DINA PEONE

This story is courtesy of Go Fund Me

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Dina Peone

Location: Georgia, USA

Date Of Injury: January 19, 2016

Ten years ago this spring, I was skipping school to sleep. Tenth grade was barely entertaining me for the second time in a row. At fifteen, I had failed every class but Art and English— not because I was unintelligent, but because I was falling apart emotionally. Writing, painting, and playing guitar were the only outlets I had made available for myself in order to cope with major depression. What I wanted more than anything was to become a successful writer. I stayed up all night writing and then I couldn’t wake up in the morning for homeroom. You might ask what a fifteen year old girl could possibly have to write about, or be depressed about. Since age eleven, I had been seeing psychotherapists weekly. In 1999, my parents and household had split down the center of my prepubescent heart. (This all sounds so silly in retrospect.)Then, in 2005, I had six years of journal writing to reflect on and analyze. One thing I had noticed was how my therapists, besides suggesting the maximum adult dose of antidepressants to a girl whose breasts were still growing, had mainly offered me a more articulate language model for expressing my pain. I developed a system of metaphors in my poetry: the rage of fire, the mourning of missing limbs, feeling comatose before people could take notice. I was even hospitalized once, overnight, for suicidal ideation. All of this made more sense when I almost accidentally burned to death on April 21st, 2005.

On April 20th, the last day I remember being a “normal” teenage girl, I said goodbye to my guidance counselor and boarded a bus to a local center for alternative education. I was offered this option as a more comfortable and “safer” space for me to continue my learning and study for my GED. High School, it seemed, was destroying me more than anything else. Now I had something to look forward to— an expeditious journey to college. I went one day at this new institution… and this glimmer of hope is the last thing I remember about my old life. That night, I woke to a room on fire. Nothing would ever be the same.

Because of a candle, I was burned 68% of my body to the third degree. I was given seventy-two hours to live. Because of a candle, I had two fingers amputated and lost most range of motion in my upper body. I slept in a coma for almost three months. I woke on my seventeenth birthday, permanently disabled and disfigured. I remember thinking, “Well this feels about right for the story of my life.” I would have written a song about it, if I were still able to play guitar. But my arms were in restraints. I was bandaged and splinted. Even if my limbs were naked and free, holding a pen was impossible. I could only wiggle the three fingers on my right hand, which is still all I can do ten years later.

To tell you the truth, I was quietly thrilled to finally have a real story to tell. Even though my house had burned down, I still had my journals— the ones with the metaphors about fire, missing limbs, and being in a coma. This ironic and unlikely survival presented itself to me as an opportunity for a second chance… not only at life, but at storytelling.

Thus I began years of recovery, of grueling physical rehabilitation, and reconstructive surgeries. I spent the first year relearning how to walk, talk, feed myself, use the bathroom, and anything else that involves the hands and arms. I remember being very happy that I didn’t have to be in high school anymore. Now I had a pretty good excuse to sleep in! Some time passed, I had a few more surgeries, and I changed my mind. I wanted to make the ultimate badass return to high school.

I was re-enrolled in tenth grade (for the third time!) in 2006, feeling more powerful than ever. My friends from before the fire had graduated and were gone. I quickly learned, with comments from new peers like “crispy dyke” or “gimp,” that I belonged there even less than before. I dropped out, went to night school, and got my GED in 2007. It would be four years and a few more surgeries before I even thought about college. In this time I contracted Lyme disease and was treated with three months’ worth of heavy oral and intravenous antibiotics. In 2011, I registered for classes at SUNY Ulster with an IV picc line in my arm. I was worried about how I would carry books or study with my newly implanted wire and such intense migraines.

At any rate, I was going to become a freelance writer.

SUNY Ulster did not offer a major in writing. I worked toward an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts: Humanities and Social Sciences. In two years, I earned the following:

the Braby/Blackwell Memorial Award;

the Vincent M. Rabuffo Memorial Scholarship;

the “Start Here. Go Far.” Achievement award (for students who have overcome obstacles to find success;

the Ron Marquette Writer’s Scholarship;

the Gail Godwin Honorary Award (for writers);

a Student Support Services scholarship;

an Education Grant for Burn Survivors;

I became a member of Phi Theta Kappa

and the Editor-in-Chief of SLATE: the campus art and literature magazine.

I was one of nine students to graduate with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. At my graduation ceremony, I earned the President’s Medal of Highest Honor.

I transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in January 2013. My first choice. The single-most expensive four-year institution in the U.S. and I had found my way there on merit-based scholarships alone. It was at Sarah Lawrence where I was free to study writing exclusively. I went back to SUNY Ulster a few months later to be the only recipient of the President’s Award for the Pursuit of Excellence in Academics.

After three semesters at Sarah Lawrence with a 4.0 GPA, I received the Allan and Whitney Blake Manings Scholarship for Creative Writing. Other achievements at Sarah Lawrence include: the founding and production of five volumes of “the Cliffhanger.,” an art and literary anthology for fragments; I worked as an editor on the Cliffhanger. as well as The Sarah Lawrence Review; I wrote feature articles for The Phoenix, the campus’ student-run newspaper; and I got an internship with McCormick & Williams, an independent literary agency. Since September 2014, I am the Publication Space Manager on campus. I act as a mentor to all student-run publications, new and old.

This semester is my last before graduation. I volunteer for a weekly writing workshop in the Westchester County Correctional Facility. In my spare time, I offer a free writing workshop in Saugerties, NY. Upon recommendation of faculty, I will be featured as the Student Profile in Sarah Lawrence Magazine’s upcoming spring issue. I applied to six graduate schools for an MFA in Nonfiction Writing. I got into the University of Iowa.

Iowa is ranked # 1 for Creative Writing in America. I was one of ten students to be selected from over 1,000 applications! I was given full tuition remission and a teaching appointment in the English Department of Rhetoric. A new chapter of my life begins this fall. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, and I have worked very hard for it, against all odds.

Ten years ago, when my mother and sister had to act as my hands for me, I was completely helpless as an individual. Now I am moving with just my cat to the middle of the country, where I will be fully independent for the first time in my life. I am going to rent an apartment, buy a car, and take the biggest step toward success that any aspiring writer could hope for: an MFA at Iowa.

This is a dream come true. At Iowa, I will complete my memoir about becoming a burn survivor in the form of a thesis. I will refine my abilities in all aspects of the genre, including essays. But in order to get settled in, I need all the help I can get. I have determined I will need at least $5000 to get started. When I sign a lease, I will need to make a deposit of up to $2000. I will need to pay university fees upfront before I can begin the semester. I will have to furnish my apartment and obtain transportation. My teaching appointment at the university will help me afford to live there alone, but the first two months will be hard without help. My fundraising goal is $5000 by July 2nd, 2015 (my twenty-seventh birthday).

I will be so incredibly grateful for any amount of support you can offer. If you are interested in reading the 30-page sample of my memoir that I included in my application to the program, I can be reached at dinapeone@gmail.com. Thank you for your time and consideration. Your support and interest in my story means the world to me.

Sincerely,

Dina Peone