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Return to Sender
"Hey, do you have a moment?" I look up from my dog laying on the bench beside me to see a teenager. Some young buck in high school, by the looks of it.
Still, it can't hurt to chat with him. "What's up?"
"You mind a chat? I just have a lot on my mind at the moment. I feel like getting it all out, just to anyone who'll listen."
"I get the feeling. I live alone, though, so when I feel like that, I talk to Deirdre over here," I chortled. I scratch her ears a little, and she looks at me for a moment, then closes her eyes.
"What breed is that?"
"Border Collie. She's been with me for 12 years, since she was a pup."
He sat down next to her and let her sniff his hand. After she did, he began to pet her. "That's a long time."
"Yeah." We sat there in silence for a little while.
"I just feel lost. But it's actually rather hard to describe. Like. I could boil it down to me being lonely, I guess, but there's just something more to it."
"Adolescence getting to you?"
"No...well, maybe. I don't know."
"Take your time. It's not like I get to talk to someone every day."
"I'm getting old, I live alone, and my job is pretty damn solitary. I'm a school janitor."
"Oh. Right." Another silence. He stops petting Deirdre, and just looks off into the distance."
"Spit it out, kid. What's bothering you?"
"I'm just trapped in the past, I guess." He holds his head in his hands. "My ex broke up with me a few months ago, and even though I've tried, she always appears in my head somehow."
"How long were you two together for?"
"About 6 months." He looks up again, and his face has a faraway thousand-yard-stare to it. They say you can read this in people's eyes. He wasn't giving anything away but through his voice and eyes, and I'm not exactly good at reading people. Maybe that's why I've been twice divorced.
"That's nothing. Don't sweat it." He shoots me a quick glare.
"You don't know how strongly I felt. I really invested myself into that relationship and into her. I really did."
"You don't know what love is, believe me."
He snorts. "Everyone says that. I didn't explicitly say it was love. I just...I really cared about her. I wasn't good enough, though. We got in fights sometimes. And...I'll admit I said some things I'm not proud of. We both did." He back at me. "Did you ever marry, or date?"
"Pretty stupid question, but I guess there's the one guy who doesn't want to have anything to do with relationships. I've been divorced twice, and I had a few relationships in high school. Nothing lasting."
"Hmph. You got around."
I chuckle sadly. "I guess I did, a little."
"I just didn't want to think about her. It still drags me down, after all these months. I turned to writing as a way to escape, you know that?"
"We all do things for different reasons."
"Yeah. Well. I actually had something to do. I'd been drawing for a little, but I didn't like most of my drawings and sketches. My stories just felt more natural and higher quality."
"Yeah," he replied. His eyes lit up a little, like a worn lightbulb. "They just felt right. The whole thing just felt right. I'd sit down, and be like, 'I'm going to write a story.' And then I'd type it, or if I was someplace else I'd scribble in this little notebook and type it up later. And there'd be no real planning, except from research if I wanted to be accurate to places or things that I mentioned. I just improvised the whole way."
"That's nice. I used to do whittling."
"I carved a little figure of Deirdre, actually. I based it off a photograph. This was back when she and I were younger and more active, see. What about your stories?"
"The one I'm most proud of was one I wrote from the perspective of a man suffering from at least one mental disorder."
"Whaddya mean by at least one?"
"Ok. So, when I wrote it, I wanted the reader to like, play psychiatrist or whatever, right? I gave this guy a bunch of symptoms that were like those of schizophrenia, OCD, and Asperger's, maybe even moderate autism. And at the end, I revealed that the reader was a psychiatrist, and that the guy actually had Munchausen syndrome as well. The thing is, though, that Munchausen is about a factual disorder, as in people with Munchausen can lie and fake their illnesses very convincingly. So it's all about this whole truth and lies thing."
"You know how you said you improvised, right? You're bullshitting me."
"Well, I don't like sit down and do any planning, so I think I improvise everything." I shake my head. I look at my watch. It's 4:50. I've spent 2 hours already sitting in this park. This kid's been here for what, 10 minutes?
"So how're you feeling now? A little better since you got some stuff out?"
"Haha, I guess a little better. Not that much, though."
"So what's still on your mind?"
"Just..." he closes his eyes. "I do like this girl. But I'm not sure. It's more like, she's just an amazing person. And that she could do so much better than me."
"Is it your ex affecting you?"
"I...don't know. Probably. I've just been turning to writing more and more to try and forget things, but, well. Here I am."
"Mhm." This kid thought so much about this one girl. Maybe he did invest something into her.
"The worst part of it all is that I feel so many of my friends forgot about me because I'm not with her anymore. Like she gave me a name for the world to call me by. Some've stuck with me. But a lot have drifted away, or even just straight-up ignored me." He pauses for a little while. "I guess that's okay. I didn't like all of her friends...but the fact that my identity was tied to hers doesn't exactly make me the happiest man alive."
Deirdre opened her eyes and laid her head on the boy's lap. He started to stroke her, and one tear rolled away from his face before he turned away. I sit there, watching. We both keep quiet for a while, and I just stare up at the sky. There's a lot of clouds up there, grouped in gigantic white clumps and rolling sheets. It's rather beautiful.
"Thanks for listening." I look back down at him, and he's offering his hand.
I shake it firmly. "It's no problem. I felt like I mattered, even if for only half an hour."
He smiles. "Have a good day."