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That Could've Been Me

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Chapter 1
That could’ve been me, I think, pondering the situation he was currently facing. I could’ve been standing right beside him, with nowhere to live and nothing to my name besides the clothes I was wearing. But let me rewind a little.

It all started on the very first day of second semester, during my junior year of high school. Hard to believe over a year has passed since then. I walked into second period science, and there he was, in the back row: skinny jeans with handmade, sewed-on patches; a dark hoodie; and a look in his eyes that clearly showed he was somewhere else, above the classroom and its mundane first-day routines. There were over 30 kids in our class, but from that very first day, I had eyes for no one else. Later I would learn that he’d thought the exact same thing about me.

That aside, I claimed the very first seat in the very first row as mine, placing my heart-printed backpack on the floor next to my chair. Looking back, our choice of seats was almost symbolic for our differences. I should’ve stayed in that front row…but I didn’t.

However, that transition hadn’t taken place yet. On the first day, I was content to stay where I was, pretending to read the class syllabus (no one actually reads it) and stashing the day’s second bundle of “Take home to parents!” forms in my backpack. The period passed with the usual quickness associated with the first few weeks of a new class.

All was well.

Chapter 2

“Hey! What day is the project due for science?” A simple enough question, but little did he know, it was merely a cover-up for my true intentions. You see, I already knew when the project was due – in fact, I was almost finished with it. That’s just the kind of girl I was: homework always finished and turned in on time, straight A’s marching across my report cards, a reasonable curfew I’d never had a need to break, and plans to go to the best college I could afford. He didn’t know any of that though. He simply thought I had asked an honest question, and not fabricated a reason just to talk to him. Men. So oblivious.

“I think it’s due Tuesday.” There it was, our first communication – via instant messaging, yes, but communication nonetheless. I should’ve left it at that, but I couldn’t possibly foresee the chain of events that would transpire in the coming months with him. At the time, it was merely a chance to get to know someone new, who seemed pretty interesting. And get to know him, I did, for we talked every night after that. I learned he was funny and charming, with a personality that made you want to be nice to him no matter what he did. He didn’t have too much figured out in the hopes-and-dreams department, but he was looking for a job and planning on attending college. Our lifestyles were different, but I decided that didn’t matter. I’d been hit by Cupid’s arrow - either that, or I’d run into a wall at some point and lost a sizable chunk of my good sense.


Whatever the case, we continued to talk for almost two weeks, although we never so much as waved hello in person. Both of us claimed to be too shy to say anything that wasn’t typed in a chat box. Eventually, I got tired of this pattern, so I worked up the courage to walk to the back of the room.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s the day that I changed my seat…and my life. Patience, my friends. That part of the tale will come soon enough. My first conversation with him (in person) didn’t lead to much, and I honestly can’t even recall what we talked about. It ended once the lunch bell rang, and we went our separate ways – me, to a National Art Honor Society meeting, and him…I have no idea. I’m assuming he went off campus, hung out at a friend’s house, and forgot about the world for an hour, returning barely in time to make it to third period. I didn’t know it then, but I would soon be a guest on these trips. That day though, I was pleasantly unaware. We didn’t see each other until the next day, but, like a bite from a thirsty mosquito, the thought of him wouldn’t leave my mind. And, like a bite, the thought was something I couldn’t ignore.

It had begun.

Chapter 3

It wasn’t really a date, at least, not in the traditional sense. He didn’t pick me up from my house at “7 o’clock sharp”-but-kind-of-late, tossing a reassuring “I’ll have her home by 11, promise!” over his shoulder towards my parents. We didn’t have a romantic dinner followed by a movie and ice cream. Well, the movie part actually happened. But a third person – a mutual friend of ours – came along as well, so it wasn’t even like we were alone. All in all, I don’t consider it a date. Although I suppose that’s a matter of opinion.

Anyways, the first time I saw him outside school was the aforementioned movie. It was your typical, run-of-the-mill horror film, and we clung to each other at appropriate points during those 112 minutes, as flirtatious teenagers are prone to do during such films. When it was over, the three of us stopped at a small diner nearby for a snack. We weren’t particularly hungry, so we ordered only sodas. At this point in the story, our mutual friend (he shall remain nameless, for this is the sole part he plays in this tale) had to leave to pick up his girlfriend.

Looking back, I wonder if the entire course of events leading up to right now might’ve been altered had we not lost the third attendee of our “date” that night. Perhaps I would’ve experienced some kind of epiphany, and there would’ve been no subsequent dates. At the very least, I would’ve still been single by the end of the evening.
Chapter 4

A month and a half. Doesn’t seem long enough to change a person, does it? Six and a half weeks. What happened to those A’s I used to see on report cards? Forty-six days. When did my curfew become “too early”? One thousand, one hundred, and four hours. Who’s that girl in the mirror? I don’t know her…how did she get here? How did she steal my eyes?

Those are some of the questions I should’ve been asking myself during the time we were together. Unfortunately, the girl in the mirror didn’t stop to think anymore.

I had moved to the back of the classroom.

I won’t go into great detail on what changed me, but rather how I changed. You’ve probably already gathered that I was no longer the straight-A student I’d been since middle school. “The truth” was a concept I’d begun to grow distant from. I still had friends, but their names began to change from the ones I’d always known.

As I changed, I watched him change as well, both of us pebbles tumbling down a dark hole together. But whereas I’d begun my descent from the edge of the hole, he’d been falling since I don’t know when. Fights with words turned to fights with fists. Rules that were followed occasionally became utterly ignored. B’s morphed into D’s. Two steady jobs became a single part-time job located forty minutes away. And it only got worse.

Chapter 5

This brings me to the end of my sad-but-true story. I broke up with him less than two months into our relationship, and since then have been slowly crawling back up the slope, hoping to reach the ledge again soon.

As for him, he never stopped falling. His parents kicked him out of their house after a violent fight, and now he’s jumping from friend to friend, begging for a night on their couch and a hot meal. His car and all of his belongings, besides the clothes he wore, still remain at his house (at which he is no longer welcome). He lost the privilege of having his parents pay tuition, and is now wondering where he’ll come up with the money to continue attending college. His life is a daily struggle to survive at the bottom of that hole, every aspect of his misfortune being the result of his own actions.

The scary part is that could’ve been me.

Epilogue

“Hey. How are you?” I ask, cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder as I fill out a college application.

“Ahh, y’know. Same old, same old. We should hang out sometime!” he answers, his voice revealing how detached he was from the world at the moment.

“Ehh, I don’t think I can. I’ve kind of left that life behind,” I tell him, proud of myself for refusing.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun! Just like old times,” he coaxes, “Although I don’t have a car anymore – but you could come pick me up, and we could just chill over at – “

“No,” I cut him off, “I’m not gonna end up like you.”

“You never have any fun these days,” he mumbles, “You used to be a lot more fun.” There’s a pause, during which I hear bits of a conversation, two other voices seeming to come to a conclusion in their discussion. “Alright, sounds good.” “Hey, you in?”

“’Course, man.” His voice is back in my ear. “Just lemme get off the phone. You sure you don’t wanna come?” He’s addressing me again. “We’re gonna head over to this party – it should be pretty chill.”

I sigh. Even after everything that’s happened, he still hasn’t learned. It doesn’t matter that he has no home, and no one willing to keep providing money for school. It doesn’t matter that he has no future in sight. He’s still the same as he’s always been, farther down in the darkness than I’d ever imagined he’d fall. But I’m not about to follow him down there.

“Sorry, no thanks,” I decline, “Have fun though. And take care of yourself, okay?”

“Yeah, okay, sure. Talk to ya soon, babe.” Just like that, the call dissolves into dead air. I’ve done it. I feel like I just took another step closer to reaching the light at the top of the hole.

I pull the phone away from my ear and press End. But I’m not just ending a call; I’m ending a chapter of my life. Although, in a way, I pity him…but I also know it’s his own fault. What he has to deal with now could’ve been avoided. Right then, I decide I will avoid it. And I think, That will never be me.



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