I woke up that morning with the funny feeling that the rest of the day would be different than normal. Everything started out genuinely enough; the day seemed real for the moment. I lifted my covers and swung myself down from my bed. I got dressed, as needed for the moment at least, and sauntered downstairs. I ate breakfast but couldn't remember what food tasted like. I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, shaved, put on a clean shirt, shoes, walked the dog, stepped outside, onto the bus, and slept.
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That was my morning, or what I remembered of it. By that time, it was becoming difficult to discern memories from reality. Imagination and dreams seemed to comprise more and more of what was real to me. Thinking long enough about the past forced the world to fade away. My mind poured itself outward and everything around me rushed in. I could stare at the wall and watch my entire life play itself out from an old projector, the soft hisses and clicks marking the moments. I constantly replayed the moments in my mind, hoping things would change, that a hole had burned in my tape of memory. But the tape never skipped a beat and I never forgot.
The school day was a blur of colors and classes. College was approaching at quickening speeds, and the hours spent at high school had less and less meaning everyday. Life seemed to be moving on fast forward, moments passing by with quick gusts of wind behind them pushing me along. Most days I went limp and let the winds of life carry me, but time slowed for lunch, a small respite. Besides, that day was different. Anniversaries come only so often, and I was trying my best to latch onto any means I could to take my mind off the day’s troubled past.
I pulled back the small chair and sat down, surveying the table to see who was still missing in action. Alex, Mike, and Sean were already sitting down, and Greg and Steve would be there soon. In enough time the table was filled. I lost myself in the din of the lunchroom, listening intently to the jumps of topics my table went through. I laughed intermittently at the lighthearted discussion, but remained quiet for most of the time. Sometimes I looked around the table, watching their eyes and quickly averting my gaze whenever anyone looked my way. Even when I could see them looking the other way I felt their stare on me. I wanted to scream out that I was fine, that I had dealt with it, that her death was done ruining me, but the silence in my head was deafening. I feared they would never hear me, and knew they would never believe me.
An hour passed and the bell gave a muffled ring in the distance, slow and low at first but growing in pitch as time sped up once more.
That day I drove home with Neil, because the bus had become too stifling to do me any good. The ride home was long, but I always found this better than worse, enjoying the relaxing ride in limbo between school and home. I also wasn’t feeling particularly well, or had at least convinced my self of this, and thought a smooth ride with Neil was better than any ride on the bus. Neil probably wasn’t considering any of this. Mostly, he just wanted me to see his new car.
“Nice ride, don’t you think?” he asked me as we got in.
“Yeah, much better than the bus,” I answered quickly, shaking my head in silent agreement.
“I got new speakers installed and everything. A kick-ass sub in the back and….”
The entire time he was talking, Neil had been raising the volume of his stereo, hiding his words with Built to Spill. I nodded my head, sure whatever he was saying was alright. I turned and could see him mouthing the words. He could have been singing aloud, but I could not hear him and no real desire to either.
Twenty minutes later and my house was whizzing past as we drove by. I lowered the music and saw Neil turn to me with a puzzled look.
“Where are we going?” I asked him. The clock glowed 3:00, not late at all, but I wanted to go home.
“There a few bands playing a free show down at The Hall. I heard one of them was pretty good. The Stills, or The Stones, or something like that.”
On any other day I would have been happy to go, ecstatic to see a new band in concert, free or not. But the day and my memories were getting to me. I kept my eyes open and dry out of spite. It had been one year already, to the day. I was moving on, picking up my life and journeying forward. I refused to acknowledge what had happened with any thoughts. I was stupid back then. Ignorant to think that if I just went on as though things were normal they would be. That’s why I let Neil drive on, because I believed in consistency and this show would give me that.
“Are you okay?”
I pulled my mind from its dazed search out the window. I had been imagining myself outside the car, outside my body, outside the world looking in. Now I was back in with questions to answer.
“Yeah,” I said, “just tired, I guess. I never get enough sleep before school.”
“No, I mean, are you okay with today…”
“Oh. Yes, of course. I mean, it’s not like I don’t think about it. It’s past, I deal with it. I can’t let it run my life, you know?”
“Yeah, right. That’s good to hear. You looked a little down, just wanted to make sure.”
“No problem, just tired is all it is.”
I felt bad lying to one of my best friends, but in a way it wasn’t really lying. I really had dealt with it, at least as best as possible. Some of the memories I threw away, others I packed away in my head for some hypnotist or psychologist to discover, and some I still remember to this day. Over a decade later, and I still have a place set aside for her.
A few more miles and we reached the club. Walking in, we could hear muted guitar and vocals from the stage. I walked up the stairs with Neil and broke off from him when I reached the top. I found the crowd up front and lost myself within them. I was one of them then, swaying and jumping with the rhythm, cheering and booing with the small community of scenesters that could be found at every show.
The bands came and went, and I listened shortly to a local one before going into the next room to take some time off from the noise. An unattended bar stood in the middle, surrounded by small groups of people bantering about whatever was important to them. The floor to the right was raised a couple feet, creating a small bench for whoever needed it. I sat down and fell back against the wall.
I felt motion besides me and knew without looking that someone had sat down next to me. I kept my head turned away, too tired and nervous to make eye contact lest a conversation begin. Of course, that had never happened before, but I had experienced enough times the brief rapports marked only by a slight smile and a turning of the head. Unfortunately, or surprisingly, I heard my name.
“Seth?” a voice called to my left.
I turned towards the unfamiliar voice and was surprised to see who it was.
“Yeah, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I didn’t expect to see you either.”
Amy was a girl I had met a couple weeks beforehand. She had been at a party I went to, a friend of a friend of a friend. Only through the long line of chance events had we met in the first place, and it was just as chance an event that was bringing us together that night. We talked a little that night, but it was hardly the formation of a new friendship, let alone anything else. She was a year older than I was, and already off to college.
“So I guess you made it home,” she said.
“Yeah, safely. Paying no attention to his violent screams of anger, Andrew's a good driver.”
“He's so funny,” she laughed. “I’ve never been in a car with him though.”
“He curses whenever he can.”
“Well, it's not like I’ve never heard him curse, but I still don't see that. He’s Andrew!
“Not being from your school I can see all of you cursing. Especially you.”
“You can?” she asked, quickly adding, “Well, yes that's what you said.”
She smiled, brushing the hair away from her face. I smiled back, laughing softly to myself.
“Yes, yes,” I answered.
“Why especially me?”
“I don't know. You remind me of people I know, I guess.”
“I hope that's not a bad thing.”
“Not at all, you're better than them.”
“Oh. Well, thanks then. I think. I guess it's all relative.”
“I can't see being better than someone a bad thing.”
“Well, that depends on how bad they are and how much better I would be. Like if on a scale of one to a hundred, they're a three and I’m a four... well -- so you see the relativity?”
She laughed again, at herself this time, finding it all very amusing.
“This is how my mind works though. That's why I’m doing some sort of psychology.”
“But a four is better than a two.”
“Yes, but out of a hundred, that's still pretty sad. Out of ten, it's not as sad. And out of four, it's great.”
I laughed hard, for the first time in awhile. My head dropped into my hands to hide, a strange action so many of us go through whenever something truly entertaining comes up. In retrospection it wasn’t that amusing of a sentence, but the moment was right. I calmed down and raised my head. A small necklace with the words “Paper Star” was wrapped around her neck.
“I don't get it.”
“Well, it’s metaphorical and not.”
I asked her to explain, if not for my benefit at least to keep the conversation going.
“Not being: I used to sit in class last year and make little origami stars out of paper. I’d fill up cool looking wine bottles and then give them to people for random holidays. But it'd take so long to make them that only a few people would get them.”
She hesitated. From her eyes it seemed as if she wanted to offer some answer, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t.
“Umm... well, stars are stars. And paper is paper. I don’t know. It can be fragile, and that's the most I’ll give you. That’s why it's a metaphor, multiple meanings and not for me to tell you.”
“Some things need explaining for even the best of us.”
“Well, I’d like to keep some mystery about me.”
“That is good. Mystery is a quality most people lack.”
“That, and I never really thought too much about it. If I do, I’m sure I can find lots of stuff.”
“Slacker,” I chided, hoping she would get the joke. Instead, she just ignored and continued.
“Yeah. It is quite an interesting quality, mystery. Much different from being secretive... and fake.”
We paused for a moment.
“Mysteries are the wonders of the world,” I said.
“I don't need to psychoanalyze myself. Well, maybe I do, but I don't want to.”
“Nothing needs psychoanalyzing. Sometimes it's just fun.”
“That's true. And I’m good with other people, but I tend not to focus on myself so much. That’s not so much fun.”
“It'll be interesting to see what you think of me.”
We talked for a little longer, about school, about music, about nothing in particular. I enjoyed the conversation, probably more than I would have at any other time. It was normal, one devoid of any words of the past. Talking to Amy had been a gentle reprieve from what the day meant, from the melancholy memories that pervaded the hours. The specifics of our talk were quickly lost to me, but the feelings remained.
Eventually Neil came over and interrupted us. He had seen what he wanted to see and thus it was time to leave. He was a good friend, the best, but not a patient one. His life was always in motion, or at least he tried to have it be. Most people sometimes found themselves moving slowly through life, but not Neil. To him, life was either quick or not moving at all.
We drove around for awhile, destination unknown. In the end, we ended up nowhere, but we were content enough just to be out. Music, because there was never enough, played loudly on Neil’s stereo. The bass boomed and the treble wailed, too loudly for any hope of conversation. So we sat silently, drowning ourselves in the voices of others.
I tried not to think about her, but the closer the day came to ending, the more I felt her distance. I knew in my heart that she was beyond my reach, but I still longed. It had been a year since her death, but it felt like yesterday. Sitting in the car on my way to nowhere, my body was heavy with sadness. But, I did not cry; time had long since dried my rivers. The tinny sounds emanating from the speakers pushing air, filling the entire car with riffs and beats, destroying any chance of small talk, of course did not help.
By the time we arrived back at my house it was almost midnight. I knew no one would be awake to greet me, and I feared the darkness. The day had passed so far with little mention of her, of how alone I was, of how alone she was. But I knew the darkness would not remain quiet. Walking up my steep driveway, passing in and out of the shadows cast by the tall trees and long fences, I was scared. I felt like just falling and sinking into the ground, hiding away from whatever was to come. Instead, I ran to the door, swung it open, sprinted around corners and up stairs. I saw the darkness fading behind me as I rushed past it, grabbing hopelessly at my ease of mind. Finally, I made it to my room, switched the lights on, and smiled an inward smile as the darkness burst into flames.
The small bed I had been calling my nightly home for almost my entire life was obscured by a dense pile of junk and wasted memories. I sighed to myself and opened a small drawer underneath my bed. My hands swept over the covers, brushing the various papers and such into the drawer. A few moments and I was finished. Sleep was singing its siren call, but as I closed the drawer a tiny photograph sticking out from the mounds caught my eye. Even before I could pull it out into the light, I could see its contents and my eyes drooped with melancholy.
It was a picture of her from long ago, before us even existed. I tried to remember back to when the picture had been taken. Blankness filled my vision as the walls of the room vanished, replaced by the past.
We sat down across from each other. We drank our sodas in a silence that wasn't uncomfortable, but still begged to be broken.
"How are you?" I asked. I wasn't sure if this felt more like distant friends coming together again, or like a couple who just didn’t know what they were yet.
"I'm okay. You?"
"I'm fine, I think."
"Therefore, I am."
"You’re crazy," she said, smiling.
"You only think that because you're not."
"I can be crazy at times, too."
"I'd love to be near one of those moments," I said. It was the best response I could give at the moment. In my mind it was a grasping retort, almost mocking, subtly confessing my desires. Once I had said it, I realized that what it was meant to be was much better than what it was in reality.
She just smiled and looked away for a second.
I blinked and the image faded, my vision replaced with the bare walls of the room. I closed my eyes, staring intently into the shadows of my eyelids as the scene grew dim. I straightened my back, resigning myself against the past.
My head twisted, then my body, and I moved unhurriedly to the wall. I flicked the light switch and the room went black; it was too late to bother with clear vision. Slowly I turned and walked to the bed. I pressed play on the stereo, raised the volume, and stood in the darkness. The CD spun quietly, readying its tracks. I sat on the bed for a moment before lying down. My eyes gazed upwards into the black, unaware of whether I was awake or asleep, waiting for a song to whisper what is wrong.
And through all of this I thought of the future. I'd wake up, get ready, go about my day, end all of that, sleep, and start all over. The same routine, no matter what it was, repeated again and again. But that didn't matter, not at all. Because no matter how long this went on, no matter how many days I woke to find the same life, each day was a new day. A brand new day. That alone made it all worthwhile.
The sound of the CD hushed as the air vibrated. The room filled with sound and, for the first time since last, I smiled and listened.
"Everyday I wake up and it's Sunday
Whatever’s in my eye won't go away"
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