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By Chanel Earl

At first glance, I know that I know Amanda: young, white, with no signs of an abundance of either intelligence or stupidity. Her hiking boots and chipped nails tell one story, her piercings and her vague stare another. She answers questions with plainness. She walks with a sort of quick purposelessness and stares at her phone a lot.

After a short conversation, things come into clearer focus. Has she been to college? Yes, last semester, but she had to drop out and find a job, which is why she works here. Does she like the work? She doesn’t know. Does she cook? A little. Does she read? Not really. Where does she live? With her parents.

Does she have a pet? A dog almost too small to mention and a cat that she found as a kitten, and she loves them.

About love, Amanda? Who else do you love?

A mother and father who both work a lot, but love her back. A sister, two years younger than her. A younger brother with autism. Three grandparents, all of whom live in town. A boy, a teacher, an old lady who lives down the street.

Every new piece of information I receive makes Amanda more interesting.
Who is this person? I decide to find out. It could take months, years even.

After hundreds of questions, I learn that Amanda felt most alive during her junior year of high school when she went on a field trip to Lake Michigan. The sky was gray and rainy, but it was still warm as she swam out into the lake. Her classmates were all around her, splashing and playing chicken and calling out as classmates do, but she felt alone as the soft rain fell into the water. She felt alone, and also at one with something greater than her, and ever since that moment, she has been trying to recapture that feeling. The way the rain hit the waves spoke to her soul. The way the sound crashed against her ears made her feel like she had just been born. She felt like she could die there, and life would have taught her something.

I love Amanda. And after almost a year together and 412 questions, she admits that she loves me too. And that she is glad.

After two years and 726 questions, I find out that Amanda has dreams that she is flying. She runs and jumps and soars for miles.

After five years and 1,991 questions, Amanda reveals that her deepest regret was not standing up for a second-grade friend who was being teased.

Each day, a new bit of information about Amanda: Amanda when she is happy, Amanda when she is angry, Amanda when she is sinking into a pit of self-loathing. She doesn’t like pink. And then she does like pink. She whistles the same three tunes whenever she is bored. She screams like a bear during childbirth. She cuts in line at Disneyland. She always stands up for anyone who is being treated cruelly.

After 50 years and 17,934 questions, Amanda tells me that she really does love herself, too, most of the time.

And then, on her deathbed, I look at her and know that I don’t know Amanda at all. To know her would require more questions than anyone, even me, who can’t remember life without her, would ever have time to ask.


Chanel Earl received her MFA in Fiction in 2021. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated writer whose stories and essays have appeared in such publications as Smokelong Quarterly, Granfalloon, The Account, Enchanted Conversations, and Wayfare Magazine. She currently teaches undergraduate writing at BYU and works as the fiction editor for Exponent ii. To read more of her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @chanels.stories.