Scriber Lake HS students continue ‘speaking the truth’ in latest book reading

Scriber Lake High English teacher Marjie Bowker speaks during the Q&A session.

In 2011, Scriber Lake High School English teacher Marjie Bowker asked her students if they wanted to share what they were writing. “What’s your story?” she asked.

One student stood up and read, followed by another student and then another. The storytelling sparked the publication of the first book We Are Absolutely Not Okay in 2012, which is a compilation of stories from 14 students who shared their personal experiences and struggles with drug and physical abuse, gender identity, violence and depression.

“I Used to Carry It All” is the ninth book of the Scriber Lake High student series.

Twelve years later, the book project continues with the publication of I Used to Carry It All, which was presented at the Edmonds Waterfront Center on Tuesday. Nine authors were from the latest book, although one chose not to read. Three of the authors read from their COVID-era book, This Smile Is for Everyone Else, which was published in 2021 and did not get a release party.  

Located on the Edmonds School District’s Woodway Campus in Edmonds, Scriber Lake is a small alternative learning high school of approximately 150 students in grades 9-12.

“Having these stories out in our community allowed many people to really see Scriber students for the first time – their courage, resilience, all-around coolness, their insistence on speaking the truth,” Bowker said at the start of the event. “So here we are, still building on that original spark, following the same model that worked in the first year. Students choose to remember the colors, sounds and textures of their greatest fears and heartbreaks. For their own self-knowledge and healing, they choose to share them because they want others to find that same healing.”

Scriber Lake High students wait for the event to start.
Scriber Lake High School alumnus Carolina Mooney (with her 3-year-old child) participated in the first book “We Are Absolutely Not Okay” in 2012.

Many in the audience were Scriber Lake High alumni with their family members and friends, who had contributed to previous books. Among them was Caroline Mooney, who was an author in the first book, and Kelly Machaveli. “These writers are sitting here tonight because of the courage of all those who came before them,” Bowker said. 

Scriber Lake High alumni Arielle Effenberger (Class of 2017) shared a part of her story, “Daddy’s Girl,” an open letter to her father.

Scriber Lake High School alumni Arielle Effenberger reads a part of “Daddy’s Girl.”

“Maybe one day I will be able to enjoy the twinkling lights and snow…and the crisp air in my lungs,” she read. “For now, they all remind me of the whiskey that got me through the last Christmas and how we argued that whole time. [He gave me] that bracelet and how my stomach boiled with rage…our relationship was anything but loving…I couldn’t be angry at you – because I was you.”

Effenberger had made plans to have coffee to make amends on her father’s birthday, but he died before that could happen, leaving her with the bracelet as a reminder of him.

“When I wrote that, I was like…not in the best place,” she said. “I had over a year of writing under my belt, but I was still reeling from all the grief I had faced…especially with the losing of my dad. Today I am almost two years sober, and that’s cool because I thought I’d be dead by now.” 

The room roared with applause. Effenberger said she will be starting her undergraduate program in human services next week to help people in treatment centers. “Maybe [I’ll] major in psychology later on and work as a school psychologist.”

Wisteria Ray reads from “Cradling Grief”

Scriber Lake High alumni Wisteria Ray (Class of 2023) shared her grief after her uncle Anthony died during her junior year. In her story, “Cradling Grief,” Ray stayed home for almost a week and missed school to grieve for her uncle while her mother insisted that she go back to school on Monday.

“I was angry at my mother for pushing, I was angry at myself for grieving and I was angry at Anthony for dying,” Ray said. “He wasn’t supposed to die. He was sober – the one guy who was sober for years on his side of the family. His brothers were riddled with alcohol and drugs, and he was the one to get cancer – and die. He was the only one who could get me through this grief. He had a way of helping everyone with hard emotions, but he was dead…and I was angry.”

Scriber Lake High School student Andrew Barnes reads a part of “Mirror Mirror.”

Scriber Lake High student Andrew Barnes shared his experience in “Mirror Mirror” about being transgender after eighth grade. He remembered looking at himself in a mirror and noted every detail of his face. “The smile that I faked in so many pictures at church,” he read. “After taking it all in, I spoke words to the mirror that seemed to have no meaning: ‘You’re a girl.’ 

“Keeping eye contact on my image, I spoke the word ‘she,’” Barnes continued. “The word made me cringe and jump in my skin. Trying again with ‘they,’ ‘them’…those words don’t feel right either. Hesitating before, trying once more, I barely whispered the word ‘he.’ Goosebumps. That felt right…And even with that fear, I was tired of wearing the mask of someone else for 14 years. I knew it was time to take it off and stop hiding.”

Scriber Lake High student Jesus Ruiz poses in front of his artwork that was used in the book “I Used to Carry It All.”

During the Q&A session, when the authors were asked how they felt to be heard and seen, the book’s artist Jesus Ruiz exclaimed, “It’s weird! Stop!” The audience laughed and applauded.

“I struggled with eating disorder for several years, and it felt really nice to talk about it, like what it was like to recover,” said Scriber Lake High senior Madelenn Markfield.

“I was actually scared to [share] my story because nobody would take it seriously,” said Scriber Lake High alumni Emil MacDonald (Class of 2021). “So far everybody has, which is really nice. I want people to know that they’re not alone and things can get better.”

Student Madelenn Markfield reads from “Drive.”
Student Kelbi Maldonado reads a part of “Pieces.”

Bowker said in an email that she and her students did not publish a book in 2018 because of the death of a Scriber teacher and a “very close friend” – Liza Behrendt – and also didn’t publish in 2020 because of the pandemic. They were almost done completing the 2020 book when the state ordered a lockdown. 

“We didn’t publish the last two years for a few reasons,” Bowker said. “It was really hard to get momentum back after COVID. The energy had built up over such a long time, and then suddenly we couldn’t meet and perpetuate the sharing of stories (we used to have lots of assemblies, etc). It seemed like we had to start from scratch when it had been so organic to start with. Also, I lost my writing class for a semester (that is a class that kids signed up for to edit for publication) because we needed another regular English class, so that slowed things up as well.”

Bowker would like the writing program to continue, but given the recent Edmonds School District budget cuts, she said that they may have a skeleton crew next school year. She added that the school is losing two full-time teaching positions, some crucial support staff, and one of the vice principals

“We don’t know how we are going to survive it and give kids what they need. We have always been able to surround our students with so much support,” Bowker said. “But how can we do that when we are losing so much? It’s really all we talk about at lunch these days.”

Alumnus Emil MacDonald reads a part of “Ghosting.”
Attendees line up to purchase books at the Edmonds Bookshop table.

Toward the end of the event, many people lined up at the Edmonds Bookshop booth to purchase the book and mingled with the authors. One attendee who bought the book sat outside of the Waterfront Center and started to read it on a bench.

“Many students expressed gratitude to me last night because of this specific project, but Scriber staff work as a team, and we are all on board with co-creating successful futures with our kids,” Bowker said. “Every single teacher at Scriber would have similar statements made about them by our students if asked. Collectively, we provide a safe place for them to land and to figure things out.”

“I have been a part of many different staff dynamics in my career, and this current Scriber staff is very strong,” Bowker continued. “We all give 100% – no slackers!”

I Used to Carry It All is the ninth book of the Scriber Lake High student series, published by Steep Stairs Press.

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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