Month: November 2012

Confidantes, Only Not

It was finally getting cold, but there wasn’t snow. The frigid air caused my throat to contract in the most masochistically delightful way, but there was none of that satisfying crunch under my feet as I walked, no downy white carpet of new possibility under my feet as I shuffled back from class.

In literature, or so I’ve been told, snow symbolizes death: in the winter, everything freezes over and the leaves die, along with everyone’s hopes or dreams or whatever. Snow has never been that to me, though. It has always been a new beginning. Crystalline white flaking from the sky, blanketing the ground and dusting the trees tells me that I have survived the fall and made it to an equally fresh, pure start.

In no hurry, I hoisted myself up onto a concrete ledge and walked along it heel-to-toe, arms out like a child pretending to be an airplane. It’s not like I would be getting anything done if I walked faster. The nice thing about living somewhere I know minimal people is I can behave stupidly in public far more often. I started singing, too, just for the hell of it.

The sky was the murkiest, darkest gray, and it felt like it was sagging down, weighing on me.  I am Atlas, bearer of the world, I thought sarcastically, my backpack tugging down equally hard on my aching spine. On an impulse, I sat down on the ledge, hunched forwards.

In my peripherals, I saw Jamie coming down the sidewalk.  Weird, I thought, since she doesn’t even go here… I stiffened up as she approached and sat down beside me.

“Are you… alright?” She asked. I realized I probably had huge bags under my eyes and was tearing up a bit.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I dragged my scratchy sweater sleeves over both my eyes.

She looked at me sternly. “If you ever want to talk, I’m here.”

I stared at mt feet. I’d been hearing this a lot lately-people saying they’d be there if I ever needed them, then ignoring me later. Standing up, I took one last look at her, nodded, and walked away.

I’ve confided in her a lot lately, and, oddly, it’s never made me feel any better. If I ever want to talk, she’s there, there for me to salt my wounds in front of her, and she extends an arm in support, but really she doesn’t lift me up at all. There’s not a fine line between listening and judging. There’s a thick line. But I’d never bothered to look for it, I’d always been too trusting. It’s funny that it took me so many years to realize the blatant difference between someone listening as a friend and as a superior.

Holy, holy, Jamie. She’d be there, no doubt, if I slipped into the corner in a dark room or my finger slipped down my throat. What a great friend I am, she’d think to herself, here to help this sad little girl. In my mind’s eye, I saw her chin raise a little with an air of superiority.

I’ve watched enough people I love hurt themselves that I promised myself that if I ever needed professional help, I would get it right away, pride and shame entirely aside. I would be honest with myself. And yes, friends are meant to pick each other up when they’re falling, but I don’t need to be under the auspice of a friend. Whether it was my ease and trust in confiding or just my personality type, I unwittingly gave Jamie a therapist complex.

But I don’t need a therapist. I need a friend. If I were to get in trouble, (which I don’t plan to), I would take care of myself. I need friends for the other purpose: to keep me company. As I walked away from Jamie, I straightened my shoulders to full height despite my heavy backpack straps, knowing that though there were people I could confide in, I could take care of myself. Sparse snowflakes began wafting down from the grey sky. 

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Wallflower Island, Population One

         

  The room was dark and humid. I was dark and humid. I felt like part of the air as I leaned back against the wall and I silently observed, meditated on what was going on around me. The bright white rims of red plastic cups stuck out like glowing rings from the dim background of swaying bodies in the low light. My hands slid into my pockets, then out again. I shifted my weight.

            “Jackie, are you having fun?” A voice came from beside me, materializing out of nowhere. Tony’s voice.

            “Yeah,” I shrugged.

            “Be honest,” he looked at me more intently.

            “Yeah,” I said again, bobbing my head for emphasis.

            “If you want to leave, just tell me,” he said earnestly, taking a sip from his Solo cup mystery drink.

            “No, I’m good, I promise,” I reassured him, tucking my hair behind my ears. “You should pick when we go, I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

            The conversation stopped short there, which was probably for the best. The song changed then: transitioned from some run-of-the-mill Auto Tune to Electric Feel.  Though it definitely wasn’t a masterpiece, it was a weathered old man in the pop song world that was bound to retire soon, I never got sick of it. The music lifted me and I felt myself begin swaying, swinging my hips, arms, legs…

            All along the western front, Tony still faced me, swaying also, his lips moving to the song. I stared back, and actually sang. People line up to receive. She’s got the power in her hands, to shock you like you won’t believe.

            Whenever I felt myself getting too loose, I’d straighten up, keeping myself in-check. With my other friends, I would have been able to dance however I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, my gut feeling about Tony was good, and I’m generally a good judge of character, but he was the only person in the room I knew, and by “know” I mean “he lives in my dorm,” which isn’t really a lot to go off of. Why did I go with him and his friends in the first place? I was sick of feeling alone, trapped up in my room. Teenage angst pushed me out the door, down the stairs, and into a pack of friendly intoxicated men I barely knew.

            The song ended all too soon. “Hey, do you want to go?” he asked.

            I shrugged. “If you do.”

            Reading my actual thoughts all too well, he started for the door and I followed. “Hey, you’re from my calc class!,” an exuberant girl in zebra print leggings exclaimed, smiling widely at me as I squeezed between her and a guy with an LMFAO-quality fro. I really hoped people’s drunk reactions to me reflected their sober thoughts- if so, then hot damn was I loved. A handful of people had said things like this to me.

            The stairwell was bright white compared to the dorm we’d just left. I blinked and waited expectantly on the top step. Tony caught up to me from behind, swaying a bit. His hand bumped mine. Honestly, I hadn’t been thinking about hand-holding on the way here. I had been sizing him up out of the corner of my eye to be sure I could kick his ass in the event that he may try to grab mine, especially once we’d lost the rest of our group.

            Don’t fall over,” I said, watching Tony sway dangerously far forward. Oddly, though, he maintained extreme composure for someone who had consumed the quantities of vodka that he had. Walking to the party, his friends were giddily making plans to play pong in a lecture hall (“We could play pong in Science Center C!”) and cracking jokes about my last name, Tony stayed surprisingly composed. For what it’s worth, he was a pleasant drunk.

            Though our walk home, there was no hand-holding or ass-grabbing. Just the way I like it. He did ask about my last name, though.

            “Valentine? Bet you got some shit in middle school for that one, I’m sorry,” he commented as we stood at a stoplight. “Not a great name for a feminist.”

            “Beg to differ,” I offered, pulling my hair back. “Yeah, sure, there’s Valentine’s Day, but Saint Valentine was an martyr. He was someone who was willing defend what he believed in, even if he had to suffer.”

            I watched Tony chew the cud on that one. He nodded and a small smile lingered on his face. I think he liked it. Meanwhile, I was digesting being called a feminist. I definitely knew I was one, technically speaking, and that, yeah, it’s definitely a compliment, but it still always caught me off-guard. Feminist. I suppose I just don’t live my life going through my daily activities thinking, hey, I’m running or lifting or raising my hand in class… wait, I’m female.

            A pack of girls in a rainbow of tight miniskirts had to pass us before I realized the walk signal had turned on. I nodded to Tony, and we crossed back to campus.

            Standing in front of the sink, I splashed my face with cold water. Anyone else goes out and doesn’t think at all. I go out and overthink everything. Hmm. There’s why I never go out. After drying my face, I looked at the girl in the mirror. Her face was red from the water and rough towel. Her cheeks were round and her face was sober and strong-jawed, but soft, with bright eyes. Though she didn’t always know what she was doing, she could wing it and take care of herself decently well. It was then I realized I liked her a lot. 

Waiting Room

         

  It’s like it has never even occurred to waiting-room-chair manufacturers that it is a terrible idea to mold the chair to the curve of a butt. For one thing, I thought while selecting a seat along the waiting room wall, the idea of butt-molded plastic is just weird. Also, I noted as I sat down, not all butts are created equal, proportionally, at least. The chair-butt-shape was probably a perfect fit for someone somewhere, at least at one point, but it definitely didn’t fit mine, or probably that of most people who use this waiting room.

            My eyes wandered the eggshell-colored walls, resting for a moment on the wooden rack next to the receptionist’s desk. It was one of those pamphlet racks filled with brightly colored brochures that boldly claim to, in a mere three illustrated panels, help you resolve any issue from teen pregnancy to suicide thoughts.

            I checked my phone idly, knowing full well that no one had texted me. Ephemerally, I wished I had brought my math homework to plow away at. Alas, there is no point in wishing for things I can’t have. I just have to make the best of the moment I am in. In this situation, “the best” was clearly going into the bathroom and making faces in the mirror.

            Unfortunately, though, this particular bathroom was the single-stall kind, and I heard a dull knock on the door after only a few puffer-fish faces and muscle flexes. On the bright side, though, having to leave saved me the inward humiliation of having lost a bit of bicep lately, and from the limited humor of chipmunk cheeks as my only distinctive facial feature.

            I returned to my chair, butt still not conforming to the butt-puzzle of the plastic’s shape. Yet again I set my eyes free to wander, and yet again they wound up resting on the rack of pamphlets. I felt myself stand up, and let my feet carry me to the rack. Examining the selection, I picked up bubblegum-pink “Teen Pregnancy,” figuring I could carry it around and give people a scare.

            Then I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. Pulling it out, the words “Where are you?” hovered in a smoky text-bubble midscreen. “At the doctor’s, be there soon,” I replied. I set “Teen Pregnancy” down, and my fingers gravitated towards “Helping A Friend.” Back in the (dis)comfort of my chair, I opened the pamphlet. I skimmed over Signs of Alcoholism, Signs of Depression, and all their terrifying cohorts. Where my eyes rested was How To Help.

            Make Yourself Available. I handle that decently, I think. Don’t be judgmental. Offer emotional support, patience, and encouragement. Though I try my best at these, it seems almost impossible to do them perfectly, especially in light of the next tip, Be prepared for all possible reactions.

            Okay, pamphlet, I thought to myself, how do I strike the balance between Listen, Don’t Lecture and Offer Help, especially if I gave absolutely no idea how to help? When I try to offer my own advice or relation to my own pathetically inexperienced life, which I probably do far too often, it comes out hollow. I feel like I need to say something, though, something not just to fill the dead air but maybe to mitigate the pain? But it’s not my job to mitigate the pain. Or is it? But it shouldn’t be the victim’s…? And how does professional help play into all this? I closed my eyes for a second and let gravity roll my head back against the wall.

            The longer I sat in the chair, I noticed, the less uncomfortable it felt. I re-opened the pamphlet, my eyes wandering back to Listen, Don’t Lecture. Though I’m nowhere near perfect at it, I give it what I have, and people seek me out to talk, so clearly I’m somewhat decent. Listen more, lecture less. Pretty do-able, I thought.

            The receptionist croaked my name from behind a stack of file folders. I hesitated to stand up from my chair, but I had to keep moving forward. Slipping the pamphlet into my backpack, I stood up, slung the weight over my shoulder, and stepped forward. It was heavy, but I didn’t doubt for a second that I could carry it.