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LCC student aspires to be a novelist

Garrett Riley

Garrett Riley is a general studies major minoring in philosophy at LCC.  Photo by Mallory Stiles

Mallory Stiles

By Mallory Stiles
Associate Editor

You know how teachers tell their students to smile at everyone, because one never knows what others are going through? No person is a finer example of why that holds up than LCC student Garrett Riley.

Riley, 18, is a general studies major minoring in philosophy. He is currently taking Sociology, U.S. History and Intro to Philosophy while also working part-time at Biggby Coffee.

Lansing is happy to have him, but it is not where he calls home.

“I was born and raised in the armpit of California called the Central Valley,” Riley said. “More food comes out of there than anywhere else in the country. I was in this tiny town called Oakdale.

“If you were from there that meant that your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were also from there. It’s a little town where no one comes in and no one leaves. … It sucks.”

Just like in a movie, he made a break for it and hit the road.

“I finished off my senior year and, as much as I loved my friends, I knew I couldn’t stay in Oakdale,” Riley said.

Riley first landed in Sun Valley, Idaho, but said his employer was working him to death for $8 an hour. He realized quickly that Sun Valley may not be the place for him, but he wasn’t going back home either.

Riley made a quick decision and called his Uncle Joe in Michigan. Luckily for LCC, Uncle Joe understood the situation and invited Riley to stay with him until he could get his feet on the ground.

It seems he can’t be stopped, but when someone can’t sit still, one may wonder… what keeps them moving? For Riley, it’s a tragedy that is all too recent.  

Riley’s parents divorced when he was 7, so he spent a lot of time going between his mom’s and dad’s house. He said from the very beginning, he preferred his dad’s house. He described his dad as “nonchalant and relaxed,” naming him as the person he still looks up to the most.

“He never wanted to receive, only give,” Riley said of his dad. “He died (in) May of last year, May 9. It’s been almost a year. That’s why I am here. My dad’s house was my safe space. When he passed away, I didn’t have that anymore.”

Riley said his dad was a firefighter for 16 years and as a result had terrible PTSD that hastily turned into a drinking problem. Riley said he still remembers all the nights his father would scream in his sleep.

To make an awful thing worse … Riley was there when his father collapsed, and was the one to call 911 and hold his hand until paramedics arrived, as some of his friends stood there terrified.

“We were there with him the whole time, constantly talking to him,” Riley said with incredible composure. “That’s what the paramedics were telling us to do. At one point, he let go of my hand for like 30 seconds and I told myself he was dead, but he came back and the paramedics took him away.”

Riley’s father was in a medical coma for two weeks, until the decision was made to shut off the machines. That decision devastated Riley but, much to his credit, he finished his senior year and crossed that graduation stage anyway.

He still struggles with grief, but he works, paints, studies, goes on nature walks and plays games with his friends to keep himself busy. Meanwhile, he also harbors a secret aspiration to be a novelist.

“I am writing a novel right now,” Riley said. “It’s called ‘The Brass Order’ and it is about the last two societies on Earth after World War III. One is called the Saints of the Red Order and the other is called the Reformed United States of America.

“Our main characters are Saints of the Red Order and they believe they are called by God to resume the rapture and, if they can kill all of the sinners, the rapture will be completed and Earth will be restored.”

Riley left behind in California a one-eyed cat named Kitty and a friend of 12 years named John Benefield. Benefield is still in California, but answered the phone to brag a little about Riley.

“Garrett’s mind is super intricate,” Benefield said. “Give him a prompt and he can find something to work with. Tell him to write a story about a manager at Walgreen’s; he’ll be able to do it in less than 20 minutes.”

Riley’s perseverance will continue to take him far, but the destination is still unknown, as it should be. He is fully aware that right now, his life is just about learning and unlearning.

“I am here to get rid of all of my preconceived notions and the idea of what my life should look like based on what other people have said,” he said. “I am here to figure it out on my own.”

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