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“Hate someone, something, anything.”
“You’ve been hurt.”
”It was an accident. There’s no one to blame.”
“You have to blame something.”
“It makes the pain go away.”
Sal’s eyes jerked upwards and opened wide as he stared into his teacher’s face.
“I’m…sorry,” He said softly, shaking his head to free his mind, “Could you repeat the question?” His teacher smiled sadly.
“There is no question, Sal. Class ended five minutes ago. You’ve been staring at your desk, I thought you fell asleep.” Sal shook his head again, blinking to make sure his mind was clear for his response, but his teacher spoke first. “Sal, are you alright?”
“Yes, ma’am I’m fine.” He bobbed his head, and his lengthy black hair shook as he did so.
“Are you sure?” She persisted, “Have you spoken with the school’s psychiatrist? He may be able to help-”
“No, I’m fine.” Sal insisted, forcing a smile, “Really.” It made him feel sick to smile.
“Well,” She said at length, “Okay, but I want you to talk to someone soon, okay? Even if it’s just your mother or… or me. I think it would do you some-”
“Thanks.” Sal cut her off, dryly. He started for the door. His teacher seemed to have nothing else to say so she backed away towards her desk.
Stalking slowly into the hallway, Sal’s mind relapsed into silent thought again. He barely registered the freshmen he blatantly bashed into, their protests not even making it to his ears as he trailed onwards. Buzzing filled Sal’s ears and his eyes became unfocused as his body came to an automatic halt in front of his locker. He stood waiting for something to happen for a minute before shaking his head again and realizing where he was. Bending down he clicked his lock into place and jerked it open carelessly. He still felt sick from smiling to his teacher. Sal reached for his jacket and saw something slip to the floor. He picked it up.
The small piece of paper in his hand was slightly crumpled around the edges and had some smudges on it, but in the center was a small pencil sketch. The picture was of a young seventeen-year-old boy. It was a picture of Sal. A lump quickly formed in his throat and he tried his best to fight back the wave of tears that threatened to breach his walls of defense that he had erected over the past week. Suddenly Sal heard voices from around the corner near his locker. He recognized one of them as his friend’s heavy accent. Quickly he rubbed his eyes and tried his best to look as though he was rubbing because he was tired. As the figures rounded the corner they slowed down. One of them called out to Sal in a thick, Romanian accent and made a high five motion. Sal wearily returned the gesture and smiled bleakly once more for them, but the clap was muffled and the sick feeling from before intensified. His friends didn’t pick up that they were not welcome right now so they asked him how he was doing. That was a stupid question to Sal. He kept his noxious smile plastered on his lips and stated in as much cheer as he could muster that he was fine. They seemed slightly convinced, but remained rooted to their spots as they continued to ask him questions. Sal tried to answer normally, but his voice was dry and his smile faltered.
“Did you get any homework tonight?”
“Not much. Just some Spanish Four.”
“Oh, man, I hated that class. I’m so glad I dropped it junior year. It feels so good to take a break from all the stress.”
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, both of Sal’s friends said their goodbyes and went past waving all the way down the hallway. The instant they were out of sight, Sal’s smile caved, replaced by the vague, cheerless expression he had worn so many times during the past week. He reached for a second time towards the open locker in front of him, but paused once again as he saw the crumpled scrap of paper in his hand. Sal’s hand became a fist and he hastily threw it away from himself to prevent another wave of sadness from overcoming his weakened defenses. The paper sailed down the now empty hallway and bounced to a halt near a classroom doorway. Sal looked away, trying to forget the drawing, his mind buzzing again.
“It’s only a drawing.”
“It hurts to look at it.”
“That’s not its fault, it’s just a drawing.”
“Hate it anyway.”
Sal actually hit himself on his head to stop himself from continuing that line of thought with himself. He reached a third time for his locker, praying that there were no more reminders of her in his belongings. Pulling on his jacket, Sal had to mentally stop himself from reaching into his pockets, just in case. He lifted his bag from its hook in the locker and stuffed his Spanish Four book into it without looking inside.
Walking furiously down the hallway away from his now shut locker, Sal noticed one of the school janitors walking down his hallway. Evidently the figure walking towards him was doing the regular hallway cleanup. It took a moment for Sal to think why this should matter to him. Then he saw something on the floor out of the corner of his eye. The crumpled piece of paper lay on the ground, directly in the path of the garbage patrol. He paused for a minute, then two. He thought he must’ve look pretty stupid just standing there looking at trash, but the janitor didn’t seem phased by his presence.
“Wasn’t it a gift to me?”
“Who cares? It’s a danger to you.”
“But it was a gift.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does.”
“Because it was from her.” Sal whispered to himself, dispelling the spiteful thoughts for the moment and seizing control for the first time that week. Suddenly, Sal realized that the janitor had reached the drawing and was about to pick it up. “Wait!” Sal cried and he quickly strode over to the man. The old man looked up, a surprised look on his lined face as though he had only just seen the boy. Sal swallowed, his throat was dry, “I’ll take that.” The janitor shrugged and handed it over before going on his way. Sal sighed as he opened the paper and stared at the detailed sketch. This time, tears began to form in his eyes before he could stop them. He rubbed them away and shoved the scrap into his pocket. Steadying himself, he began his walk towards the front door of the school.
He passed several kids on the way. None of them looked his way. They, like the janitor, didn’t seem to notice him in any way. Sal watched one boy fiddle with an mp3 player and suddenly remembered his own. As he stopped to pull it out his hand stroked the crumpled drawing, but he did his best to ignore it, pulling instead, his player from his coat pocket. Sal continued his walk and put in his earphones. Glancing around, he saw his friend again and was severely relieved to feel happy at the sight of him. Running over, Sal called out and again felt that happy sensation as his friend’s beaming face spun around.
“Didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” Said his friend in his broad accent, “What’s up?”
Impulsively, Sal’s mind shrank away from the question into its mental shell, away from all emotion. Sal faltered and paused as he once more struggled with himself.
“You’ll get hurt.”
“You know you will.”
“Not this time.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You can’t be sure about it either.”
Sal’s friend cut across his thoughts, freeing him again from the clutches of his subconscious just enough for Sal to escape. “Yes… sorry about that.” He responded, feeling light-headed. “I’ve just been lost in thought lately.”
“I don’t blame you… is…is there anything I can do for you, or did you just feel like sayin’ ‘Hi’?”
“Just wanted to say ‘Hi’ again before leaving.”
“Well okay, but don’t get ‘Lost in thought’ on the way home. You’re likely to get run over and killed.”
Sal grinned, a smile spreading across his face. However, this was so unlike the smiles of before. It was like a warm fire, bringing life back to his long, dead face. He hadn’t felt that in what felt like ages. That thought made him smile all the more as he bade his friend a final farewell and walked towards the main hallway. Soon he could see the large, glass doors laid out in front of him, the path towards his house just outside.
His thoughts turned to home and then the image of his sister became fixed in his mind. His heart sank right back to where it had been all week and his mind threatened to engulf him once more in thoughts. But before he could sank into depression again, he pulled out the drawing in his pocket, fixing his mind on it instead. Tears quickly spilled from his eyes and down his cheek making him feel very childish and embarrassed, but he did not let himself sink into a mental shell again. He stood there another minute or so, fighting to regain control over the overfilled dam that had suddenly burst.
When he finally regained his composure, his mind was unbelievably clear. The fog that had hovered in him for a week was not completely gone, but neither was it overwhelmingly suffocating. Sal wiped his eyes, looked at the drawing one last time, held the image of it firmly in his mind, and placed it back in his pocket. Before he opened the doors in front of him, he paused one last time to see if he really was free. He searched deeply for the feeling of utter misery that had controlled him since the funeral last weekend, but he didn’t find it. No voice, no overwhelming despair, just an empty place where two things had once stood. His depression and, before that, thoughts of his sister. Grinning to himself and feeling elated once more, Sal pushed on the door in front of him and walked outside into the sun.