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Little Ways of Stopping Time
She touched the little flower in her pocket and took a deep breath. It was still warm and wet, out of place in the sterile, air conditioned classroom. Mr. Wilcox droned on about the course syllabus and bathroom passes, while the students picked their split ends and checked their text messages.Bored and restless, Iliana’s mind slipped to the events of two days before.
She had woken up very early, unable to sleep because of the anxiety she felt at the upcoming first day of school. The sun had not yet risen, and she clenched her eyes shut, trying to fall back asleep. She tried to be motionless, but as soon as she relaxed she felt a tickling sensation throughout her body. It felt as though there were tiny sacks of spider eggs under her skin, breaking open to let the babies crawl out. The image made her stomach twist. She clenched every muscle and dug her nails hard into her arm to alleviate the unnerving sensation. Her body and mind begged for action, for movement, to relieve the tension.
Impulsively and without a clear plan, Iliana pulled sweat pants and a t-shirt out of the pile on her bedroom floor. She slipped them on and went outside. The sky was a dark blue now, but still dotted with stars. The irrepressible promise of daylight saddened and frightened her. She stood still, feeling the thick humid atmosphere on her palms. She wished for the ability to stop this moment, to free herself from the treadmill of time which made her legs perpetually sore. The summer had gone by quickly, as had the school year before it, and the one before that. Life whizzed by and yet nothing seemed to change. She tried to break up the monotony with alcohol fueled parties and loud concerts, but the high that she got from both of those was fleeting, and soon she felt trapped once again. She yearned to do something meaningful, something impressive, but never seemed to get around to it.
These thoughts were depressing, and combined with the open sky made Iliana feel utterly alone. She needed someone else to shoulder some of the fear, to comfort her. She began to run through the wet grass towards Kyle’s house. The dew and mud on her feet were cold, but she had only one aim, and that was to be soothed with companionship. She got to Kyle’s bedroom window, and suddenly felt embarrassed. She hated to display the quiet desperation that followed her everywhere, hated to reveal the recklessness and impulsivity that burst from her when she pent it up for too long. Watching his dark outline, her need for another human being grew until it felt like a knife through her heart, eclipsing her embarrassment. She tapped three times at his sliding door and whispered his name, careful not to wake up his parents. He groggily got up and slid open the door, then took her hand and pulled her into bed with him. She pushed herself against his body, again clenching her muscles to keep her anxiety from overwhelming her.
“Relax baby. Whats wrong?” his voice was hoarse from sleep but filled with real concern. She didn’t say anything. Her embarrassment had returned. She felt needy and vulnerable, even more helpless than before. Perhaps Kyle could sense this, because he held her tighter and told her that he was glad that she was here. She always felt wonderful and excited when he said nice things to her, but the excitement compounded with her anxiety was overwhelming. She clenched herself tighter and started to breathe hard and rapidly, trying to gain control of her nerves. Kyle rubbed her back and stomach in a slow, gentle rhythm, repeating “Relax” in a soft, soothing tone. She allowed herself to be comforted by his tender lulling, to be touched in a way that she hadn’t been since childhood. He kissed her forehead and she quietly started to cry.
“Do you want to go sit by the pond? It’s peaceful at the water.” she asked. Iliana needed to get up and move so she wouldn’t fall apart. He groaned and she hated herself. She felt like a pathetic nuisance, disturbing his sleep with her dependency. But he got up, and pulled her with him.
It was now light enough to be able to see clearly. The birds were awake and noisy, chasing away the stillness of night. The sky was a brilliant orange with stripes of pink, and reflected off the windows of their houses, making them shine like gold. Iliana was surprised at the joy she felt at the beauty of this new day, the thought of which had made her so scared. Light danced on the surface of the pond. She sat down on at the edge of the damp dock and dipped her finger in the quivering ripples. Kyle sat behind her, his legs open on either side of her. He wrapped his arms around her small waist. She leaned against his chest, letting her toes skim the cool water. He kissed her cheek then looked at her with a confused expression; he still did not know what was wrong.
“I don’t want to go back to school.” she said it louder than she wanted to, and pounded her fist down on the dock.
“Nobody wants to go back to school.” Kyle laughed.
“I hate it. I hate it so much. I feel like such an alien. I feel like every single person is judging me and waiting for me to screw up. And I HATE pep rallies.” she was frustrated at her inability to articulate her true feelings. What she heard coming out of her mouth didn’t even touch the tip of her true emotions, emotions that had been so palpable only an hour before.
“Pep rallies?” Kyle asked incredulously. It seemed as though she was throwing a fit over small issues, and he couldn’t understand her unhappiness at things that were so mainstream in the high school experience, things that he himself enjoyed. He loved the excitement of pep rallies, the feeling of unity with his classmates. He did not feel the need to question them- the rush in his body and feeling of being a part of a group was all that he strived for.
“They make me so uncomfortable. All the passion over nothing- everyone being loud. I just don’t understand it. I mean, every teacher says that their mission is to make us think deeply. And yet they pack us all in a room to blindly yell and jump about athletes, or some pie eating contest. I don’t understand how anyone could live like this. Without passion or purpose...”
“Iliana, what is this with you and passion and purpose and “true art” and whatever else? What do you expect from people?”
“Everything just seems so boring. So mundane. Like you...you go to school and play soccer and thats enough for you and everyone else. It makes me want to vomit.” Kyle pulled away from her when she said this, insulted and angered.
“Do you think you are so much better than everyone else? God, you sound so arrogant.” Iliana’s stomach dropped. Her words were always misunderstood because she could never make them fit what she was trying to express. Or maybe she was truly alone in these thoughts. Maybe she had unrealistic ideals. Maybe she was wired differently than everyone else. Maybe she really was a freak.
“No, Kyle, I’m not doing anything either. Thats the problem. I’m just stuck in this rut, and time is passing- forget it. I’m sorry.”she leaned back into him, wanting him to hug her again, wanting to erase the bad feelings. He did, and they were silent for a while.
She looked down into the water, where a little flower was floating. She scooped it up and held it, smoothing out its wet petals. She often saved things as reminders of certain days, her little way of stopping time. She put the flower in her pocket, tucking away her dark thoughts with it. She would put them away for now, and return to them later, on another sleepless night. She slipped into the water, pulling Kyle with her, and splashed him playfully. She smiled so convincingly that no one would ever guess that anything was wrong.