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'm smiling. Laughing so hard, I need to support myself on the desk. They're laughing too. My voice is empty, hollow, fake to me, but they don't notice. To them, it's an ordinary day with ordinary people, in an ordinary school in an ordinary world. They can think what they will, and my joyless laughter can ring as it will, but it won't change the scars deep inside me, won't change the eroding worry in my mind, my heart.
Class has started now, and we're sitting down, quiet. I take out my homework, the short project I labored over the previous afternoon. It was a nice afternoon. Ordinary. The sheet of paper, neatly typed, looks fine to me. My writing is clear, and it flows, words written by a girl who couldn't have been me. She wasn't nauseous, wasn't sick to the pits of her stomach. She was happy and smiling and laughing, but not like I do. Because she was fine. Ordinary.
I listen, calm, as the teacher explains. Her voice is croaky, weathered, tired. The words stagger out of her mouth, jumbled and crashing into each other, before falling in a silent heap. My pen twirls between my fingers, an endless stream of light blue. Will it ever stop? Will it, at some point, simply give up, weary of this world, the never-ending spin?
It won't. Not now, anyway. It keeps on going, for what is a few moments for me and an eternity for it. The teacher might still be talking, or she might not. I can't hear - the world is quiet, like two hands are clamped over my ears. Only the rush of blood in my head echoes, until it is consuming me, until I'm no longer a person with thoughts and feelings but just another cell flowing through a body, a thoughtless cell with one task in mind, an endless task.
They're calling me. Pulling me back, closer, closer, like a fly-away balloon being tethered again. I blink and flush, when I see the teacher is impatiently in front of me. She repeats a question, and I answer. My voice is perky, cheery, confident.
But I don't want it to be. I want to rip off this mask and lock myself in my room, I want to hide and hide, and hope they never find me. I don't want to face another sleepless night, just me and the tick-tick-ticking clock, me and the few cars zooming along the road, me and the other lost souls of this world.
The teacher has moved on, and is elaborating on what I said. I look down on my paper, and am surprised to see that I was taking notes, because there they are, in my crisp handwriting, bold across the bright white page, snugly between the blue lines. My fingers continue to spin the pen. On and on and on.
My heart isn't broken. It wasn't taken and snapped in half, and placed back in. It was crumpled. Shattered. Nuked. I place my hand there, but it still beats. Imagine. A pile of concrete concern and pain can be poured on it, but it will still pulse.
It beats constantly, but at ragged intervals. Like the fluctuating speed of the pen in my fingers. Suddenly, I know that if my pen stops spinning, if it ceases to keep going, my heart will stop too.
My heart beats faster, and my pen flies around my thumb. A classmate's voice is loud, almost obnoxiously so, but the thud of my heart is louder. The rough noise of my breath. The scrape of my feet as they brush the tiled floor.
The pen drops, and I stare at it for a moment, feeling that moment of previous pain amplified, amplified by a million times, or a billion, or by a number we have no name for. Then there's a voice, a tap on my shoulder. I look up and realize the tears are streaming down my face, burning hot, and I stand up, suddenly, out of my chair. I mutter something and stumble out, and then I'm running, faster and faster, like I can run away from everything. Leave it behind and never come back.
But I have to stop, eventually, and so I do. I push into the bathroom and lock myself in a stall, sliding down to the floor.
I sat there for a few seconds. Twenty minutes. An hour. A year. The tears keep coming, but slow, steady. They drip to the floor, competing with the rhythmic tempo of the leaky faucet. I feel dizzy, lost, disoriented.
How could it happen to me? It happens to people in books, in movies, in stories and plays, but never to real life people. Maybe in somewhere far, far away, but to me?
I never thought it would hurt so bad, like thorns slicing through my flesh, the blood dribbling down. My arms are wrapped around me and I look up, from the cramped bathroom stall, to the grimy window. It's so dirty you would think nothing could possibly go through it, but sunlight still floods in. It doesn't care about the scum that ails it, just passes straight through it.
The janitor walks in, whistling. I watch her spray something on it, and then wipe away the grime with a rag. Gone. Just like that.
Park City, Utah
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