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It still gives me joy all this time later. But only when I can dredge up enough courage to remember it.
I’m wandering down a long corridor; the type I would have visited in a dream I had long ago.
Along the walls are doors. Fifteen? Maybe, twenty of them? I’m not sure. I’ve never been good at estimating quantities. Plus, they’re all black and it’s dark. Doesn't exactly make it easy to count.
From where I stand, at the edge of the corridor, I can see that each door is emitting an eerie blue light. The kind that’s used in horror movies about the supernatural to lull the viewers into a state of fear: to embrace the uncanny.
I know this isn’t real.
It’s all pretend. It’s all in my head. My crazy mind, filled to the brim with memories I can’t shake.
I know that if I were really standing in that hallway, I’d be dead.
Not on the floor, in a puddle of warm crimson-dead. But—
I check the pulse of my wrist against my frosty-blue lips. It’s November now, and the air is bitter and cold. In the translucent frost that covers my windows, I can see clearly now, for the first time in months.
I’m not really in that hallway.
No, I’m here. I’m breathing.
I made it out alive.
Across the room is my roommate, sketching something pretty in her ragged, tea-colored notebook. Really. The pages look as though they’ve been stained with an odd assortment of tea and leftover coffee. I used to needle her over choosing it rather than the notebooks filled with fresh, clean pages that were a good deal cheaper.
“Sometimes it takes more to get what you’re looking for,” she had replied in the same, tired voice she often used when I was being childish over something so simple.
I say it’s simple now, because I’ve realized that it is just that. It’s simple.
I scooch away from the window, and hop off my bed, my movement seemingly inaudible as my feet hit muck-colored carpet. It’s the same carpet in every college dorm; the kind that easily hold stains and blemishes. Good for college kids. Good for people that make mistakes.
“Window-gazing boring, today?” she asks, her eyes not even flitting from her latest piece of work.
“I imagined I was back there again,” I say slowly, as I put on my shoes and make my way for our shared closet.
If she’s surprised, she doesn’t show it. And really, why would she? We’ve been over this countless times, and maybe, just maybe the words we share are just starting to sink in, because I don’t even flinch when her dismissive response comes.
“Just leave it,” she says.
I move around the room quietly, surveying the floor, looking for bits of paper and homework that I neglected to pack away in my bag the previous night. I’ve always been one for last-minute packing, but it’s always so hard to find things in the clutter.
I guess, I may never learn.
“I wanted paper that was already dirty.”
Her reasoning from that day comes back to me as I dig through various notebooks that have accumulated at the foot of my bed.
“Why? That makes no sense.”
Stupid, stupid me.
“You’ll understand when you understand. Sometimes, the dirtier things are, the more precious.”
“Found it.” I let out a triumphant whisper as I wrestle my English assignment free and read it over once to make sure it’s the right paper.
But as my eyes slowly make their way across the text, I find my mind wandering again. Not out of desperation, but out of habit.
And Romeo and Juliet is such a boring topic anyway.
At the end of the corridor, there’s a door that stands out. Unlike the rest, the light that it’s emanating isn’t electric blue, but rather, bright yellow. It makes me wonder how I could have missed it—with its stark contrast. It’s so different. It’s so foreign, and it takes me a moment to realize that this isn’t how the dream usually goes.
Usually there’s no door at the end. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
In that moment, I can’t seem to bring myself back to my dorm room.
I’m there in the hallway trying to figure out what to do. Do I step forward? Do I check the doors, like usual? Do I die here…?
But it seems with every passing moment, the yellow light just gets brighter and brighter. It reminds me of a lighthouse beacon, or maybe the eyes of some feral wildcat, come to eat me alive.
Without really noticing, I began down the hallway.
Almost immediately, the doors on both sides of me began to vibrate.
They wobble on their hinges and the whole scene suddenly has the air of a horror movie.
The type where the lone protagonist—always female—is wandering right into the monster’s lair. And the audience is screaming “No! Don’t go that way! Don’t open that door! Don’t open that door!”
My outstretched hand is inches from the doorknob when this thought hits me. What would I be saying if I could see myself now?
Then—BAM—I’m suddenly slammed back to reality.
“You’re going to be late.”
I get to my feet and grab my bag, hardly looking in her direction. I would feel too guilty, if she knew what I’d done. If only she knew.
“If you’re thinking about it—“ she begins, but I head her off.
“I wasn’t!” I insist, indignantly.
We both know I’m lying, but she’s given up trying to convince me otherwise. And I like that about her. When we talk, when we laugh, when we’re together, she doesn’t bring up the bad memories.
She doesn’t use him as a weapon on me; slowly carving away at my soul and letting the blood and bone fall out of the skin-shell, to melt together on the floor.
She knows and I know. There’s an unwritten agreement between us.
The whole ordeal has become like a far off memory, I must admit.
Not forgotten. No.
Yes, buried. Buried to create a foundation; always there, but never the most prominent thing. Something to stand on, but never to directly think about. To never directly touch, again. Cold and lifeless.
Like the girl who couldn’t stop opening doors.
“Sometimes, I can’t help it,” I admit quietly. I realize now, that I’ve stopped inches from the door exiting our dorm. My fingers are outstretched, hovering inches from the metal knob. My eyes focus on the reflection of the setting, winter sun on the brass fixture.
It’s the same as in the dream.
It’s exactly the same.
It’s here; it’s now.
If I’m going to open it—I’ve got to open it.
The movement isn’t as smooth as I want it to be. My hand pauses twice—maybe even three times, in tangent with the hitch of my breath in my chest—as my fingers slowly clasp around and turn the knob. It’s warmer than I would have expected it to be, and suddenly I’m thinking that maybe the yellow light is sunshine, come to wake me up from a bad nightmare.
Lulled into what is perhaps a false sense of security, I pause for only a moment before pulling the heavy door open. Once the door is open, I don’t even pause to second-guess myself, to rethink my actions. There’s no going back now. I couldn’t slam the door shut, even if I tried.
I expect the weight of the door to provide momentum and carry its heavy mass the rest of the way, but I’m wrong. It takes strength to keep jerking it closer to me, and farther from its frame. It takes effort and perseverance and the longer it takes, the more nervous I am. The fear settles in. Maybe it’s not safety that lies beyond this portal. Maybe it’s just the opposite.
It takes what seems like minutes to finally pry the door open, though I know, of course, it’s only been a few seconds. Then again, what effect does time have in this corner of my mind?
For a moment, I’m blinded. The light isn’t yellow; it’s white. White and hot, and though nothing’s come from beyond to slaughter me yet, I’m suddenly regretful of the whole thing. Maybe it was better to stay in the darkness after all. To stay, forever unmoving, at the end of the hallway. To die there, amongst blue light, where the evil shadows from beyond the doors couldn’t get me.
But then, all at once, the light fades, and what I see makes my stomach lurch.
At first, I think about turning to run. To escape. To get out of there.
I don’t want to see this.
I don’t want to remember this.
No, no, please go away.
But I can’t. I’m rooted to the spot, because…
I want to live this again?
No, that’s not right. I haven’t felt that way for a while.
Before I can decide why I’m still standing there, the whole scene begins to play, as though it had been paused, waiting for me to enter. Waiting for me to trigger the start of the show.
I see myself.
Is that what you can call her?
She’s so much younger, though it’s only been a year, at most. She’s so different. Almost naïve, and I suddenly want to smack her. But the impulse fades when I realize how small she is.
Seems, not is.
She’s almost insignificant….
She’s brightly bounding around the room as usual. She has a reason to smile and laugh. This is well before her life sped off the tracks. This is long before there’s even an inkling of that future coming to pass.
Surrounded by her friends, she’s telling them something stupid again. And she’s being way too loud. Everyone can hear her, though maybe sometimes, that’s what she wants.
I remember this day too well.
It was the first day—
“You had better eat something! Do you hear me? Stop skipping meals!”
His voice cuts through the air too easily, like a knife through a sheet.
She—the younger me—laughs it off, though I’m left with a sense of hollowness.
Not sadness, just a weird empty feeling that isn’t really a feeling at all.
His voice sounds different than I remember it. Then again, it’s been months since I last heard him speak.
And I did spend all that time packing dirt until my hands bled.
So, it’s all wrong. This isn’t usually like how my memories are.
My memories leave me wanting more. They leave me feeling incomplete. They leave me sad and in pain, but no. This just leaves me with no feeling at all. As if, the event has no impression on me. And all at once—I can’t help it—I wonder why it did in the first place.
I refocus on the girl before me, paying no mind to the lingering voice or the conversation carried between her and him. Instead, I watch as she jokes with her friends. As they laugh together, as they exchange wordless remarks. As they understand her without trying. It’s not really a big deal. She does this all the time. It’s who she is.
Doesn’t he get that?
Well, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
In an instant, the old room has disappeared and I’m staring at a wall of dirty-white. They couldn’t repaint the dorms in all the years this university has existed?
I glance over at my roommate. She’s peering at me as though I have something to say. Maybe, she wants an explanation for why I’ve been standing there with our door open for so long. She doesn’t question me though, and at once, I feel the need to tell her about my piece of happiness that still resides from that messy event all those months ago.
The one she watched me suffer through. The one she watched me die for.
The one that still makes flowers bloom. Flowers that are rooted deep in that foundation. Flowers. Not weeds. Really…they are quite beautiful, living off the fertilizer that is buried six feet under.
“I skipped dinner,” I tell her as though this is an explanation for what I’m sure looks like bizarre behavior to her. And who am I kidding? It is bizarre.
“Go get something to eat then,” she replies, knowingly. It’s still there. Our lack of need for words. Our silent understanding.
Then with that, I step out into the hallway and shut the door behind me. It’s as though a whole new world is reforming around my very being. It’s as if everything is new. And for once, in a long time, everything is alright.
Whenever I think back to that day—yes, that’s always the most prominent one, though there are many that would provide ample evidence—I can’t help but feel a phrase come to mind.
One that, though I know it’s petty and hardly matters anymore, makes me smile. It blows away the dark doors with their eerie light and returns me to the world. The real world.
The world that’s filled with sorrows and pain. Of suffering and hardship. Of deep cuts and wounds. Of bitterness and betrayal.
But one that’s also filled with them.
“I wasn’t ever really yours.”
And I’ve stopped thinking I was.
“Always, a part of me was theirs.”
Always was. Always will be.
As long as that yellow sun shines.