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A White Owl
It was June 2nd, 1998.
There was no change in the purse of my lips, and I prayed I may get the pleasure of sinking my clenched, pale-knuckled fist into his lower jaw one of these days.
My roommate was a jerk. But it was too late now.
His name was Finch Mémoire, a guy with a stupid pretentious French last name, which was the only thing we had in common, and the only reason he was here was for financial purposes, or so I kept telling myself.
I was alone here in Seattle-in a spacious two bedroom apartment, too many miles from my home in McCall. I was tired of being surrounded by swarms of people daily at UW and being alone simultaneously. So I decided a roommate would be like hitting two birds with one stone in a way.
The first impression he gave to me was not so great. He was smoking. I hated smoke, and the stench of it made me queasy, and when I scowled at him as he walked in he asked what was wrong with my face? in a smartass tone. But I had made the mistake of not meeting him first, he just barely moved here and had just sent me a request letter, and he had already signed the lease. So for at least six months, I was his cellmate. As long as he smoked outside and stayed out of my way, I couldn’t care about him otherwise.
It was July 9th, 1998.
Finch had moved in a month ago, and we didn’t talk much. A lot of the times though, I would hear music I loved pour from under his closed door while I did laundry, the room with the washer and dryer next to his, and wondered if I had misjudged him. He had good taste, and he did have a job that he usually worked late at, for he had prolonged going to UW for a year. He was lanky and dark-haired with casual clothing, and he smoked a lot, a cigarillo while reading the newspaper and eating cereal, and cigarettes outside, but since we lived on the top floor I assumed he smoked out of his window or something. He coughed often and laughed loudly and did both at the TV in his room. He seemed odd, and that’s all I knew of him.
It was August 12th, 1998.
That evening, the sun was setting, a golden smoldering burst on the horizon.
The freckles of light from my window spotlighted the dance of the dust motes down to the carpet. I pulled it open, and laid my top half out the window, my arms limp and my head down with the tendrils of my hair spread across the shingles, closing my eyes and thanked god it wasn’t raining today. All the oxygen rushed out of my body, and my nostrils tingled as they swelled with the crisp air circulating through my lungs. I hoisted myself out of the window, the soles of my bare feet spread on the grainy tiles as my body swayed, orienting itself with the roof for balance. I traveled to the very triangular tip top, and sat there, my legs bent, my skinny wrists resting on my knees. I watched the light disappear, and as the stars began to show themselves I heard a creak next to me. Finch was making his way up to me, a cigarillo dangerously clinging to the edge of his lips. He plucked it from his mouth and sighed as he eased down next to me.
He conjured a box of matches from his shirt pocket, and shook out a match. He cupped his hands around it after he lit it on a shingle, the match head flickering a glowing reflection in his almond eyes. “I thought I was the only one who ever came up here,” he said in his rough voice. He handed me the White Owl cigarillo, and I sipped the sweet strawberry taste of it and passed it back to him.
I had an urge to reach and touch him-maybe slide my hand under his-but my fingers curled and my arm retreated back to the comfort of my side.
“Hey, look, an owl!” Finch pointed to a dead tree in front of us, a streetlight showing its ghostly features. He seemed to look over to us, and spread its wings. In a moment it was gone. Finch had been holding his breath. “That was beautiful,” he exhaled.
I looked away from him and out to the rushing road next to the apartments. He noticed the jittery movement of my head. “Is something wrong?”
I was quiet for a minute, and he didn’t press it further, just kept his dark eyes on me.
The road by the complex was as barren as the sentence I couldn’t forge with the jumble of words in my head.
“Sometimes, I wish…” I paused. “I didn’t feel so buried alive. You know?” I heaved out a breath. “There are so many things I want to do in my life, with my life, but it just seems like most of the time life itself won’t let me, like I’m holding myself back. Sometimes I don’t want to do anything because I’m afraid life might just end on me…I just almost want it to end so I’d stop worrying.”
I had no idea why I felt this way, or even why I was saying this, especially to Finch of all people. But I guess I just needed someone-a kindred spirit- to talk to. I looked back up to the moon that hung like a torn fingernail in the littered void of the sky.
“You are definitely not alone,” He chuckled. He took a slow drag and I watched the paper of the cigarillo crawl with orange.
“You’re a song written by the hands of God.” he said. He said it bluntly, blankly, matter-of-factly, like it was a normal thing to say from one roomie to another.
I thought of the cross tattoo on the back of his shoulder I’d seen one morning he was changing out of his shirt.
I toyed with my hair, brushing it in my face, so he wouldn’t see my eyes well.
“You can’t go on forever.” I croaked. His thick eyebrows flinched and furrowed, on the verge of meeting but never quite. He seemed to almost glare at me, but then the valleys of his forehead relaxed. He looked at me and abruptly grinned. I could’ve counted his teeth. His chapped lips crackled at his broad smile. “Says who?” he mused.
The silhouette of his features puffed on the cigarillo like a sailor, and blew out the smoke majestically to dissolve in the abyss of night.
“Just don’t let the universe regret you.”
I opened my mouth to say something, to argue, but I closed it, and I felt my shoulders relax in satisfied surrender.
That night, that moment, in the way I thought of him, we became best friends.
A song by Thee More Shallows from my stereo filtered through my open window through the peaceful silence.
“At the night school knight school
you doodle and you draw anything, anything
except what you're taught
you got a bad tooth, bad tooth
so you clench your jaw
and you concentrate, concentrate
on the aching cause it's keeping you awake
forecasters of disasters show proofs that show they're right
but you can block out anything
counting every blink of each florescent light
in every class on every single last night
and then the tooth breaks, tooth breaks
you can bite down on your tongue
and keep a tight smile, tight smile
stitched across on your practiced face
like it's all stupidly, stupidly right
and when you take down your notes each night
and then go back and erase what they say
because they say forecasters of disasters want proof that they were right
they love to see you learn
but they'll have to wait for a long, long time
you can outlast anything
you can count every blink of each florescent light in every class
on every single last night”
It was December 30th, 1998.
I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, my homework in my lap. I jumped as I heard a loud crash from the other room. I untwined my legs and raced barefoot to the kitchen. One of my blue plates was shattered in a starburst on the linoleum. I stuttered to a stop before I could step on the ceramic, my jaw dangling on the hinges of my jaw in shock. Finch was sitting on the top of the refrigerator, chomping on nicotine gum with a vengeance, a tall stack of plates beside his leg. “What the f*** do doctors know,” I heard him mutter quietly. I’d never heard him swear before. He dropped another plate onto the floor. It exploded with a splintering crack of lightning and I unconsciously shielded myself with my forearms. I didn’t scream, but as the sound reverberating off the walls faded, I yelled at him, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” The next plate hung in the noose of his fingertips, ready for the drop. He picked the green gum out of his mouth and inspected it. He didn’t even give me a sideways glance.
“Venting,” he said. Then his voice had changed to a whisper. I saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. Now he turned his head fully to me, and his eyes danced on my face before meeting my eyes. “Can’t you tell?” and stuck the gum to the plate and dropped it. I screamed at the crash, more in anger than fright. I stomped up to him and grabbed the pile of plates, not thinking what I was doing; I cut the sole of my foot on one of the many shards that littered the floor.
I awoke with a start.
It was January 21st, 1999.
“…To the Mayan a white owl is a messenger who brings a warning that the world has become so out of balance that we need to change, and that it is also a guardian that allows us to see with clarity beyond fear and illusion.” My grandmas’ voice crackled over the phone, after I told her about seeing the owl that night she had turned into a gypsy prophet. “Yeah…” I said, preoccupied with grabbing spaghetti sauce out of the cabinet. “Listen, Gram, I have to go, I’m making dinner for me and my roommate.”
“Alright, Laurel, good luck! Love you.”
I smiled. “Love you too,” and hung up.
I had come home to a plastic trash bag next to the door with at least ten cartons of cigarettes and cigarillos in it. I picked it up by one of its handles and dropped it back down with a plop. I frowned. As I walked in to the kitchen, I saw Finchs’ bathroom light on and the door closed. Then my grandmother had called and now dinner was ready, and I knocked on the hard wood. There was no answer or sound, and without thinking, I opened the door. Finch was standing at the mirror, staring at himself, a fistful of thick hair in his hand; a patchy field-looking spot on the left side of his head. There was a blank expression on his face and a milky redness in his eyes. “Finch…?”
I melted into the shadows on the floor.
It was January 20th, 1999.
My friend from McCall, Rosie, came up to Seattle for her cousins’ wedding, and I invited her over for tea.
While I was prepping the water, I heard her say “You got a new roommate already?” she asked me disbelievingly. “Yeah…,” I looked at her quizzically. “I told you I was.”
“Hmm…Wow, I guess I just don’t remember, I haven’t heard from you in so long. But that’s great! I’m glad you’re moving forward,” Rosie said.
I frowned a little bit at the teapot. I hardly thought the advantage of splitting the rent with Finch as ‘moving forward’, and hadn’t I called her just last week? But my mind quickly swept it aside, and the thought flitted to my brain that it didn’t matter. She looked at the eraser board on the wall where Finch had written a list of groceries down. “Their handwriting looks exactly like yours. So what about your old roommate, isn’t he in the hospital?”
It was May 16th, 2000.
In a heartbeat, it was a year later, and my brother was yelling at me. “It’s been a year Laurel-a whole year! Finch hasn’t been here and he’s not coming back. You’ve let the apartment go, let yourself go, practically past the point of no return! But you still leave his room untouched, like he’s just late from work!” I heard him say this through the murky whit noise of my heartbeat, and I cringed like he had hit me, squeezing my eyes shut and used my hands as ear muffs. “You’ve become a self destructive fool with a ghost in the back of your head.” The monsters of the past were raking their claws on the wrinkles of my brain. Laurel Oiseau wasn’t delusional. Finch would be home soon. Then everything would be alright.
Everything would be alright.
Everything would be alright.
My words shielded my buried memory and covered me like a second skin. If I peeled it off, I knew it would hurt.
It was May 1st, 1999.
I was the last one standing at a funeral, seawater tasting drips on an open coffin, I was adorned in pearls and black as a raven. Finch walked up to me, dressed in the color of bone, lanky and skeleton like, the white owl to my raven. He grinned. “What are you doing here?” He motioned to the casket. It was empty. I couldn’t remember if it had been filled, and who with. “I’m still here.” My lips creaked into a tiny smile as he took a hold of my hand. The sun began to set behind us.
“What on earth are you wearing? What a dreadful color.”
It was June 2nd, 1998.
My roommate was a jerk.
But it was too late now.