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My life is truly led between the hours of 3pm to 6pm. I ponder this as I make my afternoon trek home, now just a few blocks from my apartment. I pull my scratchy wool coat tighter around me, and try to trap all of my ephemeral warmth inside. The time is 2:54 pm. As I turn my key, left, right, hard left, into the door, I wonder if many people daydream about a time of day. I imagine not. But then again, maybe they do. It’s funny how one can think they are alone in a world of over seven billion people. We’re all pretty self-centered that way. I take off my coat and place it neatly on the hook. Tim hates it when I’m messy. But Tim doesn’t get home until 6. Three full hours from now.
I make my way to the cupboard, and fixate on a bag of green tea. My mother used to always have a coffee cup in her hand, the aroma of bitter beans, and the breath of one too many vanilla lattes for Meg. I decided to drink tea. As I wrap my fingers firm around my mug and place the green tea package back in the cupboard, I realize there is only one bag left. I need to go to the store, but it’s too far to walk and I am not allowed to have a car. I am forced to savor every sip of my green tea as I curl up in our delightfully dingy couch. I bend my body down, inching my fingers toward my bag, searching for my book within its depths. This motion would have required much less exertion if I had just stood up and lifted my bag. But it was a blanket-clad 3:24 pm and getting up was out of the question. Victory came as I withdrew my current novel, ruffling some papers on the journey to my lap. I take out my Rite Aid receipt, marking page 102, and begin to read. Reading is my purest form of escape. I know that is considered a cliche. But when there are over seven billion people in the world, everything is a cliche. So I’ve decided not to mind. In fact, I like being similar to many, connected in our method of disconnectivity.
As I lift my mug to my lips, I peer down at grainy, brown residue. A tear begins to roll down my cheek without warning. I look up to check the date. It’s December 2, 4:36 pm. I need to compose myself. Upon closing my book, I realize I used my Rite Aid receipt as a coaster. Dog earing is a sin but so is staining text with a brownish hue. I search for another placeholder, and decide to use the Lipton-marked square, ripping it from the string. Innovation that excites.
After neatly packing my bag, I make my way into my bedroom. Through muddled thoughts, I change into baggy pants and an Iowa State sweatshirt, Tim’s alma mater. When we were younger, our love for football brought us together. I prefer basketball now. At 5 pm, I turn on the news, losing myself in stories of neighborly heroism and holiday fanfare. I love the holidays. When I was little, my mom always decorated our house with bright, twinkling lights. I don’t know what blinded me more back then, my young age, or those damn lights. Familiar footsteps jolted me out of my channel 5 induced introspection. My stomach plummeted as I heard the hard left of the key. 5:57 pm. Tim was home.
I smelled him before I saw him. The distinct scent of egg rolls and rice infiltrated our small dwelling. It was his turn to get dinner. I hate Chinese food. Tim appeared to be in one of his better moods as he placed the takeout on the counter.
“How was your day?” he inquired.
“Fine”, I replied, immediately regretting my word choice. The often monosyllabic nature of our conversation caused me to momentarily forget to stray from my knee jerk response. Tim hated when I only offered a measly, “fine”. To him, the astronomical effort exerted to inquire about my day deserved a more verbose reward. What is that? It’s not as if he truly desires to know about my day. He hasn’t cared about my day in over two years.
I try to tune out his words as I focus on my egg roll and Lester Holt. I clear the coffee table filled with food and make my way to the kitchen. Tim follows. The next two hours pass by in a blur. As I tuck myself into bed, I hear the droning of sports announcers, and the creak of the dusty, dingy couch. I tell myself these hours are unimportant. They are not my life. It is 8:30 pm. Only on the threshold of sleep do I allow myself to think of the life that’s leading me. I think of green tea and the store, how he pushes me through the aisles, yet no one stops and stares. It is rather self-centered to think you are alone in a world of over seven billion people. But then why doesn’t anyone say something?
My mind drifts to the hair salon. Every two months, I experience thirty minutes of joy in the form of the strip mall hair parlor and Sheila. As she buttons me into the black robe and runs her fingers through my brown waves, I flinch at her touch. She frowns, looking at the skin on my shoulders and neck, as she asks about my conditioner usage. I should hate to see her worried face in the mirror’s reflection. But, I love it. Sheila never asks questions unrelated to hair care and my weekend plans. The corner of her mouth turns upward as I lie about extravagant events ahead. Sheila knows. Tim lays on the horn of his Subaru as I get up to pay at the counter. There are seven billion people and yet, we need more Sheilas.
Lying in bed, tears begin to roll down my cheeks. This time, I don’t check the date. I deserve to cry.
The next morning, I creep out of bed, smiling upon noticing Tim’s sprawled state on the comfortable, dingy couch. I splash water on my face. It’s 7 am. I remove my Iowa State sweatshirt, and can’t help but wince upon seeing my skin. My pasty skin has always resisted the sun. I used to complain about how it refused to change color. I don’t complain anymore. I put on a maroon turtleneck to mask the blue-violet discoloration beneath. Purple used to be my favorite color. Now it’s green.
I leave a note for Tim, stating my intended whereabouts. I sigh as I pick up my bag and leave home.
December 3rd was characterized by stares. I made the foolish move to pin back my hair, revealing a portion of my stomach to those around me. I often feel like a walking car accident. People want to look away, but they just can’t.
December 3rd, 2:45 pm. I make my trek back home. It’s not yet 3, so I allow my mind to contemplate my situational self-pity. It’s the weekend, and I allow myself additional reflection before two days of life after 6pm. As I cross the final blocks toward home, I allow myself to think that thought. The one that always returns, like an unstamped package. How do I even feel about Tim? It’s hard to leave, scary even, but not impossible. Am I going to hell if I don’t love him? Am I going to hell if I do?
The final left of my key is a little harder than usual today as I enter and throw my bag and coat on the ground. I am about to memorialize my package of green tea, when I notice an unread voicemail on the answering machine. It’s from my mother. I pull up a stool, and press play, rolling my eyes as her chipper voice fills the silence.
“Hi honey! Can you believe it’s December? Jeff and I are about to put up the tree! How was your day at school? I wish you would come stay with us for a few days!” I remain still on my stool as her cheery voice fades away.
I am not the only one who has been blinded by the twinkling lights. If Meg knew her daughter, she would know that I, of course, could believe it was December. Except from 3-6pm, every minute felt like an hour. Every day, a fortnight. My mother, like Tim, doesn’t care about my day. If she did, she would already know the answer. The seventh grade blows, especially when everyone stares at you. I sigh as I lift my Lipton square. It is 3:15 pm, but my mother doesn’t care about my rules. She is as much an interruption to me, as I was to her. I dip my tea bag into my heated water cup. One, two, three times. I try to focus on the deepening of the color, as I repress the thought. Am I going to hell if I love Tim? Am I going to hell if I don’t? Seven billion people and not one of them can tell a girl how to feel about her father.