It’s late, maybe around 11 in the evening or so. Who really knows, I had left my new phone in the clutches of the cold interior of my beater car to try and charge before I left for the night. The wind was steady which extended the long clutches of the branches who’s leaves tried to caress my skin as I walked behind the loud darkened figure in front of me. I glanced down at the earth, sticks occasionally sacrificing themselves under our footsteps, causing me to glance around wildly for means to escape in the case someone heard us or some other danger. But, what does danger really mean for a 16-year old? The path opens to a small clearing, which reminds me of the stories my mother used to tell me about fairy rings. We step inside, the air shifts becoming colder, more menacing and harsh. The beauty of the stars and moon disappear behind the clouds, ashamed to be witness. I want to cry, the tears well up inside, but instead the only cries I let out is the ones he wants to hear.
The walk back to the car was silent, I don’t want to know how much time has been stolen from me. Each footstep sent my mind hurtling towards the sky, burning it up the faster it flew. I remember back to eighth grade health class.
“Stress management is the key to a successful life” my teacher proclaimed,” if you can learn to handle your stress, you can handle anything that’s thrown at you.” That’s right. Anything that was thrown as me I could handle. Deep breath as my lungs fill with the sickly-sweet smell of ripe blackberries, sappy pines, and his aftershave. Exhale while I count off 4 perfect roll steps at 120 bpm.
Curl step, up. Roll step, down. Tweee-eet, tweet, tweet, tweet. My feet come together at a perfect stop. Parade rest! One, two! My legs slightly spread, knees slightly bent, one arm behind my back palm flat against my back and the other hand death griping my frozen saxophone ready to move at a moment’s notice. My face was emotionless with bright pink cheeks like many others in the sea of other band members, but underneath laid my smile of pure happiness as I held my chin jaunted up, showing my pride for my school. The crimson and white scratchy uniform jackets laid loosely against my skin, making me thankful for the many layers I put underneath. Pullman was cold in the winters; the lows have been below 0 degrees for the last week! Yet the band continues to find the courage and willpower to practice in this frozen wasteland of snow.
As I walk back from practice my legs and fingers ache, my jaw is sore, but every bit of the pain fuels me forward towards the warmth of my dorm room and the hot chocolate I have stowed away in the small clear bin that I’ve called my pantry. The savory chocolate warms my hands and it is peaceful. It may not be perfect, but it was my escape. I glance at my phone, several messages from him screaming at me to help him, but surprisingly a couple from one of the tenors, I don’t want to tell him I am going to the party after the game because I don’t have a good track record with guys, but this is a new chance to develop friendships, so I let him know always. Tenor boy and I actually hit it off really well at the party, but I mean everything looks better from the muddy haze of music, and excitement after winning a game, and it’s only the days following when I begin to question whether pursuing a friendship is a good idea.
A few weeks down the line I am continuously late to practice by around 5 minuets. Just enough so I won’t have to interact with tenor, and the teacher never questions why I am late, but tenor corners me like a mouse after practice to try and plan time for me to play some random game with him knowing fully well that the beady gleam in his eyes screamed it was something else. I say I have homework, or a family call, and eventually he stops asking and instead he just chats with me. Friendship, I thought, so this after party we walked together in the frigid air, and I was bouncing from another win, my arms flying wildly as I expressed my excitement.
He offers to get me a drink his eyes lit up like a child’s, and orange-y fruit punch fills my typical red solo cup. One drink won’t hurt… It’s bright sweet, and fruity, a harsh bite rips into my tongue that makes me finish it wanting more. He moves closer, warmth radiating from his body, and the bodies of the other band members crammed into the tiny room of one of the overpriced apartments, so I offer to go to the balcony, where at least the few people there can lean against the railing and cool off. I take my spot by the corner railing, and gaze below. Some folks are smoking. The white tendrils intertwine with each other curling, expanding out until they dissipate in the night air until a new exhale brings them back to life. He cuddles closer to get warm. I think nothing of it, fearful of the cold myself, and lean into him watching tendrils of the smoke dance with each other in the windy night. My eyes grow lazy, while the beats pound into my body, heavy bass rattling the railing. His hands wander, but my mind has already left this party to sleep in the fluffy blue blankets in my room. I try to scream at myself to wake up, to do something about this, but the next morning I walk home alone, tear stained cheeks and watery mascara trails keep the bystanders from staring.
I flopped back into my mattress and smiled. I had just finished putting up the last of my decorations back up in my old room at my parents’ house. The warm glow from my fairy lights lit up the room and created a dream like appearance. My laptop computer was all set up again for schoolwork, and I could finally see my old friends after being away for months at college. I was supposed to go get pizza with a guy friend of mine and catch up in just a few hours. Him and I had grown really close while I was away, and I was eager to finally see him again. The steaming gooey cheese pizza we shared in the old school pizza joint wasn’t nearly as good as it was to see a familiar face and to be able to feel his familiar teddy bear hugs.
We talk for hours, finally only leaving because the shop is closing. The purple and orange hues of sunset trickle across the sky, as the sun sinks below the hill, and the air grows brisk as we race each other back to the car, giggling and even though the windows are foggy, we draw funny pictures in the windows before quickly erasing them from embarrassment. We laugh, and he manages to catch a small sparkle in his eye in the dying light before we go back home and say our goodbyes, always keeping his distance.
A couple years later that sparkle grew, making his eyes resemble golden flecked jades and our conversations became longer and more meaningful, while we became closer. We are moving in to a new apartment with a friend of his. A year’s worth of commitment, over the few years of friendship, but several years of broken tear-stained experiences stare at me with cold dark eyes. A week before I try to pull out, dark eyes growing closer at each day. We get into a huge fight, although I have already entered the dreaded contract, so I have to stay to face the year. I stay silent the entire week. Daring only to talk with him over apartment matters.
Over the course of the month he lets me have my distance, but eventually confronted me wondering what happened. His liquid jade eyes longing for a response. I break under pressure, telling him about everything through choked tears and how I didn’t want him to do the same. Instead he offers his shoulder. I feel numb as the tears fall once more, and he shrouds me tightly in his gentle hug promising that it will never happen.
The year that follows is smooth, only showing micro cracks of things like arguments over who’s day it is for dishes, or what we will watch on Netflix. The anniversary of our first day in the apartment comes, and we throw a party, loud music, crunchy chips, with homemade dips, and fruity lemonades fill the spaces we and our friends aren’t. I panic knowing those cold eyes stare me down from outside the door, but he comes to comfort me, and we spin and giggle our way to the end of the day, when they leave. No longer am I haunted by the dark of my past, but instead I use it to find the light towards my future.