People & Places

YWP: ‘Searching Eyes’

Young Writers Project, an independent nonprofit based in Burlington, engages young people to write and use digital media to express themselves with clarity and power, and to gain confidence and skills for school, the workplace and life.

Check out the most recent issue of The Voice, Young Writers Project’s monthly digital magazine. Click here.

Each week, VTDigger features a writing submission – an essay, poem, fiction or nonfiction – accompanied by a photo or illustration from Young Writers Project.

YWP publishes about 1,000 students’ work each year here, in newspapers across Vermont, on Vermont Public Radio and in YWP’s monthly digital magazine, The Voice. Since 2006, it has offered young people a place to write, share their photos, art, audio and video, and to explore and connect online at For more information, please contact Susan Reid at [email protected].

Photo by Deanna Davis-Kilpatrick of Essex Junction

Janet McIntosh Barkdoll, 17, of Shoreham, wrote this story in response to a Young Writers Project prompt to use the following line in a story: “Alone on the beach, she watched the waves ….”

Searching Eyes

By Janet McIntosh Barkdoll

Click below to hear Janet read her work.

Alone on the beach, she watched the waves and longed for their salty kisses on her bare feet. The woman wore a deep blue dress of soft, flowing cotton. Her bright eyes were hidden behind black sunglasses and her chin rested on the top of her closed hand. Her elbow pressed into the arm of her chair. The woman’s feet rested upon the sand, the criss-crossing pattern from her vacant sandals burned onto the tops of her feet in tan. Just the natural tan from spending so much time outdoors. It was not a tan the woman had worked or paid for. It was one that grew as she soaked up the sun on hikes and inhaled cool, sea-sprayed air on the coast.

The woman’s hands were home to several rings, silver and light gold ones that she’d worn since high school; on her wrist, a light gold-rimmed watch on a small white leather band – also worn since her teenage years.

The woman’s eyes followed the waves in and out as they always had. They moved continuously, spotting glimmers and searching. Her eyes had always searched. Searched for broken glass on her driveway, age 17. For the perfect dangle earrings, age 22. For a home, just right for her, age 28. For a life that made her happy, age 41. For comfortable clothes and the money to send her kids to college, age 53. For resolution and acceptance, age 67. For a place where her eyes could do all the searching they wished while her legs could no longer wander with them, age 68. For love, friends, companionship, good food, music, laughter, colors, and kindness, all her life.

Her eyes and heart were still searching but her legs were not. A fall had broken her hip and left her sitting in a chair. Now, she watched the waves instead of walking in them. And her feet only rested on the sand instead of digging and squirming into it.

⬥ ⬥ ⬥ ⬥ ⬥

Nobody is close to perfect. The woman recognized and fully believed this. She hoped, however, that she had come to terms with her broken hip in an admirable and recognition-worthy way. She thought of her mother, and how her mama had always given her brother and her credit and recognition for handling things and coping in appropriate ways. It was the sort of recognition that her mother made sure to give because it highlighted the efforts her children made as they grew into young adults, adults, parents, and individuals. The woman liked to think her mother would have been proud of the way she handled her broken hip. She hadn’t moped around and felt sorry for herself, but had looked for ways to make the best of her situation.

The woman sat on the beach and searched with her eyes. She noticed new things now. She didn’t find shells and sea glass pieces the way she had when she walked in the waves. Instead, the woman noticed the birds, and the flowers, and the patterns of light and dark that the waves spread out across the sand. She took up painting to capture her surroundings. She thought of her mother often. She realized how lucky she had been in life and she wondered for hours how it was that atoms in the universe had been tossed around just enough to create this life.

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