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I’ve been staring at the ripples in my ceiling for at least two hours. Maybe it’s been four. Maybe it’s only been half an hour. I can’t tell if I’m waiting for someone to knock on the door or not. I know no one will come, though. Everyone’s busy. I’m busy too, you know. There are a lot of circular thoughts that need tracing. A lot of made-up problems that need made-up solutions. I’ll never follow through with them, of course. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I’m a very busy person.
On Sunday – or maybe it was Tuesday – the wall to my left started looking at me weird, calling me lazy. Agitated, I informed him he was in no place to judge. I was very busy; didn’t he know that? I flipped over to my right side, nuzzling my face into a mix of greasy hair and pillowcase.
“I haven’t washed my hair in four days, you know,” I said to the right wall. Deadpan, he stared back.
“I shower every day and all; I’m not a complete caveman. I just get too lazy to reach for the shampoo and everything,” I clarified.
Right Wall stared back at me.
Annoyed with the both of them, I rolled onto my back, returning to the ceiling. He never seemed to judge like the others.
The sheets ruffle. I wriggle my toes and sigh. Propping myself up on my elbows, I have a brief staring contest with the lamp switch. He wins. Covering my eyes, I flip the switch. The light leaks through my fingers as I stumble to the door and step into the hallway. The sweet smell of corn and grilled chicken dances its way up the staircase. I follow it willingly to the kitchen.
I pull a chair out, and its legs grate against the kitchen tile, signaling my presence to the cook.
“Al, honey, have you done that paper yet?”
“I’ve been really busy, Ma.”
“Dear, with what?” She sets a mountain of food before me. “I mean, I assume you’re doing your work up there, but when you’re just down here watching TV ….”
“I’m under a lot of stress, Ma.”
I push the corn around my plate, bunching it into a pile. The heat from her gaze burns my forehead. I look up. Her brows are furrowed. She stares at me expectantly. When I shrug my shoulders and drop my head back to my plate, she sighs audibly and returns to the stove.
“Everybody in that school is under the same ‘pressure’ as you are.” The spoon scrapes the pot rhythmically as she churns the mashed potatoes. “I don’t see why you have to make such a scene about your assignments.” She looks back at me expectantly and exhales again. Her jaw tenses, making it appear wiry; the skin on her face seems loose, tired.
“I wish you wouldn’t worry about me,” I try. “I’ve got everything under control.”
No response. Dinner rolls on. I return to the walls. Sometimes they help me not to think so much. Sometimes they make it worse, letting my thoughts bounce and echo off one another, teasing me as my chest begins to shudder.
Who knows how much time passes before my next episode. I try not to keep track of time. I realize that no matter how chaotic your thoughts are, being acutely aware of the time you’re wasting only exacerbates the situation.
Once or twice I’ve asked Left Wall if he thinks I should go talk to someone less emotionally involved than my mother, but he always reassures me that I’m giving my best. He understands that I’m under a lot of stress.
One afternoon, a triangle of light dashes into my room, splaying itself across the walls. It grows rapidly around a shadowy figure.
“Al, you’ve been in here all day,” the figure says. “Your father and I have been talking and–”
“So now you guys talk about me behind my back? You think I’m a slacker,” I whisper to Right Wall.
“Speak up, dear. We’re getting concerned.”
I stare aimlessly into Right Wall’s face. He holds my gaze and promises me she’s wrong. I’ve been very busy. She doesn’t understand. Warm drops of liquid salt hit my lips as I realize I’m speaking.
“I just … I don’t care.”
And it’s true. I don’t. I’ve been trying to care. I’ve been caring enough to do that, haven’t I, walls? I’ve been caring enough to know I don’t care. But I’m very busy. She doesn’t get it.
She’s speaking, but her words are unintelligible to me now. The warm salt is sprinting down my cheeks. The walls are disappointed in me. I’ve let her in.
I let her in. I break down and let my mother in. I don’t think the tears away. I know now. I let her hold me as I cry. Her arms absorb my sobs. Walls don’t have arms, you know.