March 12, 2008
By Martin Bergman, New City, NY

When I woke up I decided to lie in bed for a few minutes, suspended on my back with my eyes looking up at the blank ceiling. There was no one home and there was no school. I realized that I had no reason to leave my bed and shower and get dressed. I had no obligations or responsibilities. There was no one to make sure I was behaving or being productive. I left the bed and peered through my blinds to find that the ground was white and the trees were still. I was snowed in, and there was something comforting about it. My room was warm and I felt very protected. I closed the blinds and sat down on my bed. There were no lights on and my room was enveloped by a fluorescent grey. My eyes closed and I started drifting away.

She was very androgynous, but I knew she was a girl because I heard her name once when a sub called attendance. One day, in the middle of the year, she just appeared in school without any fuss or commotion. After a few weeks it occurred to me that I had been seeing her in the halls. She had a short bob haircut and she always wore jeans and a t-shirt. I think her name was Maria or something, but everyone called her “man”. Not in a derogatory way, but when people asked her for something they always said, “Thanks, man.” I had history class with her and she never spoke a word. She sat and chewed bubble gum endlessly, but she chewed in a very polite and dainty way; her jaw would move slowly and her mouth would open only slightly.

After school she would stand out back against the wall and sell pot to the freshmen. They came in droves because she was new and there was a rumor that her stuff was from out of town. They would line up like children on a lunch line with their heads low talking quietly to one another. She would lean against the wall smoking a cigarette, taking long drags with a constant look of annoyance, as if the freshmen were a burden to her and they all knew it. So they hastily handed her the money and she would firmly shake their hands. Then the freshmen would scurry off to catch the bus home.

One day my friend Rob got curious and worked up the courage to ask her for a cigarette after the freshmen had rushed off. She was walking slowly from the back of the school and Rob almost walked into her, but he caught his balance and she stopped and looked him over. He finally said something like, “Can I get one of those bones?” She pulled one out of her pocket and he took it in his mouth. She extended her lighter up to his face and he sucked in. It was a nice Zippo with a cold metallic sheen, and after Rob took a few drags, she stood there and played with the lighter. Then she said, “Do you need anything?” but Rob didn’t have a response. So she walked away and Rob put his cigarette out.

He was a Special Ed kid who always walked around with an old lady who was his handler. He never did anything that hurt anybody, but he had strange mannerisms and he made people uncomfortable. He didn’t really need the old lady, but she was a very comforting woman. She had white hair and had a hunched, matronly look. She walked very slow but he never eclipsed her in the halls. They were always together; she had a look of mild exhaustion, and he looked manic.

I never found out what exactly was wrong with him, but he was enormously hyper. He must have been a year or two younger than me but he was gaunt and had nubile features, which gave him the look of a harmless child. He talked in a high pitched voice that always seemed distressed and his face was always in what looked like painful contortions, though he was usually just muttering gibberish. When he walked in the halls he would bounce and shake his hands and talk to himself. It might at first seem frightening, but never accosted anyone or caused any problems.

Sometimes I wish I could be like him. Sometimes I wish that the pressures of society didn’t apply to me, and I could just hop up and down and flail my arms and scream at the top of my lungs in the middle of the cafeteria. I wish I could live in my own little world, that other people didn’t exist to me and I could do as I pleased. Maybe he didn’t really have a problem. Maybe he didn’t need medicine or a little old lady to walk with him in the halls. Maybe he was normal like the rest of us, but one day he snapped. Maybe one day he just couldn’t take it anymore so he let go and turned off the edit button. I always admired him. Even if it wasn’t his choice, he seemed courageous to me, to be able to live like he did. To be free of other people. There was something very noble about him to me, and I still don’t know why.

She had always been a beautiful girl, and when I was young and vulnerable I was in love with her. In the third grade I bought a plastic ring from a vending machine in the bowling alley for fifty cents, and I proposed to her during recess. Even back then, dressed in pink, Velcro sneakers, she was as cold as ice. She threw the ring to the asphalt and told me that she could never marry a man who could only give her a cheap ring. Then she ran off towards the swings. I was devastated, so I went behind the school to the stairs that led into the woods and sat down, alone. I tried to avoid looking at her after that, but it was hard.

In high school she grew tall and slender and looked like a runway model. She got heavy into drugs and always had a disheveled look to her. Her hair was always wild and her clothes were from thrift stores. She was still beautiful, in a hip, smug way. She walked through the halls with her back erect and her head to the side, ignoring the glances of boys and trying to look aloof. In class she always smelled of smoke and would laugh constantly, but not in an obnoxious or giddy way. Her laugh was always smooth and subdued, as if she was trying to hold back.

One summer I worked with her at the local grocery store. Most days she would come in late and she would walk resolutely to the back of the store where the locker rooms were. Sometimes she would take me back to the freezer and she would make me watch her change into her uniform. I never understood why she made me watch; maybe it was a mind game she was playing or maybe she felt uncomfortable changing alone in the freezer. Every time she got down to her underwear she would laugh and tell me that it was ok to look. Her body was long and fragile and her skin held tight across her bones. As the summer wore on I began to see red marks on her legs and she lost her soft chuckle. After a while she stopped working there and I never saw her again, but I still remember her frame in the freezer, elegant and frightened by the cold.

I woke up again a few hours later and the snow had picked up. I walked around my room a few times and looked out the blinds for no reason. Nothing had changed. I was still shut inside. I sat down on my bed for a few minutes and tried to hold onto the remnants of my dreams. I read somewhere once that when you dream, the part of your brain that makes memories shuts down, so your dreams fade quickly after you get up. I was sitting and focusing intently on the images in my brain, but they were thinning out and becoming blurry. After a few minutes they were gone, and I left my room and walked downstairs.

Similar Articles


This article has 1 comment.

beckyg said...
on Nov. 15 2008 at 6:52 pm
Your stories have a cool, edgy, urban thing going on. I love it!

MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!