Fresh Start

January 13, 2008
By Justin Smith, North Barrington, IL

The clock ticks softly as my dad sits silently in his rocking chair. We all wait for him to tell us why he called us together. The couch feels hard and awkward beneath me. Wind howls in the fireplace, but no one hears it except the dog, who hides under a blanket. When my father finally speaks, it’s as if ice on a frozen pond has cracked. His words cut like a knife. We’re going to have to move again. He’s been fired from his job. It feels as if I have fallen in to that frozen pond. The only parts of my life that I can remember are from our home here, in Wisconsin. Is it really going to end like this? Images and memories swarm in my mind like bees. The room appears foggy. I try to blink the fog away, but it only gets worse.

I am in a sea of smiling faces—a vast, endless ocean, for which I am only a spectator. For me, the end of the school year signifies the loss of my entire life, the only thing that I know. Yet I find myself smiling, too. My friend tells a joke, and I laugh, despite the jokes complete lack of humor. As easily and mindlessly as I would complete first grade addition or subtraction, I go through the motions in my own life. I don’t think; I don’t feel. I convince myself that nothing is different; that we’ll all be friends forever. I’m lying, and I know it, but a lie is secure. The lie is warm and soft. Blissfully, I fall asleep while lying.

Where am I? What on earth is Barrington High School? Who are these people? What am I doing here? Again, I’m surrounded by smiling faces, but now as unfamiliar as a foreign tongue. I can see everything happening around me, and yet I am utterly blind to it. I don’t speak, I don’t think, I don’t feel. I am a robot as I stumble through these halls, again going through the motions, but this time not because I want to. I have no other choice. Around me thrives a system of pods that operate on a common interface. I search for a pod to connect myself to, but everything that I see is too complicated for me to possibly comprehend. I talk to a boy in class one day, but he acts as though he does not notice. I try once more to curl up in a bundle of comforting lies. I don’t believe them for a minute.

Somehow, against all odds, I’m able to find people who speak to me. I start to feel like there’s someone there to carry my burden as well. I tell a joke, and everyone laughs. Even the boy I spoke to on the first day is there, smiling along with everyone else. The gossip that flits through the air in the hallways begins to register in my brain. I’ve heard these names before. People who know my name come up to tell me stories about their lives, stories they don’t tell everyone. Now strutting through the hallways, I no longer feel as though I’m from a faraway land. I know where I’m going, and I have people who will carry me all the way there. I’ve paid my dues, and I belong here. I help another friend with another problem. I can’t help but smile as she hugs me and walk away. For some reason, I smile too. Why can’t I get her off my mind?

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