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Tyler Gamboa, 2024 2nd place Creative Nonfiction

Submissions for the Creative Non-Fiction category are open to one work of creative nonfiction completed for coursework in the last calendar year. Submissions should not exceed 20 pages. Tyler Gamboa wrote the 2nd place submission in the Creative Nonfiction Category for the 2024 President’s Writing Awards.

About Tyler

Tyler in mostly black clothing with copious amounts of jewelry laughing in with a branch covering his face a bit.

Hello, my name is Tyler and I am pursuing a Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical communications major and minor in physics. I’ve always enjoyed writing ever since I was small, but my pursuit of my major is in large part due to a teacher I had in high school, so thanks a lot Ms. Hibbard! I like to draw, read, take pictures, and play D&D in my free time. Thanks for taking the time to read my work, hope you enjoy it!

Winning Manuscript – Walls

Day 1: Introductions

Walking into the clinic was a moment I will never forget. I had heard the infamous stories of Cottonwood from those around me, using the inpatient as a threat to get me to ‘behave.’ Even with these in mind I wanted to go in with an open mind, and see how these plot points that have happened really affected me- I want to leave already. The air in the room felt different as I greeted the lady at the front desk – What does she think of me? What should I say?

How should I act to seem as okay as possible? Can i le-

“Hey, are you here for the group today?” “… Uhh yeah…”

“Well that’s great! I just need to grab your name and check in right here. There’s also some paperwork I need you to fill out and then you can head into the room.”

I wrote my name down on the check-in paper, noting every single name above mine, making note of their handwriting attempting to see if I could get a sense of any of their personalities – Why am I so worried about this? I can talk to people well, I shouldn’t be worried. Okay name name name, shit I can’t remember their names. Why am I the only one in the waiting room? I was optimistic about my chances at making friends and connecting with everyone at this group. As my first challenge of talking to the front desk had been completed I moved forward in the storyline of today, quietly filling out the paperwork they handed me – How honest should I be? What would get me in trouble? Well, true enough anyways. I handed the front desk assistant the paperwork and in a very calming but enthusiastic voice, “Great, thank you so much! The door is the first door down the hall right there. Good Luck!” The timer to leave starts.

As soon as I stepped through the door the cast of characters there darted their eyes at me for what could have only been a split second – Stop looking at me, why is everyone looking at me, please stop. I don’t want to be here, what are they thinking? Do my clothes look okay? God, I hate this, stop. Let me be Invisible. Walking into this room I felt like the new kid at a different school with the band of misfits sitting in the room reminded me of how something like the breakfast club depicted it, just, in a room that looked like it was made for interrogations. The light was mainly over the center of the room, with the rectangular table sitting directly under it – this is where I’ll have therapy? Batman could come out of that corner to question me and I wouldn’t even question it. Besides the dreary room, I took note of what everyone was doing, and every single person was just on their own occupying the vacant time. Two girls were talking to each other, someone else doing something on their phone, and one other girl colouring what I think is some form of wooden toy. There was still some time before the group actually started and so, choosing to interact as little as possible, I sat my ass down at the corner of the table, rehearsing the lines of what may be to come. What will be my answer to the typical Ice Breaker questions? What are my favourite things? What are my favourite things? How do I not remember them??? Each thought allowed for another to follow through, hopefully some of them I can say out loud. Probably not

Time refused to stop for me no matter how much I begged for it to and the surreal nature of actually being here settled in, I gave myself comfort and solace by doing what everyone does; Everyone is nervous, not just me, just act confident at the very least. Determined to not allow my nerves to make it even more awkward I resigned myself to the prepared lines – Yes, gaslight yourself, calm the nerves.

Everyone slowly began to congregate around the questioning table, seemingly all a bit awkward

Okay you sat across from me, you are dressed similarly to me, okay, okay. Is my outfit better? I have genuinely no idea what I am doing. I haven’t made eye contact yet, is that weird? Is it weirder to no-

“Okay, well let’s get started then. I will be heading your group, I’ve already met with you individually but you haven’t met each other yet”

the most predictable, yet worst outcome

“Here are a few questions, pair off with another and they will introduce you to the rest of us.”

I panic for approximately three seconds as I realize… the script requires me to improvise for the next section. I’ve become accustomed to improvisation but it will always be something I will dread. I remember my eyes darting to all corners that were in direct eye shot, taking note of the surroundings like my life was being threatened, looking for a way I could evade the worst sin of all, eye contact – Why am I like this? Unfortunately, I found no way out of this and so with all my prepared lines I entered the dialogue.

“Hey, my name’s Whitney, what’s yours?”

“What’s good, my name’s Tyler. Also just to let you know I love your earrings.”

If you are wondering why I would say something like that after all this time preparing my answers for this exact moment, I really couldn’t tell you – Why are you even trying, you’ll end up alone again anyway. You might as well give up, you aren’t needed. Regardless of my panicked divergence from what I could predict, the conversation continued.

“Oh my god thank you, I love the chains you are wearing!”

“Thank you my guy, they were a gift and I haven’t taken them off since”

“That’s so sick this necklace came from…”

The rest of the conversation is one that I can’t remember for specifics, nor do I need to. It was one of the first conversations I just decided to be who I am, nothing put up, even if only a little. The words left my mouth like a song and the air reverberated in joy at the sound of the unfamiliar tune. Though brief, the conversation stood the test of time in my memory where it chooses to remain. Even though the rhythm of my words rang a beautiful melody, eventually the script had to get back as planned as we then had to introduce each other to the rest of the group. Quickly answering the questions to each other we did our best not to embarrass ourselves and answered with confidence as to not raise suspicion. Was it a success? To me yes, as we laughed our way through our own introduction and as time moved forward the conversation continued to linger in my head.

Crack, a glimmer of light shines through

Day 36: Social Hour

I walk in the clinic like every other week. About twelve minutes early like usual with a monster or seven in hand or bag and a thing of cookies for the front desk. I strike up my usual conversation with them as I check in, giving them the little life updates. I used to know their names and we would have genuine conversations but they leave me now. After a bit the conversation switches.

“I heard it’s your last day today, how are you feeling?”

“Imma keep it real with you, I’m doing okay but it’s a bit strange.”

“It’s your last day though we are gonna miss you and your little adventures.”

“I know, I know, I have the best stories, but I did get you guys something as a thank you for dealing with my dumbass.”

I pulled out the cookies and handed them to them with an embarrassed grin as all of the ladies behind the desk started laughing with what I could’ve sworn was a tinge of sadness. I took the paperwork I was so accustomed to filling out by then, answering the same things I normally did simply to get it done. We all came to learn that the actual checklist they made us fill out was unimportant and mainly an obligatory thing the clinic has to do, at the very least, that’s how we began to view it.

Serenity, Ryleigh, Zach, and Whitney were all already there as I was always, the last to arrive, which always impressed me. My arrival was met with a sarcastic applause as I took a bow in front of them.

“I come with our lifeline”

I took out the monsters and handed everyone their favourite flavours I had come to know all too well, which was met with laughter and appreciation.

Our conversation continues, as it had for these last few months, to the people I could now call genuine friends. Talking to them was easy and I grew fond of the conversations we shared as we approached the end of the hero’s journey. The intricacies of the conversation are left to that moment fragments being remembered, as many of the conversations were insignificant, ones in which I wasn’t anxious, ones that don’t need to be ingrained.

you aren’t going to see them after today/if that were to happen I have the memories I made here.


I relished in the conversation as they told me whatever gossip was happening throughout their day.

“Ryleigh, Ain’t no way, you finally talked to him?”

“Dude yes, its real, it only took like 2 weeks of awkwardly staring but like slay” “Dawg, finally, took you long enough numb nutt.”

It may have only been five minutes before we were told to go into the room, but that conversation could have lasted forever.

it can’t though

And that’s what makes it worth doing. Crack.

We were all sitting down still talking about whatever stupid shit we could imagine. In those halls our laughter would echo as if the walls themselves laughed with us.

The room itself had gotten the lights to work and was now much brighter and the walls were covered in the random things that we have done for the group. Terrible drawings depicting what only god could tell, just, any form of art we decided to put up. There was also the prized lego set that we built and presented on its own table like the trophy it is. We all sat around the table like elementary school kids during their lunch break socialising and reminiscing. The day itself felt unimportant, like any other, just friends talking.

that’s because you are unimportant to them

even by some miracle that is true, they choose to listen and converse. Crack.

The head of the group, which cycled between three people at this point, finally shut us up as she addressed us this last time.

“Well everyone, you all made it to the end and I could not have hoped for a better group than this. We have all had moments during these twelve weeks, but I could not be prouder about the progress you all have made, and you should be too.”

You shouldn’t be, you haven’t gotten better

that’s just factually incorrect. You’ve become quieter. Crack.

“We are so cool for that.” was the only retort I could make.

“I mean it, you all should be proud. I have nothing planned for your guys final day, just have fun. There are also some snacks but that’s about it.”

It was the end of March by this time and the sun was finally gracing us with its warm glow. The timer ticking in my head had gone through its own metamorphosis, it had evolved into the countdown for our farewell. The symphony of our conversation rang true throughout the room, our voices perfectly harmonious with each other, not one voice out of tune. We took stupid pictures I still have, and still treasure. We ate our cookies reliving our best moments from it and just being happy, a once foreign feeling.

you’ll never get this feeling back

Even if we don’t talk anymore I know I will find more people for me, they taught me that. Crack. The countdown did not cease to tick down and not a single second was wasted. There wasn’t a silent moment, every, last, second, was filled with the jubilee of each other’s company.Though the joy of this moment can be felt, the somber undertone in the air grew worse with every second gone by. At last the countdown ceased as it reached zero and we approached the last pages of the script coming to an end, with one final prepared soliloquy to give to them.

it’s cringey and embarrassing don’t do it

I want them to know how important they were, they’ve seen me at my worst, it’s literally my last chance. Crack.

With a smile on my face, I began to sing my melody.

“Before we all leave I just want to let everyone know that you’ve done more for me than any of you can imagine. I don’t wanna get like too emotional but, genuinely, the impact you have had is pretty fucking big, I’m glad we were all forced to come.”

I will never leave, you won’t escape me

I’m done living your story, I will create my own tale and you will watch like I did. Crack.

Tears began to fall from all with no exceptions. The social hour we had all grown accustomed to then concluded with one last thing. Whitney looked me in the eyes and told me,

“You just had to say something you dipshit.”

Laughter was able to slip through our sorrow as our footsteps could be heard leaving the door, one last time. Some of those people I never really did see again not out of malice, our paths just diverged. I see and text some of them from time to time, but even if I never see any of them again they’ve carved a permanent spot in my memory.. This memory of them will forever live with me and will live on as a reminder to me that no matter how hard I try, there will be people to see me for who I really am, and they will choose to be by my side.

Crash, it falls to the ground.