The lamp's lifeless rays confine me to a corner of my spacious room, setting a sharp two by three foot stricture for me and my desk, for on it lies my schoolwork - my life. I often turn my head to the left at some forgotten hour of the night to see my fatigued reflection in the window. As I shift my head back to the odorless pinewood of my desk, I might be interrupted by my cat's giant yawn and soft meow; it's his way of beckoning me to join him in rest for the night.
The black words of the textbook seem to shift back and forth in my semi-conscious state, and intermittently focus themselves in and out. Realizing that my eyes, traitorous to my willpower, are beginning to close, I decide to cast my eyes over Calvin Coolidge's stolid maxim, framed and carefully situated at the corner of my desk. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Awakened with vigor, I motion my eyes to their prior position - across the textbook's infinite pages of black lines.
"Go to bed, Ryan," shouts my father, as he does every night at 11:30. "Okay," I reply. Occasion-ally, my father catches me kneeling on my carpet at midnight, taking one last glance at a math equation before seeking refuge in my bed. A harsh scolding will follow, as will an increased watch over my quarters. So I frequently choose to shut off the light around 12:00 a.m. and quietly slip my careworn body under my sheets. As a corollary follows a mathematical law, my cat makes the short hop from his chair (he sits in my favorite chair more than I do, so I might as well call it his), to my bed, keeping me warm company while my 14-inch TV provides me with the dim light of Tom Snyder's Late Late Show for studying until 2:00 a.m.
As I endeavor to finish a social studies chapter, emotions suppressed long ago lead me away from my task. I might feel the Pacific-blue eyes of my date quicken my pulse during the sophomore ring dance, as my ears recall the school gym filled with music. Then I remember the warm strokes of heat lightning that blinded the star-saturated South Carolina sky as I roamed the deserted beaches in the unfathomable darkness. That is, before reconstruction began in the South on page 368. Tired, detached, and lonely, I suppress my emotions under the wrath of a textbook.
The soft rumble of the 1:16 a.m. train is always audible from my other window. Its clear pane is raised, open to the black March night. I can envision myself being jetted toward Pennsylvania Station on the midnight train. As I make my way down the endless row of cars all I see is shoddy nylon seats bereft of passengers, each lined with the same cursory stitching job. The last car, however, might reveal a few late-night voyagers. Perhaps a cop quietly sips his coffee, fearful of the graveyard shift. Or maybe a Columbia law student is pressed against a window with her knees glued to her chest, not wishing to take advantage of the other two vacant seats beside her. Two minutes later, she lets each eyelid rest against its respective dark circle on her face, and falls asleep. The hum and rattle of the train's wheels momentarily becomes louder as the ticket puncher opens the door between cars to finish his rounds. Noticing only a few passengers, he takes two seats for himself, and rests.
Suddenly, I sense the corner of my right lip turning northwards, portending a grin. I look beyond Calvin Coolidge's stolid rule for life; five inches beyond is a musty old cork board, the bearer of Polaroids. I gently pass my hand over the photos to wipe off the dust that suppresses memories. I even find the courage to close my textbook for a while, so I can open my journal. Tears trickle unabashedly down my cheeks, and a quiet chuckle emerges as my eyes blaze over the thoughts and conversations of the past year. The hot spearmint tea I let sit half an hour ago now easily flows down my throat, heating my body, and quieting my asthma.
Each night I undergo the same struggle to release my emotions from the wrath of a textbook. My room is almost always a dark, austere place, which still confines me to a small space for my studies. A tired, often despondent reflection looks back at me. Yet the train tells me that I am not alone. When I hear a soft rumbling, I know I am not alone. As a vicarious passenger, I know our day lasts twenty-six hours when we make room for our emotions. But as we lengthen our days, we lengthen our lives. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.