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A Discrete Combustion
At the age of six, I sat comfortably in a chair that was far too large for me, and held a clipboard with broad questions in my lap. I alternated staring at each question, and up at my mother. She knew everything. I didn’t know it back then, but I would see her and simultaneously see wisdom, and security. The clipboard read:
“1. Do your teeth hurt when you eat cold things?” Yes, but only a little. If I say yes, will I have to stop eating ice cream? If I say no, I will be lying. I look at the lady sitting at the front desk, intently focused on the computer. Her scrubs were my favorite color, light blue.
“2. Do your teeth hurt when you eat hot things?” No. Never, but should they if it hurts to eat cold things? I look around the room and contemplate whether or not I will bother my mom with this question. If I ask her then she will know I am thinking about lying, and then she will be mad. I look up at her, still buried in her planner.
People say that I would make a great lawyer seeing that I consider all sides of an argument. They’re right, I do, but only because I am insecure in my decisions. I have always been.
“Elliot! Are you heading to political science?” My friend Jeremy asked from across the street.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” I responded with a sense of disorientation.
“Good, well don’t be late.”
Of course I wasn’t going to be late. I was never late. Being punctual was woven into my internal clock.
I sat down in Polysci with the underlying feeling of discontentment. The only topics we seemed to cover in this class were events that created distrust in government or reaffirmed our corrupt society. This included world troubles, how the US is too obtrusive, new war technology and so on. It was hard to stay focused and positive through the whole lecture.
As Jeremy sat in the seat next to me, a billow of Axe body spray hit my face with the severity that bricks would. Professor Hoffman had started his lecture, uncaring to the lack of student’s awareness.
I turned around to notice Dianne hadn’t been to class in two weeks.
“Hey, Jeremy” I leaned over and whispered.
“What’s up?” He had that d*****bag resonance in his voice.
“Where has Dianne been?” Dianne was nothing but an innocent crush, but everyone else seemed to think that was equivalent to love.
“Dude, check your Insta. She ran off to live in New York and is trying to become an artist,” he said with judgment. “Something about ‘Taking a chance, living spontaneously’.”
I looked back towards the front of the classroom and mumbled to myself, “she sounds happy”.
“She just screwed her life, man.” Jeremy said.
I couldn’t help but think how right he was. She left her education for the possibility that she could be the next Picasso, when odds are she will be working at a Chili’s for years to come. By then it be too late when she realizes that having an education would have offered her a better life. A life where she wouldn’t be almost homeless.
After class, I went back to my apartment and laid in bed thinking about Dianne. Dianne who I thought dreamed of being a lawyer like the rest of us, but really was strangled by the idea of professionalism. With that, began a series of questions. Was she happy? Was she scared to leave her life of stability? What did it feel like to go after her dreams? Did it feel great to not have to wake up for 8:00 am political science class? How did she know she didn’t want to be a lawyer? Do I want to practice law? Do I want to be strapped to people like Jeremy? What were my real dreams? Is there anything I would leave this school for? Could I get up, leave and never come back?
My meaningless list of questioning was interrupted by a phone call. Getting a call from dad wasn’t always the highlight of my day. “Hey dad.”
“Hey kiddo! How’s the future employee of Watkins and Mackenzie?” I could almost envision him screaming enthusiasm into his phone.
“Great dad,” I said with an opposing tone. I wasn’t excited about the job offer I had from Watkins and Mackenzie, and I wasn’t sure why. It was a great firm, but I couldn’t see myself particularly enthusiastic about working in the real world.
“Look dad, I can’t talk now. I am on my way to class.” I lied, and felt guilty. He was a good man, but just expected me to be this big, successful lawyer. To be honest, his calls were more of a bother than pleasant.
“Oh ok! Give me a call when you can.” Despite just being lied too, he was still peppy.
Eating at a Panda Inn, I pay no attention to the people socializing and trying to forcibly shove Lo-Mein in their mouths. My eyes were blank, and I just looked out and saw Dianne living the life she had always wanted, or if not, working towards that life. It felt wrong, but a part of me was envious. I saw her running around in Central Park, and dancing at a loud club, painting in a refrigerator box sized apartment, happy. I stabbed a larger piece of sesame chicken and looked around, this time paying attention to the people around me. They were laughing with friends, sharing food, and feeding their children. My face cringed in jealousy and I left.
Back in my apartment, I thought about how I was too interested in what people thought I would be good at, that it never occurred to even consider what I wanted. I dropped onto the floor, feeling the rough carpet on my skin, a toughness that mimicked my thoughts. I looked up and envied the ceiling I stared at. It was blank. No one to feed it a predestined future it never asked for. It holds no ones expectations. Just blank.
I awoke the next morning at 10:30 am, purposely missing class. I wanted today to be one of relaxation. I wanted to feel what Dianne had felt, even if it was just pretend. I spent the day sitting in the grass, writing, eating and enjoying the farmers markets and street performers. I was a leaf, in the wind.
Night was on its way, which meant the temperature was dropping, and I went home to change into warmer clothes. I put on my favorite jeans, a red shirt, my best coat and converse. Looking in the mirror, I checked my hair to see if it looked good enough, but better than usual. It did.
I stepped out of my building, looking out at the night and realized that my day of freedom was over. With this thought I shrunk back into an exhausted, worrisome self, and found the pain of dissatisfaction reaching back. “Take a chance, live spontaneously” I thought to myself. My breath curled up from out of my mouth and into the frigid air. I was fearful of the darkness that fell around the streets. Distracted from the uneasiness of the dark, I could hear my heart pounding. A heart that pulsed loud, and healthy. A heart that was still young and was allowed to live freely.
I stood motionless on the sidewalk, when an absurd idea had jumped in my head. “No,” I laughed to myself. And even though I knew that it was a ridiculous idea, every string in my body wanted nothing more than to act in foolishness.
I slowly removed my coat, and after letting it fall onto the concrete, I shook my head laughing at my own disapproval. My shirt, jeans and boxers followed, creating an ugly mound of wrinkled clothes. To me, it looked beautiful. It looked like liberation, and fantasy.
I stood with bare skin revealed, cold, on a street that lay silent. Degrees were dropping and I could feel the wintry draft begin to freeze parts of my body. Taking a deep breath, I walked casually towards civilization and away from my incredible pile. My walk reached a light jog that fed into a run, and eventually a sprint. Suddenly I was flying past gas stations, and Subways, smiling the biggest smile I could. People I passed began to point, and smile, and tried to take pictures. It was like being in slow motion, streaking, but the moment passed so quickly.