Cover-art by Jackie Kim
The winter wind bit my cheeks as I ran. I hardly felt the smacking gusts; the force of my body pushed the nights’ chill up and into my face. Wind wrapped her fingers in my curls, which were covered with a thin layer of sweat, snow, and cheap beer, before returning to the night air (it smelled like a refrigerator) to roam about the city without bounds. The soles of my shoes hit the pavement in time with my lungs taking in air, carrying me quickly. Somehow I knew I wouldn’t slip on the ice.
My phone was frozen to my hand, picking up faint breaths before they froze in mid-air and the laughs that snuck through my lips. Some miles away, (approximately 63), my laugh was heard by the one who was racing me home. A smile cracked across my competitors face as he laughed along at me.
Gasping at the top of the stairs to my dorm, I pried my frozen fingers from my phone to get my keys, lowering my voice as I entered (he always teased me for this while doing the same) (I always laughed). We dawdled in open areas where our voices wouldn’t be detected by the motionless bodies in the rooms surrounding us, up until our words were short and unintelligible and the spaces of silence more frequent. We inched forward towards our own doors while whispering goodbye and goodnight, then let the silence end the call so we didn’t have to.
I was confident. It took eighteen years, but the brain I had battered and bruised for years to try to fit the mold of another skull was finally growing into it; it was acting for itself. My brain fit me, I liked her more, and the world seemed to like her too, or at least one person in it. That was good enough.
Hope lasts approximately 32 days, 8 hours, some minutes, and some seconds.
Its existence first fades when the home you’ve made for yourself closes its doors to you, forcing you back to the walls that were supposed to feel like home but haven’t for seven years. Hope wavers on a little after that, anticipating a return in a few weeks or a few months, just to console the anxious soul racked with fear of losing everything it had built for itself.
Hope disappears indefinitely when realities do not align. When someone sparks that light inside you, igniting a wildfire within, you assume the fire is ravaging them as well. Hope dissipates like smoke when they reveal they never sparked theirs.
I left my 12-by-11-foot square of home hand-in-hand with my mother, leaving college the same way I left preschool. I returned to the house that hadn’t felt like home for seven years, sequestered to the 2 acres of yard that I used to think was the extent of the world.
I cried every night for a week.
I was not crying over phone calls I would never have, nor was I crying over my departure from my new home. No, I was mourning hope. I had no idea how I was to continue on – to continue trusting – after being fooled into believing that my assurance in myself, in my future, would actually come to mean something. For the first time in my existence, the thoughts in my brain matched the phrases I spoke into truth; I had come to find people who celebrated me after I had celebrated myself. And then it was gone, just like that.
Violently I would sob, night after night, silently, not wanting to disclose to my roommates (otherwise referred to as family members) that the pain I was feeling was unbearable, and there was nothing to be done about it. I had found myself, and she slipped through my fingers like water.
The only comfort I had was knowing that there was nothing else that could be taken from me.
(I was wrong).
Hot tears caressed my face as I silently interpreted the words that had just been uttered. Whether it was shock or anger, I’ll never know, but I wailed. I summoned every feeling that had been felt from deep inside me, expelling it into the air around me. It didn’t stop the words from coming.
The voice sliced through the air; it was severe, it was in control. He always was. It was not the first time I had heard the words, either, as versions of the same insults had been hurled at me since I was twelve.
All we had asked for was a presence. He refused.
It is unimportant how I found myself standing on the landing of stairs, covered in the same beige-speckled carpet found in every suburban house, listening to half of my genes tell me that the reason I had no family was because of my own choices. It is unimportant how after the yelling stopped I apologized to him then promptly collapsed on the floor. It’s all unimportant because no matter what, I ended up in the same place.
I remembered, while my hot face rested against the cool linoleum, sending plastic Slinkies down those stairs with my mother.
I left the place that used to be home behind, along with the man who owned it. At first, the act was largely symbolic. Had I not left, the severity of his words would not have been realized.
He sold the house a month later. He finalized my decision to leave for me.
I was left with scraps of a life I once lived. The house that held my childhood (the one before the yelling) was gone for good, to be inhabited by another family, one that wasn’t mine. The friends from my real home were spread across the state and country, the friends from my past life had moved forward as I had intended to, but with more success. Everything was new, everything overlapped, and everything was being taken away. My life before March had been shaken like an Etch-A-Sketch, leaving only fragments of what once was in a pile and no directions of how to reconstruct it.
When I stand among the ashes with nothing left to lose, all I hope is one day I’ll look up and be standing in a life with structure again.
This piece is part of our series, “The Last Normal Day”. This series aims to encourage writers to effectively screenshot their last ‘normal’ day before the pandemic hit. If you would like to write a piece for the series, please submit it under our “Blog Submissions” tab on our website and add a note that you would like the piece to be considered for “The Last Normal Day”.