Six hours. 360 minutes. 21,600 seconds of staring at one textbook and one page of notes.
Maybe biochemistry isn’t my thing. I don’t think it ever was. It’s more of my dad’s sort of thing.
Well, he’s not sitting here in my sauna-like dorm room cramming for a course, now is he? He’s probably back at home untucking his shirt and having a glass of wine with his fiancée. Lucky jerk.
I sigh loudly enough for my neighbors to question my activities. I don’t really know them at all, so it doesn’t matter. I’m not one to be in my room very often. Even back at home I didn’t enjoy it.
Sick of microscopic matter and things you can’t see with the naked eye, I grab my backpack and coat and head out the door.
The moment I step out of the dormitory, the unrelenting wind smacks me. Oh, yeah. Classes were canceled today because of it. For a moment my sweaty room seems tempting, but my textbook is still plotting my death back at my desk, so I’ll tough it out.
The walk through campus is cruel, but at least my biochemistry stress is whisked away by the wind. I’m probably the only idiot outside right now, but I know a place that will remove any and all of my worries. Hopefully it’s open on this frigid evening.
The whole way there I stare down at my numb feet skirting along the frozen sidewalk. I’ve made this trek across campus enough times that I can find my way there by the cracks and crannies of the sidewalk. A moldy sandwich on the curb congratulates me on my arrival at my destination. It’s been there for three weeks.
The Purple Onion Café’s lights greet me as I step through the glass door. It’s open. I quickly step up to the counter to place my order. There’s no line. There’s no one here but me and the staff.
“The usual,” I say confidently to the waiter, but it’s just habit. I’m not confident.
He raises his eyebrow. “It’ll be right up.”
I take a seat at a center table. I would usually sit in the corner, but no one’s here, so it doesn’t matter. I grab my giant headphones from my backpack and let the New York Symphony Orchestra string their violins in my ear.
“One large coffee, a plate of onions, and a side of melted butter. Pay whenever you’re ready.” The waiter slaps down my order.
I know. It’s weird. I stare at my unique meal. It reminds me too much of her. I can’t take it anymore – the tears start. But it’s not because of the onions. They’re just an excuse.
“If you ever remember anything I teach you,” she said with a sly smile, “it’s always use a condom, and always order the meal a restaurant is named after. That means it’s their best dish.”
“Yes, Mommy.” I didn’t know what a condom was at five years old. But the other part made sense. Jim’s Burgers had the best burgers. I liked them with extra pickles.
She smiled her huge smile. It used to remind me of whitecaps on a windy day at the beach. Her smile stretched across her entire face and into her eyes.
As I got older, though, her smile started to end at her lips, not able to make the journey into her deep green irises. I knew something was wrong. She never really cried in front of me, but her empty-eyed smiles didn’t fool me.
“Just get over it,” he’d whispered to her in the kitchen. “Just don’t feel that way.” It was late, and I was supposed to be in bed.
“You don’t think I’ve tried?” was her muffled response. She didn’t have the energy to be hostile, but I think she would have been. I would have been – I still am now.
My dad placed his wrinkled forehead in his hands. It aged quicker than the rest of his body. Probably from all the frustration he experienced with human emotion.
I wish she hadn’t tried. Trying too hard to make her sadness go away made her go away. And my dad didn’t try enough. Maybe if he had, my mom wouldn’t have had to try so hard on her own.
Maybe I should have tried harder too. But being eight years old doesn’t allow you to help adults.
“Excuse me.” The small voice brings me back to the sight of my barely touched bulbs of buttered vegetables. “Are you okay, sir?”
“I’m fine,” I tell the waiter, wiping away the stream of snot and the tears in my eyelashes. He walks away, glancing over his shoulder one last time before going into the back room.
I’m fine now, but I wonder if he is. I wonder if my father untucked his shirt and sat down next to his fiancée, his arm slung across her shoulder.
I wonder if he thinks of her, remembers.
Does his smile reach his eyes? I’ve never noticed.
Ten and half years. 92,041 hours. 5,522,460 minutes. That’s how long she’s been gone.
Just in case you were wondering.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.