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Caged. Chained to these walls.
She could see a little sliver of light peeking through the vent that she had willed to exist.
As if it mattered.
It really didn’t matter when you were locked up and chained. How she had gotten there was beyond her. The most she could remember was waking up one day and finding herself in the padded room, arms chained to the corner of a wall.
Just like that, she thought to herself.
Ever since she had been here, she had changed. Once quiet and reserved, she found herself screaming profanities to the room’s cotton white interiors at least five times during her periods of being awake.
Am I really watching myself go insane?
If she had just one question to ask to whoever or whatever locked her in this room, she would ask why.
Why me? Why am I here? What have I done to deserve this? Have I done anything bad enough to deserve this?
Every time she pondered over these questions, she found her memory regressing back to the past. My life outside this…mental-patient container.
From what she could remember, she had lived a life she certainly would choose over her current situation. She had been a nineteen year-old college student in the city. She had come from one of the more affluent families in her suburban neighborhood, and while others were struggling to make ends meet, she spent her days dilly-dallying about, doing whatever she wanted.
She shifted on the thick padded fabric and then folded her knees toward her chest to achieve the fetal position. In this position, she rocked back and forth, back and forth against the wall of her little corner.
For, the worst part was knowing that she had had all of those things, but they had meant absolutely nothing to her. She had never been happy.
Well, maybe I’m lying.
There was that one boy. They had met entirely by accident and had become inseparable since then. The fact that they went to the same college made it easy, but they made it a point to spend a significant portion of their free time together. She hated to admit it at times, but he had grown to become one of the most important people in her life. He had never let her down and had always come through. He had also cared for her like no one else had, so much so that she felt too privileged, if such a thing was possible.
She wanted to let him in, but she didn’t want him to know everything.
You wouldn’t be able to handle me. You’ll leave, just like everyone else.
Initially, she had actually appreciated this time away from everything, thinking of it as an “escape from the rigors of reality.” As days passed, however, she had tired of the perfectly white fabric that never seemed to smell or stain. She had tired of the padding that had kept her perfectly comfortable for a time she had no way of measuring, the padding that did not even fray when she tried to bite it out of some absurd amalgamation of boredom, fascination, and indifference.
Most of all, she had tired of the chains.
The chains that restrict me so greatly. The only thing I haven’t managed to escape from.
Meanwhile, a boy wept on the other side of the wall.
I just thought you might be comfortable here.
This was really his way of saying, I need you.
He could still remember the day she traipsed into his life.
That fateful day that changed everything.
He had been standing on the corner of the street, waiting at the crosswalk. Of course, his mind had been off on some tangent, as it always was at 10:35 in the morning, the halfway point between the time he had gotten off from his first class of the day and the time he had until his next class. Like a daily ritual, he left the classroom building, headed off campus to the quaint little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop to grab a newspaper and get a double-shot espresso, then made his way back to his second class of the day, with precisely two minutes to spare.
At 10:35 that chilly, snow-covered morning, she had seemingly emerged from nowhere. Clumsily, she bumped shoulders with him, which caught his attention. Once his attention was caught, he realized that she was not even trying for attention, but instead was trying frantically to save the stack of papers in her arms from ending up in the snow. He remembered freezing for a moment, transfixed by her glistening auburn hair and dewy skin. He also remembered snapping out of it to help her with her papers. She graciously accepted the help, flashing that beautiful smile of hers that put pure mountain snow to shame. Later on, they found themselves walking together to the coffee shop, where they sat together by the hearth, rearranging her papers over hot drinks and discussing each other’s stance on the quality (or lack thereof) of education received at American public schools in comparison to other countries’ government-funded schools.
She had a cappuccino; I had an espresso. My compliments.
Every day after that, they had met on the corner of that sidewalk and had had their espressos and cappuccinos at that coffee shop, rain or shine, class or no class. Over time, they learned more and more about each other. They had been attending the same university for two years but had never known it. She was a psychology major; he was a political science major. She was a sorority girl who was also part of the university vocal group that toured the nation; he was a fraternity boy who was also in mock trial. She had so many aspirations for her life; he knew from that day onward that he wanted her.
Looking at her now as he had done every day since she had been in there, he felt a tinge of sadness and self-pity. He never before had been this messed up, but he supposed that that was what this becoming monster did to everyone. He supposed it baited you, reeled you in, and then devoured every part of your being, all while conveying the impression that it was nurturing you. Not that he would know, of course.
She’s my first…and last. I’ll be sure of that.
He always wondered what would happen if he did let her out. He wondered if she would act in accordance with his fantasies of their next face-to-face meeting. Nothing complex; just simple. He wanted her to leap into his arms, ecstatic to finally be set free, but also overjoyed to be with him in the same way he was when he was with her.
More than anything, however, he wanted her to just be with him. Accept him for his many shortcomings, be totally open with him, trust him with her heart.
Just as I do for you.
Then, as always, the reason why he locked her up slapped him silly and woke him up.
I don’t want to lose you.
For every moment they were together and furthered their relationship, he grew happier and more confident, but also more paranoid. He could just see her walking out of that coffee shop, her face disfigured with disappointment. He could just see himself standing alone at that crosswalk, without her because she’d grown tired at last.
He dried his eyes once more with his coat sleeve, grabbed the keys to the room, and stuck them in the keyhole. In the most hesitant maneuver he had ever performed in his life, he turned the knob.