at a young age which I should have heeded but didn’t fully understand until recently

God made sex feel good otherwise there would be ten people on this earth. When you start kissing someone for the first time, and it feels good, and you want to keep kissing them, know that it’s not just them, it’s your body. These same feelings can also be produced manually or with battery operated mechanisms.

 

“Does that sound ok?”

Better than sex I think, as the hair stylist offers to give me a scalp massage with lavender aromatherapy.

 

One more minute

The first time we kissed, I just kept giggling, and you asked me why, and I told you: because I thought you didn’t like me-- because I had tried so many times to make a move, or have a sense, or get a clue, but you never gave one (and my mom and my best friend had both mentioned how obvious it was that we were into each other, and everyone kept asking if we were dating, but it was easier to deny, to push down-- how I felt-- like now, how I miss you, but I digress)--yet, there we were, in that moment; and found ourselves there again and again. You asked me if I was happy. Did you mean with you… or in general? You never specified. Yes… to both.

I think now about our mornings together. I think of how patient you were with my tossing and turning, how you were my blanket and pillow and mattress all-in-one, ever-changing. I laugh about how I insisted you get to be the little spoon, because it just didn’t seem like an opportunity afforded to guys over six feet. I somehow simultaneously stiffen and relax thinking about the panic attack you witnessed, but also think about how you rubbed my back and talked me down. I think about how we’d lay in bed, side by side, tangled together. Refusing to get up. Saying over and over, “One more minute”.

The matter-of-the-fact is, you’re 1,000 miles away. And I know I don’t need you. But still, I wonder what it would look like if we had one more minute.

 

Warm-ups

Every ultimate frisbee practice and game, my team starts off by high-fiving every single teammate. We end by clumping together, sweaty and smelly. “Teams that touch more win more,” we say before finishing off with a cheer. We won nationals last year, so something has to be working.

 

A conversation over text with my Dad, in regards to me asking for a favor

“Yes, but it will cost u -- 2 hugs” my Dad replies. We both know that I will pay it gladly, in full, with exponential interest.

 

“You have to let go of my hand”

I tell the four year old I’m teaching how to ski. My heart goes out to her, but I know she can do this by herself. I wouldn’t have taken her here if she wasn’t capable. Yet, knowing how hard it is to take that final leap-- how having a grasp on something, someone, can make you feel grounded, safe-- I give her mitten one final squeeze before pulling away, and let her off on her own.

 

Swannie Willstein (Nonfiction Winner, 2019 English Dept. Contest) is a Senior English Major from Missoula, Montana. Her list of hobbies includes excessively talking (and writing) about being the Middle Child, eating ice cream, and watching talent show auditions and movie trailers on YouTube.  She plays for the St. Olaf Women's Ultimate Frisbee team, Vortex, and is also a member of the sketch comedy ensemble INBLACK. Her Myers Briggs is ESFP, her star sign is Aquarius, and her Enneagram is a seven, if that is anything of importance.